Before sitting down to write this blog post, I spent an hour flipping through old photos and videos of the beginning days, feeling nostalgic and remembering how it all started. Laura and I hustling at our local farmer’s market. My parents pouring and bottling our oil serum at 1 in the morning, helping us finish our first large production run (in their basement!). Our first virtual team social with our first hires back in 2020. I can’t believe it’s been 5 years since we first dreamt up the idea to create an accessible skincare brand, and how much it’s grown since then. There are so many things we could not have predicted (our rebrand to Three Ships, Laura’s health journey, the global pandemic), and I feel so proud of how we’ve shifted, evolved, jumped through hoops, and navigated our way to where we are today.
In some ways, we’ve surpassed our wildest dreams (having a team of 9 incredible women working with us, being carried at dream retailers like Credo Beauty, The Detox Market and Whole Foods). And in some ways, we’re just getting started. As we faced the challenges of growing from a fledgling bootstrapped home-grown business to one scaling across North America, there are countless lessons we’ve learned along the way. Here are the top five.
- Always Operate with Kindness
I recall one time, Laura and I were at one of our first conferences back in 2019. We were standing in the hall and Laura smiled at a stranger, who mistakenly assumed she was a founder he had a meeting with. We struck up a conversation, and he was so impressed with us that he ended up introducing us to our first investor (who later introduced us to many more!). We also have countless customers who first met us at farmer’s markets and craft fairs 5 years ago, who have supported us all these years. No matter how stressed we are, Laura and I always aim to lead with kindness and compassion, and I believe this has been one of the biggest reasons for why we’ve grown such a supportive community of customers and retail buyers.
- Imposter Syndrome Doesn’t Magically Disappear
When we used to make products in my apartment kitchen, I remember thinking that one day I would stop feeling the imposter syndrome. “When we stop hand making products, that’ll be the day I stop feeling like such a fraud” is what I told myself. The funny thing is, I’ve learned that this feeling doesn’t fade away as you grow, because once you become an expert at one thing and grow to the next level, you’re faced with a whole new set of challenges that you’ve never encountered.
Instead of wishing the imposter syndrome away, I’ve learned a few strategies to improve my self-talk. A business coach once gave me homework that sounded simple but was excruciating for me to complete every day. All I had to do was to write down a list of what I was proud of from that day and recite it to myself... while looking at myself in the mirror! It was the most awkward feeling, but I pushed through. I would tell myself how proud I was that I was kind to a stranger, or that I signed a new retailer. After a few weeks, I started to recognize myself for the things I was doing as they were occurring throughout the day (possibly because I knew I had to write them down later!). I highly recommend this practice for anyone reading this who experiences imposter syndrome. I’m still far from being 100% confident in myself, but this practice has been one that has made the biggest improvement in my self-confidence and feelings of self-worth.
- Hire for Values
- Cash is King
We started Three Ships with just $4,000 in savings, so we learned early on how to make a dollar go far. From buying a $300 printer to make our own product labels (versus buying custom-printed labels) or submitting our own articles of incorporation (instead of hiring a lawyer), Laura and I went through it all. Even after we fundraised, we focused on spending within our means. I know it can be hard sometimes, seeing larger businesses throwing the biggest, fanciest events or sending out the cutest PR mailers, but you must remember where you are in your start-up journey, and not to get ahead of yourself. Look for team members and agency partners that are also scrappy and resourceful. Never forget that cash is king!
- Remember Your North Star
Put another way, comparison is the thief of joy. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I compared myself to other founders or measured our start-up against a beauty brand a decade ahead of us. All this did was make me feel negatively towards myself and defeated. Once I decided to focus on our mission (to be the most transparent and effective natural beauty brand on the planet) and tuned out the extraneous noise, I became not only happier, but also more focused and productive. My advice is to get clear on your why and focus all your energy on that. One of the best ways I’ve found to remember your North Star is to look at customer reviews! I have a folder saved on my laptop of some of my favourite customer reviews and before/after testimonial images, and regularly review it when I’m feeling lost. Remember, everyone is on their own path, and everyone is fighting battles you know nothing about.
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