Problem solving — Problems happen often when businesses are first starting out and even when they are established. I rely heavily on my problem skills when things go wrong both in production and on the business side. First, I focus on immediately fixing whatever problem has arisen, then I focus on learning from the error. I think this is a very important part in succeeding- don’t get stuck in the problem; find a way to fix it, learn, and move on with new knowledge.
Startups have such a glamorous reputation. Companies like Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, Uber, and Airbnb once started as scrappy startups with huge dreams and huge obstacles.
Yet we of course know that most startups don’t end up as success stories. What does a founder or a founding team need to know to create a highly successful startup?
In this series, called “Five Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Startup” we are talking to experienced and successful founders and business leaders who can share stories from their experience about what it takes to create a highly successful startup.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Imane Fiocchi.
Imane Fiocchi graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of San Francisco with a double major in Studio Art and Art History. Always a lover of color, Imane launched Neon Lace Company, a textile and dye studio that specializes in table linens and kitchen accessories, in 2019. She lives on an upstate New York farm with her husband, daughter, and dogs, SuperHero & Rambo.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I studied Studio Art and Art History in college and have always loved working with color. Prior to launching Neon Lace Company, I was working in the beauty industry. I’ve always loved vintage shopping and antiques so combining my two passions of color and vintage actually made perfect sense.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
My business actually started by accident. I’ve always loved antiques and one day while on vacation in Italy, I came across a stunning vintage napkin set. However, when I used it in my table decor for a dinner party, it came across as a bit boring. On a whim, I decided to dye them neon green. They looked amazing! Out of the blue, my husband said, “that’s a great business idea!” and from that point forward I couldn’t get his words out of my head. The idea of upcycling vintage materials and breathing new life into them through color made me so happy, so I purchased more vintage linens and started experimenting with dye techniques and color.
Was there somebody in your life who inspired or helped you to start your journey with your business? Can you share a story with us?
My business wouldn’t exist if my husband hadn’t pointed out the unique opportunity, so I owe a lot to him! He is also my biggest supporter and cheerleader.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
All of our pieces are hand-dyed with love at my upstate NY atelier, and I am very hands-on in all aspects of the business. I really think the love we put into the products is apparent and sets us apart. I also think introducing neon into the tabletop industry was an innovative move that surprised people and made them instantly curious about the products and brand as a whole.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I created the Unicorn Oven Mitt during the pandemic with the intention of donating a portion of the sales. 2 dollars from each oven mitt is donated to The Okra Project, a collective that addresses the crisis facing Trans people in the US. It is ongoing, and something that I am very proud of.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
If I get an idea, I usually become obsessed with it, and it is very hard to move on until I’ve worked it out. An example of this was when I created the Unicorn Oven Mitt. I came up with the name immediately but wasn’t quite sure how the mitt would look or how I’d execute it. However, I couldn’t get this idea out of my head — an oven mitt that was so pretty people would actually complement it, and would look cute when Zoom baking or Facetiming with friends — so I just kept testing and experimenting! I brainstormed and executed hundreds of prototypes and colorways until I was happy with the end result. I dreamt about oven mitts often along the way! My tenacious spirit wouldn’t take no for an answer.
- Problem solving
Problems happen often when businesses are first starting out and even when they are established. I rely heavily on my problem skills when things go wrong both in production and on the business side. First, I focus on immediately fixing whatever problem has arisen, then I focus on learning from the error. I think this is a very important part in succeeding- don’t get stuck in the problem; find a way to fix it, learn, and move on with new knowledge.
My intuition has been at the core of my decision making, be it in product development or running the business itself. It is somewhat hard to describe but answers and ideas typically “appear” or present themselves to me somehow, and I know they are the right choice. I never question my gut feeling and use it as an essential tool in my business.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
During the winter of 2020, my production assistant tested positive for COVID and was out for 5 weeks, leaving me to handle all of the holiday season production and shipping myself. The brand was gaining traction and attention, so I was completely overwhelmed with all aspects of the business. But I just didn’t give up! As the weeks went on, I developed a routine that worked and was able to achieve a successful holiday season with minimal hiccups along the way.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard? What strategies or techniques did you use to help overcome those challenges?
My business gained traction during the pandemic which was both exciting and terrifying. Keeping up with demand while scaling the business when production delays were at their peak was extremely challenging. I didn’t want to let anyone down, especially my customers, so I relied heavily on my problem-solving abilities to work through the challenges and my tenacity to keep moving forward.
The journey of an entrepreneur is never easy, and is filled with challenges, failures, setbacks, as well as joys, thrills and celebrations. Can you share a few ideas or stories from your experience about how to successfully ride the emotional highs & lows of being a founder”?
I won’t forget the day a major influencer posted the Unicorn Oven Mitt on her Instagram stories. I happened to be away from my desk and had my Instagram notifications off (or else I can’t get any work done!). When I went back to my studio to check my emails, it was flooded with orders! I checked my phone, and I was dumbfounded by all the attention from this Instagram Story’s shoutout! By the end of just that day, we had almost sold out of oven mitts and went on to completely sell out.
I couldn’t believe the conversions that came from that one moment.
It may sound trivial, but there was so much hard work that went into creating the Unicorn Oven mitt from concept to production in the midst of countless COVID challenges and setbacks. I was so overcome with emotion that I actually cried!
Let’s imagine that a young founder comes to you and asks for your advice about whether venture capital or bootstrapping is best for them? What would you advise them? Can you kindly share a few things a founder should look at to determine if fundraising or bootstrapping is the right choice?
It obviously depends on the business and business model, but I am a huge fan of bootstrapping if you can swing it! I started Neon Lace Company with 1,000.00 dollars of my own money to purchase linens, production materials, and build the website. The company is completely owned and funded by me; I don’t have any outside investors. In the beginning, I did everything, and I still do most.
All of the profits made are put directly back into the business.
I don’t think you have to sacrifice your idea if you don’t have investors. Be curious and resourceful and think of unique ways to get your ideas out there.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Many startups are not successful, and some are very successful. From your experience or perspective, what are the main factors that distinguish successful startups from unsuccessful ones? What are your “Five Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Startup”? If you can, please share a story or an example for each.
- A GREAT IDEA
All businesses are different, but they should start with a great idea. The idea for Neon Lace Company was simply upcycled table linens but I think it was the unexpected colors that intrigued people and turned them into customers.
2. STRONG BRAND MESSAGING
It was very important to me to have a strong brand voice for the company so that the products could be easily identifiable in a group as Neon Lace Company pieces.
You don’t have to know celebrities or billionaires, but contacts are essential to a successful startup. When I started Neon Lace Company, I sent an email blast introducing the brand to every single person in my email rolodex- literally everyone! Not only was the initial support incredible, but so many friends introduced me to their friends which led to new contacts and ultimately amazing opportunities.
Starting a business requires 100% full dedication. You have to be determined to ride the waves, both high and low, and keep pushing through the hardest parts. Success takes longer than you think, and it’s really sticking through the tough times that will make a difference and set you apart.
5. SUPPORT FROM FRIENDS AND/OR FAMILY
Starting a business is incredibly demanding, and impossible to do alone. Although I run the majority of my business alone, I wouldn’t be able to do it without the support from my family and friends. My husband not only picks up a lot of slack in our day-to-day at home, but he also offers insight and advice when I’m facing a business challenge. My family always asks for updates on new products, and their interest and support mean a lot. My friends also offer incredible advice and are great sounding boards. You don’t need a huge group, but having people that you can share your business highs and lows with makes a huge difference.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
Letting their ego get the best of them and peaking too fast. A business is a marathon, not a sprint. Take your time when scaling, don’t spend all of your money, and don’t let your ego get in the way.
Startup founders often work extremely long hours and it’s easy to burn the candle at both ends. What would you recommend to founders about how to best take care of their physical and mental wellness when starting a company?
In the beginning, everything will be out of balance. Accepting that is the first step to eventually finding balance. Do the best you can, and don’t be too hard on yourself.
You may have to twerk your old routines to make room for all the newness that will come at you from all directions.
My biggest recommendation is to ask for help. It took me many years to learn this is an essential tool for success. I’ve always been independent and somewhere along the way developed this idea that it wasn’t OK to ask for help. Once I learned that I can’t do everything on my own, and I asked for help in the places I needed it, both my business and personal life became more manageable.
On a personal note, I have a few non-negotiables that I follow to keep my physical and mental wellness in check. It is very important to me to have dinner with my family together as often as possible, so even if I have to go back to work after, I still carve out nightly dinner time for us to connect.
I try to move every day in some way whether it is Peloton, Tracy Anderson Method, walking my dogs, or jump roping with my daughter. Moving helps me handle my anxiety and I always feel better after.
My last non-negotiable is a nightly bath uninterrupted- no exceptions!
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would encourage all businesses new and established, big and small, to find one thing that your company can do to reduce waste. My business started because I wanted to upcycle existing vintage materials in order to reduce waste instead of creating more waste. Our dye techniques use in-house use less water than traditional factory methods, and our made-to-order business model with our 100% linen line reduces excess inventory and waste.
Between packaging materials, carbon offsets, and innovative production methods, there are countless ways that all businesses can contribute to creating a more sustainable world.
We are blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Sophia Amoruso is a female founder who has created three successful and very different companies that I admire. Her work ethic is incredible and I would be delighted to pick her brain over breakfast!
How can our readers further follow your work online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!