Lessons From A Startup As They Happen: Designing Wings

October 19, 2014 / UNCOMMON

Lessons From A Startup As They Happen: Designing Wings

October 19, 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

On our quest to build a plane, we’re quickly realizing it’s the wings that allow us to fly. In our startup journey the wings represent the idea. We know that the more aerodynamic the wings, the faster and higher the plane will climb. Similarly, the better designed the idea is, the higher and faster the business will climb.

You’re only given a little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.” – Robin Williams

This quote from the late Robin Williams resonated with us given the journey that we’ve been on the past few years. Like most entrepreneurs, we’ve shed a lot of blood sweat and tears and admittedly wanted to give up on more than one occasion. We’ve had many moments where we’ve found ourselves looking at each other and saying “Are we f%^&* crazy?” The truth is that we probably are. But it’s unlikely that we’d be where we are today without being a little bit nuts. Our madness sparked an idea, and gave us the drive and perseverance to build a strategy to support it. We can’t pinpoint exactly what the craziness is attributed to, but we can look at our similarities as partners and best friends and draw a few hypotheses…

Coincidentally, we are both first born and we share many of the common first-born traits. We have extreme confidence in our abilities and in our ideas. With that confidence we have been able to recruit a team of believers. Second, we are extremely determined. Because our parents depended on us at an early age, we’re obsessive about finishing projects that we start. Third, we were born leaders. Whether on the soccer field or volleyball court, in the classroom or in the boardroom, we have always led the charge. Fourth, there is a method to our madness. We know where to find resources, whom to ask and in what order tasks should be done. We’re all about working smart and allocating our resources efficiently. And lastly, we are perfectionists. Our parents always had high expectations of us, so in turn we have high expectations of others. We believe that there is always room for improvement and that complacency or “it’s good enough” is not an option.

With traits like these, we think of at least a dozen ideas a week that excite us. Every problem we encounter, every need that we have, and every brand that we admire inspire us. A few processes in particular have turned our spark of madness into the framework of our wings. (Our apologies for being a bit vague here, we promise that we’re very close to unveiling, we’re just not quite ready yet…)

Make the problem personal.  

A $12 billion dollar industry dominated by a few big players. A saturated market where the threat of entry is high. A recognized niche opportunity that requires a unique solution. Today, nobody serves this niche as a standalone brand—and that became personal to us.

Listen to your intuition. 

Knowing for years that we were going to start our own brand, the questions were how and when? How do we differentiate our brand from the 100’s of other product lines? In a space dominated by a half dozen large players, a focused strategy solving a specific problem is key. Our own “a-ha” moment was at lunch last fall while experiencing a difficult time with a client. There were so many areas of the business we had influence over, but also so many decisions that we would have made differently given the opportunity to do them over again. Our conclusion—we needed to use our own professional experiences and personal stories to create a brand for women like us.

Think big and stay focused.

Before we took the leap, we spent months flushing out our idea, conducting countless hours of research attempting to predict the future viability of the marketplace. Our first step was to focus on the foundation. With Bulldog Drummond’s help we are building the brand, the voice and a solid product lineup.

Avoiding getting caught in a web of details is a daily struggle… just last week we spent four hours deciding which pantone color is the right shade for our products followed by a three hour debate about our angel investment. When we get caught in the weeds we cut the crap, clear our heads, hang with our loved ones and reconvene the next day.

Shut your mouth and open your ears.

You don’t learn much by being the smartest person in the room. Admitting you don’t know a lot is difficult, but can be one of the best learning experiences to build your wings. We’re fortunate to be surrounded by a network of incredibly smart people who care about our success and whom we trust implicitly. They have the knowledge and the skills to help keep us focused on our journey.

Despite our innate traits, humility and gratitude are the two that we lean on and continue to develop as we grow. We are very lucky to have encountered so many inspirational people in our professional career. They have not only found success in business, but in life, love and family. They put others first and truly enjoy passing on their knowledge and support to those who have a great idea and the passion to support it. As entrepreneurs, we all share that same spark and it gives us the strength to stay focused as we build our plane… call it madness, call it passion, call it wings.

Here are our UNCOMMON SENSE observations for designing wings:

1. Bold is admirable and humility is sexy. Humility is rooted in authenticity. Being true to yourself and your values ensures a foundation for success.

2. Gratitude is the attitude. Be genuinely grateful. You get to choose your attitude each and every day. This principle is a great reminder that our challenges help define us positively as much as they do negatively. And while circumstances might trigger challenges, we choose the attitude with which we approach them.

3. Focus on the solution not the problem. Hesitation is the product of fear. Replace the fear of the unknown with curiosity and when people say “no”, show them “yes”.

4. You cannot inspire change without a little bit of madness. Overcome the notion that you must be regular. It robs you of the chance to be extraordinary.

5. It’s not about the idea, it’s about making the idea happen. Perseverance is priceless. Go out. Do things. Create change. Otherwise stop bothering those of us who are.

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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