Believe in the Spark: 5 Lessons in Entrepreneurship

Lunch at the first-ever Bitten Conference. February 2015.

Two years ago, I started a company—Bitten, which positions food as a pillar of pop culture and hosts events (most notably a conference) that look at the space through the lens of technology, creativity and trends. I didn’t have a sense of where this company would go in the next year, let alone five. I didn’t have a business plan or even an LLC. But, I saw a tiny spark of an idea in the distance and I committed to walk towards it.

Now, before you go any further, you should know that I’m not the founder of a unicorn or a multi-million dollar company. This isn’t an essay about THAT kind of magic. I have no investors or full-time employees. I’m not on any 30 under 30 lists and my chances of being recognized as a 40 under 40 are evaporating fast!

My company is small and its future uncertain, but Bitten has forever changed me and my life because it’s taught me some important things.

Believe in the Spark
My spark was this: There is heightened interest in food (where we eat, what we eat, photos of our food, etc.) and yet the only people talking about the future of food are people who work in the space. Why weren’t more people like me—creatives—engaged in that conversation? The future of food is tied to everything — the economy, health, environment, animal welfare and on and on.

So, I decided to change that. In the beginning, a lot of people tried to talk me out of hosting a conference. I would lose money, they said. No one would come. But I trusted the spark and thought, if I’m interested in this, surely there are others.

I’d just need some speakers, a venue, an audience and sponsors. Easy! Well, I was wrong. What it actually took was a little ambition, some grit and a whole lot of delusion and naiveté. I never imagined all the hurdles: the long nights, the anxiety, the tears, the financial struggle. If I had, I probably never would have done it.

The truth is that the people who told me this was impossible were more right than I was, but I believed in the spark more than they believed in me. That’s just how it goes.

There Will Be Tears
Boy, will there ever. With so much on the line, it’s hard not to shed a few tears, or maybe a lot, as in my case.

Speakers drop out, sponsors say no, not everyone is helpful, some people are straight up mean and much of the time I feel as though I’m about to fail in a big way.

And then there’s money. Not every business is an overnight success. We’ve come to believe that you have an idea, you raise a bunch of cash and you sell your company to Google or Facebook or another tech giant. But that’s not all there is. I have intentionally shied away from raising capital. Trust me, I could use the money to hire a staff, pay for an office, give myself a salary! You know, little things like that. But, I made the decision to grow Bitten thoughtfully and in its own time.

So, while sometimes I’d like to be a stone-cold bitch who is a wunderkind entrepreneur with buckets of investor cash all around her, I’ve decided to embrace crying and power through the hard stuff.

Bitten is my baby. No one else is going love it and hate it and need it and want it as much as I do. My relationship with my business is extremely emotional and that’s ok!

Good People Count, a LOT
One of my greatest pleasures in this journey has been the incredible people I’ve met. From speakers to attendees to friends in the food world and beyond, every day I am blown away by their ideas, their passion and their generosity.

I’ve come to realize that not everyone will like me (sad, but true). But I can do my best to garner the respect of the people I respect, by working hard, being humble and giving as much as I can. (Also, I’ve found that being funny helps, a lot!)

I’ve amassed a small (and growing) board of advisors to help me along this path. They are each experts in a different field. They believe in what I’m doing and they offer their advocacy, expert advice and access to their networks more generously than I could have hoped. They may not know this, but in many ways, they’ve been my rock.

There’s a Lot of Room Out Here
As soon as Bitten started to get some momentum, I felt a certain amount of shade coming my way. I thought maybe I was imagining it, but have come to realize I’m not. Here’s the thing, there is enough room in the space for all of us! There is not a finite amount of conversation about food that people are willing to have. Or shoes that they’re willing to buy, if you happen to be in the shoe business.

I’ve learned that collaborating and supporting one another’s businesses and ideas will take us ALL much farther than we would go alone.

My success is not someone else’s failure or vice versa. This is especially true and important for women. The only way for us to reach equality with men in work and entrepreneurship is to help each other succeed.

Embrace the Absurd: The End Is Near*
I’m a few days away from hosting my third Bitten conference and the first event I’ve held outside of NYC. I wanted to bring Bitten to LA for a lot of reasons, to grow our audience, to challenge myself (that was a terrible idea) and most importantly to tap into the incredibly vibrant food and startup scene there.

I really thought that after two conferences, I had the hang of things. Again, I was wrong. The stress of organizing this event (audience cultivation, speaker mishaps, snafus with publicity, venue mixups, etc.) has caused me to throw out my back and neck several times, injure three fingers, lose a significant amount of weight and have several nervous breakdowns.

I’m on a flight to LA now and before I boarded the plane, I looked at the weather forecast for this week expecting 72 and sunny. Well, guess what, it’s going to RAIN. In LA. On Friday!

Yes. Rain is great for California. But does it have to be this Friday? The day I’m hosting 200 people at a conference and serving them lunch outside?

I had to laugh, because this is absurd.

I don’t know what will happen with my business in six months or a year, or two. It may grow, it may pivot or it may end all together. The possibilities are endless and absurdity is certain. So I might as well relax and embrace it. Or as they say: enjoy the ride.

*I’m still learning this lesson. Every minute, of every day.