In her one-on-one meetings with students through Penn Wharton Entrepreneurship’s Entrepreneur-in-Residence program, Shelby Zitelman, W’07, offered some targeted advice and suggestions to students at various stages of starting their own businesses.
The Soom Foods Co-Founder and CEO also shared some general guidance on how to survive and thrive through the ups and downs of the entrepreneurial journey.
Here are the five most important things she’s learned over the past 5 years:
1. Not having the full business plan is OK.
In fact, in my opinion, it’s recommended. I think the key to entrepreneurship is figuring out while doing. A lot of my time is spent problem-solving and figuring out new solutions or pivoting in a direction that I hadn’t previously considered.
2. Be as open to learning opportunities as possible.
I try to surround myself with people who know a lot more about the industry than I do. I get an energy from being around other entrepreneurs, and even talking with students who are business owners in entirely different industries has sparked ideas. You never know where you’ll find inspiration.
3. Put one foot in front of the other.
Starting a business is so rewarding but exhausting at the same time. I had a baby 15 months ago so bringing new life and new business into the world is tiring, but I try to remind myself every day that it really is a blessing to be growing and developing a business. I try to keep that perspective in mind when the lows are really low. Motion begets motion — the more you put yourself and your business out there, the more the pieces start to fall into place.
4. Keep an eye on the future, but don’t forget to reflect on how far you’ve come.
I have days when I feel kind of anxious that we’re not selling more, or frustrated that we haven’t closed a certain account, or disappointed that we didn’t get a write-up in a particular magazine — and those are all natural feelings to have running a startup. But when I reflect on the past three years, we’ve accomplished a tremendous amount. Thinking about how far we’ve come is both humbling and energizing, and it reinvigorates me to keep moving forward.
5. It’s not all about the quick win.
The success stories you hear about are often these 0–60 entrepreneurial ventures that sell in three to five years for $50 million-plus when honestly for most of us, that’s not the reality. Keeping a long-term perspective in mind is really helpful in building a business. For me, it’s not about the quick win — I want like to build something long-standing.
Find out how Shelby’s business plan all started with a taste of tahini, and check out her advice for food entrepreneurs.
— Colleen Mullarkey
Posted: September 19, 2016