Just like the fashion industry, the business world has its trends. Today, for example, it’s in vogue to call yourself “the Uber of coffee” or “the Uber of underwater basketweaving.” So creative!
When you eat, sleep and breathe the entrepreneur life, it's easy to get caught up in what everyone else is doing. But sometimes, you have to go against the grain to achieve success.
We caught up with eight entrepreneurs who are bucking the trend in their respective fields.
Breaking Out Of Gender Molds
Although technology is the fastest growing field in America, it remains a male-dominated industry. In fat this applies to startups as a whole, with just 17% of them having at least one female founder.
Despite the lonely numbers, software engineer Sophie Knowles jumped in and founded PDFPro. It started as a side gig while Knowles was working at her corporate job, but has blossomed into one of the top PDF editing tools on the web.
Knowles says when it comes down to it, hard work will always beat traditional gender molds.
“Entrepreneurial success comes down to talent and execution,” she says. “Don't let stereotypes limit the opportunities you pursue.”
Manufacturing In The USA
Craig Wolfe is the president of Celebriducks, a company that makes collectible rubber ducks that look like celebrities and characters (yes, it’s as awesome as it sounds).
Though the rubber duck was invented in the United States, the industry, like many, has since moved overseas where manufacturing can be done much more cheaply. Despite the bottom line impact, making his product overseas was a decision Wolfe couldn’t live with.
What he didn’t know was just how challenging it would be to follow through on his American-made convictions.
“I never knew just how much the technical skills had been lost here and how much work it would take to get it all re-established,” he says. “Honestly, it was a disaster.”
In the face of missed shipping deadlines and lost revenue, Wolfe persevered. His company now holds the title of the only US-made rubber duck and has been covered by the likes of the Huffington Post, Entrepreneur and HGTV.
Starting Over Late In The Game
For nearly a decade, Charles Dugan served as an electronics technician in the US Navy. When he got out of the military, most of his peers had long since obtained their degrees and cemented their career paths.
Though he was considerably older than the traditional college co-ed, Dugan decided to pursue his dream of being a small business owner and went back to school.
“It’s challenging to develop new skills and completely pivot your career focus after you’ve become accustomed to doing things a certain way,” he says.
Dugan earned his MBA and has been an entrepreneur for more than 30 years. He now owns and operates trade show display firm American Image Displays. He says in retrospect, getting a fresh start late in the game prepared him well for entrepreneurship.
“Your education never stops as an entrepreneur. Don't be intimidated to start a business even if you feel you lack experience.”
Overcoming Racial Stereotypes
When you picture a video producer, Adrienne Nicole probably isn’t what comes to mind. In a white, male, California-dominated industry, Adrienne bucks the trend as an African American female producer based in Brooklyn.
When she started her production company Adrienne Nicole Productions seven years ago, clients often tried to pigeonhole her into producing a certain type of content because of her ethnicity and gender. She quickly learned, though, that quality work defies all stereotypes, and now her reel contains work for corporate giants like Walmart and Ford.
“I allowed my work and the work of my company to prove itself to clients from all walks of life,” she says, “and my race and gender no longer mattered.”
Adrienne has a piece of sage advice when it comes to the pressure to do what everyone else is doing:
“If you do what the next person did, the highest point you’ll reach is where that person is now. When you do more than what the next person did, you will excel.”
Going All In On Brick-And-Mortar
Brent Ridge and Josh Kilmer-Purcell might look familiar. They’re the faces of the reality show The Fabulous Beekman Boys and won The Amazing Race in 2012.
But years before the television cameras, Ridge and Kilmer-Purcell went against all odds and left their cushy New York City life in search of something simpler. They bought a historic farm in Sharon Springs, New York, and after both men lost their jobs during the 2008 recession, began producing soaps and cheese there.
They bet big on brick-and-mortar (and a very non-traditional kind of brick-and-mortar at that) in an era where the rest of the world is glued to a screen.
“Our flagship brick and mortar store has grown by 30% year over year for the past three years and this year is up over 50% year to date,” Ridge says. “We do this by creating a true customer experience in the store. We focus first on the customer being surprised and delighted and secondly on selling a product.”
Their advice for other entrepreneurs swimming against the current? Make sure you’re someone’s solution.
“Solve a problem,” Ridge says. “If you can solve a problem, you can make your way.”
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