Over the weekend, I boarded a ship in Miami with over 2,000 creatives, tech millionaires, celebrities and startup founders for a three-day, invite-only “conference / festival” called Summit at Sea.

In the company of Martha Stewart, John Legend, Harry Belafonte, Blake Mycoskie and the list goes on, I spent the weekend connecting with some of the leading social impact entrepreneurs in the world.

There were a lot of conversations and experiences that I took away from the weekend, but there was one in particular that I want to share today.

On our last night on board, I walked down to one of the bars on the ship by myself. (The great thing about this event was that you couldn’t go more than 30 seconds without someone saying hello and introducing themselves. For better or worse, you never felt alone.)

“I love your dress,” said a blonde-haired woman in her early forties, standing next to me at the bar.

I told her I bought it second-hand and we started chatting about thrift shopping before getting into other topics, ranging from Burning Man to the challenges that minority entrepreneurs face.

It wasn’t until 30 minutes into the conversation that she told me who she was:

A serial entrepreneur who has sold three companies for over 30 million dollars — each.

Upon realizing that I was having a one-on-one conversation with someone as successful as she was, I found myself starting to shrink.

Who was I to be taking up so much of her time?

What could I possibly say that would be interesting to her?

What was I doing here?

I mean, really, who invited me on this damn boat?

My doubts were creeping in, I was feeling like a fraud and I sensed that in any minute, she would excuse herself from the conversation.

“Do you ever get imposter syndrome?” I asked before I could stop myself.

“Oh my gosh, all of the time,” she said.

“Really? Does that feeling ever go away?”

“You know what, you fake it until you make it — and you never actually feel like you make it. I’ve sold three companies and have more money than I’ll ever need, but I still question the validity of my success.”

Instead of the conversation slipping away like I had imagined, we talked for another 30 minutes.

She opened up and told me what it was like to raise venture capital as a woman. We started talking about how we can collectively build each other up as female founders.

The conversation shifted to a place where I no longer felt inferior — I felt empowered. And it was because we were able to relate on a human level.

I realized over the weekend that this was the biggest takeaway.

As people on the “outside,” we can tend to build others up to be…

Larger than life.

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I imagined the founders of companies like Google, Warby Parker, Life is Good and TOM’s to have it all together.

Articulate public speakers. Impeccably dressed. Perfectly-trained socializers.

We see power, money and success and automatically put them on a pedestal that raises them above the rest.

And while, yes, their accomplishments are generally unparalleled, our weekend together humanized everyone around me.

(Except for maybe Martha Stewart.)

The founder of Zappos was humble (and hungover) on stage. The founder of Uber was soft spoken and unassuming. Even John Legend was modest and quiet.

Maybe they weren’t all experiencing imposter syndrome, but I don’t think anyone would deny the experience of feeling uncertainty and unworthiness.

It doesn’t matter how much success you’ve seen, how much money you have, or how great your life appears to be on the outside.

We’re all just a bunch of humans doing the best we can.

Having come off of the mental and emotional high of this weekend, I’m challenging myself to appreciate where I am right now while truly believing that what I’ve done is enough.

Regardless of whether you have started your company, are currently in business or are still waiting for the right time to start, I’d encourage you to join me in this.

You are worthy. You have done enough. And you are exactly where you need to be.

When you start to doubt yourself remember that so much of the success of others was based on one overarching fact:

They didn’t stop moving forward — even when they doubted themselves. Or felt like frauds.

They kept putting one foot in front of the other.

Whether it felt like the foot of an imposter or not.

 


 
 


company

“What happened to your first company?”

It’s a question that I’m asked a lot when people read about {r}evolution apparel and what I was working on before Factory45.

Usually the question is posed with slight trepidation — like the person doesn’t want to bring up a sore subject.

The assumption is that the company fizzled out or flopped or just straight-up failed.

But none of those are true, and I think that’s why it’s so hard for people to understand it.

How could we let go of something so good?

Believe me, it wasn’t easy — but if I know anything, it’s that dreams change. (If they didn’t, then I’d be a strung-out lawyer in downtown Manhattan right now.)

So, here it goes — three years later, the truth about why my first company ended.

It was the summer of 2012 and Kristin, my co-founder, and I had just come off the most successful fashion Kickstarter of all time. We had tripled our goal amount to raise over $64K, quadrupling our first production order of our product, the Versalette.

With the extra capital we raised, we convinced each other that it would be a great idea to embark on a “sustainable fashion tour” of the Pacific Northwest. It would help us build brand awareness, tell people about the Versalette, and film mini documentaries with the help of a film intern.

We bought a 1993 Chevy conversion van off of Craig’s List for $5K, decked it out with a new paint job and {r}evolution apparel branding and drove from Kristin’s parents’ house in Missouri to Vancouver, Canada.

Over the course of the summer, we hit up Seattle, Portland, Eugene and San Francisco, interviewing some of our industry “idols” like Lynda Grose, Kate Fletcher and Justin Dillon. We debuted mini documentaries of our travels each week, blogged about it, hosted in-person events and pop-up shops, and even secured a media sponsor.

We spent two months couch surfing, sleeping in the van when we couldn’t find a place to stay, shipping Versalettes out of our trunk, and flying back and forth to North Carolina where our production was ongoing. We secured our first paid speaking engagement and were paid $3K for a 15-minute talk.

By the time August hit, we were so burnt out that we decided to cut the tour two weeks short. I flew home to Boston to see my high school friend get married, Kristin flew back to Boulder and we agreed we would meet back up in a few weeks.

For more than 60 days, Kristin and I had been together for every waking moment. Through the stress of managing two college interns, through the stress of quality control issues with our sew shop, through the stress of hosting event after event (and keeping up with usual business obligations), our business relationship and friendship had been put through the ringer.

And then September rolled around and instead of listening to our intuition — slow down, enjoy the journey, don’t rush the process — we flew back to Portland to redesign the Versalette for a second production run.

We secured $30K in angel investment, finalized the “Versalette 2.0,” found a new production partner that better aligned with our aesthetic and mapped out financial projections into 2017.

“We’re going to be the next Spanx!”

“Are we really going to do this for another five years?”

“We should totally get on The Today Show!”

“Do you think we’re going to be able to sell more of these?”

The emotional rollercoaster of entrepreneurship was a daily mind-warp between, “We can do this!” and “Do we really want to do this?”

It was crazy even to consider letting go of what we had built (as some of our customers later told us).

We had achieved something that most startups only dream about. In our first legitimate year of business, we had surpassed more than $100,000 in sales, and we were profitable. As Kristin has said, that never happens.

We had sold out (almost immediately) of our entire inventory of Versalettes and we had 1,400 new customers who also happened to be our biggest fans.

It was terrifying to walk away from something that we had sunk so much of ourselves into.

But we craved our own identities (at the time, we were known only together as Kristin and Shannon), we craved new projects, we craved new challenges. We started to envision what life would be like on the other side of {r}evolution apparel.

So we said goodbye — knowing that, for both of us, it was more important to part as friends than to stay together as an obligation.

So there you have it: we didn’t go bankrupt or end up hating each other. The dream changed and we decided to listen to our intuition.

Whatever your dream is, I hope you follow it. Great things can happen — things you may not have been able to dream up holding onto the old.

It did for me.

 

 


Crowdfunding

A few years ago, I went to Bali and wrote two versions of a book.

I know, how obnoxiously “Eat, Pray, Love” of me.

My former co-founder and I had decided to close our doors at {r}evolution apparel (after completely burning out our relationship) and it was an impulse purchase I made with my portion of our leftover funds.

I left Boulder, CO, moved in with my parents in Boston, and a month later hopped a flight halfway around the world.

After the success of our Kickstarter campaign, people were constantly saying, “You guys need to write a book.”

“Write about your journey,” they said.

“Write about the success of your Kickstarter.”

“Write about the changes needed in the fashion industry.” The suggestions were endless.

So, with the mixed emotions of heartbreak and relief that happen when you walk away from a business that seems to have such a bright future, I went to Bali to write the book that everyone said we should write.

I booked a private room for $500/month on Airbnb and found myself two miles from the nearest town surrounded by rice paddies and oxen.

For 30 days I followed the same rigid schedule. Wake up with the sun, follow the dirt road into town for yoga, eat lunch at a local cafe, walk 30 minutes home, stop for a fresh coconut, sit out on my front porch — write 2,000 words.

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I reasoned that if I could average 2,000 words a day, then I would have 60,000 words by the time I left. And you only need 60,000 words for a full-length book.

The process was both grueling and therapeutic as I sifted through three years of memories.

Why we decided to start a clothing company.

How we got interested in sustainability.

An account of our first fight.

What we learned from botching our first prototype.

What it’s like to spend two months driving a conversion van around the country.

By day 15, I was ready to delete the whole file. Just burn it. Not a trace of evidence.

Instead, I opened a new document and started over.

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By the time I flew back to the States, I had written two 30,000 word drafts with no intention of either seeing the light of day.

Three years later, they’re still sitting on my old, mostly-broken laptop — without a backup file.

Now I’m not going to tie this all back into the importance of creating a routine to reach goals. Or a lesson on how goals change. Or how everything happens for a reason. I’m not a personal development coach.

But I do have something to say about the “journey.”

I’m as guilty as the next person when it comes to expectations and outcomes. Most of us start businesses with the intention of making a living off of it.

Yes, passion and joy can be the driving motivators in getting started, but the desired outcome is to be able to support yourself off of that passion and joy.

The danger — the thing to look out for — is when you realize you’re only focused on the outcome.

Because that’s when you miss the journey.

About a year into starting {r}evolution apparel, I remember writing a post for our first blog – it was a letter to myself, and I’ll never forget the last sentence:

“You’re not going to be a 25-year-old bartender trying to start a clothing company forever.”

That sentence has been embedded in my brain for the past five years and as time passes, I find myself adjusting the words to fit my current age and situation.

You’re not going to be here, right now, doing this… forever.

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It may seem painfully obvious, but I think it’s something that a lot of us entrepreneurs tend to forget.

Starting a business is one of the most challenging endeavours a person can take on — it’s a complete mind game, a lonely road, and can be uncomfortably risky. Are you going to enjoy every single moment of it? No.

But if you aren’t stopping every so often to appreciate what you’ve built, what you’ve created and what you’re going through — that 99% of the world never will — then what’s it all for?

When I look back at the month of my life spent writing a book, I can easily see it as time and money wasted.

Did I have big plans to pitch to publishers? Yes.

Did I have more realistic plans to self publish and sell it on Amazon? For sure.

Instead, I showed myself that I was capable of committing to a routine, to seeing a project through and being okay with a different outcome.

Entrepreneurs have to be courageous, committed and adaptable. But more than anything, they need to be able to see a vision for the future —

with an even greater appreciation for the present.


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A while back, I wrote a post about entrepreneurship and the real downfall of failure.

I argued that it isn’t the act of failing itself that’s the most terrifying, it’s the external connections we make to it.

If we fail, we’ll lose our dignity.

If we fail, we’ll lose our life savings.

If we fail, we’ll lose our home.

While these are extreme examples, I know our thinking can often go to “worst-case-scenario.”

I remember a conversation was brought up by one of the entrepreneurs in this year’s Factory45 program. She wrote:

I’m looking for advice: Having just finished my master’s degree, it may come as a surprise to some family and friends who don’t know about my project yet that I’m going the entrepreneurship route. Anyone have tips on how to introduce a significant career change to family, friends, and/or even an employer (I plan to keep my full-time job for a while)?

This got me thinking about the “pre-failure phase.”

Before the fear of failure is even an option, first there is the fear of getting started.

It’s the fear of taking the plunge. Of not knowing what’s going to happen. Of worrying what your family and friends are going to think.

The greatest inhibitor to becoming an entrepreneur or pursuing a great idea or moving forward with your true life’s work is — never getting started in the first place.

When we make it public and declare our idea to the world, we simultaneously have to face the feeling of being seen.

Being seen means you open yourself to critics, you open yourself to the doubters, and you open yourself to vulnerability in a way you probably haven’t before.

Throw in the visibility of the modern-day Internet to the mix and the stakes get a whole lot higher.

I’m no stranger to critics. While the supporters in my life far outweigh the cynics, it doesn’t make the occasional negativity sting any less.

I’ve been called an asshole, a “self-aggrandizing bitch,” a piece of shit and other equally flattering names (I don’t read the comments section of The Huffington Post anymore).

I’ve had outsiders call Factory45 just another “expensive online course” (I won’t even dignify that with a rebuttal).

And year after year, I’ve faced family and friends at Christmas parties, dinner parties and happy hours, wondering when I’m going to get a “real job.”

Over the past five years as an entrepreneur, I’ve had practice dealing with the “gremlins” (yep, you cross me, I dub you a gremlin).

While an off-putting email or comment can still throw off my day at times, I can tell you it does get easier.

If you’re one of those people, who is tinkering with a great idea, a new business or an alternative career path, remember this:

The critics, the doubters, the cynics only have power if you give them the power.

As hard as it may be, you can consciously accept that there will always be some degree of negativity coming at you, but you can also consciously choose how you react to it.

Power is energy. And you get to decide where to put that energy. It can either be your demise or… your strength.

Like I said, I loved some of the other responses from this year’s Factory45 crew, so I want to close by sharing a few pieces of their advice in opening yourself up to getting started:

  • Stay close to those who support your dreams and let you blab on and on, even though they don’t understand what you’re talking about.
  • Speak from a place of vulnerability. Don’t predict the reaction you’re going to get, because it will come out in your tone.
  • At the end of the day, our opinion is the only one that matters. It really is. At the end of the day, you are responsible for your life.
  • I feel that when I do get the occasional negative reaction, it’s usually from people that have never tried to make their own dreams a reality.
  • Walk into the conversation with the knowledge that approval is not the goal – information is. You want those around you to be part of the vision, to be in inquiry with you… and I would recommend making it a two-way and engaging conversation.
  • “The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking, don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.” – Steve Jobs

If you’ve been a Factory45 reader for a while you know I’m a big fan of Dr. Brene Brown, who is a researcher on vulnerability and shame.

You may know her from her two viral TED talks. She did another talk that’s not as well known called, “Why Your Critics Aren’t the Ones Who Count.” It’s a must watch — even if you’re the most confident guy/gal on the planet.

 

 

 


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how I got started

Six years ago, I was 24 and had just gotten back to the States after spending two years “bartending my way around the world.”

I had once been the girl who envisioned herself in the corner office — but after two years abroad, I knew that I would never get a “real job.”

I wanted to create something bigger than myself. I wanted to start a business that would allow me to wake up every morning and go after my dreams. In typical GenY fashion, I didn’t want to help build someone else’s dream.

It was a divine twist of fate when I got a Facebook message from a friend shortly after I got home. She said she was going through a “quarter life crisis,” dreading the possibility of sitting in a cubicle all day, and suggested we start something together.

That “something” turned out to be a sustainable apparel company.

Of course, it didn’t happen immediately.

Our plan was to create a company that would be 100% made in the USA, using fabrics and materials that did the least amount of harm to the environment as possible.

But we quickly found out that having a plan wasn’t enough. We were naive, unversed in industry lingo, and had zero connections in the fashion industry. It became obvious very early on that what we were trying to accomplish wouldn’t be easy.

We spent money on the wrong things, made every mistake possible, wasted time pursuing leads that ended in dead ends and continuously took two steps back with every one step forward.

Looking back at the emails I sent to fabric suppliers, I now know that my inquiries surely got a swift click of the delete button. I didn’t know how to talk to industry veterans, I had no idea how to walk “the walk,” and it showed.

But after a year and a half, having nearly depleted both of our savings accounts, the stars aligned.

We received a response about a private label inquiry we had sent to a contact form. After a few meetings, we made the decision to source and manufacture our first production run under the guidance of a company who had done it before.

The company was a startup itself but was farther along and had the production infrastructure that we lacked. They also had the knowledge, connections and reputation. After pushing forward solo for so long, we had found someone to take us by the hand and walk us through the process.

We had finally found the mentorship we needed.

A month later, we broke records launching the highest-funded fashion project in Kickstarter history.

We quadrupled our first production order, were featured in The New York Times, and started our business with 1,400 customers.

got started

Fast forward to today and I’ve been able to acquire the knowledge, skills, connections and reputation that I didn’t have when I was first starting out.

In the last few years, I’ve helped over 70 entrepreneurs set up supply chains in the U.S., source sustainable materials and bring their products to market.

Factory45 is the program I created for entrepreneurs, like me, who have a vision and a plan but need the mentorship and resources to get started.

I’ll be looking for a crew of committed designers, makers and entrepreneurs who want to join me in creating a more ethical and transparent fashion industry. If that sounds like you, mark your calendar.


 

 


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As an entrepreneur myself, it’s been fascinating to watch the highs and lows of the entrepreneurs who have come through Factory45 in the past two years. It’s cliche to say, but starting a business is certainly not for the faint of heart.

Digging into some of those observations, I want to share the ones that I think could benefit any aspiring entrepreneur who is considering starting a company:

1.) No one ever really feels “ready.”

Just ask Factory45’er Angela who has two toddlers and travels around the country full time. As with most big decisions, timing is rarely perfect. But unless you have the confidence of Beyonce, it’s unlikely you’ll ever feel fully prepared to start a business. You can come up with a million excuses to talk yourself out of it, and yes it is scary, but doesn’t it help to know that no one else feels ready either?

2.) Networking is one of the most powerful resources you can leverage.

I can’t count the number of times we’ve been on a Factory45 group call when someone says they’re looking for X and someone else says they know someone who has X. Whether it’s a garment factory in Brooklyn or a natural dyeing contact or a suggestion for a rare type of “seaweed” fabric, the Factory45 crew does an incredible job of leveraging the network.

Going further, I’ve seen first-hand the power of the referral. Doors have opened for fabric options and production partners, simply by saying “so-and-so” referred me. The response rate is tenfold.

3.) You’ll know when to keep pushing for “better.”

Factory45’er Mikaela wasn’t sure it could be done. Multiple fabric suppliers told her that the fabric she wanted was impossible to get and “didn’t exist.” Refusing to take no for an answer, she continued to contact every person in the supplier database she received through Factory45, while also calling and “nicely harassing” (as she says) anyone else who would listen.

The result? She found affordable U.S.-grown organic cotton that fit her sustainability guidelines. There is a time to push and there is a time to concede. You’ll know when you should keep pushing.

4.) Let go of perfectionism.

All three cohorts of Factory45 entrepreneurs have had a heavy presence of self-prescribed perfectionists. Coming from all different career backgrounds, there’s been a steep learning curve to adjust to the idea that “good enough” is really “good enough.”

In the case of entrepreneurship, perfectionism can hold you back. It keeps you from clicking “publish” on a blog post. It inhibits you from ordering the sample yardage. It tempts you to throw in the towel over a minor technical glitch.

The most effective entrepreneurs know that it’s more important to get your message / brand / product out into the world than it is to wait until everything is perfect.

5.) The fashion industry is changing.

This has never been clearer to me than it is now. The revival of “Made in the USA” is real. And I’m so excited for the companies coming through Factory45 to be part of it.


tips, challenges, opportunity

A Story

Back in 2013, before Factory45 existed, I started working with an early-stage startup in California. We committed to a one-month sourcing project in which I would help them find organic cotton jersey to create a line of eco-friendly baby clothes. They were ideal clients — focused, organized, driven and ready to move fast.

The founder already owned a successful bowtie company, and she was looking to get into a new market with ample opportunity for growth. All of her research pointed to sustainable baby clothing. It’s resoundingly popular in Europe and she figured it’s only a matter of time before the U.S. catches on.

Because I was testing out the early stages of Factory45, our work together was intensive. In addition to sourcing, we had weekly Q+A calls for troubleshooting, brainstorming and problem solving, as well as 24/7 email support for any issues that came up.

During our calls, we dug deep. We asked hard questions about market demand, considered cost and target price points, and hashed out the feasibility of competing with the ‘big guys.’ We got real about the end goal, the values and mission behind the company, and what made the most sense for where they wanted to go.

By the time we reached week three of the project the entire vision had shifted. The business model had transformed from a line of eco-friendly baby clothing to an e-commerce marketplace of curated eco-friendly baby clothing. There was newfound clarity, purpose and drive to deliver what the market demanded and to do it differently.

1.) The early stages are the easiest time to reroute. Don’t miss the turnoff.

My clients could have looked at the hours of research they had already put into sourcing swatches and contacting suppliers as a time investment they couldn’t walk away from. But instead of lamenting about the hours lost, they focused on the hours gained. In the grand scheme of their business, they had saved a lot more time abandoning the original idea rather than holding on and letting go later.

2.) Reframe challenges as opportunities. It becomes your story.

They started to look at the situation critically when they realized how difficult it would be to manufacture a line of eco-friendly baby clothing at the affordable price point and initial order number they were targeting. They would be small players in the marketplace. There were already larger and more seasoned companies in the space. And they saw an opportunity to innovate.

When it comes to entrepreneurship, openings to opportunities are often disguised as bumps in the road. Don’t hold onto the dream so tightly that you can’t see the better option on the other side.

3.) You will lose money. You will waste money. It’s all a part of the process.

Whoever said, “You have to spend money to make money” was right. You also have to lose it, waste it, and spend it the wrong way. At first glance, my clients could have realized we were more than halfway through our work together and they had paid me for a service they didn’t need anymore. Not to mention, we still had another two weeks in our contract. Instead of dwelling on it, they asked if we could update the deliverables to fit the new business model. Of course we did, and by the time we wrapped up the project, we had made enough traction to make up for the time spent sourcing.

4.) The next idea is usually better than the one before it.

The evolution of ideas usually indicates growth and improvement. In most cases, your end product will differ from your initial vision. That’s how it should be. With experience, market response, product testing and additional research, your ideas will get better if you don’t succumb to tunnel vision. One of the greatest downfalls of entrepreneurship is being so “in love” with your idea that you can’t see room for improvement.

5.) Your customers will tell you what your USP is. So get your product out into the world.

Your unique selling proposition isn’t always obvious. Or you think it’s one thing and the market tells you it’s something completely different. If you listen to the response of your customers, they will happily tell you. Oftentimes, it’s more important to get your offering out into the world, so you can gather feedback, reevaluate, adapt and rework. Done is always better than perfect.