The Best Startup Advice…from my favorite entrepreneurs

Meg Ragland
Jan 20, 2015 · 4 min read
My Plum Print co-founder, Carolyn Lanzetta, hanging with one of our favorite entrepreneurs, Tory Burch.

I never said, “I want to be an entrepreneur when I grow up.” In fact, I don’t think I even knew how to spell the word until after I became one. But once we launched Plum Print and I read “The Lean Startup,” I became obsessed with entrepreneurs of all types! What an interesting bunch. Here I share some of my favorite lessons from the entrepreneurs I admire the most:

What you don’t know can become your greatest asset. -Sara Blakely, inventor of Spanx, the youngest self-made female billionaire.

“The fact that I had never taken a business class, had no training, didn’t know how retail worked, I wasn’t as intimidated as I should have been,” Blakely says.

This totally resonates with me. “I can’t believe you asked that,” my business partner has said to me numerous times as we’re exiting an important meeting. (My husband has said the same thing to me upon leaving a cocktail party.) Some people may call it being green, or naive or just plain stupid. But I’d argue that not being afraid to ask the dumb (or direct!) question has, more often than not, benefited us in the early days of Plum Print. Rather than repel the “experts”, I think the unexpected question draws them to us, causing them to want to help us advance the business and our ideas.

In our first due diligence meeting with a highly respected angel network (all men), my business partner and I (both women) put it all on the table. We answered questions as straightforwardly as we could, admitted ignorance when we didn’t have the answer, laughed at ourselves, and boasted about our successes when appropriate. At the end of the meeting, a highly regarded business man on the committee paid us a compliment. “I want to hand it to you, I’ve been in many due diligence meetings, some with heads of Fortune 500 companies, and you two just handled our questions better than most CEOs of major corporations do.” Gulp. Like Blakely said, heading into that meeting, I clearly wasn’t as intimidated as I should have been!

Everyday, ask yourself, “What would we do if we were starting today?” -Jane Park, CEO of Julep, the fastest growing beauty brand, which has raised $56M in venture capital financing to date.

“When considering a new product line, marketing promotion or partnership, I always ask my team, ‘What would we do if we were starting today?’” says Park.

This is so powerful. It’s so easy to just go with the flow and continue on the wrong path for too long. But as Park says, asking yourself this simple question is the best way to start with a clean slate and free yourself of past mistakes. Last year, we got in too deep with an outsourced web development team who was revamping the back-end of our website. We had invested a great deal of time and money in the project and although we moaned about the situation every day, we continued to trudge on, trying to make it work. If we had simply stopped and asked ourselves this question one morning, we would have cut ties right then and there, dealt with our losses and moved on to something bigger and better, sooner.

Love every customer and do anything you can to make them happy. -Jeff Raider, co-founder of eyewear retailer Warby Parker.

“In a world where so many people have difficulty connecting with companies or brands, I think to be accessible and to genuinely care about customers is important,” says Raider.

Just like Warby Parker, Plum Print has taken “the customer is always right” to heart from the beginning. In most cases, we are dealing with irreplaceable, super precious belongings of our customer: their children’s artwork. So every customer has to trust us and know that we will take the utmost care of them (and their artwork) through the entire process. We spent the first two years, after founding Plum Print, perfecting our product and the customer experience. And it has paid off. Ninety percent of our customers plan on ordering again. When it comes to our Net Promoter Score: We’re clocking in at a +83. (Just to compare: Apple: +67, +64, Netflix: +54, Motel 6: -15). And our year-over-year customer re-order rate hit just about 70% in 2014. Our customers are happy! And that makes me happy.

I’ll leave you with one final bit of advice from Tory Burch, Chairman, CEO and Designer of Tory Burch, who we were lucky enough to learn from through being part of the Tory Burch/Goldman Sach’s 10,000 Business Program:

Make lasting relationships that organically set you up for success.

Without a doubt, whether it’s connecting with customers, listening to our employees, networking with potential business partners, or rooting for other entrepreneurs, relationships have been the key to Plum Print’s rapid growth. And it’s these connections, and those still to be made, that invigorate me to continue to grow the business and to grow as an entrepreneur every single day.

    Written by

    CoFounder @PlumPrint, because every child is an artist. Using tech to preserve kids' creations. PTA/soccer/piano/dance/fieldtrip mom of 3. Kickboxer for sanity.

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