Women's History Month Spotlight: Adafruit Industries
In celebration of Women's History Month, we reached out to female business owners and invited them to share their stories. In this spotlight, we spoke with Limor Fried of Adafruit Industries who shared her experiences as a small business owner.
What inspired you to start your own business?
I was in school and I had a thesis to write, but it was so much more fun to make electronic projects like mint-tin MP3 players, synthesizers, or light-up toys for Burning Man. I'd build them in my spare time and document them on my website. Eventually, people on the internet would email asking if I would sell them a "kit" of parts so they could build a cool bike light. After graduation I figured, "Sure, why not? I'll put up a PayPal button and go to the post office once a week to drop off a dozen orders". Slowly but surely, I designed more kits and projects, and found other kit-makers to stock them. Now, we have over 3,000 products in the Adafruit store!
What was the biggest hurdle you faced when starting your business? How did you overcome it?
The biggest hurdle when starting a business is not knowing what I didn't know! Running a business is totally different than engineering, and completely different skills are required. I learned a lot by reading business and legal books, and making tons of mistakes.
What is something you wish you would have known before starting your small business?
It’s okay to change your mind. It's never too late to quit something that isn't working.
How would you encourage other women small business owners to support each other?
There's no better support than to give money to people whose efforts you appreciate. Hire them, contract them, partner with them and give them money!
What’s been your #1 marketing tool for getting new customers?
Our learning platform (learn.adafruit.com) is the #1 best way to reach more people. We have nearly 1,200 unique guides and projects to learn everything, from how to light up your first LED, to debugging low-level assembly code for the latest embedded processors to making a sound-reactive skirt to data logging temperature and humidity in a greenhouse.
What is your hope for the future of small businesses?
America is one of the easiest places in the world to start a business. Let’s keep it that way. It’s fun to run a small business, and a lot of people do it "by accident" with no formal training. It’s what makes our country's business ecosystem so vibrant and exciting. Nobody should feel like they need to get an MBA to get their fresh new idea out there. All you need now is a website and a local post office
What’s the best piece of advice you received when starting your small business?
Invest in protecting your business. Once you're on your way, invest in a proper accountant, legal counsel, continuing education and training, copyrights, trademarks, other legal protections, website design, R&D, and so on. It’s a balance. Don't spend too much time while ignoring the basic cash flow of the business. Five percent of company time and money is a good starting place (adjust as necessary).
What do you still want to learn as a small business owner?
I want to learn what other businesses have done and are doing to be good companies and good businesses. For example, we added paid time off for charity, which had a lot of social impact. What other things can we do to keep our values and social causes as we grow?