Creativity and hard work: the gratifying life of an entrepreneur

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I think I was born to be an entrepreneur. When I used to get my students to fill out Cosmo-like questionnaires about their innate personality traits for successful business start-up, I would score myself too. Every time, I would score as high as possible. But there I was, teaching the class, not out exercising my passion for building and creating.

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A few years ago, I started Vulnerable Children Society with a few other women, to help kids and families in Ethiopia. I’m proud of how far we’ve come, and how many people we help… especially the teen girls in our Teenage Sex Trade Worker Retraining Program. But the other kick I get from it, is the building. Just to be clear, I don’t earn a cent from running this charity – I get the perks of a yearly trip to Ethiopia to supervise our work, and the gratification of doing something. You really are able to help when you put the effort in, and I love seeing projects come together out of our dreams and hard work.

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Really, running Vulnerable Children gave meaning to my work life, when I often searched for my impact as a professor. I have to thank my friends, supporters and partners over and over, for enabling me to conjure up projects, fund them, execute them, and see our work come to fruition.

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Last year, I significantly expanded our small family business, Africa Sleeps. I added a whole haircare and bodycare line, and have quadrupled my business since last fall.

It’s so terribly satisfying – creating labels and mixing scents, dreaming up products and experimenting with my daughters’ hair, dreaming up marketing approaches and forming satisfying partnerships with others in the natural hair world, and beyond. I’m so glad that I was able to expand our business with products that my values can really stand behind – that means a lot to me, and honestly, helps me sell them.

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It’s certainly not as glamorous as saying “Hi! I’m a professor specializing in sustainable business and non-profit management.” But it is pretty fun doing the work that goes along with “Hi! I have a natural hair and bodycare line for children of African heritage.”

In other words, I’m living a doing what I used to be researching and teaching. How bout them apples?

And now, our big baby. For the last four years, Jason and I have been working on opening our own vet clinic Pandosy Village Veterinary Hospital and pet shop, Pounce and Hound Fine Pet Goods. Our dream has evolved over the years, waiting for two developments to be built (long story,) but I love where we have ended up.

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As of next month, we’ll be opening the first integrative veterinary hospital in Kelowna, and an incredibly special store. We work as a team, but in essence, the store is mine. What fun work, even through the frsutrations: designing our clinic (twice!) and overseeing the construction. Figuring out our ethics, manifesto, and all the other choices that follow. Jason’s been studying herbal medicine, and I’ve been using my powers of lotion making and packaging to help him design natural medicines for the shop. I’ve come up with fashion concepts for various seasons, contracted artisans to make products for our shop, selected the most environmentally and socially responsible products I can find, and am now training our staff to take care of it all.

Jason, who scored “medium” on all those entrepreneurship quizzes, enjoys exactly the same thing as me: doing our own thing. We love that we are not following what everyone else is doing (I can’t tell you how many times the architects, conventional vets and others have kindly told us we are crazy for having a 1000 sq ft store in a vet clinic.) But we are united, excited, and so proud of what we have created together. There will be a wedding-like kiss the day we open the doors. (Pucker up, honey. Just two weeks away!)

The downside of having all these enterprises on the go is that I don’t sleep enough, and sometimes have to trade time on one project for another. This past two months, I have lived and breathed the hospital.

But I was born an entrepreneur – passion, creativity and innovation are my fuel. I wouldn’t work any other way.

Inside my Africa Sleeps home workshop

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Most of you know that we have a home-based business, Africa Sleeps! Today I thought I’d take you on a tour of our home office and workshop. In the video, you can peek inside my house while I explain where our products come from, what happens behind the scenes, and share some of the ways our business tries to be light on the earth.

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BTW, since spring has sprung for most of my customers (even though it is currently snowing in Kelowna!) I’ve launched our fabulous springtime of Pink Grapefruit, and Strawberries and Cream lines of hair oil, aloe lotion, shea lotion, and lip balms! Check it out!

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The Two Parent Two-Step: Balancing work and home

When I met my husband, he stated firmly that there was no way, no how, that he would ever be a stay-at-home dad. But here we are, 5 years into parenting, and not only has Jason had stints as a stay-at-home dad, but I’ve been a stay-at-home mom too. At various intervals, we’ve both worked fulltime and had the kids in daycare, I’ve worked half-time and had the kids at home while he’s worked full-time. I’ve worked at home, out-of-the-home, and in other countries. He’s worked as a locum vet, so we’ve also had long stretches of him being away, alternating with him being the primary caregiver. You name the parental balance – we’ve done it.

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Certainly Jason’s opinions about being a stay-at-home dad have changed. He actually really likes it – he’s cleaner than I am, and more fastidious about details like the kids getting to school on time. So when he’s home, those things are “done right.” But he also developed a lot of empathy and understanding for stay-at-home moms. He knows what the social isolation is like (hence, the birth of poker night.) And he understands how much work it actually is, to keep the hearth warm and the homefires burning.

But there are still things he doesn’t get. Like, when I am working from home, I am WORKING from home. Which means, I don’t have time to sweep the floor, feed the kids, do laundry and still plan my courses and send out my orders. That’s something he’s never done – worked from home. So too often, I get “well, you are home, so why don’t you…” He wouldn’t be asking after the laundry if I was planning at my office at the college or had Africa Sleeps stuff in a small office out of the house.

But mostly, we are on the same page. Of all these scenarios, we do best as a couple and a family when we are both working part time. And when we are both reasonably close to home, and accessible to the kids. The exception is that I need to get away a couple of times a year, either to Ethiopia for Vulnerable Children or for an academic conference. It gives me fresh air and supports my identity as a professional woman.

I actually prefer working half time… I would say that I’m about 3/4 time at the moment, and it’s busier than I would like. I’m a person to fill my days anyway! But it seems like the kids, friends, the house, the dogs etc. aren’t getting the attention that I would like to give.

I know that when our clinic and shop open, which is looking like the weekend before the May-long, we’ll both be super busy. But our hope is that, eventually, he’ll be working 4-5 days a week, and I’ll be able to focus on volunteering and entrepreneurial/academic  things, while teaching a course or two on the side. This has been the goal all along, but we certainly didn’t think it would be 3 years of the two parent two step to get to this point. At least we’ve gotten good and balancing each other off, and being flexible!

In the meanwhile, Jason’s working long days at regional clinics, so he can be home at night. I’m working 1/2 time at the college, and volunteering/working the other half on Vulnerable Children and Africa Sleeps. This semester, the girls have after-school care two days a week, which should enable me to get two long days in, so I’m available to them and mentally present after school the other three days.

I’d love to hear about your scenarios – stay-at-home, 1/2 time, working at home, working out of the home, etc… and how you manage the juggle between two parent households!

Mompreneurs: it’s not just me; it’s a social phenomenon

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As mom who runs her own business(es,) I was looking forward to a segment on Mompreneurs on the local CBC radio station yesterday. Unfortunately, they just showcased one lady’s business and missed the bigger picture. (I know the producer reads my blog occasionally, so yes! I think you should do a follow up.)

Mompreneurs, or moms starting their own businesses so they can work from home is more than one or two cases of ladies selling jewelry or clothes on Etsy. It’s a social movement, with big economic and demographic drivers behind it.

Let me out my Business Professer hat on. (Yes, that’s really one of my other jobs. This is not a figurative hat.)

Firstly, a lot of parents my age grew up as latch key kids. Our parents the Baby Boomers were the first generation to have the majority of women working outside the home (go Boomers!) but the side effect was that most of us didn’t have a parent stay at home for the majority of our childhoods. Demographically speaking, Baby Boomers were driven by career achievement and often viewed their success in their parenting years as holding down a job, advancing in that job while raising children and financial stability (remember, their parents had lived through depressions,) as key success factors.

Each generation tends to swing the pendulum. In my generation, we already saw our moms (and in my case, grandmothers) working and had those role models. We started our careers first and started having kids when our jobs were in full swing. As a new mom in my early thirties, I’m pretty par for the course. I had already been a tenured professor for five years, and didn’t have much to prove, career wise.

So how does my generation of Baby Boomer kids define success during our own parenting years? Well, the pendulum swings back,and I think we’ve refocused on family life. The attachment parenting philosophies (started in the 70s, thanks hippy parents!) have taken root, along with a comfort level with ourselves as already established professionals.

So for the first time in over a hundred years, you see more of one parent staying at home than the previous generation. I’m not making this stuff up, by the way. Look it up if you think I’m full of phooey.

But then the financial realities hit. (Again, look it up if you think I’m full of it.) Our generation has way less disposable income between two parents than our parents did. Some of the key factors are the history of real estate inflation and the flatlining of salaries relative to disposable income costs. In other words, my generation doesn’t make as much money (in context) as our parents did. Yikes! And we want one parent to stay home?

So enter the Mompreneur Movement. Moms (and a good handful of dads,) want to stay home, or work part-time, but we can’t afford it. I repeat… I could not afford to stay home or even work part time. (When I went to work part time, I went to a third of my take home salary, which is less than receiving unemployment insurance.) So we have to be creative about income generation. AND, as a group of people who have already had success and/or experience in the wide world of work, we are more confident in our abilities to start our own businesses.

I started AfricaSleeps a few years ago, partly because the lady I was buying sleep caps from stopped selling them and I needed those caps, durn it! And partly because we needed the extra income for our second adoption.

But the reason I expanded our shop this fall was definitely in response to wanting to go part time at my professoring day job and get off the hamster wheel. I knew I could do it.. I just needed the right products (and they are FABULOUS!!) and the time to invest in expanding my business. So my husband and I made the choice for me to go to part time work and spend the rest of my time on my business, and on saving money (which takes its own time and attention.)

I see more and more Moms like me making similar choices to jump off the wheel and do it our own way. We are different from our own moms, as we are stepping out of the career hierarchy, but make no mistake… We couldn’t do this if they hadn’t walked in front of us balancing work and home.

Thanks Moms! For enabling us Mompreneurs to find our own solutions to the demographic and economic pressures of being a modern parent.