Each Entrepreneur Has a Story

Back Commentary Jul 9, 2018 By Winnie Comstock-Carlson

Entrepreneurs are a unique bunch. They are risk-takers with ideas, innovators with great passion who want to bring their ideas to market or otherwise capitalize on filling a specific need. And therein lies one of the qualifiers — to be successful, an entrepreneur’s idea must fill a need in a new, financially viable way.

For this inaugural issue showcasing entrepreneurs in the Capital Region, we received roughly 100 nominations, which our editorial department narrowed down to 16 entrepreneurs and the 12 businesses they’ve launched. The businesses were vetted based on ingenuity of product or service, as well as the strategic lessons our readers might learn. While all of our entrepreneurs have achieved success, our editorial team was careful to include those at a range of points with their business. Each one of these individuals has a unique story for how they’ve gotten their ventures off the ground. Here are a few things we learned:

No one can be a one-person show: While the size may vary, a solid team is essential to success. Our entrepreneurs value their staff, offering professional development opportunities, competitive wages, benefits and flexible schedules. The cost of turnover is high for any business, and it’s important to create the team you want from the beginning.

Funding is tough: Many of our businessowners bootstrapped, and self-funding is both scary and risky. But even those who nabbed significant outside investment were required to carefully strategize their relationships with partners, persevere when people dropped off and deal with the consequences when potential investors fell through.

Flexibility is key: We hear the term “pivot” a lot when it comes to business theory. A number of our entrepreneurs tweaked their model, product or service early on, and stressed the importance of being open to evolving.

There will be sacrifices: Work-life balance is hard for any professional in our constantly-connected world. But many of our entrepreneurs noted the time they’ve sacrificed with friends and family, the importance of knowing one’s limits and having supportive loved ones by your side throughout the journey.

I personally relate to our featured entrepreneurs’ efforts and lessons learned. Comstock’s was my entrepreneurial dream just a hair under 30 years ago. I had come from the advertising sales side of the publishing world, and my last employer closed its doors so the owner and publisher could focus on his primary profession, which wasn’t in publishing. It’s a longer story than I have space for here, but suffice to say, I embarked on the journey of filling what I believed was a gaping hole. Thirty years ago, there was actually very little regional business news being reported, and I saw potential stories galore. That’s actually how most entrepreneurs get started. They find something that is missing, or some better way of solving a problem.

Many entrepreneurs, like myself in those early days, bootstrap their business. Even with a really good idea, it is often difficult to find funding. For Comstock’s, I couldn’t even get a line of credit until my fifth year in business. In those days, being a woman and launching a media property just wasn’t what banks looked at as a good risk. My response was to continue selling enough advertising to make a magazine, then making it — then turning around and doing it again the next month, and the next month, and the next, and so on.

The startups of today just might be the employers of tomorrow. Young people now talk about becoming entrepreneurs and innovators the way they used to talk about becoming bankers, engineers or doctors. The  Capital Region and many other cities around the country are working to become centers for innovation that, when combined with entrepreneurism, can result in the creation of many new businesses that fit right into the emerging new economy.