Community: Starting a Start-Up


Over the last couple years I have brought on a few wonderful part time employees without whom I couldn't have managed the business. Here you will hear from Courtney Gordon, who has been with me since almost the beginning. I am so proud to share that she recently graduated from NC State with a major in Computer Science and will be starting a new job at Microsoft this summer. As a celebration of the company's two year anniversary and her moving on, I asked her to share her perspective on starting a start-up because she has truly seen all the behind the scenes ups and downs.

I think you'll pick up how lucky I was to have Courtney's support. It was pure luck to find a college student who would happily do anything from cutting fabric for five hours straight to editing backend shopify code to immersing in big picture strategy sessions, all which benefited my business immensely, but it is her grounding presence I will miss the most. 

Hello Locust Collection friends! My name is Courtney and I’ve been an employee for Locust Collection for a little over a year and a half. I’ve been here from mostly the beginning and while Kate was entirely running the show, I was around for helping with orders and bouncing ideas!

When Kate asked me to write this piece for the two-year anniversary, I was a little skeptical, as I wasn’t the primary leader for Locust Collection. However, over my time here, I have definitely seen the joys and challenges of her business and the journey it has taken. Today I’ll talk about a few of my biggest take-aways from the starting of Locust Collection.

It’s a New Relationship

Just like any new relationship, there are always those “early days jitters". Whether it be a new love interest, a new baby, a new friend, or a new startup, there is always a give or take those first few months. You enjoy all the excitement and newness of the relationship and the promise it holds, but you also hold all the uncertainty, investment of time and money, and natural fear that seems to creep in.

Those doubts and fears are inevitable. There is absolutely no way to stop them – if we didn’t feel them, we wouldn’t be challenging ourselves enough. The important thing is to push through. Actively find solutions for your problems, ways to make the process more efficient, a best friend to vent to, an employee to support you. Things will get better, or they won’t – it’s a startup and there is no way to predict the future but having the passion to push you and the sense to make good choices can get you far. Not every venture is meant-to-be (just like every relationship isn’t) and Kate and I had some honest talks about it every few months, but luckily, we were able to keep things running during the rockier times to see some better ones today.

Think About the BIG Picture

It is so easy to get caught up in the issue or success of the moment, but if you’re not thinking about the big picture of your brand, that focus on the moments will be your pitfall.

Any basic marketing class will tell you that businesses must have a competitive advantage to be lasting. In short, competitive advantage is what makes your product or service unique and better than others that other brands can’t easily replicate. Locust Collection is focused on quality and portability. Kate looked over every item leaving her shop with a careful eye and left no room for error. Her overall mission for every product was to make things easy and portable, and developed most of her products by asking, “What kind of products do I wish I could use that don’t currently exist?”

Kate was incredible about always innovating and bringing new products to the table, even as we were still working out the kinks with the current offering. From the surface to surface covers, to soft surfaces, to backdrops, to introducing wool and colors, she was constantly thinking about the next thing. I think this was a major key to the success in the beginning years. Trends fade, but reputable businesses with strong brands last. Apple is constantly coming out with new products while still perfecting the iPhone every few years, Madewell is classic and constantly stylish with quality products, and Locust Collection is focused on quality and portability.

Constantly find ways to build your brand, through new products, through innovative marketing, or through customer service. Constantly think about the future and what the next step is. Keep your eye on the big picture.

Find the Ying to your Yang

Kate found me through a mutual friend that was helping her out in the first few months but was moving. I enjoyed the first few months of cutting fabric and prepping boxes, but our relationship grew over time to include me problem-solving and discussing some of those early-startup challenges. With the natural stress of new challenges popping up, I was there to offer a different perspective. Whether it be color choices, suppliers falling through, life changes, or general “AHHH” moments, we talked each other off some different ledges.

My recommendation is to find someone that fills the voids you need in your business. If you need to focus on the big business sense and innovation, find someone who can do the smaller time-consuming tasks. If your orders are overwhelming, find a way to outsource to make the process more effective. If you are good at the product but not the business analysis, find someone or a software to do that. If you can handle most of the business yourself but need someone to keep you mentally in-check, find a friend, a spouse, or a colleague. We can’t operate completely in a silo and having a support system can entirely make the difference.

A Goodbye

While Locust Collection is here to stay, unfortunately I am not. I graduated from college earlier this month and will be moving out to the West Coast to start a job later this summer. However, I wanted to take a quick moment and shout from the rooftops how much I love Locust Collection and Kate. Kate has been an amazing boss and is an amazing businesswoman. Her Locust Collection brand is one I’m truly amazed by and it has blossomed in such a short time. Even as I’ve been away for a couple months because of COVID-19, there are already so many new products and ideas I’ve seen splashed all over her Instagram and site. I’m so thankful to have worked for an amazing business and for all of you reading here today! I hope you love her and her brand the same way that I do. -- Courtney