Becca Brown always had the entrepreneurial itch.
As a kid, she had a pet-sitting business, ran a concession stand at Little League games, sold flowers (that she picked from her neighbour’s lawn), and did private tutoring. “My parents fostered a very entrepreneurial spirit in our house,” she tells Business Insider.
But after earning her Bachelor’s from Harvard, Brown decided she’d try on the corporate world for size.
Turned out it fit … at least for a while.
In 2000, Brown landed a job at Goldman Sachs, where she started out as a financial analyst, then moved to the Private Wealth Management team as an associate, and ultimately moved to London to work as a chief of staff.
But in 2006, the itch came back.
“I decided to go to Columbia to get my MBA before starting a career building a business as an investment professional in Private Wealth Management at Goldman Sachs,” she says. “Columbia offered an accelerated program designed for people who were planning to return to their previous employer, and willing to bypass the summer internship, so it was perfect for me.”
There, she majored in finance and entrepreneurship. She was involved in a few businesses and would compete in business competitions. When she took a course called “Entrepreneurial Finance,” the final assignment was to write a business plan.
Luckily, she already had an idea.
“I actually first got the idea at my high school prom. I was dressed up with all my friends, trying to take pictures on my parents’ lawn in front of the limos. My heels kept sinking into the ground and I couldn’t stand up straight. Neither could any of my friends. We ended up having to take the pictures on the steps instead. I remember my cream satin heels were ruined — and for whatever reason, I never forgot that experience. And that wasn’t the last time I was frustrated with my heels sinking into the grass and getting ruined. So I had this idea for a heel stopper that would prevent high heels from sinking.”
Brown told Monica Ferguson, her friend and classmate — and Goldman Sachs colleague at the time — about the idea. “She immediately had this flash of memories of all the heels she had ruined attending outdoor weddings and parties,” Brown recalls. “We decided that we would invent a solution, and Monica proceeded to write our first business plan for this class.”
Both women had committed to going back to Goldman Sachs after school, so they did — but they continued to work on Solemates (the name of the heel stopper business they came up with) on the side “until ultimately we found ourselves at a crossroads,” Brown explains.
That’s when Brown and Ferguson decided to take the leap and quit their jobs to pursue their business full time.
“We both loved working at Goldman Sachs and appreciated it for everything it taught us, but we knew that if we didn’t bring this idea to market and someone else did, we would regret it forever,” she says.
“It was a great place to work and provided me with a solid foundation for my career. One of the greatest things I learned there was to be resourceful. This is probably the single most important characteristic to have as entrepreneur, and something that serves me each day,” Brown adds. And that’s why it was so difficult to leave in 2008. “But our manager and colleagues were supportive and gave us their blessings to pursue our new venture, which made it a little bit easier.”
When they told their families and friends that they had quit their jobs and why, everyone had a unique reaction.
“We saw a little bit of everything,” says Brown. “I think most people were excited for us, but some definitely thought we were crazy. It was an interesting time because I quickly realised who was supportive and who was not, and gravitated towards the former.”
Luckily, they have managed to prove the haters wrong.
Today Solemates are carried in about 3,000 Nordstrom, DSW, and David’s Bridal stores around the world, and on major e-commerce sites like Amazon and Zappos. The company has sold several hundred thousand pairs of the small plastic caps that attach to high heels and prevent them from sinking into grass or getting stuck in cracks to customers around the world, including Oprah, Robin Wright-Penn, Viola Davis, Natalie Morales, and Carrie Underwood.
When reflecting on the transition from Wall Street to the startup world now, Brown says:
“It was kind of like jumping out of an aeroplane. While you’re not really sure what it will feel like, you’re excited about it. The biggest difference was suddenly being in a totally different industry. Going from finance, to retail, consumer products, and manufacturing. Sales and marketing were the similarities. We were both so passionate about what we were doing, and both willing to learn whatever we needed to learn in order to launch. I think having each other fuelled that passion and provided a support system; we were on the roller coaster together.”
What she misses most about her corporate job, she says, is the people and the stability, support, and infrastructure of being at a large organisation.
But what she loves most about working for her own company is the fun of being part of a growing brand.
For anyone thinking about branching off on their own, Brown says she’d give them the same advice she received:
“Follow your passion, but don’t do so blindly. Use your head. Starting a business is tough, and you’ll work harder than you’ve ever worked before, but there is nothing like it. Have a plan, get your ducks in a row, and make sure you’re ready.
“Ask for help, guidance, and advice. Try to gather as much feedback from others around you as you can. Seek out 360-degree advice — ask those more senior to you, your peers, and those more junior. You can only benefit from hearing the difference perspectives. Also, don’t make major decisions when you’re not 100%. Sometimes there is no going back.”
Her other best piece of advice for making a major career change is to focus on the present moment. “You can’t dwell in the past or worry too much about the future — you just have to focus on what’s right here and now, and make the best decision you can right now. One decision leads to the next, and the next, and before you know it, you’re in a totally different place in your career … and life.”
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