The Entrepreneur Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in America’s startup scene contribute answers to timely questions about entrepreneurship and careers. Today’s answer to the question “How do you stay inspired to run a business?” is written by Liz Tilatti, cofounder and CEO of ZipFit Denim.
As an entrepreneur, both the present and a dream for the future should motivate you. You should dream big, but also be able to live in the present moment. At ZipFit, we started off with a simple dream, found paying customers, and are now working toward our end goal of a great payout.
I recall sitting in Professor Craig Wortmann’s class at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. After the first few classes, I couldn’t sleep. I was dreaming about how I could change the retail industry and how I could make apparel shopping easier. My big dream was pretty vague at that point, but regardless, I dreamt of creating a big company around helping customers find great-fitting clothing.
Entrepreneurs generally dream of the big picture, but you have to live in the moment, too. You have to take it one day at a time and keep a steady mind. Each day is going to bring a new challenge, but it should be getting you closer to your end goal. As long as you tough it out one day at a time with a vision of the big business you’re creating, you’ll get there.
Customers and hustle
When you start your business, there is one simple motivation: your very first paying customer. I distinctly recall pulling a pair of Joe’s Classic Dakota jeans out of the trunk of my car (our pop-up store was still being built out), and selling them to a fellow classmate. The day before we opened our first pop-up store, three random customers peaked behind our curtains and made a “pre-opening” purchase. Those initial customers inspired me to keep building ZipFit. It was validation that the general market, not just friends, were willing to pay for our product.
After our first year in business, we went through what almost every entrepreneur does: We had very little money. So at the beginning of 2014, we changed the business model from pop-up stores to e-commerce with a small physical imprint because we believed that was the future of retail. When you pivot or change business models, the most painful moment is starting over from scratch. Not every customer from our previous business model crossed over. But we did find customers who valued our new direction and were fiercely loyal. That was a source of inspiration.
Our hustle included closing down our pop-up stores and moving all of our inventory into storage lockers in the dead of Chicago winter. We’d dig through the storage units (which, mind you, didn’t have any heat), to look for inventory to fulfill customer orders, and I would tailor the jeans in my garage where our sewing machine was stored. Our team rented out our apartments on Airbnb to make ends meet, and cold-called potential customers to boost sales.
Upwards of 90% of businesses fail, and I believe this is the point at which they do. You trip a little, but you have to get back up. Our bigger dream never changed, but we found a bit more clarity. You have to take it one day at a time and keep a steady mind. You have to seek out new customers and close them—they won’t just magically come to you.
All for-profit entrepreneurs are motivated by money. We want to make a killing just like our investors. At ZipFit, we’re now hiring and growing. I’m inspired to wake up in the morning because our sales are growing three-fold year over year. I’m inspired because our new staff rocks it. Our sales staff is selling more than I ever did.
The dream is also starting to fall into place. My vision of a big company is becoming more of a reality. I can truly envision our sales staff at 100 people, our sales in five years, and our future product offering. I can see possibilities of our exit—most likely an acquisition. That goal is in line with our investors’ goals as well.
In summary, you have to have something in front of you that inspires you, and you have to keep dreaming of the big picture as an entrepreneur. The road will not come easy, but it will involve a lot of hustle to get customers—and hopefully a large payout—in the end. In order to succeed as an entrepreneur, you have to see five feet in front of you and envision the five miles ahead of you at the same time. When you do, that dream will become a reality.