My advice for young aspiring entrepreneurs? Go for it.
If you are a young entrepreneur you have likely wondered how to get your idea off the ground. How and where do you start? Will your concept even be marketable? Will you fail? How much risk is involved and what can you do to reduce that risk?
These are some of the questions I faced when my co-founder, Jennifer Hymann, and I were launching Rent the Runway two years ago.
Sure, entrepreneurship is intimidating, but the reward is not just in building a successful company; it is in the lessons and growth you acquire every day just by doing, trying — and yes — failing. Here are some strategies to transform a simple idea into a viable, revenue-generating business.
- Test the Marketplace
When you have an idea you are passionate about, get out there and test it with your consumer. Be open to feedback and honest with yourself when you need to tweak your concept or go back to the mat entirely. Writing a business plan is a waste of time, in my opinion. Focus efforts on casting a wide net and speaking to as many people as possible about your business concept. In my case, my co-founder Jenn Hymann, and I talked to women about renting dresses and watched our consumer interact with our product through a series of tests. We purchased dresses at retail and set up a pop-up shop at a Harvard undergrad dorm to test our idea. Taking risks (and yes, even failing) is part of entrepreneurship, but each test you do mitigates some of the risk.
- Show by Example
By testing the marketplace effectively you will obtain data you can present to future investors. You have to take into consideration that these investors may not personally relate to your concept and that you must find ways to engage them. One way is through videos, customer testimonials and data from marketplace trials. Using these mediums, we were able to convince investors to partner with Rent the Runway, even when we were pitching our concept to a room full of men.
- Build a Team
Find people to work with who compliment your strengths and weaknesses. Part of being a successful businesswoman is recognizing what you do well and where you need support. Having a partner whose skills complimented my own was the first key step for me. Beyond that, we realized we needed to build out a team that brought expertise in technology and fashion, since neither of us had a background in either. As important as it is to build your business with people who specialize in areas crucial to your business success, equally important in the early stages is hiring well-rounded employees. In the beginning phases of a startup your team will need to wear many hats and tackle unanticipated challenges, so a “roll up your sleeves attitude” is essential.
- Realize that “No” means “Not Right Now”
A big part of being an entrepreneur is becoming comfortable with hearing the word “no” and having the creativity to adapt your idea to overcome any issues. I’ve learned that “No” usually doesn’t mean “no,” it just means “not right now.” In starting Rent the Runway we heard a lot of “no’s” and that just encouraged us to stay motivated to rethink, tweak and keep testing our concept. There are lots of ups and downs in entrepreneurship as not everyone will love your idea, but each negative response is an opportunity to learn and adapt. A great partner and a supportive team can also be helpful in getting through what are sure to be some challenging times.
Jennifer Fleiss is an entrepreneur at heart. Jenny worked at Morgan Stanley and Lehman Brothers before she co-founded Rent the Runway, designed to solve the common “closet full of clothes but nothing to wear” problem, in 2009. Now Rent the Runway has quickly grown to acquire over one million members and has signed on 140 top designer brands. It has become the one-stop shop for life’s special occasions.
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of the country’s most promising young entrepreneurs. The YEC promotes entrepreneurship as a solution to youth unemployment and underemployment and provides its members with access to tools, mentorship, and resources that support each stage of a business’s development and growth.