A few years ago when April Whitlock set out to raise money for her startup, I sat down to interview her on navigating new ventures. April and I worked together at LendingTree, where she was always forging the next trail. Since “The Tree”, April started the Charlotte office of Mom Corps, building her business and seeing what she was capable of on her own, then moved to Carolina Pad, where she developed a new venture within the company. Today, April is leading the charge at Fundanoodle which she helped spin-off from Carolina Pad and took the leadership helm as a major owner.
So how has April kept her sanity, and her family in-tact and growing, while navigating these various startup ventures? April had some great advice on how to take the leap, manage the risks, and enjoy the journey when going out on a limb to pursue your dreams.
Here are some of her tips for a safe(r) journey:
- Let go your parent’s career mentality – The ideal of working your way up a career ladder is largely out the window. As you know, most people will have numerous jobs and careers in their lifetime. So why do you still yearn to “move up” or get surprise when you don’t continually hit home runs? There is no defined path for success. If you are learning, you are where you need to be. Value the skills you are developing, make the most of your experiences, and leverage these in your next endeavor.
- Have a plan – Set specific timeframes and milestones when you start a new experience. Plan the work, then work the plan. Give it your best shot. When you reach your target dates, be brutally honest about your progress, and willing to walk away with no regrets if the plan is not working. Create your safety net and use it.
- Take it 30 days at a time – Every company, every person has seasons. Forget the five year plan. Set short timeframes for accomplishments to create a sense of traction, or manage losses, and course correct quickly. A 30 day horizon is a much easier to sell to a board, boss or partner because the risk is low and it’s harder to say “no”.
- Small wins – Often visionary leaders want a “BHAG” – a big hairy audacious goal. That can be inspiring, but may overwhelm the daily reality of building a new business. Keep a larger vision in mind while creating opportunity for small victories along the way. Celebrate, show traction and keep motivated with a sense of momentum.
- Be transparent – If the magic doesn’t happen within your timeframe, be honest with yourself, your Board, your partner(s). You may need a slight shift in direction, a drastic change in strategy, or to shut down and move on. Staying objective and true to your original goals is critical to having the confidence to take a risk again.
- Get out and give back – The best insurance for your career is a strong network. Good relationships provide a sounding board, reality check, connections to resources, and short cut to learning. The best time to make friends is before you need them, so look for ways to give to your network in ways large and small – a LinkedIn endorsement, a relevant article, a favored tweet or your best words of wisdom.
The first to benefit from all this advice will be April herself, as well as her new investors and employees. Best of luck to April as she branches out with Fundanoodle.
Carolina Pad, the national leader in fashion school and office supplies, has spent four years developing and testing the product line. Carolina Pad determined that Fundanoodle does not fit within its mass-market business model. April Whitlock has led all facets of the business for two years and will acquire the Fundanoodle assets from Carolina Pad at the end of the year.
Photograph courtesy of Gabriella Santander.