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Ten Disney-Inspired Lessons for New Entrepreneurs

Jeni Venker Weidenbenner
February 26th, 2018 · 4 min read

Walt Disney said, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” The worldwide Disney franchise is proof that dreams can come true. My first trip to Disney World (Orlando, FL) was with my husband and our best friends at Christmas 2016. That magical week was the motivation I needed to finally start the business I had been dreaming about for nearly a decade.

Fairy tales have always melted my heart, especially the modernized, fractured versions that let girls rescue themselves. Part of the magic of Disney World was being called “Princess” throughout Magic Kingdom. I see myself as a Modern Cinderella who can marshal resources and map my own destiny. Inspired by my trip, I started 2017 confident that I could fill the shoes of a business owner by digging deep and doing the hard work.

And, so we are clear, owning a business is the hardest work I have ever done. Harder than creating engaging library programs with zero budget. Harder than juggling a full-time information specialist job with full-time PhD work. Harder than teaching undergraduate general education classes at a research university. I see why so many business owners give up the dream and trade time/location freedom for stability and status quo.

Lesson One: The struggle of entrepreneurship is real; it is a mental, physical, and spiritual test of wit and will.

Despite spending a week at Disney, we saw only a small fraction of the attractions and spent a chunk of each day traveling between parks. We never even made it to Animal Kingdom. I learned the hard way that trying to go different directions, whether at Disney or as an entrepreneur, gets you, literally, nowhere. The first few months of entrepreneurship were overwhelming because I mistakenly thought I had to create the entire kingdom in one fell swoop. That is a fine strategy for kingdoms and queendoms because they have minions, but it is unrealistic for solopreneur princesses-in-training.

Lesson Two: The road to success is one direction; stay the course and avoid detours.

The marketing coach I hired in April 2017 emphasized webinars and Facebook ads. Ever the rebel, I skipped webinars, dabbled in ads, and floundered trying to do it my way. Why? An age-old rookie mistake: thinking that creativity matters more than tested blueprints. Silly me! My audience targeting was off-kilter, and my ads yielded minimal results. Frustrated with lack of traction, I doubled-down on my mistakes. I expanded from Facebook to several other social media channels, even though I had been coached to focus on one platform only until after a certain point of profitability. I spent hours in Photoshop & Illustrator, obsessing over my logo and branding colors. I had tunnel vision and missed the neon signs telling me to outsource my weaker skills and leverage my strengths to make money.

Lesson Three: Heed the advice of people who are where you want to be; they took the hits to clear a path through the jungle.

Over the summer, I overdosed on a variety of free and paid training sessions online and tried to implement the strategies for visibility and digital marketing. I joined at least a dozen Facebook groups for entrepreneurs, followed competitors online, listened to recommended podcasts, and got lost in the ensuing chaos of ideas and tedious to-dos. My rose-colored glasses started cracking because I spent most of my time on low-ROI busy work instead moneymaking activities, like warm emails.

Lesson Four: Focus on one idea/emphasis to build momentum.

In early fall, I finally discovered my princess power and did a deep dive with my Rituals for Living Dreambook to set some concrete goals. Working backward, I identified specific action steps, deadlines, and metrics to track progress across key areas. As a result of helping beta test Hayley’s Online Co-Working Space, I settled into a steady routine to bulldoze my goals in 90-minute blocks. Chunking big goals into bite-sized tasks empowered me to make real progress attracting clients. Lesson Five: Set S.M.A.R.T. goals and follow through.


Cinderella had help getting ready for the ball, so I started seeking support and feedback. Instead of letting ideas bounce around my head unconstrained, I sought spaces to poll prospective clients. I released content to the world and paid attention to the reactions. I started sharing my struggles with other entrepreneurs and realizing I did not need to suffer alone.

Lesson Six: Get connected.

Often, I have felt like an ugly stepsister, trying desperately to make the wrong shoe fit so I could get noticed. Truth is, wearing the wrong shoes will cripple an entrepreneur. My pumpkin carriage could not keep pace with the speed of change in today’s agile landscape, so I adopted a “fail early, fail often” mindset to get past my fear of flopping. That was a harsh blow to the witchy perfectionist living in my head, although she still tries to poison my positivity with her venomous tongue. I finally realized I am my own fairy godmother, and I wield a wand of focus and fortitude.

Lesson Seven: The more you are yourself, the more unique you are.

Walt Disney did not become a Hollywood hit overnight. He took 30 years to go from animator to amusement park creator, and Disneyland was not built in a day. Disney turned failure into forward motion multiple times, channeling his innovation into variations on a single theme: cartoon animations. Before the end of 2017, I restructured my plans and removed unrealistic pressure to reach the top in record time. Eyes on the prize means playing the long game, even when smaller, slower steps are needed.

Lesson Eight: Be persistent to win keys to the kingdom.

I made a vision board at the start of 2018 with a pair of mouse ears at the center to activate my imagination. Each morning, I visualize my goals in detail, which sparks the same neural pathways as physically performing the actions. Each small step towards the castle puts me closer to my dreams. Sticking to one path builds momentum. When New-and-Shiny Syndrome tempts me to step off track, I store the gems for later and channel my inner magic to advance.

Lessons Nine: Begin each day believing, then begin doing.

Little by little, I am growing into the shoes I wish to fill by taking the steps that scare me. Walt Disney said, “All our dreams come true if we have the courage to pursue them.” While I love to talk, I feel so awkward doing webinars or live streams. I resisted video for most of 2017 but decided to get comfortable with doing the uncomfortable in 2018. I have been building my confidence with live streams on Instagram and Facebook at least once a week. In three short weeks, the synchronicity among my business systems, social media engagement, and client acquisition has rewarded my vulnerability.

Lesson Ten: Courage is the cornerstone of dreams come true.

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