Entrepreneurial PSA – There’s Value in Not Going it Alone (Even if We Sometimes Think We Can!) - Natalie McDonald, ‘97

As entrepreneurs, we can feel like, and may well be, a rare breed.  After all an entrepreneur is defined as an individual who creates and funds a new business and bears (all!) the risks incurred during the business operations while enjoying the rewards.  Of course, it is not an easy path, especially for women.  It is also not remotely possible without the right like-minded group of mentors, partners, and team. 


Not long ago Inc Magazine caught my attention when it profiled a Gallup poll that had identified the traits that best characterize entrepreneurs.  I deeply resonated with the list as I read it, each in order including knowledge, determination, disruption, selling, risk, independence, confidence, and more.  They are clearly a unique combination of traits when combined.  I would even suggest these are lifelong traits that makeup who we are from childhood and are only developed with experience versus learned. All any entrepreneur would need then is an opportunity and success would be imminent, right?  


No, not necessarily.  In my career, I have found that success, no matter how driven you may be, comes because of collaboration and a team. To grow my company, it took more than the novel idea, the vision, and the traits.  Every milestone and inflection point was propelled with the help of others whether partners, staff, and even customers through insight, connections, conviction, and hard work. This all sounds obvious enough, right? So, how can an entrepreneur take steps to build relationships that will pay dividends at different stages in their entrepreneurial journey? 


Find and develop relationships with meaningful mentors. 

Consider your course of study or industry and the range of leadership roles across functions within it that resonate with you and align with your passions.  Are there stand-out people that you admire whether on your team at an internship or job or perhaps even a family member or family friend?  Make note of them and track their accomplishments.  Introduce yourself professionally through an email or professional social media networking platform and ask to meet noting the specific guidance or area that you’d like to discuss while always being respectful of time.  Of course, this became easier for me after graduating from the University of Pittsburgh and starting my first job.  The conversations I have had with my mentors throughout my career have guided me in significant ways with insights and nudges in directions that I would otherwise not have considered.  As a female entrepreneur, I cannot emphasize enough the impact that women mentors can have as they are often more practical, personal, and supportive of the unique challenges and opportunities that women face. 


Explore collaborations with non-competitive entities. 

Yes!  As an entrepreneur at any stage, collaborations can leapfrog you as a founder and even your entity.  Whether a product or service business concept, it will never exist in a vacuum.  What other products or services are complementary?  Often founders of these businesses, particularly if they are established, can be a source of advice and energy if not genuine partnerships that drive revenue.  As a healthcare agency founder in a crowded market, I connected from day one with a short list of respected entrepreneurs in my industry.  Their know-how on running a business versus my reverting to Google was invaluable and I remain in awe, grateful, and connected to them to this day.  As a business founder, your questions will be endless.  It’s always better to have advice from those who have been there and done that.  Think payroll, staff handbook, managing accounts receivable and the list goes on. We made some big sales together too!  (Thank you–you know who you are!) 


When it’s time, build the right team.   

Hiring is one of the single most important processes especially early on in a founding company.  It is critical to go well beyond the job description and the resume to hire people aligned with the specific values that reflect the culture and company you are creating.  Don’t mince values so to speak but instead be direct.  At my agency, we became so committed to finding staff and partners who understood and identified with our company and values that we ended every final interview for every hire with a review of our values. Senior leaders literally read aloud six core values together with their definitions.  Awkward yes, when relentless is one of the six and we defined it as our persistent determination to drive our own success and approach every aspect of our respective roles with a ‘never settle attitude’.  We felt that it helped candidates self-select us for who we were as a team of people versus finding out on their own as they get started.  Our values outlined what we expected of each other at every level and when taken as a whole, described the essence of our culture.  Our retention rate throughout our first decade of business from employee number one through 50+ was consistently higher than 95%. As an entrepreneur and founder, you cannot build a business alone nor should you hire people just like yourself.  Instead, build a best-in-industry staff aligned around specific core values that resonate and inspire. 


[A visual representation of our agency manifesto with our six core values highlighted.] 


Gaining diverse supplier accreditation can expand opportunities. 

Being officially certified as a diverse supplier, for example, a women's business enterprise (WBE), can result in opportunities previously inaccessible.  This does not, however, guarantee that your business is awarded contracts.  Across industries, corporations promote and cultivate relationships with companies particularly those small to midsize that meet the criteria as diverse suppliers.  As the sole female founder of my agency in healthcare, nearly every one of my pharmaceutical company clients, many of which are Fortune 500 companies, encouraged me to participate in their program. Our decade-long agency certification as a women’s business enterprise via WBENC certification opened doors, many previously unknown, and was a source of constant partnership and opportunity.  Not only did the collaboration forge partnerships with clients, which in many ways were mentorships, but it also created opportunities to meet and network with other like-minded founders who were often managing the same challenges as our agency.  



 A close-up of a flyer

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[This WPEO event in partnership with Pfizer was a proud moment to profile our agency accomplishments at Pfizer in partnership with their supplier diversity team.] 


These are, of course, just a few ways to surround your entrepreneurial self and your business (or business idea) with people who can have an incredible influence.  My first founder’s journey from inception to exit was everything from fulfilling to grueling and I am thankful for it all.  Perhaps most of all though I respect and am grateful for those that I surrounded myself with during those 12 years.  Rare breed or not, I could not have done it alone. 


Natalie McDonald (DSAS '97)

Founder, Create NYC

Natalie McDonald '97 is the start-up and growth-stage Founder/CEO of Create NYC, a new on-demand global healthcare agency that she conceived to serve the pharmaceutical industry. Natalie built and sold her successful marketing and advertising agency in the heavily regulated industry and led the successful post-acquisition integration into a publicly held $1.3 billion parent company. Prior to Create NYC, Natalie held progressively responsible roles in Advertising, Marketing, and Sales at Saatchi & Saatchi and Pfizer Inc. She received her self-designed undergraduate degree in Chemistry and Business from the University of Pittsburgh, and her M.B.A. from Drexel University.

Connect with Natalie on LinkedIn