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Secrets of Success: Jessica Ekstrom


There are some “rules” of business success most entrepreneurs abide by. But many also have their own “secrets”—things they do or believe that helped them achieve success. In “Secrets of Success,” a weekly interview series here at’s Small Business Forum, I ask some of today’s smartest, most innovative, most successful business owners to share their insights and success secrets with you.

Meet: Jessica Ekstrom, the founder and CEO of Headbands of Hope, a socially responsible small business that makes colorful headwear. The headbands are made in America, and for every headband purchased from Headbands of Hope, one is given to a child with cancer and $1 is donated to the St. Baldrick’s Foundation to fund much-needed childhood cancer research.

Jessica started Headbands of Hope when she was a senior at North Carolina State University. A life-changing internship with the Make-a-Wish Foundation inspired her to become an entrepreneur in order to help children suffering from cancer. Since launching Headbands of Hope in April 2012, Jessica has donated more than 20,000 headbands to girls with cancer. What did you want to be when you grew up?

Jessica Ekstrom: When I was little, it changed by the day. I had a phase where I wanted to be a dentist. Then I had another phase where I wanted to be an astronaut, but soon realized I got carsick easily. As I got older, I realized I liked writing and hearing people’s stories so I decided to study communications and journalism in school. Why did you start your own business?

Ekstrom: During my junior year of college in the summer of 2011, I did an internship at a wish-granting organization. I found that girls loved to wear headbands after losing their hair from the chemotherapy. So [that same year], I founded Headbands of Hope.

I didn’t start a business with the hopes of being a CEO and dreams of creating my own life. I started a business because I saw a need and figured out a way to fill it. Did you experience a pivotal moment on your way to success?

Ekstrom: I used to weigh every opportunity with an agenda and lists of [reasons] to go or not to go. But now I’ve realized that a lot of the amazing things that happened in my life were unplanned and merely a result of just showing up. Anytime you can get out in public and involve yourself in any sense of community, most likely something great will happen. I’ve learned it’s not always necessary to have internal motives for every opportunity. Sometimes, you just have to be present and see where it takes you. What’s the best small business advice you ever gave and/or received?

Ekstrom: Remember why you started. Running a company can be very time consuming and stressful. There are so many things to think about and do all the time. Sometimes, you can let the pressure get to you and you forget why you started in the first place. If you have a clear sense of purpose in your company, remember that during the “not so fun” times. Have something greater to connect all of your hard work to at the end of the day. That way, work won’t feel like work! What’s one “best practice” more entrepreneurs should be embracing?

Ekstrom: Be open to learning from and helping each other. Sometimes I’ll go to a business-networking event and it feels more like a competition. Everyone is talking about their successes and things going their way, but rarely do people talk about what they might be lacking and what they need to learn. Starting any kind of business is hard and there’s always room for growth. We should be able to look at other entrepreneurs more as peers and less as competitors. What’s your favorite book?

Ekstrom: I love the book Start With Why by Simon Sinek. It goes back to my rule of remembering why you started. It’s imperative to have a clear sense of why your company matters rather than just what it does. Is there a quote you find particularly inspiring?

Ekstrom: “Failure is a bruise, not a tattoo.” —John Sinclair. This quote reminds me that failures aren’t the end-all. In fact, I’ve grown to treat failures as milestones that I’m putting myself out there and trying.