Starting a company is never easy. It takes imagination, perseverance, and incredible resourcefulness. Lillie Ranney has shown all of those talents with Foleeo, an online portfolio site for students and professionals to showcase their body of work.
Have you ever been asked for work samples, pieces, or other materials in an interview? Lillee had, but she thought that bringing a portfolio stuffed with 50 different projects was burdensome. Still, she wanted to showcase her skills and didn’t want to rely on the bullet points listed on her résumé. This is when the light bulb went off, and Lillie found a solution: create an online aid to build a professional portfolio based on experience! “The site was built to help people who don’t necessarily look good on paper, prove their skill and show off what they can actually do based on their true abilities,” Lillie says. “We actually want to help people build an online presence and market themselves in a unique light. That’s the goal and always has been the goal.”
How did Lillie make this idea a reality? She tapped into the Center for Entrepreneurship, most notably entrepreneur Kevin Aspegren and the Innovation Engine Accelerator program. In 2012, Lillie took an entrepreneurship capstone class in which she created a wide-scale business plan. She looked at what features Foleeo would include, what revenue streams it would have, what prototypes would look like, and more. Kevin gave Lillie the tools to help her business become a success. Lillie says, “Kevin helped me start Foleeo and then introduced me to another large connection who then became my mentor. I can’t thank Kevin enough, because he met with me constantly until I finally honed in on the Foleeo idea, and after I did, he helped me progress and set me up with my first business partner, along with everything else he’s ever done for Foleeo.”
The Innovation Engine Accelerator was instrumental in the nurturing of Foleeo as well. “The most important thing I got from it, besides funding, was the connections.” Lillie says. “Those connections were one of factors that helped me get to where I am now. Meeting people, and then those people introducing me to other people, it basically became a ripple effect.”
The ripple effect continued at Start-up Weekend in Columbus, where she was able to meet influential leaders from different levels of the entrepreneurial ecosystem, including Jeff Lamb, who reshaped her perspective.
Lillie describes her first meeting with Jeff:
“[Jeff] asked me what I want Foleeo to be size-wise as we grow. I told him I wanted millions of users on the site. He asked me, ‘Why?’ I really didn’t have an answer, except that I wanted a lot of people to benefit from the site. He then asked, ‘Do you want to have a lot of money?’ I paused and said yes, not for personal reasons, but to scale the site and hire really good talent. Then he told me that Wikipedia is essentially a non-profit site that has a lot of “users” but they aren’t raking in the money because it’s free. Him asking me all of those questions really made me question what I was working for. Was I working to make millions? Was I working to have millions of people on the site? And if so, why? What was the purpose? That totally changed my mental picture of what success means.”
Foleeo became about passion. Every time Lillie had doubts about how Foleeo would turn out, she remembered that she was building it because it was fun, she believed in it, liked doing it, and knew people really needed it. “Success is trying, and doing something you want to do,” she says.
For those yearning to be entrepreneurs, Lillie offers this advice:
- “Don’t let your doubts sabotage your actions. Honestly, you already know what you need to do, just go do it. There isn’t one way of doing anything, so do what makes sense for the vision of your company. Test things out, not everything is going to work, but something eventually will.”
- “Build relationships! Network as much as physically possible. Everywhere you go, network. I’ve gotten further by building relationships and asking for help than I have doing social media campaigns. People are willing to help if you just ask, and if you become close enough with them, they tend to become vested in your business and want to see you succeed and are more willing to help. Always ask for help and advice, the worst thing they will say is no or they won’t respond.”
- “Understand that it takes time and is hard work. I had to get a full-time job and work on Foleeo at night and on the weekends. Not easy, but it was clearly doable.”
- “There isn’t one way of doing things. If you are doing something different than everybody else, you are probably on to something. Build your own path. Eventually people will follow.”
Foleeo has launched successfully and her team is testing out the value they’re delivering to students and professionals. Check out Lillie’s company at foleeo.biz!
If you want to connect with,talk to, or get lunch with Lillie, she is more then happy to! Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org. She’s looking forward to your message.