When Anne Abrams and Cecilia Hugo, both 46, decided to chuck their successful theatrical PR company to start a specialty retail store for dog and cat lovers in Seattle, everyone they knew thought they had lost their minds. In spite of such skepticism, the first Bow Wow Meow Treatoria opened in 1996 to an enthusiastic public. It was located on the first floor of a converted house, with Abrams and Hugo living in an apartment upstairs. Since then, they've added a second retail location, as well as a commissary where they make fresh pet food.
In the process, Abrams and Hugo learned some excellent strategies for dealing with people who think you're crazy for starting your business:
- Show you've done your homework. Do thorough market research and develop a solid business plan. Then, when people challenge your idea, you'll be in a position to respond with confidence.
- Find an angle skeptics can relate to. For both Abrams and Hugo, the emotional support of their parents was important. Although neither set could personally identify with the market for upscale pet foods and products, they were of a generation that could understand the concept of living above the store--and that's where Abrams and Hugo made the connection to win their parents' support. And though their friends thought abandoning a PR business in favor of a specialty store was crazy, most could at least relate to the store's concept, because they had pets. Eventually, some of them even invested in the store.
- Expect some relationships to be damaged. Any new business venture is risky, and an unusual one is even more so. You may have friends who simply can't deal with the risk you're taking. Sadly, Abrams and Hugo say they have friends who were so uncomfortable with what they were doing, those relationships will never be the same again.
- Disassociate yourself from the naysayers. Keep yourself pumped up by avoiding negative people who only drag you down.
- Remember other successes that started out as crazy ideas. Abrams and Hugo say their theme song is the old Gershwin tune "They All Laughed." When people say they're crazy, the partners invoke stories of other successful entrepreneurs who were ridiculed. Says Abrams, "They all laughed, and [now] we're laughing, too."