Being a first-time founder comes with incredible challenges. And when there’s no reputation or credentials to lean on, it’s even tougher. You have to work extra hard to convince investors and unlock opportunities that easily fall into the laps of others who are better networked.
There’s also the assumption that to be a winning founder, you must come from money or a family of entrepreneurs. These stereotypes are problematic not just for founder confidence, but for potential investors, too, who miss out on a winning brand due to their own biases about the founder.
My story of building Schmidt’s Naturals from my kitchen to a 9 figure acquisition without any cred or foundation of wealth is proof that it is, in fact, possible. And when you’re building something you believe in, the reality is that nobody could be more qualified than you.
Here are some tricks I learned for convincing others—from shareholders to retail partners, even friends and family—that you’ve got what it takes.
Frame your fresh perspective as a competitive advantage. You’re thinking differently about business and aren’t jaded by past experience or knowing too much. Naivety welcomes innovation and opportunity. Share learnings you’ve gained from past jobs that will support you in the business.
Talk about how you’re associated with your target market and why you’re the perfect person to be building this. Selling to customers you understand is a strong advantage. Share your story about what led you to founding the business and why it’s meaningful to you. When I was pitching retailers, they appreciated my story of how I was pregnant and inspired to make a healthy deodorant for myself. I understood the needs of my target customer, which gave buyers confidence in the brand.
Be yourself, and allow your personality to sell what you’re building. Don’t conform to stereotypes in how you present yourself or the vocabulary you think you should be using. Your authenticity is an asset.
Show your relentless and die-hard dedication to the business. Talk with so much enthusiasm for what you’re building that people walk away feeling like they have to be a part of it. Be able to speak to your long-term vision for the business and yourself.
Be open about the challenges you see for your business. Acknowledge what keeps you up at night, but show confidence in your ability to face obstacles head-on. You may be learning as you go, but when it comes to de-risking the business, you need to show clear planning and forethought.
Admit what you don’t know. Understand your own restraints, and be up-front about what skills or expertise you need to develop. Have a plan for how you’ll learn and the strategic hires you need to make. Don’t be afraid to ask for support or connections.
When I was hiring for Schmidt’s Naturals, I allowed myself to be vulnerable. I was always up-front about what I didn’t know and where I needed support. This was empowering to employees and made them eager to jump in with their expertise.
Prove your expertise
Let your product do the talking. Collect and share customer testimonials. This is the greatest endorsement for what you’re doing. Talk about the work and research you’ve done to validate your idea, and the hype you’re seeing in the communities you’re part of.
Show a deep understanding of the category and other players in the space. Acknowledge the competition you’re inspired by and examples of founders or brands you think are doing it right. When building Schmidt’s, I found it worked in my favor to talk about the competition in a positive light and how, together, we were improving and growing the category. This also served as an opportunity to explain how my product was different.
Fast-track to becoming a thought leader in your field. Uncover interesting facts and history. Teach people something they didn’t know about the industry. Leave others feeling more informed and intrigued after speaking with you.
No matter how much energy you invest in proving you’re fit to build the next multi-million-dollar business, there are always going to be naysayers and investors who can’t be convinced. Know when to let go, and don’t waste too much effort trying to convince anybody. Instead, refocus that energy into making sure the most important people—your customers—are happy.
Jaime Schmidt is the founder and former CEO of Schmidt’s Naturals, where she led the brand to sales in over 30 countries. The brand was acquired by Unilever in 2017, and Jaime continues to support its global expansion. She is also cofounder of and investor with Color Capital and author of Supermaker: Crafting Business on Your Own Terms, a how-to guide for putting your business on the map and turning your passion into profit.