October 25, 1993 is technically the date when Lunapads started, since I was making them, along with Lunapanties, wedding dresses, purses, bedding, and a ton of other things when I started my first company, everyware designs.
I will never forget opening the letter from the Ministry of Small Business with the date-stamped response to my application: little did I realize that it was just the beginning of a career that would span decades. I am often asked for my story and tips based on what I’ve learned in 20 years as an entrepreneur; here are a few highlights.
Reflection #1: If you have a business idea, don’t just dream, start. It doesn’t have to be perfect to get the cosmic ball rolling.
Identity is a funny thing, and while I had until then known myself as a student, artist and social change leader, becoming a licensed, tax registered, 100% legit entrepreneur brought with it a whole other mantle of pride and responsibility.
#2: So often I hear the adjective “small” in front of “business owner”. Let’s do this together: no more “small”, no more “something-preneur”; entrepreneur (from the French: to undertake) is a big, long, crazy word that is as fabulous and complex as it sounds: own it.
For all the glam of starting a business, I soon realized that I had gotten a little bit ahead of myself in terms of actual know-how, and so enrolled in an entrepreneurial training program to write a formal business plan for Lunapads. Much to my surprise, I received an award for it.
#3: Get help; you’re probably going to need it. Bonus tip: you don’t have to be an MBA or Accountant to own a business (although it can definitely help, as we will see shortly.)
In 1995 I borrowed a swat of cash from the bank and bought the company that was then making Lunapads on my behalf. While there were a ton of great moments and learnings during that time, the three years that I operated a store, a factory, design and Lunapads wholesale business were an early lesson in not spreading myself too thin. I often worked 7 days a week, made little money and then berated myself for being burnt out and broke. Blech.
#4: Wherever possible, stick to doing what you’re are good at/interested in, at a reasonable pace.
In 1999 I had closed my store to devote myself to working on Lunapads full-time when, feeling lonely and at the behest of my Mom, I enrolled in a community leadership course. Pretty much all of my fellow participants hailed from the corporate and large-scale non-profit sectors and I felt like a bit of an oddity, but I did make one friend. She was very different from me – a first generation Asian-Canadian, left-brained numbers gal with a big corporate job – but we clicked. Meeting Suzanne marks Lunapads second founding date, where the company was reborn (literally!) and set upon its current course.
#5: Listen to your Mom, make friends with people who are different from you, and let the Universe take care of the rest.
We landed an equity deal with incredible financial partners, got ourselves a trade show booth and headed off to major Natural Products shows, intent on selling to big chains like Wild Oats (remember them?) and Whole Foods. Long story short, we were in over our heads, lacked funds for marketing support, lost a bunch of money and got very freaked out.
Suzanne and I often tell the story of going to see our investor Joel Solomon to bring him the bad news and ask for help. He said “I can’t invest any more without there being a different strategy, but I believe in you two. Go back to the office, put your heads together and figure it out.” We took his advice and spent our last few thousand dollars on a new website. It saved our bacon!
#6: $hit happens in business, as in life. It’s probably not the end. Trust yourself, or if you can’t muster that, others who support you. Bonus tip: a new website is always a good investment.
The next major developments in our business careers were Aiden (2002), Gigi (2005) and Garret (2006). Having “righted” the Lunapads Mothership, we became Mothers ourselves, and learned the ropes as we worked. For 5+ years, there was a kid at work with us for at least some portion of the day, supplemented by staff, parents, nannies, daycare etc.
#7: Dear entrepreneur parents, especially Moms: people have always worked and have always had kids – you will figure it out, however probably not until you get there.
One day in 2008 we received an email from two development aid workers telling us that they had received some Lunapads via a volunteer from Vancouver, and wanted to start a business making their own version. We said Yes, and today AFRIpads employs 65 people and has provided over 150,000 girls with their products. Oh yeah – and we got to go to Uganda.
#8: One person’s “distraction” is another’s life-changing opportunity. If you ever have the chance to create social change as part of your business practice, don’t let it pass you by.
In 2008 another, very different, thing also happened: my husband was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. I pretty much fell apart, and after a year of dealing with surgeries and treatments, I had lost perspective on my value to the business. It took a long time and a lot of support to regain my confidence, both in myself and the future. He is fine today, as am I, as is Lunapads.
#9: Stay connected to your identity outside of your business; we know what really comes first, right?
We’re closing in on the end of 2013, with numerous changes and new developments afoot, so stay tuned for the next 10 years – they’re going to rock. Deep bows and eternal gratitude to Suzanne, my friends and family, our investors, staff past and present, customers and community: thank you for 20 incredible, wonderful, crazy years.
#10: Relationships are everything. Be grateful for the opportunity to be on one of life’s most extraordinary adventures, and don’t be afraid to reinvent yourself. Woo hoo!