I came up with the idea to start my business, Headbands of Hope, from my dorm room in college. When it came to me, it wasn’t through some lightning bolt of brilliance like we’re often told or led to believe in the entrepreneurial realm. Much to my disappointment, the clouds didn’t part, the birds didn’t start chirping, and voices in my head didn’t exalt me to elation.
No, I stumbled into my business idea as a sort of knee-jerk reaction to solve a problem. And the more I’ve asked around, the more I’ve realized how many other founders experienced this same scenario. We had to learn to swim after we got in the pool. We did not experience a lightning bolt of inspiration from the sky. We were just opening and walking through doors from room to room: optimistic, hopeful, and willing to leap.
We had to learn to swim after we got in the pool
To me, entrepreneurship seems so fancy. And intimidating. But I’ve realized that, at its core, entrepreneurship is just about creating what you want to see in the world. In other words, entrepreneurship is like filling a gap. When we fill the gap, we’re providing value.
Let me explain: When I was in college, I interned at a wish-granting organization for kids with life-threatening illnesses. I discovered that a lot of kids losing their hair to chemotherapy loved to wear headbands after hair loss, but they were only given wigs and hats. I searched online to see if there was any business or organization donating headbands to kids with cancer and came up dry. So I thought: Why not me?
Thus, Headbands of Hope was born. For every headband sold, one is donated to a child with an illness. Today, we’ve helped hundreds of thousands of kids with cancer. I’ve been able to share this mission on shows like the Today Show, Good Morning America, and The View. Celebrities like Lauren Conrad, Kelsea Ballerini, Khloé Kardashian, and Lea Michele have marched behind it. And we’ve now donated over one million headbands to children with illnesses all around the world.
Here’s what I want you to know about starting and growing a business for good:
1. You don’t have to have it all figured out. You just have to believe in something better than the present.
None of us were born knowing how to fly a plane, do our taxes, poach an egg, or start a company. So, let’s debunk this myth that to be successful you have to have it all figured out, because that’s impossible. After a few missed swings, running in circles, a loan from a family member, losing that loan to a fraudulent manufacturer which turned into a lawsuit, crickets on the other end, I finally launched Headbands of Hope. I didn’t have it all figured out and still don’t. But in order for us to have a chance at making a dent in the universe, we have to be optimistic enough to see something better than the present and confident enough to just begin.
2. You don’t have to have a million dollars, an Ivy League education or a laundry list of awards to get started. Start with what you’ve got.
Don’t shy away from the beginning because you’re buying into the narrative that starting and growing a business requires a lot of money (that you don’t have right now), investors and accolades. Headbands of Hope was a college dorm room start-up and as scrappy as they come. In fact, I built our Headbands of Hope website by paying someone in Chipotle burritos (true story).
Start by taking small steps like getting your website domain purchased, sketching out a business plan or even creating your company’s first logo in Canva. Tools like visual design platform Canva were a game-changer for our growing business because every dollar we spent really mattered. We were able to create high-quality designs without the high-ticket price and we still use the platform today, collaborating as a team on social media posts, videos, presentations and more. I’m able to easily approve designs in real-time, even when I’m on the road or traveling, which allows my business and team to move and pivot quickly.
In today’s digital world, there are so many great resources available to entrepreneurs that don’t require you to break the bank on the way to changing the world.
3. You don’t have to listen to the voice in your head telling you it’s not your turn or you’re not ready. Choose to focus on the possibility that there’s good out there—and you’re the one who can bring it into reality.
Sometimes the voices in our heads make us believe we’re not ready. If we listen in those moments, it’s easy to get knocked off track. Then filling that gap, solving that problem and changing the world gets delayed. So what happens when we choose to change the story? Opportunity. That’s what happens when we move beyond those negative voices and change the narrative. It opens up a whole other world that we might have thought was beyond reach.
Everything we want is within our grasp if we’re willing to throw perfection out the door and embrace the messiness of the entrepreneurial journey. One flicker of change inside our heads can catapult us onto the stage we were born to stand on.
Jess Ekstrom currently appears in Canva’s ‘With Canva, you can’ campaign.
Jess Ekstrom is a bestselling author and speaker who helps women tell and sell their stories. The Founder of multi-million dollar company, Headbands of Hope, and creator of Bright Pages journaling service, she helps women uncover the value in their story so they can make a living and a difference at the same time