Many successful entrepreneurs have had at least one failed business, but it's part of the learning process. This entrepreneur shares the lessons she learned after her first business failed. By Sheila Waples (Founder, Date My Apartment)
I started my first business in 2007. It was a consignment shop here in Philadelphia called ReMix! I didn’t know anything about consignment, knew less about retail and spent what little money we had, which came from a HELOC (Home Equity Line of Credit) and a microloan from a local organization, on inventory, professional services I didn’t need or could’ve done myself and other foolishness.
Not surprisingly, we failed six months later.
I’ve started or attempted to start other businesses since then, and currently have a startup with my sister called Date My Apartment that would allow prospective renters to test out an apartment they’re interested in before signing a lease. While things are going much better with Date My Apartment, I still go back to ReMix! and the things I learned from the experience that I’m able to apply to my new startup.
1. It’s Hard as Hell Doing Business By Yourself
While it’s not impossible, it definitely helps to have a business partner/partners as well as advisers and mentors. I now have a business partner (my twin sister) and a couple of advisors. Knowing that I have other people to lean on makes going through the ups and downs of a startup easier. Having a business partner means having another person to bounce ideas off of and sharing the workload.
2. Keep it 100 Percent
What I mean is be honest about your struggles. As entrepreneurs, we have a tendency to hide our troubles and put on a positive front. There is no shame in admitting something isn’t working and you need help.
Also, other entrepreneurs are going through the same thing. Now my sister and I are part of two entrepreneur groups that have been helpful with not only advice, but also connections. I also keep a personal blog now to share my experiences so others can avoid my mistakes and to get feedback. Again, don’t be afraid to share what you’re going through. Others have been there and they can help.
3. Passion Will Only Take You So Far
Passion is great, but you also need to know the industry you’re entering. I knew nothing about retail or consignment when I started my consignment shop. When we failed in just six months, it was a very painful and expensive lesson.
This time, Date My Apartment is in an industry I’ve actually worked in. After spending seven years in property management, earning an industry designation — National Apartment Leasing Professional or NALP through the National Apartment Association — and keeping up with industry trends and knowledge, I feel confident in the company we’re building.
4. Stay True to Your Vision
When I started ReMix!, it was originally going to be a plus size consignment shop. But then fear got the better of me, and I expanded the concept to include all sizes of women’s clothing. I’m not saying that ReMix! Would’ve survived if we had just stuck to plus size, but I’ll never know because I didn’t stay true to my original vision.
While Date My Apartment has had its shares of ups and downs, we haven’t forgotten our reason why for starting the business: Helping renters find a great apartment. When we encountered problems with our first developer and later our technical co-founder, that reason is the one we kept coming back to. Your “why” will keep you focused, even during the tough times.
5. Think About the End at the Beginning
Where do you see your business going? Do you plan on exiting in three to five years, or do you see your business being passed down to the next generation? What about size? Planning to stay in one location or with one product, or expanding?
Again, think about where you want to go. Now I keep a detailed plan of where I see Date My Apartment being in the next few years. Knowing where we want the company to be has truly helped us figure out what we need to do to get there.
So there you have it, five lessons I’ve learned from my first adventure in entrepreneurship.
A version of this post originally appeared on digitalundivided.com.
What lessons have you learned in failure?
About the guest blogger: Sheila Waples is the co-founder of Date My Apartment, an apartment search and concierge service. Sheila lives outside Philadelphia with her two cats, Snowflake and Sasha, and identical twin sister and business partner, Sharon.