VENTEUR spoke with Alisha McFetridge, Co-Founder and CEO of Rainstick, about her entrepreneurial journey. Rainstick is a clean technology company committed to building water technology products that drive the future of water conservation and allow people to thrive with only 50 liters of water per day without compromise.

McFetridge holds an MSc in Climate Change and Development and a Bachelor's in International Business, majoring in Sustainability. She has worked with high-growth technology companies, including Disney's Club Penguin and Bananatag. RainStick won Best of Innovation at CES 2022 (out of 1800 companies) and Best of KBIS 2022 (Gold).

Alisha McFetridge, Co-Founder and CEO of Rainstick / Photo courtesy of Alisha McFetridge

The Journey

The entrepreneurial journey is one of self-discovery. What have you learned about yourself while building your business?

I can't do everything. I've learned the need to delegate and trust our team. 

The entrepreneurial journey is often lonely. Have you experienced loneliness as an entrepreneur?

Yes, loneliness is a big thing in entrepreneurship! Before starting RainStick, I often heard entrepreneurs discuss their experience with loneliness, and I would wonder "how" being so involved with so many people daily. However, having a business makes you discounted on extracurricular activities, friends, and family. 

It's more difficult to relate, and you often don't have time as you did previously. Growing a team means you're "managing," and it's hard to have genuine relationships when there is a perceived or unwanted power dynamic. Others look to you for guidance, and you can't be 100% vulnerable. This makes it challenging to form genuine connections, furthering the cycle of loneliness.

I've been actively working on being more engaged with community members who don't know or aren't connected to RainStick. I think that's the only way I've been able to work on it, but it's an ongoing struggle.

What role has intuition played in your success as an entrepreneur, and why do you think this is the case?

Data can only get you so far, there are often contradictions in data alone, and it's essential to trust your gut. Data and intuition in decision-making allow me to make decisions faster and move forward with the business's priorities. If something feels wrong, it's often not correct. 

The Psychological Warfare 

Entrepreneurs generally sleep less, work more, and let their health slip. This combination, combined with loneliness, often results in insecurity, self-esteem issues, and low self-worth. Have you experienced any of these issues as an entrepreneur?

All to all of the above! You're hyper-focused on the business and less connected to humans, exacerbating these challenges. Suppose I said I didn't continually struggle with this. In that case, I'd be lying, but consciously recognizing that these issues exist has allowed a path to work on ways to mitigate the effects of entrepreneurism. I've learned to go for hikes, meditate and carve out time for myself (I book "nothing time" in my calendar a few days per week to reflect). It's not perfect, but it allows us to mitigate the long-term effects of burnout.

What is the most unrelatable part of being an entrepreneur, how does this impact your mental health, and why?

Nobody cares more about the business than the founders, and the constant feeling of not going fast enough can cause continual anxiety. At the end of the day, I'm still thinking about the business instead of being able to relax. There are also continual decisions that need to be made, which causes fatigue and unrest. 

The Mistakes

What are some mistakes you made early on as an entrepreneur, what did you learn from them, and how can others avoid them?

I treated my early employees like family, then was personally hurt when we had a turnover. I've learned it's important to focus on creating a highly functional team but that people want to be treated like team members, not family members (they have a family for that). So, training and development are important. 

I should have left time in my calendar to strategize as it was about executing and putting fires out. It's important to make time for both strategy and execution.

I took everyone's call instead of prioritizing the business’ needs and goals. Now. every time I have a request for me as the CEO, I first ask myself how important it is and if I can delete (drop) it. If not, can I delegate it to one of our team members? If not, and it still needs to be done, how timely is it, and can I defer it? If not, then I will do it.

What are some things you see that are often overlooked by entrepreneurs you encounter, and how can other entrepreneurs be aware of these things from the beginning?

They need to realize how much money it will take to commercialize the business. Create a financial model, and don't plan for the best case scenario. Prepare for the worst. Some of the best advice I heard early on is to create a best-case, worst-case, and moderate estimate when forecasting. Then, make sure you plan your runway, so you don't have money issues. Often I see entrepreneurs only having a few months of the runway and then having to lay people off. 

Plan as far in advance as possible and take advantage of many different funding mechanisms (grants, loans, and equity).

They need to realize how long it will take to commercialize the business. So, plan and be realistic with timelines.

They hire the wrong people or hire too soon. Mentorship and coaching are important. Find yourselves an accelerator or community support group. Often there will be mentors assigned, and get them to assist with hiring when you're ready. Also, don't hire a salesperson unless you've personally already sold your product or service so you know exactly what goes into the sales cycle so you can plan accordingly.

Rainstick shower in modern bathroom / Photo courtesy of Alisha McFetridge

The Successes

What are three seemingly insurmountable obstacles you've faced as an entrepreneur, and how have you overcome them?

1. Finding Balance

Finding the balance between having the money, time, and idea, and having them all work as you need them to. 

2. Raising Capital

We've now raised both a pre-seed and seed round for the business. Raising is daunting, but we've focused on building relationships early on and have taken one step at a time. First, we bootstrapped, then brought in grants (private and government) and a business loan before we decided to raise. Find what works best for you but don't feel like equity is the only option.

3. Commercializing a Hardware Product

Working on a hardware product is hard! Unlike Saas, R&D takes much longer, the refinement cycles take longer and, overall, it can be much more challenging. Therefore, ensuring we have the time and money has been crucial, and hiring consultants and employees to support the process has been vital so we can go much quicker. 

The Advice

What three key pieces of advice would have made your entrepreneurial journey more manageable, and why?

1. Establishing Your Network of Entrepreneurs

I was surrounding myself with entrepreneurs a few years ahead of me sooner than later. You learn a lot from others, and many of my challenges are very similar to everyone else. 

2. Learning and Practicing Turning Down Things That Aren’t Priorities

Learning to say no to anything that's not an immediate priority of the business. 

3. Delegating, Delegating, and More Delegating!

Pass off the workload so you can focus on what's important.

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