Being a founder, entrepreneur, or a business owner can have many exciting and thrilling moments. But it is also punctuated with periods of doubt, slump, and anxiety. So how does one successfully and healthily ride the highs and lows of Entrepreneurship? In this series, called “How To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur“ we are talking to successful entrepreneurs who can share stories from their experience. I had the pleasure of interviewing
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Stacy Blackman: Each of my three companies was born during challenging times of personal transition. One of the things I am most proud of is my ability create something new and positive out of hardship or disappointment. When I was in business school at Northwestern, I had a very concrete plan to land a brand management job in a large CPG company after graduation. I landed my dream internship working for the Haagen Dazs brand which at the time was owned by Pillsbury. I was so excited; everything was going according to plan. Unfortunately, while I loved the ice cream taste tests, I found that brand management was not a good fit for me. I returned to my second year of business school, without an offer or a plan for real life after graduation. I felt like a failure and was afraid that I would waste my business school experience. I ended up joining forces with two close friends in my class and we founded a dot com called WebWisher, which we sold just prior to graduation. Soon afterwards, I got married and traveled around the world with my husband. When I returned I planned to begin my next chapter. However, 9/11 happened right when we got home. The economy tanked, dot coms imploded, head hunting firms shut down for the year. Companies were not being funded. I felt like there were no opportunities, so once again I created my own. I launched Stacy Blackman Consulting, an admissions consulting firm for graduate school applications. I was blown away by the response – and I certainly never dreamed that the company would be thriving and still growing 20 years later. When I launched my third company, Stryke Club, skincare for teen boys, it was a déjà vu moment. Ten weeks after we launched, Covid shut down everything. Our e-commerce sales had been growing nicely but then completely halted. We had to get creative and think about how to reach our audience. One year later, Stryke Club is thriving and can be found on our website as well as in over 1,000 Target stores and Target.com.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
Stacy Blackman: I was lunching with my dear friend, and sharing parenting war stories. We have seven children between us and we both saw striking differences between the personal care routines of our girls and our boys. Not only did the boys barely engage in self-care, they were almost embarrassed to admit to caring about their appearance or taking care of themselves. As a child and family therapist, my friend also noticed rising rates of anxiety in boys and a preoccupation with appearance. Yet, when we searched up skincare for boys, we came up empty. We were determined to do better for our boys and a year later launched Stryke Club with 2 other partners, one of whom is a dermatologist who formulates all of our products.
In your opinion, were you a natural born entrepreneur or did you develop that aptitude later on? Can you explain what you mean?
Stacy Blackman: I never really wanted to be an entrepreneur; I envisioned myself doing marketing for a big consumer products company. But when I landed there I found that I did not like it and I was forced to reinvent. I also would not necessarily consider myself to be a big risk taker, but I am also not afraid to fail. I have failed a lot but I have always pushed on.
I feel that I developed and am still developing entrepreneurial skills. Every company that I have launched has been different and has required different hard skills: running a consulting services company is very different from developing and selling consumer products. But the entrepreneurial skills at the root remain the same: creative problem solving, resourcefulness, resilience and drive every single day. I am still working on all of it and I have good and bad days.
Was there somebody in your life who inspired or helped you to start your journey with your business? Can you share a story with us?
Stacy Blackman: I have known my business partner Darci for over 20 years. She has had a brilliant career marketing amazing consumer brands. When I was still mulling over the idea of a skincare line for boys, I pitched it to her. She was so enthusiastic that she wanted to be involved as a co-founder. I know we would not be where we are today without her. She is a marketing genius, knows consumer products and retails channels so well and truly helped us push ahead and get things off the ground. Thank you, Darci!
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Stacy Blackman: Stryke Club branding, packaging and scents are all tailored to appeal to boys, but that is just the surface layer of how we have formulated products with a teen boy in mind. We have also put a lot of thought into how boys operate and how they will want to use personal care products. For example, we recently launched out Calm Down moisturizer. It’s the only moisturizer I know of that is also clinically proven to treat whiteheads and blackheads. So, while they are moisturizing dry, irritated skin, they are also improving their complexion and fighting acne. Our products are meant to be multi-tasking, portable and operate well within a teen boy’s lifestyle.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
Humility – I am very comfortable admitting what I don’t know and finding people that can help. Posturing and pretending can be exhausting. It’s liberating to just admit to what you don’t know and find great people to help. For me, humility also means looking inside and understanding how I need to improve. Whether it’s being more appreciative of my team, showing up more for in person meetings, getting smarter about analyzing our numbers, I look inward, listen outward and push myself to be better. There is always room for improvement and there is no shame in that.
Resourcefulness – I believe there is always, always a way through. You do not rise to the top by copying others, so you often need to really sit and think. Get inspired by the competition, look for ideas everywhere, try out new concepts. Know that there is always a solution, you just need to weed through a lot to find it.
Saying Yes – I am big fan of quickly testing and learning. I take in ideas and try to say yes to as many easy experiments as I can. Many have failed but some of my quick “why not, let’s try” have turned into big wins. I don’t sweat small details in the beginning. I try to push things out and then tweak on the second and third and fourth run. I am always tweaking and improving.
Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?
The customer is always right. This is complicated. Of course, the customer IS always right. In both of my businesses we bend over backwards to deliver amazing customer service and even when a request or complaint feels absurd, we don’t fight it. However, that does not mean that I believe every word of what every customer says and incorporate every piece of feedback. You can really drive yourself crazy chasing every comment and striving to appeal to everyone. In the early years of Stacy Blackman Consulting, I wasted a lot of time chasing every single piece of feedback. One client would say that our resource center had too much content and we needed to streamline because it was hard to wade through it all. Another client would complain that there was not enough data, and we needed to bulk up the resource. My head was spinning trying to incorporate everything. Over time, I developed a better sense of who we are as a company and a brand and what we can and cannot deliver. I know it is impossible to be right for everyone. We aim to over-deliver for our set of clients and stop driving ourselves crazy reacting to every single piece of feedback.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them create a work culture in which employees thrive and do not “burn out” or get overwhelmed?
Hours and face time don’t matter – just get the job done. I really don’t care if you work at 3AM or from the beach, as long as the work product is strong. Covid has reinforced this for all of us, but this has always been the way I operate. As a result, I have been able to employ phenomenal people who would not be able work in a traditional setting.
Empower employees to be rewarded for creative thinking, solving problems, new ideas. Be receptive to and take risks on new ideas. If they know they are listened to, and not judged for crazy ideas, really cool things can develop.
Open door – make sure they know they can come to you and let them know they are appreciated.
What would you advise other business leaders to do in order to build trust, credibility, and Authority in their industry?
Stacy Blackman: Give away a lot of free information. Stacy Blackman Consulting generates a huge amount of free content through our podcast, ebooks, newsletter, blog, guest articles and more. In the beginning, I questioned whether we were giving away so much intel that people would feel they did not need our services, but that did not prove to be true. Instead, we gained visibility, showcased our expertise and developed trust and a community. Now, as we grow Stryke Club we are working to provide truly useful information from our two experts: the psychologist and the dermatologist on our team.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
- Wait until they think everything is perfect. Begin before you are ready. Otherwise it will never happen. Just take that first step and go!
- Over-research, over plan. If you have a gut, test it out. If you have an idea, bounce it around. Beautiful business plans can make you feel more confident but I believe they are over-rated.
- Listen to the doubters. There will always be doubters. You can take in suggestions, tips and ideas, but don’t let the doubters drown out your vision.
- Hire people for their impressive resumes as opposed to looking at their personalities and skills such as hustle, grit and creativity. Time and time again I have found that the very best people most often do not have the surface bells and whistles. I look for evidence of underlying qualities like hustle, creativity and grit!
Ok fantastic. Thank you for those excellent insights, Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview about How to Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur. The journey of an entrepreneur is never easy, and is filled with challenges, failures, setbacks, as well as joys, thrills and celebrations. This might be intuitive, but I think it will be very useful to specifically articulate it. Can you describe to our readers why no matter how successful you are as an entrepreneur, you will always have fairly dramatic highs and lows? Particularly, can you help explain why this is different from someone with a “regular job”?
Stacy Blackman: When you have a regular job, you generally don’t own the results at the end of the day – you contribute to them by doing your job. As an entrepreneur, all of it rides on you, and often the livelihoods of others also ride on you. It’s a lot of responsibility. It makes the lows lower and the highs higher. My very first job out of college was with Bank of America. If someone trashed the company it was not even on my radar. But when someone trashes Stacy Blackman Consulting it stings. Badly.
Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually high and excited as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.
Stacy Blackman: Seeing Stryke Club on the shelf at Target was an incredible moment. This product that I had worked on for over a year and had taken from the spark of an idea to reality, was now available at a major retailer for the world to buy. It was exciting, validating and a moment for celebration. Then, it was back to work.
Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually low, and vulnerable as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.
Stacy Blackman: Oh, I have had lots and lots of lows and even tears. I have felt vulnerable, scared, embarrassed and hopeless. As I have become more experienced my skin has grown thicker and I know that these ups and downs are (a still challenging) part of the ride. Early on they stung a lot more. I remember being incredibly excited to meet with a big VC to pitch my first company in business school. My team drove into Chicago for our big meeting with a prestigious VC and his analyst. Ten minutes into the pitch the VC just got up and left the room. We were stuck awkwardly with his analyst, knowing that he had no interest in our business, and felt so deflated and embarrassed as we wrapped up. But then it was back to the drawing board to find an investor who liked what we were doing. And we did.
Based on your experience can you tell us what you did to bounce back?
Stacy Blackman: Cried to my husband and got a good night of sleep – tomorrow is a new day and there is always a way forward.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Five Things You Need To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur”? Please share a story or an example for each.
External Support System – Being a leader is hard. It can be very lonely at the top. Who props us up when we are down? I remember the first time I saw a negative review for Stacy Blackman Consulting, specifically naming me. I felt blindsided and was devastated. My thoughts spiraled, I thought it was the beginning of the end. My personal cheerleaders really help me gain perspective and step outside of my own head.
A Good Escape – We can’t work 24/7. We all need distractions that bring escape and joy: a walk outside, an exercise class, a great book, chocolate. It’s often during my escape that I land on a solution or creative approach. Sometimes turning away is just what we need to relieve the pressure and think in a more creative way. I was having a fun lunch with a friend when we came up with the concept for Stryke Club. I was walking my dog when I invented the name. Lots can happen in off time for the business, and for our mental health.
My To-Do List – Being an entrepreneur means there are so, so many balls in the air. Over Covid, I was vacationing with my extended family. My father overheard me one day on a number of calls. He could not believe the range of topics I ran through, from legal to HR to fundraising to scheduling photo shoots and beyond. I need to be hyper-organized. The night before, I slot everything that needs to happen into my day, and I really try to stick with it so that everything (or at least almost everything) can get done.
Emotional Resilience – An understanding that this will be very, very hard, and success is not a straight line Understand it never unfolds the way you think it will. Don’t compare your inside to others outsides. I remember when I first started I was so intimidated by certain competitors. They were getting press and innovating quickly and seemed to be excelling while I was a mess. I decided to just put my head down and do whatever I could to be successful. Now almost all of those competitors have gone out of business. Maybe they weren’t what they seemed to be.
The very best team – You simply cannot do it all yourself. There are so many things that lingered on my to do list for years, until I finally decided to outsource. It was hard for me in the beginning because I wanted to control, or save money…there are so many reasons to try to do it yourself, but chances are you can find someone who is actually better at the job, can make it their focus and can do it more reliably and effectively
We are living during challenging times and resilience is critical during times like these. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
Stacy Blackman: Having a “everything is figure-out-able” attitude. Knowing that solutions are out there and working to find them no matter what.
Being open to criticism and failure. Asking tons of questions and not being afraid to “look dumb.”
In your opinion, do you tend to keep a positive attitude during difficult situations? What helps you to do so?
Stacy Blackman: I definitely get down sometimes! I have a lot of self-doubt. I never pictured myself as a business leader or someone who would run companies. I had to grow into that and I am still growing. Sometimes I have to sleep on it and work through all of the fears. With Stryke Club I have partners and often when one is down, the others can lift us up. Having an always positive attitude is great but it’s not necessarily realistic.
Can you help articulate why a leader’s positive attitude can have a positive impact both on their clients and their team? Please share a story or example if you can.
Stacy Blackman: When the leader is feeling down, it’s very scary. Your team is depending on you to believe and chart the course. So, while I do not always feel positive inside (I am a human being after all!) I do try to reflect positivity to my team. And I have experienced a lot of ups and downs and gained enough experience to know that one setback generally does not mean the end. I can speak with confidence that there are ways around problems and we will survive the setbacks. It’s important to lead with confidence and help the team believe in the attainability of the ultimate vision. When we were launching Stryke Club, our manufacturer sent our initial inventory to us and they lost track of the truck. Everything that we had spent the past year formulating, testing and developing was lost somewhere in the US. All of our money and work was at risk. I learned a bit about logistics at that time, but also had to stay cool and keep the team positive and focused.
Ok. Super. We are nearly done. What is your favorite inspirational quote that motivates you to pursue greatness? Can you share a story about how it was relevant to you in your own life?
Stacy Blackman: Yoda says, “Do or do not. There is no try.” I have really internalized that and I feel it has helped propel me. I don’t “try” to make it to an event. I don’t “try” to complete work by a certain time. I don’t “try” to build my business. I dive in, get dirty and go!
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This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with
this. We wish you continued success and good health!