"Make sure whatever company you are starting that you are prepared to see it to the end," Kepcher says. Fortunately, you don't have to do it alone. "You have an unbelievable team standing behind you ... composed of businesswomen who have gone before you. Use us as your resource. You will be surprised by the willingness of successful women to extend a hand and welcome you into the circle."
Entrepreneurship is about investing in yourself, says fwm: finding what matters co-founder and former The Apprentice star Carolyn Kepcher. Seeds for Success grand prize winner Dana Rubinstein has certainly done that, and done it well.
Rubinstein, who was awarded the program's top prize Nov. 20, is co-founder of New York-based Dapple Inc., a company that sells natural and safe cleaning products designed specifically for parents with babies. So far, the line offers dish detergents and toy cleaners, and Rubinstein and business partner Tamar Rosenthal are aiming to make Dapple a household name.
In April, Rubinstein, 29, was selected from among thousands of applicants as one of three finalists to receive a $20,000 cash grant, free web hosting for two years, $5,000 in free technical support, mentoring from top business leaders, and promotional support from Yahoo! Small Business and fwm.
With the extra boost, Rubinstein and Rosenthal grew their business and blogged about Dapple's progress. In just the past seven months, they developed an e-commerce site for their two initial offerings, launched new products and secured distribution in boutique stores and retailers around the nation. Dapple also won an iParenting Media Award.
Rubinstein was chosen based on an online voting component, which drew almost 660,000 votes, and the assessment of a panel of expert judges who considered the finalists' achievements. As the grand prize winner, she will receive another $10,000, additional mentoring services and media support, and a trip to meet top program executives in New York City.
"Winning the grand prize was fantastic, and we're just really grateful for the incredible opportunity the program has provided us," Rubinstein says. For her, Dapple's success was the result of good timing. "People are looking for this type of product now. We had great responses and were launching into retail just as the program was starting."
Having the Yahoo! Small Business backing was instrumental in securing shop space and boosting brand awareness, says Rubinstein, noting that Dapple was able to enter into a whole new phase of the business very quickly. "We were brand new ... but we will be in a national retail chain at the end of December. It feels like we're on the cusp of something great."
The mentoring portion of the Seeds for Success program made a big difference as well, and Rubinstein notes that persistence is the most important lesson she learned. "We had a tremendous opportunity to learn from some of the best minds in the business, and what all the mentors told us . . . was to just stick with it and keep trying, because if you do have a good idea and a good product, eventually those doors will open," she says. "I might have saved a few sleepless nights if I had realized that a little sooner. With a little time and a little patience, things tend to fall into place."
Other lessons she learned? "Don't let your toddler get a hold of your cell phone and call your business contacts at 5 a.m.," Rubinstein says. "True story."
According to Kepcher, Rubinstein possesses many of the characteristics of top entrepreneurs. "Her passion for her company is not dependent on environment or circumstance; good economy or bad, she knows she will succeed and considers no other outcome," she says, adding that Rubinstein "brought it" every day. "Every single mentor meeting, phone call and e-mail was a chance to shine, and she made sure she did."
Scott Smigler, the technology mentor matched with Dapple, agrees wholeheartedly. "I felt that Dana and Tamar were fantastic individuals," he says, recalling how tens of thousands of people signed up for a free sample on Dapple's mailing list. "It was a very big cost, but we were talking through the options and they said, 'We're building a company that we can believe in, so even if it's going to cost us a lot of money, we're going to follow through and send the samples to our customers like we promised.' "
Smigler, founder and president of internet marketing company Exclusive Concepts, also applauded Dapple's aggressive strategy in building channel relationships and using social networking to rally friends and family to the cause. One reason for Dapple's early success is that Rubinstein and Rosenthal really understood their audience, he says. "That meant figuring out where their potential customers were, and marketing to them where they hang out."
For more information on the program, and to read the blogs from the grand prize winner and finalists, visit Seeds for Success.
Reflecting on Lessons Learned
Like Dana Rubinstein, Abby Port of Red Koala Canvas Co. and Karla Duncan of Head 2 Toe Publications Inc. received awards as Seeds for Success program finalists in April. Here, they share a few lessons they learned along the way, and some they wish they'd known before they started.
Abby Port is the founder of Red Koala Canvas Co., an online store offering high-quality, customizable art for nurseries and children's rooms.
A major lesson Port learned was the importance of having a good support system to keep her focused and on track. "Talking with an unbiased subject-matter expert to help me work through business challenges--and, frankly, give me motivation to conquer the next challenge--has been a tremendous help," she says. "After the program, I will gather mentors to help keep me grounded and handle the curve balls."
One thing Port wasn't prepared for was the amount of time it would take to gain traction in a new business. She encourages other women entrepreneurs to plan for extended time frames when they start a new business. "I knew it wouldn't be easy," Port says, "but I guess I was more in the thought path of 'If you build it, they will come.' That definitely only happens in the movies."
Karla Duncan is president of Head 2 Toe Publications, a publishing company that develops innovative learning materials for special-needs children.
For Duncan, it was good to have a clear vision she could relate to business partners, whether they were manufacturers or artists. "Working with a plan not only has helped me stay focused, but also helped me work with confidence," she says. "I also learned that you must always be proactive. The work will not be completed on its own, and getting your message out to potential customers cannot be done unless you work diligently."
Duncan wishes she could have anticipated the full extent of production costs. Of course, there are many things business owners won't know the first time around, so it's important to be realistic--but also optimistic. "A lot of trial-and-error incidents occur, and there are always those hidden costs in the beginning," she says. "However, now that the first product is created and selling, preparing for the next is easier."