In mid-September, we had the opportunity to attend the Small Business Summit, organized by the US Chamber of Commerce and MetLife. We were thrilled to witness this four-day event, which engaged top experts, small business leaders, and entrepreneurs in conversations about the future of small business. Seeing this unfold into a huge celebration of small businesses and encouragement of the DC business owner was truly impactful. Here are 3 big insights that will help small businesses thrive.
Anyone can be an innovator
Silicon Valley is sometimes regarded as the only place to create a successful venture. This simply isn’t the case. We heard from trailblazer Marc Randolph, Netflix Co-Founder, Executive Mentor, & Angel Investor, that anyone, anywhere, can be an innovator. He shared two crucial aspects needed to be an innovator. First, you shouldn’t fear risk. Become and active risk-taker and launch your idea with the mindset “let’s see what will happen” even if you don’t have a perfect business model in place. Secondly, you must have the capacity to generate ideas. Innovation relies on ideas, and Marc believes that ideas don’t need to be big, original, complex, or even good, to be worth a shot. Marc shared that there is no real way to tell between good and bad ideas, so why not take your idea and do something with it? Continuous ideation may seem like a daunting task, but Marc shared that ideas come from noticing imperfections in the world and trying to solve the issues right in front of you. Marc said it best, “to avoid being disrupted, disrupt yourself.”
Memorable brands are people centric
During a panel discussion on how brands distinguish themselves from the crowd, leaders from the food and beverage industry emphasized the importance of brands focusing on people with everything they do. For Dolcezza founders Robb Duncan and Violeta Edelman, it’s not about the gelato, it’s about how people react to the product and making them happy customers. If the experience isn’t made personal, who would come back? CakeLove founder Warren Brown shared his inspirational story of leaving a career in law to pursue his passion for recipe creation and baking. He mentioned the importance of not only listening to customers, but asking them specific questions to pinpoint their needs and wants, and find new innovations that will be valuable for customers. Led by Sarah Van Dell, the catering company Plum Relish understands that it is constantly being graded on competency. Was the catering experience easy, on time, and delicious? If Plum Relish meets these standards, it builds trust with customers and retains these customers. Michael Lastoria and Steve Salis, founders of the rapidly growing pizza establishment &pizza shared that in addition to focusing on customers’ satisfaction, the company wants employees to weave their DNA into the brand. Valued employees contribute to strong brands by helping to create a culture of excellence. One way &pizza builds this culture is through its commitment to communication.
Perseverance is crucial for running a small business
During her fireside chat, Linda McMahon of the Small Business Association emphasized that there has never been a better time to get involved with a small business. Despite this, owning and running a profitable business is easier said than done. Many business entrepreneurs struggle with innovation and moving from ideation to reality. We heard two extremely successful business owners talk about their struggles of starting their businesses among all of the critique they received and obstacles they had to overcome. Their tips and tricks of entrepreneurship really resonated with the small business owners of DC. Sarah LaFleur, CEO of MM. LaFleur, had to completely change her business model about a year into her clothing business. Sarah explained that “owning a small business is like taking off your stockings, once they’re off, you can’t get them back on”. If she had not been able to admit that her business was not working a year in and be open to the idea of completely pivoting the way her company worked, she confessed that she would not be where she is now and as successful with her business. Another important point that Sarah stressed is that you and your partner need to have chemistry. This must seem pretty obvious if you are agreeing to start a business together, but most business owners overlook the fact that you and your partner must share the same value system and end goals with the career you both share.
Similarly, the extremely transparent and lively Bethenny Frankel, shared her inside secrets to how she started her company, SkinnyGirl, and became the newest Judge on the television show, Shark Tank. A major takeaway from Bethenny’s fireside chat is the fact that she constantly pushed through her reputation. Whether it be positive or negative, she learned to always persevere in the face of public commentary. She urged the crowd to never “buy into your own bull**** or failures. You can’t get too low or too high.”