Engaged audience- If you have a very niche market, but they are very engaged and bought in, you can build a successful start-up. The relationship you build with your audience will drive the growth of your business.
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 Tu-Hien Le.
In 2016, Tu-Hien Le founded her company BeauGen and created a unique breast pump cushion that now helps tens of thousands of women through their breastfeeding journey. Originally inspired by her personal struggle with breastfeeding after giving birth to her first child, Tu-Hien built a 100% remote team and led her company with vision and purpose. The idea that started as a conversation with her husband at the dining room table has now grown to a 7-figure e-commerce business.
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?
Thank you so much for having me! I started my entrepreneurial journey in 2015 after my daughter was born. I identified a problem in a very niche market which was in breastfeeding. I noticed that many products in the space were designed by men and the user experience was lacking. After speaking to hundreds of breastfeeding women who expressed the same sentiment of having pain and discomfort while pumping for their babies, I committed to finding the solution that actually worked. With the help of my husband, we developed a product designed to specifically solve the issue of comfort while pumping. After testing over 40 prototypes and running a crowdfunding campaign to gain initial traction, our flagship product BeauGen breast pump cushion was born.
Since then, I have built a team of remote working parents and parents-to-be who are ambitious in their careers yet are the primary caretakers of their family. At BeauGen, our team does not need to choose between advancing their careers or their family. We embrace both. Together BeauGen has scaled to a 7-figure e-commerce business and continues to grow.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
With the technology we have today to solve complex issues, why is it that something as important as breastfeeding still has archaic technology to help women? If almost every mom needed to pump for their baby, why were solutions not available to make this comfortable and easy for them? This was when I knew that I was onto something. I had a product solution fit to help breastfeeding women find comfort while pumping and that I would be the one to bring a solution that worked to the market.
I worked with my husband to articulate the current limitations and helped design a viable solution. From there my husband and I experimented with different shapes, sizes, and material combinations to find what brought comfort to women who used the breast pump. After developing and testing over 40 prototypes, we landed on a solution that would eventually become the first iteration of our flagship product, the BeauGen breast pump cushions.
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 husband Chris has always been the guiding light and inspiration from the beginning. He always believed I had the potential, discipline, and grit to lead a company to success. He believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. Without his unconditional support and belief in me, I would not be where I am today. I am grateful everyday for his love and support.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I believe my company BeauGen stands out because of the deep connection and relationship we have built with our customers from the beginning. We took a grassroots approach and really listened to understand what our customers’ pain points were and what they thought they needed in order to guide us in product development and content creation. We dove deep to uncover not just what the surface pain points of our customers’ were, but also what they felt emotionally. From there we used this to connect and position our brand as the supportive safe place our customers can go to seek community, education, and a solution to their initial problem which is discomfort while pumping.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I believe that success is the platform that is earned in order to give back to the community that you serve. At BeauGen we partner with several non-profit organizations in order to support mothers in need with maternal and postpartum care. Additionally, I have ventured into business coaching where I work with mom entrepreneurs to teach them the journey I took to build a successful business and pass along the knowledge I have.
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?
Thank you for the compliments! Yes I believe the 3 most important characteristics that were important to my success were:
- Discipline- Before I could remember, my dad had instilled discipline in me. I learned how to follow schedules and always finish what I started. When you are an entrepreneur working for yourself, you have to hold yourself accountable. What that means is you have to create your own schedule, deadlines, and stick to them. Nobody will ask you when things will get done or why a task has not been accomplished yet. However, as an entrepreneur you also know that if you do not do something, there will be no progress. Having the discipline to stick with what you need to do in order to accomplish your goals is critical as an entrepreneur.
- Grit- I always tell people what sets me apart from other entrepreneurs that did not succeed is that I did not quit. The more rejection and no’s I got whether it was from customers, business contacts, or investors, I kept an open ear to try and understand why. Whatever shortcomings my company had, I worked to strengthen those weaknesses. I showed up every day to serve my customers and gave them what they needed. After years of showing up and not knowing if anyone was interested, my company started to pick up steam and demand increased rapidly. I continued to make improvements and not let the rejections and no’s slow me down.
- Patience- A lot of young entrepreneurs think success should come in a few months or a year. But there is no such thing as an overnight success. Years of grinding and putting in the work will eventually lead to some traction and then success. I trusted the process and path I was on would eventually lead me to where I needed to be.
Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?
The worst advice I got when I first started my company was to pursue an investor to buy my company right away. At this point, I had just entered the market with minimal market traction and limited knowledge of my product performance in the market. Because I spent time going down this road, I wasted a lot of energy having conversations with brokers and buyers who did not understand the mission, market, or product. I received a small offer and just knew in my heart that I would be underselling what my company, brand, and product could really do. I knew that it was my job to discover and realize that potential and bring the BeauGen breast pump cushions fully into the market myself.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
The biggest challenge I faced when I started BeauGen was self-doubt. I didn’t believe I was the right person to lead the company and brand to success. I told myself I do not have the answers, I don’t have the experience, and I don’t have the connections to make BeauGen a success. In fact, these were just excuses made out of fear. I was afraid of stepping into the person I needed to become in order to help the company grow and shine. It took several years for me to understand and realize that I do have what it takes to grow and scale my company to success. I realized that I do not need to know all the right answers but just need to know where to find it. Once I believed in myself and stopped questioning my abilities, I was able to confidently make decisions from an empowered place.
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?
I became very clear on my purpose and my why. If you have a strong enough “why.” it will pull you through any of the ups and downs you experience. For me, my “why” is to positively impact 1,000,000 women in their motherhood journey so they can feel confident and empowered. Whenever I am having a hard day, I think about every woman I can bring positivity to and change their life. If I can impact just one woman, then my efforts would have been worth it.
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”?
Again, this goes back to your purpose. Why are you doing what you are doing? If you have a very clear purpose that drives you and your business, you will be able to weather the lows and the highs in the journey. I am all for celebrating wins but I always keep in mind what it means in terms of moving me to my ultimate goal of positively impacting 1,000,000 women’s motherhood journeys. I also try not to take failures personally and look at them as objectively as I can. Why did something not work? What could have been done differently? What do we know now that can be used to avoid next time? Failures are necessary steps you need to take towards success and it’s important to keep in mind that it’s part of your journey.
Let’s imagine that a young founder comes to you and asks 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?
The question of venture capital vs. bootstrapping really depends on the stage the business the founder is at and how experienced the founder is with managing investment. I would highly advise the young founder to surround themselves with a strong team of mentors and experts whom they trust to help guide them through the process. Every situation is different so the answer to VC vs. bootstrap will vary. Just keep in mind the stronger your team is, the better you will do.
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.
- Clear vision- This goes back to the purpose and why that I mentioned earlier too. Do you have a clear vision of what you want your startup to accomplish? This will be your guide post you can always reference during your journey to see if what you are doing is in alignment to your purpose and if you are moving closer to your goals.
- Clear brand messaging- You want to be able to communicate and connect with your audience so that you can explain why your brand is the solution they are looking for. With a clear vision, you will then communicate with your audience on the platforms they “hangout” on and use the terms and phrases they use. What you want is for your audience to feel like you understand them so deeply that when you say something their reaction is “I know right?”
- Engaged audience- If you have a very niche market, but they are very engaged and bought in, you can build a successful start-up. The relationship you build with your audience will drive the growth of your business. As your audience grows and evolves, so will your brand. Keep an open mind and continue to build the relationship with your audience. They will tell you valuable information that will inform what your next product offerings will be while still being bought into your current offerings.
- Strong team- You are only as strong as your weakest link. In this case, surround yourself with mentors and experts on your team in order to leverage their knowledge to help take your business to the next level. The stronger your team is, the more likely you will be able to adapt to difficult challenges and make adjustments so your company can continually progress and grow.
- Product-market fit-Don’t solve a problem that the market doesn’t care about. Listen and learn from your audience on what their pain points are and find a solution that they are asking for. Many entrepreneurs have found really intricate solutions to problems that people don’t care about. Don’t fall into this trap. Stay tuned into your audience and give them what they ask for.
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?
The most common mistake I have seen CEOs & founders make is go to market with a solution they created and thought was so genius but never tested or asked the market if they wanted or needed the solution. In this case, months and even years of research & development were put in to make a “perfect” solution but in the end flopped because nobody cared or valued the solution. This is something that can be avoided much earlier by launching a Minimal Viable Product or MVP of a solution you have in order to learn from the audience what features and benefits they like and want. When you test in quick small iterations, you can make adjustments faster and get closer and closer to a final product. This process is called the build, measure, and learn cycle that should be used when developing and testing a new product offerings in order to get feedback quickly.
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?
The success of your company is highly correlated to your mindset and personal development. In that process, you have to be both physically and mentally strong to weather all the challenges that come your way. I would recommend founders prioritize their mental and physical wellbeing at all times during the process of building their business. In order for you to perform and show up for your business at your best, you need to take care of your health and mental wellbeing. If one suffers, they will all be impacted.
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 and petition to bring financial education into the school system from middle school and beyond. In our current school system, kids learn a wide range of subjects from math, geography, to computer science, but they are never taught about money and how to make money. I want to educate and show kids the possibilities of how they can grow up, make money while making an impact in the world that’s outside the traditional path of going to get a corporate job. I believe if the youth are educated about money, they will make smarter financial decisions and become more independent and fulfilled as adults.
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.
I would love to have lunch with Lebron James because of all his ability to perform in basketball and in business at the highest levels. I would love to know how he chooses what projects to get involved with. Most importantly, how does he balance all of his responsibilities including playing basketball at the highest level, business ventures, and family. The impact he has made in the sport of basketball and his community are impressive and I would love to understand his mindset and approach. This would be a dream come true!
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!