Entrepreneurs Unpluggd is a speaker series created to share the stories of how entrepreneurs got their start. This month’s event focused on Startup Stages: Launch, Growth and Beyond. Speakers Jason Fried, co-founder of 37signals, Liz Kammel, co-founder of ZipFit Denim and Scott Lerner, co-founder of Solixir shared their top tips for growing your business.
Here’s what we learned during the night:
1. Solve the problem before financing the idea
ZipFit started a year ago with a simple mission: to help men shop for jeans. Because Liz Kammel had a math background, she was confident that she could create an algorithm to help them find jeans that fit. She already knew there was a market—it’s widely known that men hate shopping—so Kammel kept her focus on solving the problem before trying to finance her idea.
2. Share your ideas and be flexible
Be flexible and don’t be afraid to pivot when your idea is not working. This worked for ZipFit: originally Kammel envisioned her business as a website, sort of like an Orbitz for jeans. A few pivots later and ZipFit opened it’s first retail store. The store has been profitable since day one. She believes that being vocal about her business idea helped her company find success. “Your customers are the ones who need to love your idea so you should welcome their feedback,” she said.
3. Be focused and grow slowly
Jason Fried says the growth of 37signals has been slow and consistent since the launch of Basecamp in 2004. He compares the ideal way for a startup to grow to the growth of a tree. “Grow carefully and slowly, like a tree,” said Fried. 37signals is focused on building simple products and creating a company with longevity and sustainability.
4. Set up your business to move quickly
Despite a potential partnership with Bloomingdales, Kammel was quick to decide to open her own stores. “It was faster to open our own store and go head-to-head with retailers than to work with a large corporation. Large corporations means rules, regulation and slow movement,” she said.
5. Learn to say no
Don’t overwork yourself. Fried is a big advocate of sleep and being able to say no. He has created a consistent environment with stable products because “investing in stability is investing in peoples’ sleep,” he said. For Fried, saying no is the best system to increase his focus. He understands that it is hard enough to do one thing well so he is very careful with his time and what he says yes to.
6. Hire Carefully
Fried believes you should only hire people after you meet them. “As a founder, who you hire is the most important decision you’ll make,” he said. “We only hire people that have contributed to open source because it shows that they love what they do.”
7. Manage remote employees by keeping all conversations online
Fried says the key to managing his remote workforce and keeping his employees happy is making sure you treat everyone the same way. At 37signals, all conversations happen on the web using their chat program Campfire, even if the two employees are sitting next to each other. “The company is located in Campfire—not in Chicago,” he said.
8. Attract investors by being prepared
The best advice Scott Lerner received about securing funding is to be prepared and learn investors trigger points. “What gets people to write the check is being prepared. Every time they ask a question and you don’t immediately have an answer it’s a strike against you,” Lerner said.
9. Look for investors that will help you grow
Kammel said ZipFit has been picky with investors because they are looking for someone who is willing to help them through tough times and will not run away at the first sign of a struggle. She counts on these investors to also be advisors who will help ZipFit make the necessary changes to grow.