Collaborative by nature and by necessity, new builders win by focusing on soft skills


It was 2019 and Alitzah Stinson was tired of being a social media influencer. She had succeeded, but decided to take a step into the real world by creating personalized diaries.

Ivory Paper Co. not much more than a thought at the time. Then her husband lost his job and she and her husband decided to put everything they had into the business.

“Not many people know what it’s like to literally look into your bank account to see if you can afford a Dunkin once a week.”

Two years later, the company recorded more than $3 million in revenue, after its planners unexpectedly took off. It’s profitable, Stinson said, despite a series of delays in early 2021 that turned into a social media and legal storm. The company survived as it dug into the well of social capital it had accumulated. Among those with whom she has formed relationships is Tonia Misvaer, CEO of Erin Condren.

“I was almost afraid of other entrepreneurs. These stories that we’re told, that…you have to figure it out for yourself, that’s not what I found,” Stinson said. “The women who work in this space make it an environment of sharing and caring. Being able to have these conversations is invaluable.

A different composition of new business owners

Stinson is one of millions of people starting and growing businesses during the pandemic. While the data isn’t perfect, the majority are likely women and people of color, based on trends in recent years and data on people leaving the workforce. The 12.5 million white male business owners represent about 41% of the 30.5 million small business owners in the United States. There are about 11.6 million women-owned businesses (about 65% of them are owned by white women) and 6.5 million businesses are owned by men of color, according to Census Bureau statistics. .

But it’s not an easy time to start a business. And new builders whose businesses are being shaped by the pandemic are showing another courage. Not only do they learn how to operate lean, but they bring a host of soft skills to the table. Women and people of color have a much harder time raising capital from venture capitalists and a little more trouble getting loans in return. In a part of the economy where capital is scarce, soft skills and the ability to collaborate are at the forefront, as Seth Levine and I discuss in a free course developed around The New Builders, with the help of entrepreneurship professor John Lynn.

The entrepreneurial archetype of the past was the lonely, tough, somewhat ruthless bootstrapper or cowboy; but today’s entrepreneurs are deeply and seamlessly connected to their families, employees and communities. Rather than the bootstrapper, their archetype is more of the servant-leader: no less tough, no less courageous, but working more for the benefit of their communities and their missions.

Soft skills aren’t particularly easy, by the way, despite the adjective. When revenue declines, it may be easier to rely on the spreadsheet and cut staff to a minimum. Entrepreneurs today often make different choices and find a balance, doing things like dipping into their personal savings to increase their payroll.

In numbers

This month, the US Census Bureau released data showing that entrepreneurship jumped for the second year in a row last year. Some 5.4 million commercial applications were filed, 1 million more than in 2020, itself a record. Meanwhile, JPMorgan Chase reported that companies that have survived the pandemic are looking to the future with surprising optimism. Some 61% of the 1,000 business leaders surveyed by JPMorgan Chase Insights say they expect increased profits in 2022. And 71% say they are optimistic about their company and their industry.

Soft skills and collaboration

Here are three soft skills lessons from new builders on surviving the pandemic or any tough times.

Who sows the wind reaps the whirlwind. Fayetteville restaurant owners Nick and Carrie Wright have supported their community for decades, signing donation checks and raising money for Christmas gifts. The relationships are deep; and during the labor shortage they paid, as regulars work volunteer shifts at Herman’s Ribhouse to keep the restaurant open. Susan Bendure, 59, has been volunteering since the fall. The couple helped her mother before she died and visited her when she was in hospital and in rehab, Bendure said. “Honestly, I would do anything in the world for Nick and Carrie, and I really appreciate that,” she said. times of entrepreneurship.

Recognize that social capital can be as valuable as money. To develop a strip mall in a bounded part of Oklahoma City, two men — a black developer named Sandino Thompson and a white developer named Jonathan Dodson — came together to align tenants and come up with an innovative financial structure to give them ownership of the building. . This means that tenants will not be as vulnerable to gentrification.

Their friendship did not develop overnight. “One day I’m going to like to be your friend,” Thompson told Dodson at some point, probably he said, after one of Dodson’s serious and naive (word of Dodson) questions about the dynamic racial.

When the project was ready, a banker, Jill Castilla, lent them money. But the deal would never have happened without the relationship the two men had built.

Mission and benefits are not a compromise, they are a balance. Traditional entrepreneurs tend to segment mission as separate from their balance sheets; if they do good in the world, it will be after they have succeeded financially. Today’s entrepreneurs are integrating it from the start. One of Stinson’s values ​​was manufacturing in the USA. This meant paying more for the paper, $46 a box. But when costs rose to over $60 a box, she could adapt more easily, unlike companies that sourced from China for $4.50 a box and had to move manufacturing to the United States.

It’s not about optics. It is a matter of sincerity and transparency. Carmen Portillo, one of the entrepreneurs featured in my book The new builders, was Arkansas’ first dark chocolatier. She has always been open about the ups and downs of her Cocoa Belle, including the mistakes that caused her to close her first physical location during the 2008-09 recession.

When Covid-19 hit, she lost a shareholders’ meeting, a wedding and a hotel opening in the same week. But found that some of his biggest supporters in the first year of the pandemic came from people who wanted to help a black-owned business succeed.

Likewise, when production delays caused a storm of customer complaints about Ivory Paper Co., the Ohio Attorney General got involved, working with Stinson to develop a repayment plan and timeline for delivery. The company changed its processes and continued to hire. “We learned a lot from this challenge,” she said, noting that Ivory Paper Co is on track to meet those timelines. In 2021, the company employed 62 people.

“As owner and CEO of this business, it’s my job to do a better job anticipating these spikes,” Stinson told local media at the time. “And that’s really hard to do, not only in a pandemic, but still, that’s my job and that’s where we dropped the ball here. It’s a failure on my part, one that I take so seriously, and I’m sorry about that. There is no excuse for this. These are lessons we learned, and I hope I can take everything I learned from this crazy time and apply it to the future of the business.


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