An entrepreneurial team will generate dozens of ideas a week, but only a few will actually be in line with what your big picture goals are. The most important part of testing an idea is actually making sure it’s worth testing in the first place.
Carolyn Horner is the co-founder of Jenzy, a foot-sizing and e-commerce app that makes it easy for parents to buy perfectly fitting shoes for young kids online. The app went live on the App Store in June 2018 and has been featured in Forbes, The Business Journal and 6abc. She leads all marketing and operations efforts for the Philly-based startup. A 2014 graduate of Cornell University, Carolyn completed a dual-degree in Government and Asian Studies. She was also a 2-year captain and All-American goalie for the Cornell Varsity Field Hockey team.
Eve Ackerley leads all tech efforts and was named one of Total Retail’s 2018 Game Changers. After graduating from UC Berkeley in 2013, Eve traveled to rural Yunnan, China and taught English at a public elementary school for two years.
Where did the idea for your company come from?
Eve and I first bonded over the frustration of not knowing what size shoe to buy when shopping online in rural China. For the two years we lived there, returning anything bought online meant a 30 minute trek to the nearest post office. One day after having to return yet another pair of shoes, Eve remarked that there should be a simpler way to size and shop for shoes, and it should probably involve your phone.
It was this initial app idea that was swirling in our heads when we returned to the US and started doing some research. We went to many shopping malls to observe women trying on shoes. In the adult section we saw boxes strewn everywhere, but in the kid section we saw screaming children and really, really frustrated mothers. Thus we knew that it was parents of young kids who were desperate for a solution to the nightmare that is kid shoe shopping.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
Eve and I start off every morning early with a 15 minute check-in to go over our main action items for the day. The two of us are most productive in the morning, so we try not to plan any meetings until the afternoon. In a bigger snapshot, we have worked well using a 60-day plan. We know teams who prefer 2-week or even 3 month sprints, so this is something every team can play around with. However, having a larger roadmap with milestones and a timeline is important to keep everyone on the team working towards the same goals.
How do you bring ideas to life?
As a newly-launching product, we have the flexibility to test many new ideas at the same time whether they’re technology, marketing or merchandising related. The most important thing with testing a new idea is making sure that it ties back in to your 60-day goals and the objectives are clear. An entrepreneurial team will generate dozens of ideas a week, but only a few will actually be in line with what your big picture goals are. Thus most important part of testing an idea is actually making sure it’s worth testing in the first place.
What’s one trend that excites you?
We are excited by the subscription model that is slowly growing to dominate the e-commerce industry. By creating a subscription model that forecasts a child’s growth and footwear needs by season, we can essentially eliminate decision-making from the kid shoe shopping process. In terms of Jenzy’s mission to make kid shoe shopping as easy as possible, we think this is a game-changing solution.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
In China, Eve and I became accustomed to napping for 30 minutes in the middle of the school day. Napping was a habit that we carried back to the US with us and it has become a part of our daily routine. So many people double up on caffeine or sugary treats to stay alert in the afternoon, but we think napping is the best “recharge.” Arianna Huffington (Thrive Global) is a big proponent of “nap pods” or “nap rooms” in the office, so this trend is starting to gain popularity in the US (although people in our office still think we’re strange!)!
What advice would you give your younger self?
That not getting straight A’s is okay (I was the queen of B+’s!)
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Everyone wants to see big numbers – whether it’s our sales, number of downloads or number of brands we carry. However, we have always consciously chosen to start small and do things like work with 5 beta customers instead of 100. We worked with only 3 brands for a whole year before expanding to 18. Starting small allowed us to have in depth conversations, focus on specific details and grow strategically.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Eve and I are really diligent about preparing for meetings – we identify a “big goal” for the 15-60 minute meeting we’re about to have, assemble questions and always bring our notebooks and print out other materials. We’re so thankful when anyone wants to give up their time to answer our questions and want to make the most out of our time together. So often, however, we see meetings where no notes are being taken or, more recently, people who want to meet with Eve and I, but have no expectations for the meeting – this just shows a lack of preparation and focus.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Guerrilla marketing has been a great way to grow our business with few resources. During launch, we were also in the middle of fundraising and didn’t have the money to spend on digital advertising. Thus we got scrappy, printed out infographics about Jenzy and went to daycares around the city to distribute. We ended up getting 2000 downloads in our first three months thanks to these efforts! This traction and resourcefulness helped solidify a portion of our funding earlier this month.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Eve and I had trouble expanding our team in the beginning of Jenzy – we had never hired before and no matter how much research we put into building “company culture,” we were unsure what that meant. Therefore, our first few hires were wonderful people, but not the right fit for us. Ultimately, Eve and I put a lot of work into understanding why we work so well together and what type of person would complement that. We started doing interviews separately, talking to more references and asking more questions about how a candidate would work with us, not just what they would do. Since then, we’ve brought on some amazing people onto our team who we absolutely love working with.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
An online B2B platform for wholesalers that is also optimized to integrate for dropshipping with online retailers
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
We had a customer reach out to us to request a shoe that wasn’t in our inventory. Rather than respond to her that we neither sized nor sold that particular shoe, we went to the closest retailer, bought the shoe in multiple sizes (for about $80) and determined the one that would fit her child best. She was so thankful that she signed up to be a part of our mom ambassador program and has since posted about us numerous times on social media and her mom networks – serving this one customer personally went a long way!
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?
Slack has become essential for our team. With the nature of startup life – spread out on remote, contracted teams – it’s so important to keep your work concentrated in one place. In Slack, we can also encourage more communication and constant feedback amongst team members with new ideas.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Zero to One by Peter Thiel – This was one of the first books that Eve and I read when starting Jenzy. Thiel lays out some pretty radical ideas throughout the book (is school necessary?), but touches on some extremely insightful revelations concerning the idea, type of market and strategy to scale that your business plan should incorporate (because a bad plan is better than no plan at all!)
What is your favorite quote?
“Don’t worry about failure; you only have to be right once.” – Drew Houston, Dropbox founder + CEO
- An entrepreneurial team will generate dozens of ideas a week, but only a few will actually be in line with what your big picture goals are. The most important part of testing an idea is actually making sure it’s worth testing in the first place.
- Eve and I had trouble expanding our team in the beginning of Jenzy – we had never hired before and no matter how much research we put into building “company culture,” we were unsure what that meant. So, we brainstormed…
- Guerrilla marketing has been a great way to grow our business with few resources.
- Napping was a habit that we carried back to the US with us and it has become a part of our daily routine!
- We are excited by the subscription model that is slowly growing to dominate the e-commerce industry.
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