As entrepreneurs, we sometimes need to pivot our companies. As entrepreneurs, we also sometimes need to pivot our purpose. What we once thought was our passion can lead us to discover our true calling—what we were really meant to do.
Opportunista Nicole Giordano, Founder of StartUp FASHION, pivoted her entrepreneurial purpose when her former enthusiasm for designing evolved into her passion for teaching designers how to reach their goals. Realizing that empathy was her strong suit, Nicole not only combined her passions and strengths to start her business, she also identified the need for its existence. Designers needed community. And three years ago, Nicole launched that community.
Nicole shares how aspiring entrepreneurs can build a supportive community around their business, and the key to cultivating strong relationships with valuable partners. How does Nicole create her own opportunities to live her best life? Her method is something we should all try as entrepreneurs—Nicole’s got goals and knows how to achieve them!
Nicole is The Opportunista.
I’ve always believed in the necessity of building a business around the life you want, not the other way around.
Let’s meet Nicole and learn from this Opportunista.
Name: Nicole Giordano
Location: New York
Title & Company: Founder, StartUp FASHION
Industry: Fashion Business
Education: BS in Textile Design
Was there a moment you knew you wanted to be an entrepreneur? Or did the desire develop over time?
It was really something I just always knew about myself. I said from a young age that I would work for myself—I just didn’t know exactly what I planned to do. I knew I loved the arts and design, so I thought I’d be “an artist” or “a designer.” I simply knew that whatever form my work took, it would always be paired with the ultimate goal of “doing my own thing.”
What inspired you to create StartUp FASHION?
I was a designer, and I knew how hard it was to find a community of others who were willing to share their experiences in the industry. I had learned a lot over the years, both as a designer as well as working in various other roles in the fashion industry, so I decided to launch a blog to share what I knew. It wasn’t a business; it was just a blog. But my readership grew, and I realized that I had a strong, niche following of designers. That was 2010.
I decided that I wanted to figure out how to help them more, while also making it my full-time gig. So a few years later, in 2014, we launched a membership based community for designers.
Honestly, a big part of it was that I knew how exclusive and unwelcoming the fashion industry could be, and I wanted to encourage designers, no matter what their goals, to make moves and not be afraid to go after their goals.
How did you come to the realization that you wanted to advise aspiring designers on building their businesses rather than become a designer?
I started to realize that the design process was no longer making me happy or excited. I stopped looking forward to working on design collections. It felt like a chore. Whereas, I was having a ball helping designers create a path to reach their goals.
I started to realize that my strengths lie in having a lot of empathy and being very encouraging—two qualities that have served me well in my role with StartUp FASHION.
What was the biggest challenge you needed to overcome in starting your business? How did you overcome it?
Finding confidence in my own abilities.
To be honest, while my confidence in myself has certainly grown, it’s still something that I have to actively remind myself—you know what you’re doing, you’re good at what you do, stop doubting yourself. I think it’s a pretty common occurrence among a lot of entrepreneurs.
What was the greatest risk you took in starting your business?
That my life wouldn't be what I wanted it to be. I’ve always believed in the necessity of building a business around the life you want, not the other way around. And, even though I thought I was doing that, there was always the risk that I would build this business and find that I wasn’t actually happy. Luckily, that wasn’t the case.
StartUp FASHION is dedicated to building a community of fashion entrepreneurs. What is the most important action that an early-stage entrepreneur can take to build a community around her business?
Understand the importance of empathy. Without it, it’s impossible to truly connect with others. And connecting with others is the foundation of creating community.
In addition to building a community, StartUp FASHION has a number of strategic partners. What are some helpful strategies for early-stage entrepreneurs to determine potential partners?
Find companies that appreciate your relationship with your audience. This is for a couple reasons. (1) When they understand how important your relationship is with your audience, there won’t be an expectation on their part for any inauthentic promotion on your part. (2) When you’re early-stage, your follower numbers won’t be huge. But if you are close to your audience, and they feel truly connected to you, then those potential partners will still benefit from working with you. Your relationship with your audience is a major asset. Use it.
What advice do you have for an aspiring entrepreneur who is trying to determine a business idea? What about advice for an aspiring entrepreneur who has an idea, but is trying to figure out how to develop that idea?
I would start by asking yourself some questions:
- What do I have to offer? What am I good at? What do I enjoy doing?
- What are my priorities in life? How can I take what I’m good at and offer it in a way that allows me to live my priorities?
- Who would benefit from what I have to offer and how I plan to offer it? (Get specific here.)
- Who else is doing this, and how will I do it differently or better?
- How will I support myself while bringing my idea to life?
Once you have the answers to these questions, you can start to put a plan around how you’re going to do it.
- When will you launch it?
- Who will you ask for help?
- How much money do I need to get started?
- What did you need to learn or improve in order to launch?
How can an early-stage entrepreneur most effectively determine her business’s target customers?
I would start by creating a profile of who you think your target customer is. Get specific and write it all down.
Then start by using social media. Spend time on the profiles of the people following your competitors and complementary businesses. Take note of who these people are, what they’re all about.
Then update your original profile with what you’ve learned and remember that this profile is an ongoing document that gets updated regularly as your business grows and you learn more about your specific customer.
How can an early-stage entrepreneur find and build a solid team?
Start with the absolute “musts,” such as a tech person if you need a complicated website built, or a graphic designer if you are absolutely terrible with programs like Photoshop.
Make a list of the things you need but do not have the ability to do yourself, and start hiring help for that. Remember that hiring does not always mean hiring employees. You can find all kinds of talented freelancers and project-based contractors really easily these days.
How are you creating your own opportunities to live your best life?
I regularly reflect on what I want for my life in 6 months, 3 years, 10 years … and I work backwards from there. It’s amazing how much easier it is to make business decisions when you know what you want your life to be first.
Then I look for opportunities that will get my business closer to making my life goals happen.
Nicole is The Opportunista.
The one item in your closet you can’t live without? There’s nothing in my closet that I couldn’t live without!
What’s one thing you look forward to every day? My cup of coffee.
I want to be remembered as: Someone who encourages others to do the things they didn’t think they could do.
The woman you dream of taking to lunch. Why her? Elizabeth I. She was a badass independent lady.
What does entrepreneurship mean to you? Having freedom to live my one life how I choose.
Tell us a secret! I’m an introvert who will always want to choose reading a book on my couch over a party full of strangers.
Let me know in the comments: How has Nicole's story inspired you to build your own business?
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