In between text messages and notifications on my phone (I know, I know, not turning off notifications is productivity mistake #1), I saw it — an email notification from NPR with “Congratulations” in the title. I froze and held my breath. Then, I managed to unlock my phone with shaking hands. I took a deep breath and clicked on the message:
We received your How I Built This Fellowship application and are thrilled to offer you an acceptance into the 2019 Fellowship!
My mouth dropped open and I reread the message seven times before jumping up and down, screaming and likely scaring my daughter who was desperately wondering what was going on.
In July 2019 I applied for NPR’s How I Built This Fellowship program. Probably like most people, I didn’t think I had a chance, but I took the time to apply anyway because…what if? It was an opportunity to go to San Francisco, meet other founders and listen to some of the biggest names in entrepreneurship share their stories. As I scale my product business, Brief Transitions Postpartum Mesh Underwear, I wanted to connect with other makers and find inspiration from well established founders. I wanted to learn more about getting visibility for Brief Transitions and how to know when it’s the right time to add more products. I also saw it as a great opportunity to learn and share knowledge with The Transitions Collective, my membership community for mom entrepreneurs. So I thought, why not learn from the best?
The time between receiving the acceptance letter and the actual Summit went by so quickly. Juggling two businesses and raising two kids usually has time passing by at lightning speed and I worked hard to balance my responsibilities and prepare for 4 days away from home.
Before I knew it, I was on a plane and getting ready for a new experience.
The first morning of the program was specifically for the fellows (you can read about all of the incredibly talented fellows here). We met Guy Raz, Host & Editorial Director of How I Built This, (who is so incredibly kind and even more so in person!) and we also learned about how to pitch ourselves and our products from Eric Ryan, co-founder of Method Home, Welly, Olly and more.
I learned a few important takeaways from Eric:
• Be clear and concise
• Be excited
• Be genuine
After we learned his tools and tips for pitching, we had the opportunity to work in small groups and practice our pitches. After that, SURPRISE, the producer at NPR told us we each had an opportunity to go on stage and pitch our company.
Once the initial shock wore off, I got in line to go on stage with butterflies in my belly. I tried to channel all of my Elissa Weinzimmer Speak Your Truth knowledge and gave my 30-second pitch (which is super short, I might add!). Lucky for me, I had been working on my message and telling my story for the past year and even though going on stage was a huge surprise, I’m so happy I had the opportunity to put my knowledge and practice to good use. The pitch ended up going really well — the stage lights were bright and intimidating so I tried to ignore them and focus on my message and while making eye contact with the audience. I walked off stage excited about my latest accomplishment — and I even got a compliment from the Summit’s producer (a fellow mom that wished Brief Transitions existed years before!).
If you know me, you know that I LOVE Sara Blakely. She built her company while she was selling fax machines door to door. She hustled, she believed in her idea and she didn’t waver. When she didn’t have money to file for a patent, she wrote the patent herself. Talk about inspiring! Her interview with Guy gave me so many nuggets of inspiration including:
• Ideas are most vulnerable in their infancy
• Hire your weaknesses as soon as you can afford to
• Cold calling is one of life’s greatest trainings
• Courage is doing things in spite of fear
She also explained that selling fax machines gave her a lot of foundational experiences, including:
• Learn on your feet
• Get to the heart of the matter
• Don’t sell the “what,” sell the “why”
• Don’t sell the product — sell the problem you’re solving
Sara also shared that she has a lot of negative self-talk. She explained that sometimes voices get her down for a few days and then she has to get out of it. It’s important to know how to turn off the negative voices, so she suggested finding out what helps you get rid of them. She believes that a big part of success comes from being able to manage your self-doubt.
Sara Blakely was a fantastic speaker. She was kind and genuine and so open about her own journey. I found it incredibly inspiring to see her speak and share her struggles. I would jump at the chance to see her speak again in the future.
After the Main Stage speakers, there were also breakout sessions when we could hear from other founders on business tracks including: business fundamentals, leadership and innovation.
I loved what Marcia explained about thoughts. She explained that there are two types of thoughts: “helpful” thoughts and “not helpful” thoughts. You’re in charge of your own thoughts so be mindful of that. Also, recognize that controlling your thoughts is a discipline and takes practice, so it’s important to keep at it. I found this to be a nice tie-in to what Sara explained regarding negative thoughts. The mind is very powerful!
Marcia’s interview ended with a list of advice and her very last piece of advice was: do NOT get up in the morning to be average. So powerful and a great reminder to live every day to the fullest!
Something that stuck with me from the panel was when Tim Brown said, “Once you’ve accomplished something, the reward is…it gets harder.” I find it easy to think about getting to the next stage as fast as we can, but really it’s about enjoying each stage because while every stage has rewards, it also comes with new challenges.
The afternoon of Day Two featured Jennifer Rubio of Away, Jeni Britton Bauer of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream and Tariq Farid of Edible Arrangements. Jennifer stressed the importance of knowing your customer — not only when they use your product, but what their whole day looks like. It is important to know about their lifestyle so you can offer them the best possible experience. She also said, “Entrepreneurship is a unique opportunity to bring your full self to work,” which I really resonated with. As an entrepreneur I find it really rewarding to be able to show up as myself and not be labeled, put into a box or be rewarded on a bell curve.
Another breakout session that I attended was Finding Your Place in the Crowd with Alli Webb of Dry Bar. It was moderated by Katia Beauchamp of Birchbox. I loved what Alli covered with respect to copycats and knowing what sets you apart from others in a similar space. As the pioneer of blow out bars (no haircuts, no color, only blowouts) she said you need to stay focused on what you’re doing and you shouldn’t listen to the noise. She also advised that it’s important to consider the customer throughout the experience because small touches make a difference in their overall experience with your brand and that is what sets you apart. Katia added her perspective that it’s impossible to copy the insight and that it’s deeper than paying $35 for a blowout.
The event closed out with Troy Carter, Stacy Madison of Stacy’s Pita Chips and BeBold Bars and Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger of Instagram. I want to give a special shout-out to Stacy Madison and her whole team because they made such an impact on me and my experience at the Summit. Not only is her story super inspiring, but she brought her operations and marketing leads to the Summit. They generously gave their time to us — answered all of our questions during the breaks and happily connected with us online to stay in touch afterwards. What a great example of teamwork and giving back to others that are in earlier stages of business. Her latest venture and launch of BeBold Bars is super exciting too!
Over the two-day Summit, I heard a lot of common themes across the speakers. Here are the biggest takeaways:
- Be willing to work
- Have an unwavering determination and drive
- Be curious — be willing to learn and ask questions
- Communicate clearly about the problem you’re solving
- Expect growth to come with new challenges
- Hire your weaknesses as soon as you can afford to
Hearing from all of the incredible speakers throughout the Summit and reflecting on what they shared, I feel energized to continue with my mission to support moms during postpartum recovery and to be a part of the movement for flexible work. At the end of the day, the speakers were in my shoes and have stories and challenges similar to my own — they’ve stayed the course and with their hard work and determination they’ve seen great results. If they can do it, so can I! And the next time I hit a snag with my manufacturer or stay up way too late revamping my website, I’ll remember hearing their voices in my ear encouraging me to keep building.