Secrets for Success from Startup Insiders


What do college grads today aspire to be when they enter the “real world”?

A recent study conducted by Deloitte, revealed 70% of millennnials (ages 18-33) want to start their own businesses. Bostinno and Bentey’s Prepared U asked, what is driving millennials’ entrepreneurial spirit? “Is it the rock star appeal of the be-hoodied Silicon Valley icon, romanticized by Zuckerberg and Jobs? Is it a desire for independence and control? Millennials might be young, but they’re not naive.”

It’s the spiritual desire to make a difference in the world that is found more with today’s generation than ever before.

The ugly truth is, still today, half of all startup businesses go under in the first year, while 95% fail within the first five years.  How can the 70% of milliennials who are set on starting their own businesses thrive in their endeavors given this state of the matter?


Boston Idea Week Startup Panel, June 2014

Women’s iLab has the honest truth and we are here to spill the secrets.  At Boston Idea Week’s Future of Startups Panel, we asked an all-star lineup of successful entrepreneurs, CEOs and co-founders from Dunwello, CO Everywhere, Roomzilla, WeWork, Uber, Startup Institute, Paypal, and Start Tank what their secrets were for thriving in today’s startup culture that is rapidly changing and growing more so now than ever before.  The panel was introduced by the City of Boston’s Chief of Staff, Daniel Koh, who discussed the amazing things that the City of Boston is doing in partnership with organizations like Onein3 to drive innovation in the city.


On change:  Be nimble and fail fast. Figure out what is right for you.  When you are building a company or working for a startup, the business plan is constantly changing to adapt to the opportunity in the marketplace. The company today may be something completely different than what it was six months ago and the only way to find out is to test new ideas and figure out what works for you. Adapting to the marketplace to secure your differentiation is critical.

On employees: While the business model is continuously changing, so are the employee roles.  There is no such thing as a true “job description” when it comes to working for a startup.  In an ever-changing corporate environment, the leadership team must make sure that its employees understand this and are excited about the opportunity to continuously be evolving their job roles and building their personal portfolio. This type of work environment is great for some people, while for others it is just not their preference.  Have very candid conversations with your employees and reassess their role and happiness with them every several months. Employees must be willing to adapt, continuously learn, grow and bring new ideas, value and differentiation to the company.

Also, no one person can “do it all.”  Many entrepreneurs fail when they cannot handle the emotional shift that comes with hiring employees to do the work for you.  The key to a business finding its differentiation point lies within the employees themselves.

womens ilabOn culture: Embody and reinforce your corporate culture in every single thing that you do. Zappos has done a fantastic job in incorporating it’s brand purpose of “delivering happiness” into it’s employee culture. Zappos really cares that their employees are happy because that is the brand purpose  baked into their beliefs, their customer interaction, and even the way they hire.  According to Michelle Darby, CEO of Roomzilla, the WHY is very important.  You must consistently remind your employees why they are working on everything that they do.

On work environments: Today, many startups are cultivated within coworking spaces like WeWork, Workbar, and local innovation centers.  Unlike in a typical office environment, coworking spaces are a place for small companies and startups to work day to day within a shared office space. Many startups find success in having accessibility to other startups who can help you find solutions, share tips, and be there for you.  This type of environment has helped startups define their company culture and positioning. Others may prefer to open their own offices in the early stages. Understand what works best for you and your employees and continuously reinforce the why.

On investors:  They need you just as much as you need them. Tell them what you need to get the job done and build your company. For female entrepreneurs out there, the Venture Capitalist (VC) community tends to be male dominated and naturally they are most interested in male-focused categories.  Get your self out there and network, network, network.

On the business plan: Actions speak louder than words. Testing a new idea and running with it goes a million miles further than writing out another iteration of the business plan.  Keep trying, and you will figure it out.

heres-to-the-crazy-ones-On confidence: You are creating a new idea.  People are going to doubt you.  They are going to say no. It is understandable to not be 100% confident in everything that you are doing when you are doing it rapid fire speed. You must maintain that crazy sense of confidence that cultivated that idea in the first place.  Reinforce that across your organization and culture as well. But always remember, there is no shame in saying “I don’t know.” Saying “I don’t know” is one of the smartest things an entrepreneur can do as she/he is figuring out her/his path.

On failure: Entrepreneurs must see failure as one step closer to success.  Startups are built on a series of failures that bring a solution. That said, never work for something that you do not care about.  It’s okay to quit.  In order to find success in today’s world, you must love what you do and have a passion for what you are building.