It was a busy Christmas season for Dawn Bowles and her startup, DreamBank. (I loved the idea so much, I pitched my former colleagues on Global TV about that story. My "Eat, Pray and Love Tour dream" is still just that, but that's another story.) Anyhow, I was excited when Dawn agreed to share some of her startup advice with me because it's hard to find women CEOs to talk to. I've had to edit her answers for length, but she did emphasize the enormous amount of support she received from her family, friends and those that know the tech-business.
1. How do you begin a startup, other than the idea? How do you know the idea is really “awesome” other than you think it’s just awesome.
I didn’t have any technology experience so it was a daunting task at first. I tested in out on friends, then friends of friends, then strangers. Everything that came back was positive and on top of that, people were excited and offering to help however they could. Before we went out for funding, we conducted independent focus groups with different demographics that gave us valuable specific and documented information about attitudes towards the concept and our message. It was all very positive (even the moderator was surprised because usually the new concepts she tests get pulled apart by these focus groups). Obviously this was good news for us. It took about a year to build the business.
2. Dreams are interesting topic. Did you know that you’d have a market what would participate?
DreamBank is really about a convergence of trends. All data and trends show that people want more meaning in their life’s, they are buying less “stuff” and realize that the way we are giving and receiving gifts these days can be very wasteful and not that meaningful. Many of us don’t live in the same place as our friends and family do and most of us don’t need much these days but if we really think about it, we all have a dream product, project, or trip that we’d love to have. Early adopters already feel comfortable with this and we firmly believe it will only be a matter of (short) time before the DreamBank model is THE way people give and receive gifts. Giving “Dreams” and not “stuff” makes sense and it’s exciting too.
3. Do you have investors?
Yes, 34 of them! Amazing friends and family and a few of fantastic Angel investors who have been an important part of DreamBank too. Note, on the friends and family front, it was/is more work to maintain that many investors and sometimes it’s stressful when so many people you know have a part in your business.
4. What is your ad-revenue model?
Our primary revenue stream is transaction fees and vendor partner programs to start. We participate in a few ad programs but we are not looking at ads as a source of meaningful revenue until we hit a much higher number of users, or maybe never. DreamBank’s financial success is not reliant on ad revenue.
5. Most valuable lesson for others wanting to start up?
Put your ego aside and do not try to do everything yourself, take help and get your product/service out there “early and ugly”. Get feedback constantly and listen (this is harder!). When you start hearing the same things over and over, there is probably some merit to it. Make changes but never give up your core values or mission or you lose the whole purpose of what you’re doing.
6. Any advice for entrepreneurs?
Be convinced of your possibility but honest about your weaknesses. Do not try to do everything.
7. Anything else?
I would add that it’s important that you have support. I was asked to respond as a woman in tech and frankly, the community is small and women do business a bit differently and we need different things to sustain our energy, and motivate us sometimes. I attend a lot of the regular tech industry events and commiserate with other tech start-up CEO’s and I really enjoy and benefit from those interactions but it’s largely a male world. Earlier this year I became part of the FWE ( Forum for Woman Entrepreneurs) E-series class of 2009 and as well as all the support from the usual suspects, ( friends, partners, family, etc), having a group of women entrepreneurs ( despite their types of businesses) to share experiences, ideas, etc with have been very rejuvenating and important for me, and for DreamBank. I recommend joining some group like this in your city or town. These are early days and as we continue to grow and refine our business and model we also continue to need help, advice and resources and to build awareness.