I’ve always dreamed of being an entrepreneur. However, I had no idea of the path I’d take before starting my own company, Care + Wear. I often dreamt about potential solutions to various problems I encountered in my daily life like a mobile payment solution to an app that would tell you how long you need to wait in line. While they may be great ideas, it is extraordinarily difficult to pursue them as a business. Since I’ve been in this boat many times, here’s my advice as you pursue your own path.
Create your own opportunities
I was easily sold on joining A.T. Kearney right out of UVA. I would have the opportunity to travel around the world, work in numerous industries facing different challenges each time and learn from some incredibly bright professionals. I figured I could do this for a year and then go and create my own company. However, 1 year turned into 4 and I realized that I still wasn’t done learning and so I went to Chicago Booth to get my MBA. While I wasn’t building my own startup during my time in consulting, I made sure to learn about different industries including volunteering in the Broadway world for 3 years, working abroad, including a stint on my own in Cameroon, challenging myself with different types of projects (e.g., helping a home warranty insurance company enter the U.S. market) and taking on different roles like going from junior analyst to trusted team player. I also had the chance to create great learning opportunities within my own firm, including helping to create a global exchange program for junior consultants across the firm.
Look for jobs that will help you learn new skills
While in business school I started thinking about my next step. While I had told everyone that I would never move back to New York and never be an investment banker, I realized that a good leader really understands the financial implications of decisions and is able to quickly analyze situations based on the finances. I also had seen firsthand as a consultant that investment bankers were often the trusted confidants of company leaders. With that in mind, after graduation I went to work at Goldman Sachs and focused on building my analytical skillset and learning how to help companies evaluate acquisitions, capital raises, divestitures, etc. I worked with some of the leading companies in the world and interacted with companies in all stages of the business lifecycle.
Find something that you are passionate about
As I started thinking about how I could make an impact, I realized just how much I wanted to help patients who are going through a tough time. Turning a concept into a reality takes a lot of time and work, so it must be fueled by passion. It’s also much easier to dedicate 20 plus hours a day to something that you are devoted to. Each member of the Care + Wear team has a personal experience with medical treatments and a desire to help people to live their lives. It’s this passion that completes the long days and nights and maintains our unbridled enthusiasm to make a positive impact on patients.
Do your research and talk to everybody
Customers are complex. Do your research to fully understand what they need, even if they don’t know they need it yet. I am always analyzing companies and products on the market to understand what they do well and where they can improve and how we can incorporate what we’ve learned in to Care + Wear.
You can learn something relevant from everyone and you never know where a conversation may lead you. Don’t hesitate to send another email, make another call, or go to another event. Use your research to target people who may be able to help. Sometimes it is hard to have the courage to reach out but I have been overwhelmed at all the support and willingness to help that people have demonstrated after just one conversation. You can’t be afraid to ask. What do you have to lose when you believe in your product?
Don’t be afraid to seek out advice
I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have some amazing mentors. While at the University, I had the chance to connect with several alumni through the HoosOnline network (it was a little less user friendly back then). They not only helped give great feedback on their jobs but helped guide me into the consulting profession while in the Comm School. While at A.T. Kearney, I had several mentors – both official and unofficial – whom I could go to for feedback and advice frequently.
Today, I’m still in touch with these mentors and have had the chance to add significantly to this list. Being a first-time CEO is difficult but having trusted and reliable people that you can go to for advice is a great asset. I am glad that I took the time earlier in my career to seek out people who would continue to serve as mentors today.
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