Limor Fried is the founder and CEO of Adafruit Industries, a maker of DIY open source engineering and electronics kits, accessible for consumers of any age or skillset. Adafruit kit users can create their own clocks, hardware chargers, connected printers, games, robots and more. The company was launched in 2005 and in the intervening 10 years, Fried's team has grown to 85 employees who work out of a 50,000-square-foot factory in New York City. The growth of the business helped Adafruit bring in $33.2 million in sales in 2014.
We caught up with our Entrepreneur of 2012 to talk about the importance of mentorship, trial and error and taking care of the people around you.
Q: Knowing what you know now, what would you have done differently when you were first starting out?
A: A lot of the experiences and learning in the beginning were things like "how to ship a package internationally," "what taxes to pay" and very specific details. I needed to learn mostly all of it on my own, because there weren't many or any resources.
If I could do anything different I would have found someone who has been through this that was willing and able to share some of the details of the day to day, when it makes sense to do things, when it does not. It's great to have domain knowledge of many things, but it would have been good as well to have a mentor or a "sanity checker" to reduce the number of dead ends that happen when you're moving a fast-growing a company.
Q: What do you think would have happened had you known this back then?
A: I think having other people and companies that have done similar things and can share the experiences generally reduces the minute-by-minute anxiety you have as a business owner. I think knowing more of the details, as opposed to needing to discover them on my own through a lot of trial and error would have allowed me to work on additional projects and designs.
Q: How do you think young entrepreneurs might benefit from this lesson?
A: Find mentors. You can go at it alone -- there are lots of benefits to doing everything on your own -- however at this point in 2015, you'll end up re-inventing a lot of what's out there. It's really about tradeoffs. If you're a young entrepreneur find someone you admire, figure out what they're doing, why and how and use that as rocket fuel to accelerate towards your goals. How can you find mentors? Be a good cause and a good business, they're more likely to help you.
Related: Limor Fried on Making DIY Look Easy
Q: What are you glad you didn’t know then that you know now?
A: I'm glad I didn't know how challenging and difficult at times running a company could be -- that would have made me consider doing something else. Perhaps, not knowing something is going to be hard can be useful when the tasks and mission are more than you can imagine at the time. Twenty-five-year-old version of me wouldn't believe what 35-year-old version of me is doing, that's how it should be.
Q: What is your best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
A: Focus on being excellent to each other. Bill & Ted got it right. From co-founders, to employees, customers, to anyone you work with, when you take good care of the people around you, it permeates in all you do and people notice. What you give is what you'll get back.