Entrepreneurs are Everywhere Show No. 44: Jacqueline Ros and Christina Stembel

The first two years of my startup were the most challenging years of my life; I just felt like a complete failure all the time.

In moments of darkness you need to remember why you’re here and why you’re fighting that fight.

Grueling. Demoralizing. Chaotic. Miserable.

Most first-time entrepreneurs aren’t prepared for the challenges they will face building a startup, and yet they wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.

How founders find the determination to push through tough times was the focus on today’s Entrepreneurs are Everywhere radio show.

The show follows the journeys of founders who share what it takes to build a startup – from restaurants to rocket scientists, to online gifts to online groceries and more. The program examines the DNA of entrepreneurs: what makes them tick, how they came up with their ideas; and explores the habits that make them successful, and the highs and lows that pushed them forward.

jacqueline-ros

Jacqueline Ros

Joining me in the Stanford University studio were:

christina-stembel

Christina Stembel

Listen to my full interviews with Jacqueline and Christina by downloading them from SoundCloud here and here

(And download any of the past shows here.)

Clips from their interviews are below.

Jacqueline Ros left a teaching job to found Revolar. She and her team ran a successful Kickstarter campaign, went through the Techstars Boulder 2015 accelerator program,  and recently closed a $3 million financing round with The Foundry Group.  

Jacqueline’s goal for the company is to change the way women keep themselves and those they love safe.

She had no startup experience going in and was surprised by the learning curve she faced. Here’s what she tells other first-time founders:

In moments of darkness you need to remember why you’re here and why you’re fighting that fight.

You have to be obsessed with what you’re doing. You have to believe, especially if you have no idea, and you’re coming from a completely different background than tech or entrepreneurship.

You have to be 1000% dedicated to the mission and the problem you’re trying to solve and always be customer focused, because it is a long ride.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here.

Christina Stembel dreamed up the idea for Farmgirl Flowers in 2010 after gaining experience across a variety of industries including hospitality and event planning. Her goal was to start a business that was not only innovative and creative, but did some good in the world.  

Her idea for creating signature daily arrangements of locally grown flowers disrupted the floral delivery industry, but Christina quickly found herself overwhelmed:

The first two years were the most challenging years of my life; I just felt like a complete failure all the time.

I would go to networking events and everybody had like a sappy smile on their face and all the stories I was hearing was how much funding everybody had raised and how great everything was and how they had free lunch and all that stuff. I was like, I just switched from coffee to tea because tea bags are like 16 cents a piece and I can’t afford coffee right now.

I just felt really alone and I felt like nobody else was feeling that way. Now that I amd on the other side and can have coffee again, I want to tell people that because I feel people are ashamed to say it.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

Everybody glosses over how lonely you’re going to feel, but this is really hard. It’s excruciating.

You’re going to cry. You’re going to feel like you’re going to fail all of the time. You’re going to be scared all the time.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

Revolar is a wearable device that allows users to alert a preset list of contacts at the click of a button if they are feeling unsafe or in need of help.

Jacqueline came up with the idea after her sister was attacked twice. By talking to people, including students on college campuses, she found that she was on to something. Then she went to work on the technology:

I hired some contract engineers who used to work on the Life Alert product to build us a really dinky prototype that you could plug into the wall. And I found a couple who worked out of their house to build me a really chintzy app.

If you plugged this prototype into the wall, it would send an alert.

That was enough to get our Kickstarter campaign going.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

She explains why they turned to Kickstarter and what happened with their campaign:

We kept hearing from investors, “Who are your customers? How do you have proof that they’ll pay for this?” Kickstarter was the only platform we could think of to prove that people would buy our product.

We naively thought we would have a viral campaign, but it took us 4 months to create and cost us $25,000. It was an incredible undertaking, and we had the hustle for every last dollar.

By the end of the 45-day campaign, we had 1,200 pre-orders.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

Today, Revolar has retail partnerships with Brookstone, Best Buy and Amazon. Here’s one thing Jacqueline wishes she’d done differently.

I wish I had talked to an accountant before I talked to a lawyer, because if we had established ourselves as a S Corp or an LLC in the beginning, I could have gotten a lot of my own money back and then reinvested it in the company.

It would have been great in the Ramen noodle days to have the ability to get money back to reinvest in what we were doing.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

Christina started Farmgirl Flowers with $49,000 in her bank account. She set herself up at her dining room table, watched YouTube tutorials on flower-arranging and gave herself two years – or until she ran out of cash – to build the business.

The money didn’t last. She came precariously close to shuttering the company, reaching a point where she had just $411 in the bank.

A single moment gave her the fortitude to keep going, however:

I was taking every order that would possibly come in. Even if it was midnight, I didn’t care.  

As I was walking to my car one night with a delivery of three arrangements, a couple of women stopped me and were like, “Oh my gosh, is that Farmgirl Flowers?” They recognized the burlap wrap that I created. 

The fact that these women on the street recognized the brand I was trying to create and identified it as Farmgirl, I felt like, “Oh my gosh. I’m going to make it. Even though I only have $400 in the bank I’m going to make it. People recognize our product now.”

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

Farmgirl Flowers is on track to make $11 million this year, but two years ago, Christina was again panicked that the company wouldn’t make it:

I started to see a lot of companies that looked eerily similar to us pop up.

I was pretty convinced we were going to be out of business within a year because everywhere I looked there was a lot of consumer confusion or people were asking if we were the other companies now with our burlap-wrapped bouquets.

I thought all of these are raising $5 million, $10 million, $15 million pre-revenue. Here is my brilliant idea and now all these guys from tech companies are quitting their jobs and starting these companies that look like Farmgirl. I was really scared that we were going to be the Friendster to their Facebook.

I thought I had to raise funding to compete with them, so I pitched to 26 companies here on Sand Hill Road in San Francisco and even Boston and New York. I was unsuccessful, so I felt like I failed my team.

Every networking event I would go to, the first, second or third question anybody would ask me is, “What round are you on? Who’s invested?” As soon as I would say, “We’re bootstrapped,” I would see their eyes go over my shoulder and look for someone more valuable to talk to. 

It was really frustrating and demoralizing.

Then I took a step back and realized I had equated my success and my company’s success with funding. I realized that my benchmark for success should be, “Am I creating a company that I’d want to work for, that I’d want to sell to and that I would want to buy from?” If I can do those things, then that’s success.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

Listen to my full interviews with Jacqueline and Christina by downloading them from SoundCloud here and here (And download any of the past shows here.)

Coming up next on the blog: Dan Miller, co-founder of Level; and Brian Zuercher, founder of Seen

Tune in Thursday at 1 pm PT, 4 pm ET on Sirius XM Channel 111 to hear these upcoming guests on Entrepreneurs are Everywhere:

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