Panel: Overcoming Entrepreneurship Pitfalls
Today’s entrepreneurs should expect to face many challenges when starting and scaling a business. This informative panel of experienced leaders weighed in with insights on how to launch and scale a business from the ground up.
Panelist: Hermine Chobanyan, VP Business Banking & Team Leader – City National Bank
Hermine Chobanyan is a vice president and business banking team leader at City National Bank. She and her team provide high-touch and solutions-oriented banking to business customers throughout the Southern California region. They are also responsible for managing relationships and advising their clients on financial solutions aimed at growing their business. Chobanyan has more than 19 years of experience in the banking industry and is a strong finance professional skilled in commercial mortgages, commercial lending, credit analysis and more. She has received numerous awards for her achievements and was named “2017 Trusted Advisor” by the San Fernando Valley Business Journal and was a nominee for the “Inspirational Women Forum and Awards” in 2021 by the Los Angeles Times.
Panelist: Margaret Shanley, Principal, Transaction Advisory Services Practice Leader – CohnReznick LLP
Margaret Shanley is known in the Los Angeles community as a go-to partner in the middle market for transaction advisory services. During her 20-plus year career, she has led hundreds of transactions and maximized successful outcomes for buyers and sellers. Shanley is a connector and networker within the L.A. community, putting potential buyers and sellers in touch and helping to facilitate strategic relationships and introductions to other service providers, such as investment bankers and lawyers. Her long-term clients retain her for multiple deals year after year, which is indicative of the quality of work she provides.
Panelist: Candace Nelson, Founder of Sprinkles & Pizzana and author of “Sweet Success”
Candace Nelson is a serial entrepreneur, a New York Times bestselling author, Wall Street Journal contributor and an expert in turning one’s passion into a profitable business. Her forthcoming book on entrepreneurship - “Sweet Success: A Simple Recipe for Turning Your Passion Into Profit” - will be published on November 8 by HarperCollins Leadership and is available for pre-order in bookstores nationwide. In 2005, Nelson revolutionized the baking industry when she left a career in finance to start Sprinkles, the world’s first cupcake bakery and Cupcake ATM, and in 2017 launched Pizzana - a growing chain of Michelin Bib Gourmand-awarded pizzerias - that is leading the third wave of pizza in the U.S.
Moderator: Camille Styles, Founder/CEO & Editor-in-Chief – Camille Styles Inc.
Camille Styles is the founder and editor-in-chief of Camille Styles Inc. The online publication is an influential go-to resource for elevating everyday experiences covering food, design, gatherings, wellness and beauty. Launching next month, she will be bringing her expertise and passion for entertaining to the world of consumer product home goods with her first product line, Casa Zuma.
Insights from the Panel
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO SOMEONE STARTING A BUSINESS FROM THE GROUND UP, AND WHAT WOULD YOU FOCUS ON?
Candace Nelson: My biggest advice for anyone thinking about starting a business is to dream really, really big, but start small. Entrepreneurship really is about taking a calculated risk - it’s not about just throwing all caution to the wind. Margaret Shanley: Surround yourself with the best people that you can. When you’re starting a company, you might not have all the resources, the capital, or the funding, so just take advantage of your networks.
Hermine Chobanyan: If you’re a business owner, they always say be ready to be the hardest working team member and the last being paid.
WHAT ARE TWO OR THREE MAIN THINGS NEW BUSINESSES CAN DO TO SURVIVE AND PROSPER? AND, IN YOUR MIND, DO THOSE THINGS CHANGE WHEN WE ARE LOOKING AT A POTENTIAL RECESSION?
Hermine Chobanyan: When you are doing your business plan, please make sure you add 20% of your capital in the reserves for unexpected expenses - trust me, throughout the 20 years that I’ve been in banking, I’ve it all!
WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FOR WHEN TRYING TO MATCH A START-UP WITH POTENTIAL FUNDERS?
Margaret Shanley: Partnership is key. It’s not just about getting an equity check or a debt check. It’s really thinking about: Do I want to do business with this person? Can they bring relationships to the table? Maybe they can help me get into a certain customer base that I wasn’t with before, or maybe they can help me with my supply chain. Really, it’s just understanding what they bring to the table that I don’t have currently.
WHY IS INNOVATION VITAL TO BRAND LONGEVITY AND HOW CAN OTHERS LEARN TO BECOME, AND STAY, NEW AND RELEVANT?
Candace Nelson: I was pregnant with my second son, and I was having a very late-night, pregnancy craving for cupcake. The store was closed, and I thought, “well, this is just great.” Then I thought, “what if you could get a cupcake this time of night?” Instead of dismissing that idea as impossible or silly or ridiculous, I started playing with the idea. And sure enough, I ended up running with it, and a year later we debuted the cupcake ATM, the first ever 24-hour contactless cupcake delivery system. I think innovation is really the key, but it just starts with sort of looking at the world as if there are no rules and thinking “what if?”
AT WHAT POINT DID YOU CONSIDER COMPANY CULTURE AND HOW DID YOU APPROACH IT?
Hermine Chobanyan: Company culture is the key to company success, regardless of if you’re a startup or you’ve been around for a long period of time. Like they say: happy employees - happy numbers. Happy people work stress-free, and stress is something that can actually interrupt the work environment.
Margaret Shanley: I describe what we’ve built at CohnReznick as everybody being very comfortable in their skin - it’s very transparent. We have a culture where if you have something on your mind, you talk it out. It doesn’t matter if you’re a partner or a senior associate, everybody is equal.
Candace Nelson: Company culture really boils down to how you make your employees feel. Do they feel seen? Do they feel safe as he said? Do they feel empowered? Sprinkles started with the passion that we felt about what we were doing. We hired employees who had that same enthusiasm.