What does it mean to be an entrepreneur? Since the start of our country, entrepreneurship has been a celebrated endeavor of the strong-willed, free-spirited, and thick-skinned. With the rise of technology and social media, now more than ever it is possible to be an entrepreneur – even if you work for someone else. During this webinar, we examine how the definition of entrepreneurship is shifting, and 10 ways that anyone can harness entrepreneurial thinking to empower yourself and those around you.
– [Lauren] Good afternoon.
I’m excited to welcome you to today’s alumni career webinar, Harnessing The Entrepreneur Within. My name is Lauren Forest and I’m the associate director for career programs here at the Alumni Association. Our office is committed to helping provide alumni with the resources they need to stay competitive in an ever-changing job market and support the alumni community with career resources, networking channels and job search capabilities. It’s my privilege to introduce you to our presenter today, UChicago alumni, Dee Heffernan.
Dee is the founder and chief creative strategist of Dee Heffernan Integrated Brand Marketing, a full service strategic advisory and creative shop that helps values driven organizations engage with more meaning. Known to her clients as the idea girl, Dee specializes in turning any brand challenge into an opportunity. The first generation descendant of Ecuadorian coffee farmers, and the daughter of health and wellness entrepreneurs, it is in Dee’s DNA to ideate, innovate and create. Over the course of her entrepreneurial journey, Dee has acquired a vast applied skill set spanning brand strategy, creative direction and mentorship. A few awards and penchant for bringing out the entrepreneur in everyone, now let me welcome, Dee.
– [Dee] Thank you so much for having me here today. Let me start by saying that this is a life-long journey of mine. Entrepreneurship, like Lauren said, I was raised by entrepreneurs and in many ways it is what I’ve always known and in some ways what I’ve only known. Throughout the course of my career, I have always been a student of the human condition, behavior, what makes us purchase certain things. What makes us believe in certain brands or products or people over others. And I have to say, that over the last couple of years, I’ve gone beyond advising my clients based on market research and what I, like anybody else, is exposed to in the media and I have started to challenge myself to be in uncomfortable situations and to explore what it feels like to do some of the things that I often advise my clients to do.
Such as, webinars, YouTube videos, these things that make us intensely uncomfortable, insecure, that raise all sorts of self-doubt that really doesn’t need any excuse to come out. And it forces us to look at how we are presenting ourselves. Whether that’s in alignment with who we really are. And then learning through the difficulty of watching ourselves and taking in the lessons of failure and deriving growth from that.
So, I’ll tell you a little bit about my, let’s see, we’ll move ’em there, there we go. So this is a little slideshare that I had my dad help me with. He is a contract manufacturer based in South Carolina. He and my mom started a skincare, lotions, hair care, that sort of thing all natural formulation company back when I was just first born. So we’re going on 35 years of that company being around.
And you can see in the upper left-hand corner, that’s me with the pink bow and I must be, I just imagine I must be trying to get customers to come into the booth. And that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Who knows what I’m doing. I don’t know who that little boy is but I pretty much grew up on the trade show floor. And I didn’t realize until much later in life that this was one of the most valuable experiences that I had as a young person is seeing my parents, not only come home from work everyday and talk about their experiences at work but actually be there with them while they were unpacking lotions. While they were stumbling through their pitches of the brand new product that they just came out with. While they were, what I didn’t know, but struggling to market themselves and figure this life of an entrepreneur out. The upper right hand corner picture is at another trade show. My dad, not only was figuring out how to formulate skin care products naturally without chemical ingredients but he was also emceeing bodybuilding contests. His parents, down below that picture, the bottom right hand corner, my grandparents, owned a health food store while I was growing up.
And so, actually I was talking to my wife this morning about how I really can’t walk into a health food store anymore without taking this giant deep breath and just wanting to hang out because the smell of bulk goods and the faint smell of supplements and everything else that is associated with natural health food stores. I swear, if they could bottle that scent and market it, I would be a lifetime customer because it was during such formative years that I was surrounded by entrepreneurs. That it is essentially like another sibling. In fact, I’ve often talked about it, referenced my parent’s company as the fourth sibling. As that other sibling that was always there at every kitchen table dinner. Every game. Every vacation we went on, it was always there. And it is something that, on the one hand, I have always really valued about my childhood.
But it’s also something that I’ve struggled with because as many of us know, whether we’re entrepreneurs or not, but especially if we’re entrepreneurs, it’s very hard to turn that off. And so, I feel like it is part of my life’s journey to try and figure out how to achieve some kind of balance between the entrepreneur that is inside of me that I will have forever and ever and ever. And first and foremost, an entrepreneur, it’s how I think. And also, the well-rounded, balanced person that I needed to be in order to do good work and in order to feel fulfillment. And I believe that entrepreneurship is first and foremost a challenge of trying to find that balance. So then, the lower left hand corner there, the woman that is defeathering a chicken is my grandmother. She’s from Ecuador, this is a trip that I took just after I graduated from high school with my mom and my grandmother and this was the first time I had been in Ecuador and growing up, my mother used to talk about how she used to bathe in the river. And these were always such fantastical romanticized stories, in my eyes, of the time, the porcupine made it’s way into their house and everybody was running around in the middle of the night trying not to trip over a porcupine. Or bathing in the river, seeing a snake go by. Or watching sloths climb on trees. These were like, I mean, what a cool privilege to have those stories even in my life, let alone, to eventually go and visit a country and see the town that she grew up in and realize that people are still bathing in rivers and that they are still raising their own chickens and if they have guests over, they’re going to slaughter one of those chickens and you’re gonna eat it right then and there. And what was really cool about this trip and this experience juxtapose with my upbringing in America with health food stores and trade shows, is that these are a different type of entrepreneur.
My grandmother and my grandfather, they both came from farmer families so this was a time when everybody and every one of your neighbors, you know, one person was making all of the bread for the community. The other person had another crop that they shared. Another person had meat. And they really did utilize every ounce of entrepreneurship that they had just by default of survival.
And I think there’s something really beautiful and simple in that. And I’d like to merge that old country, this is how you can make a living, it doesn’t have to be super complicated. You have to build relationships. And this new world sense of entrepreneurship where you really can scale your company to infinity and be and make anything you want. So let’s take a look at the definition of entrepreneurship and how it has evolved over time. When I Googled entrepreneur, the Google definition, I think it drew Miriam Webster, says, it’s a person who organizes and operates a business or businesses, taking on greater than normal financial risks in order to do so. Andif you see below, the synonyms, businessman, businesswoman, tycoon, mogul.
These are all very traditional definitions of an entrepreneur and quite frankly, they’re a little bit scary and even when I look at that definition, I don’t really think that I fit into it. Because I don’t think of myself as wearing a suit and going and buying and selling business and for real, if you were to go to stock photo website and you were to type in entrepreneur, I spend many many hours on stock photo websites in any given week, you would find these photographs of people with their arms crossed. Of men and women in very very serious looking poses. And it feels a little bit intimidating. And I think it turns a lot of people off because they feel, even if they do have a dream, or they do have a pursuit that they want to try out that they have to fit into this definition of what an entrepreneur is, and it feels risky.
And it feels quite, like a concept that’s almost too large to even comprehend. Now, Dictionary.com has an updated and much, I think, more relevant definition of entrepreneur and that is, those who identify a need, any need, and fill it. It’s a primordial urge, independent of product, service, industry or market. And I just absolutely love this definition because it’s more telling of who the entrepreneurs of today are and I’m sure have always been.
Entrepreneurs are people who truly just find a need and they fill it. In fact, if somebody were to tell me tomorrow that I could no longer, that I had to close my doors and I were no longer allowed to own a marketing firm, I’m 100% positive that I would turn around and start another business, find something else that I have an interest in, find a need and go for it. And I think that that’s sort of that the center of this concept that everyone has an entrepreneur within if we can just reframe the definition of that and accept it as something that is really a possibility for anybody. In fact, this is more and more what the new entrepreneur looks like. Up in the upper left hand corner, there’s this little boy that, and there’s a lot of kids that are doing this by the way, he has a YouTube channel. And he makes over a million dollars a year reviewing toys.
I’m sure you’ve seen these before. My parents company, they own a brand, a skin care brand that every day gets inquiries from people who’ve owned YouTube commercials, YouTube channels and they ask if they can review a product. They don’t receive payment for it but they do, these people have massive followings. So they get tons of free product.
They also get the endorsements from advertisers on YouTube and so many other perks that come with it. But it’s a real business and YouTube really is no longer a place where you go and just watch cute cat videos, although it certainly can be, and I’m sure those cats are making a lot of money off of that. Also, there’s this little girl, Mikaila Ulmer, you might have heard of her, she has BeeSweet Lemonade. She scored, recently, an 11 million dollar deal with Whole Foods. And anybody who is in the natural food or health on supplement product industry knows that it’s difficult to get into Whole Foods Market. Whole Foods has hundreds of stores and they, back when I was working for my parents company, I used to call on these stores.
I used to call on the regional Whole Foods buyers and try to get our products into them and sell based on the integrity of the ingredients and what kind of market it could attract and how it’s different than all the other products in the shelves. It’s incredibly competitive and these young, brilliant, young little stars who have their own unique brand are killing it. These are the entrepreneurs.
This little girl did not go to business school. She has not finished primary school and she is killing it. And the last photo here is the cover of this week’s Entrepreneur magazine issue. And the boy on the cover, the man on the cover is a YouTube star as well. And he is now, figuring out that his appeal on YouTube is perhaps limited, the timing of it for who his market is which is mostly teenage girls is limited and so he is taking his money and he’s reinvesting it in start-ups and products and brands that are not associated with his name. It’s really cool stuff and I really encourage everybody to, if you’re thinking about what entrepreneurs of today look like and how people are using social media, such as YouTube, Snapchat is another one, really just do a Google search for kids who are, for new entrepreneur kid millionaires and you’ll find a lot of really inspiring and highly relevant stories.
Another trend that is on the rise is INTRApreneurship. That is people starting companies within organizations. 30% of large companies now provide seed funds to finance INTRApreneurial efforts. There are more organizations hosting entrepreneurship contests. Amazon has a start-up challenge and you get, if you win the challenge, you get money to start up that company.
And 6.5% of entrepreneurs today are starting companies within organizations, so of all the entrepreneurs out there, eking toward 10% are within organizations. 3M has what’s called a bootlegging policy and that is where you can take 15% of your month, I believe, or 15% of your time and you can, then come up with your own idea for whatever special project you want. And there other companies that have spin-offs on that.
So you can take a certain percentage of your time and come up with new service or product offerings for the company and pitch it and get rewarded for that. Facebook is known for their hackathons. So this is really on the rise and what I’m really excited about is what that means for anybody who is even remotely thinking that they want something more out of their day-to-day. They want to feel greater sense of fulfillment, purpose, by, I don’t have the statistic on here but by 2020 millennials are projected to make up 46% of our workforce. And this whole swell of INTRApreneurship as you saw on the last slide, young entrepreneurs, this is driven by a unique profile of millennials, by and large, who are accustomed to change. Who have lived through the recession and witnessed their parents, their grandparents lose everything after giving 35 years to a job and retirement fund. These are kids that have watched their close friends lose their homes.
These kids themselves who grew up, maybe, spending a year living out of a car. These are real stories. Andexcuse me, they are more open to change. They feel like money and pure monetary compensation is less important than having purpose and feeling like they are making a difference. And I think that the two, that entrepreneurship and that profile are deeply connected.
So where does that leave us in terms of what the mindset of an entrepreneur is and what we can do with that? So there are four, there are some realities okay. Four things entrepreneurs do really well. Number one, fail. failure is, I believe, the number one thing that if you’re thinking about entrepreneurship or if you’re just anybody who is wanting to create something of meaning, failure is absolutely necessary. And entrepreneurs do that a lot and they do it really, really well. Troubleshoot. Find solutions to problems very quickly. If you’re funding is gonna go away or if you’re like myself and you work for yourself and you’re supporting a family and you lose a client, then you have to figure out a way to find a new client really fast and ego goes out the window. And this ideal passion project that I had going on the side here, well that has to take a back seat because I need to figure out a new to fill the gap. And I feel like, in a traditional corporate environment and the way we are raised to think about our careers, we are almost trained to not troubleshoot quickly.
To kind of go along with the systematic process of figuring out a problem, meanwhile, there’s somebody else whose already leap-frogged ahead and done it their own way and is moving on. The third thing entrepreneurs do really well is network, build relationships. I’m not saying that all relationships are created equal and that there are some relationships that start and die very quickly but networking and it’s like dating. You get out there and you try, you can work on your personal brand pitch.
You can seek mentors. You can learn about what other people are doing. You can just keep your feelers out there. I’m a big empath and I’m also an introvert so everything that I when I show up to a networking event, I’ve got my, all my little feelers are out and I might not be able to process that immediately what I’m feeling but every single time I network and every single time I create a new relationship, I feel like I have learned something about myself and grown and typically I have, you know, crazy ideas then that pop up all around. So, it’s imperative to keep doing that. And I think that when we are feeling comfortable, this is true for people who work for themselves and those who don’t, we tend to just focus on what we are, the task at hand is and we’re not really investing that extra time in networking.
And I recently interviewed a woman who is retired executive in fortune 500 HR and she was telling me that she didn’t really believe that work life balance existed. And I’d be curious to hear what you think about that because it’s something that I go back and forth on. On the one hand, I feel like, okay well, it’s time for me to network, I’d better get out there and you know, maybe not spend the time that I wanted to spend with my family in order to do this networking. Or well, there’s this networking event that I can go to but does it really align with what I’m working on right now or is waiting for my kid to come home from their first day of school more important? And I tend to believe that balance is achievable but we really have to be extremely intentional about it.
And these are two things, one of two things that entrepreneurs struggle with. Balance and Organization. Having grown up in a family business that really took off right around the time when I was 12, 13, just before high school. Went from going to the trade shows with my parents and my parents started formulating from the basement of our home, so we saw them quite a bit.
My mother is a skin esthetician by trade so my father and she would formulate these skin care products and then she would go and use them on her clients at her little spa. And it was like, we still saw our parents in the evenings and on weekends and then when the business took off, so did they. And I absolutely don’t regret that their success was able to pay for my education. I will 100% be forever grateful for that and I truly believe in paying that forward for my children for the same reason that they did for me. But I feel like one of my charges in life now is to figure out how to be able to really fully immerse myself in my work while achieving a level of balance that’s gonna be good for me and my kids. And I think that comes down to getting better at the organizational part of it. That’s one thing that corporations really help with is defining that structure.
What does your day look like? What does your month look like? What does your year look like? That entrepreneurs just don’t really have to deal with. So taking charge is just a constant venture and we get better at it but you’re never really always done with it.
So, here’s, you might not have noticed but the first slide said take charge and that has 10 letters in it and I have 10 ways to harness entrepreneurial thinking as the focus of this conversation. So for each letter, we’re gonna go ahead and think about one of those concepts and please feel free to ask questions, share a story, comment, I don’t really want this to be a lecture.
And I don’t want this to be, I think somebody called it recently, death my PowerPoint I don’t have a whole lot of slides. Each one of these letters, each one of these tips is going to be just one slide deep. So we’re gonna talk about it and then we’re gonna move on and then at the end of this part of the presentation I hope that we can chat a little bit and see where our conversations go.
This is as much a learning process for me as it is for you, so please don’t think that I’m going to be, I want to be lecturing at you, that my intention is quite the opposite. So number one is, take a chance. This is a constant struggle in entrepreneurship. It happens at the beginning where you decide you’re gonna go ahead and take a chance because you have an idea and you’re gonna go ahead and go for it.
And you make a little bit of progress, maybe make some contacts. Maybe you even get some sales and then all of a sudden, the rug gets pulled out from underneath you and regret ever having done that. For me, recently, that has been happening with YouTube or video, I should say, not just YouTube. And it’s been a real chance for me because clients will hire me to advise them on their branding strategy and ways to better present their brands in a way that is flattering, first and foremost, but also in alignment with what their culture and what their company really is like. And in order, I feel, that in order for me to really give the best type of advice for them I have to put my money where my mouth is. And taking a chance on video means failing at delivering the right message.
I could be failing miserably right now because this is also a chance I’m taking. If you don’t take that chance then you don’t receive the growth. And Gina Davis said it really well, she’s an amazing entrepreneur actually, she runs the Gina Davis Institute for Gender in Media which I would check out and I can always, if you’re interested, I could come up with a list of some of the organizations that I’ve cited in this talk and send it out to you guys or have the Alumni Association send them out to you after this. She said that, “If you risk nothing, you risk everything.” And I think that’s pretty true. Number two, ask the right questions. I think that, I took, this as a photo taken by Annie Leibovitz. And this speaks to what every actor and actress experiences on the red carpet.
This is, I chose this photo because the quote was… Ask the right questions if you’re to get the right answers. And for entrepreneurs, I think that means not just ask the right questions about what am I going to develop or where am I gonna put my energies but why am I going to develop that. Why am I going to spend time on this versus something else.
It’s going back to that balance. It’s figuring out, yes, what turns you on. Yes, where you want to be. And where you ideally wanna be focusing your energies but also what’s required of you in order to be able to do that. And it also means asking other people. Reaching out, networking, finding out what other people have done, how they’ve failed, how they’ve succeeded. Podcasts are a really great endeavor for that. Informal interviews are really wonderful. I’ve started my own interview series of women in business who, for no other reason, just seemed really interesting to me. And if gives me an opportunity to make some authentic, really genuine connections with people and not just try to sell an idea or something that I think they might need or a way that I might be able to help them or of their connections but it really gives me an opportunity to broaden my perspectives and I think that that’s absolutely critical in getting outside of the box and trying new things and succeeding at them.
Number three, keep it real. I’m not sure if anybody here has heard of Awkwafina. But she is a rapper, a comedian and an actress. She’s completely blowing up right now. She’s 28. She was just recently cast in the spin-off of Oceans 8 which is an all-female cast. And it’ll be her first debut on the silver screen, they’re calling it. I put her name on the screen so that you can Google her and watch some of her videos ’cause she’s incredible. The really cool thing about her is that she’s a comedian but she draws inspiration from dark places. And she cites Charles Bukowski as one of her early inspirations – one of the darkest poets that I’ve ever come across. And it’s people like her that are saying, look, we’re talented, yes. We have all this raw ability and we are making money and we’re doing other things beyond just our core competency. And we’re also being really real about it. Now she’s photographed here with Margaret Cho and they’ve done some collaborating.
And Margaret Cho is also a comedian and she is an outspoken LGBT activist. She has also come out and talked about her history in sex work. And all of these things that she’s, both of these young ladies, that they speak about and that they rap about and write about. They’re really deeply personal and I could imagine how difficult it is to, essentially, air your dirty laundry. Air something about yourself that people might frown upon. That might turn somebody off and think that, you know, maybe they’re gonna work with you, maybe they’re not gonna hire you for that movie. Maybe you’re not gonna get the promotion because you’re being too real. And I believe, and there are so many examples of women and people who are doing this that if you can keep it real, you can kill it.
Embrace the haters. They’re… From country to pop star. From boycotting Spotify to releasing her album exactly the way she wants to do it on iTunes, there’s really no greater example of going with your gut than Taylor Swift. And if she wanted to go back to country music, she probably could. She has leveraged social media. she has probably not listened very well to what any of the executives up high have told her. She has 100% gone with her gut and done exactly what she wanted to do, knowing that there’s gonna be haters. In fact, if you’re doing something right, you should expect the haters.
If there’s nobody that they disagree with you, that they think your idea’s wrong, that they think your way of putting it out there is bad, then you’re onto something right. And I believe that for individuals that to do that and also for corporations to do that, is starting to pay off and is going to pay off big time because with social media and the way everything turns over so quickly, these are the people that are going to stand out and essentially be the new millionaires and billionaires of our generation.
Celebrate change. Love her, hate her, you can’t avoid the fact that she has truly celebrated her own change. And change is whatever that means for you. It could mean going to that networking meeting that you feel butterflies about and you just don’t think it’s for you. Or it could mean changing your brand.
It could mean taking something that has been working for 30 years and trying something different. Change is going to be inevitable. Change is can be gradual or it can be sudden. But the sooner we embrace that, the sooner we can overcome out biggest challenges. According to Bloomberg, eight out of every 10 entrepreneurs will fail in the first 18 months. I still can’t really believe that because it’s amazing, that number is so high, 80% fail rate and, like I said before, failure is inevitable. This is a photo of Ronda Rousey, she’s a kick boxer and she’s got some crazy record for the amount of knockouts in short periods of time, she’s amazing. Well, earlier last year she met her match and she was actually on the receiving end of the knockout. She was far and wide the, supposed to be the winner of this match and she ends up getting knocked out early in the competition and she’s gone on record saying, you know, she questioned everything that she was doing. She thought, what the heck am I doing, this is not for me, I’m worthless, what’s the point of going on living.
Here is a winner who is used to winning and then she literally gets knocked out but now she’s back up and she’s amazing. She’s an entrepreneur, she’s very successful. She has multiple things going for her and she now knows what it’s like to get knocked down. And that’s totally inevitable but nothing, there’s nothing that’s gonna keep you hitting more than getting knocked down and that translates to hitting the pavement, right. There’s getting beyond the ego. There are a lot of that I come across who feel like they’ve reached a stage in their career where they no longer have to, you know, whatever tolerate a certain type of work or go to, you know, try to obtain certain types of relationships because they’re too big for it or they’re beyond that but any entrepreneur will tell you that you never stop hustling.
You never ever stop hitting the pavement and it doesn’t need to happen in a conference room. You don’t have to wear fancy suits to do so. But you do have to keep swinging and you do have to hit, you can’t just tap it. You have to go after it all the way. Allow imperfection.
Alicia Keys has recently been at the forefront of this movement. The hashtag is no makeup. And she has decided to completely strip down. It’s sort of like the Photoshopping, no Photoshopping. In fact, Ronda Rousey from that last slide, she spoke out really hard against Photoshopping because there was, she was doing an interview and she tweeted this photo of her interview being like, oh yeah, I was on, I think it was Letterman. I was on Letterman and you know, awesome. This is exciting, what a great time in my career. Well, come to find out, that photo was Photoshopped. And this is muscular, strong woman and she says, there’s not one muscle in my body that doesn’t have a purpose and yet, they Photoshopped her arms to make her look slimmer.
So that was a huge outrage and now there are women in droves following that lead saying, don’t Photoshop me, that’s damaging to young girls. I don’t care if I don’t look picture perfect all the time, that’s just how I look. And I believe that it’s people like Alicia Keys and Ronda Rousey who are highly visible who are showing us that you can still be incredible talented beautiful, successful without looking a certain way.
And when we think about revamping communications materials, when we think about selecting photographs for our website rebrand, we have to think about outside the box what’s happening around us that is starting to catch fire and this is one of those trends that has really big. Along the same lines of allowing imperfection, you can look at YouTube videos. Gary Vaynerchuk, he does tons of videos up close, with his phone, right up on his mug, you know, six in the morning having not shaved but he’s still spitting out pearls of wisdom and this is, again, the new look of the entrepreneur. So if one of those fears is that you have to be perfect, or you have to look perfect, you have to sound perfect, that’s like going out the window. R, number eight, remember why. So these are my kids. This was taken in my office.
My little ones, this was press sheet that I had for a communications piece for one of my clients and they came in and they started drawing on it and this is the kind of thing that I just, you know, I love and I wanna keep safe. And I want their experience, their memories, of these times, coming to my office and quote, unquote, helping me. I want these times for them to be as cherished as my memories growing up in my parents’ offices were for me. And that means doing things, seems counter intuitive but, doing the things that make me feel uncomfortable, that charge my emotions, that make me feel fear. That make me feel doubt. That make me feel like an impostor. Doing all these things that it’s really easy to try to shut down or try to shut out by simply avoiding the things that are uncomfortable. And that is my why. Is setting an example for them and being of a sounder and healthier frame of mind myself so that the pressure that I’m putting on to be perfect or to always be successful, whatever that means, is not transferred onto them and impacting the way they’re gonna view themselves someday.
So, remember your why and keep it close. We don’t change the world overnight. I have heard this over and over and over again. My grandmother, I was just talking to her on the phone, and she was telling me that, Well Dee, Rome wasn’t built in a day. And it stings a little bit to hear that because it seems so cliche but it’s so true. Anybody who has huge Twitter followers or huge blog subscribers, anybody who’s in any sort of position of significance or success or power, it took them a lot of time to get there. So nobody starts out perfect and to think that that’s how it is, is foolish. And I think that it’s, reminding yourself that is a constant effort. I have to remind myself every day when I see 23, 24, 25 year olds becoming CEOs of these startup companies in Silicone Valley and I think, I wonder if I was in Silicone Valley 10 years ago, if that would be me and I would be pulling 20 million a year. And I have to stop myself because that wasn’t my journey. We can’t compare our journeys to everybody else’s journey. That was, my journey was to start a family because, quite frankly, my kids balance me out.
I don’t think I would be anywhere near as successful as I have been if weren’t for them. And so, the trajectory of my success or what I deem success is different and has a different time frame and that’s okay. That’s important and that’s a mindset that entrepreneurs will harness when they are feeling burnt out. Lastly, evolve. There is no one who has done the evolution of style and hair and business better than Oprah, Oprah Winfrey. And this is true for your personal brand. This is true for your corporate brand. You have to be open to evolving. No one stays still. Change happens regardless of whether you’re trying to make it or not. Trends change, styles change. And you have to try to make an effort to stay relevant and so when I work with companies on rebrands or communications revamps, we use the language of evolution. This is not tearing down walls and starting over from scratch. this is taking the history of the company, taking the truth of the culture and where it is now, it’s not perfect, it never will be, and evolving it to a place where it is more relevant to our culture and to the people that matter most. And that is the employees. That is the main stakeholders of the organization. And if the organization’s doing something really good for this world, that means it’s the public, it’s humans.
So constantly evolving and allowing yourself to look back at those times when you had really bad hair and laugh at it and then move on is just a critical piece of allowing that growth to happen in your entrepreneurial journey. And that is the end of my presentation. I would love to know if there were any questions or any comments or thoughts that came up, bubbled up while I was going through that.
– [Lauren] Hey Dee, thank you. This is Lauren with the Alumni Association. Again, if anyone has questions, please feel free to enter them into the chat box. We did receive a couple so I’ll start reading them off. One was, I’m in investor or an inventor that wants to license my product ideas but I stumble… Sorry, I’m reading them from the most minute box ever.
But I stumble– – [Dee] Start reaching out to big companies. – [Lauren] How do I find out who to call? How do I know when I’m ready? And I’m terrible at networking. – [Dee] Okay.
Well, I think that the last point, the first thing, terrible at networking, I think it’s how we define it for ourselves. I know that networking makes most people cringe just to think about that word because you imagine standing around staring at each other awkwardly. And then trying to come up with things to talk about and not trying to sound too salesy or too pitchy and I think that the way I would approach that is to do some research.
Google is amazing, LinkedIn is really great for finding out who are decision makers within organizations. There are tons of resources on how to leverage LinkedIn to essentially hop from one connection to the e next. One thing that I do and I found LinkedIn to be really accessible in this way is I will do some research and I’ll find out who key decision makers are with the company that I want to connect with and then I’ll invite them to connect. And a lot of times, you know, maybe nothing comes back but a lot of times they’ll just go ahead and accept my invitation which is kind of an open door to say something and what I’ve found lately is rather than just say I have a product I’m looking to pitch, I come in really really authentically, really with humility and with just the rawness of where you are.
Like, hey, I’m an inventor, this is something that I’m working on, I’m really interested in getting perspectives from people who have been there and done that. I’m curious if you would open to talking with me or if you know of someone or of an organization where I could find more resources. And I think giving other people an out so that they don’t have to, they don’t feel obligated to really help you in any way or they don’t feel obligated to listen to a sales pitch, will get you really good feedback and sometimes you kind of go in, find somebody that is maybe not an investor but who is an inventor. Someone more aligned with who you are. And start with creating relationships in that capacity and I’m guessing that you’ll probably find ways to connect with other people who could be investors just through those relationships. But again, those take time.
I think that one of the fears of networking is the fallacy that we’re going to meet somebody and they’re gonna be our next client or they’re gonna be that investor when, in fact, the next client or investor could be five, six, seven connections and many months away. So that really says, you have to start immediately networking and then eventually you will find yourself having that more, that conversation about, that you’re really trying to get to –
We’ve got a couple more. One is, do you feel that there are entrepreneurial personalities? As a physician, I feel that I followed a narrow path and moving away from that feels completely foreign.
– [Dee] Yes. I do thing that there are entrepreneurial personalities.
And it sounds like you’re saying that you don’t think that you have one of those but I would challenge that. Because there’s an entrepreneurial personality in the sense that if you were told tomorrow that someone was gonna give a million dollars and you had to start a business. You probably wouldn’t feel like you had the wherewithal to know where to start. And I think that entrepreneurs, I think we all start there.
Not really knowing where to start. And I actually, I’ve worked with physicians in the past and I had a physician client that was an amazing physician and he had a wonderful idea for a product and I helped him bring it to market but he never really quite got comfortable with networking or meeting with buyers and I feel like there was an innocence of I’m a doctor, I’m a physician, I’m coming from a place where science is my, is everything, science really dictates how I behave and what
I do. There are very… I’m doing this thing with my hands where I’m like pointing in very focused directions so there’s very, there are finite ways to approach different problems. And there are very clear solutions to my questions, potentially, of course, unless they’re wrong or there are just these big questions but I think that entrepreneurship, I think it is within everyone. And you almost have to think, if I didn’t have anything and I didn’t have my degree and I had to make my, and I had to pay some bills, what would I do. And just coming up a idea of what would I do and how would I sell it, that is entrepreneurship and I think that if we could just distill it down to something as basic and simple as that, then we can maybe get over that presumption that it’s not us or it’s not for me.
But then again, I’ve always been an entrepreneur so I feel like I’ve always had a lot of security in knowing that if the ground were to fall out from beneath me, I’d be okay. But I also think that that’s just a way of thinking that I was trained to have. My parents were always like that. They always taught us that, whatever you wanted to do you could do and if pushed against the wall, you have to find a way to troubleshoot your way out.
So I think that it’s, I honestly believe that there is, it’s a learned way of thinking. So, yeah, I think that there are certain entrepreneurial people that I think a lot of the time that it’s a nurture, nurture versus nature. – [Lauren] Awesome. Next question is: As an idea evolves, what gives you confidence to set out on a, to pursue it?
A sense of feasibility? A network that already exists? A background of experience in the area? Obviously a lot of learning happens on the way, but at what point do you feel like you have enough definition in your idea to move forward with it? – [Dee] Hm, that’s a really great question.
That’s a great question. So certain ideas that I have are born out of necessity. For instance, there have been times in my career where I knew that I needed a certain type of stream of income in order to relax. In order to feel like the wolves were at bay. And that necessity, that fear that…
If I don’t figure something out, I’m not, you know, that’s it, there’s no way to fail, I can’t possibly fail, it’s not possible. I will often default on what I know is easiest for me to do. So, for me, some of the easiest things to do are churn out logos and correct, I can take a look at a company’s brand ecosystem all of the different touch points that they have and I can, in a glance, assess what’s out of alignment and what needs to be fixed.
And then I can help, and then I can also figure out in my mind really quickly what is the priority, what’s the order of operations of getting something like that done so that it’s economically feasible for the client so that it feels, so that it’s logical in the sequence that it gets done. And that’s based on my experience, so I’ve done so many rebrands and I’ve redesigned so many marketing pieces.
The sheer volume of things that I have designed has made it so that’s now a lot of this stuff is second nature. Of course, the thinking that goes into figuring out a company’s needs, that stuff is all learned once I get into it. So if a, once I’ve, you know needs, meaning, how do we craft a communication strategy such that this company’s brand is accurately reflected?
So I have to do, of course, all of the research about their brand and I have to do market research. And I have to experiment with design and the whole creative process and there’s a lot of work that’s essentially what I get paid for. So that is all unique to every single job. But…
Yes, necessity. Leaning on the thing that comes easiest to me, that’s one thing. The next is, is if I see that there’s a trend in the market that I know is working for people. That I know is happening, such as YouTube, such as podcasts, such as online learning, online courses, all of these things that really help to promote a brand and build a brand organically, that just means that I, what’s standing in my way from doing it? Is it that I have not a lot of experience? Is it that I might feel uninformed? Or I might not do a very good job? If those are all my excuses, then I know that I still have to do it. Because putting myself out there and sharing my personality and my knowledge is going to be much more beneficial to my brand than not sharing anything at all, even if it’s not perfect. And then, yeah, for my network sometimes I have projects that I haven’t even thought about before or ways to approach, you know, I have tools from back in my agency days that I don’t get to bring out for every client. I have these huge matrices for brand strategy and experience architecture that I get to apply to a certain subset of companies that I get to pull out and figure out along the way based on the challenge in front of me. So some of it is just organic based on who I happen to be networking with and what type of business is coming at me.
– [Lauren] Awesome. So I think we’ve got time for a couple more questions. The next one we’ve got here is: I’m currently working on starting a business related to international education, which of course will require lots of teammates or partners. So I’m wondering if you could share your tips on finding good teammates, employees and partners to work with.
– [Dee] Okay, yes, good, good, good. Okay, so one thing that I, there’s two different types of teammates that I look for and those who have been with me the longest are the people who, personality wise, balance me really well. So I think knowing your personality, knowing what type of leader you are, what type of manager you are is the first place to start. And then, finding people who have a specific skillset. So, for instance, there’s a woman who’s been working with me for eight years now. She’s my website assistant.
She doesn’t design websites, she troubleshoots issues that inevitably go wrong with websites and she also helps me with a variety of market research tasks. She helps me manage my own website. She helps me with some of my own marketing. And would I task her with designing a logo or a marketing piece? No.
Would I ask her to design a website for me? No. I only utilize her as someone that I can rely on to get a certain specific job done who I know that I can trust. I know I could trust her with my social security number. And so, that’s someone that I feel having part of your team is really, you know, if you want to build a longer lasting team then that’s wear I would start. And then I have a whole host of people that I rely on who are writers and creatives and strategists that I don’t need to call on on a regular basis all the time but if I have a large project then I know their background well enough. I know their work well enough. I have good systems in place for how we’re going to communicate.
A lot of the work that I do is remote so if that’s gonna be how your work is gonna be, then you need to have established some sort of, either project management dashboard, I use Basecamp for a lot of my stuff. I know Asana is another popular dashboard, it’s free. Basecamp is paid, but you can use these in conjunction with a document for this is how, the expectations of communication.
If there’s a fire going on and you’re a freelancer and you’re not really somebody that I can say, hey, I need you on-call right now. Are there, is there an understanding between the two of you that they’re going to get back to you in a certain period of time so that you can communicate with other people, so you can do a better job of directing traffic? I think that would be it.
– [Lauren] Awesome. So we’ve got two more that I think would be really great for the entire group. One was, I’m a recent grad, two years out of college who studied social science and I’ve always wanted to explore an entrepreneurial venture. What comes first, business school or dive into the venture?
– [Dee] Hm, I would say just dive right in but that, you know it’s funny, because I’ve often, I did not go to business school and it is something that on a personal journey type of a thing that I truly go back and forth on because I know that business school will help equip me with a much broader perspective and a deeper, more stable foundation around business management and the scalability of business. Working as a sole proprietor and not really having any foreseeable plans to scale an operation to be a larger agency, a boutique agency with a remote team, and that’s been working for me for the last 10 years. Without having a real, I don’t really see that need to scale in a very sophisticated way. I don’t think that, I have been able to really justify business school. That’s not to say that I’m not going to start studying for the GMAT in a couple months because honestly that’s something that I think I’m headed toward.
But to your question right out of school, I think that if you have an idea and you want to start testing it out, you should just do so immediately because you’re not gonna lose, you’re not really gonna lose anything by learning on your own. In fact, I think that once you do hit graduate school, you will have some context to apply all those theoretical learnings and case studies so you’ll be to actually appy those to something. So I would say, if you have an idea and you’re thinking about testing something out, you can throw up a website tomorrow and start doing it with, you know, and then pull it down in a year if you don’t like it. Just really no consequence negative to that.
– [Lauren] Awesome. And for our last question, what are your preferred professional information sources to stay current and updated on topics related to entrepreneurs?
– [Dee] Okay, so I follow, I set up Google alerts for certain words that I’m, certain topics that I’m exploring or trying to learn more about and that goes, it’s a combination of relevant pop culture happenings. So I’ll pick a keyword like female entrepreneurs or say, no makeup. Like the Alicia Keys slide. No makeup, #nomakeup and it’ll deliver to me every day a digest of all of the different articles in the web that have that hashtag or that keyword. I also follow Entrepreneur magazine. I get their, I like to read hard copy, longer form stuff peppered in with the daily digest of you know, 10 things you could do today to improve your project management. I think that for the most part, for me, a lot of that ends up being noise and I know that I, I get overwhelmed by the information really quickly.
So I have Entrepreneur and I also get Forbes. And I follow on Facebook to get the other bulk of my information. I follow Humans of New York. I follow The Washington Post. Gosh, just anything related to, for me, as you notice, the theme in my slides is all amazing women So for me, I love, I’m really hell-bent on empowering women and I love everything that has to do with that so I’m consuming it daily to inform my own thoughts and what I’m gonna work on and I’m gonna have conversations with people about these things. And those change daily. Those topics change all the time. So I don’t have one of two primary sources but I have a lot. I also subscribe to Lenny Letter, Lena Dunham and Jennifer, Jenni, I can’t remember but Lenny is L-E-N-N-Y is a really great source of just inspiration and truth and hearing about really honest stories that relate to women. And yeah, those would be my sources. So I can’t really say that there’s anything that really keeps me super abreast of everything that’s happening in the business world but I do have certain things that I know I want to learn about and Google is a good place to start with Google alerts and then Facebook is the other place that I’m able to really filter what type of information is coming to me.
– [Lauren] Great. Well, I think that if anyone else has a question that wasn’t answered, please feel free, once we send out the survey with the follow up email and the recording will be included to reach out to us directly and I’m sure Dee is happy to answer any follow up questions.
So please feel free to do that. And I wanted to give a thanks to everyone who joined us today and special thanks, Dee, for this informative presentation. Keep an eye for that email and let me know if anything else comes up and thanks for joining and see you at our next alumni career webinar.
– [Dee] Thank you so much, I really appreciate it and I do hope that you fill out the survey and give some honest feedback because I’m open to the constructive criticism. I’m open to ideas for future topics, anything that could be expanded on, all of the above. Thank you so much for your attention and time. That’s big.