A young founder discusses five lessons she learned as she tackled a problem, then decided to create a product to solve that problem for others.
By Brooke Martin (Founder, iCPooch)
When I began my eighth grade student project on entrepreneurship in the fall of 2012, I never dreamed it would lead me to start a viable, global business before finishing my first year of high school.
At 12 years old, all I knew about being an entrepreneur was that many amazing innovations come from a need to solve simple, every-day problems; and that’s what I had with my golden retriever, Kayla. We rescued Kayla from a shelter when she was seven months old. She suffered from separation anxiety whenever we left her alone.
I thought it would be great to be able to video chat with Kayla so I could reassure her visually, audibly and even with a treat that she was still loved, even when we weren’t at home. That was how my invention iCPooch began.
This simple idea was intended to be my “example problem” to explore as I was learning what it would take to be a successful entrepreneur. And a year and a half later, it’s become a viable consumer product that we’re taking to market. In school, I expected to learn a lot about how innovative ideas are developed. What I didn’t anticipate was that the real education would be five critical life lessons I would learn along the way — mileposts on the path to moving an original product concept from my imagination to the consumer marketplace.
Milepost 1: Courage
The first step on my journey was to bring my project to Startup Weekend Spokane, a fast-paced weekend marathon where professional creatives collaborate and develop entrepreneurial ideas over the course of a 54-hour competition. Even though I was much younger than the rest of the crowd, I had decided I wanted to participate in the entrepreneurial process first-hand.
The minute I walked into the auditorium and felt the wave of creative energy all around me, I realized I was in for a wild ride. After all, I had a creative idea, but I wasn’t sure anyone would take it — or me — seriously.
Risking serious humiliation, I waited in line for my turn at the podium. I had exactly one minute to convince a room full of adult professionals that I had what it took to play on the team. When the dust settled, my original idea received the most votes of any presented. In those 60 seconds, I learned invaluable life lesson #1: Without the courage to risk failure, you’ll never truly know success.
Milepost 2: Humility
It’s easy to get caught up in the hype of initial success. The support my idea received over Startup Weekend was astounding. Almost overnight, finance, legal, marketing and technology experts had stepped up to help me bring my idea to market.
When I stop to consider the amazing infrastructure supporting me on this journey, I am profoundly humbled. This is invaluable life lesson #2: Surround yourself with people who are lots smarter than you are, and never lose sight of your place in the big picture of your (team’s) success.
Milepost 3: Perseverance
After we’d cleared the initial hurdles in our design process (five prototypes and counting) and ironed out some of the technical considerations (i.e., now that we’ve got the concept, how do we make this thing work?), it was time to make a run at funding.
We launched our first Kickstarter campaign and came out of the gate with a sharp spike in Kickstarter dollars in the first week. The project received local and national news coverage to help drive momentum. But even with all that momentum, we didn’t hit our goal. In fact, we only raised 30% of our goal.
Kickstarter requires that 100% of a project’s fundraising goal be met in order to receive any of the funds. This big setback ended up offering invaluable life lesson #3: In every problem, there is a gift, which often means the chance to regroup, revise and start again.
Following the Kickstarter campaign failure, we received significant capital investment and continue to move forward on the road to market. Recently, we used our learnings from the first Kickstarter attempt and launched a second Kickstarter campaign. This time, we raised 150% of our financial goal.
The product officially launched in March at an industry trade show and will ship in May. Every successful entrepreneur knows that the road to victory is rarely, if ever, a straight line – it’s all about perseverance.
Milepost 4: Responsibility
This one seems obvious, but put in the context of the entrepreneur’s journey, responsibility is critical. One big takeaway for me through this process has been that once you engage your dream with others’ efforts, resources, time and talents, you have an awesome responsibility to not just deliver, but to over-deliver on your end of the bargain.
You can’t control all outcomes, but you can always control what you bring to the equation. Invaluable life lesson #4 is: There is no collaboration without personal investment and respect for your team’s contributions and objectives. If you want good partners, be a good partner.
Milepost 5: Gratitude
And finally, at every juncture along the way, I am reminded of invaluable life lesson #5: Be grateful for the opportunity to learn, to grow, to succeed and to fail. Appreciate the sacrifice of others and never take for granted how fortunate you are to have a dream and to have the fortitude to pursue it.
Founders: What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned on your startup journey?
About the guest blogger: Brooke Martin is inventor and founder of iCPooch, an Internet-enabled video chat and treat-dispensing device that lets dog owners video chat with their dog and deliver a tasty treat with the push of a button on their smartphone, tablet or computer; from anywhere. Brooke was 1st runner-up in the 2013 National Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge. Brooke attends the Institute of Science and Technology program at North Central High School in Spokane, Wash.