Why would the CEO of a successful, stable company dive into the turbulent waters of entrepreneurship? Lisa Sedlar—the former CEO of New Seasons Market who is launching her own chain of small, health-conscious grocery stores—says, “It sounded like such a good idea, kind of like, ‘Oh, let’s have a baby!’ Stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid!”
Challenging? Yes. Stupid? Well, it depends on how you look at things. Lisa is intensely absorbed in her venture and learning new things every day. She is also working incredibly hard and yes, making her share of mistakes.
At our annual Entrepreneurial Summit, Lisa shared the most important things she’s learned so far as Founder and CEO of Green Zebra Grocery. (You can find the full video of her speech here.)
1. It’s really, really hard to find a good name.
- I’d say we probably went through about 300 names, internally and externally—with my 84-year-old Dad sending me stuff. He’s still mad I didn’t go with Rockstar Market. He’s a pretty hip old guy. I wanted the name to be memorable. Maybe even fanciful. I wanted it to relate to the Pacific Northwest Food Economy. So what does a green zebra have to do with the Pacific Northwest Food Economy? It’s a green tomato with yellow stripes that grows in our region.
2. It takes at least 10 times longer to raise money than I thought it would.
- I’m a very tenacious go-getter optimist, like entrepreneurs are prone to be. I figured it would take me three months to raise a million dollars. It did not take me three months to raise a million dollars. I think it took me three months to get the closing docs signed.
3. You never know who’s going to sign the check.
- The people who expressed really early interest were the people who I thought I had stitched up. But they were the ones who ended up saying, “Oh I’ve got to talk to my spouse, or domestic partner, or I have to talk to my banker, or personal investment strategist, or my priest. Those people ended up being maybes. People I don’t even know, who I literally have never met in person, wrote me a check because they heard about Green Zebra from one of their friends.
4. You’ll work harder than you ever think you’re going to work.
- I spent my early career as a chef. I cooked with lots of people you might know, people like Julia Child and Wolfgang Puck and Rick Bayless. When you cook for a living, you might as well be digging ditches. You get there at 6 o’clock in the morning, you stand on your feet all day, it’s hot, you stay until 11 o’clock at night, you clean up and you turn around and do it every day, 6-7 days a week. So I figured, everything else is a cakewalk compared to being a chef. Until I started my own business. It’s really insane how many hours we’re working, but conversely, it’s the most rewarding time I’ve ever spent in my life.
5. If you think you’re the smartest person in the room, you probably should go to a different room.
- I’ve made some really big mistakes. I’m really happy to talk about my mistakes. I valued the business maybe not where I should have. I didn’t know much about raising money, I still don’t know a lot about raising money. I’m learning that. I’ve learned to take the advice of people who are smarter than me.
6. You’ll learn some things the hard way.
- I hired someone very early on who I thought had all the right pieces based on what my previous work experience told me. It became really clear really fast that this person had the experience from my old business, but it didn’t apply to my new business. And she was one of the first five hires I made. I had to decide right away whether or not I should terminate her. I knew it was the right thing to do because when I thought about her not being there, and hiring someone with the right skill set, it allowed me to breathe through my nose. So I had to make an early termination. The consequences of that were my other early hires started worrying. They were thinking, “Omigod, am I next?” All I can chalk that up to is inexperience. I think it’s going to be OK, but it was a tough lesson.
7. Social media is a pain in the ass. But worth it.
- Literally every second you put into it, if it’s done well, pays you back 10 times. What you put out there needs to be relevant, not spammy. It needs to provide something to people’s day that is of value.
8. Trust your gut.
- When you’re in an established business, some people say, “It’s ok to trust your gut, but back it up with data.” Well, there’s no data yet, but I do know that my gut is at a heightened sense right now.
9. It’s not about you.
- This thing we’re all doing as entrepreneurs, it’s our idea, it’s our baby, we want to see it grow. But the second you take a dollar from someone else, it’s not about you anymore. It’s about returning investment to that person who said, “I want to invest in you.” It’s about those people who have left very secure jobs, some with pensions, who say, “I want to come and work for you. I believe in what you’re doing.” I wake up in the middle of the night thinking, “I have to make this thing right for those people.” It’s incredibly important for me to return goodness to them.
10. Listen for each person’s kernel of truth.
- You would think that not everyone’s business is applicable to your own. But I’ve found over the course of the last several months that I’ve been able to glean something from everyone’s business, from tech to strip clubs. I know, it’s crazy, right? Here’s what I’ve learned from strippers: Making eye contact and smiling gives you more tips.
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