Denise Wilson brought together a group of six amazing female entrepreneurs, (and yours truly!) and we had a fantastic, very very REAL discussion about the realities of entrepreneurship.
Here’s the video and transcript:
Creating Your Own Path Through Entrepreneurship
Panel Discussion at Women In Aviation International Conference,
March 16, 2019
Denise: In our session today, we are all very excited to share our stories with you to the end here that hopefully we’ll all learn something together from the session. First, I’ll introduce myself. My name is Denise Wilson, I’m the Founder, President and CEO of Desert Jet which is a group of three companies. One a chartered management company that I started in 2007. Another’s a Part 145 maintenance repair station that I started in 2013. And the third business is and FBO Desert Jet center based on Thermal California that I started just a couple years ago. I proposed this panel to women in aviation because I feel like encouraging women to be entrepreneurs as the key to women as a group having more power.
And what I mean by that is, entrepreneurs are the people that create the jobs. With that power we can open doors to more women in our industry, set the standard for quality of life improvements that will encourage even more women to join our industry because who better to know what some of those challenges are, but women themselves. Hopefully, also to have more women on boards. With more women on boards that ultimately gives us a voice to determine the future direction of the entire aviation industry. Being an entrepreneur is an incredibly rewarding venture personally, professionally, and sometimes financially, not always financially.
But it also has its own price to pay. Being a business owner can be lonely in some respects and we all know that this journey is not one that we can really take alone. That’s one of my other reasons for hosting this panel, I wanted to have an opportunity for business owners. If you’re already a business owner to have the opportunity to mingle and talk to other business owners about some of the challenges. To ensure that we’re setting the right direction for this panel, I have an audience participation question to ask all of you, what I would like you to do is raise your hand if the question applies to you.
Please raise your hand if you are a business owner. Okay, that’s really awesome. Raise your hand if you’re here out of curiosity, you’re thinking that maybe you might want to start your own business or you want to learn more about it so that maybe you can. Okay. Raise your hand if you’ve been doing this long enough, you could run this panel on your own. Okay, great. All right, I think we know pretty much where we’re going to go. Everyone will agree maybe we should go with the start your own business, I will go that route. What I’d like to do is start with introductions and we’ll start from left to right here and everyone if you just give your name, title, how long you’ve had your business and just pretty much the same intro we did out in the hallway.
Paula: Left to right, I guess its me. I’m left or they’re left. I’m Paula Williams and I’m going to just stand. Can you hear me? All right.
Paula: okay. I’ll use the microphone. Great, can you hear me now?
Paula: Wonderful. I’m Paula Williams and my company is ABCI and we help aviation companies sell their products and services. A lot of our clients are entrepreneurs and eight years ago, all of our clients were men, every one of them. And now it’s about 30, 70. We have about 30% women and they are in all kinds of aviation businesses and it is so much more fun now working with some women who are business owners making their own decisions. Thank you.
Denise: Great thank you.
Steffany: My name is Steffany Kisling. I’m the CEO and founder of Sky Angels. I like to tell people we make your dreams of traveling the world a reality and how we do that is, we offer the training and certifications necessary to become a corporate flight attendant on private jets. We’ve been doing this for nine years.
Nicole: Hi everyone, thank you for coming. My name is Nicole Vandalaar. I’m the founder and chief pilot of Novictor Helicopters. We’re helicopter tour company in Honolulu, Hawaii. I started as a small startup eight years ago with one helicopter and now we are a full Part 135 operation with six helicopters, 33 employees, and a Robinson Service Center dealership. We operate on average of about 20 to 30 helicopter tours a day, sometimes up to 50 in the holiday time and season. We are a busy place but I can offer some experience on small startups and sole ownership especially starting in the young.
Christy: My name is Christy DeYoung and I’m president and founder of Jet RVSM Services. I started Jet RVSM in 2006. We’ve been in business for 12 years now. We have seven employees who are in the regulatory compliance business. When you buy a new aircraft and you need to fly the aircraft in special use space, we will assist you with the authorization that you get from the FAA to allow you to do that. We’re also starting a company called PreFlight to assist contract pilots with running their own contract pilot business and really want to help out the women if you’re interested in contract pilot flying. We look forward to talking to you.
Abingdon: Good afternoon, my name is Abingdon Mullin. I’m the founder and owner of the Abingdon Watch Company. We make adventurous watches for adventurous women. It did start as the first pilot’s watch for women and it was something I started right out of college. I was twenty two years old and decided to start learning how to fly. I wanted to flight watch after I got my pilot’s rating. There wasn’t anything made at the time as most businesses can attest, or at least many. They’re started out of the need of creating something that doesn’t exist in the market yet, so that’s exactly what we did. Now 12 years later, dive watches, racing watches, basically anything for women in non traditional fields. We operate out of Las Vegas, we have about a dozen employees from a dedicated watch repair to our customer service team. But we are truly a retail business, it’s very unique and that we don’t have to deal with the FAA but it is a blast and a half and I would not be here if it weren’t for aviation.
Jennifer: Hi, I’m Jennifer Guthrie and I own In-Flight Crew Connections. It’s an aviation staffing company and recruiting. We provide contract labor to clients around the country. We’re in probably 47 different states with employees and clients and we manage contract pilots, flight attendants, maintenance technicians, flight text, drone pilots, armed security officers, cleaners of aircraft, all kinds of labor that flight departments utilize, but yet, they do not want to hire them as employees. I started about 17 years ago, and here we are.
Denise: Jennifer, while you have the microphone, could you share with us why you started the business?
Jennifer: Well, I was 16 years old and my mother’s boss who was an entrepreneur said, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” I said, “Well, I want to own my own business.” He said, “Oh, great. What do you want to do?” I was like, “I don’t know, I just want to own my own business.” But as path lead along and I did a lot of different things over the years and ended up with a need in the aviation industry in the southeast region. I’m from North Carolina and that’s how I started and I love it.
Denise: Awesome. Next question for the next panelist Abingdon here. How does your business make a difference in this world?
Abingdon: I would say that, we’ll just call a spade a spade, right? It’s a watch. But from the success of the company, we launched a nonprofit that just got its 501(c)(3) status last year on November 3rd, which was the 11 year anniversary of the company. We have the Abingdon Foundation which provides scholarships to get women in the STEM fields. We’ve brought a woman from Canada this year to this conference. We’ve already issued another one to bring a woman to the SHOT Show, Shooting Hunting Outdoor Trade show. We do it for the dive industry, we do it for the automotive industry and so we really are trying to introduce young women to these amazing industries, because I’m sure we can all attest, the electricity of this conference over the last three days is invigorating. It’s just magnetic. I want to afford that to others. Because when I learned about aviation, I was 14 and none of my family knew how to fly. It was something I found out at high school, that’s how we give back and how we try to make the world a better place.
Denise: That’s awesome.
Abingdon: Thank you.
Denise: Hey, Christy, could you share with us what the day to day of your business looks like and if you work on the business sometimes, if you work in the business, maybe give us a picture of what those two things might look like?
Denise: It isn’t the same every day?
Christy: No, I would say when I’m in the office, it’s a wake up, check emails, go crazy, return phone calls, check in with the FAA inspectors. It’s a lot of managing projects that I have. Checking in with employees. We have people kind of based all over the Bay Area and in Southern California, we are not all on one place. Checking in with them and then after that’s all done, then focusing on kind of the nuts and bolts of running the business. Making decisions about ordering supplies, and which vendors to use and those sorts of things. I also attend a lot of aviation conferences. I’m on the road quite a bit, going to owner pilot groups and networking and really the success in business is completely largely based on personal relationships with people and your integrity and likeability, accessibility. I try to be as out there in the world as much as possible.
Denise: Great, thank you. I think Nicole, this is maybe a good question for you as well. Whether you want to talk about the in the business or working on the business aspect, but what’s your normal day like?
Nicole: We have a flight schedule that is running daily. We’re open seven days a week. The interesting part of our business is Hawaii is a tour destination all year round. We are constantly operating, we’re constantly operating tours. We do daytime, and sunsets flights every day of the week and then we also do fireworks flights on Fridays. For me, I have frontline management that run and launch the tours. We have ground crew, dispatch, shuttle drivers, management, reservations department, all of that, that runs the day to day and general management. For me at this point, it’s largely about making financial decisions and strategic planning for the company.
That being said, still at our size with little over 30 employees, I’m heavily visible and connected still pretty much to the front line. As the chief pilot, I lead and train pilots I’m also the check airman. I do all of the check rides for the pilots. I do that quite a bit. I deal with airports, politics, and obviously, like I said, managing the financial piece of the business. And then largely, we opened our maintenance job, I do fleet maintenance management. I manage the fleet of the helicopters and ensure the safety. My primary job other than running the businesses is to ensure the safety of the public and the flights.
Denise: Great, thank you for sharing. Notice how there’s not just one responsibility if you’re a business owner, there’s a ton of them. Tell me why you started the business?
Steffany: Well, very simply, I didn’t want a boss. Starting Sky Angels was a decision that was made after becoming a corporate flight attendant myself and recognizing that the client themselves were really pleased with the service that I was offering them, which led me to believe that the training that was currently offered in the industry could be improved where there is a gap between crew training and the expectations of the client. That was really one of the reasons why I started the company. The other reason I started the company was as a flight attendant in private aviation, I didn’t really feel like I had a good support system. If I had concerns or issues with pilots or clients. I didn’t feel that I had anyone that I could go to and speak to about the problems that I was facing. I really wanted to create a community for flight attendants that allowed them to have somebody who is really standing behind them, when they had concerns.
Denise: Great, thank you. And Paula, why did you start your business?
Paula: I think it was pretty similar to Stephanie’s story. Actually I was doing marketing in a Fortune 50 financial institution at Wells Fargo, I guess I can say that. I had almost unlimited resources to do marketing and worked on their website and trade shows and brochures and all these wonderful things, and all this branding and all this fabulous marketing stuff. And then met my husband 2006 learned to fly, and then I was ruined for our day job. I found that the flight school that I was going to, the marketing that they were using was just not appropriate for aviation. They were doing things that would bring them a ton of customers and they only had four planes and they only had three instructors and things like that. They did these radio remotes, bring in 30 people and not have the capacity to handle these 30 people. It was just insanely wrong marketing, we jumped into doing some marketing for aviation companies and found it to be so much more fun than working for a bank.
Denise: Well, speaking of bank, so I’m going to dig a little bit deeper here to probably the uncomfortable areas. One of the big road blocks for women is the financing that you need to start your business. There are studies out there and I didn’t bring any so I apologize. But there are studies out there that show women have a much more difficult time raising the money that they need to either start their business or to scale their business than men do. Since you’re on the left here, I’m not going to ask everybody to reply but those of you that are comfortable talking about your paths, we’ll just start and work our way across.
Paula: Cool. We went into debt, I mean there really are two choices. You can either finance it yourself or you can get somebody to finance it with you or for you or around you or under you. With the choices I would much prefer, personally, and everybody has to make this choice for themselves. I trusted myself and my husband who owns 5% of the business, I own 95%, so he gets 5%. We made a decision that we were going to run up from credit cards and that may not be the smartest Dave Ramsey advice in the world, but it kept us from taking a partner and that was really the only alternative for that. We’re in the black and I’m happy.
Steffany: I’m happy to answer this question. Before I launched Sky Angels, I spent three years as I said a corporate flight attendant and I just put away every single penny that I had. I was able to launch the company with $25,000 in my bank account and I made a lot of mistakes. You will too, expect it and don’t let that stop you. I always treated it as a paid education. I was learning on the job and I was willing and aware that I was going to make mistakes. And of course, you have your mentors that you’ll reach out to, but again, you’re going to make mistakes no matter how many people you have on your team that are eating your support.
There were definitely times where I didn’t know how I was going to be making rent, and you have to make the decision, do I keep pushing forward? Is this the end? Or is this just that dip? I think that that comes to revisiting your intentions and your purpose behind your business and your goal with it. I knew that I wanted to be an advocate for women in aviation, and I knew that my job wasn’t over yet. Luckily, we were surrounded by billionaires and I had some clients who really supported what I was doing and were really impressed just with my passion for what I was doing. When I needed it most, I was able to raise some money with them, no matter what pushed through, because there will be somebody who’s in your court.
Nicole: I think this an important question to talk about. Often I know when I was sitting in panels and going to conferences and had a really big vision. It was kind of like, “Wow, that seems really big, but how do I get there?” When I started my business, I had about $5,000 in the bank and that was basically student loans from my graduate degree. There was a left over from that, and I had moved to Hawaii to start my business. I had about 30 days to make it happen and I did the first 30 days and that’s all I focused on. Then I focused on the next 30 days, and then the next 30 days, and that turned into a year and two years and so on and so forth.
I think when you are starting, for me sales and marketing, I didn’t have the money but I knew I could sell. I’m like, “I can sell.” Surely somebody’s going to buy my helicopter tours. And I leased a helicopter. I was really fortunate because … And this is my point too though I showed my skill level, I did it without any money really, to start. I was flying for a small company. I was flying a helicopter for them and long story short, I was looking for my own helicopter. Some things happened with that business and I then was approached to lease that helicopter that I was flying. And that was because for the year prior to that, I was being paid peanuts, but I was the only one that knew about the helicopter.
I knew the maintenance of the helicopter to fly and I knew to fly. I had a lot of hours in it. The owner of the helicopter said, “I heard you have a small business and you’re looking to lease a helicopter.” And the guy that I was working for at the time was fine. He didn’t want lease it anymore and I said, “Yes.” He needed a place to put the helicopter, I needed somewhere to rent and basically, he said to me … We were in this small little trailer and he said to me, “Well, how are you going to pay for the helicopter?” I just gave my spiel, “I’m going to go, I’m going to get this contract and get this contract.”
I didn’t have any contracts but-
Denise: I’m going to do it. Good for you.
Nicole: This what I’m going to do. I’m going to get these contracts and I can pay for it. And he said, “All right.” We signed the lease, I was very lucky. Looking back I have no idea how that fell in my lap meaning to say I didn’t actually end up getting any large deposit on that helicopter or anything. But I paid the lease on that helicopter every month for two and a half years on time. I never paid it day late or penny short, even on the months where I barely made my rent or barely made the payment for the helicopter and once I went to buy my first helicopter I had not even enough financials and many, many things, many did not want to finance my first helicopter at 23 to be exact.
Ask me about how many scholarships I applied for before I won. The one day finally, I got smart and I said, “Why don’t I show them all the lease payments?” I took my book that every month I stamped paid on my lease payment that I was very proud of and I showed him look, “I’ve paid two plus years of a lease payment on time, I’m never late. Talk to this guy I paid him.” And it was that lease. Anyways, the bottom line that I wanted to make about that is that, you don’t have to have the money but you do have to have the will and the confidence and you cannot give up. You do have to be honest. Like I’ve heard, you have to be honest and make it happen. After a few years, I was able to put some money in the bank and be able to go from there.
Denise: Anyone that’s interested and wants to share?
Christy: Sure. My business didn’t require a lot of overhead. Luckily, I didn’t need to lease a helicopter. When I started the company, I borrowed $5,000 from my parents. I got a zero percent credit card for the business. I called my cousin and asked if I could move in with her in California and she basically charged me nothing to live with her. I spent six months just doing what I could to get the business off the ground. As time went along and the business started making money, that’s when I started scaling up. Eventually, I was able to hire some contract employees, my dad is one of them.
My dad worked for me and then we started our actual payroll. So we started having employees, which brings on a whole new level of stress and anxiety, making your payroll. I think, just starting small and working your way up, I think a lot of people when they start out in a business they think they have to get the best of everything. I think you just kind of have to work your way into it, that worked for me anyway. We’re also starting a new business now, so we’re taking the money from Jet RVSM, and putting that into Pre-Flight.
The problem when you’re starting a new businesses, if you bring in venture capital, you’re giving away a percentage of your company. If you can self fund, you can maintain control of that company. Our goal is to keep control of my business partners and aviation attorney and Silicon Valley startup expert. He’s been really helpful and guiding us through the process.
Abingdon: I was very creative because I’m sure if you’re an entrepreneur, you have to think outside of the box. I was a college graduate, I was 21 when I had the idea. I launched the company in 11 months on my birthday and that was my goal, that was my deadline. Whatever I can make happen, I’ll just get a website up there, even if I don’t know what the product is even going to look like, that was just what I had set down for me. The way I structured my loans and my initial investment, I knew I needed $40,000. And the reason is because if you build a watch, you work with watch manufacturers and this really goes for any product.
If you want something, there’s a minimum order quantity, it’s a MOQ. For the watch world, it’s 500 pieces, I had to figure out how to make 500 pieces and 40,000 for a website and the ability to take credit cards which I didn’t actually end up having. I knew that was what I needed. What I asked every friend and family and basically any stranger on the street was loan into my company for just a loan. You don’t own any part of the company, there’s no equity and I will pay you back in five years.
I will not pay you a cent until that five year deadline is up. I had five years to build my company and I put a personal guarantee behind the loan. I didn’t even know it was called a personal guarantee, but a PG at the end of a loan if I failed. I had to owe them money out of my own pocket. They were guaranteed whatever their return was. I launched my company in 2007. You all remember the economic? Yeah. 2012 was when I paid everybody back and it was a 10% return every year. If they gave me $5,000, I gave them $7500 at the end in 2012.
I was actually everybody’s best investments because they made 10% per year, from 07 to 12. It was a very creative way to do it. A lot of them were really like, “I really want some type of money.” And then of course, when 08 and 09 were hitting everybody pretty hard, they were asking me for their money back because they were also suffering and I said, “Sorry guys, but we signed a contract and I’m still trying to build my business.” It was probably one of the best decisions too. That’s the luck I had was starting a company when the economic recession hit, because I really had to do every single part right. I could not waste a cent.
And now I’m doing a similar thing where we are trying to scale to the level of the Michael Kors, the Fossils, the different brands that are very mainstream. I’m at a different level where you’re talking about seed funding and owning equity and because I own 100% of the company I have that to play with. I’m looking for the million, two million, five million, $10 million investment. But I still love that I can help people make money at that 10%, I’m still offering that to anybody who wants to invest around the … I think we have a minimum of 25,000 to 75,000 if they want to come in as a loan, then they can do that.
Because banks still don’t like entrepreneurs, not necessarily ’cause we fluctuate so much throughout the year. We have great years and we don’t have great years and so in retail, it’s very interesting. If you’re not Fossil then they don’t necessarily want to talk to you and that’s okay. I’m very proud to say, I’ll end my answer with this that, “There is not one penny that is owed at the end of any month other than a credit card bill for the company. I don’t have debtors, I don’t have people knocking on my door. All of my mentors and all the people that are partners within the company are doing it because they want to see the company succeed. Yet they do not have any financial equity in the company at this point.
Jennifer: When I started the company in 2002, it was six months after 911. That was a difficult time in business aviation but I started the company and I had an office in the basement of my house and I really did it. I started it with nothing, I had a home computer and went bought some office supplies and I guess for all my loan applications and everything I have fill up with a $1,000. The first month I made $800 and for the next few years, every dime that the company made, went back into the company. I was fortunate at the time that I had a spouse with an income and I didn’t have to take a salary.
It was probably about three to four years after the company started, got a line of credit for $50,000 and used that for the next nine years and just would borrow from the line and pay back as I had to. It was kind of based on our receivables. Today I have a much higher line of credit, I’m still self funded for the majority of it but we do have peak seasons where the company is busy and we have to pay people before we get the money in and so it is necessary to have a loan.
I did have a tremendous trouble getting a loan in 2011, it was post recession I’d had impeccable credit and 2008 recession and nine, I paid my line of credit before I fed my kids and 11, I went to the bank and I said, “I need a loan.” I need at least $200,000 and they’re like, “Sorry.” I went to five banks and all of them turned me down. I even went to the bank that had the $50,000 line of credit that they said, “We’ll let you keep it, but we’re not going to give you any more money.” And I’m like, “Really? I gave you money and I didn’t feed my kids and you’re not going to give me any money. I mean, I’ve got great credit and I have proved to you and I have contracts that are like having the golden goose and you’re not going to give me any money.” They’re like, “No.”
I was totally dead in the water, I had landed a contract with a Berkshire Hathaway company. I’ve only wanted to quit twice in my career and that was the first day I’m like, “Okay, here, I’ve made it and now I don’t have any money.” Nobody gave money to anybody in business at that point. A family member gave me a loan for $200,000, and I paid it back within about a year plus interest and that’s how I made it. I will tell you that now all the banks are dying to do business with me. I’m like, “I’m going to pick and choose who I want.” But it’s a lot different market today than it was well.
Denise: Well, I think it’s important too for all of you to understand for Jennifer’s business. Jennifer’s business was on the Inc 500 list of the nation’s fastest growing privately owned companies twice and then she was on the Inc 5000 list four times.
Jennifer: Two times.
Denise: An extra two times. Think about that for a minute. One of the fastest growing privately on businesses in the country, and she couldn’t get financing. That’s a common theme, where you’ve just heard almost everyone up here say that. I’m going to share my story too on this. And first of all, I want to tell you that my company does $20 million of revenue a year so that when you hear my story, you have some perspective.
When I started my business in 2007 as well, I did something similar to what Nicole did. I found someone who would let me lease their airplane with little more than a handshake, frankly, not even a contract. The way my company started was, I was a pilot, and I got my own 135 certificate, a charter certificate, and what I would do is, I would have my customers pay me in cash before the trip. I would turn around and go to the front desk of the FBO and pay for the fuel in cash. I turned around and pay my contract pilot in cash. We go fly the trip, the end of the trip, I clean the airplane, I’d go home at night and do the accounting and QuickBooks Online and then I’d work on my website which I had to learn how to do, because I knew nothing about websites.
I did everything organically to begin with, I had no money at all when I started. All I had was money I made as a pilot. I was lucky, I just basically took a little step at a time, one flight, the next flight, the next flight, and then eventually started putting some money in the bank. It was six months before I hired my first employee, but I didn’t have an office. I had a home office, the home office had one chair. If Melody and I were both in the office, one of us sat on the floor, and the other sat on the chair. I have pictures of us doing this by the way from the early days. And then at some point, I hired my first full time pilot that wasn’t me and then we rented our first office space.
I remember how nervous and shaky and I couldn’t sleep because I was making a commitment to rent an office and all of a sudden this was real. My company also right now we have no debt, we’ve gone from 2007 to now with no debt, and I really have no idea how we’ve done this to this point. Now, a lot of these stories, I hope what you’re hearing is an amazing amount of resilience from these ladies, things that they had to go through to get their businesses going to where they wanted to go. The grit, I mean, and the creativeness really is very impressive. I’ve also heard a lot of just say yes, and we’re just going to do this and we’re going to figure out how we’re going to make it work.
I don’t know anybody in college, sure you write a business plan. The business never goes the way the business plan is written. You have to have that creativeness, and you have to have that grit. Thank you for allowing me to ask that question, I think it’s an important question as a lot of you mentioned, that we should really be talking about. The other thing I think we should talk about a little bit is failure. The reality of a life as an entrepreneur is it’s a big roller coaster. There’s amazing successes like the Inc 500 list and then there’s the day … Nicole and I just had lunch today, and we talked about severe issues where we have government officials trying to push us off the airport because they don’t think that we belong there, so highs and lows.
I’d like to have each of you guys just for a moment share maybe what your biggest failure has been, maybe when you thought everything was going to come crashing to the end. It was all over, I know you heard one story already, but it was all over and what you did to overcome that and what you’ve learned from that. I think we will start on the other end, thanks.
Jennifer: I think one of the greatest challenges that I face as a business owner I have 24 or five people in my Charlotte office that manage our book of business and then we have over 700 employees scattered around the country. But internally the biggest challenge I have had, was people. I have made failure choices and great choices. And one of the problems I had in the early days is that I have a friend that would say, “Oh, I need a job.” I was like, “Okay, come on and help me.” Well, they didn’t really have the expertise to get me to the next level and so it’s cost me a lot of money. It’s slowed me down in a lot of ways, but I think having the right people in the right seats on the bus is very important. And that’s a business entrepreneur’s saying, I think it’s mostly centered around the right people.
Abingdon: I’d say my biggest challenge and for those that do know my company, because we’ve been coming to this conference since 2008. Nobody really knows that I was on Shark Tank and when I was on Shark Tank, it was season six. I had been applying for four years and I finally got on to the show and the thing about Shark Tank is they have 180 businesses present for the season, but they only air about 100. There’s a chance, you’re just not going to get aired. The only episode you’ll see me in is the intro to season six. The first episode where they just show a whole bunch of entrepreneurs, I’m one of those but they never actually aired the episode.
The preparation involved in going on to live television was massive because here I’m presenting a product that I’m marketing to roughly 50,000 individuals in the United States that’s how many female pilots there are in the United States. That’s a small market and I can tell you that Mr. Wonderful does not like the number 50,000. My pitch was to start branching into all of these other industries and that’s what I was seeking the investment for and even though and they don’t tell you if you’re going to be aired or not, it was also during that year when that season six was going on at the Malaysia air incident happened. The aircraft was taking over the news as to where it was and what happened and all the speculation.
There’s a theory between the producers and myself that the reason that we didn’t air the episode was because it showed aviation and there was a very negative aviation story that was going on at the time. That could have been nobody knows. But I was so frustrated that I had done four years of work and had prepared a year to present the business in a positive light and to try and gain this investment and it didn’t happen. Not only did it not happen, that did I not get a deal, but then they didn’t air the episode.
Now, what I tell people is I swim without sharks, because-
Denise: That’s good.
Abingdon: Because what it taught me is, I had to answer that hard question. I mean, I am a female pilot and I wanted a pilot’s watch. So sure, great success we got it made. But if I need to sustain the business, I need to grow outside of just this group, which everybody here is like a family to me. And that was really the hard part of preparing for Shark Tank and it ended up teaching me how to really scale my business. And now we’re in a much better position that happened back in 2015. Four years later, it’s vastly improved, but you have to learn from those hard lessons if you do it and it doesn’t work out, if you walk away, you’ve done nothing other than waste your own time. Entrepreneurs do not have a lot of time, it’s best to learn.
Christy: One of my failures, I guess was would be I put a little bit too much trust in somebody when I was maybe two years into the business and ended up creating a competitor, oops. We’re a very niche business, consulting for special use space authorizations, there’s not another whole bunch of them out there. Anyway, I ended up creating this competitor and now I’m like, “Shoot now what do I do?” What are your options? Your options are to get, feel really bad or light a fire under yourself and just say, “Okay, we’re going to provide a better service, better product, we’re just going to blow them out of the water.” Pretty much we did and we got some really good contracts with some manufacturers, aircraft manufacturers, and we did blue them out of the water. So yay! The other thing was about a year ago I had kind of a work burnout and I’m sure ladies here can all identify with that. I know there was a session about work life balance and about, paying attention to what’s going on with your body, with yourself, super duper important. I had to learn that lesson the hard way.
Nicole: There’s a lot of different types of I could say challenges we will call them. Definitely staffing as I heard earlier, that’s always an interesting thing. Although I found that over time I get better at staffing and I get better at working with people and leading and managing people. I guess I’ll tell a story from early on. It kind of follows up on that first helicopter I went to go buy after I leased one. I had wanted to actually buy when we were getting bigger, we’re busting at the seams for the one helicopter that I had and I went to buy my first helicopter and I was very excited.
I flew all the way to Florida, I went to a supposedly Robinson Service and Dealership, talked to the guy, he took me flying. I flew the helicopter, da, da, da. Tell him I want this custom paint scheme, I had this vision I think it’s great. Go back to Hawaii, put down a deposit of $32,000. The helicopter was supposed to be delivered in six weeks. Well, six weeks comes out no helicopter. No helicopter on the way, very difficult to get a hold of et cetera, et cetera and I’m thinking no. Like no, no, no. I am like smart girl here you know what I mean like no, no, no. Who buys a helicopter and it doesn’t show up? Does that happen? That doesn’t happen, it’s not possible. Car maybe not really, no.
It was yes, very true, my helicopter wasn’t delivered. The individual did take my money and did not return it. It was a very hard lesson. Basically the long story short was, there was a guy who was just wheeling and dealing with multiple people, and he spotted me right off the bat. He was like “Oh she’s way too vulnerable.” And I was. And I mean I did everything right. Here’s the funny story about that, I did everything right. I used an Escrow, I signed a purchase agreement and I went there for God’s sakes. I did everything right in those respects but it was my first transaction and there were definitely some mistakes I made. But anyways I will tell you actually after many, many years I did legally go after that money and just a few months ago I actually got it back.
It was a long time, I guess over five years. But it wasn’t anything that long and drug out. I tell that story because also persistence, we’re talking about persistence. Everybody, I would not let go of the money, and I earned way more to make up for that. But I said, “You know what, I’m just going to keep it going to try to get that back.” And I did. I think most people would have let it go, and I just kind of said, “I’m just going to keep pushing along.” Anyway it ended up in my favor, I feel better about humanity after that.
Steffany: I would say expect failure and learn from it. When you learn from it, it now will become your success and you will grow so much from that, I think for me I recognize that not everybody will do business with integrity in the same way that you will. Get a contract and make sure it’s ironclad, that is one area that I would suggest that you spend money on is with an attorney, because I was left with an unpaid invoice of over 30,000, probably not as much as the helicopter. It was enough to really hurt the business and this was the time where I was really concerned whether or not I was going to be able to keep the doors open.
I went and had a conversation with this gentleman and he was just adamant that the money was not coming and unfortunately the contract would not allow me to fight for it legally. Do expect failure but again, just recognize. If this is something you truly believe in, where there’s a will there’s a way and there are going to be things that just beat you up and make you want to quit almost every day. I think that we can say should we do this or should we quit? And then there’s been time where my father passed away, and I went and I took a trip just to clear my head and I came back finding out that I was going to be kicked out of on training space.
In the worst possible time you’re going to have things that are just hitting you left and right but push forward, because this past year we doubled our profit in one year and the company’s finally soaring high which is one of our favorite little things and we’re finally on a trajectory towards mass success. Everybody who’s out there who’s starting a business, running a business, know that there’s people out there that will support you, family, friends, and be your biggest advocate as well. Don’t forget to pat yourself on the back for getting through all your emails in a day.
Denise: That doesn’t happen.
Paula: Yeah, exactly. Crash and burn. I think if you’ve been in business for more than a year or so you have at least one good crash and burn story. We were self funded and we were doing you know what you were doing. We did have two chairs, that was a wonderful thing. John and I each had a chair and we had a PC and everything else. We got a big client in our first couple of years of business and we thought we were doing really well. We were so excited about this big client that we didn’t look too carefully at him. I was coming from the finance industry where the world is full of sharks into aviation where it’s only nice people and they all have really high integrity.
I thought we’re home free this is great and we have this big client and now we can buy some computers and we can hire some people and we can do some things and we can do all this stuff and it’s going to be fabulous, until it wasn’t. We had a photographer that was working with us who was a very young and talented person but very young person who was on site with this client and this client decided that he wanted more work than what was on the contract. My photographer refused and this client locked up some of his lighting equipment and said, “We’re not going to release this to you until we get this resolved.”
John and I drove a couple hundred miles and showed up in his office the next morning and he wasn’t there. We did get him, one of his managers got him on the phone and we did have the conversation and the Mexican standoff with the iPad over here and the iPad over there and we have a satisfaction guarantee. We refunded his money and watched the money go out of our bank account into his bank account, and we took the hit, that was our biggest failure and we drove away with our photographers equipment and we resolved the relationship. We take care of our people, that was thing number one.
I count it as a victory ’cause we learned three things. One is, I never lose it with anybody but John. I just rehearsed everything that works out much better with the client. Number two, we go over all of our numbers every Monday. I know every stinking number every stinking week. We can take a hit if we have to and number three is, because we resolve that, we can walk away from any decision at any given time. And that is the coolest thing about being an entrepreneur and that is something that I want for ourselves forever and it works for all of our clients and it works for everybody who’s an entrepreneur because there’s no other way in the world to get that. You can’t get that from a boss, you get that from yourself.
Denise: Yeah, and I’m glad you brought that up. It’s like, why go through the failures? I’m listening to the stories going, “Wow.” Some of the failures are not nearly as big as how big I failed in my life, but I’m listening and going, “Why do we do this as entrepreneurs?” I’d like to talk about that for me. I want to leave some time for people to ask questions as well if you’re interested. What is the one thing that makes this all worthwhile for you? You probably have a list of things, but what is it that makes this worthwhile for you? Maybe we’ll start with Jennifer and why are you an entrepreneur? I mean, why are you doing this?
Jennifer: I just think I was born with it. I don’t know, it just came out of somewhere and I don’t know where it came or why I didn’t really know enough about business, when I was 16 and said I wanted to have my own business. I like to work for myself, I like to call my own direction and my own strategy and I like that freedom. I was a good employee, but I prefer to be my own boss. What was your other question?
Denise: That was it. I’m sorry.
Jennifer: But I love it. I don’t think I’m cut to be employable by somebody else at this point in my life.
Denise: I probably too.
Jennifer: I don’t think that would be a good one.
Abingdon: I agree with Jennifer. I think I was born for this. It’s like the six year old with the lemonade stand. I had to outperform every girl scout that was in my troop and sell as many cookies as I could. I love it. I mean the reason I’d show up before my staff and I leave after my staff every single day, seven days a week is because it’s my customers, they are my boss. If customers aren’t buying my product, I can’t pay my employees. I make sure that they’re happy and if they’re happy, everybody else is happy. And if everybody else is happy, my husband’s happy and I’m happy so everybody’s happy. It’s my customers that keep me going all day.
Christy: Yeah, all of what you guys said. The fact that you’re your own boss, I don’t know that I could ever go back to an office and work a nine to five job. I would much rather work 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It’s fulfilling, what you put into the business is what you get out of it and the harder you work and it’s just wonderful to see your business growing and supporting other people and your customers are happy with what you do. It’s just very fulfilling.
Nicole: I found when I was working for other people, I always had ideas that were just too big for them. I was constantly too big for who I was working for and that was like, “Oh, really?” I mean, I didn’t have always been that way, where it was like, I look at the world and it’s huge to me. Yeah, we can go to Mars, we can all go. I mean, that’s how I see the world. There’s not large limits, everything is doable. We can do it, we just have to do it, we have to work on it. When it worked for people, I found I had all these great ideas and they couldn’t make it happen. What keeps me going now is, I like to create something and sell it. When you buy something that I created that is awesome.
One of the motivating things I have on my email, everybody makes fun of my email that knows me. I see every booking that comes into my company I guess new booking, new booking, new booking, new booking and it’s like I could wake up every day and go, “Wow! New booking, booking, new booking, new booking.” I like sales and I’m like, “Oh cool. I created that towards and we just bought it.” That’s a lot of tours to look at and see but that’s motivating from me. It’s like, “Wow! I created that out of nothing, that came out of my brain and we are multiple people on my team now.”
And then other people are buying it and that’s a new thing in space and so to me, that’s motivating to say, you can do whatever you want to do, even if it’s not business. If it create a family, or create a nonprofit, or whatever you want to do, you can create it if you vision it.
Denise: That’s perfect. We have about five minutes left and I’d like some audience members to be able to ask questions, if that’s all right. We’ll do quick questions and quick answers. Yes.
Speaker 8: Hey. Have any of you have any suggestions for somebody who’s really attracted to entrepreneurship but doesn’t essentially has specific inspiration for a product or a service?
Paula: The first thing you need to start with is basically your skills or your talents or anything in particular that you are particularly good at. I’m assuming aviation related, yeah?
Speaker 8: Yeah aviation, I’m interested in photography, interested in that.
Paula: All right. If it were aviation photography as an example, you want to look for who’s doing that now and what can you do that’s different. What is not being done right now that everybody wants. For an example, you may see that everybody is doing private jet photos for broker listings and things like that, but nobody’s doing helicopters. I don’t know if this is true, I’m just making this up. But if that were true and you found a niche that nobody is serving, I really strongly suggest Pat Flynn’s Will It Fly. There’s a book to test ideas before you do them to see if there’s a market there and to see if that is something that you would be willing and able to do, that’s going to give you the lifestyle that you want before you go crazy and invest money. That’s all things we’ve done. You want to make sure your idea is a good one.
Jennifer: Mine is quick, start turning every rocks just start looking at things that you see and flipping it and turning it and testing it to see, do you think there’s a market? And I think that, that will lead you down a path of finding something.
Abingdon: And real quick, also, everybody in this room should know their SCORE. S-C-O-R-E, is a group that is a subset of the SBA, Small Business Administration. SCORE has mentors, and they have socials in your local community. You can meet with other entrepreneurs, it’s free-
Denise: You can get some speeches.
Abingdon: And you get connected to your entire community. If you want to find out an idea of a business you don’t have one, just start hanging out with other entrepreneurs. You’ll get a seed planted.
Denise: Nice, good input. Yes.
Speaker 9: I co-own a business with my husband which is a whole another panel discussion. Two years in we just had cash positive for the first time and talking what do we do next. When do you decide to scale and lease your first office space versus bringing on your first employees and all of the stress that comes in those really early years. My question to you is, what was that biggest, most stressful decision right in that, “Oh shit! If I actually do this moment.” And then how did you scale from there?
Denise: I was going to say did it wrong.
Nicole: When I was small, I waited till I was busting at the seams to make any more things that I owed on and then I did very small increments. It was until I had more cash that I started making bigger moves. If you need an office, great, I mean, my first office rent was like 150 bucks a month or something, get something small and your brain will get big. So I would say get small increments in the next year and then see where you can go from there.
Denise: Lady in the blue Polo. Yes.
Speaker 10: Hi, let me say you [inaudible 00:57:57] me up. So, mine is, just starting up a business and [inaudible 00:58:01] my life move with a career change. Just wondering, how do you find a mentor in your business that suits you? Because I’ve never had one going on for 20 years. I just want to find-
Denise: I’m so glad she asked this question.
Jennifer: I love this, ’cause I belong to two mentor groups.
Denise: She’s talking about this.
Jennifer: There are groups, but it depends on where you are. In the US there’s Women Presidents’, if you’re over a million dollars, there’s Women’s Advantage and NAWBO which is National Association of Women Business Owners that I would strongly encourage you to be a part of, because these peer groups are incredibly helpful and bouncing off of these ideas and helping you to make the right decisions about your business and peer groups are invaluable. I don’t miss my peer group meetings because I learn, they call me on, what I’m doing wrong. They hold me accountable and it’s just really an invaluable part of being a business owner, so it’s a great question.
Denise: I’m going to add a little bit to that too. I was in the Women Presidents’ organization and also the Young Presidents’ Organization, which is a mixed gender group as well. My schedule got too busy and I stopped doing that but now over the past five years, I’ve had a business coach. So I talk to my business coach every other week and that relationship with my business coach is one of, I could talk to him about anything. Once you’re a business owner, actually it can be a little bit lonely because you’re the face of the company and there’s the public persona that you put off, your brand. And then there’s a time that you just want to go into the closet and scream because things aren’t going the way you want and there’s a lot of things outside of your control.
Having a business coach allows me to have a mirror in front of me to show me when I’m off base, to help me be a better leader, and just to be able to tell me everything that nobody else can tell. There’s some of us who talked about this earlier, bringing the pressures on your spouse’s to have them be your springboard all the time about everything that’s going on in your business. That’s a lot of pressure for a spouse. Having a business coach is also another way that you can get the mentoring as well. Also this group also spoke before this meeting where we want to continue this discussion and in line with this question, we want to start a Women Presidents’ organization, a woman founders organization specifically for aviation.
If you have interest in that … Yes, I like the clapping. If you have interest in that, please stay afterwards, we’d love to talk to you about it. Thank you all so much for attending the panel today and thank you to our panelists. That was fabulous.