I Love Making Entrepreneurs Cry – Ethan Bagley

Ms. Smith was afraid. Her fear was a common one: if I share my idea, someone will steal it. I hear it a lot when working with entrepreneurs as a part of Startup Weekend. This fear is a consequence of past experiences, missed opportunities and rejection. Asking someone to speak about their most passionate thoughts is never easy. Seeing others go first might have inspired her.


It might have been Zaire. A ten year-old boy, father in tow, who took the stage to share his idea after a little coaxing. But then, who didn’t need a little coaxing the first time they spoke to a crowd? Between football games, rugby matches and robotics competitions, Zaire had been thinking. When I first met him, he wouldn’t say hello or make eye contact with me. I asked him a few questions about what he was thinking about pitching. His dad and I encouraged him to get up and share. And he did.

It might have been Dean, who has been running a shuttle service on the island for almost two decades. The grandson of one of Bermuda’s most celebrated musicians, Dean’s pitch was beautiful. It struck a cord not only with me, but with the crowd. It’s rare for there to be a lot of cheering after a pitch. Dean received an ovation, along with gasps of “what a wonderful idea!” and “how exciting!”

The common thing these three entrepreneurs had was community. They were local, knew one another, and found strength through their common experiences. As with Zaire and Dean and Ayo and Dahji, I believe Ms. Smith saw what sharing an idea could look like. And when she saw that, she chose to stare down her fear, get to her feet and take the stage. And on Sunday? Her team took first prize.


Winning wasn’t without difficulty: Ms. Smith was stressed out. She almost didn’t get her finished presentation to me before pitches began! It’s hard not to be stubborn with someone peering at the idea you love. Telling you you’re doing things wrong and picking nits at every turn. She came to me on Sunday morning, intimating that she was “burned out.” Dreading the thought of presenting in the evening. I asked her, “Why not let one of your teammates take the stage instead?” Her reply was that, “That’s not what a good leader does.”

And, as I had done several times throughout the weekend, I challenged her. Her reluctance, a mix of stress and fear, wasn’t insurmountable. It just needed justification. Her pitch did’t need her to be on stage. Her idea wasn’t just hers anymore. It had progressed by leaps and bounds over the 54 hours of the event. It had also found a community. While she did take the stage for part of her team’s presentation, it was a team effort. She let her teammate take care of her idea for her. A brave act, if ever there was one. Many people don’t realize it, but ideas are our children. We care for them and hold them so tight; it can be hard to let go when the time comes. In the end though, letting go is what the idea needs to grow.

Ms. Smith (and her idea) got out of the building, and into the world. And that’s where the concept stopped being an idea, and became an innovation. Bermuda is a beautiful place. Sunny skies, the bluest water I’ve ever seen, friendly people, amazing food. Their manner of politely disagreeing and criticizing was a little foreign to me. It took some getting used to. What Ms. Smith found was that no one wanted to steal her idea: they just wanted to be customers. They wanted to sign up. To be ready when it was time. They wanted to support her, and her goal. They saw the same opportunity she did, and encouraged her through their positive feedback.


By the time judging wrapped up on Sunday evening, we’d heard nine pitches. 42 original attendees. 20 plus pitches. Nine teams. Nine potential future job creators in Bermuda.  While the judges met and attendees ate, we all got a sample of some great local food. After one of the closest crowd favorite votes I’ve seen , we announced the winners.

Third place went to Bermuda Hacks, an online repository and community for people new to the island, and for those familiar with it looking for something they’d yet to discover. Second place went to K.I.M.s List: a site for parents and kids to share and buy educational content.  A sponsor offered any team who could show $10k in revenue in the next six months iWatches. Then came first place. We shared Ms. Smith’s idea one last time at the event. But first, a little background:


The economic downturn hit the tiny nation of around 60,000 people hard. Due to the mergers and acquisitions taking place, Bermuda has seen their population shrink. Jobs were moving to cheaper ports in other parts of the world.  One positive result of these changes was an explosion of micro-entrepreneurship, particularly around food. As in other places, including Bermuda’s neighbor, there is a growing cottage food industry. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, a cottage industry is one that involves the manufacture and sale of goods from a home.

Unfortunately, Bermudian homes tend to be small, and so the kitchens can’t support food businesses as they attempt to scale up or diversify their offerings. With only so much time in the day, and so much space to work with, these people were hungry for help. Ms. Smith wants to create that help. She wants to help her fellow entrepreneurs succeed. Like the other chefs who had joined her team.  And so she developed a pitch for a shared kitchen space: an innovation on Bermuda. While it’s a model that has worked elsewhere in the world, could it work in Bermuda? I hope Ms. Smith finds out.

It took a moment. The name popped up on screen: The Kitchen. A cheer went out, and my eyes searched for Ms. Smith.  But that wasn’t what surprised me when I found her. It was the look of shock. Before she realized she had won, she had the face of someone expecting ejection. Her idea, in her mind, had already failed. My idea and I weren’t picked. I’ve been there: it hurts.

Then came the tears. As her teammates cheered, she looked up, surprised. A hand went to her mouth, and she stood, already crying. She wasn’t the only one. The atmosphere was wonderful. Everyone she passed on her way to the stage was looking for a high-five or a hug. We all shared in the joy. It was, for lack of a better term, magical.


After cleaning up the venue, we met for the traditional after-party, and I got the chance to talk to Ms. Smith again. She reflected on the people who had inspired her to get up on stage. She hadn’t even made up her mind to pitch when she arrived on Friday evening. And here she was: The winner.

My advice to her was to hold on to the feeling: it won’t last. Darker and more difficult moments will come. My hope is that for her they’ll pass easy. Replaced with joy. Like the joy she felt on Sunday night as Bermuda’s first Startup Weekend came to a close. There was one more piece of advice I gave her: stay tenacious. Stick-to-it-iveness is important as an entrepreneur. Even in the hard times, you can’t let anything stand in your way. You can’t be afraid to be yourself. Even if that means sobbing in public.

I love making entrepreneurs cry.

And smile.


Originally published at:

Ethan Bagley

Ethan Bagley


10 Mistakes Entrepreneurs Make when Starting a Business Venture

Do you have an idea that you just can’t wait to make a reality?  Have you always had a desire to be your own boss?  Is taking risks just as natural to you as brushing your teeth?  If you answered yes to these questions, then it is just possible that you are a born entrepreneur.  If so, then you have either already started or will be starting your own business in the very near future.  Before you do though, review these 10 mistakes that some entrepreneurs make when they first get started so you know what not to do as you travel down the road to entrepreneurship.

  1. Not doing the research – Invariably those considering entrepreneurship will come up with a great idea and think that just because they thought of it and they think it’s a great idea, then people will want to buy it.  This has proven time and time again not to be the case.  Conducting market research to test the market and establish that there is a demand for your product or service is a key to starting your business on the right path to success.
  2. Not having a plan – Would you build a house without blue prints or architectural plans?  I think not.  Nor should you endeavor to start a business without first thinking about and writing down how you will get started.  A business plan, while not all you need to make your business successful, is a key tool in helping to get you started down the right path.   The plan should act a guide for you and from time to time may have to be modified as you encounter road blocks.
  3. Ignoring the competition – This is a key mistake to make for start ups. Some entrepreneurs think that because the competition is not providing a product or service in the exact same manner that they will be, or if they are not located in the same area (remember Bermuda is only 21 miles long) that they have no competition.  Wrong. Your competition can be the best way to establish that there is a market for your business.  When you are going through the research phase, spend time looking at your competitors.  Ask yourself, what do they do right?  What are they doing wrong?  Are there any opportunities to carve out a niche for your business based on what currently is being offered?  You may find that the market is saturated and that there is no room for your idea.  Either way, study the competition and learn from them.
  4. Understanding your limitations – One thing most entrepreneurs have in common is confidence; however, over confidence can have a disastrous effect on your business if it impedes your ability to recognize your limitations.  When starting a business look at your strengths and weaknesses and identify key people who can help you balance out the weaknesses.  Just because you are an expert baker doesn’t mean you should man the front counter at your bakery if you really don’t particularly like speaking with or interacting with people. If you recognize this as a limitation then you can hire the best front line person you know to make magic with the customers while you bake your heart out.
  5. Not hiring an accountant/bookkeeper – Most entrepreneurs will have to do it all, but there is one thing that you should not do if you are not good at it – your books.  I have seen examples of the difference having a good accountant/ bookkeeper can make.  Many times entrepreneurs are good at what they do, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they can run a business and manage the finances.  Budget for this necessary expenses to ensure you start your business off right. 
  6. Not investing in marketing – What is the first thing to go when business gets tough? It’s the marketing budget.  This practice while common is not always the right decision.  If people don’t know what you do or that you exist, you can’t sell to them.  In 2013 entrepreneurs can utilize free marketing in a way that never existed before with the advent of Facebook, Instagram and Twitter; however using social media takes time to work.  Ensure that you have a marketing plan and maintain a consistent presence to build a successful business.
  7. Staring with too little money – Part of the planning process includes looking at the cost to start your business. In the first instance, I encourage entrepreneurs to bootstrap, start the process with what you have until you are able to ascertain that there is a market for what you are selling.  At some point you will need more money in order to further develop the business.  If this is the case, then please make sure that you get enough money to cover all the start up costs.  If you undercapitalize your business (not taking into consideration working capital expenses, equipment purchases) your business could fail before it starts.
  8. Pricing products wrong – You have started your business and you determined that you are going to price your products below your competition so you can capture market share.  This tactic in most cases does not work for most startups because many have overhead and other expenses that more established businesses don’t.  Price your products to include the cost of doing business and providing the product and service and ensure that you build in profit.
  9. Monkey see, monkey do – We have all seen great ideas and thought “why didn’t I think of that”.  In Bermuda, especially, we have the benefit of seeing what products and/or services may be available in the US and UK and attempting to adapt a similar version to the Bermuda market.  Be cautious though.  Just because it works in other jurisdictions doesn’t mean it will work in Bermuda.  Keep in mind many overseas models rely on large numbers of people to work when in Bermuda we have a finite number of customers because of the population size.
  10. Starting and/or expanding to big too fast – You have started your business and made a profit in the first year.  A deal to purchase another business comes up and you think the offer is too good to refuse.  My advice, refuse it.  Especially, if you have just started.  Just because you start off profitable doesn’t mean that you will stay that way.  In most cases when you start a business you will obtain some sort of financing.  Prior to buying or expanding a business, try to ensure that the first business is debt free and profitable first.  Don’t let your desire to expand too quickly become the reason your business fails.

Jamillah Lodge is a Business Development Officer for Bermuda Economic Development Corporation. She specializes in providing aspiring and existing entrepreneurs with business development advice and loan guarantee assistance.  In addition, she manages the marketing and communications plan for the Corporation and oversees the development of a mentorship and youth entrepreneurship programme. She has a degree in Business Administration with a concentration in Marketing.  The opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer and should serve a general guide and should not be considered as replacement advice from a lawyer, accountant or other professional service provider. Readers should consult with the appropriate professionals as necessary.

If you have questions about starting a business in Bermuda, just ask BEDC: Email us at or call 292-5570.