An Entrepreneur Finds that Scarcity is a Great Teacher

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An Entrepreneur Finds that Scarcity is a Great Teacher

Bootstrapping a startup can make you scrappy and creative.
A hand holding a pencil - with "ideas" showing behind it.
“People think that being an entrepreneur is kind of glamorous. And maybe for the top 1% it is, but for most of us, it is a long slog,” says Jillian Tohber Leslie. | iStock/Marvid

When Jillian Tohber Leslie left screenwriting to start Catch My Party in 2009, she used her own money to fund the online site that provides inspiration for party themes and encourages others to share their celebration experiences and tips.

Bootstrapping her startup taught her to be scrappy and creative, while forcing her to develop a strategy to make the best use of limited resources, she says. Leslie, who earned her MBA in 1995 from Stanford GSB, met with Insights in May while on campus for a forum sponsored by the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies. This is what she had to say about making do with less.

“People think that being an entrepreneur is kind of glamorous. And maybe for the top 1% it is, but for most of us, it is a long slog,” says Jillian Tohber Leslie.

Move, Evaluate, Repeat

“The biggest challenge is always allocating resources because there are never enough,” she says. There’s never enough money, time, or people.

This scarcity demands that an entrepreneur continually assess where his or her company is heading, she says. “Then you take another step, and then you evaluate,’’ she says.

Leslie also recommends capitalizing on the specific areas where your company has an abundance of resources. For her, it’s the interactive community of users who post party photographs, recipes, and tips on the site. “We might not have money, but we’ve got awesome evangelists who will support our company and promote it.”

Pick Your Markers

Evaluating your success is impossible unless you have a way of measuring, and the data is useless unless it tells you what you need to know. Leslie chooses specific markers to measure success, including company growth, earnings, and the growth and engagement of those who use her site.

Then, after the numbers come in, she says the key is to hold herself accountable to these measuring sticks and to make adjustments as needed in reaction to them.

Be Nimble

Identifying when the company is heading down the wrong path is difficult, Leslie says.

“You have to be willing to recognize when something isn’t working and just pull it up and start over,” she says. Leslie relies on both gut instincts and “these little things called analytics.”

However, she also warns against letting your gut feelings override the objective data. “You have to recognize it’s wrong and move on. I would say that a couple of times we didn’t, because we’re like, this just should make sense.”

Appear Bigger Than You Are

You have to be willing to recognize when something isn’t working and just pull it up and start over.
Jillian Tohber Leslie

Leslie says scarcity is a great teacher that has forced her to be scrappy and creative. “You figure out that you need less than you think you need.” For her, that means testing to see if something is resonating with her customers, and then moving on if it is not. And it means getting by on few resources while giving an outward appearance of abundance. “We try not to look like we’re scrappy,” she says. “We try to look like we’re bigger than we are.”

Don’t Ignore You

Having some sleepless nights and upsetting days comes with the territory of being an entrepreneur, but prepare to flame out if you don’t find a way to manage the ups and downs of starting a business, she says.

“People think that being an entrepreneur is kind of glamorous. And maybe for the top 1% it is, but for most of us, it is a long slog,” Leslie says.

That means learning to handle the bumps along the way without going up and down with them. By reducing the highs and the lows, it is easier to have the stamina for the long haul, she says.

After awhile, you learn that something that looks “awful” today won’t look so bad in the morning. “You also learn that this, which looks really awesome today, probably won’t be as awesome tomorrow,” she says.

What’s the Next Big Thing?

“I’m a busy mom,” Leslie says, “and so for me, I would say that next big thing is anything that saves time.”

Jillian Tohber Leslie: Managing Resources in Early Stage Companies

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