When did the entrepreneurial bug bite you?
I started my first business in my mid-twenties. At the time I was working for a wholesale fashion agency and was frustrated with how much money I was making given how hard I was working, how much I was selling and how much the company was making off of me. So, I decided to leave and open my own wholesale fashion agency and I never looked back. I owned and operated that business until December 2014 when I sold it and exited in order to focus my attention and energy on mini mioche, a ‘side business' that I had started back in 2008 after the birth of my first child.
What did winning the Shannon Passero Grant mean to you and your business ( when you won and now)?
At the time that I won the grant, I was still running both the wholesale fashion agency and mini mioche, the kids apparel company I had started in 2008, simultaneously. I was awarded the grant for mini mioche, which was a big boost for me both personally and for the business, which at that time was not profitable and was struggling financially. Shortly after I won the grant, I made the decision to take the plunge and exit my agency business. I recognized that mini mioche was never going to get where I wanted it to be or achieve the success I envisioned for the brand, if I didn’t give it my full focus and attention. I don’t know if I would have had the guts, at least not at that time, to make the decision and act on it, if it hadn’t been for the grant and Shannon’s support and encouragement.
Who were mentors that encouraged you?
I have always thought of Shannon as a mentor - someone I have looked to for inspiration both as a successful entrepreneur and as a respected female leader and boss. I started a ‘mastermind group’ a few years ago. It’s a group of like-minded entrepreneurs who meet once a month to discuss business and support each other through the trials and tribulations of entrepreneurship. The people in that group have definitely been mentors to me. I have learned so much from them and relied on them a great deal over the past several years for support and advice. I also started working with a business coach about a year ago, who has been an incredible mentor and source of support and inspiration. Being an entrepreneur is so hard and can be a lonely journey. It is invaluable to surround yourself with people who get it and will encourage and support you through the challenging times (of which there are so many).
What podcasts do you listen to inspire or learn from?
My favourite podcast is ‘How I built this with Guy Raz' on NPR. He interviews super successful entrepreneurs - people like the founder of Spanx, Patagonia, Vice Media and Instagram and asks them about their story - basically how they went from an idea to a $100 million dollar business. It is so inspirational and also comforting because the people interviewed are honest about their journey and what it took to achieve their success. I’ve listened to all of them and for the majority, it definitely wasn’t easy and there were a lot of major roadblocks along the way.
What local entrepreneur events and accelerators do you recommend that have helped you grow?
The biggest one for me as I mentioned before is the mastermind group that I put together a few years ago. Our group of six people has met consistently every month for just over 3 years now and that group has had a major impact on my business. Not only is it an outlet to vent and get advice, but we also connect with each other with resources, contacts and anything else that anyone needs. Like I said before, it’s important to surround yourself with like-minded entrepreneurs - whether that is through a formal organization or something you organize and manage yourself.
What do you do for encouragement or to be motivated?
I look to my coaches, consultants and mastermind group members a lot for encouragement and motivation. I also look to my employees and colleagues - they are in this with me and are always encouraging me to keep going. I am responsible for quite a number of people now - it’s not just about me and that definitely keeps me motivated.
How do you balance your entrepreneur life?
That’s something I am constantly working on. I recognize that I am obsessed with my work. I don’t think there are many successful entrepreneurs who aren’t. That being said, I am not willing to sacrifice my ‘life' for it. So I try very hard to fit the other stuff that is important to me in - vacations, weekends with my family in Collingwood or at the cottage, working out and self-care (getting my nails and hair done), time hanging out with friends. And when I am doing the non-work stuff, I try to be there - present and in the moment - and to avoid thinking about work (this is not easy and the bigger the company gets, the harder this has become). I recently took an 8-week mindfulness meditation workshop to help me be more present and to help with stress management and sleep. I am not the best at practising it but when I do, it definitely helps.
What is your fashion style and what do you wear to work.
I started my kids clothing brand mini mioche, after the birth of my daughter because I basically wanted to dress her in the clothes I live in (I am a total jeans and tees kind of girl) and I found it very difficult at that time to find great, well-made, simple fashion basics for her - especially in gender-neutral colours. I still dress very casually - mostly jeans, tees, sweaters and sweatshirts. I love a great romper. One of the best parts of having my own business is that I can wear whatever I want to work and often that’s my workout clothes (it’s all about saving time and squeezing it all in).
One piece of advice for someone wanting to start a business.
People will tell you you’re crazy, that most small businesses fail in the first five years and all the other reasons why you shouldn’t do it. Don’t listen to them. But do know going in that it is an insane amount of work and the only way it will likely succeed is if you are incredibly passionate about it, you really love it and you truly believe in it. Those three things, along with surrounding yourself with a few key people who will support and encourage you, will get you through the inevitable ups and downs of entrepreneurship.