In the digital age, there’s no better time to start a business. As a small business owner, you have a lot of competition, but there is also room to innovate. Unfortunately, a little bit over 50 percent of small businesses fail in their first four years according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. With stats like that, how can budding small business owners find inspiration to push through the challenges and come out successful on the other side of that one-year mark?
Let’s face it, being a small business owner can be lonely. While you are a part of the larger entrepreneur community, things are rough in the beginning. You’re in this thing alone, possibly for the first time, and you’ll have your own circumstances that are unique to your situation.
However, you can find some community in studying what’s been done before you. How have other small business owners become successful? What were their beginnings, and how similar are they do you?
Let’s take a closer look at some small business owners who made the most of the digital age to build their own businesses from the ground up, even if they had no formal business training. See what you can learn from their stories that apply to your situation. Before you know it, you’ll be among these ranks of successful owners as well.
How Small Business Owners Got Their Start
1. Melisse Gelula and Alexia Brue of Well+Good
Well+Good is the leading wellness and lifestyle news publication. It’s a trendy wellness blog that doesn’t fall for any of the popular cliche stereotypes. Since it’s creation in 2010, Well+Good has become the leading new sources for everything about the wellness industry. Today, Well+Good is a digital publishing powerhouse, with hundreds of top contributors from around the globe, many of whom are business owners themselves.
Melisse Gelula and Alexia Brue launched Well+Good at just the right time. In 2010, things like Whole Foods and SoulCycle were taking off in popularity, and both women identified a need for clear communication about wellness that’s understandable. They wanted to cut through on the hype and the noise to deliver real news, topics, and information to their readers.
Melissa Gelula, now the Chief Content Officer, started her career with an MA from the University of Toronto. She then went on to complete six years of training as a psychoanalyst before she shifted to publishing. Before launching Well+Co, Gelula served as the editor-in-chief of SparFinderLifestyle.com, beauty director at Luxury SpaFinder Magazine, and even the travel editor at Fodor’s Travel. She’s brought this experience to the table in a big way at Well+Good where she now helps the publication team commit to best-in-class wellness content.
Alexis Brue is the other co-founder of Well+Good. She met Melisse Gelula when she was working at Luxury SpaFinder and now she functions as the CEO of their company. She got her start at Grinnell College and the Columbia School of Journalism, so she always knew she wanted a career in publishing. She started her career by writing about health and wellness for well-known publications like Vogue and the New York TImes. Now, she uses her journalism training to create strong marketing solutions for the brands that collaborate with Well+Good.
Well+Good now welcomes over 5 million monthly visitors. With a staff that employs over 40 people, it’s safe to say Well+Good stands apart today as a leading small business success story. Gelula and Brue show that’s it’s important to listen to your gut when it comes to leading trends, and that there are no limits to what you can do when you put your background to good use. Neither women had a background in formal business, yet they made it work by taking advantage of their intuition and the skills they do have.
2. Emily Miethner of FindSpark
Another woman in charge is Emily Miethner, the Millennial woman behind FindSpark. If you’ve ever been a recent grad fresh out of college, you could have used FindSpark. Miethner defines FindSpark as a platform “dedicated to connecting employers to top diverse early career talent.” Since it was launched in 201, FindSpark has produced over 250 programs mostly based in New York City and now has 30,000 members.
Miethner started her career by earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts and Design. While in college, she took on a number of internships in fields like design and marketing. It was here that she developed a passion for helping others stand out. After college, she worked as the first ever Social Media Marketing Coordinator at Sterling Publishing which is where she became familiar with brand campaigns. From there, she was the first ever Community Manager at RecordSetter. She was always confident leading herself and spearheading many projects at once, so she decided to strike it out on her own as a small business owner.
After noticing a need for more platforms that connect hiring employers with young grads, she founded FindSpark. Today, FindSpark is the leading community for employers looking to hire new talent, especially with an emphasis on diversity. FindSpark hosts recruitment events like Hustle Summit that work with big companies like Hulu, NBCUniversal, and HBO to name a few. Miethner brings her talents to top universities across the country as a way to encourage students to reach for their career goals.
As you can see, Emily Miethner is a hustler herself. Like Well+Good, she saw a need and she made strides to fill it before it was too late. The world moves fast today. There isn’t time to sit around waiting for the “right moment.” Like Miethner, you just have to go for it. Miethner didn’t have formal business training, but she did have the hustle and marketing know-how to make it work. Since then, she’s continued to educate herself about diversity, design, and business.
3. Eric Yuan of Zoom
Eric S. Yuan might just be the most typical success story in the world of small business. He came to the United States from China in the 90s during the dot-com boom, and he’s had to work hard for everything he has. Today, he’s the founder of Zoom, an online communication platform used by over 750,000 companies.
When Yuan first came to the US, things weren’t easy. He knew the internet was a booming industry to be in, but he couldn’t find a way to legally stay in the US once his visa expired. He applied nine times, only getting approved the final time, a process that lasted two years. Finally, he was able to pursue his career in Silicon Valley.
He worked for a Silicon Valley startup until 2012, and at the time he was juggling a long-distance relationship. He needed a 10-hour train ride to see his partner, and he started to think there was an obvious solution. Zoom started as a daydream, Yuan told Thrive Global. He never knew it would take off as it did.
Today, Zoom is a video and audio call solution designed for businesses. Unlike other leading video chat software of the time, Zoom is based on corporate use, with things like conference calls, collaborative chat, and easy access. Zoom now makes it possible for businesses to work with individuals from all over the world. When it comes to remote work and flexible hours, businesses everywhere are learning more about it to benefit their employees.
From Yuan’s story, we can learn the power of not giving up. Yuan had a dream and he didn’t let it fail him. The idea from Zoom, like the other business owners we’ve already learned about, came from within his own life. Once again, he took the idea and ran with it to make something larger than life.
4. Mall Maloney and Jason Finger of GrubHub
If you’ve ordered takeout recently, odds are you’ve used an app like GrubHub. Though it’s been around since 2004, GrubHub has recently experienced a revival that’s made it one of the go-to food delivery apps available in most cities around the United States.
GrubHub came to be because two web developers were tired of always reading their credit cards over the phone for delivery orders and they had too many paper menus popping up in their homes. They created a better solution to a problem they (and many others) already had. Now, GrubHub is available in over 1,600 cities across the country and it’s only growing.
Since their start in 2004, GrubHub has expanded to include more services like a corporate catering division. Now, companies can order large-scale meals in addition to the single-meal model. GrubHub keeps these two divisions under the same parent company, yet they have their own individual brands for marketing purposes.
From GrubHub’s success, we learn that the simplest solutions are often the best. As an entrepreneur, you have an instinct for discovering problems. Don’t overlook even the simple things in life as “just the way it is.” Sometimes it’s as simple as creating an online menu app or platform so people can find their favorite restaurants online. In reality, there’s something to be said for not reinventing the wheel. However, take that wheel and push it further.
Small Business Take-Aways
These inspiring business owners above prove that formal business training is only one side of the story. As an entrepreneur, there’s always room to explore uncharted territory if the time is right. Yes, many of these business owners were in the right place at the right time. Yet, they also brought unique perspectives, skills, and experiences to the table that led to their success.
They know a thing or two about starting a business. Though guides like How to Start a Business: A Complete Playbook are incredibly important and valuable, they alone won’t take you the distance. It’s up to you to write your own backstory and create a road to your own success. It won’t always be easy. While you probably won’t be denied a visa eight times, there will be other obstacles.
Listen to the common thread of resilience. More importantly, listen to that instinct inside you telling you this is a smart decision. It won’t steer you wrong. The road ahead as a small business owner won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.
About the author:
Wendy Dessler is a super-connector who helps businesses find their audience online through outreach, partnerships, and networking. She frequently writes about the latest advancements in digital marketing and focuses her efforts on developing customized blogger outreach plans depending on the industry and competition.