Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway - An Interview with Handful's Founder/CEO, Jennifer Ferguson
How did your childhood dream turn into this one?
I always wanted to be the first female president of IBM, and I remember being the first person in my group of friends and family that owned a computer. It was a giant computer, and I took it to college with me. I was a page in Washington D.C. my junior year of high school, and I was Stanford bound. I was set on getting out of Montana! Just before I would have accepted my Stanford offer, my oldest sister sat me down and asked, "Do you really need mom and dad to spend this much money?" And at that time, I didn't have the perfect PowerPoint presentation to back up why I felt like I needed to go to such an expensive and prestigious school. So, I stayed in state and went to the University of Montana. And you know, from here to there is never a straight line for any of us and so it's always great to have goals and then adjust accordingly along the way. And definitely the life lessons from there to here is what helped me launch Handful and get to work with the amazing team I get to work with now.
What challenges do underserved populations experience when launching a startup?
In Portland, Oregon, we live in the backyard of what I call the "Silicon Valley for Activewear." All the big dogs are here, so there is a lot of support around that. And I often think, could I have accomplished that in a less populated area with as much talent as I get at my fingertips here? I've known a lot of successful businesses in Montana, so I'm guessing they just get extraordinarily more resourceful. I also feel like this is a really exciting time for women, and I'm grateful that I live in a supportive location, have the right team and am doing it at the right time.
How has networking in the Portland community helped your business?
There are so many opportunities in Portland it can be hard to choose where to spend your time wisely. Sucheta Bal from PDC (Portland Development Commission) met us at Outdoor Retailer. We had a Handful booth there, and she invited us to join the peer to peer group. They had speakers on finance, sales, and marketing. I boldly, bravely, reached out to those presenters and every single one of them has continued to support Handful. Now, we are in a group called StarveUps. I had someone say you should really look into StarveUps, and I said "what's StarveUps?" - they responded "Oh, we just get together and cry." I was like "ugh that sounds terrible, I mean I can cry in my shower all by myself, I don't need to drive downtown to cry with a group of other entrepreneurs." However, I kept going to these events and all these amazing people I kept meeting were in StarveUps. So Handful applied and got in, and this is our first year. It's just fellow entrepreneurs supporting each other, and it's been a great experience. I actually have people come from out of town and a lot of the other big wig companies say "can you meet with so and so from this state and that state, because they don't really feel like they have anyone they can talk to in those states." And I'm always blown away because I just feel I've had so many incredible people support us that then it makes me want to turn around and support others. It's just really a great, supportive cycle here in Portland.
What lasting piece of advice would you give to an aspiring entrepreneur in an elevator?
For me, a big thing is "feel the fear and do it anyway," and "know your voice." That's a big thing I've learned as an entrepreneur is when going through capital raising, investors constantly said "we bet on the jockey, not the horse." But there's been times when people have supported us and then people also said "we need you to come back and have your own voice." So, I would say both know your voice and feel the fear and do it anyway.