Lessons from the startup front office

Win or lose, you’ll always learn something

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In 2007 artist Nikki Nye opened a Buckhead clothing boutique called Addiction, only to shutter it two years later at the height of the recent recession. She and former fashion editor Amy Flurry then went on to cofound Paper-Cut-Project, which creates one-of-a-kind accessories out of Bristol paper. “I came in wanting to do what I wanted to do [at Addiction], which was more in line with Chicago and New York style. I didn’t pay attention to whether people in Atlanta would want that. It was hard because I was carrying higher-end lines but from more obscure designers, which made it really difficult to be competitive with the big stores like Saks, who were carrying higher-end, more recognized brands.” Says Nye, “I learned you really have to make sure you have the customer for your business, which I think we’ve found with Paper-Cut-Project. We also branded it as a fashion genre versus an art genre, which has also really helped in marketing it.”

 

Before they introduced mobile coupon app Scoutmob in 2010, Michael Tavani and his business partner, David Payne, cofounded SkyBlox, a customized Wi-Fi network for business owners and their customers, which bombed less than two years after it launched. “I’m a big fan of reading everything I can about entrepreneurs—blogs, magazines, books,” says Tavani. “But you have to remember you can’t apply all those ideas to your own business, especially nowadays when everything is changing. We were originally a mobile app, and there wasn’t an iPhone before 2007, so there was no book on how to start a Scoutmob. You have to be willing to go out on your own, create your own path.”

 

“Whatever you think you’re going to need, raise twice that amount of money. Nothing ever goes like you think it will. When I go back and think about my business plan, nothing went as planned, aside from the fact that we have a beverage in a can.”
Jesse Altman, founder, Whynatte beverage company 



“We knew it would take a large number of talented employees to compete. To incentivize people to join our startup, we established an employee option pool. Anyone who joined the company in those early days received options in the company, which gave them a strong sense of ownership in the business and in our mission.”
Michael Cohn, cofounder and SVP of marketing, Cloud Sherpas 



“Not everyone can do it. Sometimes you don’t have the skill, the resources, or the vision. But if you’re in your twenties and have no mortgage or children? Get out of debt and go for it. Live on nothing and build a startup. Even if you fail, it’s better than any MBA you’ll ever get.”
Kevin Sandlin, “serial entrepreneur,” presently launching Cd8a, a data-capture service 



“As I was putting together the business plan, I talked to people who’ve known me for a long time. Part of the exercise was just to make it a reality for myself—to practice talking about the company, hearing what the pitch actually sounded like, and seeing people’s reactions.”
Alyson Moler, cofounder, Frozen Pints ice cream



This article originally appeared in our February 2014 issue.

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