Why I’m Passionate about Helping Small Businesses and Startups Grow

Joanna Kurylo
6 min readSep 13, 2022

This may come as a surprise but, as a college student in 2007, helping small businesses grow and scale their revenue was not part of my vision.

As a daughter of parents that immigrated from Poland in the 1980’s, I was passionate about two things: hard work and inciting change. College was a big step for me, I was one of the first in my family to attend. As a Political Science major at Adelphi University, my professors opened my eyes about issues of persuasion, power, and organization.

In hindsight, they were all key elements that were instrumental in my future sales career.

I interned at a variety of nonprofits during college and it was a tremendous experience; I loved making others just as passionate about a topic as I was. Speaking out about why people should care about human traffic violations in Eastern Europe or poor prison conditions in Argentina came naturally to me. I loved making others passionate, it was what drove me. I later learned that is what by definition is sales, at least how I define it, but at this point I hadn’t quite realized that yet.

After graduating, I sat down with a human resources director at the organization I was working at to chat about the next step in my career.

The director asked me a big question, a question that potentially changed my entire career trajectory:

“Why do you want to work for a nonprofit?”

And it was probably the first time in my young and so-sure life when I didn’t have an immediate answer.

She then challenged me, “Experiment, you’re young!” she exclaimed.

And I did just that.

For two years after that, I tried dozens of different jobs. Antique dealer? Check. Auction House assistant? Tried that too. Paralegal’s assistant? Yes, even that. J.R.R. Tolkien may have said “Not all those who wander are lost,” but I was one of the lost ones.

That was until I had an opportunity to jump on board a sales position at the Greater New York Chamber of Commerce (GNYCC), a nonprofit dedicated to supporting small business growth in the Greater New York City Area.

This opportunity ended up being more than just a “gig.” It was an opportunity to get on the front lines of the New York City small business and startup ecosystem and meet with hundreds of small business owners and startup founders in varying stages of growth; from the ribbon cutting of Yodle’s new NYC headquarters to being on calls with up-and-coming startups that were including GNYCC as a part of their marketing campaigns.

Whether they were a one-person business or solo-practitioners or a large growing office, they all had one major thing in common: Passion. They were passionate about what they were building and growing.

The Big Aha Moment!

If there’s one thing I’ve learned during my career, it’s that sales is not a dirty word. It is simply the art of making somebody else just as passionate about something as you are.

Each of the small business owners or startup founders I met during my career were extraordinarily passionate about their business, their market, and their niche. Whether they were commercial car dealers, book dealers, lawyers, or accountants, a young founder building a new product or a serial entrepreneur building their 10th; their businesses were their lives.

And I fell in love with that.

The same passion that initially motivated and inspired me at nonprofits, was what I saw in small business owners and startup founders. They were super passionate about their business, their growth, and their journeys. And I became passionate about helping them do exactly that. In turn, I became obsessed about selling and helping startups and companies start selling or even selling better

What my experience has taught me

Since then, I have spent years working closely with growing small businesses and early-stage startups in a variety of capacities including establishing corporate partnerships, developing inbound and outbound sales development strategies, setting up lead generation processes, developing sales operations, revenue growth and user acquisition.

Every day, I am dealing with super passionate founders, business owners and team members.

Even when I jumped to the other side of the table and joined a family office as VP of Business Development and later on as Partner; my excitement stemmed from helping portfolio companies in growing their revenue. When I helped manage the due diligence process for startups applying for funding, I deep-dived into different types of startups; trying to determine what drives their growth, what slows their progress, what determines success and what predicts failure.

What did I learn? Well, compared to large enterprises or established large businesses, small businesses and early-stage startups are at a disadvantage when it comes to growing and scaling.

Small Business Growth

In the United States, the land of dreams and opportunities, there are 32.5 million small businesses. This accounts for 99.9% of all American businesses!

It may be easy to start a new business, but keeping one running is not. Nearly 1 in 5 small businesses fail within the first year. By the 5th year, 50% of small businesses fail.

There’s plenty of reasons why businesses fail, but both financing hurdles and marketing mistakes are pretty high up on the list. Understanding why small businesses fail makes it easy to comprehend why large businesses have an advantage over smaller ones. And understanding clearly the advantages large businesses have over small ones can start to help smaller businesses overcome more challenges.

So what are these factors to growth:

  • Access to data
  • Access to financial capital and revenue
  • Access to human capital

Large Businesses Have Data

You’ve heard of “Big Data” before. Large businesses have the benefit of accumulating, collecting and utilizing self-generated big data. In a survey of large company business leaders, over 91% said “they’re increasing their investments in big data projects.”

As a result, large enterprises are armed with the insights and knowledge about what works and what doesn’t. That gives large businesses a major advantage; they are able to determine more easily what steps they should take in reaching their specific business goals and objectives. How about small businesses? A majority of small businesses (58%) start new, meaning their marketing and sales operations are still being built from scratch. Simply put, a small businesses’ self-generated dataset does not exist due to the lack of opportunity.

Large Businesses Have Access to More Capital

The most obvious factor is access to capital. However, what may not be so obvious is the fact that due to this lack of access, smaller businesses have to rely more on credit in order to move their business forward. According to the 67% of small businesses have at least one business credit card and 24% use their card as the primary method of business spending. And even more scarily, 46% of all small businesses use personal credit cards.

Unlike small businesses that may have to rely on borrowing money, large businesses have capital that enables them to hire consultants and experienced talent, and test marketing strategies and make valuable brand investments. In addition, a larger tech budget helps larger businesses move the needle to faster and more predictable growth.

Large Businesses Have Large Teams

An estimated 70% of small businesses are owned and operated by a single person. In other words, a single person is potentially managing all aspects of growth of a company, including production, manufacturing, sales, marketing, operations, and administration.

This leaves little time for researching new marketing strategies that will drive revenue or growth; the founder or small business owner is limited to the skill and knowledge that they have already acquired.

And even in business situations where small businesses are not solopreneurs, they may be relying on a solo-marketer to make impactful decisions. We are currently seeing record numbers when it comes to small business hiring freezes. As a matter of fact, 63% of small businesses have put their hiring on hold because they can’t afford to add staff.

Ensuring Success for Small Businesses

We know that large businesses have an advantage: their access to datasets, capital, and larger teams makes it easier for them to operate and succeed. These three factors also mean it’s easier for larger businesses to undergo digital transformation, or to tie in how they interact with their digital tools and the value it provides their customers.

Now, what if a small business can also undergo digital transformation easily, avoid information overload, reach its revenue and user acquisition goals, and find a clearer, faster and simpler road to reach its business objectives? How can a small business, understanding these specific factors that positively impact a larger company’s success and growth potential, overcome these specific challenges?

By working on solving this problem, we can impact the success rate of small businesses everywhere.



Joanna Kurylo

Business Development and Revenue Growth Strategist for Early Stage Startups