Lessons from the field: The entrepreneurial journey

A surge of fresh ideas, a different way of thinking and young leaders unafraid to dive in head-first are converging to fuel transformation in the retail industry. In two sessions at the NRF Foundation’s Student Program at NRF 2018: Retail’s Big Show, over 800 students heard from entrepreneurs who revolutionized established retail concepts.

Michael Lastoria, CEO and co-founder of &pizza, Alexa Buckley, co-founder of Margaux, Kavita Shukla, founder and CEO of Fenugreen, Neil Blumenthal, co-founder and co-CEO of Warby Parker, and Rachel Shechtman, founder and CEO of STORY, all shared how they started businesses from simple ideas they were passionate about.

The common theme in the origin stories: spotting a problem, pondering a unique solution and always asking ‘how.’ The entrepreneurs focused on building a new solution instead of fretting about where it could go wrong. “I’m so glad we jumped in fast,” Buckley said about starting made-to-order footwear brand Margaux fresh out of college. “By taking that leap of faith, you’re all in.” Lastoria added that it comes down to a feeling that “to not put forth that idea that you have would be a greater risk than the possible failure of what happens.”

Rachel Schechtman and Neil Blumenthal chat on stage at NRF Student Program
Rachel Shechtman (left) and Neil Blumenthal (right) chat on stage.

The speakers all agreed on the importance of mentorship and constantly working to push harder and smarter. “Who you surround yourself with is really critical,” said Lastoria. This goes for business partnerships and people hired to help with moving a vision forward. Blumenthal believes that over-communicating is better when it comes to maintaining good relationships — “provide feedback to each other,” he said, especially to partners.

Shukla, whose company Fenugreen creates FreshPaper, a product that helps extend the shelf life of produce, advised budding entrepreneurs not to underestimate their own ability. When uncertainty sets in, “just try to take one little step forward every day,” she said. A ‘life hack’ from Buckley could be valuable in the daily grind: She sets three personal and three professional goals every morning so no matter how the day turns out, she does something to progress personally and professionally.

For more stories from the Student Program, visit the official recap page and follow news from NRF 2018: Retail’s Big Show, Jan. 14-16.

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