Successful founders believe anything is possible, but they build strong founding teams to achieve their startup dreams.
Naivete and a shared vision are among the key markers for success, two social entrepreneurs said on the latest episode of Entrepreneurs are Everywhere, my radio show on SiriusXM Channel 111.
Clips from their interviews are below, but first a word about the show:
Entrepreneurs are Everywhere airs Thursdays at 1 p.m. Pacific, 4 p.m. Eastern on Sirius XM Channel 111. It follows the entrepreneurial journeys of founders sharing their experiences of what it takes to build a startup -- from restaurants to rocket scientists, to online gifts to online groceries to entrepreneurial education and more.
The program examines the DNA of entrepreneurs: what makes them tick, how they came up with their ideas; and explores the habits that make them successful, and the highs, lows and pivots that pushed them forward.
Liz Powers is a social entrepreneur with a passion for helping homeless people. The Harvard graduate has received multiple awards and grants for her work. She started ArtLifting with her brother, Spencer, in 2013, and acknowledges her youth and enthusiasm have been assets.
Being naive is good. ... If people knew all the challenges that were ahead of them, any rational person wouldn't do it.
Steve: I always say you're too young to know it can't be done.
Liz: Exactly. A lot of times, people would give me a ton of push back and say I was insane when we were starting ArtLifting. ... Ignoring those negatives around you and figuring out who are the most strategic partners to be able to scale that impact.
... If we had really thought through ArtLifting beforehand then we wouldn't have launched three months after the idea stage. We went for it. We just started a beta (test) with four artists, and super basic website template. A week later we had $10,000 in sales. It's the same concepts as Lean Startup as get your idea out there as soon as possible and then pivot with customer reaction.
Rocio Perez-Ochoa is a former hedge fund manager who also was climate change policy advisor in the UK. Her first startup experience involved managing the financial arm of BBOXX, a manufacturer and distributor of solar home systems in the UK and Africa.
Early on in her journey to build Bidhaa Sasa, she discovered the importance of having a strong founding team.
The willingness to listen is something that I found is not very common. The willingness to experiment, get your hands dirty. You do it yourself, acquire ... that philosophy. As a founder, you have to do it yourself. Otherwise, you never get firsthand information and just stick to your guns.
(Building a founding team) is really difficult... We were three at the beginning. For one of them, it didn't work.
Steve: Most of our listeners should understand that at least a third of startups never even get to start, because they melt down because of founding issues. In this case, you didn't melt down, but you lost one-third of your founding team.
Rocio: Totally. In the first few months, it was clear for one of them, it didn't work.
Liz is a world-class sailor, the first woman in U.S. sailing history to win the Intercollegiate Sailing Association's National Sportsmanship Award. She draws parallels between sailing and doing a startup:
A lot of times the thought of sailing is like sitting on a yacht drinking wine and eating cheese. (But) I was in dingy sailing, boats that flip over all the time. We did a lot of weight lifting to prepare for nationals and prepare for top competition. I think that relates a lot to entrepreneurship because ... you get right back up, but also with waking up early to do weight lifting in February, you know that this is for a competition six months down the line but you keep pushing to get yourself to that point.
Here's how she got the idea for ArtLifting:
I felt a little guilty because I won this grant to start up art groups (to connect homeless women) because there weren't any in Cambridge, in shelters, but (then) realized, well, just across the river, in Boston, there's seven. ... I had been in the field for four years and I didn't know that.
... (Unsure of what to do next) I went around to all different art therapists and learned from them, and realized, oh, my gosh they, literally, had closets full of amazing art work (completed by homeless artists, but tucked out of sight). ... I realized, I've been in the field for four years and I have no idea these exist. A normal person really has no idea they exist. Why not create a company to help get this artwork out there?
And why it is her dream job:
I've had so many relationships with homeless and disabled individuals who really just wanted their first break. ... A lot of times the stereotypes of homeless individuals are "lazy." All the individuals I know really just want a break. ArtLifting is helping provide that.
Steve: ... you went to Harvard, and most of your classmates probably didn't end up in this field, but you did, why do you think that was?
Liz: I've never applied to a normal job before.
Steve: Why is that?
Liz: I think it's because I love being curious and seeing problems and trying to solve them. ...
To hear the clip, click here.
Rocio holds a Ph.D. particle physics and so was drawn to the Lean Startup's scientific method as she began her venture:
I don't think many people have any methodology. It's not that this methodology is better than this one. It's (that) there's none. I thought, "Well OK, there's a higher chance of succeeding, I think, if you have a methodology."
... The (Lean Startup) methodology is ... scientifically based so I can relate to (it) ... That's easy for me to understand about experimentation. The metrics that matter. To measure. To communicate. To learn as you go and iterate. I love the idea of iterations. The best thing is to admit that you don't know anything until you start, and then you learn as you go.
She explained that Bidhaa Sasa faces a formidable challenge:
My clients... live in really basic living conditions; their lives are not great. If I could bring the products that help with their quality of life, I think it could have a massive impact in their lives. ...
(But) the problem is that the products don't necessarily reach the people that need them. ...
My clients are not consumers ... they don't have much income. They don't go shopping, they don't know how to compare products, they don't even know these products exist. It's really complicated because you have to really go back to the very basic stages of awareness.
Hence the NGOs are there because the NGOs are really good at awareness. They have plenty of money to create awareness about (issues like) if you keep using dirty water, your kids will be ill, and then (families) make the link between the two and say, "Aah, that's why they're always ill, it's because of the dirty water." I'm a step behind the NGOs and trying to piggyback on their work, because the awareness is very expensive stuff.
...It is a Last Mile problem. ... We are not talking about the last tribe in the middle of the desert. It's not that at all. It's the bulk of the East African people. ...they live in relatively dense areas so logistics is not necessarily the bottleneck. The bottleneck is, do they know these things exist; can they pay for it?
She also explained how, at her first startup, she learned an invaluable skill:
... I got sucked into a full-time job in one of these companies, and then I realized, "Oh, my God, this is so complicated. This is really complicated."
... we were operating in three countries in East Africa, based in the UK, so operating in emerging markets is quite complicated by definition... It's relatively fast-paced, and you feel that you're in a competition, even though I think that is a bit of a misunderstanding when you talk about competition. It was very chaotic. It was completely chaotic.
... I don't mind, but I could see that there lots of people don't deal well with chaos.
I was a manager so I was quite senior in this company, and I had to often pretend that I knew what I was saying, and I was under control because ... especially in Africa ... there's another culture, (a) hierarchical structure. They're expecting to be told what to do, and it's very different from operating in the western world, so I bluffed all the time and I said everything was under control when it wasn't. ...
Tune in Thursday at 1 p.m. PT, 4 p.m. ET on Sirius XM Channel 111.
Steve Blank's blog: www.steveblank.com