The most recent Let’s Talk Progress event featured a panel of Burlington based entrepreneurs, sharing their insights about launching and growing a business here in the Queen City. The panel consisted of Sascha Mayer of Mamava, Gary Margolis of Social Sentinel, Ethan Bechtel of OhMD, and Abbott Stark of Ogee. The panel was moderated by Freshtracks Capital founder and moderator extraordinaire, Cairn Cross.
These entrepreneurs are some of the most successful currently operating in our ecosystem, and the event served as a valuable glimpse into the way they think about business and entrepreneurship.
These are the top 5 takeaways from the event:
1.) “Don’t just form a business, form a solution”
Each of the panelists formed their businesses to provide a solution to a problem they either experienced in their own lives, or in Ethan’s case, a problem he perceived to be effecting people worldwide. Abbot, through his experience in the cosmetics industry, noticed an absence of high-end organic skincare products, and sought to fill that gap with Ogee. Sacha, while a nursing mother, found a lack of clean, safe, and private spaces for mothers to nurse their children in public places like airports, and through Mamava is forming creative solutions to that problem, to the praise of mothers everywhere. The point is, many successful businesses solved a problem that others experienced in their day-to-day lives. And through progress and innovation, entrepreneurs are often the best suited to solve these problems.
2.) “Don’t take it personally”
Gary said it best when he proclaimed, “It's not personal, it's just not personal”. This is an incredibly important trait for any entrepreneur. Many stages of launching a new business are prone to “learning experiences” otherwise known as failures. Failing is a universal rite of passage for entrepreneurs everywhere, and a mistake in the short-run should not discourage you in the long-run. In this particular conversation, the panel was speaking on fundraising. Fundraising for a new company is now harder than ever, with a seemingly endless ocean of opportunities for investors. And for a new entrepreneur, it’s absolutely critical to have investors that understand and stand behind you and your mission. The point here was, don’t take it personally when potential investors don’t understand or value your idea. Accepting funding from someone who does not completely understand you and your mission will plague your business with bureaucratic issues that no one really has time for.
3.) “Understand your ecosystem”
Understanding your regional business environment/ecosystem is important for any entrepreneur. Many cities and towns offer new businesses certain incentives to set up shop in their area. It’s critical that entrepreneurs are aware of regional programs, grants, and incentives that could potentially help them start their business. For example, in BTV there are wonderful programs like Launch VT, Road Pitch, VCET, Generator, and the Vermont Center for Women in Enterprise! For a full list of local programs and organizations, check out the Launch VT Connector. Anyone looking to start a business in Vermont without knowledge of these programs would have a much harder time than those who took advantage of them.
4.) “Pitch Everybody”
Abbot insisted on pitching to everybody, and he’s right, you should. Pitch to all your family and friends, even in circles where there isn’t a great deal of opportunity for fundraising. The pitch is one of the most important tools in anyone’s entrepreneurial toolkit, and practice makes perfect. Practice tailoring your pitch to different audiences by pitching to those around you. In addition, your new business could travel through word of mouth to potential clients/customers, and may even make its way to the ears of your next investor.
5.) “Don’t be blinded by passion”
Possibly one of the biggest takeaways from Let’s Talk Progress was one that isn’t entirely concrete, an exercise in thinking about the bigger picture. “don’t be blinded by passion”. It’s an important thing to keep in mind throughout your entire time with your company, not just at the launch. Your investors and supporters want to see that you are passionate about your mission. But not so much so that it’s infringing on your common sense and approach to your vision. It’s easy for an entrepreneur to get tunnel vision when you spend every minute of every day completely and entirely focused on your new business. So it’s important to make a conscience effort to keep an open mind and a wide eye. Don’t burn yourself out and lose the vision.
As BTV mayor Miro Weinberger said at the event, “To be the community we aspire to be, these are the conversations we need to have”. Hopefully you can take this advice forward into your next entrepreneurial endeavor, and make a difference in your area.