5 ‘Truth Hurts’ Lessons I Learned in my First Year as an Entrepreneur
It’s been one year since we officially launched TushBaby. And in that time, we’ve sold a bunch of product, made a bit of money, and gotten a whole lot of 5-star reviews.
But so much more happened over the last twelve months than could possibly be captured in sales facts and marketing figures. There were emotional ups and downs I never could have anticipated. There were times I felt so overwhelmed and underwater that I thought about throwing in the towel. And there were a handful of breakthrough moments when I realized just how strong I actually am.
So today, in honor of our one-year anniversary, I’ve gathered the top five lessons I’ve learned in my first year as an entrepreneur—some admittedly harder and more painful to accept than others. Hope you enjoy.
Work/life balance is a total f****** myth.
Starting a business while raising a family is HARD. Especially when you have three kids under five. At first I found myself really struggling. There were a lot of tears (mine and theirs), fights with my husband, and late nights trying to squeeze in a few extra hours of work.
But I was tired. And I realized that I was missing things in my children’s lives. Sure they were little things, like bedtime stories. But in the grand scheme of life, those little things add up and really matter. Santa Claus bubble beards in the bath and dance routines before bed are the memories my kids have of me when they’re grown-ups, and the memories I have with them for the rest of my life.
At the end of the day, yes, of course I want my business to be successful. But the joy I get from doing an art project with my kids, or seeing their faces light up when I walk into the room without being tethered to my phone just doesn’t compare to another sale. It just doesn’t. So I adjusted.
I stopped answering emails the second they came in. I started making a conscious effort to press pause on work when I’m spending time with my kids.
And it doesn’t feel like a trade-off.
In fact, I’ve found that having a healthy home life inspires a healthy work life. And because I value the time I spend with my husband and kids, I work that much harder during work hours so I can play that much harder my family after 5pm. Please believe I’m still on my laptop after I put them to bed. But from 5pm-8pm I’m offline. And from 6am-8am I’m on getting-ready-for-school duty.
A perfect work-life balance doesn’t exist. And we can’t have it all. But we can have plenty of fulfilling moments if we’re intentional with our limited time.
My customers teach me more than any degree or business book could.
Sometimes people are surprised to learn that I launched a business without going to business school. Sure, financial models, sales forecasts, and having product market fit matter if your business is going to be successful. But for me, “businessing” is really about listening to people’s needs and frustrations, and then delivering a product that actually solves their problems. By empathizing with our customers—and not just pushing another cool idea forward—we were able to create a product that people actually use.
I learn from my customers constantly. Sometimes they literally tell me what they want. And other times they show me. Do they look flustered with the zippers? Let’s invest in two-way YKKs. Does dad look uncomfortable in the leopard print? Let’s offer a camo style. Why is mom putting bottles in another bag? We need to add a bottle holder. By observing how people interact with their TushBabies, we’re always learning. And those learnings help us improve their experience moving forward.
Sometimes the learnings are obvious, like the need for a waistband expander. Other times, they’re completely unexpected. After bringing TushBaby to market, we found out that it’s life-changing for special needs families—especially for parents who have kids with delayed walking skills. These parents have to carry their kids longer than other parents, which makes TushBaby’s weight distribution really helpful to them. It also helps their little ones make better eye contact and feel more engaged with their family members, and the world around them. Thanks to this surprising discovery, TushBaby now donates part of every purchase to help families with special-needs kids.
I never would have learned these lessons in a how-to book. I learned them by staying close to my customers and giving them the attention they deserve.
I’m not naturally decisive. But I’ve learned how to be.
I’m an extrovert. And I have to talk my thoughts out with the people around me to process them myself. This means I get a lot of thoughts in return from the people around me.
In the past, I took everyone’s advice, weighed the pros and cons of every iota of feedback, and toiled about making the best decision—even when was a tiny decision. That’s an exhausting way to run a business, and an even more exhausting way to live.
The fact is, I will never be 100% sure that I’ve made the best in the moment. It’s only looking back that I can say with confidence whether a certain choice was right or wrong.
I’ve learned that to move and grow quickly, I often need to make decisions faster than I’m comfortable with. And to make the “best” one, I try to remember what my customers want, and I surround myself by people who are experts in their field. Which leads me to my next learning...
I don’t know a lot about marketing. Or manufacturing. And that’s ok.
Sure, I could write every marketing email or social post but that would be a waste of my time. I’m better at product development and sales. And to effectively launch a business and run a company, it’s critical I double down on my own strengths and let the people around me double down on theirs.
I wasn’t doing that when I first launched TushBaby. I was trying to do it all, and spending way too much time in the weeds. And I was losing my mind trying to keep track of it all.
So I took a step back and reevaluated what I had done up to that point, and what I needed to do for the future. I knew I had a great product. I’d launched a successful Kickstarter campaign. And I was set to air on Shark Tank. But I didn’t really know how to bring a product to market. I needed a partner who believed in this thing as much as I did, and who had experience launching successful brands. That’s when I met Sara Azadi, a senior marketing exec, who eventually became my Co-Founder.
After seeing my Kickstarter campaign, Sara reached out to me and said I’d created a product that would truly help parents. And she knew this from personal experience. Her daughter had loved being held but hated being tucked away in a stroller or squished in traditional, complicated carriers. Sara, like a lot of parents, decided it was easier to carry her daughter on her hip, and did so for several years. But in 2017, she had to have shoulder surgery from lugging her kid around, and still suffers from sciatica today. She was passionate about getting the word out about TushBaby. And with her experience in marketing, she knew how to reach as many caregivers as possible with a better carrying alternative.
So she and I teamed up, along with a professional writer and graphic designer. And rather than try to do it all myself, I trusted them to do their jobs. Because they’ve been honing their specific skills for the last 15-20+ years. They know more than I do about their domains. Plus, micromanagers and second-guessers are just annoying.
It’s amazing what I can do when I don’t have a choice.
As I said in my last point, I didn’t know a lot about manufacturing. But that wasn’t actually ok because I didn’t have any partners that did either. So I did the research. I reached out to tons of people to learn the basics. And I gained a whole new skill.
I led that charge not because I wanted to but because I had to. So many people shy away from things they’ve never tried before because they don’t want to look dumb, or because they don’t want to fail. But that’s what growth is about—both personally and professionally.
I was well aware that I could try and fail. But I realized that I could also try and fly. I know now that I can learn anything I need to. I can do anything I set my mind to. And in my first year as an entrepreneur, that’s been the most valuable lesson of all.