Sponsored Post: This post is sponsored by Babson College, which offers undergraduate business degree and MBA program, and is located in Wellesley, Massachusetts.
Floating around the startup sphere are companies outside of giants like Facebook, Google, Twitter and foursquare. Entrepreneurs extend into various fields not restricted solely to technology—like food and retail—yet have seamlessly incorporated startup principles along with a heavy dose of tech-savvy into their businesses. Whether you call them “non-tech tech startups” or companies just paving the way, there’s plenty to be learned about entrepreneurship by thinking outside of the monitor.
“As a startup, we’re able to take many more risks than a traditional company,” says Fan Bi, founder of Blank Label, maker of custom design men’s dress shirts. “It would be hard for Brooks Brothers to run a campaign like this:”
As retail continues to move online, startups are able to capitalize on their ability to adapt quickly and iterate. “Being nimble relates to being able to gut check and data check your decisions,” Bi admits. “Instead of being obsessed with your own hypothesis being correct, or a marketing campaign you loved, it’s about being able to present the results to your team. There is no dealing with the same challenges everyday at a startup.”
Kit Hickey, co-founder of high-tech business wear startup Ministry of Supply, can agree that it pays off to be entrepreneurial in their shared line of work. “It’s a rather stagnant industry,” she says. “There have been no real innovations in business wear for the last 30 years, since non-iron shirts. So, we believe that we found an area that’s ripe for innovation, and we’re working really hard on executing on that vision.”
To Hickey, addressing what areas of the industry are ripe for this innovation is key, because entrepreneurs then have an addressable market they can work on a solution for. They just need to work hard. “The best advice I ever received can apply to any industry,” Hickey claims. “It was, ‘No matter what stage your startup is in, come to work every day and work really, really hard.’”
At the end of the day, the word Bi and Hickey go back to is “execution.” Having an idea is great, but unless entrepreneurs can execute on that idea, they can’t touch the traditional, storied markets. “Ideas just get you 20 percent of the way there,” says Sara Gragnolati, founder and CEO of Cocomama Foods.
Gragnolati saw a clear void in the gluten-free market after being diagnosed with food allergies, and knew she could better meet the needs of customers. “The belief that there is strong demand among consumers for this problem to be solved is what drove my determination to put my ideas into action,” she admits. And she did—this summer, she launched her cereal line nationwide in 230 stores, including Whole Foods and Wegman’s.
Although the food industry might not be the first that springs to mind when the word “startup” is introduced, Gragnolati claims both practical and mental skills are transferable to any field. And when it comes to that field, Gragnolati says, “Industry-specific knowledge can be learned, you just have to seek it.”
Ayr Muir, president and founder of Clover Food Labs, was initially working in labs at MIT, experimenting with alloys and polymers, before entering into the food industry. What he’s taken with him is the ability to test products continuously. Muir claims when they first debut a sandwich, they have people try it, say what they don’t like, take it back and then try it again.
“I never sit down and say, ‘What’s the best?’” Muir admits, referring to how they’ve developed all aspects of their business, including their own order taking system. When it came to building the system, he told his team to give him something half-baked and really simple the company could test out and later try to improve. “I like to keep experiments really cheap,” Muir says, largely because the more expensive experiments are, the less of them you’ll have. “Most of your learning comes from failure.”
Muir wants to give himself room to fail, without costing his employees and customers too much. “I don’t want a new sandwich to ruin [a customer’s] day,” he says, admitting he thinks of costs rather broadly, which is why Clover is sure to always communicate any changes with their customers.
No matter the industry—food, retail, technology or otherwise—startup principles are transferable and universal. Marketing, financing, business plans and, even still, technology have their role.
As Gragnolati suggests: “If you can identify a need in the marketplace, you can find a point of differentiation for your idea and you have the moxie to make it happen, then you are well on your way to starting your own business.”
Clover Photo Courtesy of Vegan Miam