Don't Be Deterred as Young Entrepreneurs!
1. Criticism can lead to opportunities.
When I was an architecture student in college, I had a professor who critiqued an architectural model of mine by telling me that it looked like a layer cake. I thought, “Well, why is that bad?” I realized it wasn’t, and I became determined to find a way that would merge food and architecture. I wanted to find a way to make architecture accessible and fun to the masses–and that’s how Coolhaus was born. The name is a play on three concepts: Bauhaus, a design movement from the 1920s and 1930s, Rem Koolhaas, a famous Dutch architect and theorist, and the fact that the ice cream sandwiches look like tiny ice cream houses. The comment from my professor taught me that with every criticism, there’s usually an opportunity waiting just around the corner.
2. Don’t be afraid to be scrappy or ask for help.
My co-founder and partner, Freya Estreller, and I decided that a 2009 music festival in the desert would be the best place to debut Coolhaus. We bought an old postal truck and converted it into a food truck. However, we were so bootstrapped that even getting the truck to operate and go where we needed it to was a challenge. We also realized we needed to have legal paperwork in advance of our first event. With little personal expertise and no money to spend, we needed a partner who could help us at an affordable price point. We turned to LegalZoom to help us figure out what kinds of permits and licenses we needed to stay legally compliant. Once we were good to go out to the desert music festival from a legal perspective, we realized we needed support and quickly. Luckily, we had a strong network of friends who were willing to help us in exchange for festival tickets–so we trained them to introduce Coolhaus to the world. We couldn’t have done it without their help, and looking back I’m glad that we weren’t too proud to do so.
3. Don’t lose sight of your vision as a Founder.
I wish had known when I started just how powerful and important your vision and the spirit of the company is. There’s often a middle stage in growing a business where you start to peel back a little bit. For example, the more your business grows, the more voices you start to add into the mix, whether they’re partners or investors. Sometimes, your instinct is to distance yourself from the startup character that got you started. But there’s so much power in that true origin. If you want to build a long-lasting company, you need to remind yourself every day why you’re doing what you’re doing. It doesn’t matter how big your company gets. Your why should be consistent.
4. Don’t be deterred as young entrepreneurs.
In the beginning, Freya and I experienced some initial age-based discrimination, and people didn’t take us seriously. However, often this attitude came from individuals who were less open to risk-taking, so they ended up passing on our business. But as young entrepreneurs, we weren’t burdened down by experience–we were more willing to take risks to achieve our vision.
5. Don’t expect to know how to manage and lead at the get-go.
One of the biggest challenges I struggled with was learning my management and leadership style. I didn’t have any experience in small business before starting Coolhaus, so I didn’t know how to be a CEO. All I knew was that I felt possessed by the idea of building Coolhaus and wanted to give it a shot–and so I did. I surrounded myself with a fantastic team, and I value the culture, energy, and passion they bring to the company. The thing is, there is no right and wrong way to be a manager. And as your team grows and your company environment changes, your style might and should evolve. Don’t be afraid of this. Embrace your company’s evolution, and don’t ever be scared of learning something new.