I started my company, Headbands of Hope, as a college student. Having zero business experience, I leaned on outside advice to get started and all my questions answered. During this time, I received some of the best advice that I’ve carried with me since then. A lot of the success we’ve had today is because of the incredible people who lent their voice and expertise to help build my vision.
But with so many people talking in your ear, there’s bound to be some bad advice. I didn’t know it at the time, but below are four pieces of advice I’m glad I didn’t listen to:
1. Start with funding.
A business professor told me to start talking to investors and get funding to start my business. Instead, I did everything I could to be as frugal as possible and use my own money to grow organically. Looking back, I’m so glad I didn’t jump at the idea to give up equity so early, especially when I didn’t need it.
I started with minimal inventory and as we got bigger, was able to buy more.
There are a ton of businesses where funding is a necessity in the beginning, but really take a good look at your idea to decide if yours is one of them.
2. Find a partner.
I came up with my idea by myself through a summer internship. One piece of advice I got was to find a partner who I trusted to go in with me on the business. A lot of great businesses are run by partnerships, but I don’t think it’s a necessity to a successful company. If anything, I really enjoyed being 100 percent in control and building my idea exactly the way I envisioned it.
Having a business partner can be great for productivity but if it’s not there, don’t force it.
3. Have an exit strategy.
Before I even made my first sale, I was asked what my exit strategy is. I haven’t even started, and I’m supposed to know how I’m going to finish? I had goals and dreams for the business and where I wanted it to go in the future, but I didn’t have an answer to if or when I wanted to sell it.
One of the biggest mistakes I see entrepreneurs make is using the potential sale of a company as a primary motivator. If the heartbeat of your business is to eventually cash out, then your decisions are based on that and not your values or customers.
Focus on creating the best company you can. If you end up selling your business down the road then that should be just the cherry on top of your career.
4. Don’t dream too big.
I remember sitting in another business professor’s office and telling him about my idea of a socially-responsible company that gives headbands to kids with cancer. He asked what my dream was for the business. I told him I wanted to be the leading headband company and eventually donate headbands to every children’s hospital in the U.S. (which we just completed a month ago).
The professor told me I needed to think smaller and more realistic. He suggested I think of Headbands of Hope like the LIVESTRONG bracelets -- a one to two year fad with only one style of headband and then call it a day.
Today, we have over 100 items and are releasing new designs monthly. We’re in more than 300 stores across the U.S. and Canada and have a booming ecommerce site.
I understand he wanted me to simplify my idea and be more “realistic.” But I try to keep my reality close to my dreams instead of separating the two.
As an entrepreneur, almost everyone feels compelled to tell you how to run your business. No matter if this is your first business and you’re starting with a blank slate (like I did) or you’re a serial entrepreneur, it’s important to be open to ideas, but also tp develop a filter for the pieces of advice that should be let go.