It’s International Women’s Day ― the perfect time to reflect on how we can empower girls to see themselves as innovators with the power to make lasting change. In this spirit, 8th graders Anna Doherty and Hope Sacco, co-founders of Girls Coloring for Change, interview Build-A-Bear founder Maxine Clark about her experience and advice to teen girls interested in entrepreneurship.
What was your biggest challenge in founding Build-A-Bear?
**Fortunately for me, I was an experienced business person and retailer when I started Build-A-Bear Workshop. I knew a lot about mall retailing and had merchandised many different businesses in my retail career. That experience was hugely valuable when starting my own retail business as I knew what to do. The biggest challenge was convincing grown-ups that BAB was a worthwhile family experience. People know how to buy stuffed animals off the shelves of stores but they were worried they wouldn’t know how to make their own. Once in our store, that fear was alleviated. Every day in business is a learning experience, as the economy ebbs and flows and as consumers change. It is what makes it fun!
What mindset does an entrepreneur need to develop in order to succeed?
**The most important mindset is passion for what you are, so you are never bored learning and growing your business. If you are just in it to make money, it will be harder to connect to your customers and investors. Passion also fuels you as well as others — it keeps you motivated and challenged to grow and prosper for your sake and for your employees. A caution: Just because it is your passion does not mean it is a product or service others will want, so remember to keep your objectivity. :)
What advice do you have for a 15-year-old girl who wants to start a business?
**Find your passion and learn everything you can about it. If your business idea is to open a restaurant — work in restaurants, learn to be a great cook, understand customer service. Work for the best!! Work in three different restaurants to learn good and bad. Experience is vital, and when you are hungry to learn about your passion it is NOT work at all. Education is important, and I would work to get the best and broadest education you can. Not every profession requires a college education but it does not hurt. Women always want to be prepared, and a college education is a way to get prepared. There are colleges with many majors like culinary science, or business or engineering. Being good at learning is very important so you are prepared for the doing and growing at all stages of your business!! Also, you must write a detailed business plan — not just a PowerPoint. The purpose of the plan is not only to convince others to become stakeholders (landlords, bankers, suppliers, etc.) but yourself as running a business is 24/7 365.
**Always know what you don’t know so you can surround yourself with others who do know, and they in turn help teach you. You do not have to be an expert in everything, but you do need to have a general knowledge. You must also hire for trust — people who believe in you and your business. Not just good friends. Sometimes better to not hire friends at all.
**Build a network of people who are experienced in your field and who you can count on for advice. READ everything you can to learn about the industry. College and your alumni associations are good places to network and meet influential people.
**Be sure your social media pages are professional and not too social. People will find you on social media—employers, etc., so be sure you are proud of what you post. Have a LinkedIn page for sure!
**Also, if you will need investors (and we all do, even if at first it is family), understand the process of investing and valuation. The less you have to borrow, the more you will own. I had investors and they were incredible, but I also invested my own money to maintain my ownership.
Anna Doherty and Hope Sacco won NFTE’s esteemed National Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge, presented by the Citi Foundation, in 2016. Hope and Anna’s coloring book celebrates women role models who have advanced culture. This International Women’s Day, Hope drew a page for Maxine―which will appear in the coloring book’s next edition.
A special thanks to Anna Doherty; Hope Sacco; Maxine Clark; and EY, NFTE partner and signature supporter of NFTE’s Entrepreneurial Mindset Index (EMI). Additional thanks to NFTE partners the Diana Davis Spencer Foundation, Citi Foundation, Mastercard, and Verizon.