CEO: I started a business that brings in seven figures after being let go. Here's my best advice

After getting laid-off in 2014, Fairygodboss CEO and co-founder Georgene Huang started a business dedicated to helping women look for jobs, read company reviews, and more.

Georgene Huang
Georgene Huang is the CEO and co-founder of the career platform Fairygodboss.
Courtesy Georgene Huang

Over 7 million people turn to my company Fairygodboss to look for jobs, get community advice, read company reviews, and access free career resources.

Since launching in 2015, we've raised $14 million dollars and developed relationships with 150 corporate partners who are committed to improving gender diversity in their workplaces. And we generate seven figures in revenue a year. It's been gratifying to watch the company grow, but it wasn't always easy.

I created Fairygodboss out of necessity. In 2014, when I was two months pregnant, my employer went through a management restructuring, and I was laid-off. Now I had to interview for a new role, and I was unsure about how to bring up questions about maternity leave, benefits, diversity and inclusion, and work-life balance.

I wanted to know how potential employers really treated their employees. But I feared that if I spoke up, I would be judged or even passed over for a position. There wasn't a place online I could look to and find answers, and I knew I wasn't the only woman in the world with these questions. So I decided to build a platform that could help make the workplace better for women everywhere. 

If you want to start a side hustle or new business right now, here are some of the biggest lessons I learned that still help me today.

Trial and error is the key to long-term success 

Starting a company is never easy, and I had the added challenge of being pregnant. During our first few months of business, I was often sleep-deprived and exhausted from caring for my newborn. But I am incredibly fortunate to have a supportive co-founder in Romy Newman. I knew I could rely on her, and that helped take some of the pressure off. 

Romy and I self-funded Fairygodboss for the first two years using our personal savings. It was a risky move, but it allowed us to have full control over every decision we made and we paced ourselves conservatively. We took a "lean start-up" approach, meaning we tested our ideas and kept adjusting them until we found what worked best in a way that allowed us stay within our budget.  

For example, before we launched a full website, we had a landing page and ads to test out whether our concept would resonate with our users. We looked at things like click-through rates on ads, the cost to acquire a user, and the conversion rates on the landing page to "sign up" or register, among other things. Before hiring a full-time developer, we used contractors for design and software development.

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We could have pursued third-party investment capital earlier in order to grow more quickly. But we felt it was important to prove that we could generate revenue before asking others to invest. By the time we raised our first investment round two years after starting the company, we had well into the six figures in terms of revenue, predominantly through corporate partnerships.

I've found that the key to successful pitching, whether it's to a potential partner or investor, comes down to owning your vision, and being able to tell your story with clarity and conviction.

Collaborate with people who know better

As a CEO, my job changes every year, every month, and sometimes every week. What I had to do in order to be successful when we launched is not the same thing I need to do to be successful now. 

When you're starting something from scratch, you're the accountant, marketer, developer, designer, brander, salesperson, customer support, lawyer, and everything else in between. As your endeavor grows and becomes more successful, you have the opportunity to hire people who are better than you at different things, and start relinquishing responsibilities to people who have dedicated their careers to those areas. 

When you're starting something from scratch, you're the accountant, marketer, developer, designer, brander, salesperson, customer support, lawyer, and everything else.
Georgene Huang
CEO and co-founder of Fairygodboss

You have to be conscious of becoming stuck doing the same thing you always were. And then understand when to make room for those collaborators who can do the job better than you can, and help take your business to new heights.

In order for your company to thrive in the long term, you have to be ready to adapt very rapidly to new situations and roles. Over the last few months, everyone has had to navigate new challenges created by the effects of Covid-19. And Fairygodboss, like so many companies, has had to suddenly manage remote working relationships, and business uncertainty, with no playbook. 

Since all our offerings are virtual, we've been able to consistently provide resources for those who are looking for new opportunities right now. Internally, we have always had a flexible work environment, so while making the transition to full time remote work has certainly had its challenges, I'm proud to say that my team has handled it with grace. 

Don't be afraid to reach out to your network 

Every day, I read through dozens of emails and posts from our community members who have questions about how to handle job stress and anxiety, especially over the last few months, as people have been forced to contend with layoffs and furloughs. It's an uncertain moment for all of us, but the most recent unemployment numbers show that women of color, particularly Black women, are being hit hardest by the pandemic.

In May, we surveyed 1,000 of our community members and over half the respondents said the pandemic has affected their careers either negatively or extremely negatively. More than a quarter of respondents who are currently employed are actually more likely to look for a new job right now.

My best advice right now is that no matter how disheartening the news might be, don't become discouraged. While there are many companies that have put their hiring processes on hold, there are also a lot that are hiring.

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If you're in a similar position that I was, and there is a problem that you want to solve with a new business idea, I encourage you to pursue it.

Job seekers should approach the job search how they would normally — tailor resumes, write engaging cover letters —  but make sure to emphasize your digital communication skills. Now is also a good time to take online courses to bolster your area of expertise. And be sure to brush up on virtual interview etiquette so you can make a great first, remote impression. Check your background and surroundings, ensure you have good lighting, and make "eye contact" by looking at the camera when you speak. 

People are spending more time online than ever before, so take a few minutes to send thoughtful connections and messages to potential hiring managers or others you want to network with, like potential co-founders.

Finally, be patient and kind to yourself. We're all taking on more work and responsibilities than ever before, so give yourself permission to take a step back and some time to breathe.

Georgene Huang is obsessed with improving the workplace for women. She's the CEO and co-founder of Fairygodboss, the largest career community for women, providing millions of women with career connections, jobs, career advice, and hard-to-find information about how companies treat women. Previously she ran the enterprise business at Dow Jones and was a managing director at Bloomberg Ventures. She is a graduate of Cornell and Stanford Universities.

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