Lessons From A Startup As They Happen: Choosing A Sound Co-Pilot

September 21, 2014 / UNCOMMON

Lessons From A Startup As They Happen: Choosing A Sound Co-Pilot

September 21, 2014

Elisa Hills and Erika McKellar Co-founders, BLNDN

Elisa Hills and Erika McKellar (“The E’s”) are the co-founders of BLNDN. After 20 years of friendship and a decade of consulting for successful brands, the E’s have taken the leap and are developing their own beauty brand. Follow their journey at #BLNDN

When someone asks us what it feels like to start a company, we use words like: scary, exciting, exhausting, invigorating, overwhelming and motivating. Frankly, it’s all of those things and it’s difficult to express without sounding like a masochist or a complete lunatic. A couple of weeks ago we came across an article by Derrick Fung, CEO of Tunezy who nailed the feeling in one sentence. “It feels like you’re jumping off a cliff and building an airplane on the way down.” So true.

No matter how solid your business plan, how talented your team is, or what your financial picture look like, all entrepreneurs begin by jumping off of a cliff with a bag full of parts and tools. The goal—build a brand new 747 while plummeting to the ground at 122 mph. Intense? You bet.

Intensity is the name of the game sprinkled with a few blissful moments with our families, a nice glass of wine or a rare weekend away. Overall, this 7-part series is not to tell you how to start a business but give you insight into the good, the bad and the ugly of building an airplane while free falling. Ready to take the leap? Before you jump, take a step back from the edge and look to your right. Is your co-pilot standing there with you? If not, you have some work to do before you jump.

You absolutely cannot survive this journey alone. Your co-pilot can be your business partner, your spouse, your accountant, or your mother. You can have more than one co-pilot, your co-pilot could live 3,000 miles away, or your co-pilot could change from one year to the next. You need a co-pilot to back you up at a moments notice, bring you a cup of coffee when you start to fall asleep after too many all-nighters, and be brutally honest with you. Most of all, you and your co-pilot need to be all in.

About the Pilots

Rather than bore you with our Meyers-Briggs profiles, we’ll introduce ourselves in a more descriptive way: The Rebel and The Changeaholic.

Hi my name is Erika, and I’m a Rebel.

Looking backwards, consistency has had no chance in my life. Since day one, I have had the yearning desire to buck the system and climb towards a bigger, brighter goal. This isn’t a therapy session, so let’s start in 2005 when I graduated from college… in typical rebel fashion, no job, no apartment, I loaded up a 10×10 Uhaul truck and drove north to San Francisco. Found an apartment and a couple of weeks later, landed a job in the Financial District as the assistant to the Chief Technology Officer at a prestigious asset management firm. I knew nothing about asset management and I knew even less about technology. I was terrified (don’t tell), but I was also intensely motivated to work hard and climb the ladder. I realized very quickly that this climb was going to be much slower than expected. I also realized that I wasn’t interested in IT. At all.

Something that did spark my interest was breaking down professional and cultural barriers and helping others realize their potential—where they came from, what makes them tick and what makes them shine… It must have been obvious because I was quickly transferred to human resources. Don’t get me wrong, the position was challenging and the potential was great, but again I realized I was suffocating and did not belong in the corporate world. Feeling a strong need for something without boundaries, something brighter and more influential I enrolled in Grad School. Fast-forward 3 years, and two masters degrees to a hot July evening in a shitty economy, considering (more like dreading) another respectable corporate job when I got a call from my old friend, the Changeaholic…

Hi my name is Elisa, and I’m a Changeaholic.

I will concede that I have a few constants in my life: blonde hair, coffee, two inexhaustible kids, red wine (see last item), and two brilliant co pilots—Erika and my husband.

I met my husband, on spring break in Mexico when I was 20. He was at Annapolis, a naval officer in training and I was at UCSB, a lawyer in training. Fast forward 24 months, we married, started a family and began to build our careers. His traditional and mine, the exact opposite. Rather than pursue a steady career in law, our ever-changing military lifestyle led me to a career in consulting for multiple startups in my constants, fashion and beauty.  It was great, but I soon realized that this journey was getting too turbulent to fly alone… So I buzzed my old friend, the Rebel…

Fast forward 5 years, and a surfeit of consulting, we’ve realized that our professional partnership is something special. First off, we haven’t killed each other. It’s actually quite the opposite. Our respect is deeper and more profound than ever which is why we’ve taken this leap together to start our own brand. We’ve realized our strengths, accepted our weaknesses and succeeded on all of our journeys despite our rebellious and changeling tendencies.

It’s time to take it to the next level… With this foundation and the support of Bulldog Ventures, we’re taking the leap. You’d better believe that we’re on the cusp of something huge. If you’re ready, we welcome you to take the leap with us. It’s going to be a bit of a free fall, but we’re going to build one hell of an airplane. Buckle your seatbelt, return your seats to the upright position, and prepare for a turbulent ride.

Having a partner in business is just as essential as life, your co-pilot supports you when you can’t support your self, motivates you when you’re not, fuels you when you’re out of gas, and compliments everything you do.

Here are our Uncommon Sense Observations for Choosing A Sound Co-Pilot:

  1. There is no secret to success, it’s a result of surrounding yourself with the right people, working hard and learning from mistakes.
  2. If starting a business were easy everyone would do it. The barrier to entry is fear of hard work, fear of failure and fear of the unknown. Overcome your fears and success will follow.
  3. Ensure that you and your co-pilot share the same passions, if you’re not in it together, it probably won’t work.
  4. A good co-pilot will encourage, support and celebrate successes.
  5. You and your co-pilot must celebrate the power of collaboration, learning from failure, and being wrong. If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.

Stay tuned for the next chapter of our series.

Elisa Hills and Erika McKellar Co-founders, BLNDN

Elisa Hills and Erika McKellar (“The E’s”) are the co-founders of BLNDN. After 20 years of friendship and a decade of consulting for successful brands, the E’s have taken the leap and are developing their own beauty brand. Follow their journey at #BLNDN

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