I thought you might like to see my interview with One Source Direct, a Trep House supplier.
1) How and why did you become an entrepreneur? Was it something you always intended for yourself?
I grew up in a family that had a long line of entrepreneurs, including my dad, but I became one by accident. I had earned a degree in secondary education and planned on becoming a middle school teacher, but the time and place where I came out of school had way, way more new teachers than anyone needed. After a couple of years of subbing and very few job interviews, I gave up on teaching and started casting around for a new path. I fell into a volunteer gig working with an archeologist at a local museum, learned there how to do historical building research, and ended up with a small consulting practice doing National Register of Historic Places nominations and heritage tourism materials and the like. That sounds like a crazy pivot from being a teacher, but I was always a writer and always interested in history, so it wasn’t that big of a stretch.
That was my first business. I’ve had three since then in very different fields, plus stints working for planning and engineering companies of various sizes. Which would bewilder 20-year old Della, but not my father or my grandfather. My brother is also an entrepreneur. Research indicates that the biggest predictor of whether someone becomes an entrepreneur is whether they have close family members who own their own businesses. So perhaps the writing was on the wall sooner than I realized.
2) What three tools (apps, books, podcasts, etc.) would you recommend to anyone trying to start her own business?
I love Motion, which is a task and time management software. I’ve probably gone through 20 time management systems, and it’s always a challenge to me because I always have more on my plate than I could ever get done. And I like distractions! Motion takes your input on the relative importance and urgency of your to-dos and slots them into your calendar for you in a way that makes sense for your schedule. I don’t even stick exactly to the schedule it has laid out for me, but it helps me get straight on what I need to focus on first.
Canva has also been huge for me. I have enough design understanding (thanks to a couple of decades working with designer types) to have a basic sense of what works, but I don’t have the skills to execute at all. Canva’s templates allow me to make a flyer or a book or an Instagram or whatever and have it look at least passable. And I can do it pretty fast, which goes back to that time issue again. Especially at this point – being COO of a startup means that I am doing high level planning one minute and fighting with the web site the next.
I read as much as I can, but one that I pull off the shelf more than any other is Business Model Generation, which is the instruction book, essentially, for developing a Business Model Canvas. A BMC is about the most essential tool I know of for sorting out a new business idea or figuring out why it’s not working.
3) Tell us about your biggest failure.
My first business partnership turned ugly for a bunch of reasons – I made assumptions that I shouldn’t have, and he had trouble trusting me due to past experiences in his life. If I knew now what I know then, it might have been different. I wish it had been.
4) What’s your biggest piece of advice for female entrepreneurs?
First, don’t settle if you can help it. Women are going into business more than ever, but a lot of times we limit our vision to basically replacing our old job with something more flexible. There’s definitely times in life when that’s a high enough aspiration in itself, because being a partner, parent, spouse, child, etc. can put very heavy loads on us. But I would love to see more women grasp the potential that their business has to make a bigger impact – more sales, more outlets, more employment, more social change, whatever. We know what businesses need to do differently to make the workspace better for women (and by extension better for everyone). So we can yell and complain at the big dogs, or we can make the kinds of businesses that we know work better for everyone – and eventually eat the old guard for lunch.
If you have the luxury of thinking beyond survival or replacing your old corporate job (not everyone does), perhaps you don’t have to assume that your vision should be limited to one storefront, or one salon, or one online shop. How can you take your gifts and your vision and make something that reaches bigger than you, yourself, alone?
There’s a crucial corollary to that: don’t try to do it all alone. We have a lousy social support system for women and families in this country, and that needs to change. Until it does – and we probably will have to force it to change – a lot of women will find themselves having to carry burdens that a lot of men never imagine or really understand. Add that on to the fact that we already know that entrepreneurship can be a lonely and depressing road – Brad Feld has written beautifully about his mental health struggles, and he’s been successful in entrepreneurship. That should tell us a lot.
Your friends and family are important, but they may not understand why you work so hard, or why you’re taking these risks, or why you make the sacrifices that you do. And that friction, that sort of emotional isolation, can really take its toll on you. It’s crucial to connect with other women who share your motivation, who are also striving toward something bigger, who are facing the same challenges and fears and misunderstandings that you are. They will understand you in a way that your aunt or your high school friend might never be able to, and they will have the perspective and encouragement that you need to carry you when it’s all tough. That support can make all the difference.