10 Learnings from Our SheFly Founders about Starting a Business
Everyone knows that starting a business is hard. It takes grit and optimism and perseverance. There are “start-ups and downs.” But the daily ins and outs of how to get a company off-the-ground, and the sacrifices and decisions that need to be made, are sometimes less well-known. After a transformative year in which both our Co-Founders quit their jobs to work on SheFly full-time, bounced back from difficult supply chain and capital losses due to COVID, entered and WON prestigious accelerator programs, and built up the team and prepared to launch a next round of inventory, Georgia Grace and Charlotte took a moment to reflect on some of the things they’ve learned about business, leadership and themselves.
1. Georgia Grace: On Listening
While starting a business involves a lot of pitching yourself, it entails a lot more listening. People will see you as someone who has solved one problem in the world with your innovation, and therefore feel the need to notify you of seven other problems you could also be tackling simultaneously. In a way, you become a listening ear for all of society’s grievances, and it’s impossible to address everything at once.
2. Charlotte: [Lacking] Time Outdoors
Starting an outdoor brand does NOT mean you get to spend all your time hiking and climbing. We spend a lot more time on Zoom and Excel than in the mountains.
3. Georgia Grace: Staying Focused on Solving The Problem
When you try to please everyone, you will end up serving no one. People have begged us to enter every market imaginable, from kink to menswear to sailing gear. I’ve learned a lot about the importance of staying flexible and open to long-term business model pivots while simultaneously knowing your target audience and staying focused on the pain point for which you set out to solve.
4. Charlotte: Finding Community
Finding a community of other founders is critical because no one else will understand the unique and often laughably odd struggles of building a company. For example, not being able to watch Silicon Valley because it’s too stressfully accurate, or having to model your own products and having thousands of people comment on pictures of your butt, or experiencing a massive rush when the next sample arrives from the factory and you try it on for the first time.
5. Georgia Grace: Watching Out for Those Free Trials!
Free trials that automatically turn into subscriptions if you forget to cancel are much higher stakes at the business level because 1) software for business is so much more expensive than it is for individuals, even if your business is only like two individuals who will actually use said software, 2) businesses are basically clunkier, less flexible versions of individuals, so if your business gets hooked on a subscription that’s outside of your price range, too bad -- there’s no quitting-cold-turkey option available, and 3) when you’re trying to keep track of all the different things that go into running a business, it’s easy for a reminder to cancel a subscription to slip through the cracks unnoticed and then BAM welcome to this software you’re not actually ready for that you’ve accidentally already been billed for a year’s worth.
6. Charlotte: Navigating Manufacturing
We assumed that manufacturing pants would be complicated, but building international supply chains is even more difficult than you’d think possible. It takes months just to finalize what zippers and snaps to use in which precise pantones, and sourcing the exact right size for the brand tags is critically important if you want your seams to line up. We’re glad everyone’s talking about the supply chain now, but there’s so much more -- many, many more decisions than meet the eye -- that go into it behind the scenes.
7. Georgia Grace: Letting Go of Perfect
Total optimization and perfection truly are the enemies of progress. It’s better to release a half-baked idea or blog post into the world and hear feedback on fit or typos than it is to spend too long working on it and never offer it up to the world at all because the moment has passed. If you’re absolutely mortified by initial product releases or things you’ve been quoted as saying in the past, you’re doing it right. Embarrassed = growth.
8. Charlotte: Leading by Example (On Instagram)
Social media starts to feel a lot like work when you’re on it all day for your job, and your social presence ends up reflecting back on your company and all the people who are working with you.
9. Georgia Grace: Leaving Your Comfort Zone
You have to leave your comfort zone (and sometimes, your dignity) at the door. You can’t prove to others how discreet your zipper design is if you’re not willing to constantly walk around having people look at your crotch/butt, you can’t sell a product via word of mouth if you’re not willing to constantly talk about it (even if that means becoming known as “the pee pants girl”), you can’t solve for a taboo issue if you’re not willing to discuss uncomfy topics, and you can’t convince others of the privacy your product provides if you’re not willing to totally invade your own by repeatedly filming & posting “live streams.” And you have to be able to see the silliness in all the seriousness -- it keeps you grounded, grateful, and entertained. Plus, it invites others into the conversation.
10. Charlotte: (Actually) Taking Time for Yourself
It’s much more difficult to disconnect when you don’t have set hours and could always be getting more done. Blocking off time to take care of yourself is critical to long-term health and productivity. We end up with calendar blocks like “Charlotte takes a bubble bath” and “Geeg eats din-din”.