Meet the millennial and Gen Z founders dressing Jill Biden, opening NFT art galleries, and raising millions in funding

"Star, Rising" with the world map behind it on a blue background with faint glowing stars scattered around.
“Star, Rising” is a series highlighting early entrepreneurs and businesses.

  • Insider’s series Star, Rising highlights early-stage entrepreneurs and companies who are gaining popularity.
  • So far, Insider has profiled founders all over the world who are innovating their respective industries.
  • Here are the 15 burgeoning business owners in Insider’s Star, Rising series.

The pandemic spurred a new wave of entrepreneurship, prompting people to start their own companies, and that doesn’t seem to be slowing down.

The US saw 4.3 million new business applications in 2020-a 24.3% increase from 2019-and 3.8 million so far this year, according to the US Census Bureau. That’s in addition to the rise in hustle culture, as the gig economy grows and social media paves way for more virtual shops and accessible marketplaces. In particular, many millennials and Gen Zers are disrupting the industries they work in as they find their place in the protean landscape of entrepreneurship.

With so much change, it can often be hard to track the new innovators seeking to redefine the world around them. That’s why Insider has started profiling them in its series Star, Rising, which explores how these entrepreneurs built their businesses, who they call mentors, and what advice they would give others looking to follow in their footsteps.

So far, the series has introduced Oladosu Teyibo, who is sourcing African talent for his software company to increase representation in tech, and. Sharmadean Reid, who launched a female-centric financial news publication to educate the rising crop of entrepreneurs. Here are the 13 other burgeoning founders in Insider’s Star, Rising series.

Sharmadean Reid’s new business aims to empower entrepreneurial women.

Sharmadean Reid
Sharmadean Reid

Reid is the founder of The Stack World, a female-centric financial publication that aims to be the stepping stone between Cosmopolitan and The Financial Times. Based in London, the outlet is on track to hit 10,000 subscribers by next year and has more than 420,000 followers on Instagram.

In 2019, Reid raised nearly £4 million ($5.5 million) in a funding round led by Index Ventures for BeautyStack and has since rebranded and expanded the platform into The Stack World’s marketplace. That milestone made her one of 10 Black female entrepreneurs in the UK who’s raised venture capital between 2009 and 2019.

Two Gen Zers turned a $2,000 investment into an art gallery that sells $600K pieces. They want to usher in a new generation of art collectors.

Alexis de Bernede (L) and Marius Jacob (R)
Alexis de Bernede (R) and Marius Jacob (L))

Based in France, Alexis de Bernede and Marius Jacob are the founders of Darmo Art gallery. This summer, their two shows netted six figures each, and they are now planning future exhibitions in Paris, the French Riviera, and at the Grand Hotel Heiligendamm, an exclusive report in Germany.

The millennial founder of a software company on track to net seven figures this year is fostering Africa’s rising tech stars.

Oladosu Teyibo stands wearing a black shirt in the middle of the street smiling
Oladosu Teyibo

Oladosu Teyibo is the founder of Analog Teams, a software development company focused on hiring talent from underrepresented communities. The company is on track to net seven figures in revenue this year and has already expanded into six African countries, including Kenya, Ghana, and Nigeria.

Hogoè Kpessou worked as an Uber Eats driver before she launched her handbag brand last year. Now she’s on track to net seven figures.

photo of Hogoè Kpessou
Hogoè Kpessou

Luxury designer Hogoè Kpessou is best known for her backpacks emblazoned with a gold bumblebee. Before starting her eponymous company, she held weekend shifts at a local restaurant and delivered food for Uber Eats. Now she expects to hit seven figures in revenue by the beginning of next year.

The 24-year-old cofounder of an NFT art gallery raised $7.6 million in funds on his quest to create the ‘Instagram for NFTs’.

Alex Masmej headshot
Alex Masmej

Alex Masmej made headlines last year after turning himself into a token on crypto-platform Ethereum. Now, he’s working on his next venture, called Showtime, which is an art gallery that focuses on highlighting non-fungible tokens. In April, he raised $7.6 million in venture capital and hopes to make Showtime one of the biggest NFT art galleries in the world.

Three millennial cofounders created a job platform that looks like TikTok and works with Panda Express, H&M, and Everlane.

Three men sit in a grocery store looking at the camera smiling
(L-R) Tristan Petit, Adrien Dewulf and Cyriac Lefort

Tristan Petit, Adrien Dewulf, and Cyriac Lefort are the cofounders of the job platform Heroes, which allows individuals to submit video job applications and lets employers share day-in-the-life videos of workers. The platform seeks to help Gen Z workers get jobs at retailers such as Panda Express and H&M. What’s more, last year it closed a $6 million seed round, led by Greg McAdoo of venture capital firm Bolt.

Entrepreneur Anne Onyeneho turned a cookbook into a meal-prepping business and soon a restaurant.

Anne Onyeneho standing in her kitchen posing
Anne Onyeneho

Last November, Anne Onyeneho authored a cookbook full of plant-based recipes called PlantBaed to help people prepare their own healthy dishes at home. Four months later, she launched a meal prepping service, named after the cookbook, so customers could buy healthy dishes directly from her. She’s on track to net six figures in revenue by the end of this year and looking to open a restaurant.

Millennial fashion designer Alexandra O’Neill is seeing cocktail dress sales skyrocket as customers prepare for the new Roaring 20s

Markarian designer Alexandra O'Neill sits in front of clothes

Alexandra O’Neill is the founder of luxury brand Markarian and made headlines this year after First Lady Jill Biden wore a custom Markarian piece for Inauguration. Since then, the company has seen sales skyrocket. What’s more, O’Neill held her first New York Fashion Week presentation in September, showing off a collection inspired by Lauren Bacall in the movie “How to Marry a Millionaire.”

3 Gen Zers created a competition to connect young creatives with cash and careers amid the pandemic.

(L-R) Harry Beard, Alexandre Daillance, Adam Flanagan
(L-R) Harry Beard, Alexandre Daillance, Adam Flanagan

Harry Beard, Alexandre Daillance, Adam Flanagan launched the competition Prospect 100 last year to help young creatives showcase their work as the pandemic shuttered the arts industry. Since last May, it’s held six competitions with more than 15,000 participants from 82 countries. Additionally, past judges include Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak and Yeezy design director Steven Smith.

Brittni Popp’s 6-figure side hustle is making custom cakes for celebrities like Paris Hilton and Khloe Kardashian.

Brittni Popp

Brittni Popp likes to help people commemorate their important life moments, whether that’s a bridal party, divorce, or even an expunged DUI. Her business, Betchin Cakes, sells customized baked goods that come adorned with decorations like Barbie dolls or empty nips. In the two years since she launched her side hustle, she’s landed high-profile customers like Paris Hilton and Khloe Kardashian, and is on track to make six figures in revenue this year.

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A startup investor and mentor shares 7 tips to convince investors to fund your business idea

two professional women having a conversation in an office in front of a laptop
Show investors that you’re always willing to learn.

  • To get funding from investors, you have to show ambition and intention to make a valuable change in the world.
  • Understand your personal story and explain why you’re the right person to lead your small business.
  • Be realistic with goals and prepare a credible business plan with specific milestones.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Unfortunately, most of us don’t have enough resources to bootstrap our own startups, so we are completely dependent on investors to help turn great ideas into great businesses.

Yet in my experience on both sides of this equation, I find that many aspiring entrepreneurs focus only on the best idea, assuming that it will attract the right investors. In reality, that’s only half the story.

The other half is you. You need to work just as hard to convince investors that you are the best person to take your idea from a dream to a successful business, and provide an impressive return on their investment at the same time.

Here are some key strategies that I have seen to enhance your position as an attractive investment opportunity, independent of your idea:

1. Show that you can do more than make money

You need to show how your business will make money and provide an impressive investor return, but that should be only the beginning. Emphasize your real ambition to change the world, through helping the underprivileged, improving healthcare, or saving the environment.

For example, Blake Mycoskie of TOMS Shoes attributes his ability to raise a seed round and build a $400 million company to his commitment to provide a free pair of shoes to the underprivileged for every pair sold. He didn’t have any big technical shoe innovations.

2. Emphasize your personal journey

Investors love entrepreneurs who come across as constantly on the lookout for new ideas, and able to grasp the larger implications for market change. Your story should include childhood initiatives, industry organization leadership roles, and online influencer organizations that you support.

Many of his original investors still remember when Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg first related his personal challenge to only eat meat that he killed himself, in an effort to learn sustainable farming and consume resources responsibly. His campaign only lasted a year, but it convinced some that he was a potential visionary and a constant learner.

3. Show that you are realistic

Above all, good business people have to remain practical, not be perfectionists, and be able to get the job done. That means you need to show examples of your ability to get results, when all around you are bogged down on details, or unable to face the harsh challenges of the real world.

4. Offer them a fair deal

As you may have seen on the Shark Tank TV show, offering a tiny equity amount for a large investment will not endear you to investors. They need to believe your valuation, based on current revenue and intellectual property, and feel the equity offered gives them a real return for the risk.

5. Create a plan

Passion and confidence are a good start, but every investor wants to see a credible plan, with specific milestones along the way. These show a focus on the business elements required for success, and metrics for ensuring accountability, management control, and feedback along the way.

6. Show that you have a great team behind you

Founders who present themselves as a lone entrepreneur may develop an innovative solution, but building a business requires a team. You need to show that you have a powerful team, and can attract and lead people with strong skills complimentary to yours for marketing, finance, sales, and operations.

7. Be flexible but determined

Smart investors know that no matter how certain you are that your solution is right, you will probably need to pivot at least once as you learn from the marketplace. You need to show you have a “Plan B,” and a never-give-up mindset, in handling any competitive threat or customer reaction.

The message here is that it is just as important to develop and communicate your personal innovative strengths as it is to pitch your solution’s innovative features.

As an investor, I have seen many great ideas fail by the wrong entrepreneur, and other less grandiose ones sail to success by world-class entrepreneurs. Never underestimate the power of you.

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I’m a former Goldman Sachs analyst who raised over $8.5 million for my fashion startup. Here’s how I realized finance wasn’t for me.

Meg He ADAY credit: Bridget Badore
Meg He is the cofounder of fashion startup ADAY.

  • Meg He, 33, is the cofounder of ADAY, a fashion brand that creates sustainable professional workwear.
  • After leaving a career in finance and venture capitalism, He started ADAY with former Goldman Sachs coworker Nina Faulhaber.
  • This is what running her business is like, as told to freelance writer Claire Turrell.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit and liked to set myself a challenge. At 15, I started selling vintage designer clothing on eBay. When I was applying to college, I applied to Merton College at Oxford University for economics and management as I was told it was the hardest course to get on to in terms of acceptance rate. But I did it. After graduation in 2008, I was hired as an analyst at Goldman Sachs.

At Goldman, I met my future ADAY cofounder Nina Faulhaber. We both have strong work ethics and hit it off immediately. After two years working at Goldman Sachs, we both started working for different venture capitalist companies, and I later worked for Poshmark before taking time off to return to the UK in 2014. Nina and I always stayed in touch and bounced business ideas off each other, and my move back home became the trigger for starting ADAY.

Even while working at Goldman Sachs, I knew finance wasn’t the right industry for me.

When I looked around the room at my fellow analysts, I could tell they enjoyed the job more, were more motivated, and were better at it than I was. I had an inner ecommerce geek that needed to get out – I thrived on marrying insights with consumer psychology and behavior and I also loved the way fashion could make people feel empowered.

As businesswomen who loved to work out, Nina and I had the idea of launching a workwear collection that was as comfortable as gym wear. We spent 12 months travelling to fabric mills in Italy, visiting sustainable factories in Portugal and Los Angeles, and holding focus groups in the UK. In January 2015 we launched our sustainable fashion brand ADAY with a capsule collection of leggings, shorts, and tops, all made with recycled UV-protected fabrics.

While we had big plans, we started small. I had quit my job and then Nina quit hers. From networking and telling people about our plans, we raised about $200,000 to launch the brand.

Our first meetings were held in coffee shops, and we even took an investor conference call in a parking lot.

ADAY founders Meg He and Nina Faulhaber. Credit: Bridget Badore
ADAY founders Meg He and Nina Faulhaber.

We had just three full-time members of staff (Nina, myself, and a junior designer), and the former head of womenswear for Everlane as a consultant.

While we always had faith in what we were doing, it was comforting when we started to see our plans pay off. After a pair of our leggings sold out, we decided to launch more items like swimwear and to work on new fabrics, like moisture-wicking linen and fabric made from recycled water bottles.

Raising money to expand globally was a slow but steady journey.

In November 2017, we were able to raise $2 million in funding. Two years later, we raised another $8.5 million. This gave us the chance to expand to the US, and in the fall of 2019, we opened a 3,000 square foot office in New York, a store in San Francisco, and launched a travel-inspired collection.

But when the pandemic struck in March 2020, we had to go back to the drawing board. Our team of close to 30 people started working from home, we sublet our New York office, closed the store, and pushed back our product launches to 2021 and 2022. However, as more people were looking for comfy clothes to wear for working from home, our sales were still up, which thankfully gave us time to launch Made Again, where we rework over-ordered stock into new pieces.

My work schedule is always changing – I’m often most productive between 8 p.m. and 1 a.m.

I start each day by walking my dog around my neighborhood in New York. Then I have virtual meetings from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. with investors, potential partners, and staff. I block out two hours each day for deep work, where I fixate on a goal for the business.

As I compete in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, I tend to keep my days flexible. I go to the BJJ academy five to six days a week and take strength and conditioning classes at the gym. At the moment I am training for the IBJJF World Master Championship in Las Vegas in November. My workouts change depending on how close I am to competing, so if I’m training for one to two hours in the afternoon, I’ll work more in the evening. I get a lot of my best work done between 8 p.m. and 1 a.m.

The key to being a successful entrepreneur is to be honest about what you’re good and bad at.

If it’s not your skillset, hire someone to do it and don’t waste time trying to do it yourself. It’s also important to have a supportive network of people around you who understand what you’re going through. And if you have an idea for a business, don’t tell it to everyone. It’s like announcing a baby name – everyone has a different opinion, and not everyone’s opinion should matter.

While investment banking wasn’t for me, it did teach me a lot. The meticulous attention to detail working at Goldman Sachs is something I’ve never seen anywhere else. That commitment to excellence is something I always think about. When Nina and I are faced with a challenge, we’ll put in the work to make it A+++ because that’s the training we were given.

When we thought about launching ADAY, we were just two women who knew nothing about fashion design. Our experience in finance and venture capitalism taught us to be audacious and embrace being a more antagonist start-up to improve the standards of the industry.

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Venture capitalists are losing leverage with founders to young influencer investors

marc andreessen facebook netscape 3
Andreesen Horowitz partner Marc Andreesen speaks during the Fortune Global Forum on November 3, 2015 in San Francisco, California. Business leaders are attending the Fortune Global Forum that runs through November 4.

  • Venture capitalists long held the power over the people they invest in.
  • Influencers and celebrities are encroaching on the investment space, giving entrepreneurs options.
  • “There’s this old line that being a VC was 99 percent saying ‘No’ and 1 percent begging,” an anonymous VC told Vice. “And now, it’s more like 10 percent begging. “
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

It’s brutal out there for venture capitalists.

“There’s this old line that being a VC was 99 percent saying ‘No’ and 1 percent begging,” an anonymous venture capitalist told Vice in a recent interview. “And now, it’s more like 10 percent begging.”

That’s due to the ever-encroaching investment capital from celebrities and influencers, from Ashton Kutcher to Jay Z to this group of TikTok stars, they said, who offer not just an alternative form of funding but also celebrity appeal.

With investment competition from outside the world of venture capital, “You spend a lot of your time trying to convince some 23-year-old little shit that you are better than some internet celebrity who they think is going to be more effective than you are because they have more Twitter followers,” they said.

Read more: Here’s what Uber’s CEO told his team to fix after he spent a weekend working as an Eats driver

Like influencers and celebrities, VCs tend to seek attention – albeit through Twitter and LinkedIn rather than Instagram and TikTok.

That often manifests as so-called “humble brags,” which are the passive-aggressive version of boasting. The behavior is so common among VCs that it reached the stage of parody last year with a popular Twitter account called “@VCBrags.”

“One of the reasons that VCs are so annoying on Twitter,” the anonymous VC said, “is because at the very earliest stages, they win by being known … You build a brand. And so VCs are out there trying to build the brand.”

Got a tip? Contact Insider senior correspondent Ben Gilbert via email (, or Twitter DM (@realbengilbert). We can keep sources anonymous. Use a non-work device to reach out. PR pitches by email only, please.

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5 small marketing mistakes that will hurt your business big time, according to a former Google exec turned entrepreneur

Cami Galles.
Cami Galles.

  • Cami Galles is an ex-Google exec turned entrepreneur and digital marketer.
  • While saving your business money is smart, she says cutting corners may hurt more in the long run.
  • Hire experts to manage social media platforms that you don’t know well, and don’t miss out on the power of video.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Ecommerce revenue was up 44% year over year in 2020. With $861.12 billion spent during a pandemic, there are plenty of customers out there ready to buy. However, this means that standing out online is harder than ever. Thankfully, you can increase your visibility, traffic, and profit by avoiding these five small marketing mistakes.

1. Not creating video

By 2022, it’s predicted that 82% of all internet traffic will be video. So, when you shy away from the camera, you’re cutting out a major source of cash. Here’s how video instantly impacts your revenue:

  • Video is fast: You communicate so much more information via video than text. A whole sales page can be conveyed in about a two minute video, and asking for two minutes of your audience’s time is a much easier ask than giving them pages of copy. When customers feel like they know your brand, they’re more likely to buy.
  • Video uses the senses: Whether your audience prefers learning through images, text, or audio, video uses them all. They can read the captions, or also listen to the video while multitasking. If a customer wants the complete experience, they can just watch the video. This engages your audience and a deeply engaged audience is a client base that’s a lot more ready to reach for their wallets.

2. Not using your built-in sales team

No matter the size of your business, you likely have a sales team you’re not using – your customers! Nothing works better than personal recommendations.

To put this to work, ask for testimonials from satisfied customers. Send out a simple form after purchase and ask for feedback. Start with questions that emphasize their positive experience and end with consent to use this feedback as a testimonial. Then, put those glowing reviews on your home page, product page, sales page, social media, and newsletters.

3. Not showing your face

People want to connect with people, not businesses. When you hide behind your brand, you’re missing a big opportunity for connection. As a founder and business owner, you are a vital part of the brand and people want to see you.

That doesn’t mean you have to have professional hair and makeup or hire a camera crew. Using a smartphone camera with some basic lighting is more than enough to get started.

You don’t need to be perfect. By showing up as a real, authentic person on camera, you’ll connect with your audience in a new (and profitable) way.

4. Fuzzy metrics and measurements

If you’re not keeping track of goals and performance, how do you really know what’s working? Staring at a bunch of cold numbers can be tough, but it’s the only way to track progress.

Here are a few key performance indicators you should put into play:

  • Revenue: Sales and any money coming in
  • Conversions: Sign ups and clicks
  • Engagement: Time on page, shares, comments, and replays

5. Not hiring experts

Social media changes all the time and it can feel hard to keep up, but “not knowing how to use TikTok” isn’t an excuse anymore. You have to use the leading marketing platforms if you want to stand out from the pack.

A DIY approach will save you a bit of money in the short term, but it’ll cost you your most precious asset – time. While you’re adapting to a new platform, making a website, and learning TikTok dances, an expert could come in and do the job right in less than half the time.

These marketing mistakes are easy to fix and once you do, you’ll see your revenue soar! So get out the camera, gather those testimonials, and get an expert on the phone so that you can have your best month yet.

Cami Galles is an ex-Google executive turned entrepreneur with over 15+years of experience spanning music, digital marketing, and real estate. Learn more on her website.

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Who you found a business with is more important than having a good idea, says Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky

Brian Chesky
Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky.

  • Airbnb’s CEO said that who you found a business with is more important than the idea itself.
  • Brian Chesky was speaking as part of the BBC’s CEO Secrets series.
  • He said that the primary reason startups fail is because the founder runs out of energy and quits.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

If you want to grow a successful business, finding the right people to do it with is more important than the concept, according to Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky.

“I’d rather work with great founders on a not great idea, than not-excellent founders on a great idea,” Chesky told BBC’s CEO Secrets series.

He said there’s often an obsession among founders with having a good idea and picking the right market, but after 13 years he thinks it matters more who you do it with than what you do.

Chesky cofounded the accommodation rental service in San Francisco in 2007, along with his then-roommate Joe Gebbia and Nathan Blecharczyk.

Chesky and Gebbia started the business as a way of boosting rent, by letting designers in need of accommodation sleep on their lounge floor for $80 a night. Blecharczyk came onboard as they tried to grow the concept.

“Was Airbnb really a good idea?,” asked Chesky. “It didn’t seem like a good idea.”

He said that he was initially trying to raise $150,000 and sell a 10% stake in the business, but could barely get meetings with investors.

“But if you have a great team, you can take an idea that people might think is a little crazy and you can find a way in,” said Chesky, who added that the primary reason startups fail is because the founder quits, either because they lose motivation, traction, or run out of money.

“You don’t just get sniped, you kind of crawl and fade away. So just having great founders that can support you is the most important thing I think.”

Despite its initial struggles, Airbnb would eventually go on to receive initial backing from Y Combinator founder Paul Graham, as well as $600,000 seed investment from Sequoia Capital in 2009.

The company went public in December 2020 and has a market capitalization of around $89 billion.

All three cofounders remain in the business. Chesky as CEO, Blecharczyk as chief strategy officer and CEO of Airbnb China, while Gebbia is the chairman of charitable arm and the company’s recently launched design studio Samara.

When previously asked to share career advice Chesky has said that optimism is an important trait for a business leader and that people shouldn’t listen to their parents when it comes to choosing their career.

He told the podcast host Dan Schawbel in April: “I wouldn’t even advise you to “follow your passion,” because that presumes you already know what your passion is. But most people have to discover it. And the only way to discover it is to take pressure off yourself.”

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Pro skateboarder Rob Dyrdek on how he became an entrepreneur and his best career advice

Rob Dyrdek
Rob Dyrdek.

Rob Dyrdek is a former pro skateboarder also known for hosting hit TV shows including Rob & Big, Ridiculousness, and Rob Dyrdek’s Fantasy Factory. He founded business incubator Dyrdek Machine and hosts the “Build With Rob” podcast. During our conversation, Rob talked about his journey from being a skateboarder to building his businesses.

In your early 20s, you gained fame as a professional skateboarder and were able to travel the world. Despite your success, why wasn’t skateboarding giving you the purpose and fulfillment you were seeking?

It wasn’t as much about the sport itself not giving me fulfillment, but I began to grow out of it because my true passion was creating and bringing ideas to life, and I had maxed out what was possible within skateboarding itself.

I looked at myself as a brand at a really early age, and turned pro when I was 16. I was around when we created the Alien Workshop, and that was the company I turned pro for. T

You’re part skater, part TV personality, and part entrepreneur. How were you able to turn your success as a skateboarder into a series of TV shows and into multiple businesses and partnerships?

At 14, I skated for a local skate shop whose founders started all of these companies. So even as I was turning pro, tracking all my own finances, and considering myself a brand at that early age, I was still watching companies get created.

I built my first company when I moved to California, when I was 18. My skateboarding career led to launching DC Shoes. And then the DC Shoes video led to a skit for a skate video, and that evolved into a television show on MTV.

That whole time I was constantly creating and building different businesses through the MTV platform, while being a pro skateboarder and creating new television shows. For me, this idea of business has always been the through line, and how do I maximize the opportunity that’s presented to me.

You’ve brought your family and friends with you, much like we saw in HBO’s Entourage series. How has involving your best friend and cousins in your projects deepened your relationship with them, and what have you taught them that has helped improve their careers?

For any business and anything that you create, meaningful relationships are at the core of it being fun. I’ve always been really clear on that. During my diligence period, right before I pull the trigger to decide whether I’m going to create a project with someone, it really boils down to: Do I want to be connected to them for life?

I am passionate. I am driven. I am focused. I am clear. But more than anything, I want to enjoy everything that I do. And any time I get through a process with someone where I can see we’re rubbing each other the wrong way or our energies aren’t connecting, then I just won’t do it.

With so many businesses and projects happening simultaneously, how do you manage your time and decide what projects to invest or divest in?

I look at life as this series of interconnected systems that all need to be aligned, integrated, and expanding in the same direction – and that direction is towards your ideal life. But it’s a balanced life, by design. It’s choosing the right projects, and how you actually live in those projects.

My entire existence, from the way I create companies to the way I shoot television, is fully systematized and automated. I have an 80-page document called The Rhythm of Existence that is the operating system for my life. At the end of the day, your energy is basically everything that you have, and that excitement about life and absolutely enjoying everything you’re doing is really what I’m hoping to achieve.

What’s your best piece of career advice?

I think the best piece of career advice is that you’re not building a career, you’re building a life. It’s finding the balance between who you are as a person – your passions, your physical strength, your happiness, what fulfills you – and the way that you earn a living, that feeds that purpose and who you are, and then how you want to live.

I think a lot of times, people don’t look at themselves as multidimensional beings that require all of these different aspects in order to be happy and balanced. They think their career is going to be the answer for the life that they want. But your career will never be the answer. It will be a part of the answer, and if it’s integrated into who you are and how you live, then you will truly be balanced and happy.

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I quit my job at a tech startup with no backup plan. Here are 6 things I wish I knew before going solo as an entrepreneur.

Lindsay Yaw Rogers.
Lindsay Yaw Rogers.

  • Lindsay Yaw Rogers is an entrepreneur and leadership coach based in Boulder, Colorado.
  • In the nine years since quitting her job in tech, she says she made plenty of mistakes while becoming an entrepreneur.
  • Rogers says it’s important to have a solid business foundation to enable steady, long-term growth.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

I’m a risk-taker. But leaving my high-paying job at a tech startup in 2012 with a one-week old baby – with no plan – meant my family’s income went from comfortable to zero overnight.

My husband was developing a wind farm in Chile and not getting paid. But I knew I needed to leave the toxic workplace I’d been in for two years.

Nine years into running my business, a brand story and content strategy firm, I’ve had time to look back on the mistakes I made, the stints of success, and the six things I wish I’d known before going out on my own.

1. Nobody is their strongest alone

Early on, a phone call to my old boss landed me multiple massive content projects for several large companies. So in the first few years, I didn’t have to work hard to get clients – which meant I also became overly confident. Eventually I had nothing in place to help me get more work, but I was stubborn, wouldn’t admit that I was frustrated, and didn’t seek out a mentor because I thought I knew everything or could figure it out on my own. This caused me to lose several years of growth and income.

In the past few years, I’ve joined a mastermind group, read and listened to countless business books and podcasts, and have taken close to a dozen online courses – all part of my quest for mentorship.

2. Normalcy isn’t the goal

Fitting in is the best way to be forgotten. After a client chose not to renew my contract because I “wasn’t 100% necessary” for their growth, I took a business course online. It made me realize everything I was not doing – like differentiating myself .

My first task was to define my “Dream 100” – the list of people I really wanted on my client list. Easy. Then I had to define what my secret sauce was that would make me different. It took me six months to nail down the process I’d used with past clients and put it into a legible framework I could sell to a higher number of different clients.

3. Fail quickly, fail often

My dad used to say, “you never learn less” after anything disappointing happened to me, and it would drive me insane.

But after getting humbled several times as an entrepreneur (ie. losing a job bid), I realized he meant that experimenting is how you find your edge, even when some of those experiments completely bomb. Once I accepted that failure was inevitable, I felt less trapped by perfectionism and more free to try new things, create new programs, and go after my “Dream 100.”

4. Be more interested than interesting

Years into my business, I started listening aggressively to my ideal clients, and moved from trying to be interesting myself to being wholly interested in what they needed. This moved my client roster from start-and-stop to a steady stream, and thus recurring revenue.

5. Be prolific

A few years back, I went back to my roots and started writing again – this time with a strategy. I began penning blog and guest posts for brands and entrepreneurial magazines, sending weekly emails, and answering HARO requests. This has allowed others to see how I work and think, what frameworks I use, and how I impact others, which has led to even more opportunities. Just recently, an article I wrote got selected to be in a book being published by Thrive Global.

6. The back of the statue matters

When I first started working solo, I hated all the unsexy stuff that needed to happen on the back end of my business. But when I started to have a referral drought, I admitted that having no system (the back of the statue) was impacting my reputation and positioning (the front of the statue that people could see). It took months of toil, late nights, and a full-time virtual assistant to get my systems dialed, but now I communicate my process with clarity.

Lindsay Yaw Rogers coaches high-achieving entrepreneurs and athletes on how to create powerful brand stories to to stand out, create partnerships, and position themselves as a leader.

Read the original article on Business Insider

6 ways to test out your business idea before spending money to officially start it

Adjusting computer volume
Before investing your own money into a small business idea, test it out with your target audience.

  • Having a business idea is easy, but putting that idea to the test is where the real work comes in.
  • Entrepreneur Jen Glantz says aspiring founders should test ideas thoroughly to vet their viability.
  • Write out a business plan, research competitors, and ask your target audience for feedback.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

When I first had the thought seven years ago of starting a business where strangers could hire me to be their bridesmaid, I wasn’t sure if it was a good idea. So before putting any money down, I decided to figure out if people would actually hire a stranger for their wedding day.

jen glantz

I did competitor analysis and couldn’t find any similar businesses online, so I took it a step further and asked my potential audience. After posting an ad on Craigslist, I received hundreds of messages from people all over the world who wanted to hire a professional bridesmaid.

I decided to invest in making a website, build a business plan, and create a list of different services I offered. Fast-forward, I’m now running a successful business that works with hundreds of clients every single year. Here are six ways I recommend fellow aspiring entrepreneurs test out new business ideas.

1. Write out a business plan

Map out a business plan that includes details about your target audience, industry analysis and research, how you could scale the business in six months or a year, and what your competitive advantage would be.

As you go through this process, your idea might pivot as you find out about similar companies or emerging industry trends.If you’re not sure where to start, download a free business plan template and brainstorm how you’d fill in each section.

2. Figure out the problem

Ask yourself two questions: What problems does this business idea solve, and do people actually care enough to spend money to solve these problems?

This a brainstorming gut-check to see how urgent of a business idea you have.

For example, I was thinking about starting a business around a glove for carrying a cup of hot coffee, rather than a cardboard sleeve or a cup that traps the heat that may burn your hand. But after writing down my answers to the two questions, I realized it was unlikely people would buy something new like this when other solutions out there fixed the problem well enough.

3. Research industry trends

As you’re building your business idea, keep a pulse on what’s going on with the industry. What new technology is being introduced? What does customer behavior look like this quarter? What new companies are emerging?

Read industry blogs or publications weekly, subscribe to podcasts from industry experts, and set free Google Alerts to get a daily recap of what’s happening.

4. Eyeball potential competitors

When I was thinking about my coffee glove business, I made a list of competitors who were also solving the problem of coffee cups being too hot to hold.

I researched each company, noting things like their branding, marketing efforts and social media, user design flow on their website, and customer experience. I made a list of what each company did well, what they did that wasn’t so great, what my company could do that was better, and any other competitive advantages.

5. Ask questions to your audience

Getting feedback, suggestions, and even hearing excitement from your potential audience is a great way to gain perspective on your business idea.

Find where your potential audience is having conversations online and join in. For example, I use Quora, Reddit, and Facebook groups to locate my audience, browse the questions they’re asking, and use that insight as a way to enhance my business.

6. Find beta testers to test out your idea

This step requires that you have something for people to test, whether it’s a sample of the product or a soft-launch of the website or mobile app you’re creating.

Set up a way for them to give real-time feedback during every step of the experience. This information will help you fix any holes in your process and get your business ready for more consumers to enjoy.

Having an idea for a business is a powerful and exciting moment. Before you put money behind the idea and launch it, spend time experimenting to see if it’s a viable business that will be as successful as you want it to be.

Read the original article on Business Insider

How one Durham-based foundation is investing in North Carolina’s entrepreneurs and growing the state’s innovation footprint

Thom Ruhe and Roy Cooper in suits
Thom Ruhe and Roy Cooper.

  • The NC IDEA foundation supports entrepreneurship and economic development across North Carolina.
  • Using grants, seed funding, mentoring, and other programs, NC IDEA helps entrepreneurs directly.
  • Some initiatives include the NC Black Entrepreneurship Council, NC IDEA SOAR, and NC IDEA LABS.
  • This article is part of a series focused on American cities building a better tomorrow called “Advancing Cities.”

From a non-dairy cheese brand and sustainable oyster-production company to many software, hardware, and social-media firms, the nonprofit NC IDEA invests in a variety of businesses across North Carolina.

Thom Ruhe of NC IDEA headshot
Thom Ruhe.

“It’s a shorter list to tell you what we wouldn’t fund than what we do fund,” Thom Ruhe, NC IDEA’s president and CEO, told Insider.

The Durham, North Carolina-based organization supports entrepreneurship and economic development across the state through grants, seed funding, mentoring, and other programs. Last year, it distributed about $3 million to entrepreneurs – and plans to provide $3.5 million more this year.

Durham is a “national case study for what an entrepreneurial ecosystem can do,” and the region has long been a center for innovation, Ruhe, who previously directed entrepreneurial programs at the Kauffman Foundation, said.

“There’s a lot of collaborative energy here, more than I’ve experienced in other markets,” he said. “It’s refreshing and productive. I know it’s cliche to say, the rising tide argument, but it really has helped here.”

Here’s a look at how NC IDEA invests in entrepreneurs, who the organization believes transform communities and boost local economic development.

Broadening its reach to help more entrepreneurs

NC IDEA is a private foundation that was created in 2006 under the Council for Entrepreneurial Development, a nonprofit connecting North Carolina entrepreneurs to the resources they need. It became independent in 2015.

Unlike other foundations, such as the Gates Foundation or Kauffman Foundation, NC IDEA doesn’t have a benefactor, Ruhe said. The primary source for its endowment came from an equity investment that the state of North Carolina made in the 1990s and liquidated in the early 2000s.

To protect the investment, the private foundation was established to economically empower people through entrepreneurship. NC IDEA’s endowment is invested, and the investment income funds the organization.

Recently, the organization began fundraising, which Ruhe said is “very unusual for private foundations because we’re considered self-funded.” NC IDEA wants to increase its budget so it can fund more companies and cover the administrative cost of reviewing additional applications.

“We could see a greater return if we simply had more budget to allocate,” Ruhe said. “We’re trying to take that message out into the economic development and philanthropic communities within North Carolina to say, ‘If you think there’s value to North Carolina and the activity that we do, you can help us increase the yield by just increasing our programmatic budget.'”

Giving grants to businesses and organizations helping startups

Many foundations either operate programs or provide funding. NC IDEA is unique in that it does both, Ruhe explained.

“Our grant-making is better for what we learn in our programmatic activities, and vice versa,” he said. “All of our programs and grants are targeted at helping people live up to their entrepreneurial potential, and in a broader context, make North Carolina the best state in the nation for people to start and grow firms of economic impact.”

NC IDEA operates two categories of grants. Seed grants and micro-grants of $50,000 and $10,000 are provided directly to entrepreneurs or startup founders.

Grants are awarded to founders to whom the money would “at this particular time be very impactful in their ultimate success,” Ruhe said. It provides assistance to get ideas off the ground or help companies scale to the next level so they can create jobs and generate tax revenue for the state. The grants don’t need to be paid back, and the organization doesn’t receive equity in the business.

Another category of grants is what Ruhe calls B2B, where NC IDEA supports other organizations that help entrepreneurs, such as universities, two-year colleges, cities, counties, and others. The organization has about 60 partners in its network.

Supporting underserved communities

NC IDEA recognizes that economic development in North Carolina is not a one-size-fits-all approach, and the organization strives to support underserved communities. Grants are distributed based on what’s relevant in different parts of the state, whether it’s educational programs, access to capital, or mentoring.

“We have to meet people where they are and help them from that starting point,” Ruhe said. “The best way we could do that was the creation of this ecosystem partner program where organizations that are on the front lines in various parts of the state say, ‘Here in our corner of the state, this is what’s most needed.'”

NC IDEA also created the North Carolina Black Entrepreneurship Council and has committed $1 million to advance Black entrepreneurs in the state. The council and foundation will work together to identify and recommend programs, grant recipients, and partners.

large group of people around table in board room
NC IDEA SOAR Day May 2019.

Another program, NC IDEA SOAR, aims to support women in entrepreneurship. The program offers networking, professional development, and connections to resources to help female founders grow their businesses. There’s also a four-week program called NC IDEA LABS that’s open to anyone wanting to take their business to the next level.

Group of men around a table with laptop
NC IDEA LABS fall 2018.

SOAR and LABS are “traditional accelerator”-type programs, Ruhe said. “It’s specific business-growth assistance around market valuation, customer discovery, lead generation, revenue generation – all the nuts and bolts,” he added.

NC IDEA delivers its programs at no cost, but Ruhe said there’s a competitive application process that involves companies providing details about its founders, the company as a whole, revenue, funding, and the type of grants they’re seeking. The organization receives hundreds of applications during each application period.

Growing North Carolina’s innovation footprint

Since its beginning, NC IDEA has provided about $15 million to companies and partners throughout North Carolina. Ruhe added they’ve supported nearly 500 companies, which have created more than 3,300 jobs and brought many benefits to communities.

Marrying innovation and entrepreneurship offers the biggest economic impact, and he said the state of North Carolina does well cultivating both. As word gets out about the state’s entrepreneurial ecosystem and it keeps attracting major tech companies like Apple and Google, the region has even more potential for up-and-coming entrepreneurs.

“The greatest natural resource that exists is the entrepreneurial spirit of people,” Ruhe said. “It’ll be entrepreneurs who will solve our biggest problems. It’s entrepreneurs who are creating the companies that create the jobs we so desperately need. That’s why we do what we do.”

Read the original article on Business Insider