With a background in corporate telecommunications, Lisa S. Jones was no stranger to business. Still, even she couldn’t predict the total cost of quitting her day job and starting her own company.
After her mother’s death, Jones was struck by the brevity of her mother’s funeral rites—seven seconds is all they lasted, and though she intended to speak, she found herself unable to communicate anything at all.
Driven by those empty seven seconds, Jones made it her purpose to honor her mother by building a business communications legacy. When she realized exactly how stagnant and uniform email marketing was, the opportunity became clear. Years later, EyeMail Inc., the only company that integrates auto-play video into email at under 15kB, was born.
Now that EyeMail Inc. has successfully been in business for more than fifteen years, Jones is full of guidance for how to launch an idea into an actual business.
Know what you’re getting into.
According to the US Small Business Administration, only half of all businesses will survive their first five years, and 25% will withstand their first fifteen. The ones that succeed have founders who committed even in the face of brain-breaking stress levels.
“There is a huge mental shift when you decide to take 100% ownership of your journey,” says Jones. “It’s one thing to dream about taking that next step, and another to do it. You have to have tough skin.”
Until you have start-up capital, you can easily find yourself working 60–80-hour weeks. Jones spent years working full time on both EyeMail Inc. and her corporate job. This kept her up, on average, until about 3:00 a.m. most nights, “running off of adrenaline and that fire of relentlessness.”
Even when you’ve left your day job, Jones warns, you can’t slack on the self-discipline and accountability.
“I remember the first week I got my hours back, I was in shock. Like, I wanted this freedom—now what do I do with it? I had to be accountable for my time and be efficient with the hours I gained. I had to set a strict schedule to still get up at 7:30 a.m. That’s self-discipline.”
But it’s not just a problem of responsibility. The loneliness of being a founder is well documented, and Jones said she experienced it, too.
“Your journey can be a very lonely place. People don’t talk about that a lot, but it’s so important to know. You’re building something, and everybody else might not get it.”
If you think you have the resilience to withstand these conditions, starting a business might be for you. But before you get started, you need to make sure you know how to emotionally recharge.
Emotionally sustain yourself.
Jones repeats a particular Rocky quote like a mantra: “The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows.” You have to have strategies to get through the tough times.
In other words, keeping your nose to the grindstone must be balanced with self-care.
“Taking time out for a mental break—not only reading books, but talking to mentors or even a therapist is important too,” Jones says. She emphasizes that therapists can be a real resource. “There’s nothing wrong with talking to a neutral party about your life as part of your roadmap. If you have a dream, you have to find that motivation that keeps you going.”
And she’s right: finding your source of resilience is vital. According to research from North Carolina University, entrepreneurial resilience usually results from a strong sense of identity or commitment to an idea.
Jones’s source of strength was her commitment to creating a legacy in honor of her mother. Her mother’s photo, always close at hand, revitalized her when nothing else could.
What will revitalize you in your darkest moments?
Making sure you’re financially prepared is the next step.
“I started to prepare financially before leaving my day job, being more conservative about where I spent my funds.” This usually meant staying in or skipping things like manicures. “It’s amazing how dollars add up for little things you do. I had to be very diligent about my spending.”
This isn’t something you can do last minute. If you hit fundraising bumps, you’ll need a financial cushion comfortable enough to go without a paycheck for a time.
Sometimes life throws you curveballs, and you have to pivot. Part of this is preparation, but part of it is knowing how to turn curveballs into opportunities.
The timing of Jones’s exit from her corporate telecom position wasn’t exactly planned. After stunning the executive audience with EyeMail at a major national business conference in Las Vegas, she was socially snubbed at work and threatened with investigation. She had informed her company of her participation ahead of time to avoid any conflicts of interest, but it seemed her entrepreneurial spirit was only admired in theory.
It was time to leave, but Jones wasn’t as ready as she wanted to be.
“I still needed my corporate job for the monthly paycheck,” she said of that time. “[But] I thought about my next step. I had to make a pivotal decision, and I decided it was my season. If I could be strong and present in front of those 18 companies, then I could be strong and represent my own brand.”
Shortly after, she quit her day job and launched EyeMail Inc. full time.
Use relationships as emotional fuel.
Networking means finding supporters of both you and your idea, as well as building a safety net of mentorship to fall back on. Especially for people who don’t socialize naturally, Jones suggests joining online seminars.
“Watch what others do,” she suggests “How do they engage? What are their social hobbies? What are they doing to give back to the community? You might find that you have a connection there. Finding that connection binds and grows that relationship. Many people discount those non-business connections, but they’re so important.”
And for Jones, “meeting new people” means more than just attending the same event. If you want to actually meet someone, she says, “look them up on LinkedIn and say, ‘You know, I saw you at so-and-so event. I would love to further connect.’ It’s very important to step out of your comfort zone to meet new people.”
But Jones echoes the words of her mentor and retired NBA player Maurice Evans in cautioning that not all advice is good advice. Or, as Evans puts it, “Not all air is clean.” Take care to discern who is genuinely looking to support you and who may be looking to take advantage.
“When I was still in corporate,” Jones recalls, “there was a multimillion-dollar brand that took an interest in EyeMail Inc.. They loved it. But this company basically ended up trying to rip me off. It was a mess. The president had signed my NDA, but it didn’t matter. People can tie you up financially because they have more money. I’m glad it happened early in my journey. I learned to be more guarded about my technology.”
Having genuine supporters will lift you up in moments of doubt, and learning to recognize what air is clean will help protect you.
Make relationships that benefit you strategically.
Relationships can also act as shields against bad actors or launch points for growth—and these relationships don’t have to be a client/provider relationship, either.
Jones was very motivated to make strategic, prestigious acquaintances. “[Nearly having my technology stolen] inspired me to say, if I’m going to build a relationship, let me build a relationship with the biggest brand and technology. I want to align with a partner that’s so big that if something goes right or wrong, I’ll be okay.”
So Jones began pursuing relationships with one of the top names in tech: Microsoft.
“I started researching Microsoft and found their Women in Tech initiative. I decided that wherever Microsoft was going to be for this initiative, I would fly there. I would be at the conference, event, whatever it was.”
Her perseverance paid off. Microsoft grew into an advocate for EyeMail Inc. and, years later, a client.
Strategic relationships set the stage for EyeMail Inc.’s official launch, too. By creating a pro-bono EyeMail for the president of the local Greater Women’s Business Council chapter, she not only helped an organization important to her, but also connected with the Fortune 100 businesses on the board.
“Five days later, I got a call back from the president. She said, ‘Lisa, I think it’s about time you launch your company officially. Time Warner just asked how they could find out more about EyeMail Inc..’ As a result of that time and connection, Time Warner was our very first client.”
When creating strategic relationships, Jones says, you have to think, “how I can create a network so that if I touch one, it’ll affect many?”
More than that, you need to be persistent—you can’t drop connections after you’ve made them. That means keeping a sustained and genuine interest in the lives of your contacts and customers. You can’t fake it.
Go for it.
Not everyone has the strong business background Jones did. That doesn’t mean you’re out of the game, but you probably have a lot of research ahead of you. In fact, that may be true even if you do have a background in business.
“There have been plenty of days that I wanted to say, you know what, I’m done. I’m tired. It’s too much opposition. A younger me might’ve quit long ago, but because I tied building my business to a purpose, I knew I was going to create a legacy.”
Building a business is tough, but with drive, wisdom, and perseverance, you can make it.