With her fleet of three pop carts and a bricks-and-mortar store set to open this fall, Carolyn Phillips is the admiral of Alchemy Pops. With flavors like honey-cream lavender and blood orange lime, Phillips makes what she calls “chasing the pop dream” sound like a whole lotta fun.
I have interviewed many seasoned entrepreneurs, but successful trailblazers of all ages have a few things in common. They’re willing to face down the fears and doubts that would hinder them. They run toward the roar. Here’s what I mean: male lions roar to provoke fear and send prey scattering away from the startling noise and into the path of the smaller, quieter lionesses — the true hunters. If gazelles knew to run toward the frightening sound, they would have a better chance of survival. Likewise, successful entrepreneurs are those who run toward the challenges and conflicts, instead of away.
Building any business from the ground up isn’t easy, and I wanted to discover the daily landmines a millennial entrepreneur must navigate. For the scoop on how she’s run toward the challenges of being a millennial entrepreneur, I talked to Phillips, who has spent the last two years developing her Fort Worth–based frozen treat business. My top four takeaways from the conversation:
1. Own your personal brand Being a business owner has its fair share of challenges. Being a young, female business owner is a landmine-filled journey unto itself. While Phillips doesn’t identify these attributes as hindrances, she understands the reality: people come to the table with predetermined judgments that affect the way they view her.
For example, being asked, “Is your husband coming to this meeting?” is unique to women. As the decision-maker for Alchemy Pops, Carolyn Phillips recognizes that her husband would never face the same question. Still, Phillips believes she’s faced more challenges due to stereotypes about millennials than she has as a female.
While Phillips indeed faces unique challenges, any business owner must learn not to let other people’s perceptions affect their view of themselves. Instead of being a victim to what others think, Phillips recommends building relationships to break down barriers and assumptions.
Millennials are often conditioned to multitask and try to “do it all.” That, according to Phillips, is just not real. Part of building your brand is defining your values and investing fully in those.
2. Build a brand on something bigger than product People often wonder whether this frozen treat thing is just another fad — like the gourmet cupcake. That’s why Phillips builds her brand on “sunshine and smiles” more than on frozen flavors. “We sell fun with friends,” she says.
The economy will change and fads will come and go, but certain values — like community and friendship — remain. Cultivate community and sell the experience, and “You’re going to be okay,” Phillips said. That kind of community can’t stop with customers either. Build social capital in every part of the business.
As for the long-term viability of a good product, Phillips notes that there are still plenty of cupcake shops doing well even after the high point of the trend has passed.
3. Celebrate the whole journey One of the things Phillips would most like to be known for is being able to embrace the mess of life—the things that go well and those that don’t go according to plan. There’s a lot more to any business story than snapshot highlights. There are the wrong turns and times you hear seven nos before you get a yes (as in Phillips’ case, when she was seeking insurance to rent a commercial kitchen). Phillips said that while she has certainly needed to change plans and shift directions, she doesn’t feel she’s failed at anything. “They’ve all just been adventures,” Phillips said, “and if things go sideways, I just make the best of the next thing.”
On a recent challenging day, Phillips had $17 left after paying her bills. While she felt the pressure (and had an ugly cry), she also took the moment to appreciate that she was still able to pay everyone. It’s about perspective.
4. Master your release valve In 2015, 24.2 miles into a marathon, Phillips wanted to quit. She broke down right there on the course. And, as she said, crying while also running and sweating is “the worst kind of ugly cry.” When a running coach joined her from the sidelines and asked if she was okay, she said she was decidedly not okay. She was, in fact, “terrible.” Still, as she acknowledged the pain and the sweat and the terrible feelings, she also remembered that in less than two miles, it would all be over and she could have a beer. By mile 25, she was back in action.
Phillips believes being in touch with and able to express emotions is a strength. Phillips said that if you’ve been short with two people in the office before 9 a.m. and don’t know what’s actually bothering you, it might be time to take a long walk.
While it may not come out as an ugly cry for everyone, entrepreneurs need to have a release valve (working out, meditating, etc.) to prevent burnout. In a characteristic return to how much she values perspective, Phillips offered a final reminder: “There is always something on the other side of an ugly cry.”
The bottom line Sometimes, you just have to have patience. Being willing to endure means you’ll be in position when you finally get a yes after seven nos or when the answer to a question that has been keeping you up at night pops into your mind just as you’re about to lose hope. Hold tight to your story and your brand. Build a brand on something bigger than a trend or product. Give yourself permission to express your feelings. Never let go of that perspective that has served Phillips so well. If the story seems to have a sad ending, she just chooses to believe it’s not over yet.
Editor's Note: This article previously incorrectly stated that an Alchemy Pops store was opening in August. It has been updated to correct that error.
Jason Forrest is CEO of FPG.com, a global leader and designer of sales, management, and corporate training programs. He is the author of several books, most recently “Why Training Fails.” He’s the chairman of the National Speakers Association and the Million Dollar Speaker Group. He writes this column for each issue of FW Inc.