Recently MBA student Mike Sanders interviewed me for his class on entrepreneurship. The interview was so much fun (plus it provides some insight into some of the hows & whys behind Outdoor Book Club), I thought I’d publish it. Thanks, Mike!
What ignited the spark in you to start a new business venture or to make significant changes in an existing business? I hate working in an office, and I have a really hard time working at a job where I don’t feel like I’m making a difference (the two are probably related). I tried making a go at freelance writing a couple of times, but I could never quite get it off the ground. Outdoor Book Club has the “spark.”
How did you get your idea or concept for the business? There was a business plan competition I wanted to enter that I was pretty sure I could win (and I eventually did), so I was looking for an idea. One night I was having drinks with some people from my office (back when I had a day job), and someone mentioned her boss was going to be gone all week – she was hiking with her sister and best friend. I thought that sounded amazing, and possibly could be an interesting business idea, but I knew it needed a twist in order to really get people’s attention. Since I love books & reading, the Outdoor Book Club was a no-brainer.
What was your mission at the outset? Help women discover their inner heroines. It’s still what gets me out of bed in the morning.
What three pieces of advice would you give to students who want to become entrepreneurs? If you’re not going to spend some time working for someone else (which I do think is important to gain that insight), then don’t be arrogant. Work harder than everyone else. Find other business owners to connect to for support.
What would you say are the top three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur? Just the right balance of balls, heart & brains. (One of my favorite entrepreneurship books is “Heart, Smarts, Guts & Luck” by Tjan, et al)
What have been some of your failures, and what have you learned from them? Oh god. Spending too much money on gear. I love camping gear & gadgets. Also, not asking for help. Being a business owner can be lonely, hard work. People love to help; often all you have to do is ask.
Describe/outline your typical day? Wake up. Worry about why I don’t have enough sales. Spend the rest of the day trying to remedy that.
What motivates you? My tag line: helping women discover their inner heroines. Also, money.
How do you generate new ideas? Reading lots and lots of books, articles and blog posts. Also, my friends and clients are always offering new ideas. Most of them I just smile and thank them for the idea (one of the great things about being Chief Heroine is I get to decide what kind of books, activities, locations, etc. I want to do), but sometimes they think of something I never would have come up with on my own.
What is your greatest fear, and how do you manage fear? I’m scared to death that I have a great idea that no one will pay for. So essentially, failure. I mitigate that by reading as much as I can about entrepreneurship, marketing, sales and trying to be a good person. Also, mountain biking helps me burn off a lot of anxiety.
Where did your organization’s funding/capital come from and how did you go about getting it? I won $10,000 in a national business plan competition for women veterans. I also borrowed money against my 401k.
How do you build a successful customer base? Oh god I wish I knew. Can you tell me? Still working on that part.
Do you believe there is some sort of pattern or formula to becoming a successful entrepreneur? Uh, no. When most people think of an entrepreneur, especially a tech or startup, they think of dudes with spiky hair and huge egos (either that or millionaires like Steve Jobs or Richard Branson). I’m working to break that stereotype every day (on both counts!).
What is your favorite aspect of being an entrepreneur? The fact that all my decisions are my own. Every success — along with every failure — is mine alone. I also like that I get to push my boundaries every day. The truth is I’m not a naturally “outdoorsy” person, so I’ve had to learn how to sleep outside, pack my gear, train for all kinds of new activities — just like my clients.
To what do you most attribute your success? Having a unique business idea, and being a likable person.
What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
I jumped around the room and screamed for 10 minutes straight when my first customer signed up — someone I didn’t even know! I ended up later having to cancel the trip because not enough people signed up, but that first email saying someone had actually paid for a trip — that was amazing.
How do you go about marketing your business? Mostly social media and PR. Word of mouth has been good to me.
What sacrifices have you had to make to be a successful entrepreneur? A regular paycheck. Often times it feels like I’ve sacrificed my pride, as I now depend on my husband to support me (that’s never happened before). But like a lot of things, it had to go.
What service(s) or product(s) do you offer/manufacture? I offer travel adventure tours & workshops for women designed around great literature. Think learning to flyfish in the UP while reading & discussing Hemingway around the campfire at night. All food & gear is included. Right now we’re just doing trips in Michigan, but I hope to expand nationally and internationally in the near future.
What are your company’s goals? 100 bookings in the next year, as well as replace my former corporate salary with earnings from Outdoor Book Club. I’ve got a lot of work to do!
What is unique about your business? Nobody else offers adventure travel based on great books. It’s a pretty unique idea that just caters to women. I’ve had men complain that I don’t offer trips for them, but the fact of the matter is that my clients wouldn’t feel comfortable taking risks if there were guys there. And often that’s what my trips are about — getting out of your comfort zone, and feeling like you’ve changed for the better because of it.
What made you choose this type of business? The uniqueness of the idea and the fairly low overhead.
How does your company help the community where it is located? I like to think I bring together women who otherwise wouldn’t know each other, creating relationships and connections that didn’t exist before. As soon as I start making some sales, I plan on offering a trip every year just for women veterans — no charge. I also have an outing scheduled to do some trail maintenance on the North Country Trail in December.
If you had one piece of advice to someone just starting out, what would it be? Find (or form) a small “mastermind” group of other entrepreneurs or business owners who have similar goals as you. I meet every other week with a group of women who all own small businesses, and they have been AMAZING in keeping me motivated, offering ideas and hooking me up with resources I wouldn’t have otherwise known about. It’s the single most important thing I’ve done as a business owner (other than winning the initial prize money that allowed me to start the business).
Jill Hinton Wolfe