Why I Started a Company: A Q&A With WomenCentric's Pattie Simone
Leaving a successful career to pursue an entrepreneurial venture is a scary step. But, once you’re passionate about the business you’ve been planning in your mind, it can almost be harder not to make the leap.
If you’re currently grappling with this decision, tune in over the next few weeks for advice from women who have been there before. Daily Muse contributor Eva Werk has talked to three entrepreneurs about their experience and asked them to share their wisdom on overcoming fears, shifting gears, and starting companies—all right here.
I first heard of WomenCentric attending an American Express OPEN Forum Small Business Conference, when the company’s brochure showed up in my swag bag. While I had no interest in the other things I was given, I purposely held onto the brochure, curious to learn more about this women’s professional organization.
And here’s what I discovered: WomenCentric aims to “build a better LinkedIn as a business networking hub, an inspiration, and an education resource for working women around the world,” says founder Pattie Simone. While it initially launched in 2005 as a group of speakers and training professionals who wanted to learn from and support one another, the company has since become so much more, offering a platform where women worldwide can share resources, list their services or products, and connect with other like-minded and ambitious women.
But WomenCentric wasn’t Pattie’s first entrepreneurial venture. After leaving a career in textile production, she dove head first into starting a retail business from scratch with her sister-in-law partner. While she had hoped the home furnishing and gift shop was her ultimate dream job, it turned out it was the beginning of her entrepreneurial adventure. After seven years the store closed because it was not able to provide a real income for the sister-in-laws and their growing families.
Luckily, by this time, Pattie had learned plenty of lessons from her first venture to help her out as she began her second. Read on for what she’s learned along the way.
How did you find the courage to start your own business?
Earlier in my career I had a bunch of different jobs, including working in advertising, customer service, and production. When I was pregnant with my second child, I started dreaming about other possibilities and feeling that there was more to life than what I was doing. My situation at the time was not allowing me to expand my skill sets, and I knew that I was capable of more—even though I wasn’t yet sure what that “more” was.
After my second child was born, I tried going back to work at my production job. And I really gave it a good shot, but I was miserable. Finally, I thought I needed to try something new, to be closer to home and to my children, so I opened up a retail shop with my sister-in-law. Initially, we had no idea what we were doing but—because we didn’t know what we didn’t know—we went for it anyways. I thought, we're young enough, let's give it a try. Our families were behind us as well, which was critical.
How do you think you've grown as a person since becoming an entrepreneur?
As time goes by, you evolve naturally. I don’t believe I'm "reinventing" myself, it’s more about discovering what's beneath the layers. We all have layers of our lives, but we get caught up in our daily routines, our own expectations, the expectations of people around us, so a lot of stuff gets buried. I don't think it's "reinventing," I think it's tapping into talents and interests that are already there. If you take a step out of the hubbub of your life, then you have a better chance of outlining what you're good at and, more importantly, what you love to do. That was part of my journey.
For example, I realized how important it is for me to be able to quickly make decisions and implement them. When I worked for other companies, there was nothing more frustrating than having to talk about something, table it, revisit it, and get more people's feedback on it. I say, let's act! It’s such a thrill to me to make these decisions and be totally responsible for whatever the outcome is.
I’ve taken risks that have allowed me to realize dreams or develop valuable skill sets, but I’ve also made some really big mistakes—and learned from them. To be able to meet challenges you don't expect and navigate through them is a real “wow” moment. Plus, you learn that failing is part of winning.
What advice would you give to other women who have always wanted to start their own business, but are scared to make the leap?
First, it's important to make sure you know what you're getting yourself into. My sister-and-law and I were jumping without a parachute when we first started out—and while sometimes that can work out okay, I wouldn't advise it. You ultimately don't want to put yourself or your family in jeopardy in terms of financial hardship. Take small steps. We can all achieve our huge dreams, but it’s better to think of it as a journey, rather than a leap. Think realistically about what you can accomplish, think about it in a bigger context, and take it one step at a time.
Second, don't be afraid to ask other people for their opinions, advice, or help. You don't have to go through it alone. I found my calling by attending networking events, where I met groups of vibrant and intelligent women. I realized we could get farther faster by collaborating. If we had a way to band together and share our skill sets we’d all win. And so the idea for WomenCentric was born. There are many organizations—WomenCentric, chambers of commerce, women’s entrepreneurship networks such as Savor the Success—that can help you and give you sensible feedback, tips, and resources. Don't think it makes you any less strong if you ask for help. It makes you stronger, and it leads to many great relationships that can foster better success for you, your business, your peers, and new strategic partners.
Finally, think of the "no's" and the failures as fuel to move forward. When you hit a brick wall, know there's a reason. One week I was CEO of a retail store, but my big dreams of success were dashed when we had to close. The next week I was helping out a friend as a waitress in a pizzeria. That was a big shock, but there was a reason for it happening—it ultimately led to a much more exciting and fulfilling path.