Welcome back to the Founder Feature Series, where we chat with the founders of the 6th Cohort of The Mentor Network to learn more about them as individuals, as well as their entrepreneurial journeys. They have great wisdom and experience to share with the rest of the community and could likely use your help as well!
Today, we would like to introduce you to Jennifer Niehouse-Fox, Founder of it’s so U: brand U. grow U. style U. It’s so U! educates on WHY image and appearance matter and HOW TO “dress with intention” to make the right impression through a triage of services.
Besides being accepted into Cohort 6 of The Mentor Network, Jennifer was involved in Kauffman’s FastTrac New Ventureprogram, UMKC’s E-Scholars and FastTrac Growth Venture. Hungry for knowledge and growth, Jennifer continues to learn and refine her story, as well as her service offering.
What did you do before you were the Founder of your startup?
Prior to becoming an entrepreneur, I was a “Hallmarker”. My work career began at Hallmark Cards (18 years!), starting in the Marketing Publications Department doing layout design and desktop publishing, then moving into Lettering & Typography Design.
I feel fortunate because I’ve been able to directly apply my college education to both career paths. At MU, I studied Fashion Design and received a minor in Journalism, specifically graphic design. My dream job (at 21 years old) was to move to NY and work for Vogue Magazine as a Layout Editor!
Why this startup? A.k.a. what is your ‘why’?
As I was mentally and financially preparing to leave Hallmark, it was friends and family who kept saying, “Do your wardrobe thing!” I’ve always been known for having a good eye for fashion, specifically putting outfits together, and helping others with the little things like finding a new hairstyle or glasses frames.
When I was thirteen my parents divorced and my mom got back into the working world. For my mom, that meant ”Dressing For Success”. For me, that meant often going to the mall and shopping with my mom for her career clothes. It was like we were a fashion shopping team and I was her wingman giving her style advice. Most mornings as I was getting dressed, I was picking out her outfits too!
What was your first milestone/win that let you know you were on the right track to building this business?
When I first started my Wardrobe Styling business, I was working with a business coach to put all my ideas together. One day she asked me, “What is it you do?” I answered with, “I edit, shop and style for my client’s wardrobe.” Bingo! My 3-step wardrobe process! 1. Edit. 2. Shop. 3. Style.
“On the job training” also allowed me to discover photographs were needed because I would mix and match so many outfits that my clients wouldn’t and couldn’t remember all the variations! So I went to the Apple store to see if there was something I could buy that would allow me to download the photos so my clients could pull the outfits up on their computer or phone. Bingo! Another successful discovery that’s now a product to my wardrobe service.
Why did The Mentor Network stand out to you as a positive program to be involved with?
As a solo-preneur who doesn’t have a formal business background, I have blind spots and weaknesses. I came from, and was happy with, “the comforts of sitting in a cubical and reporting to a manager type of job”. But running a business, you have to wear ALL the hats regardless of your background and training. Therefore, I’m always looking to grow and strengthen those parts to the business that I lack, until I can hire those people who have those strengths.
The Mentor Network provided the awesome DiSC Work of Leaders assessment to help me see my strengths and identify the areas I need to adjust. It’s very helpful to see how your personality applies to your talents but how your own “stuff” also hinders in business development!
What have your big wins been so far within The Mentor Network?
My mentor has made me realize that trying to do too many things can dilute the intention and goals of my business. I’m grateful for his honest input and direct communication style because as a solo-preneur it’s easy to get tunnel vision and not see other facets to the business that need proper attention. I want to know what it is I don’t know and don’t see but need to know and need to see.
I’m constantly realizing that growing a business requires pushing through some necessary growing pains. And in order to take the business to the next level, it also means making some personal development changes. Having a mentor’s input and perspective helps align and realign the business’s path to success.
How do you maintain sanity in this crazy, insane startup world?
Running daily is my medicine to help keep me sane and centered (most of the time!). I wake up and put on my running clothes, drink my coffee with hot chocolate (poor man’s mocha), work a bit on the computer and then head out and run for a few to six miles, depending on the days’ morning schedule.
As a solo-preneur, I’ve realized it’s important for me and my business to have one or two networking events or meetings scheduled with other entrepreneurs or mentors.
KC has so many resources and people to help entrepreneurs. What are we still missing? What gaps do you think we need to fill?
When I graduated from the Kauffman’s FastTrac class 10 years ago, I was disappointed they did not have a continued alumni program. After graduation, we were on our own. It would have been great to keep in touch with other classmates and form a community.
You may start a business, but that doesn’t mean you know how to RUN a business. Not all of us have the business savvy or natural skillsets (What % of startups fail!?). When you feel you have an awesome ‘idea’ and then go through a program that puts it into reality (business plan), it can burst the IDEA bubble. There almost needs to be an ‘aftercare’ initiative to help those who lack or struggle with business/sales/marketing skills to assist with the ‘next steps’.
Also, simply keeping up with the times is critical as a business owner. It’s easy to get out of touch or miss new ways of doing things. Whether it’s your wardrobe or business… it’s important to stay current!
From my own personal experience, I wish I had taken some business and marketing classes. I feel I’m still experiencing some ‘pain points’ with strategizing and as my mentor would say—focus focus focus! Those darn ideas and rabbit holes!
Regarding the KC startup ecosystem, what has been your favorite service/resource that you would like to share with other founders to take advantage of?
Whenever I meet someone who’s relatively new to KC’s entrepreneurial scene, I recommend they subscribe to the online resources StartlandNews and thinking BIGGER Business Media. These personally help me stay in-the-know!
UMKC has a cool program called E-Scholars for new and growing ventures. I went through it last year and loved the regular classroom learning environment and collaborative meetings with other entrepreneurs and startups. Their ongoing resources after graduating are stellar!
While I was wrapping up my final days at Hallmark, I enrolled in the Kauffman’s FastTrac class. It was awesome to have something to help me mentally and physically transition into this new entrepreneurial world and role!
If you could go back to the day you started this journey and give yourself one piece of advice what would it be?
Ideas don’t sell themselves. Knowing HOW TO ‘sell’ is a must.