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Advice from a salon owner turned startup founder

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I’ll let you in on a secret: it’s possible to raise millions of dollars to get your business off the ground—and not know a thing about fundraising. My cofounder and I did. As a matter of fact, we’re first-time tech entrepreneurs who don’t live in Silicon Valley (the horror!), we’re married (surprise!), and we’re far from being software developers (Java means coffee in our world). We’re African-American, and we’re serving a community that people don’t readily associate with technology: beauticians and barbers.

Back in 2018, we were the first Texas founders to win Google Demo Day, which helped us secure $500,000 in funding. We don't look like a lot of founders out there, and we've learned a few things about how gritty entrepreneurs can get funding for their businesses.

Believe in yourself and prove it.

It may sound cliché, but optimism is a competitive advantage. Others doubted our idea for ShearShare, an app that connects salon and barbershop owners to stylists who can fill empty chairs in their shops, but we knew better—we had already tested out the idea before developing the app. So stand firm in your self-confidence, drown out all the noise, and keep going. To help get you there, try experimenting on a small scale for several months before you apply for that line of credit or meet with an angel investor. Doing a series of interviews with potential customers is one of the best ways to build a product that solves a real problem.

Uncover alternative methods to funding your business.

Consider local pitch competitions, contests, your alma mater’s innovation or entrepreneurship lab, specialty business loans, and crowdfunding platforms. We entered so many pitch competitions that I can probably recite our pitch backwards. These programs are out there and just require a little elbow grease. Look for them.

She who has the best data wins. 

Data helps you identify macro trends before the winds really start to shift. So start tracking everything now and do more of what works. As entrepreneurs with a limited budget, we spent $10 per week on Google AdWords in the early days to get in front of customers who were looking for our solution. When we look at how our users first hear of ShearShare, just over 30 percent say they saw our ads on Google. We then take that data and use other free tools like Google Sheets and Google Analytics to find additional insights. Knowing who your users are and how they behave makes sure the right audience sees you when it matters most.

Your company is only as healthy as you are. 

Be ready for a marathon, because starting a business is far from a sprint. Mentors from Google emphasized the importance of well-being and reminded us to prioritize ourselves during our preparation for Google Demo Day 2018. If my cofounder and I hadn’t been bullish on self-care—eating well, getting enough sleep, taking much-needed breaks, exercising—we wouldn’t have been able to get through the more than 250 meetings that it took to raise money for ShearShare. Prioritizing your self-care is good for business.

Find supporters who believe in your vision and share your values.

We didn’t know how to meet investors because we didn’t have a network, so we asked folks with a specialized skill set for help. And when we asked for help, those conversations led to introductions to people who believed in our vision. These were people like Arlan Hamilton of Backstage Capital, Revolution's Rise of the Rest Seed Fund, Winterpoint Capital, and Charles Hudson of Precursor Ventures, who are now ShearShare investors. Though countless investors passed on us, we found the right ones who share our values: grit, integrity, subject-matter expertise, determination and fortitude. 

Even though the road to entrepreneurship wasn’t paved with gold, my cofounder and I saw opportunity where others saw an empty chair. Throughout it all, we believed in our idea, listened intently to our users and found a supportive network to help us keep growing. And it’s proving to be the right bet, as day by day ShearShare is changing an age-old industry and creating jobs and wealth for beauty and barbering professionals worldwide. 

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