Our latest Fearless and Fabulous Female Entrepreneur Series feature is Ali De Bold – co founder of ChickAdvisor.com. Equipped with a great business idea and loads of hard work she and her husband and business partner, Alex De Bold, started www.ChickAdvisor.com – Canada’s first user generated reviews community for women to share advice on their favourite products and local places. It was launched in September 2006 and has reached over 3 million women since.
How did you start your business?
I was planning my wedding out of province and was researching for hair salons and spas for the big day. It was 2004 and there weren’t any websites in Canada that had reviews for those kinds of services. In fact, most salons didn’t even have a website. My only option was to flip through the yellow pages and choose the prettiest ad – and pray I picked well. I complained to my husband that there should be a site like that where women could give each other advice and he suggested we start one!
Did you always know you wanted to work for yourself?
No. I didn’t have any specific desire to start a business. I always thought I could work equally well for myself or someone else as long as I was passionate about what I do.
What’s your typical day like?
I get up at 6:30 and go to the gym. That’s the only time I can squeeze in a workout and it helps with energy and productivity. If I’m not in meetings, I spend a lot of time preparing proposals for clients, writing articles, chatting with members in the forums, testing and reviewing new products and attending press events. I also have a strategy session with the team once a week to discuss new ideas, then do testing and tweaking until it’s ready to go live.
What was your biggest worry when you started your own company?
What if I fail? I always believed in the concept, but it’s an incredible risk to work for yourself with no safety net. I’m very lucky that my husband is my business partner. He’s a web veteran and incredibly smart, He supported us while we got the company off the ground. If I didn’t have him, this wouldn’t have been possible.
How long did it take for you to feel confident about working for yourself?
I didn’t have much time to ever reflect on that. When we started the company I was in school full time in my second year of a 4 year degree program. I worked hard out of necessity because failure wasn’t an option. I wasn’t going to drop out of school, and since money was tight, I had to get strong grades so I could get scholarships every year. I wasn’t going to let the business fail either. I don’t start something only to get a C+. I wanted an A and I really pushed myself to get that.
What surprised you the most about working for yourself?
I’m more capable than I thought. I’ve learned so much in such a short time. I would never have believed this could be possible in 3 years.
Was there a moment that you thought you wanted to quit and go back to a 9-5 job?
Never. Being an Entrepreneur is incredibly challenging and there are more ups and downs than you could imagine, but it’s all worth it. I’ve never regretted doing this and unless it was failing, I wouldn’t be able to quit.
What have you sacrificed?
Social life, sanity, lifestyle, money… a lot. I’ve never worked so hard in my life. It took a long time for my friends and family to understand that working for yourself doesn’t mean you have more free time, it means you have less. If you don’t sit down and do the job, it won’t get done. Even if you hire someone to do it, they may not come through for you and so you’ll be the one working into the wee hours to push it across the finish line. I’ve sacrificed a lot but I’ve also gained a lot. It’s a crash course in business, marketing, management, logistics, accounting.. you name it.
What advice would you give to other women who wanted to start their own business?
Start it for the right reasons. If being rich is your ultimate goal, you may be lacking the passion and vision to actually create something of value. If you are passionate about what you do, the money will come. If it doesn’t, you’ll still be happy along the way because you are doing what you love.
I also think it’s extremely important to have several mentors you can turn to for advice. I’ve learned a lot from my mentors, one of the most important being: Hire slow and fire fast. Having the right people on your team is critical. If you haphazardly hire someone you will pay for it later.
Is there anything you would have done differently?
I’d trust my instinct more. It’s so cliche, but it hasn’t led me astray. There have been cases where I’ve ignored it, whether it’s hiring someone I didn’t feel 100% confident about or entering into business discussions with parties I don’t completely trust, and inevitably I would have been better off trusting my gut.