When Ellen Bennett began selling aprons, she wasn’t thinking about business plans, returns on investment, or international expansion. “I was like, ‘How do I get my first order?’” she says in an interview. Bennett invested $300 of her own money, hired a sewer, and opened a stall at a Los Angeles farmers market. A decade later, her brand, Hedley & Bennett, has outfitted Food Network chefs as well as Michelle Obama for the former first lady’s show Waffles + Mochi. The company’s products are ubiquitous in restaurants and have recently exploded into home kitchens (a glowing review in Wirecutter didn’t hurt). Bennett’s new book, Dream First, Details Later: How to Quit Overthinking & Make It Happen!, is a tribute to old-school bootstrapping and a demystification of entrepreneurship. Here’s her advice on taking the leap:
Keep your day job(s). Bennett started her company while working as a line cook at two restaurants and as a personal chef. “When you have less time, you get efficient and effective on evenings, mornings, and weekends,” she says.
Be open to change. Bennett’s early work was custom orders of five to 12 aprons, hand-delivered to restaurant kitchens. Now, her business equips home cooks nationwide with a full line of ready-made gear. It’s 80% online. “You have to be OK with that journey of adjusting and adapting to customers’ needs.”
Exude humble enthusiasm. “People were like, ‘This girl is really excited about aprons.’” This is how you get word-of-mouth. Your vibe is excited to share, excited to learn: You’re thrilled to dish about your project and also thrilled to hear people’s thoughts and criticism. “This communication piece is pretty fundamental to launching. Practice in a mirror.”
Start scrappy. Investor money is overrated. “Sometimes it’s a gift to be resource-constrained. I’m so grateful that we were, because now I know how to run a business with cash—we know how to handle our revenue. When we have a problem, we don’t spend $500,000 to figure it out.”
Seek input. Your co-workers, friends, and family are your focus groups. “I’d bring aprons to chefs, and they’d tell me what they loved and hated.”
Get going. Pandemic closures of numerous businesses may reduce competition, making 2021 a great time to take the plunge. “If there’s something that really lights you up, grab it and try. What’s the worst that’s going to happen?”