Tuesday, October 04, 2011

My advice for young aspiring entrepreneurs? Go for it.

"If your idea is so great, why haven't you committed to it? Why should anyone invest and risk my money, if you're not even fully committed?" anon investor.

With millions of people every day thinking of new ideas, lying awake at night with the thoughts of what could be and how life could be different, the real difference between those who dream and those who do is the action element. Whether your action is successful the first time round is in many ways beside the point. The key to any success ever achieved is that an idea was set into action and that a high level of commitment supported that action.

Where does this leave you?

If you are a young entrepreneur you have likely wondered how to get your idea off the ground. How and where do you start? Will your concept even be marketable? Will you fail? How much risk is involved and what can you do to reduce that risk?

These are some of the questions I faced when my co-founder, Jennifer Hymann, and I were launching Rent the Runway two years ago.

Sure, entrepreneurship is intimidating, but the reward is not just in building a successful company; it is in the lessons and growth you acquire every day just by doing, trying — and yes — failing. Here are some strategies to transform a simple idea into a viable, revenue-generating business.

1.Test the Marketplace

When you have an idea you are passionate about, get out there and test it with your consumer. Be open to feedback and honest with yourself when you need to tweak your concept or go back to the mat entirely. Writing a business plan is a waste of time, in my opinion. Focus efforts on casting a wide net and speaking to as many people as possible about your business concept. In my case, my co-founder Jenn Hymann, and I talked to women about renting dresses and watched our consumer interact with our product through a series of tests. We purchased dresses at retail and set up a pop-up shop at a Harvard undergrad dorm to test our idea. Taking risks (and yes, even failing) is part of entrepreneurship, but each test you do mitigates some of the risk.

2.Show by Example

By testing the marketplace effectively you will obtain data you can present to future investors. You have to take into consideration that these investors may not personally relate to your concept and that you must find ways to engage them. One way is through videos, customer testimonials and data from marketplace trials. Using these mediums, we were able to convince investors to partner with Rent the Runway, even when we were pitching our concept to a room full of men.

3.Build a Team

Find people to work with who compliment your strengths and weaknesses. Part of being a successful businesswoman is recognizing what you do well and where you need support. Having a partner whose skills complimented my own was the first key step for me. Beyond that, we realized we needed to build out a team that brought expertise in technology and fashion, since neither of us had a background in either. As important as it is to build your business with people who specialize in areas crucial to your business success, equally important in the early stages is hiring well-rounded employees. In the beginning phases of a startup your team will need to wear many hats and tackle unanticipated challenges, so a “roll up your sleeves attitude” is essential.

4.Realize that “No” means “Not Right Now”

A big part of being an entrepreneur is becoming comfortable with hearing the word “no” and having the creativity to adapt your idea to overcome any issues. I’ve learned that “No” usually doesn’t mean “no,” it just means “not right now.” In starting Rent the Runway we heard a lot of “no’s” and that just encouraged us to stay motivated to rethink, tweak and keep testing our concept. There are lots of ups and downs in entrepreneurship as not everyone will love your idea, but each negative response is an opportunity to learn and adapt. A great partner and a supportive team can also be helpful in getting through what are sure to be some challenging times.

Why Free Business Plan Templates Aren’t Always a Good Idea

When you’re looking for business plan templates, you’ll probably come across umpteen sites that offer free business plan templates, and if you are like most people, you’ll probably be sorely tempted to try them. After all, free is most people’s favorite price range! Often you may be better of using professional business plan services to get your business plan done and kick your business of in the right way.

However, while even free business plan templates can be useful when writing a business plan, they may not be the solution to all your business-planning problems.

Here are just a few of the reasons why you should think twice before you choose a free business plan template.


When you pay for business plan templates, or software, you’re dealing with a company, who employs professionals to ensure that their business plan templates and software is free of any possible errors. They spend time and money on research and development, to make sure that they business plan templates and tools they offer are as accurate as they can possibly be.

When you use paid for business plan templates, you can also query the accuracy of the template you are using, which means if you pick up a discrepancy, it can be repaired.


Free business plan templates do not always contain all of the information you need to include in yours. Since leaving important information out of your business plan could be the thing that sinks your hopes of finding funding, that means that when you use a free business plan template, you still have to check, manually, that you have included everything necessary in your plan.

That is not necessarily a bad thing – if you have the time to go through the business plan you have created using a template, but it is something you might want to bear in mind.


There are many things to consider when it comes to the relevancy that you get from a business plan template – whether it is a free one or a paid for one.

First, there is the question of whether it is geographically relevant. Most parts of a business plan are the same around the world, however, there may be specific legal and other requirements that are geographically relevant to you, and not in the template you’re using (or vice versa.) Again, regardless of which template you use, you will need to ensure this.

You will also need to ensure that the business plan template you use allows you to convert the financial sections of the plan into your local currency, or the currency you plan to use in your business plan. The numbers may not change, but it will look unprofessional if you do not even have the right currency symbol on your plan!

Finally, there is the type of business you are writing a business plan for. There are plenty of generic free business plan templates out there, but in most cases, having a business plan template based on a business idea that most closely matches your own is a much better idea, and easier to use!

If you can find a business plan that is as close as possible to the business you are planning to start, you will be able to modify and alter it quickly and easily.

What is Best for You?

If you need to write a business plan, and don’t know where to start, and if you don’t have the budget to spend on business plan services or templates, then free business plan templates can be a great thing.

However, you must bear in mind the old saying ‘you get what you pay for.’ A free business plan template is a great tool, but it still requires a large amount of input from you, if it is going to give you the results you want. If you can afford to buy a high quality, tailored business plan template, then you will have a solution that will save you time and frustration – but either way, it’s up to you, and your needs and circumstances.