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Learn from my successes and mistakes: Tips from entrepreneur and Scratchpad board member Shannon Kin

Read on for 3 more of Shannon's most important lessons:

Lesson 4: Be Honest With Yourself

“Ego cannot be on the table when you are dealing with your strengths and weaknesses.”

In the early days of Dream Local Digital, Shannon put everything she had into the growing business that was her baby. All of her time, effort, and, money went into this show, and she had a hand in every part of the business. As DLD rapidly became successful and the operation became larger, she soon realized that she couldn’t maintain that level of involvement. Shannon knew that to truly scale the business, she had to be working on the business not in the business that deeply. She went from selling her lawnmower to fund payroll for her startup to paying someone to mow the lawn for her so she could use that time for more meaningful tasks. She chose to do this not because she couldn’t do these tasks herself, but because she prioritized the larger projects. She learned to prioritize the things that would move her career forward, which did not include the small day-to-day tasks.

It is important for the founders of scalable operations to realize that what they are building isn’t a job for themselves but a business. It is often hard for startup business owners to let go of certain roles they used to hold as the operation expands. In order to grow your business, you have to be willing to identify your own strengths and be brutally honest with yourself and your team about what those are. And above all, don’t take whatever they say personally. Don’t assess a task with, “Can I do that,” but, “Should I do that?”

Says Shannon, “Even if you think that to be a good Mainer you have to do it all yourself, it is more important to work on your business than in your business; especially if you ever want to be more than an Etsy shop.” In the context of scale, you're not wasting time if it’s spent on the larger aspects of building a business and not the specifics of a dream. The dream has to stand on its own, and if it doesn’t, you seek out where it’s weak to be able to build it back up again.

Lesson 5: Ask For Advice, Not Money

“Don’t go to the grocery store while you’re starving.”

Before Shannon asked for funding and investment in her business, she asked for advice. She spent years planning and attending meetings where she would pick the brains of potential mentors or investors about their diverse experience in building and maintaining a business. She built networks by finding connections through these meetings and never once brought up the possibility of investment. Eventually, investors would approach her about the idea, and they ended up funding large pieces of Dream Local Digital.

From her previous experience as an investor on the other side of the table, Shannon knew that investors are looking for individuals to invest in, and that those individuals needed to be coachable. She also knew that asking for advisement allows the mentor to get to know both the company, and her as a leader. Fortuitous relationships cannot be built only at the time when they’re most convenient. Even though she was not immediately fundraising, she always kept herself in a fundraising state of mind, and was always open to feedback and eager to learn; which are two qualities she considers paramount to a founder’s success. She made lists of people that she could potentially ask in the future and built relationships with them in the present. They are not piggy banks, they are “going to be your advisors, your investors, and your champions, and you need to find the ones that are right for you.” Eventually, it became their idea to invest, because even though the conversation was about Dream Local, she didn’t ask them to fund the company first.

Lesson 6: Be a Honey Badger

“Inspiring became a part of the lexicon of our business.”

The core values of your company are essential to communicate. They are the drivers of your company and the reason you spend so much time and money on it. So when trying to personify these values, and create a tangible way to inspire her team to do whatever it takes to get the job done, Shannon turned to the Honey Badger. She stumbled upon a mascot and key phrase in her business’s lexicon when she saw the humorous (slightly inappropriate) YouTube video of an animal that, despite all odds and interesting commentary, determinedly fights a cobra, fearlessly refusing to give up. She showed it to her employees, and suddenly they were defining everything by this animal. They had Honey Badger Mentors, Honey Badger Traits, even Honey Badger–themed gifts from clients. This light-hearted video became a defining aspect of her company—that gained more traction than she had realized possible. Learn more about the #HoneyBadger culture here.

Finding the right mascot or inspiration for your company is unique to you and what you are trying to communicate to your employees. Shannon came across her inspiration through a lot of Google and YouTube searches, and used it to unite and define her business in a way that was specific to Dream Local. It is critical to find and define what is the driving force behind why you continue to do what you do.

Now, Let’s Talk Statistics:

“Twice I believed I needed a man to be on top of the company with me, and they were two of my biggest mistakes.”

After being in a male-dominated field for more than 25 years, Shannon is used to facing sexism, and encouraged the Scratchpad cohort to be aware of the environment they are in and leverage their unique strengths and talents to succeed. The fact is, the odds are stacked against women founders, and they need to be prepared to work hard to leapfrog over obstacles. “You will run into people that will not take you seriously, regardless of your experience or capabilities. You will run into some who doubt your dream, encourage you to think smaller. You need to listen for any lessons in their words, and then work hard to prove them wrong. Over and over again”.

How could it be possible that women are still facing sexism in the workplace? The answer is on the whiteboard sitting next to her throughout the entire discussion.

In 2016...

  • 58.2% of VC deals went to male-owned companies (5,839 deals)

  • Only 1.46% went to female-owned (359 deals)

  • The remaining deals went to a combination of male/female partners

  • 16x more VC money went to male-owned companies than women

  • Even though only 2.19% of dollars went to women, they produced the highest returns

  • 4.94% of deal flow, conversations, and deals done are going to women

  • This is the highest it has been in 10 years

  • 17% of seed money is female founded, largely driven by women moving into seed and not thinking about VC

  • Less than 3% of women-owned businesses have achieved revenues of $1million or more

Women have the ability to build stronger teams, nurture their employees, and avoid ego-driven decisions; they possess innate skills that make them the safer bet. In fact, companies with women founders have higher returns for investors. Yet, still, women are not taken as seriously as their male counterparts. Only 7% of venture capitalist partners are women, and that number is going down. If this is a nationwide problem, what does this mean for our Scratchpad female entrepreneurs?

Shannon Kinney has learned in the face of a biased business world to work harder and use these tips and tricks to be a leader in her industry, and committed to sharing her expertise with the cohort throughout their experience to help them succeed, grow, seek investment, and overcome the odds. “I’m truly passionate about the mission of Scratchpad, we have to help each other turn the odds upside down!” she shared.

Read part one HERE

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