Posted in: Letter to the Editor

Startup Diary #8: Ten Scary Lessons Learned Our First Year in Business

Written by aburtmurray

Posted 11/14/13

Did you know that recent studies have shown that 50 percent of small businesses will fail within the first year? Here are some additional stats that may surprise my fellow startup divas:

  • Only 40% of small businesses are profitable.
  • Only 30% break even.
  • 30% are continually losing money.
  • 9% have a chance of surviving 10 years.

Despite these troubling and paralyzing stats my co-founder and ride-or-die partner in crime Shelly Jones Jennings and I took the plunge to start this business Cocoa Media Group one year ago today. And while there have been some super stressful times where we didn’t know if this crazy idea was really going to work (including sleepless nights where I wondered if it was worth the significant personal financial gamble) most of the time that was all outweighed by the highs of finding our voice, launching our site(s), serving our audience with high-quality content, enjoying a few Beyonce dance breaks and finding advertisers willing to take this ride with us.

Here are a few lessons I’ve learned in the first year of our startup journey:

1. Flip the switch already! We had so many different launch dates and there always seemed to be so many reasons to push the launch back because the site wasn’t quite ready for primetime, we didn’t have any marketing materials, we didn’t have any people. Finally one day I set the date and said we weren’t moving it again. There will always be things that you want to tweak, upgrade, change, refine and develop and if you wait until every single thing is absolutely positively perfect you’ll never get there. Don’t be paralyzed by trying to address every little thing. To borrow a phrase from Nike, at some point you have to just fucking do it!

2. Don’t do crazy. Shelly and I have both worked in very intense borderline bipolar environments where the crazies were running the asylum and when we launched our company we both agreed that we wanted a culture of respect, creativity, fun and positive energy. And even though our team is mostly freelancers all around the country we have been incredibly blessed to work with such a great group of people who believe in our vision, always give their best and are always really fun to work with. Thanks so much Rita, Amy, Kelley, Cortney, Kimberly, Cherise, Adriene, Arienne and Mattie!

3. Be flexible. We made a last minute decision right before our launch to add a custom video player. Shelly and I had originally decided that video wouldn’t be a major part of our editorial strategy immediately because the player was so expensive. But at the last minute I decided we needed it and producing video has been one of the best decisions we made both creatively and financially. In our first year we produced over 10 original series, established several celebrity partnerships, a YouTube syndication deal and will release our first docu-series next year. How’s that for ROI?

4. Try not to worry about the money (Ok, but at least not every single waking moment). While no one starts a business with the idea that they are never going to make a dime, worrying about breaking even or God forbid turning an actual profit can stifle creativity and cause you to make shortsighted decisions that could have a longterm impact on your company’s viability.This is not to say that I don’t have moments where I’m not super stressed out about how we’re going to pay our bills or when the next check will come in. Trust, every startup founder experiences that anxiety. But I try not to let it paralyze me and keep me from pushing forward and trusting my gut. Who wants to look back on life with a long list of shoulda, woulda, couldas?

5. Loyalty matters most. Period. Full stop. I ride for Shelly, she rides for me. If you don’t have a partner like one of those sisters  from the movie Set It Off then keep looking.

6. Don’t be afraid to push hard. In a startup you have to push hard. That’s what it takes to create something from nothing and everyone isn’t always going to like you for it. And everyone can’t work in that sort of pressure cooker environment and that’s ok. But be clear on who on your team can handle the pressure and who can’t. Everybody ain’t about this life!

7. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want. Whether it’s money from an advertiser (yes, as a startup we’d appreciate if you’d pay us quickly because well HELLOOOOOO WE’RE A FRICKIN’ STARTUP!), a partnership or an interview. Get over your ego, crippling shyness, sweaty palms, embarrassment, anxiety (for the record I struggle with all of those things) or whatever it is and make the ask. Simply put: She who does not ask does not receive. And you have no one to blame but yourself if you don’t ask for what you want or what you need for your company to stay afloat.

8. Go big or go the hell home. As I mentioned in my last post I once worked for someone who said my biggest problem is I had too many ideas. Shelly and I had a big vision for what our company could be but one year in, 3 sites, 10 web series and our first month with 4.5 million unique visitors and over 8 million pageviews we know the best is yet to come…

9. Don’t quit your day job. At least not yet. As much as I wish that we had some lovely angel investor Shelly and I are the ones making this happen and so that means we both have to keep the lights on (and pay tuition!) so we both have day jobs. I’ve been fortunate to be able to find opportunities that afford flexibility and to work from home so I can manage my time as needed. Lots of entrepreneurs would love to quit and focus 100% on their business full-time (and sometimes that’s necessary) but for me I’ve had to learn to balance practicality with passion.

10. Enjoy the ride. This is the best job I’ve ever had and there’s absolutely nothing else I’d rather be doing. And there’s no one besides Shelly Jones Jennings that I’d want to be doing it with!

Stay tuned for 2014! It’s gonna be MAJOR! 

5 Responses to “Startup Diary #8: Ten Scary Lessons Learned Our First Year in Business”

  1. diana_325

    Proud of both Angela and Shelly for sticking to their vision/dream. This is great example for other women who want to work hard and realize their dream. Always told Angela to reach for the stars and it looks like she did. Cocoa fabulous .


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