DISRUPT THIS: Dawn Dickson is on a badass mission to change the future of vending machines
Dawn Dickson knows a few things about bootstrapping.
The serial entrepreneur from Columbus, Ohio began her career before the cottage industry of self-help guides and advice books from successful entrepreneurs took off. As a marketing manager for Nationwide Insurance in 2001, Dickson helped agents build intranet sites for their firms. She took her skills and knowledge about the burgeoning world of online marketing and launched TheUrbanStarr.com, a site that highlighted the social scene in central Ohio through reviews, events and articles. She then pivoted this work to a larger firm, D1 Consulting Group, helping businesses establish an online presence, build websites and launch email campaigns.
“I was a tech entrepreneur but I didn’t know those words,” Dickson says of her early career. “I had no mentors, no books.”
Eventually she moved to Atlanta to work with nonprofit organizations established by entertainers and athletes. In 2011, after nearly a decade in marketing, Dickson decided to make a change. She moved to Miami and launched Flat Out of Heels, a rollable, stylish and compact ballet flat to rescue the feet of women everywhere after hours in heels.
“I self-sourced via Alibaba, which is a good and bad thing,” she said. “I went in optimistic and didn’t know the risks. Thankfully it worked out.”
Per the description of Flat Out of Heels on her LinkedIn, “Flat Out of Heels partnered with Solutions Vending International (SVI) to create the ‘Flat Out’ vending machine. This ‘smart’ machine dispenses the Flat Out of Heels rollable flat and is placed in venues where women need relief from heels the most including airports, nightclubs, retail centers, convention centers, and conference facilities.”
Her second company, Solutions Vending, came about in 2013 and started off as a means to distribute the Flat Out of Heels products. Seeing the need, Dickson expanded the company to include a software component to “help people understand consumer decisions” and Solutions Vending became PopCom.
As an entrepreneur without formal background in technology running a tech-reliant firm, Dickson knew she had to learn quickly. To learn the terminology of fundraising and financial modeling, Dickson applied and was accepted in the NewME, the first accelerator for minority entrepreneurs, in 2014. In 2017 Dickson attended the Canopy Boulder accelerator program in spring and then at Techstars in summer and fall.
“Each program taught me something different: NewMe developed me as an entrepreneur and gave me access to lawyers and developers to help me grow. Canopy Boulder taught me about working in tech and Techstars gave me mentors who spoke the language,” Dickson said.
In 2018, Dickson is on the verge of launching her software-enabled PopCom vending solution. When asked if she was nervous, Dickson stated that she isn’t.
“You have to roll with it to stay sane.”
Dawn’s Advice for Entrepreneurs
Where to start: “Ideas have to come out of a need or experience.”
Know your audience: “Do market research, surveys, and interviews for feedback.”
Financial knowledge: “Have a deep understanding of your revenue and the scalability of your idea.”
Be dedicated: “Stick to it, it takes time. Those perceived overnight success stories are 7-10 years of hard work. Never company or measure yourself to them because you don’t know what they went through. You just see outcomes.”
Build a squad: “Surround yourself with like-minded peers and network across industries.
Stay inspired: Some of the business figures that Dawn gleans inspiration from include Daymond John, Lisa Price, Andrew Carnegie, Morgan DeBaun, Ben Horowitz, Brian Bracken.
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