This is a guest post from Boulder-based entrepreneur Danielle Dannenberg, founder and CEO of WildeGuide.
I was brushing blush onto Brenton Weyi’s face in the basement of the 2200-seat Macky Auditorium when Sue Heilbronner spotted me. Sue is a speaker coach for TedxBoulder and was there chatting “pre-game” with the speakers. She looked at me, immediately burst out laughing, and said, “This tells me more about you as an entrepreneur than anything I’ve ever seen before.”
Let me back up. I first “met” Sue via phone over a year ago when I was looking for guidance on my startup, WildeGuide, from a female mentor. I later met her in person while pitching WildeGuide in the Women’s Entrepreneurship Prize of the CU New Venture Challenge, where Sue was a judge. I didn’t win that competition, and actually didn’t even place, but Sue commented on my tenacity and that meant more than prize money to me. While we all have many different hats and personas (our colleagues might see us as hardworking employees, our friends as our high school selves), Sue knew me first as an entrepreneur.
Fast forward to Summer of 2017. After attending and volunteering at TEDxBoulder for the past two years, and walking away inspired each time, I decided I wanted to do more. I wanted to get involved with the organizing team.
I joined the team only a few months before the September 17th event. Wanting to contribute, I imagined the organizers would have a workflow of tasks to be done that would make it easy to jump in and help. After getting added to the Slack channel and grabbing a coffee with Andrew Hyde (my initiation), I quickly realized this is an entrepreneurial venture.
Although in its 8th year, TEDxBoulder operates like a startup. Everyone wears multiple hats and is willing to lend a hand. Free from unnecessary meetings, Slack is used to rapid organize when something comes up. Things like: coordinating the announcement of speakers, getting people to help find a food sponsor, finding someone to pick up the sign, etc.
About a week before show time, an ask came up about finding a makeup artist. The speakers needed stage makeup for both the stage lights and video recording. I knew some people in the University Theatre Department so I offered to reach out; one of the other organizers did the same. The morning of the event we both reported that our contacts had fallen through.
Having learned how to do stage makeup at age 13, I quickly invented a backup plan. I was driving back from a camping trip in Buena Vista when I found a supplier with Theatrical Costumes in Boulder and announced we needed to make a detour.
It was 1:00 pm, I needed to be at the event at 2:00, and was still covered in campfire smell from our trip. I thought it would be a quick in and out at the store, but little did I know how involved stage makeup purchasing could be.
I was guided through a small hallway and into a seemingly-secret backroom with literally thousands of makeup choices guarded behind a glass case. After 20-minutes of picking and choosing variations of foundation, blush, and eyeshadow, I was out of there. I scrambled home, showered, and biked up to Macky with a box-full of makeup in my backpack.
I set up my station in the classically lit dressing room beneath the auditorium stage and called in the speakers one-by-one. All 14 of them! I quickly realized the translucent setting powder spreads and stains quickly. Without a cape to drape over my subjects, I grabbed my down jacket and flannel shirt and covered the speakers with them to protect their outfits.
I hadn’t actually used my stage makeup skills in nearly 15 years but with some Googling, I felt equipped to take on the job. After all, we had no other choice. And this is why I think Sue made the link between stage makeup and entrepreneurship.
Entrepreneurship is all about figuring it out. Getting smarter faster. Finding someone who knows more than you, and when you can’t find someone – figuring it out yourself.
Did I really know what I was doing? Did I feel totally confident? No. Of course not. I’m a tech entrepreneur in the outdoor industry, not a makeup artist. But I trust myself to find a way. When I started WildeGuide I knew nothing about a C-Corp versus an LLC, about permitting and insurance regulations, about WordPress plugins, about the difference between a domain provider and a website host. I just figured it out.
Every entrepreneur does this. None of us is born with an innate ability to know everything about our industry or specialty. We really don’t. We do, however, know how to ask the right questions, get to the right people, and generally find a way to make it happen.
Whether it’s a tech startup or a food truck, all entrepreneurs share this ability to get it done. Entrepreneurs don’t wait for people to come to them with answers (because they know this will never happen!). Instead, they go out and create their own solution.
Epilogue: When you’re two inches from someone’s face, you really form a connection with them. It was a neat way to get to know the speakers, and hey now I have another skill to add to my toolkit.