Making the Leap from Small Business Owner to Serial Entrepreneur

Entrepreneur and Shark Tank alumna Rebecca Rescate shares her success story.

Making the Leap from Small Business Owner to Global Entrepreneur

Make no mistake, taking your business idea and turning it into a sustainable small business is a major accomplishment. It allows you leave your day job, support your family, live a more comfortable lifestyle, and in some cases build upon that success and expand beyond your wildest dreams.

However, it requires a very different set of skills and mindset to take a small business and grow it into something that reaches far around the world.

Here to help show you how to make that leap is Rebecca Rescate, a 2 x Shark Tank veteran, serial entrepreneur, and founder of CitiKitty, the HoodiePillow, Blankie Tails, and more. Rebecca's now working on the Top Down Planner, her unique spin on a day (and life) planner that takes you beyond just scheduling - and will help you map your to-do's to the ultimate goals you're seeking to achieve.

Here's my interview with Rebecca, focusing on how she transitioned into starting her own business, and built upon that success time and time again.

Ryan: Tell me about your early career in business. What led you to start taking your first business idea seriously?

Rebecca: "I began an MBA program fresh out of college. I didn't know what I wanted to do with my career and I didn't have a job. When I began the program, I realized how irrelevant the classes were to me because I had no work experience to relate the teaching to."

"I dropped out after one semester and moved to New York City with no job and just $3,000 in savings. I picked up a job in marketing within one week of living in New York at an enterprise software company. It was there that I gained the confidence to make a working prototype of my idea, CitiKitty, a cat toilet-training system now with over 1,200 customer reviews on Amazon, and began selling it online."

"What led me to take CitiKitty on full-time was the initial sales numbers. In two weeks of launching the business, it was making more in sales then I was pulling in as a Marketing Assistant. I have never been one to follow the typical routes of others, nor do I have a history of completing things before starting something new in tandem. If I had waited for a degree to start my business, the opportunity would have passed me by."

Ryan: How did you first identify the unique opportunity in the marketplace that your products are filling?

Rebecca: "I've identified marketplace opportunity for consumer goods by simply being a consumer. CitiKitty began because I couldn't find an easy-to-use cat toilet training device for my cat. I created Top·Down Planner because I couldn't find an effective goal planner on the market that taught people how to manage their time better and focus on high-value work."

"I am not your typical consumer. I don't purchase a lot, and I take a less is more approach when buying. When my needs are not being met by the current products on the market or the product I need doesn't exist, that signals to me there may be a gap in the marketplace."

Ryan: For aspiring entrepreneurs with novelty/unique business ideas, how do you recommend testing the marketplace and validating that there is indeed a demand for their product concept? 

Rebecca: "Prototypes! My businesses all began by making just a few sellable prototypes of my products, creating a brand, and launching a rudimentary website. Then, I hit the streets and try to sell my ideas, launch them on Facebook, tell my friends, email bloggers. If a product sticks and starts selling right away, you have a winner."

Note from Ryan: I want to echo the point that Rebecca made about validating your product idea with prototypes before investing heavily into any new business. Building prototypes and testing the market is essential to learning how customers are going to interact with your product, where it could use some improvements, and understanding what people are willing to pay for it.

Ryan: You talk a lot about your very slow rise to becoming successful. What's the biggest lesson you've learned along the way?

Rebecca: "First, it's important to note I have always viewed myself as successful. My first year of business I did $130,000 in sales and I was ecstatic. During my swim career (prior to CitiKitty) my final two years in the pool were terrible, but I viewed them as a success because I achieved the goal of getting a college scholarship. My biggest lesson has been to welcome small forward progress in your life. There is no need to have to hit a home run the first time. Take the win base by base." 

Ryan: What's the #1 most impactful piece of advice you would give to aspiring entrepreneurs today?

Rebecca: "It's important to take note on what defines 'success' for you. When I finally got honest with myself a few years ago about what I truly wanted for myself, the answer was a lot simpler than what I was working towards. I didn't want a multi-million dollar business with lots of moving parts that consumed all my time. What I wanted was a simple business, with modest growth, that enabled me to work only part-time. Get honest with what you really want, the simple answer will be a relief."

Ryan: What's your strategy for breaking into the crowded marketplace and competing with established competitors? 

Rebecca: "Truth, I don't ever launch a business with a marketing strategy. I simply start a number of different marketing activities and only continue with what sticks. Check back in a year and I will tell you what worked."

"Regardless of how busy the market is that you are entering, there is always a way to differentiate yourself and your products. You need to find that point of differentiation and put that message front and center in your marketing."

If you have dreams of launching a successful business, be sure you get started on the right note. Check out these essential steps to starting a business the right way.