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The ABCs of Starting a Brand

The ABCs of Starting a Brand
Starting a company feels a little like throwing the biggest party of your life…without having any idea if anyone will show up. Going all in on buying party supplies, catering food, planning a theme, sending out invitations, and then holding your breath while you wait for the doorbell to ring, clenching a fistful of confetti and crossing your fingers.

It’s only been a few months since we officially launched All Better Co and our bug-bite-fighting products, but we’ve been working and dreaming (and working some more) on our little dream for much longer, and we’ve learned a lot about what works—and what really, really doesn’t—when you’re trying to found a company.

Without further ado, here are my top five tips about starting a brand, or any other kind of business.

1. Play to your strengths, and know your limits.

I’ve always been a part-time planner, tinkerer, and inventor. People often come to me to evaluate a concept or a product, because I’m great at looking at something and figuring out one or two tweaks to streamline it or make it better. I've also always excelled at long-term planning, research, and other “big picture” skills.

Part of having these reflective, analytic skills means I’ve had (and abandoned) countless business ideas over the years. But when it comes to tracking trends, understanding visual design, or marketing strategies, I know enough to know I should take a back seat.

Side-note: this is one of the many benefits to founding a brand in your 40s (and of having a great therapist), even if that means balancing your venture with other jobs, spouses, children, mortgages, and pets. Shout-out to all the twentysomething founders out there killing it, but even in a youth-obsessed world, I wouldn’t trade my hard-won wisdom for anything.

In short: understanding my weaknesses has been just as important as understanding where I excel. It’s helped me divide and conquer with a co-founder whose strengths perfectly match my shortcomings—and vice-versa.

Speaking of which…

2. Take your partnerships seriously—and plan for the worst.

My inventor brain means I’ve had and abandoned many ideas for new ventures and brands, but All Better Co is the first time I’ve ever gone “all-in” on one of them. A huge part of that is finding a perfect business partner in my co-founder and old friend, Stacy Bernstein. Some might expect we work well together because of our similarities, but it’s actually because of how different we are. Our life experiences are incredibly different, and our skillsets complement one another, so much so that our partnership feels like a match made in MBA program heaven.

I like to say my relationship with Stacy is the healthiest partnership I’ve ever had—or maybe I should say non-romantic partnership, but she and my husband are always trading places in the power rankings. But as well as we work together, we know that we have to prioritize communication, and plan for a time when we might have a disagreement about business we can’t overcome, when one of us will want to pull the ripcord and exit the company. Sure, mapping out and signing our “business prenup” was a little weird, and it’s hard to believe we’ll ever need it. But putting it down on paper helps both of us, and protects the future of our fledgling company.

3. Learn how to tell your story—and always get feedback.

It feels a little hard to remember, but from an outside perspective, the product isn’t the individual things your company sells—it’s the company itself. Let me say that again: your company is a product, including your story, your values, and your mission, as well as all the products you make. That story is the first and arguably most important product you’ll ever make.

Learn how to tell your origin story, and how to make your values clear from the outset. One way to refine this is to ask for feedback every time you pitch, whether it’s to a top investor or to a friend or spouse. Notice what questions come up again and again when you describe your company or your products, and try to bake them into your script in advance. Polish that story until it’s immediately comprehensible, interesting, fun, and relatable.

All this hard work will pay off when you launch to the public. That same story will help you find the right customers, and if you are able to build a relationship with them, they’ll reward you with loyalty to your brand, not just to individual products.

4. Find your people—and respectfully move on from the wrong partnerships.

Your company needs its “people” the same way we all need our people—our friends, trusted co-workers, cheerleaders, and families. Through some trial and error, we’ve managed to build partnerships with people and organizations who align with our values, and who can provide valuable wisdom or connections as we grow.

For ABC, these are usually other businesses founded and run by women. We haven’t explicitly sought ought women-founded companies, and we have many fruitful relationships with businesses founded by men (our trusted manufacturer is one of them!). But we have found that women-led companies tend to communicate in similar ways to us, are more likely to fit our values, and are able to produce things that align with our vision. These founders and the way they run their businesses have taught us how to draw boundaries and keep them, and even how to professionally end a business relationship when our goals no longer align. (Honestly, I’ve started wishing friend breakups could be as smooth and easy.)

5. Ask for what you need.

I’m not often described as “nice” by the people who know me best. I swear I’m not rude—some might call me “blunt,” and Stacy just calls me Israeli. Personally, I call it being authentic! I strive to communicate exactly what I’m thinking in every conversation, and practice asking for exactly what I want. It also means I’m not afraid to ask questions when I’m lost or confused. In my experience, this approach has (maybe counterintuitively) led me to find people who match my energy, and it’s helped me get to know them better, quicker. It’s also helped me learn much, much faster.

It’s not always easy for women to be their authentic selves at work, especially when some of that work involves pitching to investors. In 2021, less than 3% of VC funding went to companies with a female CEO, which doesn’t even take into account the experiences of women of color and other marginalized groups. As we all know by now, “leaning in” doesn’t work the same way for everyone. But in many cases, our “what do we have to lose by asking?” approach has opened doors we’d never have been able to afford on our own, and built deeper relationships with the right partners, who support our goals and our values.

Obviously, these tips just scratch the surface of starting a business. But we hope our perspective can speak to other early-stage entrepreneurs out there.

When everything is in your head, it can feel impossible to get things moving forward. But if an idea won’t leave you alone, odds are you aren’t the only person excited about it. That was certainly the case for us at All Better Co, with an idea as simple as plant-powered itch-fighters.