4 Simple Startup Lessons From the Founders of Cureeo

4 Simple Startup Lessons From the Founders of Cureeo

Maida Swenson-Fortune and Katie Dombrowski want to democratize art. Each the product of an entrepreneurial family, Maida and Katie launched Cureeo based on a shared vision of making the art world accessible to everyone. They jumpstarted their dream in 2012 when Cureeo joined Excelerate Labs‘ (now TechStars) 2012 class of startups. These two haven’t lost steam despite their hectic lives, launching their transparency-focused Buyer’s Guide in 2013 to help everyone understand what makes art worth what it’s worth, in addition to bringing on new art impactors and discovering new artists in Chicago and beyond. Both founders are finishing MBAs at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business: Maida, the CEO and a first time mom to nearly-three-month-old Ella, is just two classes from completion while Katie juggles being a full-time student (graduating this May) with acting as CMO for Cureeo.

We sat down in Cureeo’s workspace at 1871 to glean wisdom from these two founders and distilled our conversation into valuable advice for all entrepreneurs, female or not.

The Urgent v. Important Test

Maida credits becoming a mom with forcing herself to implement an “Is this urgent or is this important?” test. “As a mom,” she said, “you just can’t spend time doing stuff that doesn’t matter.” Whenever she has a laundry list of things to do, she categorizes each item as either urgent or important, both urgent and important, or neither urgent nor important. Then, she crosses off anything that’s neither or only urgent but not important. Any entrepreneur can benefit from her prioritization strategy: “Don’t waste time doing what only seems pressing but doesn’t truly add value to your product.”

Stay Uncomfortable

Both of these founders agree on the importance of  being uncomfortable if you want to be successful. “Generally in life, if you’re not uncomfortable in some way, you’re not pushing yourself enough. Whether you’re working out or starting a business, you should stay uncomfortable,” theorized Maida when asked about the best advice she’s been given. Katie carried this idea over into thinking about product launches and paraphrased how Booth’s Professor Craig Wortmann opened one of her classes: If you’re an entrepreneur, you continually want to work on your product, make it perfect, and make it shine. Don’t do that—you’ll fail. You have no idea how it will do, so stop being comfortabl, and sitting in a self-reinforcing circle. Put it in front of live people. That real feedback will be the best thing that you ever do.” Katie recognized that the team at Cureeo could easily fall into the product perfection trap, but the way out is simple: Put your product out and be willing to be uncomfortable for a while. The feedback will be worth it.

Build a Team You Can Trust

Maida realized the importance of the Cureeo team when she was leaving them to give birth to her daughter. Unable to be on email constantly, she knew that the only way she’d be able to have a semblance of maternity leave was if she knew that she could trust the rest of Cureeo to represent the business. Maida left Katie at the helm, crediting an implicit belief in her team and the trust that they all share the same vision and mission, enabling her to step away.

Be Part of a Community

Shared experiences and resources through their networks have been crucial for these two founders, personally and professionally. “Other female founders are so important to me as a new mom running a business. When you’re balancing pumping with meeting with investors and switching into sales mode, it’s so relieving to know that you’re not the only one,” said Maida. She also gave a hat tip to the founders of Excelerate for making the environment one where she wasn’t nervous about telling people she was pregnant and trying to get a company off the ground. Both agreed that working out of 1871 is a huge boon, thanks to the people and resources within the community. Katie gave examples how invaluable it is to be able to bounce site issues off of other e-commerce companies, including MoxieJean, and have access to talented models for landing pages (you might spot Tony Wilkins on the site), as two major pluses of working in the shared space.

 

More Guides You Will Love

6 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Put a Price Tag on Your Startup Most of the things we shop for these days come with a sticker price. Even things we assume will have some room for negotiation–like cars and houses–usually come with a price tag. And so many entrepreneurs think they shoul...
The 5 Factors that Led Us to Victory at LAUNCH Techweek Chicago A few weeks ago, over 70 pre-qualified startups demoed their products and services for a chance to compete on Techweek’s main stage, for $100,000 is cash and prizes. Our startup, WeDeliver, won! Here are the five factors...
How To Craft The World’s Greatest Elevator Pitch If there’s one thing I can do better than anyone, it’s sell something. I can sell you anything. In fact, just to prove that I can sell anything, a couple of years ago I got bored and sold empty plastic bags of “fresh Ad...
Your Startup is Not First to Market. But Who Cares? All entrepreneurs have heard phrases like, “There’s already an app for that,” or, “X company already has first-mover advantage." When I did my first startup, I initially quivered whenever one of these phrases was ment...
Do You Have Enough Hustle to Build a Successful Startup? The typical digital startup has two founders: one is technical, the other does sales and marketing. Think of Hewlett and Packard of HP, Wozniak and Jobs of Apple, Evans and Maloney of GrubHub. My own company, Orbit Media, has...
Startup Institute: We’re Coming to Chicago! I'm really happy to share that we're building Startup Institute Chicago this Fall. Here's why. It's clear that Chicago is a special place for startups, and we want to make it the place for people to join them. When yo...
The 9 Golden Rules for Dealing With Bad Publicity Sometimes, bad publicity is inevitable. Even when you and your organization behave responsibly, you always run the small risk of an unexpected PR disaster. In the information age, bad publicity can reach the masses before you...
Should a Non-Technical Founder Learn to Code? "Should I teach myself to code today?" I could spend the next 2 years teaching myself a programming language, and I’d still be a more efficient marketer than coder. I know this, and that’s what continues to hold me bac...
There’s No Such Thing As “Free” Funding for Your Startup Unless you are one of those entrepreneurs who has made a boatload of money for venture investors before, you have probably noticed that raising early stage venture capital is pretty challenging these days.  All the more so i...
Skinny Cows Many businesses want to generate a steady return of profits and keep their costs down.  So how can you become a cash cow while maintaining a lean startup business model? A cash cow is a business venture that generates pos...