Luck, serendipity, and random collisions are often credited in helping entrepreneurs become successful. Being in the right place at the right time can make all the difference. I used to hope that such luck would strike us at one of our startups. Then, someone really smart told me to stop waiting, that luck doesn’t usually happen, that we must make our own luck.
I wasn’t sure that I completely believed that luck wasn’t random. And then I met Bianca Thompson.
In 2012, Bianca became the first female African-American lieutenant in the Baltimore County Fire Department. She likes helping people and has committed her life to helping and protecting others. That should be enough to make a good story. But there is much more. Bianca is also the founder and CEO of a startup ecommerce company, B.Foxy. I met Bianca at the first Baltimore Bootstrappers Breakfast, an event I started in September 2014, part of a nationwide movement to bring together entrepreneurs to help grow our businesses. She recently shared her journey with me and I found it inspiring.
Bianca says that in addition to her successful career as a first responder, she had a feminine side that she liked to express with jewelry and accessories. Accessorizing started as a hobby, but she eventually thought to invest her spare time to build an online store where others could share her passion and design tastes. In telling her idea to a friend, Brian from Miami, Bianca was referred to - and eventually enrolled in - the NewME Accelerator program in San Francisco. Starting out by looking for help - especially thousands of miles away - was a well calculated move and one that opened up more doors than she had imagined. It was a risk that Bianca took, out of her comfort zone, spending valuable time and money, traveling to San Francisco, exposing her idea to friends and then strangers.
Bianca, like other entrepreneurs, also used HARO (Help A Reporter Out, a free PR service). Through a HARO post, she met an LA-based marketing company who introduced her to the Soul Train Music Awards to provide her accessories in the celebrity gift bags. That led to an introductio to someone from BET and got to work with the Basketball Wives reality TV show.
Through the NewME program, Bianca met Angela Benton. With what she learned at NewME, and with Brian and Angela behind her, Bianca started to get customers. Paying customers. Meeting people from Baltimore to Los Angeles, to Miami, to Atlanta, to San Francisco, and then NYC, and all while continuing her work as a Fire Lieutenant. Bianca opened herself up to so many people and so many locations, and as a result, started to get traction for B.Foxy.
But wait, there’s more. It gets even better. While in San Francisco, Bianca decided to attend a Bootstrappers Breakfast in Silicon Valley and met its founder, Sean Murphy. When Sean learned that Bianca was from Baltimore, he told her that I was in the process of bringing his program there and that she should attend when she got home to make more local connections. Bianca came home and attended the first Baltimore Bootstrappers Breakfast. Also at the inaugural event of about 40 people was Alfred Toussaint, an investor from Reston VA, who scoped out B.Foxy because of his interest in the fashion industry. After a couple of conversations and lunch, Alfred invested in B.Foxy to help build out the brand and platform. Bianca has since revamped the website and was able to run ads during NYC Fashion Week.
Though still a solopreneur, Bianca has taken B.Foxy farther than she ever imagined, with relationships that developed because she put herself and her idea “out there.” She shared a vision that enabled her to make connections, and that network resulted in not only good advice, but in customers, partners, and investors. Making her way to Basketball Wives, the Soul Train Music Awards, and NYC Fashion Week was not serendipity. I might have used to say that Bianca got a few lucky breaks - it was lucky her friend in Miami had heard of NewMe, it was lucky she got Angela as a coach, it was lucky to meet Sean and learn about the Baltimore meetup and lucky she met Alfred when she did attend. But none of that was luck. It was hustle.
Not only does Bianca protect and save lives as an EMS and firefighter, but she now inspires others to turn their dreams into business. It’s not only about taking risk, or being persistent, but to put yourself - and your idea - out in the open. Make yourself visible. Ask for help. Create connections. Foster community.
We cannot only look at our businesses from the inside-out. Having an outside-in perspective allows us to see possibilities that aren’t obvious while working on the inside. I always encourage entrepreneurs and clients to get out of the building. Attend or speak at a conference, go to a networking event, or become part of a community. Don’t let geographic boundaries hold you back - travel and spend time away from the office. Don’t be inhibited in meeting new people. Learn to make connections comfortably. Meet your customers - and your competitors. By increasing your movement, you are far more likely to be the beneficiary of luck - and, like Bianca, your hustle can make that luck happen.