As a former Division I softball player, captain of multiple USA Women’s Rugby Teams, and an elite Aquabike athlete for Team USA, I’ve experienced more bumps, bruises, and concussions than I can remember. But that doesn’t compare to the challenges I encountered while bringing to life my vision: a revolutionary toy that celebrates girls’ and young women’s athletic identities.
In retrospect, it’s been one of my most rewarding journeys, but it didn’t come without significant hurdles. I could easily write a book about the experience, which has ultimately been one of my most rewarding journeys. But instead, I’m going to focus on the three insights I gained in the process that might help other women carve out their own entrepreneurial paths:
1. Start with the ‘why’ and let it guide you.
Growing up as an athlete, I never understood why every sports-related figurine, magazine, and poster I saw featured only men. The “why” behind developing my company, SPORT BIGS, started with creating the toy that I always wanted but never had — because it didn’t exist.
What the toy represents further establishes my purpose. As an athlete, I’ve encountered inequity my whole life. In high school, my basketball team had to change in the sprinkler room while the boys’ team got the real locker room. We also played in the “bad” gym while the boys enjoyed the new facilities. These conditions still exist at the grassroots level: In 2019, coverage of women’s sports on televised news and highlight shows accounted for only 5.4% of all airtime, and women teams and athletes have historically received less than 1% of sponsorship dollars.
You’ll always learn new things along the way, but it’s important to develop your “why” when you begin your entrepreneurial journey. Dig in to find it, and let it motivate you and inspire resilience through your entrepreneurial journey.
“Whatever it is that you think you want to do, and whatever it is that you think stands between you and that, stop making excuses. You can do anything.” – Katia Beauchamp
2. Don’t take your ball and go home.
I thought my sports background prepared me for the difficulties of running a business. Challenges on the field are expected. You’ve seen them before. You know how to deal with them. And you know when the game ends. But entrepreneurship is a whole new ball game.
Challenges in entrepreneurship can often feel overwhelming and never-ending, and winning can sometimes seem impossible. When a purpose-backed vision fuels you, it’s easy to set your sights on the end game of your idea and overlook all the details you’ll have to cover to get there. Along the way, those details can come out of nowhere and try to knock you off your feet. Get back up, stay in the fight, and keep your eyes straight ahead of you.
When I decided to make my idea a reality, I didn’t consider how complex the differences between stuffed toys and figurines were. I didn’t think about how the toy’s size would impact its shelf liability, or how to source materials and coordinate with suppliers. Figuring out the details with each new step was challenging, but I kept thinking back to my athletic training that baked perseverance into my DNA. When you come face-to-face with a new hurdle, remember the other places in your life where you’ve shown resilience. Bring that spirit to the entrepreneurship table and fight for your success.
3. Add new players to your team.
A huge part of my journey was learning to temper my instinct to “put the team on my back.” When I look back at times I hit a wall, I realize I never broke through by myself. When I struggled to build out the concept in the beginning, for example, my brother connected me with his wife’s best friend’s cousin, who happened to be in the business of incubating toy ideas. And I joined a mentorship program with the Women in Toys group, which connected me to a toy expert named Irene. She was retired in Hong Kong but decided to bet on my success and come out of retirement just to help me.
Author Dan Sullivan wrote a whole book about how better teamwork can lead to achieving bigger goals. In “Why Not How,” he writes, “If you are like most people, the first thing you do when you imagine a bigger future is ask yourself: ‘How do I achieve this goal?’ A much better question is ‘Who can help me achieve this goal?’”
Knowing who can help you is more effective than walking a lonelier path. When you get stuck, don’t try to figure out yet another way to put your team on your back. Think of who you can add to your team instead. Building out an effective team that believes in your vision and has the skills to bring it to fruition is often the key to success.
I was driven to put a new toy into the world because I wanted to open new doors for young women and girls. Now, I’m driven to share the journey of its creation to help women entrepreneurs who, frankly, are still forced to play behind the scenes.