Guest Blog Feature by Scarlet Batchelor, Babson MBA’06, Co-Founder and CEO of COEO
In the six months since I launched full-time into Coeo, my friends, colleagues, and new contacts have been most interested in hearing about how I just one day decided to quit my corporate job and start this fitness/tech startup.
It really wasn’t just a one-day decision. The concept of doing my own thing started during my sophomore year of college. I remember standing in my then boyfriend’s, now husband’s, kitchen saying I wanted to sell something and build something. At the time, all I could get to was widgets, but as a natural visual storyteller and lover of products and community, I yearned to create something that brought people together, had a deeper meaning, and was frankly… just cool.
I didn’t act right away, but 10 years later I found myself at Babson College starting my MBA with the intention of launching my own company. But the right idea didn’t come at that moment either.
After graduation, I went to Ocean Spray where I relished in the opportunity to build a powerful and differentiated identity for our grower-owners, and later arrived at New Balance where each day we envisioned how to make the incredible 100+ year old company resonant and powerful to a younger generation.
Over those years, I learned a ton. I developed my voice as a leader, I became fluent in talking to multiple audiences with many points of views and, as it turns out, built a powerful network of peers and mentors. Other key highlights during that stretch included getting married, having three kids (!!!), and finding personal and financial stability. My dream of being an entrepreneur never wavered, but I also chose to trust the process and allow for the timing to feel right.
So when Babson WINLab program director Ashely Lucas asked me to reflect on The 5 Things to do Before You Quit Your Corporate Job (and become an entrepreneur), I jumped at the chance to share.
1. Idea: is the idea good enough to take a risk?
My dream to be an entrepreneur started with a vision of selling widgets. A.K.A I knew I wanted to sell or provide a service for something, but I had no idea what. I knew what I wanted customers to feel like when they engaged with my brand, or that I wanted them to feel something deeply, but the question of what was still unanswered.
My idea came along as my subject matter expertise grew and morphed. Coeo was launched between my expertise in the industry, my intimacy of that industry as a participant, and the identification of a pain point that was unsolved. A looser version of Coeo came almost a year before I left New Balance, and a more focused and specific version locked in much closer to my departure.
To define the size of an idea I’ve always found it helpful to tap into the “3 M’s” that I learned at Babson: Market Size, Market Share, and Margin. How big is a market? (For example boutique/studio fitness, the space where Coeo operates, was almost $11 billion last year.) How much market share can I get? And how much profit can be gained from this opportunity? Note, I used this approach in my corporate life for line extensions, new opportunities, etc. so it’s a powerful quick test no matter what you’re up to.
Next, it’s important to figure out if an idea is compelling to your target market. When I was working on an earlier version of my business, I connected with my awesome Babson classmate Carlos Espinal (IG: @iconographico Twitter: @cee) of London-based Seedcamp and he suggested picking up Rob Fitzpatrick’s book, The Mom Test. I really like the approach outlined in the book as it de-personalizes opportunities and ensures that your friends and family (or your mom) won’t say “that’s a fabulous idea” because well, they love you and think you’re great.
Once you confirm that your idea is big enough and that the solution is compelling, then it’s time to learn.
2. Learn: Learn the market, the approach, and throw in a little philosophy while you’re at it
I started to get really jazzed as I dug into Coeo when I started learning everything I could about the boutique fitness space, tech development strategy, and reading philosophical books about different ways of thinking.
Scarlet’s Suggested Reading List:
Related to Coeo’s in particular, I am head over heels about Jason Kelly’s book Sweat Equity that talks about the metamorphosis in fitness over the last few decades and success stories of new enterprises and renewed strategy. Seth Godin’s Tribes is also pretty interesting.
In the broader tech space, our now-tech advisor Joost Ouwerkerk of Hopper sent us to Steve Blank’s Four Steps to an Ephiphany and The Owner’s Startup Manual. Eric Ries and Ash Maurya are also powerful in this space and have informed how we approach development and iteration.
Finally, the philosophy part. In this journey it has been powerful for me to think not only about the what, but also about the how. On the more spiritual side, Thich Nhat Hanh’s Buddhist writings that are Western-culture friendly have been quite moving to me, and Angela Lee Duckworth’s writing on grit and growth mindset help inform how I approach challenges and learning. I also cherish Dr. Seuss’ Oh The Places You’ll Go. My copy was a gift from the talented and passionate Jane Mason of the Boston startup banking community.
I believe it’s important to make space for this learning and creative thought prior to turning in your notice for that stable job. It helps drive your intimacy with both the market and the mentality that you’ll need to rely on so heavily when you launch.
3. Advisors: Who will engage, call your bullsh*t, and listen when the skies feel gloomy?
It’s important to identify and enroll your army of advisors prior to leaving that corporate career. And when I say army, I mean army! Some will be subject matter experts, some will be technology or operational experts, some will help you navigate financials and some will be a shoulder to cry on or someone who you can share a glass of wine or bottle of kombucha with.
My army of advisors started with five to seven people, but has expanded to include dozens more as I’ve networked in the Boston community, found new friends, and new communities. In one case, Emily Welsh of Pixi and I even created our own community of Boston female fitness entrepreneurs, realizing there were a good number or us and we can support and help each other.
So enroll others, be vulnerable, talk about what you do know, and be honest about what you don’t know. Allow others to be part of the journey and open your heart and mind to their perspectives and expertise.
4. Finances: Making money costs money
The expression “it takes money to make money” drives me crazy, but it’s also true. This is a consideration on both the personal finance and business finance side of the equation.
On the personal side, it’s important to look at your own income and expenses and determine if you can forgo that salary, those health benefits, and other perks for… perhaps a long while. I find this to be the MOST difficult part of leaving one’s job to launch a start-up full time as it is so hard for anyone to say yes to this statement.
And whereas these considerations can be emotionally fraught, I’ve found it meaningful to think of these numbers in the same way that I managed my corporate budget at New Balance or otherwise. Tools like Mint help track expenses. I’ve learned here that while I’ve always been naturally frugal and good at saving, the degree of frugality and restraint as an early stage entrepreneur can be maddening (especially if you have a passion for shoes and fashion like me). So be sure to take a moment to ensure you’re ready for this leap.
On the business side, you have to look at the cost to run your business in steady state, ramp up costs, and means of financing. There are so many options these days from crowd funding (new player ifundwomen.com looks cool for all you women entrepreneurs), to grants, to friends and family investment, to loans and more formal equity investments. And perhaps bootstrapping from your own savings and income could be an option as well.
Looking and re-looking at finances and projections is something I do more often than I’d like (I prefer the sexy marketing stuff), but it’s what will allow you to grow and thrive. So make time for this work before and after you quit that swanky job.
5. Mental Health Check: Are you ready for the stress and uncertainty (and thrills)?
When I first launched full-time into Coeo, I joined the Capital Network, a local non-profit dedicated to educating the startup community about funding and all things related to funding. And when I first met with program director Marie Meslin to pitch my idea, at the close of the meeting I asked for her insights of what else I should be thinking about or doing. The first thing she shared was building my network. And the second thing she shared was creating a support system to maintain my mental health during this wild ride.
When she first said it, my initial reaction was “like yeah totally… I’m psyched… I’ve got this.” But in the days and weeks and months since, there having been times when things have felt more challenging, when I felt lonely, frustrated, and tired. For me my own practice of yoga and my voice as a teacher help me to constantly assess and analyze how I’m feeling, and be mindful of my reactions to moments good and bad in this early stage of Coeo. I also have an incredible husband, a supportive dad, and a few great girlfriends from my Babson days that understand the adventure and all that comes with it. But, let’s be honest, there are still days when it’s hard to get my head on straight and push ahead.
So when considering leaving that job, doesn’t forget this fifth thing! Do you have the support network to help you through those tough days? Do you have the mental and physical stamina? And what can you do to build your strength and tap into the strength of others now to prepare for that moment to launch?
I certainly don’t have all the answers, but these are a few ideas about what to consider before taking this big leap. I’d love to hear your thoughts too so please drop a line!