Two anachronous products from failing industries combined by girls in their mid-20s with no entrepreneurial background? One memorable critic likened it to combining the Titanic with the Hindenburg and suggested we start a travel agency instead.
Forgoing the familiar to start a new venture is daunting for any entrepreneur, but we believed in our idea and set out to build our empire. Wal-Mart was the first customer we secured, and we have since worked with numerous superstars ranging from Justin Bieber to the Beach Boys and brands including Dr Pepper, KIDZ BOP, and the Academy of Country Music.
Kim and I sometimes encounter music executives who judge us by our appearance rather than our successes. On at least a dozen occasions, male executives have referred to our company as “adorable” or “cute.” A senior vice president at a Fortune 100 company said to us recently, “I’ve got to address the elephant in the room. Which of your fathers works at Wal-Mart and made these connections for you?”
Of course, no such nepotism is at work here.
Although such reactions are annoying, Kim and I are getting the last laugh. Last year, our company grossed just under $600,000 and sold 200,000 ‘ZinePaks. This year, we’ll surpass the one million-unit sales marker on revenues exceeding $2 million. Not bad for an adorable start-up in a doomed industry.
Aside from ignoring criticism from unqualified “experts,” the best tip I can offer any would-be woman entrepreneur is to get involved with an organization that mentors small business owners. Count Me In For Women’s Economic Independence and its founder Nell Merlino have provided countless hours of support as we grow our business.
Last year, we were named awardees in the company’s Make Mine a Million $ Business program, a national initiative committed to helping women entrepreneurs grow million-dollar firms. Additionally, the camaraderie we’ve found with other women business owners in the community has been priceless.
In order to be successful long-term, entrepreneurs need a great lawyer and an even better accountant. Count Me In helped us find both and connected us with an amazing coach named Marla Tabaka, whose expert perspective helps keep our company on track.
There will always be naysayers offering unsolicited criticism. There might even be old-schoolers who doubt you because of your age, your experience, your gender, or all of the above. Ignore them.
More often than not, said critics have something entrepreneurs don’t: bosses. Entrepreneurs must laugh it off and surround themselves with people who encourage growth, success, and most importantly, FUN!
Brittany Hodak is co-founder of ‘ZinePak (ZEEN pack), a New York-based start-up that creates custom fan magazines paired with recorded music and limited-edition merchandise.