The Top 3 Lessons of My Entrepreneurial Journey So Far

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Our next Chicago Founder Friday speaker shares what she has learned starting up. 

By Elaine Russell (CEO & Founder, Heirlume)

I became a founder recently, but my journey to get here started many years ago. In my “previous life”, as I call it, I worked in the corporate world at big banks and big companies but after graduating from business school that all changed. I was ready for change but really had no idea what I wanted to do. As luck would have it, my husband decided to go to business school at Stanford, so off we went to Silicon Valley.

I didn’t know much about working at startups at the time but was intrigued and surrounded by it. I joined a company called Tiny Prints doing business development and soon became addicted to the life at a “startup”. I say this in quotes because Tiny Prints had a little over 30 employees and was entering into a huge growth stage. To me, it was as startup as it gets, but two years later we were 350 employees and acquired by Shutterfly. I gradually moved to a smaller company with every new job that I took on until I felt comfortable to leave my job and start my own company. Over the past year, I have founded my dream company and learned more than I can imagine, but three specific learnings stick out as suggestions that I think could help other women looking to make the leap:

  • Ease your way into the startup world.
  • Surround yourself by other entrepreneurs because they are the only ones who can truly understand you when you go crazy.
  • Embrace the fact that you are a woman.

Start Big

I built confidence and skills at each startup that I worked for but more importantly, I learned how to embrace the unique culture that is found within a tech startup. Regularly I speak to people who are looking to enter the startup world and may be coming from a larger company or a different background and my advice is typically the same: start at slightly bigger startup company (maybe 30-50 people) and make sure you are comfortable. It is much easier to downsize when you are ready but making a huge jump can sometimes push you outside of your comfort level.

Lean on Experience

Even though I had previous experience at startups (most recently, a five-person company), I still was not prepared for was just how different it is when you start your own company. It is exhilarating and nerve racking at the same time! Looking back, I think I was as prepared as I could have been but, like having your first child, you don’t really have any clue until it happens. Because launching your own business is such a unique experience, I have always thought it is very important to get the advice and opinion of as many previous entrepreneurs as possible and truly learn from them all. This can come in the form of friends, mentors, advisors or family members who have been in a similar position. I have found such comfort in sharing my experience with other entrepreneurs and think that joining focused entrepreneurial groups and working in a co-working space has really helped me.

Don’t Be Shy About Being Female

Lastly, the entrepreneurial community is growing fast and sometimes it does not always seem gender equal but, guess what? The community realizes this and is starting to do something about it. There are so many wonderful people that are looking to support women founders so, find these people and make sure that they know about you and your company. Whether it be media outlets, investors, mentors, vendors or customers – be forthright with the fact that you are a female founder and I have found, most times, these people become even more excited about supporting your company. It is an exciting time for women because we are growing so much with the support of everyone around us. Support fellow females in all of their endeavors and you will find the same support in return!

Get more tips from experienced entrepreneurs at Founder Friday in your city.

1_elaine-russellAbout the guest blogger: Elaine Russell is CEO and founder of Heirlume. She has a background in e-commerce and retail/consumer industries and began her career in the Retail Investment Banking Group at JPMorgan. She was an early employee at Tiny Prints and later accepted a role as VP of Product at Storeplacer. Elaine can be found on Google+, LinkedIn and Twitter.