Diversity & Inclusion

Scaling Startups: The Importance of Knowing When to Say No

Randomly ask ten entrepreneurs if they would like to scale their startup as quickly as possible and nine of them would probably say yes.

Jacqueline Carrington

“I wanted to continue to scale, but not at an overwhelming pace.” – Jacqueline Carrington, founder of People of Color

But Jacqueline Carrington, the Southern California-based founder of nail polish startup, People of Color, wouldn’t be one of them.

Upon entering the Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center Mentorship Circle program, the married mother-of-three indicated to her mentors that she wanted to “continue to scale, but not at an overwhelming pace.”

For this reason, one of the main questions Jacqueline wanted answered during the program was: "How can an entrepreneur stop their startup growing too quickly?"

Although her cautious approach to startup growth goes against the grain, it is for good reason.

As empowering as it may be for a startup founder to recruit new staff, launch new campaigns and form new partnerships, there is indeed such a thing as scaling too quickly resulting in, for example, a high volume of customer complaints or large cash flow gaps.

On the program, Jacqueline noted a few safeguards that an entrepreneur can put in place to prevent their startup growing too quickly.

“One of the biggest lessons I learned on the program was the importance of entrepreneurs saying ‘no,’” she says.

“When startups grow quickly, a lot of opportunities are presented to their founders who think they have to say ‘yes’ to everything because it might have a positive impact on their business, but it can actually have an adverse effect.

“So, take the time to look at each opportunity to scale and ensure that it aligns with your brand and has a feasible timeline for completion.”

Take the time to look at each opportunity to scale and ensure that it aligns with your brand and has a feasible timeline for completion.

Hiring family and friends

Another question Jacqueline wanted answered during her time on the program was about the recruitment process, specifically how to handle the dynamic of hiring family members and friends.

“We had a great class about ethical leadership where I picked up some tips about hiring ethically, particularly when it involves working with family and friends on a part-time or ‘as needed’ basis.

“Firstly, it’s important to go over all the details of the work that will be required of them.

“Secondly, working with family and friends means redefining the parameters of the relationship to some extent, so it’s important to set clear boundaries from the beginning,” she says.

Prioritizing Black patrons

When she was growing up, Jacqueline rarely – if ever – saw glossy magazines or television commercials with images of nail polish colors that complemented her skin tone.

It seemed to her, and people who looked like her, that retailers didn’t prioritize Black and brown-skinned people when creating their product lines.

When her daughter turned three years old, Jacqueline took it upon herself to set-up People of Color, which she describes as “a nail polish brand that was made to complement the various shades of brown skin as the first thought, not an afterthought.”

Jacqueline’s experience on the program was her first as a mentee.

Despite being a self-described “lifelong entrepreneur,” she felt she “wasn’t qualified enough” to be among her cohort.

“I started to diminish my accomplishments, thinking that I wasn’t good enough to be in the group. So, I was hesitant to join the program at first,” says Jacqueline.

Another concern she had about getting onboard the program was that she had never delivered a pitch about People of Color before.

“It was my first time ever putting together a pitch deck and pitching my brand,” says Jacqueline.

But with the support and encouragement of her mentors and fellow mentees, she stepped outside her comfort zone and successfully delivered a pitch before a real-life panel of VC investors.

With her confidence sky-high from attending the program, Jacqueline has since announced that People of Color has launched on Kohls.com and in all 200 stores of Urban Outfitters. She has also “secured a collaboration with a celebrity-owned brand.”

Nurturing professional networks

As a mentee on the program, Jacqueline says she experienced the most growth in the area of belonging:

“It was a nice change to be among other Black founders and be able to candidly discuss issues that are important to us and our communities.”

The camaraderie in the group was such that she can still reach out to them for advice and even explore potential business opportunities together.

Jacqueline compares the program to “a good rollercoaster ride” where “the range of emotions was all over the place.”

To maximize the effectiveness of their time on the program, Jacqueline’s main piece of advice to founders and entrepreneurs considering entering a mentorship program is to have an open mind.

“Networking is important, too,” she says. “Even though you’ll only be with your group for eight weeks, the relationships you form on the program don’t have to end there. For example, we set-up a WhatsApp group chat during the program, which we still use to this day.

“Staying in touch and solidifying your relationships is not only great for bouncing ideas off each other. It’s also key to staying motivated on your entrepreneurial journey, which can be a lonely one sometimes.”

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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Kieron Johnson

Kieron Johnson is a content/communications consultant to emerging and established brands.

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