As I write this, I’m flying across the country at 30,000 feet. The last few days have felt like a montage from a “working girl in New York City” blockbuster hit: meetings in skyscrapers, intimate networking parties, negotiating business deals in expansive boardrooms. Two years ago, I was a stay at home mom of seven and never would have imagined that I’d be doing any of this. Most of all, I never imagined that I’d be the co-founder of a company that has sold a million photo books in just 18 months. And there’s only one reason I’m living this life: I chose to be brave and not let the things I didn’t have—like a business education, experience, skills, and a network—hold me back from creating what I believed in.
It all began one evening, as I was tucking my kids into bed and I heard my 6-year-old crying in his room. When I checked on him I saw he was clutching a little photo album his preschool teacher had made for him. I asked him what was wrong and he said, “Mama, I don’t ever want to grow up!” My heart broke as I realized that my baby was lamenting his childhood. But I was also embarrassed that all he had to show for his little life so far was that one little album. I hadn’t printed any pictures of him, much less made a photo book. Mom guilt weighed heavily on my shoulders so I marched downstairs and told my husband to forget about the business we had been building for the last few years. It was time to start from scratch!
In one week we built a beta version of an app that could pull a customer’s Instagram photos, captions, and dates and automatically make a series of 60-page photo books, each with a volume number and date range on the spine. We took something that people were already doing, like posting to social media, and gave them what they really wanted—their memories in a book. Chatbooks launched and we started selling a lot of books!
From the beginning my husband wanted me to get more involved in the day-to-day business at Chatbooks, but I was hesitant. I was a part-time singer/actress and stay at home mom, not a businesswoman. I refused, saying it was because I was too busy with the kids, and wanted to focus on my singing and take up yoga. But in reality, I was just flat out intimidated. In my head, I made a mental list of everything I didn’t know… “don’t know all the tech and business lingo….don’t know how to write a press release … don’t know how to connect with influencers…etc.”
One day, however, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I had a lot to offer our Chatbooks team! Not only was Chatbooks my idea, but I was the target customer. I know what moms really want. I know what matters most to them. I know what a high-quality product looks like. I decided to be brave and face my fears and jump in with both feet. Here are some of the things I did to overcome my knowledge gaps and battle my way to bravery:
1. Make Google your teacher
On my first day in the office, I literally started by Googling “How to do PR”. I found some blog posts and started emailing local TV and news outlets. I also set up Google alerts on phrases related to our business (like “photo books”) so I could see who was writing on those topics and reach out to them. And because of Googling, I learned about a service called MuckRack to identify relevant journalists and bloggers, and more leads started to pan out.
My first hit was a TV spot on the local morning news – it was my first time speaking as an official Chatbooks spokesperson and I was terrified. But as soon as that camera came on, I was in my element talking about my passion for our product and it felt good!
2. Ask for help
I started to reach out to other entrepreneurs, like Susan Petersen, the founder of Freshly Picked. I emailed her, “I’m so impressed with what you’ve built with your business…. And I need help. I would love to take you to lunch.” She was so generous with her time and helpful! I had lots of questions, for example, I knew you could get press without paying for placement, but I wasn’t sure how. She taught me how to get our name out there and with each meeting, I got more and more ideas.
3. Read, listen, repeat
I started listening to podcasts about business strategy. I especially like The School of Greatness and the HBR’s IdeaCast. Because I’m a busy mom, I started listening to audiobooks too. Ones that were especially helpful were The Lean Startup, The Advantage, and The Power of Starting Something Stupid.
4. Get out there!
I went to my first start-up conference and was insatiable. I wanted to soak up everything I could, and at that early stage, I felt like I was learning new things every second. And unlike my podcasts or audiobooks, I could ask questions – and get answers! I was also meeting peers who could give me more ideas and feedback.
I started doing things before I even knew the “right way.” You learn from doing. I tried to stay humble, young, and open, with the mentality that we were a new company just trying to figure this out – and bit by bit, we did.
I found that I loved sharing the Chatbooks story and mission – and that I was good at it! An MBA could never have prepared me for getting a celebrity excited about Chatbooks or for a TV appearance, but my experiences as a performer and a mother did.
These days, Chatbooks feels like a rocket ship. As we grow and expand, I’m now constantly faced with scary, intimidating things. I start to tell myself that I don’t have the skills, or experience, or education to handle. The antidote: I just remember what got us here. Being brave. And I put on my brave girl pants and go out to the world.