|This is the fifth post of the eight-part “The Business Breakthrough” series, in which small business owners share the biggest regrets, best advice, and hardest lessons of their careers. “The Business Breakthrough” is sponsored by Capital One Spark. See more posts in the series »|
After years of working and succeeding at other people’s advertising companies,
in 1996Sara Rotman decided that it was finally time to strike out on her own.
The name of her business, MODCo (short for My Own Damn Company), says a lot about why she needed to be her own boss. “I don’t mind working a thousand hours a week, but I do not suffer arbitrary rules lightly,” Rotman told Forbes. She also had a core belief, common to most hard-charging entrepreneurs, that she could build something better than the people she’d been working for.
It wasn’t always easy. In the beginning, Rotman worked out of her living room. She had no outside funding and just enough cash flow to cover rent and spaghetti.
Now, 17 years later, MODCo brings in $US90 million a year in revenue and has clients including Vera Wang, True Religion, Century 21, and Tory Burch. It’s also the only fashion advertising agency owned and run solely by a woman.
The struggle to start up and survive on your own is part of what defines every small-business owner. We asked Rotman about the lessons she learned and challenges she faced along the way that have stuck with her to today.
Her core advice to other small-business owners as they grow? Always stay hungry, and be confident enough to trust your instincts.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten?
“The best advice I ever received was from my first accountant when I was discussing the launch of my company. We were speaking about my business plan and how much money to borrow to launch. She wisely said, ‘Only have enough cash on hand to barely survive; never so much that you are comfortable. It’s important to stay scared in the beginning.’
While I prefer to describe that feeling as staying hungry rather than scared, I thought it was indeed great advice, and I have found this hunger to be an incredibly important motivator during my entire career. Being comfortable is the enemy. Staying hungry forces you to push yourself to continue to survive, grow, and evolve.”
What’s your biggest regret?
“Yikes, that’s tough … My regrets are tied to not trusting my instincts as I come up to speed on new concepts. This was especially true as I became more of a manager. I’ve had moments when I felt uncomfortable with the way in which responsibilities I had delegated to new members of my staff were being handled.
At the time, I was new to management and ignored the nagging feeling in my gut that things weren’t being handled in an appropriate manner — or the way that I would like to see them handled. Because of my lack of experience as a manager myself, I tried to let the new team do their job, even though I suspected it wasn’t the best way it could be done. That said, I learned the hard way to trust my instincts, and I do regret not having the faith in myself earlier on to do so. I am now very careful to listen to my gut and make swifter decisions about the things that set off my alarms.”
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