Innovation may begin with an entrepreneur’s great idea, but the same innovative spirit must be applied to how that idea is transformed into action.
We all know this business climate is one of the toughest since the Great Depression. Most of us entrepreneurs have come to grips that our professional destiny depends upon our own actions, not the subsidy of others. Entrepreneurship and new business creation is at a 14 year high, which suggests we entrepreneurs are finding ways to move forward while the rest of the world seems to stand still.
One cost-saving strategy you might consider is finding another entrepreneur or two who may want to co-locate, or share office space and the administrative overhead that accompanies setting up and running an office. If you can’t find an incubator facility or a co-working space, then setting up an office with a couple fellow ‘treps may be a good alternative to remaining in the garage or the spare bedroom.
ActSeed Entrepreneur Kristi Watts is a shining example of how to do this successfully. Her firm, KW Designs, set up an office with Streamline Development. Not only do they share the costs of space, but they are strategically aligned in the services these two companies provide, so they can share clients and through this collaboration, deliver client value better than if they had separate offices.
KW Designs offers green interior design services for renovations and new construction projects in residential and small commercial buildings – functional and innovative designs that support sustainability while reflecting the unique style of the client.
Streamline Development is a residential construction company specializing in building and remodeling environmentally friendly homes applying the highest standard in green building practices.
Below is a Q&A with Kristi about her experience as an entrepreneur and as a small business owner.
Q. Kristi, please describe your “Eureka Moment”. What was the market opportunity that drove your decision to form your company?
A. I always knew I would have my own firm at some point. When I was working with Paul on a new construction home in Del Mar, it was his enthusiasm about building green that made me realize how I would form my design firm. It was during this project that my vision for ‘KW Designs’ came to life. I remember my excitement in the beginning. I would barely sleep because if I was not dedicated to my dream I knew it would not last.
When I started working for myself all the sudden it didn’t feel like work, things began happening and it became apparent to me that this is would be my main journey in life. Paul and I started our companies in one of the worst times for building, but there was something else driving us, as the green movement was not slowing down.
Q. How have you funded KW Designs so far?
A. It’s been one step at a time for KW Designs with this economy there were some times that my family contributed to my efforts. It hasn’t been an easy road but I feel it has only made me stronger as things have picked up this year. I have been blessed to work with some amazing people, who have been a great inspiration.
There have been many sacrifices over the years, endless nights and weekends, but there has never been a moment that I wished I was doing something else. I’ve embraced all my challenges because those are the moments that define the success of a company.
Q. ActSeed champions the need for solid planning and preparation from the very beginning. How important is planning and prep to your company’s success?
A. Preparation is definitely important to define your goals as a company. I think some of it depends on the size of the company or even the type of business, as far as how much planning and thought might be in the beginning. As for ‘KW Designs’ I put together a simple business plan knowing that things would evolve and develop from project to project. I continue to look for ways to be more efficient and improve in all aspects of my design firm and collaborating with builders such as, Streamline Development as well as architects.
By sharing an office space with Streamline, we can utilize our time efficiently and stay up-to-date on projects as things might change or progress to the next phase. We call it the ‘team approach’, when the architect, designer, and contractor can be on the same page, things move much quicker on the job.
Q. How long did it take to get your idea into the market from initial concept to first customer?
A. My initial concept of having my own design firm has always been in the back of mind even through school. In my case, it just happened and basically came to life when I met Paul, president and founder for Streamline Development, on the new construction of a green home in Del Mar. To this day we work together as a team, which is the most efficient way to approach any new construction or remodel project. We jumped into the green building industry with our passion and determination to stand out in this market. We are now seeing our hard work paying off. Today most of our business is from referrals and through word of mouth.
Q. Describe the challenges you faced as you built your customer base, including defining the customer target, establishing the right price and pricing strategy and of course, closing the first few deals.
A. Being a young entrepreneur is definitely challenging because people quickly assess what you should be paid. I’m an honest person and like to give potential clients the full picture, but I’ve learned that giving too much info up front doesn’t always pan out the way I would think. It takes a couple falls before one starts to fine tune their strategy in closing the deal. There will be frustrating days, stressful days, crazy days, exciting days, and fulfilling days but if you can accept everything that comes at you as an opportunity to grow, then you will be successful. Here are a couple of quotes I’d like to share with my fellow entrepreneurs:
“To succeed in life, we must stay within our strength zone but continually move outside our comfort zone.” J. Maxwell
“When you get into a tight place and everything goes against you, till it seems as though you could not hang on a minute longer, never give up then, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.” – Harriet Stowe
Q. What techniques have you used to establish credibility in the eyes of customers, investors, partners, personnel and the general public?
A. I establish credibility with my clients by showing them conceptual visuals of my work and explaining how I pull a project together. They are usually from a referral, which always helps. Listening to my clients and those that I work with plays an important role in how things get done, especially in the construction world when there are tight timelines. Asking the right questions also gives my clients the confidence in my abilities and professionalism.
Another important one for me is following through and finishing any tasks. When I say I will do something, I do it… that should be at the top of the list for any entrepreneur.
Q. What is the most important thing people never tell you about joining or founding an early-stage company?
A. The things that I had to figure out on my own were… how to manage income, what I was really making, and what I needed to invest in to continue doing what I love to do.
Q. Is there anything else you’d like to share that we didn’t ask you in the questions above?
A. My faith in God has also played a big part in my success, knowing that He never fails in his undertakings gives me peace. I realize that situations come up for a reason and we might not always see the whole picture at that moment, but I trust in Him where my life may lead.
Oh, and one more thought…
When you have a passion for something there will be sacrifices along the way, but with a strong will those important decisions become easier… Always stay true to yourself because that is what will take you far in achieving your dreams.