Today we are happy to welcome SpringBoard graduate Rachel Mecklenborg, founder of Legacy Letters, to the blog to talk about the trials and tribulations of launching your first business.
I first “pitched” my idea of an online marketplace for sorority alumnae to resell their sorority t-shirts to current members of their sorority at a networking event last winter. I assumed a room full of men would zone out after hearing the word “sorority,” but they loved the concept! I declared my idea legitimate enough to be named and combined Greek tradition with alliteration to create “Legacy Letters.” I was basically ready to launch now, right? I’d just raise a bunch of capital for my website and voilà!—I’d be able to quit my job and move to Costa Rica.
A wise, successful entrepreneur suggested I test the concept before investing too much time or money. Heeding his advice, I pivoted from my original idea and invited the alumnae and current members of my sorority chapter to be a part of a test market on Facebook. They were sold on the idea and provided valuable feedback and support. I launched Legacy Letter’s Facebook page in January 2013. Several alumnae posted t-shirts and Legacy Letters had a few sales, but the posting and payment process were extremely clunky. Long story short, Facebook is the obvious choice for social networking but fails as an online marketplace. I was nowhere near the sandy beaches of Costa Rica.
In March 2013, I began the SpringBoard program. It was evident I needed a website to adequately test my idea, so once again, I pivoted. A web developer friend developed a website without all the fancy features for a low cost. My sorority, Sigma Kappa, would be the test market.
At the Springboard “Pitch Night” I wowed the crowd with my profit model. With $600,000 in annual sales, Legacy Letters would profit over $1 million. People in the audience came up to congratulate me on such an awesome idea. After that night with an inflated ego, I reached out to the “big wigs” in Sigma Kappa and explained my earth shattering idea. They were not nearly as impressed as I thought they should be AND told me there would be an 8.5% licensing royalty fee attached to each sale. This really shook up my seamless profit model. Enter humility.
While nursing my bruised ego, I attended an Entrepreneur Bootcamp hosted by Queen City Angels this summer. A successful venture capitalist asked me an honest question, “Would sorority alumnae really be enticed to sell their t-shirts on your website for such a small profit?” In my thoughts I answered, “Excuse me Mr. Gazillionaire, but I think I know sorority women a BIT better than you.”
After I got over my bad self, I gave this question some serious thought. I sent a survey to my sorority contacts and the results showed that alumnae would be motivated to donate their t-shirts if a significant portion of each sale went to something they care about. For the umpteenth time, I pivoted. Now, sorority alumnae will donate their t-shirts to Legacy Letters, current sorority members will purchase the t-shirts of their liking, and 50% of each sale will be donated to that respective sorority’s Foundation. Sorority alumnae can give back to their sorority simply by cleaning out their closet.
After several months and a big dose of reality, I’ll be humbly launching Legacy Letters in a few weeks. I don’t know what to expect, but I better be ready to pivot.