Empowering advice from 6 successful entrepreneurs on navigating the rocky road of starting a business

Any entrepreneur will tell you that growing a business is hard. When you’re a woman, research has shown that it can be just that much harder. Whether you’re just starting your business or already in the weeds, looking to others can help motivate, inspire and make you feel less alone.

While we work to celebrate women entrepreneurs every day, in honor of International Women’s Day, we thought it only appropriate to seek the advice of women who are running their own successful businesses—and thriving while they do it.

We spoke with six incredible entrepreneurs who have built their brands through our platform about their journeys, what they’ve learned along the way, challenges they’ve faced (and overcome!) and what they know now that they wished they knew when they started.

They sure did have words of wisdom for everyone! But first, a peek behind the curtain of these six women’s businesses and journeys.

Crissi Cole, Founder & CEO of Penny Finance

Crissi is one impressive entrepreneur. Just two years ago, she quit her job at Goldman Sachs to start building Penny Finance, the online financial mentor for women who want to learn more about building wealth.

photo of Crissi Cole, Founder & CEO of Penny Finance

Crissi Cole, Founder & CEO of Penny Finance

Penny Finance offers digestible financial education, instant insights and tailor-made money plans 100% online. They’ve had their web app in the market for less than a year.

Breana Marin, Founder & CEO of Love Pulse Music

Breana Marin, wearing headphones

Breana Marin, Founder & CEO of Love Pulse Music

For Breana, Love Pulse Music was a concept she’d been thinking about since she was 20 and seeing her passion for creating a community for artists become what it is today brings her great joy.

Love Pulse Music is a boutique music production house that creates custom music for TV, Film and various other media forms—providing music not only for the background but also for the actors and actresses portraying musicians or artists on the show itself. They also strive to be a company that up-and-coming talent can rely upon to generate a substantial income doing what they love and broaden their reach.

“I wanted to create something that allowed other songwriters and artists to come together, not feel alone and help provide protection, education and develop a career in music.”

Breana Marin, Founder & CEO of Love Pulse Music

Caitlin Minges, Founder & Owner of Fun Club

Caitlin Minges with a dog and a background of flowers

Caitlin Minges, Founder & Owner of Fun Club

Caitlin’s story is one many entrepreneurs can most likely relate to. She wanted to have some funny balloons for her husband’s surprise party, but she couldn’t find any, so she had some custom made. Her edgy balloons were an instant hit at the party, so she started selling them on Etsy while working as a vet tech and running an animal rescue.

Eventually, a store asked if she sold wholesale, and as she explains, “like SO many small business owners, I turned to Google. ‘How to sell wholesale’ was the Google search that changed everything.” She disrupted the bland and traditional party decoration industry by becoming the shop that makes funny gifts for funny people. Two years after she launched Fun Club, she quit her full-time job and they now sell to over 5,000 stores around the world as well as online.

Avila Chidume, Founder & Director of Avila.Diana

Avila Chidume

Avila Chidume, Founder & Director of Avila.Diana

Avila is another industry disrupter known for her culturally diverse and personalized greeting card business, Avila.Diana. In 2018 whilst studying law, she was looking for a creative outlet and also feeling disenfranchised by the lack of representation in the greetings card industry.

“I am a strong advocate for human rights and representation, plus I love art, so it just made sense to make my own cards,” shares Avila. “I wanted to be able to gift cards to my family and friends which looked like them and reflected their real lives. The options in stores at the time were limited to teddy bears and flowers.”

“I am a strong advocate for human rights and representation, plus I love art, so it just made sense to make my own cards”

Avila Chidume, Founder & Director of Avila.Diana

Levonne Marais and Mignon Malherbe, Owners of The Flower Social

Levonne Marais and Mignon Malherbe, holding a big bunch of yellow, red and orange flowers

Levonne Marais and Mignon Malherbe, Owners of The Flower Social

The Flower Social, the flower crown-making workshop sensation, was taken on by Mignon almost three years ago with Levonne joining shortly after. They both have a passion for flowers. For Mignon, that passion stems (no pun intended!) from always having something to do with flowers after school back in South Africa and for Levonne, she realized a couple of years ago that she had a knack for flower arrangements. It is a creative outlet for both of them—something they strive to pass along to their customers!

Now for the advice every entrepreneur needs to hear

Mindset is key

Mental strength is absolutely essential when it comes to building your business. “Your mindset will make or break your business,” says Crissi Cole of Penny Finance. “This is about stamina, gut instincts, focus and determination. This isn’t about the best idea or the best product. Entrepreneurship is a sport, and learning that sport takes time, energy, effort, nourishment and practice. Lots and lots of practice.”

No matter how strong your product or service or how much your family and friends are behind you, there are going to be days when things aren’t going your way or you don’t feel like you have support, and in those cases, “You need to be your biggest fan!,” says Avila Chidume, founder and director of Avila.Diana. “There will be days where the support is not there and people are not interested in what you are doing, especially when you start out, but you just have to keep going and have faith that what you are creating is important.”

“Entrepreneurship is a sport, and learning that sport takes time, energy, effort, nourishment and practice. Lots and lots of practice.”

Crissi Cole, Founder & CEO of Penny Finance

Collage of card designs made by avila.diana

Cards made by Avila.Diana

Believing in yourself may not always come naturally, but when you start to tackle a new challenge and you conquer it, you’ll slowly build that confidence. Levonne Marais and Mignon Malherbe, owners of The Flower Social, say that has been true of their experience and also note that you can be proactive in improving your mindset. They often do courses, for example, to gain more confidence in the industry.

Having the right mindset not only helps you deal with obstacles and persevere, but it also gives you the strength to know when things aren’t worth pursuing. This has been a huge lesson for Love Pulse Music founder, Breana Marin. “From hiring and team decisions to projects I don’t have the bandwidth to complete, even when something might seem like a really cool opportunity, knowing when to trust my judgment and say no to something has been huge,” she explains.

Finding a balance is hard but you WILL figure it out.

Person drinking from glass jar that reads, 'live. laugh. go to therapy

Just one of the fun items you can buy from Fun Club

Running a business can be all-consuming. But, chances are you have a life filled with family, friends and commitments outside of your business that are just as important, and figuring out how to allocate your time and attention can feel impossible.

For Caitlin Minges, founder and owner of Fun Club, this became especially apparent when she was pregnant in 2020, right before the pandemic. Diagnosed with hyperemesis while pregnant meant she was hustling to run her 7-figure business while getting sick multiple times a day, and once her baby was born, without the benefit of maternity leave, she was faced with two full-time jobs: caring for her baby and keeping the business afloat. How did she figure it out? She gave herself some grace and started delegating.

“I felt so overwhelmed and stretched so thin, I didn’t know how I would survive,” Caitlin says. “So, I slowed down. I expected less of myself. I did not devote as much of myself to every single aspect of the business, and let some things fall from my focus. I delegated more responsibilities to my staff. And you know what? It was all OK. Yes, I probably could have made more sales if I had devoted more time to x or y, but sometimes it is just OK to not have it in you.”

“Sometimes it is just OK to not have it in you.”

Caitlin Minges, Founder & Owner of Fun Club

Levonne and Mignon of The Flower Social found it similarly hard to break from work. “Your mind is always thinking about something that needs to be done, or a new idea. It is hard to separate the two,” says Levonne. For them, the solution came down to disconnecting from their phones and laptops and setting aside quality time to spend with their partners, minus the work talk.

A group of people sitting at a long table with flowers

The Flower Social flower crown making workshop in action.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to finding whatever your version of balance is and it often takes time to figure out, but it is possible. From delegating responsibilities to setting boundaries to making quality time for loved ones, there are approaches that have worked for these six women and could suit you too.

You don’t have to do it alone

Collaboration and support can make a significant difference when it comes to building and growing a business. While it may be tempting to try and do everything on your own, it is rarely sustainable in the long run.

It’s often better to hand tasks over to those who can complete them quickly and more efficiently, according to Levonne & Mignon of The Flower Social. In fact, they like to partner with other small businesses for help, which creates a sense of community while also aiding in mutual growth. Caitlin of Fun Club echoed this sentiment, acknowledging that outsourcing some of her design work to one of VistaPrint’s design services, 99designs by Vista, has been incredibly helpful and freed up a lot of her time (we swear we didn’t ask her to say that ;)).

For some entrepreneurs, building a team internally can provide more than just practical support. According to Crissi of Penny Finance, “it is possible to run a business without a co-founding team, but it is really, really, really hard and isolating.” Crissi stressed that for her personally if she were to do it all over again, she would set up a founding team in the same physical location “not because it is better for the business, but because I thrive when I am sitting next to my people.”

Breana Marin and the Love Pulse Music team holding yellow balloons

Breana Marin & the Love Pulse Music team

Even with the support of a team, virtually or in-person, don’t forget to take a look at your tech stack. One of the biggest challenges for Breana of Love Pulse Music is all the moving pieces involved in supporting a large number of artists, and for this, she looks to AI tools and asks what she can automate. She explains, “I’m really into finding the right apps and technology that can help me create smooth workflows and apps like ChatGPT, Notion and ClickUp have been huge for helping me create a solid workflow and crucial for organizing all the information we need.”

The numbers will follow when you build for your customers

Building a business is not just about making money, it’s about providing value to your customers. Crissi, through her journey with Penny Finance, understands this all too well. Despite facing initial setbacks in raising capital in 2021, she remained focused on building a platform that would truly make a difference for women. By prioritizing her customers and creating a product that addressed their needs, Penny Finance was able to gain traction and prove its worth.

four people in colorful jackets facing away with interlinked arms. The text reads, 'every woman deserves to financially thrive' with the 'penny finance' logo

Penny Finance is dedicated to providing digestible financial education and tailor-made money plans, 100% online

“We had to get super creative with funding at that point because I had already used up my savings—think 0% credit cards and grants, and stretching every dollar so so far,” explained Crissi. “We were able to raise our pre-seed round by January 2023 in a really tough venture capital environment—and that was because we built a super strong business with real revenue, strong conversion and incredible user adoption.”

This is a testament to the fact that if you build something that people love and need, the numbers will follow. So don’t get too caught up in the financial aspect of your business, but rather focus on providing value to your customers and the rest will fall into place.

Don’t be afraid to fail

In business, it’s important to remember that failure is not only an option but also a necessary part of the journey. Many entrepreneurs are afraid to take risks and start their businesses because of the fear of failure. However, as Caitlin of Fun Club, points out, failure is actually the best teacher. Every mistake made is an opportunity to learn and grow, and to pivot and try again with a stronger foundation. She shares, “Learning to fail while minimizing risk makes it less scary, but the fear of failure stops SO many people who have big dreams. Failure isn’t the dirty word we have been made to believe it is!”

“Failure isn’t the dirty word we have been made to believe it is!”

Caitlin Minges, Founder & Owner of Fun Club

It is completely normal to be risk-averse, however. Avila of Avila.Diana, notes that as a natural introvert, she often overthinks decisions, which can hold her back. Over time, she says she’s learned to trust herself and go with her instincts in new situations.

The more you experience and the more you put yourself out there for your business, the more comfortable you’ll become with failure and the quicker you’ll bounce back better than you could before.

Start your business journey

Starting a business is a daunting journey, and it’s not uncommon to feel lost and overwhelmed along the way. However, as we’ve learned from the experiences of these entrepreneurs, you’re stronger than you think and one of the most valuable resources you have are the stories of business owners who have found success. So if you’re thinking of taking the plunge or are already on your way, remember these pieces of advice and enjoy the ride.

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