Fresh Grounds: 7 Things I Learned Last Night at Startup Grind Tampa Bay

with Jan Mercer Dahms of Plum Alley and 6-Figures.

Jan Mercer Dahms (left) and Joy Randels (right) for the #sgwomen May session of Startup Grind Tampa Bay.

When it comes to entrepreneurship, “you can’t do this on your own.”

“I’m one of those people that throws things against the wall to see what sticks.” Said Dahms. “I was the oldest child” and as a result, “insanely independent.” But Dahms stressed the importance of a good network, especially including “people who look like you, and people who don’t look like you.”

You want to learn “what’s being said behind your back after you leave the party.”

“Go from the bottom up.” Dahms advised. Her consulting team conducts focus groups, does unplanned secret shopping of her clients, interviews their team, and most important, talks “to people that the brand might not think are important.” Dahms feels that even employees outside of customer-facing roles have the opportunity to be your #1 brand ambassador, because they’re the ones that are going to be talking about you. They should be passionate — in a good way!

Narrow your focus early

If you want your product to spread without a marketing budget, it’s all about “word of mouth!” said Dahms. Take your clients feedback religiously and don’t be afraid to start small. Speaking engagements and relationships with the local media are great, but even those are about connecting directly with your target customer early on. “Understand your core customer!” Dahms stressed, and find a narrow niche by providing an early beta to several audiences, reacting to feedback.

It’s not about how many e-mails you read that day, it’s about “your sense of urgency to wake up.”

About her transition to working for herself, Dahms said, “I feel more successful now even though my compensation structure *changed* overnight.” But you have to keep asking yourself: does this make you happy? “Do we go to bed happy? Or do we go to bed full of anxiety because we have 300 unread emails?” The goal, Dahms said, was not to have a gnawing feeling in your stomach on Sunday night, but to actually anticipate waking up on Monday morning so that you can get back to work.

You have to “know when to stop listening.”

“Too much feedback just results in self-doubt,” said Dahms. While she stressed the importance of having a large network and reaching out, “you also have to know when is NOT the right time to be listening.” As an example, she cited her personal experience in the early days of starting 6-Figures. She had meetings with many people whose opinion she respected and implemented all their advice — but then couldn’t understand why the business wasn’t headed in the direction of her original vision. Don’t be controlled by advice.

Janis Joplin, Miss Piggy, and Hillary Clinton all have one thing in common.

Besides being strong personalities, these are the women Jan Mercer Dahms cites as her role models.

Women have trouble asking for help.

“We also feel we can do the task better than others, so we have problems with delegating.” Dahms said, as she listed some reasons Plum Alley focuses specifically on helping female crowdfunders. Women take more calculated risks at a period further along in development than men, they build slower, and they have trouble asking for money — all reasons that women have difficulty accessing VC money. “We help them learn.” Dahms said about Plum Alley. “We help connect women with the check-writers in their networks.”

Many thanks to Google, CoWork Ybor, Bamboozle Tampa, and all the other amazing sponsors of Startup Grind Tampa Bay. And a special thanks to Jan Mercer Dahms and Joy Randels for their time.

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