When Limor Fried launched Adafruit in 2005 out of her dorm room at MIT, she had absolutely zero business experience. But she figured it couldn’t be that hard.
“Oh, it’s like a lemonade stand,” she recalls thinking.
Fried, who often goes by the nickname “Ladyada” on the Internet, initially felt that her project of making and selling engineering kits was more of a hobby than a career. “I just thought, ‘Well, I will just do this until I get a real job or something.’ And then it sort of just became my real job,” Fried said during an interview at the Entrepreneur 360 conference in New York City this past fall.
A real job indeed. A decade later, Fried is the CEO of Adafruit, an 87-employee company expecting to do $40 million in sales in 2015. Last year, Adafruit clocked revenues of $33 million. Since its launch, Adafruit has sold more than 952,000 engineering kits and tools and recently expanded to a 50,000 square foot factory in lower Manhattan.
As it turns out, running a company that makes and sells engineering kits is a bit more complicated than running a lemonade stand. One thing that has helped Fried is that along the way: she has held every single role in the company, from tax accountant to shipping logistics manager. As a CEO, that has its benefits, she says. You know precisely what every person in the company does.
“Nothing works better for empathy than actually having had that experience,” says Fried. “You don’t even need to imagine it! So that is kind of how I approach being a CEO. I don’t think it is something that you can be taught in books, it is something that you have to be there, with people, to do.”
To hear more from this pink-haired engineering lady boss, watch the video above.Related: Limor Fried of Adafruit Industries: You Can't Outsource Knowledge (Podcast)