8 Founders Share the Biggest Lesson Helping Them Survive 2020
The past can be our greatest teacher. Here's how it's making these entrepreneurs smarter and stronger today.
We asked eight of the entrepreneurs featured on our 100 Powerful Women list: What lessons from the past are helping you through the challenges of 2020?
“The first lesson I learned when I was very young: When you fall off the horse, get back on. (It’s a matter of when you fall, not if.) Resilience is what you need to tackle the challenges associated with a time of tremendous uncertainty. The second lesson is the importance of running the business like it’s in startup mode. Ariat is in its 27th year, and we have 550 employees worldwide, but we emphasize being flexible and agile, and we keep risk and opportunity top of mind. We work together to emerge stronger.” — Beth Cross, Cofounder and CEO of Ariat International, an equestrian footwear and apparel company
“In my 20s, I took a 28-day survival course in Utah. No sleeping bags, no matches, just a knife and the clothes on your back. They teach you a psychological trick to get through: ‘Compare down.’ When something is terrible, you simply compare it to something worse. If you’re cold, tell yourself something like At least I’m not wet. It sounds simple, but we’re trained to compare up to what we don’t have. That’s not a good survival mindset. As hard as this year is, being grateful for what we do have really does help push us further.” — Jessica Ewing, Founder and CEO of Literati, a book club and subscription service
“Two of the biggest tools and practices I’ve found to be most helpful in my life and in my business are optimism and patience. Implement them into your everyday routine. Practice what you preach, and set the standard for those around you. This year was filled with more surprises than we anticipated, but it is not something I see as a challenge; it’s an opportunity to put optimism and patience to good use, and re-create the standard of what we once considered ‘a good year.’ ” — Paola Fernandez, Founder and CEO of High Hemp, an organic, tobacco-free rolling paper brand
“Cooking comes from the heart, and it can impact others. I learned that when my mom passed away. I turned to cooking to take care of my four siblings. That turned into a business and, now, a way to make a difference. Full Hearts Full Bellies launched in July in my native Bronx, the poorest of New York’s boroughs, to fill the gaps of food programs that were canceled due to COVID-19. Everybody — from corporate partners to ordinary folks — has stepped up to help out. That’s the power of food to unite us.” — Millie Peartree, Founder of Full Hearts Full Bellies, which has delivered more than 17,000 meals to kids and senior citizens
“Early on in my career, I was paralyzed by ‘no-win’ problems and couldn’t find my way to decisions. But it’s less important to make the ‘right’ decision in these cases and more important to make any decision at all and follow through with it. In scenarios of extreme complexity, there is no right answer — so your best foot forward is likely as good as any. Make the best decision you can, make sure the team knows what and how to execute, and move to the next problem.” — Daina Trout, Cofounder and CEO of Health-Ade, a kombucha brand sold in 35,000 stores nationwide
“I succeeded my father as CEO of ECOS following his unexpected death. At the time, I immediately assembled a strong leadership team, established a robust infrastructure, and created a sustainable culture. During the pandemic, we were again tested: increased demand, unprecedented supply chain disruption, and changing government requirements. We implemented new workflow systems, supply chain management solutions, and safety requirements. Emphasizing communication, we are performing at the highest levels.” — Kelly Vlahakis-Hanks, CEO of ECOS, an eco-friendly cleaning product company with products made in carbon- and water-neutral facilities
“Back when I was in banking, and not all that many years out of business school, I was put in charge of managing lots of people, most of them older and far more tenured than I was. At first, there was distrust — but I knew winning their trust and respect would change everything. It did, and productivity soared. Everyone wants to be seen; people want to feel purpose. It was a lesson that forever changed how I think about things. Invest in people and the extraordinary will happen.” — Amy Errett, Founder and CEO of Madison Reed, an at-home hair care and color brand
“For me, 2020 has been less about past lessons and more about accepting hard lessons now that will define our future. [This pandemic is] an invisible power that affects us all, across the globe. We have seen that when we do nothing, we are forced to retreat to a world where we must disconnect. We have also seen that when we confront invisible problems, as the latest Black Lives Matter movement has, we move forward toward a future where we are all connected. And so I have learned that while no problem is too big to exist, neither is a problem too big to solve.” — Jessica O. Matthews, Founder and CEO of Uncharted Power, an energy and data infrastructure company
Check out more stories from our October/November issue's list of 100 Powerful Women.