By Tamara Zagorovskaya, HBS Class of 2016
This time last year, I joined a FIELD 3 team that was planning to disrupt the food delivery business. Coming from a finance background and never having caught the entrepreneurial bug, I was afraid of taking risks and dreading the forced “opportunity” to start a company at school. When I started creating a product that solved my own needs using funds that weren’t expected to generate returns, I understood that this course was a unique chance to learn about entrepreneurship without committing to it as a career. Today, I am a proud co-founder of a women’s beauty company and am truly thankful for having had the chance to try (and fail) within the safety net of HBS. For those RC’s who are eager to start a business, as well as those who are anxious about creating an idea from scratch, below are some tips about how to make the most of your FIELD 3 experience.
By now, you’ve heard several times that team launch is critical to the success of any venture, and I couldn’t agree more. I chose my FIELD 3 team by seeking out classmates who had skills that were different from my own, but I also took the time to understand their level of commitment and make sure that it matched mine. Most teams that worked together successfully had a shared understanding of how much time and effort each team member wanted to put into the project. Note, the level itself didn’t matter as much as a universal agreement on that level.
Roles and Leadership
Although we came from different backgrounds and areas of expertise, my team chose
to divide responsibilities based on new skills that individuals wanted to learn. Even though I had a background in finance, I rejected the CFO role and opted to learn more about operations. This strategy has pros and cons, since someone else had to fill the financial role while I learned about creating a website. However, we specifically made sure that each team member did some of the less exciting administrative work while also giving everyone the chance to do more interesting tasks such as marketing. During FIELD, we opted not to have a formal leadership structure and instead assigned one person to keep us on track for deadlines, which worked well for us.
Business Model and Pivoting
One misconception about FIELD 3 is that the team with the best idea at the start of the semester is the team that will create the most successful business or win in the end. While a solid business model is important eventually, the nice part about working on a company while at HBS is that you can test ideas and pivot without major repercussions. My team initially planned to launch a breakfast delivery business, but we received negative feedback on the idea after our initial presentation. This rejection turned out to be a blessing in disguise (thank you, Old C!) – we took a step back, thought about what problem would actually be interesting to work on, and settled on a new idea that we were truly passionate about: building a better shower cap.
Stock Market and Investor Panel
Another interesting observation was that stock market performance didn’t necessarily correlate with success during the investor panel. During the semester, teams that had seemingly cool products and fun videos did really well while presenting to other sections, but that’s because the target audience for those products or services was HBS students. However, when it came to the investor panel, teams that had unique business models with a real market opportunity ended up receiving the best feedback. Our company earned third place from the investor panel, beating out other teams that had a consistently higher share price in the stock market simulation because we convinced the investors that our product would appeal to people outside of HBS (a much larger target audience).
Tips for Consumer Products
Looking back on our FIELD 3 experience, I would recommend students interested in consumer products not dismiss the possibility of building a physical product. It’s extremely satisfying to create a concrete product from scratch, and it can be easier to pitch classmates (and investors) on a tangible product rather than to talk about a service, which can seem more abstract. Along these lines, well-executed product development is crucial to success – I suggest using a substantial portion of your funds to iterate on the minimum viable product (MVP) and test it often with users before committing to a final design.
We received positive feedback from consumers during product testing and subsequently began exploring the possibility of filing a patent. After speaking with lawyers, we made the controversial decision to stop selling our product (despite disapproval from our professor). Though it may seem counter-intuitive, if you develop an idea that is patentable, it may actually make sense to temporarily halt sales in order to ensure the legitimacy of the impending patent over the long run. Once the idea gained traction, we also deliberately decided not to sell to family and friends, saving those easy wins for after FIELD 3, and instead reached out to salons to explore wholesale partnerships (after having them sign non-disclosure agreements to protect our intellectual property (IP)).
Given the positive feedback we received from the investor panel, we decided to go forward with our idea and incorporated Virtuosa Beauty after FIELD 3 ended. We filed a patent over the summer and launched sales in the fall (when the deferred demand from friends and family came in handy!). During EC year, we’ve discovered that HBS has ample resources for helping students get their companies off the ground; through the iLab Venture Incubation Program, we have had vital access to incredible entrepreneurs, lawyers and accountants. We also pursued an Independent Project which has allowed us to keep working on the idea during EC year and explore the possibility of continuing the business after graduation.
About Virtuosa Beauty
Virtuosa Beauty was founded in 2015 by Alexandra Holtzman, Caitlin Palmer and Tamara Zagorovskaya. We take ordinary products and reinvent them to be the smartest version possible. Our mission is to enable you to become your own virtuosa – the best version of yourself! To learn more about Virtuosa Beauty, please visit our website at www.virtuosabeauty.com.