Launching any business is a huge endeavor: many of the challenges are of a chicken-or-the-egg variety. You need inventory, but you don't have enough money to meet order minimums. You need legal help, but lawyers want an arm, a leg, and your firstborn child before they will fill out basic paperwork. You want to recruit employees, but there is no job security. When launching Yoga by Numbers, we were able to stretch our few dollars as far as possible by tapping into a strong network of startups and organizations.
You probably see "network" any time you read about ways to advance your career or build a business. Here is how that advice, even if it sounds cliched, has helped us build and grow Yoga by Numbers while staying true to our roots as a social enterprise.
After studying at South Boston Yoga, we were ready to begin the administrative work of launching. We had our mat, we had our business plan...we just needed to know how we would connect with people. We began by looking into local events on entrepreneurship. Every state has a Small Business Administration, which is a great place to start. We checked out what events were happening around New England, and found the names of organizations specifically devoted to educating entrepreneurs and helping them access the resources they need to get started. We noticed an organization called The Capital Network, whose mission is to help entrepreneurs fill early stage funding gaps. We were thrilled to see they had an upcoming day-long program to educate new entrepreneurs and get them up and running. We registered for their Venture Fast Track right away.
The day was full of panels and speakers who had successfully navigated what we were attempting to do. One in particular piqued our attention; Bettina Hein was a successful repeat entrepreneur and the Founder and CEO of Pixability, which helps companies design and execute successful YouTube advertising strategies. In addition to her day job, Bettina had also founded a Meetup group called the She-EOs, which brought together female founders and executives for monthly networking and educational meetings. We signed up immediately and put the next meeting in our calendars.
It just so happened the next She-EOs meeting was being hosted by a member, Jules Pieri, at the new headquarters of the company she founded, The Grommet, an e-retailer specializing in bringing interesting new products to market. We were excited because we knew The Grommet’s expertise matched up with our stage of business, and we anticipated learning a lot from their presentation. What we didn’t know was exactly how important that meeting turned out to be.
During dinner we met a Grommet staffer whose job was to find interesting new products and companies. One thing led to another and before we knew it we were pitching The Grommet on Yoga by Numbers. We quickly found our values and missions were aligned, and became a member of The Grommet’s Partner Program, in which they would sell our mat and we could brainstorm with their team of experts on issues like marketing, packaging, accounting, and the myriad other problems that arise before launch.
Even today these early partners play key roles in growing Yoga by Numbers. Some of our most important allies and mentors have come from our early work pounding the pavement. Through The Capital Network we also discovered Mass Innovation Nights, a group founded by Bobbie Carlton, a PR specialist and devoted startup evangelist. Each month, MassInno hosts a product launch party for startups who have applied to participate. A voting system determines which companies pitch at MassInno, and we were fortunate enough to have the opportunity to pitch at Microsoft’s New England Headquarters.
“Networking” may sound intimidating—after all, not all of us are fabulous at cocktail hour. But it can also mean starting with the basic resources available in every state thanks to the SBA, and finding as many events as you can in your area. You can even start by planning to take notes and listen, like we did at our first Capital Network event. That one small step led us to important networks, like the She-EOs; experts we reached out to in the future for advice; and our first sales channel and true strategic partner, The Grommet.
by Elizabeth M.