How I Built This

How I Built This


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These fallback plans offered varying degrees of psychological security to the brilliant founders who had them, but how much money they could make was far less important than the fact that they could at least be assured of making enough money to live. This was the idea that Jane Wurwand, the creator of Dermalogica, learned from her mother growing up in the United Kingdom. “The five words that changed my life were my mom saying to my sisters and myself, Learn how to do something!" Jane said. "She was absolutely adamant that each of us had to get a skill so that no matter what happened, if we were somewhere, anywhere, in the world, we would have a skill set in our hands that we could go to work [with] immediately and earn money and keep food on the table."

Note: Regarding jobs while starting a company

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In December 2019, I had the opportunity to speak to Procter & Gamble's marketing team about storytelling at the c - global headquarters in Cincinnati, Ohio. P&G is a 180-yearlà multinational conglomerate that owns more than sixty brands, company's nearly twenty of which are worth more than a billion dollars each. Judging by numbers alone, P&G has figured a few things out since its founding in 1837. Before I spoke, I was given a tour of the sprawling downtown campus, which includes a small museum that traces the history of the company and maintains a meticulous archive of all the products that P&G has either created or acquired over the years. Moving through the exhibits, I was amazed to learn the origin stories of So many products that have become household names, most notably Crest Whitestrips and Swiffer. Crest Whitestrips was the result of a brainstorming session between somebody who worked on Cling Wrap and somebody working in the toothpaste division after they had lunch in the P&G cafeteria one day. Swiffer began as a crude combination of a broomstick attached to a bottle of Mr Clean, with Always maxi pads affixed to the bottom - both of which are P&G products.

Note: This was cool

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But as far as Tobi was concerned, Ottawa had a lot of stuff going for it. He'd moved to Canada's capital city from Germany a few years earlier to live with his girlfriend (now wife), Fiona McKean, who had aspirations to become a Canadian diplomat. They lived with her parents rent-free for a full decade (even after success!). He'd already found $400,000 in funding from an angel investor named John Phillips, whose parents happened to live in Ottawa. And beyond that, Ottawa was a place, Tobi believed, that punched far above its weight in intellectual talent. It was, after all, where the best and the brightest in Canada came to devote their talents to government service. Just because most of the VCs he met with couldn't find Ottawa on a map did not mean it was some kind of backwater.

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Starting a business-starting anything creative, for that matter is difficult. It is a twisting road with hours, days, weeks, and months filled with struggle and failure and self-doubt and even tears. When you add a sense of isolation to the mix, it's "Hello, anxiety!" It happened to me a while back after weeks of sleepless nights. We were getting ready to move across the country, I was producina three shows with two more in the works, and I was starting to worry about everything. My family, my kids, my staff, the shows, partnerships, deadlines, my health. The fate of all these things felt as thoueh it sat squarely and solely on my shoulders. Finally one night, my wife, Hannah, pulled out a notebook and asked me to tell her what was on my mind. I poured out everything in my head, and she wrote every word of it down. The act ofemptying my anxieties onto the page was itself a therapeutic act that helped me get back to sleep, but the real salvation came three months later when Hannah pulled out the notebook and read my list of worries back to me. Not a single item on that list was relevant any longer! Not one of my worries had materialized in any meaningful way. Most things had worked out with the passage of time. But at the time, it felt like the world was collapsing around me. I would love to tell you this was just a “me" problem, but it's part of the human condition. Our brains have a natural safety mechanism designed to help us react in times of stress and moments of threat. It was useful in prehistoric times when we had to escape from wild animals. The struggle today, as humans in a modern world, is to figure out how to flip that safety switch to neutral, how to step back from our lives and take the long view on our journeys.

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Wherever you are on your journey, you will almost certainly face a moment like the one I experienced. A period of crippling anxiety and despair that no one could possibly understand what you're dealing with, that everything is riding on the decisions you make, that it's all up to you. When that happens, I want you to pull out a notebook and write those worries down. I want you to trap them on the page, so that you can look at them the next day, the next week, the next month, the next year, and realize that while every challenge and crisis you face in the pursuit of your idea feels like it could be the end of it all, it's not. I promise.

And that is the key to finding an idea, whether you are actively on the hunt for one or simply open to the possibility, No matter what kind of business you are thinking of starting-whether it's a product or a service, whether it's your side hustle or your main thing, whether it's for men or women, kids or adults-the intersection of personal passion and problem solving is where good ideas are born and lasting businesses are built.

"People would call and say, Hey, I bought a jar of cream from you at such and such street fair, and I'm running out. How can I get some more?' And I would look at my schedule, and if I knew I was going to be home on a Saturday, I said, 'Well, I'm working the rest of the week, but if you want, come by my apartment on Saturday. What time would you like to come by?" And when those people came to her apartment, they almost never came alone. "My husband called it the 'sister-girl network.' Somebody always brought a friend with them. And if you brought a friend, you'd get a free gift, or I'd give them [a discount]," Lisa said, recounting the early growth of Carol's Daughter. "It was all that grassroots kind of stuff." This is where so many aspiring entrepreneurs get tripped up when thinking about startup ideas. They forget about igniting this kind of passion in their customers and instead use only their own passion as the North Star for their search. Passion is important– you will never hear me say otherwise – but the trouble with passion by itself is that it can lead you down rabbit holes that only you care about, or to problems that only you have.

There is a name for a person who creates something purely out of passion: hobbyist. There is a name for a person who creates something out of passion that solves a problem only they have: tinkerer. There is a name for a person who creates something out of passion that also solves a problem they share with lots of other people: entrepreneur.

There is something romantic about the struggle to do something new, isn't there? About taking the leap. At one point or another, all of us who are enamored of the pursuit of big ideas have found ourselves enthralled by the origin story of a successful enterprise: the marathon coding sessions; the all-nighters that stretch across an entire week; the four friends stacked on top of one another inside a one-bedroom apartment, meeting every evening at the kitchen table in the "boardroom." In commencement addresses and keynote speeches, famous founders talk wistfully about these memorable and crucial moments. Being down to their last dollar; maxing out their credit cards; eating nothing but ramen noodles and drinking nothing but Mountain Dew for months on end. Those were the good old days.