Every business will face some unique challenges as it grows. But there are certain roadblocks in startup life that are common among entrepreneurs.
So it helps to get advice from those who have been in your shoes.
To that end, we asked 16 founders and CEOs to share their best business advice for other entrepreneurs (or aspiring entrepreneurs). Here’s the wisdom they want to pass on, based on lessons they’ve learned the hard way.
Jacquelyn Ward and Ana Maes: ‘Test, test, test’
Our Story Bridal is New York City’s only bridal consignment boutique. They sell designer wedding dresses at steep discounts.
“Don’t wait for perfect! When starting a new business, we have learned that there is only so much you can predict with the information you have. The only way to really know if something is going to work is by testing it in a quick and scrappy way.
“We started our business by gathering 40 dresses from around the city and hosting a pop-up at a friend’s showroom. During the very first pop-up, we only had a few brides stop by and we learned from that and quickly adapted our marketing and processes. By our fourth pop-up, we had a waiting list of over 300 brides. Our business needs have evolved as we grow, so test things with the information you have available but rest assure, it will not be perfect, but you will be one step closer to achieving your goal.”
Sabin Lomac and Jim Tselikis: ‘Develop your story’
Cousins Maine Lobster runs food trucks and restaurants across the globe, where they sell lobster that is sustainably sourced directly from Maine.
“It took us a long time to understand that. The first week prior to opening, I started sending out tweets to our 200 followers, and it would be a photo of Jim and I and my grandfather on the rocks in Maine eating lobster. I didn’t know at the time that this was our story; I just did it because I said, ‘Hey, We’re from Maine. We’re cousins. Let me paint you a picture.’
“But after a couple years, we really understood that we are a family, that this is a family business, that these are family recipes. And that should be shared and highlighted more.”
Naa-Sakle Akuete: ‘Never turn down free assistance’
Eu’Genia Shea is a mother-daughter-run business that sells high-quality shea-butter products while supporting fair wages for the female workers in Ghana who make those products.
“When I first started, if someone offered to help me — whether it was to make an introduction or join my production line to meet tight deadlines — I would assume they were just being polite and say ‘no thanks’ because I was afraid of inconveniencing them. I’ve realized though, that most people don’t offer to help you unless they mean it.”
Alexander Esposito and James Mirras: ‘Don’t get in your own way’
The Free Ride offers passengers free transportation to some beaches in the Hamptons, the Jersey Shore, Santa Monica, and San Diego. Electric cars eliminate the cost of fuel and the service is sponsored by advertisers.
“Since starting The Free Ride, we have frequently used the term, ‘We’ll figure it out.’ That’s not to say that we act carelessly, but we’ve done a good job about not letting smaller hiccups or uncertainties get in the way of the bigger picture.
“No entrepreneur or business owner has all of the answers, but if you’re calculated, hard working, and seek good advice, you’ll figure out how to achieve the bigger goals.”
Kelly Peeler: ‘Keep your end user top of mind’
NextGenVest helps students navigate the college financial-aid process. Trained college students provide assistance to college applicants via text message.
“There are a lot of problems to solve when building a business that can distract you from delivering real value to your users. You should wake up thinking about your end user and to go to bed thinking about your end user.”
Ben Anderson: ‘Surround yourself with a group of people with diverse viewpoints and experiences’
Amino Apps allows users to create apps based on different interests and launch them through the Amino platform. Apps that are popular enough become stand-alone apps in the App store.
“When starting and building a company, you’re constantly battling the unknown and grappling with problems that have no clear solution. You need diverse input from people who have a variety of backgrounds and perspectives who can help you look at issues through a new lens. This leads to higher-quality decisions and the creation of a more dynamic, energized organization.”
Rus Yusupov: ‘Bring something to life’
HQ Trivia hosts free, live trivia events twice daily for people all over the world. Winners receive cash prizes.
“Profound motivations will take you a lot further than chasing money or a big exit. Bring something to life, solve a real problem or just build a big vision of the future.”
Jen Rubio: ‘Don’t be discouraged when things don’t go according to plan’
Away creates functional, affordable luggage for modern travelers.
“There is no one plan anyway! When you’re building something from scratch, there won’t be a playbook, so it’s inevitable that you’ll make some mistakes. Being flexible and able to adapt to the unexpected will help you stay focused on what matters, rather than allowing yourself to get derailed over the little things.”
Alexi Nazem: ‘Take a step back every once in a while’
Nomad Health helps connect freelance clinicians to work in healthcare systems.
“You’re in for a roller coaster ride, so buckle up! The emotional journey of building a company is almost impossible to anticipate. You care so much about this thing you started, so everything is amplified. The highs are very high and the lows are very low. And even with that warning going in, you are still going to underestimate the degree of whiplash.
“But, the good news is that building a company also comes with an immense sense of pride. You get to create something from nothing. So be sure to take a step back every once in a while and appreciate all the many things you and your team are sure to have accomplished. It’s amazing what a small group of motivated people can do.”
Ilir Sela: ‘Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you’
Slice lets customers order from local pizzerias (that aren’t necessarily on services like Seamless) through a mobile app.
“Build up an incredible team that will help you scale the business, that will bring world-class knowledge and ability. Learn from them. You win with people.”
Bouchra Ezzahraoui and Sophie Kahn: ‘Just do it’ and ‘be transparent’
AUrate sells affordable, ethically sourced, high-quality gold jewelry.
Ezzahraoui: “A lot of people spend years working on business plans and debating what strategy they should go for. In startups, unfortunately you can’t be making a two-year strategy. That’s not how it works given how fast things are moving. You’re moving almost a quarter at a time.
“Go for it. There’s no need to spend a year working on business models or all these great ideas or make projections for the next five years. Just go and start. Do it. Test it. Have focus groups. Start with people around you.”
Kahn: “What was helpful when Bouchra and I started a business on the side was actually talking about it with my [then] current employer. You don’t want to feel like a double agent. I would always recommend that as opposed to doing it without people [at work] really knowing about it.”
Neil Grimmer: ‘Make your business personal’
Habit provides customers with DNA and other kinds of testing so they can learn more about their specific nutritional needs. Customers also receive personalized recipes from Habit.
“Starting a business requires long hours and personal sacrifice, and can be tough on you as an individual. So it has to be meaningful and something you believe will transform lives.
“For example, my first company, Plum, was started because I was a young parent trying to feed my kids the best food possible, and I didn’t feel like that option was out there. Likewise, the inspiration for Habit came from my own personal health and wellness journey. I found a diet that worked for me after many trips to specialists, genetics and blood tests, and I wanted to make this process of personalized nutrition easier to access for the average consumer.”
Amy Chasan: ‘Build an incredible team’
Sweet Generation is a New York City bakery where the pastries are handmade by groups of at-risk youth learning professional skills.
“Whether it’s just you and one other person, or you and 15 other people — you spend more time with your team than your family, so you have to love them. They ultimately will make our break the sustainability of what you are working so hard to build. And when times get tough, which they inevitably do, your team is there to keep pushing you forward.”
Evgeny Milyutin: ‘Invest time in your customer’
Happy Numbers helps teachers personalize math instruction through an artificial intelligence-enabled math education platform. The program provides interactive exercises for students and then delivers feedback to the teachers based on the students’ performance.
“Understand exactly what their day looks like and what keeps them up at night. A true understanding of all their pain points, even if they are not directly related to the problem your product is solving, will help you develop a solution that customers will trust. It also will give you lots of ideas of what else you can do for your customer.”
Emma Straub: ‘Focus on what you do best’
Books Are Magic is an independent bookstore in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn that hosts literary events and offers a wide selection of both fiction and non-fiction.
“Find people to help you with the things you’re less good at — there are so many tasks in the running of the bookstore, and one person can’t do everything.”
Jack Kramer: ‘Know, don’t think”
MarketSnacks puts out a daily finance newsletter geared toward millennials.
“We use fantastic, engaging, visually sleek surveys to constantly gain insights on our readers in a non-intrusive way — they love participating so we can further sculpt our product to meet their needs. We convert ‘I think’ what they want to ‘I know’ what they want.”