Women in Business

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Glassybaby proves that profits and good works can coexist

Image credit: iStock

One night, during my third stint with lung cancer, I lit a candle and placed it in a hand-blown glass piece. The comfort that glow brought me was immeasurable, and I just knew, then, that I wanted to bring that same warm feeling to others in my position.

I decided to start glassybaby because I wanted to make votives and drinking glasses that bring light to people in a dark place. That endeavor slowly turned into a company that now aims to give back to organizations and people in need by donating 10 percent of our annual revenue to a foundation of our choice.

Profit margins and annual revenue shouldn’t be the only measures that define success for a company.

For me, the value that your work creates for other people is the true definition of success.

Lately, though, we’ve tried to look at that revenue we give away as another metric of success. Quantitative value carries importance, but it’s sometimes hard to measure its qualitative effect, which should be just as important.

We gave away a million meals in November to people in need, itself a large number that tells us exactly how many families we’re feeding. But the qualitative impact of that giving, which matters much more, is not measurable by statistics. Most of us take regular meals for granted, but for people who aren’t guaranteed food each day, a meal means so much more. For the people we feed, the value of that “million meals” figure is immeasurable.

So the value of a company can be qualitative, not just quantitative — and not just in terms of giving. If one of our products helps someone find strength during a tough time, how can you put a number on the value of that? Success can’t always be calculated in terms of profits.

Do Altruism and Competition Clash?

Benevolence is usually characterized as the opposite of competition. Within our company, teams compete to create products, and the best groups are rewarded. That friendly competition leads to increased production and better quality, which increases our sales and the amount we can donate.

On a larger scale, successful marketing is crucial for competition, especially for non-commodity, handcrafted products. Our experience shows that altruism is not only good for the world but it also effectively bolsters our brand’s reach and prestige.

People gravitate to altruism, and using a product with charitable ties is a beautiful way to show that interest.

We had no idea when we started donating 10 percent of all revenue that this philanthropy would be a key part of our marketing efforts.

Altruism and competition don’t have to be mutually exclusive. In fact, our competitive ethos helps us give away more money. We couldn’t compete without giving, and we couldn’t give without competing.

Give Back and Go Forward

In 2017, we expect to exceed $22 million in revenue and donate $2.2 million to charity. Competitiveness and altruism may seem like conflicting concepts to some, but we’ve found through the work we’ve done that they can work together. Here are four strategies your business can utilize to get there:

1. Make your giving model stand out. The products you sell don’t have to be cheap or even “necessary” for people. Without a clear, innovative giving model, the story of our brand wouldn’t have been so compelling as to engage thousands of people.

Every one of our customers knows exactly how much of his or her purchase will be donated to help people, animals, and the planet heal. That level of transparency tells a great story and helps a product distinguish itself from the competition even more.

2. Empower your customer base. Customers need to feel ownership, agency, and pride in the giving. I distinctly remember when I had lung cancer, friends would constantly ask, “What can I do for you?” I never quite knew what to tell them.

When words are hard to find, customers can use a product that gives back not only to help others, but also to send good energy into the world. It feels good, and it does good.

3. Utilize nonprofit partnerships. Use the wide network nonprofits contain to reach people. After all, many nonprofits have large devoted communities interested in finding new ways to help.

Teaming up with charitable foundations is a plus for everyone. It increases sales, helps the nonprofit gain exposure and donations, and exposes the nonprofit’s donors to a new product. The best partnerships create value for everyone involved.

4. Choose causes you’re truly passionate about. Foundations closest to your heart are ideal because people can sense when you truly care. That’s something we hope to convey to our own customers: that we care deeply about the causes we invest in.

This authentic passion is crucial for us. It inspires people to pay more for something that allows them to participate in something bigger than themselves.

Balancing altruism and competitive nature in business may be challenging, but it is possible, profitable, and fulfilling. Paint a clear picture of the giving model you want to build, and pick charitable paths you’re passionate about following.

Numbers only tell you so much about your business. Aim for a mix of competitiveness and compassion to help your company be the best version of itself.

-Lee Rhodes

Lee Rhodes founded glassybaby in 2001 after a chance meeting between a tealight and a hand-blown glass vessel during her seven-year bout with cancer. Rhodes developed the idea for glassybaby’s one-of-a-kind votives and drinkers with the core mission of helping cancer patients she met during treatment afford basic needs such as bus fare, childcare, or groceries. Ten percent of the company’s entire revenue goes toward a charitable organization; to date, glassybaby has donated more than $6 million to 350+ nonprofits since opening its doors.
 

Children, the most powerful motivator of all

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Starting a business can be challenging, particularly in a city like New York, which has always been one of America’s trend setting cities. But for two young women entrepreneurs like Renske Gosselink-Tibosch and Mylene Chambru, both of whom literally crossed an ocean to get here, the Big Apple offered inspiration.

Three years ago, a move from Amsterdam to New York City gave Gosselink-Tibosch the opportunity to reinvent herself. After several years in the trenches as a healthcare lawyer, Gosselink-Tibosch’s idea to share a European tradition, the Noobie Box, with new moms in the U.S., wasn’t that far of a stretch. In the Netherlands, regardless of income, every mother-to-be receives a gift, sponsored by one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the country: a care package that helps sustain expecting women through their first days, weeks and months of motherhood.

Like Gosselink-Tibosch, Mylene Chambru saw the good in her career but felt that there was something missing. As an employee in the tourist industry, she believed there were many opportunities, not being offered by sightseeing companies, that could help visitors immerse themselves in New York City’s culture. Chambru says the birth of her son gave her the courage to create Keenobby, Inc., a business that offers authentic New York City experiences, such as cooking courses with chefs, or jewelry making classes with artists to travelers and city-dwellers alike.

For Gosselink-Tibosch and Chambru, the act of bringing a child into the world ultimately inspired them to take create something new.

– Ellison Walcott

This is the second article in a series about women entrepreneurs.

 

Renske Gosselink-Tibosch

What journey led you to create Noobie Box as a business?

A move from Amsterdam to New York three years ago gave me the opportunity to drastically change my career. Instead of taking yet another corporate job, I chose to develop my entrepreneurial skills by starting my own company.

My two co-founders and I are close friends. Each of us made a choice to step away from our corporate careers but soon realized that we had skills that were applicable to our own business.

“We thought about the apprehension that young mothers face after bringing a newborn home, and realized that just a little support could be uplifting to them.”

The Noobie Box is an established concept in Europe and other parts of the world. The motherhood journey is long and can feel lonely at times. In its beginnings, it’s so important to feel comfortable with the changes that are happening.

As a team, we love working together every day and building a brand we are passionate about. The Noobie Box was launched in 2015. A year later, I became a new mom myself.

Renske Gosselink-Tibosch, Image credit: R. Tibosch

This wonderful life-changing event gave me a new perspective on life and inspiration, which is especially useful in my business!

What items do you include in the Noobie Box? 

It’s filled with high-quality products, valuable offers and important health information for both mom and baby. Our mission is to ease and soften the transition into motherhood by connecting expecting mothers with the best brands, products, and services. The content of the box changes monthly and contains a variation of products from companies like Philips Avent, Vita Coco, Healthy Mama, Bundle Organics, Weleda, Babyganics & Sigikid. A few examples of the products included are baby’s first bottle, pacifier, diaper rash cream, wipes, nursing pads, pregnancy tea, prenatal vitamins, coconut oil, and more. All products are mom & baby friendly, mostly organic and produced in the United States.

Currently, we distribute our boxes in the Northeast (NY, NJ, CT, PA, MA, RI). We will expand to more East Coast states in 2017, and are working towards nationwide coverage in 2018. Our ultimate goal is to reach 75% of new moms in 2020.

How have you funded your business?

Our business is completely self-funded. One of our main goal for 2017 is to find the right investors to further grow our company.

What are some of the difficulties you’ve faced? 

Image credit: Stylish & Hip Kids Photography

The ups and downs that come with starting a business, sometimes give me the feeling of being on a rollercoaster. You win some; you lose some. The wins keep giving me the motivation and adrenaline to continue what we’re doing. I’ve loved the entrepreneurial journey; it has been amazing so far. We are proud of the continuous growth in our business.

What advice would you give to others?

As an entrepreneur, you definitely have to learn to stay positive and on the right track when you get knocked down. It’s especially crucial during the difficult moments to have the support of my co-founders.

My advice would be to create a great founding team, with people you trust and who complement your skills and personality. And of course: believe in what you’re building!

 

Mylene Chambru

Please tell me about your history of Keenobby as owner/entrepreneur.

I launched Keenobby just over a year ago. However, I’ve always felt the urge to be an entrepreneur, and I sort of feel like I have been a business owner for many years. Before Keenobby, I was working in the tourism industry for ten years. I liked my job, but I felt that I needed more autonomy and challenge in my work. I remember going back home at night thinking about the type of business I could launch. My husband and I brainstormed endlessly. It took me some time to figure out what I wanted to do.

Things fell into place after I gave birth to my son. I can’t really explain why, but having a child suddenly gave me the confidence and boldness I had been missing for so long.

Mylene Chambru, Image Credit: M. Chambru

A couple of months later, I quit my job to embrace my own career path.

What services does Keenobby offer?

Keenobby is a social marketplace for cultural and creative experiences. It basically works as a community where anyone can host or attend an experience according to their talent or areas of interest. If you are fond of French pastries or eager to make your own Italian fettuccine, you can join a  passionate chef in their home kitchen. Or, if you wish to share your own talent of jewelry design, creating botanical perfume or medicinal tea, you can host a class on Keenobby. We are all about people, talent, and fun!

A Keenobby experience is immersive, intimate and led by an inspiring New Yorker. We are discerning about our talent and select them very carefully. Once they get on board, we work with them to make the best out of their creativity while meeting the expectations of our users. Hosting an experience on Keenobby is totally free, we only take a small commission on each transaction. Same thing for participants, they only pay as they play.

How have you funded your business?

As a young startup, this is where we have to be smart and innovative. Our marketing budget is obviously limited, and we can not (yet!) afford to spend thousands of dollars on public relations. This is definitely a challenge, but it forces us to find the most cost-effective marketing mix. Like other companies, we are using social media, emailing and word of mouth. More importantly, we tap into existing communities and build partnerships.

So far Keenobby has been funded through personal savings. We are planning to raise funds in the next six months to support our expansion strategy.

What are some of the difficulties you’ve faced? 

This has been a huge learning curve for me. This is my first experience as a business owner, and I did not know much about launching a business before. In addition, I am from Europe and had to maneuver a new market, a new culture, and new environment. The work life balance can also be a challenge.

Image credit: Susan Scott

Despite these challenges, Keenobby is the most exciting and rewarding experience I have ever had. It has given me confidence and pride in myself. It’s great to see the business growing as we are currently getting more people on board.

What advice would you give to others?

My main advice to other new entrepreneurs like me is to have a passion for what they do. Entrepreneurship is an emotional roller coaster – and passion is what you need to go through it. I also believe you must surround yourselves with experienced mentors and keep rethinking yourself and your business as you listen to them.

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?

I am proud to say that my biggest accomplishment has been to seize the opportunity to trust my gut feelings and give my dream of becoming an entrepreneur a chance to come true. The tremendous support of my husband convinced me that I was making the right decision and, honestly, no matter what happens in the future, I won’t have any regrets only a fulfilling sense of pride that – I did it.

You don't have to have all the answers, just follow your passion

Image credit: iStock

Growing up during the tech boom seems to have given young entrepreneurs like Parisa Wang and Allison Patel a definite advantage. They are savvier about building brands and are tireless about using the Internet and social media for promotion and fundraising.

Like many creatives, Wang is versatile and fearless. Despite cultural and family pressure to pursue a more traditional career, she insisted on cultivating her artistic goals. With college degrees in both accounting and art, and previous experience in business and fashion, Wang understands that an entrepreneur must think both creatively and critically. For her, personal misfortune and self-doubt presented opportunity and that’s when she started Parisa NYC. Wang says her handbags are all about inspiring women to access their own inner courage in the face of heartbreak and adversity.

Patel, on the other hand, enjoyed a more circuitous route after leaving the Joffrey Ballet to become the distiller of her own whisky. At 23, she decided to pursue her passion for traveling and sampling food and drink in different countries all over the world. She visited local markets, wineries, and distilleries and broadened her aesthetic awareness of her favorite spirit: whisky. When Patel returned to the U.S., she was disappointed by the limited selection of whiskies on offer in America. So, she took matters into own her hands and set up an import and export company to fulfill the demand. While exploring the world’s whisky scene, she met a third-generation Cognac producer who distilled a distinctive malt at his farm distillery in the heart of Cognac, France. Three years later, her company Brenne was born.

Ultimately, Wang’s and Patel’s stories show that talent and desire for success in one field can carry over to another, if only you have the vision. This is the first in our new series highlighting creative women in business. – Ellison Walcott

 

Parisa Wang, Image credit: P. Wang
PARISA WANG

It’s not easy breaking into the fashion industry? Was it always your first choice?

I’ve always loved drawing, designing and fashion since I was a kid. I never knew that I could become a designer though. Artistic expression was not a warmly accepted idea during my childhood, because the arts were seen as a waste of time and as an impediment to my academic success in China.

I didn’t openly pursue art until I attended college in the U.S. where I majored in both accounting and painting. I could have followed my parents’ advice and taken a traditional career path. At the end of the day, I thought about taking their advice but ultimately chose to trust myself. I’ve never looked back since.

What inspires your design? And why handbags?

Disappointed in a love affair, I found consolation among my female friends. I was inspired by their emotional support, and I was compelled to spread an equally encouraging message to others, so I created Parisa NYC, which offers a line of handbags that captures the stages of love — from hooked to free. Every handbag is handmade with genuine leather. Like a great love, it takes time and effort to craft.

How is it being a small business/entrepreneur? What are some of the challenges you’ve faced?

Being a solopreneur means you are in a constant battle. You are fighting for opportunities and fighting against fear and doubt.

I imagined what I’d tell my grandchildren one day when they asked about my life. I could tell them that I chose the safe and responsible career, but I wanted to tell them that when I was young, I decided to take a risk and follow my dream.

What advice would you give to others?

We all go through phases of self-doubt and self-questioning. “Should I launch a crowdfunding campaign?” “Should I go to this fashion conference in Texas by myself?” “Should I …” Fear and hesitation are the underlying reasons for many of my decisions.

I turned to an entrepreneur friend for help, and he told me that the only reason I was questioning my instincts was I hadn’t actually tried them out. That was my “light bulb” moment. Test things out.

When my fellow entrepreneurs ask me whether they should do certain things, I tell them “Feel the fear and do it anyway.”

Image credit: P. Wang

I took that trip to Texas alone and made valuable connections for my business. And I launched a Kickstarter crowd funding campaign two months later. When I clicked the launch button, it felt like I had jumped off a cliff. That was also the moment when I realized I was freefalling and had no safety net or backup.

When all the odds were against me, I learned to not take no as an answer. I learned how to create opportunities for myself.

 


 

Allison Patel, Image credit: Sarah Baumberger
ALLISON PATEL

What inspired you to take the plunge, to become an entrepreneur?

My history as an entrepreneur began in my childhood when my mom told me the only way I could have a pet rabbit was if I paid for it. I was in first grade. I started a business with my sister, and we sold our crafted home decor at the end of our driveway. Then, when I turned nine, I auditioned for and was selected into the Joffrey Ballet and danced professionally until I was 23 years old.

After running my whisky business successfully for the past seven years, I can say a lot of my initial trust in my own resourcefulness and creativity in achieving results came from my dancing days.

How is Brenne whisky produced? What infuses the flavor?

I’m currently inspired by two things: 1) authentic original innovation and 2) what can be created using my whisky as a catalyst.

Brenne whisky is the only single malt in the world aged in new French Oak and Cognac Barrels. This is significant because 60-70% of the flavor of a whisky comes from the barrels in which it is aged. By aging Brenne in two barrels that promote both creamy vanilla and bold fresh fruit notes, we’ve created a whisky that is truly delicious, smooth and incredibly unique.

In addition to the actual technique and art of dance, we also had to manage ourselves like a small business. I had to negotiate my own contracts and market myself to stand out from a crowd. In essence, I have always been an entrepreneur!

How is it being a small business/entrepreneur? What are some of the challenges you’ve faced?

Being a small business owner is about being a dreamer and having the courage to take action.

My team is pretty lean. It’s basically me, based in NYC, my distiller, and a team of farmers in France. All of our barley is grown organically on site! And in 2016, I welcomed Katie Schloss to help focus Brenne’s voice on social media.

I had never worked in the whisky industry before Brenne, so every day of those first three years felt like I was climbing a new mountain each day. While there are still plenty of terrifying and unsure moments, I do rise with curiosity and gusto every single day.

I created this business from scratch. I face difficulties every day! That’s part of the fun. Learning to navigate new challenges in a way that is kind, intentional, creative, and on every level, is a way of positively serving the world.

Image credit: Sarah Baumberger

What advice would you give to others?

Create strong ties with two distinctive communities: those in your industry who can be your professional cheerleaders and support systems, and those in your personal life who will continue to relate to you as yourself. It’s hard to remember that you are not your business when you work at it seven days a week. However, it’s really important to make that distinction, so that your business doesn’t cause you to feel drained. Get out, feel the sun on your face, dance, laugh, support your friends, do what makes you feel alive REGULARLY, so that you can bring that aliveness back to your business. You’re the heartbeat after all, so feed your personal beat, too!

 

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