From small business owners to nonprofit founders to industry experts, we spoke with many inspirational people in the past year about the lessons they learned as they built their careers. These leaders shared some of their best advice on discovering their passion, fundraising, learning from others and persevering through unforeseen challenges.
Everyone we spoke to had very different experiences, but they all had one thing in common: an unfettered enthusiasm for their work.
Julia Bunting is president of The Population Council, a nonprofit that uses cutting-edge research to create solutions to health and development issues across the globe. She reminds people to be steadfast and outspoken about their vision. "Once you find something that you care about, don’t ever stop talking about it. Don’t listen to ‘No.’ Keep pursuing your interests. There are a lot of issues that need committed people working on them."
Deborah Koepper, founder of Deborah Koepper Beauty, has earned a reputation as one of the nation's most skilled estheticians and makeup artists (Koepper once served as stylist to First Lady Nancy Reagan). As the makeup artist of choice for visiting White House dignitaries and diplomats, Koepper believes professional success comes from following your dreams. "Love what you do and get paid for it. A lot of people wait until later in life to learn this lesson. It takes courage to follow your passions and dreams."
Fundraising is an integral and unavoidable aspect of many businesses and charitable endeavors. This year, entrepreneurs offered their best advice for navigating the fundraising process.
Siblings Liz and Spencer Powers founded ArtLifting, a nonprofit that provides homeless artists with a digital marketplace in which to sell their work. Liz relied on personal savings to get her venture off the ground before successfully raising more than $1 million.
"My brother and I started ArtLifting with $4,000 of our savings. We bootstrapped that initial investment to revenue in the six figures. We financed ArtLifting for the first year and a half simply through revenue generation. During that time, I worked as a Dorm Mom to a Harvard dorm. Since the job gave me free room and board, I could go without a salary while we built ArtLifting. Like many startups, we decided to raise investment in order to scale nationally. We raised $1.3 million from investors across the country, including TOMS Shoes Founder Blake Mycoskie and “The Lean Startup” author Eric Ries. Our ultimate goal is to keep growing nationally and exponentially grow our revenue this year."
Craig Blum, co-founder of Johnny Doughnuts, advises others to avoid rushing when fundraising and figuring out the business plan.
"Take the time to understand what you’re doing, ask a ton of questions and don’t be in a hurry to make it happen quickly. Doing your homework and understanding the business model will help you flourish as soon as you open your doors."
Charles Hart, executive director of Call of the Sea, stressed how vital fundraising is to any endeavor.
As Hart recalls, "Thomas Edison famously said, ‘A vision without execution is a hallucination.’ Fundraising is a very important part of my job. If someone is not willing to spend a lot of time on the fundraising aspect, then the vision is useless without the required execution."
On learning from others
No man is an island. Entrepreneurs told us how advisors, mentors and parents helped guide them to success.
Jeremy Roberts, co-founder of the made-to-order suit company Roberts, learned the hard way that finding knowledgeable experts who can help build the business is key to a company’s future success. "I've attempted to create brands in the past and have failed because I tried to do it all on my own. The learning was huge – a dynamic, talented and dedicated team is essential. I don't know everything, and I love being able to lean on people for their expertise."
Brianna Jane, founder of Banda Bags, says her mentor showed her the value of discipline in business.
“If it weren't for my mentor, I would be a starving romantic entrepreneur! It's easy for me to get lost in dreams and fantasies. But a mentor will teach you how to stay grounded. My mentor, Luis, is one of my best friends and also my recent business partner… His discipline and patience is what I lack and he has been teaching me how to further examine situations, people, places and things. If it weren't for him Banda Bags would have sunk ship now.”
Katherine Collins, founder and CEO of Honeybee Capital, an independent investment research firm, learned life and investing lessons from a college professor.
"My first economics professor at Wellesley, Julie Matthaei, has influenced me tremendously. She taught us all to understand conventional thinking in depth and to question it with analytical rigor — essential skills for investing, and for life."
Denise Brosseau, a thought-leadership strategist, author and speaker, attributes much of her success to her mentor, who encouraged her to write a book.
"I have been fortunate to have had so many amazing mentors in my career and the most impactful has been Sam Horn. She is also the person who championed the idea of me writing my book and was instrumental in its completion. For example, she suggested that I post a mock-up of my future book cover in every room of my house so that every day I would have a visual reminder of that future I was working towards. That was a great impetus for me. Now, I pay that forward by mentoring others to play bigger and to get their books out in the world."
The path to success is not always smooth. Here's how some leaders dealt with the inevitable bump in the road.
Josh Harris, a bartender and entrepreneur who pursued several careers before starting his own restaurant and consulting firm, knows that sometimes persevering means changing your course.
"For some, perseverance means following the same path until you find success. But to me, perseverance meant trying new things constantly and striving towards an uncertain goal. I started working at a bar the summer after my freshman year in college, during a time when most of my friends had accepted corporate-style internships, and I continued to seek out restaurant jobs at every possible chance during my college years. I have no doubt that doors wouldn't have opened for me if I hadn't chased every possible new experience in the years before."
Ani Vartanian Boladian, founder and co-managing partner of the real estate private equity firm Rubicon Point Partners, reiterates the importance of believing in your ability to reach your goal — despite all odds.
"Just do it. There are no rules to the game. Anything goes. Whatever avenue you decide to go down, make sure it’s something you care deeply about. Nothing should hold you back. If you feel like you’re being held back, then change your situation. Chart your own course. Believe that you can, and stay persistent. With persistence, things eventually work out."
Carol Robinson, founder of the specialty consulting firm CedarBridge Group, spent 15 years at home raising four children and volunteering in the community before becoming a nationally recognized thought leader in health policy and health IT. She attributes her achievements in part to her ability to leverage fully her life experiences.
"My advice would be to ignore anyone who says their options are limited, and to look at every problem they have solved over the years as relevant experience for future careers. I would also advise to look for ways to improve computer literacy and to not be afraid to ask friends for help getting a foot in the door.”
Bridget Coates, director of BRAC USA, one of the world’s leading anti-poverty organizations, reminds aspiring leaders to have faith in themselves — and foster success in others.
"Fight to find opportunities to demonstrate your skills and talents. Believe in yourself and others will too… Leadership is all about creating opportunities for others to flourish and contribute as powerfully as they can.”