Small Business Saturday, November 28, seemed like an apt time to launch my, well, small business that supports other small businesses. IMBY kicked off with a bang, hosting our first pop-up, attracting dozens of sales, and building confidence that there is a demand for what we are building: a highly curated shop that minimizes the time it takes you to get dressed featuring ethically sourced, American-made clothing.
The first 90 days as a startup can be fundamental in gaining customer insight, understanding the market, building momentum, and testing your business model, and validating assumptions. After working with hundreds of entrepreneurs, I recognized the importance of this time in buckling down and making progress. After conceiving the idea for IMBY, I knew that my most important first step was getting my product in front of customers.
At IMBY we curate mindfully-made everyday essentials for your lean, versatile wardrobe. We believe that having less in your closet, but having a closet full of things you love, allows you to shift your time and energy from deciding what to wear towards the things you are most passionate about. That’s why we carefully curate items that allow you to build a capsule wardrobe (a wardrobe made up of 30-40 pieces that mix and match to serve your everyday needs!). And everything we sell is made ethically right here in the USA, with a focus on kindness towards humans and the environment.
The first 90 days of IMBY were exciting, exhausting, unexpected, challenging, and fruitful. After launching with an initial handful of pop-ups at small venues, we were selected to be part of a fitness and fashion collective at the Refinery Hotel. On the heels of the Refinery Hotel, Bloomingdale’s reached out and was interested in featuring us. A little more than two months after launching, we were featured as a store-in-store experience at Bloomingdale’s. Woah.
There are a lot of things I learned in the first 90 days as a bootstrapping solopreneur. Here are a few of my top takeaways and lessons:
- Start small, act big. IMBY is a very small company with very large aspirations. By balancing transparency and the aspirational version of our company, we were able to secure key partnerships such as Bloomingdale’s. Confidence and a clear vision allow this to happen.
- Be extra careful when working with friends.I have incredibly talented friends, and I couldn’t wait to bring them into the fold. The problem was the barrier of communication can break down when you are working with friends: things aren’t taken as seriously as a typical business relationship on either side, there’s a level of comfort that can lead to mistakes. I am equally to blame in these matters, but I have learned that if I work with friends in the future, to set out very clear expectations and make sure neither side is doing any favors. That’s when corners are cut!
- When making short term decisions, ask questions and think long term.It’s really easy to get caught up in the excitement of a magazine editor asking you for something, or an opportunity that seems too good to pass up. A couple of my pop-up expectations could be been more reasonable had I asked more questions up front, and considered the long-term value to my company, instead of rushing into things out of excitement.
- Don’t take money until it feels absolutely necessary.I am a bootstrapped startup, and I couldn’t be happier about it. I get to build my company on my own terms, and use the limited capital we have to make very strategic decisions about how the company will progress forward. Sure, a couple extra bucks would help, but not if they came at the cost of creative freedom.
- Your friends are your allies and, often, your biggest supporters.I am the type of person that doesn’t want to ask for favors. I like to earn my own success! However, I have been blown away by the support of my personal network— close friends and distant acquaintances. After posting about IMBY on Facebook for the first time, a friend I haven’t spoken to since high school reached out offering legal assistance. His help saved me a significant amount of time and money when incorporating! Other friends (and relatives!) have volunteered to staff pop-ups, promoted my events, and many have been customers. It has been overwhelming to feel the support, and my company has greatly benefited from it.
- Your company is only as healthy as you are.It is so easy to neglect yourself as an entrepreneur. You don’t have the same routine. You may not be able to afford to eat as healthy. You don’t have time to work out. I had all the excuses, but ultimately I know the health of my company relies on my energy and strength. It is so hard, and counter-intuitive, to take time off to focus on myself, yet I find that I am most productive during those times.
- Let your mission guide you.I founded IMBY for a very simple, yet pretty lofty, reason: to change the way the fashion thinks about consumption and production. IMBY exists solely to serve as a more accessible option to ethical fashion with a focus on minimalist living. There are pretty challenging days, moments where I wonder what the heck I am doing, but remembering what I am working towards provides me the fuel I need to propel. If I didn’t care about what I was working on, I would have given up after the first few weeks.
- Talk to everyone.I spoke to all my “competitors,” potential designers, target customers– as many people as would chat back with me. By learning from their successes, and failures, we strengthen each other. When trying to crack open a new market— in my case, ethical fashion— your competitors are really your allies. We are working together to create market demand, and supporting each other through best practice sharing, and sometimes even inventory sharing!
- Find your brain trust. I realized quickly that talking to myself all day only got me so far, so I assembled a group of trusty other solopreneurs to troubleshoot and brainstorm with. We grab coffee every now and then and work together to share ideas and push each other. I made sure that we come from a variety of background for depth of knowledge and ideas.
- No one cares as much about your business as you do.Things that seem urgent to you won’t be urgent to others. Partnerships and deals fall through. Getting ahead of yourself on what a partnership might lead to, what an event might do for your brand, or how others will promote you may lead to challenges. Be open to new things while being conservative on their return.
- Enjoy the process. Entrepreneurship is the most mentally and emotionally enjoyable and challenging process I have ever endured. Heck, I worked with hundreds of entrepreneurs previously watching them go through it, yet you are never truly prepared. Enjoy it. Make friends. Understand the challenges come with the perks of being your own boss, and building something you truly, 100% believe in. Motivation is a no-brainer for me because I am working towards something I can’t possibly imagine quitting until my mission is accomplished.
As I push on to the next 90 days, 6 months, year, and beyond, I feel confident on which I have proven my concept and the base I have built to rest my brand upon.
What have you learned in building your startup from scratch?