“…as I discovered the creativity and determination of the startup culture here in Chicago, I knew I wanted to start my own company. Next step… what problem needed solving?”
- Coco Meers
Coco Meers, Founder of PrettyQuick, recently took some time to share her initial founding days of PrettyQuick and gave us a chance to get to know her entrepreneurial spirit. She will be pitching tonight to Chicago’s top business leaders at the Momentum Awards, in hopes of being crowned Chicago’s Coolest Startup.
What was the trigger that ultimately led you to start your own company? Did you have any fears? What were they?
“I moved to Chicago in 2009 and was contemplating my next career move after 5 years in brand management for the beauty industry. I started doing some Marketing consulting for local startups and totally fell in love with the creativity and determination of my entrepreneur clients. As soon as I discovered the startup culture here in Chicago, I knew I wanted to start my own company. Next step… what problem needed solving?”
What was the trigger that made you find the courage to take that initial leap into entrepreneurship?
“Once I was bit by the entrepreneurship bug, I really couldn’t imagine not pursuing my start up dreams. Passion for the startup process – when everything is new and evolving and scary and thrilling – is a bit intoxicating. I was an English major at Princeton and though I had managed hundred million dollar P&L’s before for L’Oreal, I felt that I still had some learning to do on the analytical front. To give any company I started the best chance at success, I thought it prudent to pursue an MBA and really round out my business perspective. I chose University of Chicago because they have a track record of helping entrepreneurs get their start. I knew I’d be able to start a business through their Entrepreneurship curriculum which lessened the “initial leap” fear.”
What prompted you to start this business? What was your aha moment? How did you come up with the idea?
“I was a young professional working very long hours in the international headquarters of L’Oreal in Paris. I had had very little time to myself and was about to board a flight for a much-needed vacation when AirFrance announced our flight was delayed. I thought, “Man! If I weren’t trapped in this airport, this would be a perfect time to get my eyebrows shaped (something I’d been meaning to do for a while!!)” It was at this moment that I realized the power of SOcial/ MObile/ LOcal technology had not penetrated the very large salon and spa industry. I had no easy way to find and book the service I needed, when I needed it.”
One of the hardest things entrepreneurs struggle with is building an audience. What’s your advice for building the right audience?
“Focus. Do NOT try to be all things to all people. Identify a segment that has a real problem, build a solution, and assess whether or not that segment will pay for you to solve it.
Don’t make up problems for solutions you really want to build. Don’t build solutions for targets that don’t have hair-on-fire problems.
Focus on a defined audience with a tangible problem that you can solve.”
What’s the one question you don’t get asked, but wish you did because you have a great answer?
“Do you like your job?
YES! And if you don’t, stop now. Being a startup founder is extremely anxiety-provoking. We’re all still struggling to optimize (or completely scrap and rebuild) our platforms. (or else, we’re no longer a start up) Most of us will not succeed. Many of us will achieve some traction, but will not get to 100% of the goals we set for ourselves and our shareholders. Those of us who do will (with careful planning and perseverance) take a nice chunk of change off the table. But is that the only reason you’re still in the game? I can honestly say that I have learned more starting PrettyQuick then I have from my entire 10 year career – about a whole range of topics. The day to day is never the same, but is always stimulating and fun. Ask yourself why you’re doing all this, and if you’re not in love with your day to day, then be honest with yourself about why you’re doing this. Remember, no one is forcing you to start a company. This is a choice you make every day because you believe – deeply – in the power of your solution.”
What challenges/failures did you face as you started the company? What steps did you take to work through those challenges?
“The burden of choice! For first-time founders, every decision we make is likely the first time we are forced to make that particular choice. The stakes seem so high and there are no textbooks or secret “success” wizards to help you answer every question. Don’t sweat every decision. Just make one, assess its effectiveness, and try again. Get out of your own head. The market (and trusted advisors) will illuminate the right path. Making choices and forcing yourself to course-correct quickly will orient your team towards execution as opposed to analysis which is one of the most important advantages a young team can have.”