Sierra Smith | Crain's Silicon Valley

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Sierra Smith

Background:  

While a student at Harvard Business School, Sierra Smith co-founded Zorpads, a company that makes odor-eliminating inserts to fit in any shoe.

The Mistake:

Early on, I had a hard time filtering advice—and knowing that advice is just that, it’s advice. It’s not a command, it’s not a "you must do this." We learned this a bit the hard way, particularly with Zorpads.

We met with lots of investors when we were fundraising. One said, “This is 100 percent a direct-to-consumer product. Don’t even consider retail; direct-to-consumer is where the growth is at.”

So we poured all of our time and resources into working on just that, and then we met with another investor who said, “You definitely need to go for retail. Retail’s the channel to get it in front of eyeballs. Maybe direct-to-consumer is a piece of that, but retail is where you’ll likely see the most growth.”

So then we pivoted and focused our time and attention on trying to get retail partners.

Ultimately, I came to the realization that advice is advice, and an ability to filter it is paramount. Also, not all advice is the same. [As an entrepreneur, you have to choose] whose advice you take seriously. You can do that by understanding what their background is and what experiences they’ve had, so you can take their advice within the context of who that person is. Naturally, someone who’s had a lot of success going direct-to-consumer is going to skew you in that direction because that’s what they know. And vice versa.

Advice is advice, and an ability to filter it is paramount.

The Lesson:

Know that there’s a bit of your own instinct and gut sense in all of this. I can admit that when they told me to go all-in on direct-to-consumer and move away from any sort of retail, my gut feeling was that it didn’t make sense. But I thought, "This person is much more important and has been much more successful than I have, so I’m going to take their advice."

I kind of ignored my own instincts in a way that was ultimately unproductive. I still think it’s incredibly valuable to go out there and get as much advice as you can from all sorts of different people, but now I just think of them as options.

Follow Zorpads on Twitter at @zorpads.

Photo courtesy of Sierra Smith.

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