There Has to Be a Better Way: My Path to Becoming an Entrepreneur

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Tips from our City Meetup speaker on how she got started on her entrepreneurial journey.  By Brittany Martin Graunke (Founder & CEO, Zealous Good)

Almost 4 years ago, I was working at a non-profit and visiting one of our partners. I noticed that they had a sign on their office microwave saying it was currently broken. It was a small thing, but coincidentally, I was about to move and had a working microwave that I needed to get rid of. My first thought was 'perfect timing!' And then I realized if I hadn’t coincidentally been visiting this charity, how would I know of their need and how would my microwave have been able to find a new home where it was needed?

That was the first day of many where I thought all about the in-kind donation process and how people got their extra stuff to charities that needed it. Since then, I’ve started a website, Zealous Good, focused on solving just that problem. We’ve helped thousands of people donate their excess items and hundreds of non-profits receive items they desperately need.

I think I owe my launch into entrepreneurship, not to perfect timing, but more to my personal obsession with thinking “there has to be a better way”… for everything. I’m the girl who thinks about how and when you cross a street to get to an end location faster. An engineer by education, I happily live in the world of logic and over-efficiency.

I think of my “there has to be a better way” mentality is also reflective of my being an eternal optimist. That being said, I know better than most that just thinking that way doesn’t lead to success. There are 3 key things that I think have made my company uniquely successful.

Ask For Feedback

Prior to starting Zealous Good, I had coffee, calls and meetings with over 200 people to get their input. While I didn’t take every piece of advice I got, it was invaluable to get a variety of perspectives and it helped me hone in on what I truly wanted to accomplish.

When asking for feedback, cast your net wide – you never know whom you’ll learn from. While we are focused on donated items, we see ourselves as similar to a dating site. This made me seek out people who had experience in the online dating world – definitely not who you’d expect to contact when researching donations!

Get Mentors

I can’t highlight enough how valuable mentors have been in my entrepreneurial path. My mentors have a deeper knowledge of the challenges I face and the general goals I’m looking to achieve. So, when we talk it’s targeted and vastly more helpful than when I see feedback elsewhere.

Also, female mentors specifically have made a world of a difference to me. When I decided to start a family, I knew that it would drastically affect my life and my business. Talking to my female mentors who had navigated the world of motherhood/entrepreneurship made all the difference. It gave me perspective on what works, what’s going to be hard and what the best parts are. In my founder journey, mentors have truly guided and supported me since day one.

Test, Test, Test, Then Build

Taking a step away from the people side of feedback and mentoring, I’m a firm believer in testing before you build. I firmly don’t believe in the mentality of “if you build it they will come.” I believe, if you build it correctly they will come. In order to build it right, you need to test, test, and test some more. Do it cheaply and as quickly as possible – that will make all the difference and make your money spent so much more valuable.

Being an entrepreneur isn’t easy. It’s not usually glamorous, either. But, with the help of those around you and the patience to build your startup right, it becomes a much easier, friendly occupation!

Hear more from Brittany at Women 2.0 City Meetup! Register here.

Photo via Zealous Facebook. Brittany  Martin GraunkeBrittany founded Zealous Good, a website that connects people with extra goods to local charities with matching needs. She began her career in the Chicago office of Bain& Company. Wanting to find ways to make the world a better place, Brittany left Bain and joined the United Way of Metropolitan Chicago as a strategic engagement manager. Shortly thereafter, Zealous Good was born in Chicago.