Two years ago, I quit my safe corporate job to build a company. That decision has been transformative, and I want to share five simple lessons I’ve learned.
1. Follow your passion
My husband and I worked to refine our vision by researching market opportunities and assessing our talents. It wasn’t easy figuring out what we wanted to do, but we noticed that certain things kept drawing us back. I have always been passionate about health and fitness, and helping people understand their potential. Thor was a professional athlete and creative director. With a broad set of life experiences, we have developed a love for design, sport, and human performance. And we wanted to create a world with these passions that is inspiring and uplifting.
So, much to the confusion and dismay of family and friends, we quit our jobs and decided to launch an athletic footwear company called Heroyk (pronounced heroic). Steve Jobs said it best: “The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle.”
Hopes and dreams are what inspire, but without hard work, they never materialize.
We both have talents suited for running an athletic footwear company, but neither of us had any actual experience in the industry. So we set out to get it.
I really had no idea what was coming our way over the next two years. We only had to learn the retail industry, the importing process, material science, industrial design, manufacturing, financing, supply chain logistics and inventory management.
Some experiences were comical. I remember making midnight calls to Chinese factories to see if they would partner with us. The conversations didn’t go so well since I couldn’t find someone who spoke English. Or the time we got lost in the slums of Saigon, Vietnam looking for a factory.
Other events were intimidating, like pitching our idea to potential investors or stopping women in public to ask their opinion about shoes. But every experience was educational.
Doing is the best way to learn. Lack of knowledge or experience should never be an excuse.
3. Never lose faith
We meet naysayers every day. Why enter a competitive market dominated by two corporate titans, Nike and Adidas? According to many, our chance of success is zero.
But we believe in our vision and are constantly prepared to defend our ideas. We did our homework and our research shows that the majority of women are unhappy with athletic shoes because they don’t fit well and they are ugly. Heroyks are stylish, comfortable performance shoes, engineered specifically for the female foot and its structural differences versus the male foot. Also, Heroyks are sold only on Heroyk.com, directly to customers, to deliver the best quality shoe at the best price.
Don’t let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. It’s the only way to have the faith and determination to overcome the obstacles and the self-doubt that will surely come anytime you try to do something difficult.
Our mantra is a quote from the Pirate Captain: “It’s only impossible if you stop to think about it.”
4. Seek counsel
We worked hard to meet with successful entrepreneurs, from the Fisher brothers of the GAP family to the founder of Keen footwear. With each meeting, we walked away with something – a new idea, a lead, or sometimes, like in the case of Katie Hall, an advisor and ally. One memorable outcome was an opportunity to audition for the ABC show Shark Tank.
You have to get out there and extend your network. Being able to seek counsel from experienced individuals has been invaluable and has helped minimize our mistakes.
5. You have nothing to lose
Financial stability, certainty, and free time are distant memories. You could say we have risked a lot to start Heroyk, but I don’t see it like that. So many people are inhibited from doing what they want because they feel they have something to lose.
Pursuing my vision and building something of value are what matter to me. Remembering this helps me to be more fearless, more willing to take risks and ultimately, less afraid of failure.
On October 4, 2012, two years from the inception of our idea, we officially launched Heroyk. This coincided nicely with the birth of my first child two weeks earlier! I’m incredibly proud of what we’ve accomplished and the work we are doing. Our values and experiences are the foundation of Heroyk and have inspired the design of our premiere model, the Heroyk 1. The shoe is a tribute to chasing dreams – the perseverance, the sweat, the stumbles along the way, and asserting yourself against the play-it-safers with purpose and vision.
Pre-orders have been rolling in and the Heroyk 1 will arrive in the spring of 2013. The naysayers just may be wrong.
Maria-Elena Ronér is the co-founder of Heroyk. She is a CFP® professional and an avid athlete, traveler and linguist. She studied economics and Italian at UC Berkeley and now lives with her husband, Thor, and daughter, Paris, in the San Francisco Bay Area. You can follow them here, here and here.