Here’s an important lesson for would-be entrepreneurs: Even if you’re not yet ready to make the leap, it’s never too early to prepare.
Consider Elyse Dickerson. The Fort Worth native always wanted to start her own business, and at Southern Methodist University she focused her MBA studies on entrepreneurship.
But approaching 40, she still had not taken the leap. She was tethered to her marketing position at Fort Worth eye care company Alcon and the steady income it provided.
Then, in early 2015, she got laid off.
That break was enough to nudge her forward. She hooked up with Joe Griffin, an Alcon scientist who had also lost his job, and they began researching product ideas. After talking with some doctors, they decided to develop a drop to dissolve impacted earwax, a common problem which can cause ringing and hearing loss.
In two years, their company Eosera was selling EarwaxMD on Amazon and through doctors’ offices. In September, the product was picked up by CVS pharmacies nationwide. Discussions are underway to get the product onto shelves at mass merchandisers sometime next year. “This is so much faster than I ever imagined,” says Dickerson, the 42-year-old CEO of Eosera. “When I presented to investors, we did not promise them this kind of speed to market.”
Trey Bowles, co-founder and CEO at the Dallas Entrepreneur Center, recalls meeting Dickerson about five years ago, when she was just tossing around concepts for a business while mentoring startups at Health Wildcatters in Dallas. While it would take a couple of years for her to move on her idea, he says, she was mentally ready.
“I’m a huge proponent of jumping into entrepreneurship, not diving in,” he says. “Think of entrepreneurship as a pond. It’s OK to walk over to the pond to see if there’s any water in it.”
Eosera would win a business pitch competition sponsored by Comerica at the DEC in November 2015, bringing a $50,000 prize and leads to potential investors. Within months, the company raised $1.2 million to conduct clinical studies on its product.
Bowles says Dickerson impressed the judges with her detailed market analysis. “She clearly understood what they were doing and what the pathway for success would have to look like,” he says.
The same know-how also paid off when Dickerson landed a meeting with buyers at CVS. Armed with clinical data, she convinced CVS to stock EarwaxMD at thousands of stores. “My experience at Alcon had taught me how to deal with buyers and make the sell to them,” she says.
Darlene Boudreaux, who helped Eosera get started at the Tech Fort Worth business incubator, says what set Dickerson and Griffin apart from other entrepreneurs was not just their ability to work well together, but also to ask for help when they needed it. The pair sought out assistance from scientists and other experts as they formulated their product in lab space at the University of North Texas Health Science Center.
But even with smart preparation and a great idea, there are intangibles to success. “You have to be crazy to start a business when you know already that 90 percent of them fail,” Bowles says. The best entrepreneurs treat every failure as a learning experience and many don’t succeed until their second or third try, he says.
Dickerson’s not sure she would have gone out on her own unless she had lost her job. But she’s glad she did.
And what does she tell others considering the leap? “If you are really passionate, you have to muster the courage to step through your fear,” she says. “There are going to be dark days.”
Steve Kaskovich is the Deputy Managing Editor of Business for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.