For small business founders, the personal story matters

For small business founders, the personal story matters

Making It Work is a series that explores the tough times small-business owners endure.

Hakki Akdeniz, founder of the Champion Pizza chain in New York City, opens up about his past. When he first moved to the United States from Canada in 2001, he was homeless, sleeping in subway cars and in Grand Central Terminal, before staying in a shelter for three months.

Mr. Ekdeniz’s experience is featured prominently on the website of Champion Pizza, and the company’s dedication to helping the homeless is key to its mission. Mr. Akdeniz, 43, is part of a growing group of small business owners who are weaving some of the most intimate aspects of their personal lives into their company’s brands, according to experts and business observers.

Company founders telling their personal back stories is nothing new. These stories are often straight, succinct tales of a determined individual who sets out to solve a problem. Experts say a new generation of founders is distinguishing itself with narratives that aren’t neat, easily digestible stories about how their business came to be. These include stories of homelessness, addiction, incarceration, mental illness and physical health.

Many small-business owners say they are choosing to be transparent about a difficult period in their lives and, in turn, forge deeper connections with their consumers. But what happens when companies reveal some of the darkest moments in their founders’ lives? Will consumers relate to or be turned off by too much information?

In recent years, an increasing number of small business owners are disclosing sensitive details about their past in company messaging, said Tüllin Erdem, professor of marketing at New York University Stern School of Business and chair of the university’s marketing department. Doctor. Erdem said it was a “positive trend” that could inspire engagement with customers, as long as it was genuine and relevant to the company’s product or service.

“Some people won’t like it,” she said, but added that those who don’t probably aren’t the target customers.

Angela Lee, a professor at Columbia Business School who teaches about venture capital, said she, too, had seen founders open up about past struggles. But she said business owners should “proceed with caution” when it comes to oversharing, especially about complex topics. “It’s hard to tell the fine print when one is quickly scanning a bio, or social media post,” she said.

Ms. Lee is also an investor and the founder of 37 Angels, a network of women investors. She said that the lines between people’s professional and personal lives are becoming increasingly blurred and that founders should be on the fore when pitching to investors as their past may fade into the background Review. “The days of one person at work and one person at home are behind us,” Ms Lee said.

The “About Us” section on a business website is used to explain to a company that it stands out from competitors, said David Gage, founder of the Bureau of Small Projects, a branding agency that also builds websites for small businesses. What does better than Mr. Gaz said the agency found that the “about” page was the second most visited section on a business’s site after the home page. (The company builds about 100 websites for small businesses per year, he said.)

Mr. Ecdeniz’s biography is on the Champion Pizza website, but he stressed that the intention was not to place himself at the center of the brand. “I want to be an example to many people, but not arrogant,” said Mr. Ecdeniz, who is Kurdish. He often gives slices to the homeless people who frequent his pizzeria and volunteers once a week with two organizations that support people experiencing homelessness, which he serves himself.

Originally from Turkey, he arrived in New York as an asylum seeker after being deported from Canada because his tourist visa had expired, they said. He had learned to make Italian-style pizza in Canada, where he had lived for several years, after having already mastered lahmajoun, a Middle Eastern flatbread with meat, in his home country.

He eventually got a job washing dishes at a restaurant in Hoboken before making pizza at the restaurant himself, and he opened his first shop in 2009. He said that he was given permission to do so. eb 1 The green card, which is awarded to people with “extraordinary ability”, when they received the top score in a pizza-making contest by Pizza Marketing Quarterly, an industry magazine, at the Javits Center in New York City in 2010.

there are 33.2 million Scores of small businesses, and owners, have experienced one of the most challenging periods in the United States, according to the Small Business Administration – the National Institute of Mental Health estimates “More than one in five American adults live with a mental illness,” for example. Historically, most have not publicly disclosed these difficulties through their trading platforms, said New York University marketing professor Dr. Erdem. But the few who do find that their personal narratives resonate with their target consumers.

George Haymaker, founder of Rethink Ice Cream, is one of these business owners. Mr Haymaker, 62, described the drug addiction period in his life as “going down the toilet”. Eating large amounts of ice cream, he said, was instrumental in Mr Haymaker’s early sobriety and helped him stay away from drugs and alcohol.

This experience is integral to their company’s identity: “Rethink Ice Cream was born out of my addiction to alcohol and pain pills,” reads the first line of “The Story” section. Company Website, He had gained more than 30 pounds when he first got sober, so he developed a healthier ice cream recipe with less sugar.

“I don’t care if there’s a stigma attached to addiction or mental health,” said Mr. Haymaker, who lives in northern California. He said his message of recovery has particularly resonated with colleges that seek to address mental health of students. He now sells ice cream at 30 colleges in California and one in Oregon, as well as in stores, and he has given talks about recovery and entrepreneurship on campus.

Eli Ball, a food consultant based in San Francisco who advises start-ups that sell packaged food and beverages, said there are no strict rules about what the founders should or shouldn’t talk about. There were no rules. “If it’s gimmicky, it hasn’t really shaped you and you’re doing it to make a more compelling story, I think people can see through that,” she said.

She advises clients to be clear about their prices, explaining that this can attract the kind of customers a business wants to attract.

One business owner who is determined to keep moving forward is Nadya Okamoto, a co-founder of august, a start-up that sells feminine hygiene products. Her company, which sells products online and in some targeted locations, allows consumers to create their own personalized packages of menstrual products to be delivered at home.

“My whole brand, Unfiltered from the beginning, has been about menstruation and blood and talking about mental health,” she said.

Ms Okamoto, 25, said she was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder six months after being considered for the company. she shares stories about herself mental health strugglewhich includes a she said she was sexually assaulted, on his Instagram and TikTok, where he has over four million followers. She acknowledges that her approach isn’t for everyone.

Ms. Okamoto said, “I would not say that there is a significant marketing incentive, and if there was any benefit for August, it came from building honest relationships with his followers.

He added that his openness on the social platform has created a sense of loyalty among many of his customers. But she acknowledged that her candor can invite judgement, making some more wary of her and repulsing others, adding, “I get a lot of hate online.”

Meg Smith, Founder love lexi A lingerie company that specializes in bras with smaller cup sizes agrees that customers value transparency. “Consumers today are very smart, and they care about the authenticity and genuine motives of brands,” she said.

Ms Smith, 38, said she developed an autoimmune disease after receiving breast implants and eventually had to have the implants removed. She said plastic surgery was taboo in the community outside Portsmouth, NH, where she grew up, and she was hesitant at first about opening up about her cosmetic procedure and health struggles for fear of judgment.

Finally, in a video On the Love, Lexie website, she talked about wanting to feel beautiful after struggling with her body image and health. She has no regrets about sharing, she said, because her story reveals the honest motives behind her company.

Ms. Smith said that, for the company, their transparency reflects “what our founder put through the ringer.”

Jailed business owners said sharing their pasts could be a risk to their professional reputations, but some said it was worth it. when marcus bullock founded flickshopIn 2012, a website and app where people could send postcards to incarcerated loved ones initially kept their prison experience private.

“I didn’t want to be ostracized from the business community,” Mr. Bullock said.

He spent eight years in prison, starting at age 15, for carjacking, and for the last six years of his imprisonment, his mother sent him a letter every day. This inspired the idea for his company, whose mission is to end recidivism by helping people imagine life after prison through letters from loved ones.

After a customer expressed how meaningful the app was to his family, Mr. Bullock decided to share that he understood where she was coming from because he had served time in prison.

Mr. Bullock, who is based in Washington, D.C., said, “I fully felt the power of owning, a story I’d been running away from for so long,” adding that he hopes to be transparent about ex-incarceration. Debunking assumptions about what people do can help. ,

“Our customers were shocked to learn that the technology they used every day was introduced into a cell by someone like their loved one,” Mr. Bullock said. The Flickshop website states that the service operates in more than 3,700 correctional facilities. He has since hired other formerly incarcerated people and made flickshop neighborhoodA project that connects organizations with people behind bars and educates employers on creating hiring policies to give people with criminal records a second chance.

For Mr. Bullock and others, including Mr. Okamoto, being open about his personal life brought a sense of liberation.

“I hid myself for so long,” Ms. Okamoto said. “It will take more emotional energy for me to filter myself and think about who I’m talking to and how I want to appear.” She said, “So, I might as well be myself.”

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