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The hidden truths behind Success and Failure

calgary-share
G Day Calgary: sad to let go, but still dreaming the dream until next year!

There’s a lot of talk these days about how awesome failure is: I have seen failure panels and even failure parties come into small business vogue in recent years. Which is fantastic: there is tons to be learned in every effort that we make, and it’s good to see it validated alongside its traditionally shinier sister, success.

The funny thing about this conversation is that it seems totally true and hip and cool when we are talking about other people’s or businesses’ failures, and a very different story when it comes to one’s own: we are still freaking terrified of disappointing, letting others down, looking foolish, losing money and so on.

So: I have this sweet little legacy project that I have been working on for a couple of years called G Day. It’s a secular rite of passage celebration series for tween girls and their parents and other caregivers and so far it has been going great. The longer story is quite magical, and to say that it’s near and dear to me doesn’t even begin to tell the story: it’s an idea that I have been carrying in my heart since I was an adolescent girl myself, and I have loved sharing it with my own freshly 11 year old daughter.

We have enjoyed a pretty wonderful ride so far, complete with angel sponsors, incredible volunteers and supporters, sold-out events in multiple cities and wonderful feedback from almost everyone. Has it been perfect? Absolutely not: we have on occasion overwhelmed, underwhelmed, miscommunicated, disappointed and even been a little boring and confusing.

Our latest dose of imperfection came yesterday when we decided to pull the plug on our next event in our newest city: Calgary, Alberta. Slated to take place in just a few short weeks and meticulously crafted by one of our most dedicated supporters (our Calgary Community Leader Madeline Ell is singlehandedly responsible for our gorgeous videos: here’s the first one that she ever did – I challenge you not to shed a tear!), a patch of tough timing (a terrible fire situation in Alberta coincided precisely with our media launch) in an already economically depressed city made it hard to even get people’s attention in the first place.

Which all makes sense and is an easy soundbite: it was a timing thing. What comes up for me, though, when I read this neat explanation is how much I want to comfort myself that it wasn’t my fault as a leader: there was an external situation that was out of our hands, or something else that wasn’t me.

Maybe this is true and maybe it’s not the point: the thing that I go back to from a leadership perspective is 1) what can I learn from this? and 2) how can I best honour and support everyone who I brought along for the ride with me to this point? Oh: and not to get so caught up in the explanation part that I forget to let myself simply mourn it, without the analytic noise.

The other thing that this type of explanation does is obscure the larger story of the countless hours spent by Madeline and her team putting it all together: the venue, the speakers, the marketing outreach: it’s a truly massive undertaking. I can let go of what this all means to me personally, however what will take me longer is coming to terms with the investment of their time and energy. What feels key to me at this point is to find the story that will honour the truth of everything that has gone into this, not only to do the team justice, but also to keep the door open for the next chapter. The concept of failure is so final, so done. And we are so not done.

The thinking at this point is to reschedule the event to sometime in 2017, at which point we will harvest this long-growing crop of awesome. In the meantime, we have enjoyed a huge outpouring of support from everyone involved. Here’s one example: “Madeline’s hard work so far will only help G Day Calgary to be bigger, badder, and stronger in 2017!”

Cheers to failure, success and acknowledging the vast complexity of everything else. See you in Calgary 😉

SheEO

Lessons learned from our SheEO Sisters

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Our fabulous cohort: Suzanne, Magnusmode’s Nadia Hamilton, Abeego’s Toni Desrosiers, Skipper Otto’s Sonia Strobel, Twenty-One Toys’ Ilana Ben-Ari, Madeleine.

It’s no secret that we are longtime champions of women entrepreneurs in general, with a special fondness for those who find their inspiration in the social impact realm.

We were especially touched and impressed by our SheEO Radical Generosity cohort, who, chosen from among 230 companies across Canada based on their overall business merits, also happened to all have a powerful social impact, as well as incredible lessons and role modelling for us. Here are our impressions of four rockstar entrepreneurs and their amazing initiatives.

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Sonia and Suzanne get their Empathy groove on playing with Twenty One Toys.

Twenty One Toys teach empathy, failure and non-visual communication skills to children and adults alike. Developed by industrial designer Ilana Ben-Ari originally to facilitate play between blind and sighted children, she discovered that they also had novel, universal applications for basically anyone who would benefit from enhancing their communication and relational skills (hello, most of us, am I right?).

It was amazing to watch Suzanne and Sonia Strobel (more about her in a minute) find their way through explaining how to arrange the pieces while blindfolded: it was a moment that beautifully demonstrated the toys’ power, as well as the human capacity to reach beyond our limitations, imagined or otherwise.

Ilana is one of the bravest, most resilient people that we have ever met. While Suzanne and I often rely on one another for support, Ilana has traveled on her own to China with precious few resources, spent her last pennies on manufacturing and even wore a borrowed dress to the Purple Carpet gala. Whether for your team, your kids or whatever people you could use better communication with, check out Twenty One Toys: they’re revolutionary.

So: back to Sonia. We like to think that we’re fairly up on sustainable business, however when it comes to essential, non-urban industries like agriculture and fisheries, we know that they are vital and yet have to confess to being in need of education: Sonia to the rescue!

Did you know, for example, that over half of the seafood available at stores or restaurants is mis-labeled? Or that most of our local BC catch travels as far as China (not swimming) for processing, changing hands up to 20 times, losing freshness and costing more at every step? Sonia created Skipper Otto’s Community Supported Fishery (CSF) to support family-owned Fishermen (Fishers of all genders apparently agree on this name) and provide consumers with fresh, sustainably-caught seafood.

One of the things that struck us most powerfully about Sonia is her remarkable ability to speak her truth. It’s one of those things that I catch myself on sometimes: wanting to please others, or sacrificing my needs for the sake of perceived efficiency. Not this lady: maybe it’s the fresh seafood that gives her the courage?

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(L-R) Nadia, Toni, Ilana, Sonia, Suzanne, Madeleine and Coach Loren Walsh.

One of the most powerful questions asked by Magnusmode founder Nadia Hamilton was “Have you ever been lost?” Fur sure, however consider what this might be like as a daily experience: this is the need that Nadia is solving for. Inspired by her autistic brother Troy, Magnus cards help people with autism and other cognitive disabilities navigate life.

When I think of Nadia, the phrase “the fierce face of love” comes to mind. She is – for real – a fighter: trained as a boxer and uniquely compelling in how her love for her brother has motivated her business – do not even consider resisting her. Know anyone with autism or other cognitive challenges?

Some of us are fighters, and some of us are lovers: which brings me to Abeego founder Toni Desrosiers. There is a lot of talk out there about vulnerability these days, however we have rarely witnessed it as powerfully as in Toni’s presence.

Her innovative products are born from her experience as a Holistic Nutritionist, and were frankly not what I expected. Whereas I had been seeing their value proposition more from an environmental perspective (reusable beeswax wrap replacing plastic wrap and containers), what I ended up learning was the value of keeping food fresher (and ergo healthier) for longer through the lesson of biomimicry: think of the breathable skin of a lemon or avocado – you get the idea.

As the famous E Myth tells us, it’s one thing to be an original thinker and come up with new products or services, however entirely another to run a business selling those things. The ability to do both is extraordinary, and these ladies are it.

Thank you Ilana, Sonia, Nadia and Toni for sharing your brave, smart, strong selves so fully: we are beyond grateful for your leadership and lessons!

SheEO Radical Generosity cohort Top 5 Canada 2016

The SheEO effect

“Collaboration is the new competition.” – SheEO Radical Generosity fund Top 5 cohort

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Our SheEO Radical Generosity cohort: (L-R) entrepreneurs Nadia Hamilton, Ilana Ben-Ari, Suzanne, Sonia Strobel, Madeleine, Toni Desrosiers, Coaches MJ Ryan and Loren Walsh, and Founder Vicki Saunders. Toronto, February 22, 2016. Photo credit: Dahlia Katz.

We have just returned from one of the most remarkable experiences in our entire Lunapads journey. In addition to being recognized as being among Canada’s most impactful women entrepreneurs, we have seen and experienced what we believe is the future of sustainable business funding.

Lunapads was ranked in the top 5 from a field of over 230 applicant companies from across the country by 500 “Activators”: women who each contributed $1,000 (including Suzanne and I) to create the SheEO Radical Generosity fund of $500,000, distributed as interest-free, 5 year term loans.

The Toronto-based initiative is the brainchild of serial tech entrepreneur Vicki Saunders. Rather than being a “Venture Capital for women” approach, the fund offers a holistic, arguably more impactful model, harnessing the power of the Activators, effectively bringing each selected venture 500 new customers and advocates.

Vicki’s experience in the Silicon Valley investment world was of a deeply flawed model that is leading to unrealistic valuations – and human expectations – of “unicorn” companies that do not reflect the reality of the vast majority of business startups (twice as many of which are started by women as men, incongruously). Less than 4% of this type of investment is given to women-owned companies in any case.

Some other notable things about why Radical Generosity is so groundbreaking include its process: the $500,000 was allocated, not by a panel of judges or “experts”, but rather by consensus among the 5 ventures. The only rules that we were given were that the funds could not be divided evenly, and that the funds could not all be given to one venture.

Video credit: Kristina Ruddick

Rather than an adversarial, “winner take all” approach, where the venture with the most capital is seen as the most successful, the ventures chose (in the face of considerable media pressure, I might add) not to disclose the final amounts, choosing instead to highlight the combined estimated increase in revenue for the entire group in the next 12 months ($2.5 million).

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“Locked in a boardroom?” Not!

What the process looked like in practice was what made it truly incredible. We were sequestered, not in a downtown boardroom, but rather in a historic country farmhouse an hour away from Toronto.

In the company of two expert Coach facilitators as well as Vicki herself, we were led in a series of deeply thoughtful, heart-led conversations and exercises for a full day and a half prior to the commencement of the final deliberations. We were fed delicious organic food and encouraged to share our personal stories about who we are as people and the “whys” behind our business ventures.

The result is that it would be harder to find a more closely bonded group of ass-kicking entrepreneurs, fiercely committed to one another’s – and the fund’s – success. It is an amazing example of “big picture thinking” that we believe sets an example of true sustainability. “Not for ourselves alone” was a refrain that kept playing in my head throughout the weekend.

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Photo credit: Dahlia Katz

And then there was a party! It was so amazing to be celebrated, especially alongside such inspiring sister-entrepreneurs. The “purple carpet” event was held in a historic Fermentation room (Vicki noted in her speech that it was a perfect metaphor for the growth of the Radical Generosity network) and attended by over 200 Activators. In that room, we felt the overwhelming power of women truly excited about our businesses and eager to offer ways to help us achieve our goals. We are not only now supported by a new model of funding, but we now have 500 new customers, experts and champions of our business. How awesome is that?!

The only disappointment in the entire experience was the lack of depth in media coverage (ie: the Globe and Mail – online only , Techvibes,  and a tiny blurb on News 1130 and in the Vancouver Sun).  Given the innovative funding model and degree of impact SheEO is creating, we strongly feel this kind of story deserves more attention.

We are incredibly proud of this milestone and so grateful for the support of our staff, customers, friends and family that has brought us to this point. To Vicki and the SheEO team, the Activators, Ilana, Nadia, Toni and Sonia (more on these women and their businesses soon), and all SheEOs past, present and future: thank you from the bottom of our hearts. We will do you proud!

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Lunapads among top Canadian 5 women-led ventures for “Radical” new fund

Toronto ON 

Lunapads

Vancouver-based Lunapads Ltd. has placed among the top 5 women-led ventures across Canada, receiving an undisclosed portion of $500,000 raised as part of the SheEO Radical Generosity fund.

The Toronto-based fund is the brainchild of serial tech entrepreneur Vicki Saunders, who observes that a mere 4% of all venture capital goes to women-led ventures, despite new data that shows that women entrepreneurs being financed to the same degree as their male counterparts would yield 6 million new jobs in North America in the next 5 years.

Lunapads was ranked among over 230 applicant companies with a minimum of $50,000 in annual revenue by 500 “Activators”: women who each donated $1,000 to create the fund, which will be distributed as interest-free loans.

Lunapads founders Suzanne Siemens and Madeleine Shaw were celebrated, along with the four other finalists at a “Purple Carpet” gala event attended by over 200 Activators and Sponsors of the fund in Toronto on Monday February 22nd.

During the preceding weekend at a country home near Guelph ON, the funds were divided by the five finalists based on two rules: that the funds could not be divided equally, and that the money could not be dedicated to one venture alone.

Shaw and Siemens are also Activators themselves: “We donated not knowing whether we would be chosen or not,” said Lunapads CEO Siemens, noting that the pair have a long history of mentoring and supporting other women entrepreneurs.

The windfall comes at an opportune time, as Lunapads launches new “Performa” high-absorbency pads for heavy flow menstrual needs, as well as light to moderate bladder leakage.

Lunapads are currently used by customers in over 40 countries, being distributed as far afield as Germany and Japan, in addition to across Canada at Whole Foods and London Drugs.

“The Radical Generosity experience has been one our all-time career highlights” said Shaw. “It’s not just about the money,” says Siemens, highlighting the other major benefit of the fund: access to 500 new customers via the Activator network.

Finalists of SheEO’s Radical Generosity Fund: Lunapads, Abeego, Skipper Otto, Magnus Mode, Twenty One Toys.
mad & friends at restaurant

A history of pretty.

Generously reposted from Textile Artist Amy Meissner’s excellent blog, Spontaneous Combustion.

mad & friends at restaurant

Madeleine’s note: There are few better ways to get to know someone than by working at their side. Amy remains one of the strongest and most talented people I have ever met (she is at left in the image, I am next to her: with black hair, no less!). I was blown away by this post, which she was inspired to write 20 years after our time working together. I am moved and fascinated by how little I have changed since those days, and how powerfully certain people and interactions can shape us. Enjoy, and definitely check out her artwork as well.


“You don’t owe prettiness to anyone. Not to your boyfriend/spouse/partner, not to your co-workers, especially not to random men on the street. You don’t owe it to your mother, you don’t owe it to your children, you don’t owe it to civilization in general. Prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked ‘female.’”

– Diana Vreeland


This is a brave post. If you’re squeamish about blood or the magic of women or the power of accepting the physical, then you may wish to pass. But if today you felt a moment of powerlessness, or your own lack of bravery or a body disconnect, then I encourage you to read on. Maybe there’s something here for you.

Around 1995-96 I worked for 6 or 7 months in a small garment factory for a woman named Madeleine Shaw. A young entrepreneur with a mind for social and environmental change and what I still believe to be a f***-ing strong business plan, I think of her as the first woman who showed me the power of the feminine. We sewed tiger striped fur coats and sheer blouses for her teeny storefront, generated patterns and garment samples for young fashion start-ups who didn’t have factories of their own, produced mountains of velvet berets for Ooh La La Hat Company (this is how I still know the average head is 22″ around), and we made thousands of washable menstrual pads for Madeleine’s then-fledgling company, Lunapads International. (It was just “Lunapads” then. It wasn’t international yet, but soon would be).

Again, that’s washable menstrual pads.  As in, menstrual pads. That. You. Wash. As in, look, here is the blood you deal with. And wash. And care for. Remember, this is brave stuff, so you either have to lose the squirminess and all that BS you’ve been carrying around about what it means to be female and make the choice to continue reading, or not.

It’s cool.

(…)

Okay, for those of you who are still here, read more story.

I have personally cut out hundreds of pads with an industrial cutting machine. I have prepared snap tape. I have measured rick rack. I have folded wings and nestled pads into perfect little packages. And I have sold washable menstrual pads to women who were at first skeptical and embarrassed, or even initially disgusted at the idea of using a product that wasn’t akin to a disposable bandage each month. And I, too, have used and washed them, for somewhere around eighteen years. But this post isn’t about pads. It’s about the passage of time, because in that 6 or 7 months working with Madeleine, I learned a lot about women and their bodies, and I learned a bit about feminism and eco-feminism, and I learned a hell of a lot more about myself, even if I didn’t realize it until nearly 20 years later when I’m looking at my little girl and realizing I have about 5 years left before I need to usher her into womanhood with reverence and bravery and strength.

And this has me thinking about Madeleine. And my mother. And my daughter. And my three sisters. And every other woman I’ve come into contact with who holds a story about menarche, or childbirth, or loss. And therefore, I am thinking about every woman.

I am thinking about every girl’s story.

Amy Meissner, textile artist | From the post A history of pretty | www.amymeissner.com/blog/a-history-of-pretty

“Girl Story #2” Cotton, silk organza, vintage domestic linens, ink. Hand embroidered, hand quilted, 2014.

Amy Meissner, textile artist | From the post A history of pretty | www.amymeissner.com/blog/a-history-of-pretty

Mark making with Astrid, 2014.

Amy Meissner, textile artist | From the post A history of pretty | www.amymeissner.com/blog/a-history-of-pretty

Girl Story 1, in process, 2014.

​Brave stuff, right? Ask women about menarche and many of the same themes will emerge: confusion, shame, naiveté, disappointment. My neighbor recalled riding her bike around and around the block, skipping back into the house all afternoon to change her underwear every 10 minutes, not understanding why she kept crapping her pants. She told me this story when she was in her 40’s. I was 12 and hired to babysit her children that summer. We were crouched in her walk-in closet, admiring brand new kittens in a box when she looked me in the eye and said, “You do know what hole babies come out of, don’t you? Because nobody explained it to me when I was your age.” I nodded numbly and then she told me the Bicycle Story, and then she slipped her heels on, and then she waved goodbye, and then she backed out of the driveway, and then I flicked through the channels until I found the Smurfs, and then I poured cold cereal for her kids and plopped into the armchair with a sweating glass of Crystal Light.

For how many women is menarche treated as a non-event? A quick Google for “First Moon Party” will give you an eye-full of a pendulum that has swung in the other direction recently (and while hilarious, much of it is degrading in its own farcicality). This isn’t to say I didn’t spend a hell of a lot of time in my 20’s being really mad at my mother for not jumping up and celebrating that morning when I was 11 and told her my own suspicions about what was happening to my body. She’d only asked, “Are you sure?” But I’d seen a grimace. I’d heard, “I don’t believe you.” What I realize now is that she was completely unprepared. She had a new baby. She was exhausted. That look on her face was exasperation or fear, not disgust. She had it in her to give me the tools she’d been given by the grandmother who’d raised her, and that was it: soak in cold water, scrub harder, and the stains will go away. With enough detergent, enough lemon juice, enough sunlight, eventually, all stains will go away. All burdens will go away.

But some stains re-emerge like ghosts years later. And doesn’t scrubbing at anything that hard eventually disintegrate the most fragile layers?

Amy Meissner, textile artist | From the post A history of pretty | www.amymeissner.com/blog/a-history-of-pretty

“Girl Story 2,” detail. Hand embroidered, hand quilted, 2014.

Amy Meissner, textile artist | From the post A history of pretty | www.amymeissner.com/blog/a-history-of-pretty

“Girl Story 1: How it will be.” Vintage domestic linens, silk organza overlay, ink, hand embroidered, hand quilted, 2014.

I don’t see myself as a feminist, but I am “not a feminist” in the same way that I am “not a quilter.” I have a voice in the same way that I have a skill, and both beg to be used. Still, to create this artwork, to put myself out there like this, is terrifying. But to not create this work terrifies me even more, because it is as authentic and accepting as I can possibly be, as brave as I’ve ever been.

Even braver than the day I walked into Madeleine’s small factory on my lunchbreak, looking for a job because the woman I’d been working for had bounced 9 of my paychecks in 2 years. I was maybe 25 and to say my sense of self worth was diminished would imply that some vast amount of self worth had existed in the first place. Madeleine taught strength by embracing the very core of the physical self first. Then maybe worry about what is pretty — the occasional red manicure is a good place to start. A beautiful suit is another. The fact that I landed in her presence when I did has never been lost on me, even if I was just there for a short time. I still consider her factory as the place I healed before taking the next big step. And perhaps it’s because I’m poised to take the next big steps that I’m thinking about Madeleine. Or maybe it’s because I never really stopped thinking of her as a huge influence in my life even though so much time has passed.

And despite all the years away from that pad-strewn cutting table, she and the women she works with still blow me away. Everything from providing washable menstrual pads for girls in Africa so they can attend school during menses (Pads4Girls), to literally creating a celebratory day for young girls in order to invite them graciously into womanhood (G Day), and now G is for Goddess, a celebration of the divine feminine (for all those grown women who really wanted to participate in G Day). And so much more. So, yes. Re-think the definition of “Women’s Work.” There are women out there doing this. And it’s important.

About five years ago, the neighbor with the Bicycle Story killed herself. The children I babysat were grown, she had long since divorced, moved away from my neighborhood and so had I. But she is among the women I still hold close to my heart, having shared something as uneventful as a shame-filled story in a closet, reaching toward a box full of mewling, mother-licked kittens during one of the summers of my own awakening. She was a window into my future, a mother figure, an omen: Remember this much,you’ve just got to prepare your girl.  What else in her life, I sometimes wonder, was she woefully unprepared for? In writing this, I miss her.

I found this link (below) to Dominique Christina’s poetry while poking around on the Lunapads Blog. I burst into tears the first time I watched, because it’s so powerful, so poignant, and so raw. Watch it. Imagine this is your fierce mother arming you with language and bravery. We all have the ability to change the tools history has handed us and to graciously accept the tools others offer instead. More often, we just need to learn how hone what we already have inside.

These Girl Stories are important. I’m listening, constantly. I will listen to you. There is sisterhood through story, through art. Through bravery.

And none of it is pretty, but all of it is beautiful.

*Update, 2/2016:
Madeleine Shaw of Lunapads has recently had a fabulous interview posted on the site Mamalode. To read about the amazing 7-figure success of Lunapads and the woman behind G-Day for Girls, check out the link. She’s a force of nature, that one.

If you want to read more about this and/or similar work, please check out the following posts:
Alterations girl.
Write a letter to your mother.
Box of mystery.
In the deep well of series work.

 

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Toronto, here we come!

shecosystem-poster (1)We are heading off next week to Toronto – our first time there since G Day Toronto took place almost a year ago. The original inspiration was to attend a gala event celebrating the launch of the SheEO Radical Generosity fund, taking place on February 22nd: we’ll also headlining a speaking gig, just for kicks 😉

The SheEO fund is the brainchild of Vicki Saunders, a serial tech entrepreneur who rightfully observes that there is a dearth of funding opportunities for women entrepreneurs.

Lots of us like to gripe about that sorry fact, however Vicki had a unique vision for doing something about it, and set the goal of creating a $1 million interest-free loan fund by getting 1000 women to each contribute $1,000 as “Activators“: donors whose seed contribution would get the ball rolling. Activators are more than just wallets: they also helped to evaluate the loan fund applicants, and are pledged to support the ventures through their networks.

So far, 500 donor/Activators have stepped forward, and 30 finalist ventures have been chosen from among close to 250 applicants from across Canada to receive funding. The top 5 ventures will then divide the pool of $500,000 among themselves.

Along with being among the top 30 (and maybe the top 5? fingers crossed!), Suzanne and I are also Activators. It was an amazing process, and we were deeply impressed with what we saw. Whether we make the top 5 or not, this is an amazing movement to be part of: we can’t wait to meet the other Activators next week, attend a great party and support Canadian women entrepreneurs!

Heading to Toronto also brings us the opportunity to reconnect with our G Day Toronto tribe, and G Day Community Leader Emily Antflick is generously hosting us via her latest enterprise: shecosystem, a coworking space and community hub where women can work in integrity, cultivate personal and professional wellbeing and connect with a supportive and abundant ecosystem.  We’ll be speaking on the evening of February 18th: hope to see you there!

 

 

 

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10 Tips for Brain Pickers

IMG_6978Let’s get this out of the way right off the hop: I am not going to pretend that I have never “brain picked” – I totally have. It’s a quick and inexpensive (the price of a coffee or lunch, tops) way to get the benefit of a more experienced person’s “pickings”: contacts, information, trade secrets, whatever magic is the currency in your field. It can be a hustling entrepreneur’s goldmine!

And yet, at some point a few years ago it started to feel like I wasn’t actually getting what I hoped for: I had hit the astonishing realization that business wasn’t just about having the right information. And yet, like Gollum chasing the ring, I wanted the Precious: the secret formula for my business to succeed.

I personally find the term brain picking to be distasteful, however it seems so commonly accepted that I keep telling myself: who cares, really? And yet, it makes me cringe (as do the phrases “nailed it”, “killing it” and “killing two birds with one stone”, by the by – try substituting “feeding two birds with one seed” for the latter expression and see how it makes you feel, not to mention people’s surprised reactions). But I digress.

Part of the rationale for building the Lunagals website was to offer up our pickings without having to be picked – self serve, if you will. We get asked to have our brains picked so often that if we always said yes then there would be little time left to build our own projects!

As it happens, I had a telephone interview just the other day with a menstrual product startup entrepreneur to whom I had been randomly (ie: without prior consent or notification) e-intro’d by a distant colleague – not a good foot to get off on – for this very purpose. Long story short, I came away feeling sad and a little put out, and wondered if there might be a better way to get the benefit of others’ experience without feeling gross.

Let’s start with a reframe of Brain Picking: we like Wisdom Harvesting, but you can of course choose your own name for your practice of respectfully requesting and receiving information and feedback from others.

Forthwith, Lunagals’ Top 10 Tips for Wisdom Harvesters:

  1. Check your motivation and expectations, particularly watching for the underlying belief that you can have the keys to the kingdom that someone else has basically done the work for. We are all about sharing, but ultimately, one way or another, you need to do the work, a fact that should be a source of pride and essential point of your business practice. 
  2. Be discerning about who you ask. Resist putting the Harvestee on the spot if you are in a competitive field. Even though you may share goals and values, don’t assume that they will want to support your project or endeavour.
  3. Consider paying for their time or make a different ask. Are you looking for free consulting or information that you are not taking the time to look up yourself, as opposed to the benefit of someone’s personal experience? Ask yourself: If you were them, would you say yes? Another option is to consider asking for an ongoing mentorship relationship (more on that in an upcoming post!).
  4. Give to get. Consider and even ask what’s in it for a prospective Harvestee to connect with you. The exchange does not need to be 100% equal, however there needs to be some meaningful attempt at reciprocity. There are things that you know that they have no idea about, for example, ways that you can bring value to them: watch for what they might be and offer them as your gifts.
  5. Be prepared. Read as much as you can that has been written by or about them. Prepare specific, thoughtful, non-obvious questions (the answers to which do not already appear on their websites or via a Google search). One brain picker once asked Suzanne at the end of the call “So, what is your advice on how to market products to women?”
  6. Be willing to tell the whole story. During the call I described earlier I was asked for a cherry-picked version of 23 years of my best business advice, only to be told that I was not to be trusted with a crucial piece of her business story. I have no problem with being asked to sign an NDA in advance of a call or meeting, however the assumption that her idea was so original (and that I, while being asked to offer up all manner of valuable information, was not to be trusted) frankly ticked me off and reduced my ability to actually help. Which brings me to 6a: Don’t Take Yourself Too Freaking Seriously. Never lose sight of the fact that we are all just people playing a game called business.
  7. Listen. This seems super-obvious, however hearing it can be less than fun if you are not willing to listen. On another Harvesting occasion I spent the better part of an hour feeling like the Harvestee was defending themselves against every question or piece of advice that I offered them. At the end it honestly felt like they didn’t want me to help them at all: they were too busy trying to look like they had thought of everything already. Trust us: you have not thought of everything yet: we haven’t thought of everything yet, nobody has: it’s ok!
  8. Be open to feedback and possibilities. Further to this point, be especially open to ideas or outcomes that you didn’t think were relevant to your enterprise. There are of course pet theories about your business lurking at the back of your mind that you secretly want Harvestees to validate – (this is also ok, but just be aware of it) – having them outed or questioned can be fun and surprisingly valuable.
  9. Gratitude and Presence. Time and attention are the greatest gifts of all: appreciate and use them well. Be transparent when you outline your vision, goals and self: you need to build trust with this person in order for them to be able to feel comfortable sharing with you. The more that they are excited about your project, the more support you will get.
  10. Follow up. I am surprised at how infrequently Harvesters follow up to keep us posted on what impact we may have had. It’s lovely to hear those stories: tell them!
Suzanne and Madeleine in Calgary 2016

Insights from the Road

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Some of our major breakthroughs and insights have happened for us – business-wise, as well as in our relationship – outside of Vancouver. Sometimes those places have been exotic and/or distant destinations like Kampala, Amsterdam and San Francisco. This time, considerably closer to home, some really great things happened in (yee haw!) Calgary, Alberta.

When we were invited by a major national bank to speak at an event they were hosting for their women entrepreneur clients, we were more than a little surprised: we’ve never been invited by a mainstream organization of this size to do anything, let alone speak at one of their events. And yet apparently such places are looking for new ideas and inspiration from people like us: it was time to stop navel gazing, give it our best, show up and see how it feels to move from the fringe to centre stage.

“Centre stage” may be a bit of an exaggeration, given the relatively small (40 people) size of our audience – however this was a new demographic for us: mainstream (ie non social/impact-defined) entrepreneurs in the middle of a major economic downturn, their enterprises ranging from environmental science to equine leadership training to interior design to commercial leasing.

Our given topic was Entrepreneurial Innovation in the Age of Constant Disruptive Change: how’s that for daunting? As cool-sounding and timely as it may be, it initially struck us as a bit overwhelming and kind of scary. I spent the first few months of this year attending the newly-minted Vancouver home of the THNK School of Creative Leadership, and if I learned nothing else there (more to come on that front in future posts), the technique of “reframing” will forever be with me.

It’s a basic concept, that in THNK’s hands gets taken to a whole new level: essentially, “flipping” negative or limiting ideas to explore new possibilities. To illustrate the point, halfway through the presentation (which we started under the original title), we instead offered Dancing in an Infinite Landscape of Freedom and Innovation as an example of taking a different approach.

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Similarly, our take on VUCA, an increasingly common “how it is these days in the business/world” acronym for the military-originated construct of Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous – we reframed as CODE, or Colourful, Opportunity-Rich, Diverse and Evolving.

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Consider how each one of these definitions of “reality” or “the future” make you feel. They both contain essentially the same elements, however if you believe – as we do – that how you feel (scared or excited, as one example) about your business, the future – or basically anything – can affect its outcome, then this type of creative reinterpretation of “reality” can be highly empowering.

Which is not to say that it changes the situation, it just changes how you react to it: the degree of confidence or optimism that you bring as a leader can radically change how you approach your path forward, and even the entire game. In sharing our stories, we further suggested that applying our inherent skills in feminine leadership (regardless of one’s gender) are the very tools that have helped us to find our path in the “VUCA/CODE” environment.

Within a few short hours we went from feeling like rebel outsiders to being part of a likeminded tribe, sharing our wisdom, experience and creativity to find new solutions in changing times. Insight: institutions are not people. While large companies may be less nimble than small, entrepreneurial ones, they are highly resourced – and even willing – to champion change and leave a positive legacy for the future. We loved the day’s leaders’ curiosity, openness and genuine desire to support their clients and build community among them.

There are arguably bigger problems to solve than Alberta’s failing extraction-dependent economy, however if we can be part of that, then let’s do it: who knows, perhaps the women (and other creative and/or impact-minded) entrepreneurs will be the ones to lead the way to a more sustainable future?

Thank you BMO Bank of Montreal for initiating this transformational conversation and for hosting us in true Calgarian style. Our 10-gallon hat also goes off to the remarkable Marysia Czarski, whose facilitation skills were world class.

And finally to the tenacious and committed women entrepreneurs of Alberta, for co-creating an extraordinary day of possibility: we are beyond grateful to stand with you. One of our favourite things to do is be with other entrepreneurs, as we always learn and feel energized from our shared challenges. Moreover, receiving such overwhelmingly positive feedback left us completely buoyed by the whole experience. Let’s do it again!

Gloria Steineim and Madeleine Shaw

Gloria and the resurrection of the F word

photo (48)It feels as though, after years of hearing predictions of its immanent demise, feminism is having a moment: I for one could not be more thrilled.

As someone who has proudly called herself a feminist since age 17, its lack of popularity has always puzzled me: who wouldn’t want to support gender equality, especially as a model for social justice overall? Plenty of people, it seems.

That said, one of my favourite things about feminism is its okayness with folks who don’t like labels or “isms” on principle: the freedom to self-identify trumps all.

I started my “career” as a feminist when, as a first-year university student in 1985, I realized that my English Literature 100 survey course syllabus did not contain a single woman writer – yes that’s right – no Jane Austin, no Mary Shelley, no Bronte sisters, no Virginia Woolf, no Elizabeth Barrett Browning, no George Eliot, no Emily Dickinson – you get the idea: not a single sentence in an entire year’s worth of books by any one of these overwhelmingly canon-worthy writers.

It blew me away: how could this possibly be? It’s not like these people and their works were relatively unknown. In hindsight, I believe that it was this jarring realization, coming rapidly on the heels of a highly unpleasant incident in my first week as a student, where “frosh” (freshman) women – myself included – were forced to lie down in a muddy field while male football players did push-ups on top of them as part of a ritual hazing activity, that made me a feminist.

There was a name for people like me who felt like things like that were wrong and needed to be corrected, a club to join where others understood me: feminism. I headed down the hall to the Women’s Studies (as it was then called) department, signed on to train as a counselor at the local Rape Crisis Centre, subscribed to Ms. magazine and read Gloria Steinem’s Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions. I felt like I had come home to a world of sanity after being deeply lost in an alternate universe.

When the opportunity to meet Gloria presented itself recently, I jumped at the chance to hear her words and thank her personally for everything that she has brought to my life.

IMG_2356Seeing her step out onto the stage last Sunday night in Seattle in the company of some of my closest likeminded friends and colleagues immediately brought to mind how absolutely wonderful it is to have heroes, leaders, mentors and role models.

As a leader myself, being led is, counterintuitively, one of my most intensely joyful places. This may sound odd, but it really is: being able to let go and hand it over in total trust and confidence is one of the most freeing experiences that I have the good fortune to enjoy, whether it’s in a yoga class, with my business partner or in the presence of one of my personal all-stars.

I should add that Gloria was accompanied by the one-and-only Cheryl Strayed, a remarkable person in her own right. One of my only regrets of the evening was not to have been fast enough on the question-lineup draw to ask Gloria what her favourite part of Wild was: oh well!

Gloria was funny – hilarious even, which is both funny and hilarious because feminists are so often accused of being humourless. Her wry anecdotes included being told – as a young journalist – by an editor that her article on why women should be treated as equal human beings needed to be “balanced, for the sake of objectivity” with an article next to it that offered the opposite opinion. “You can’t make this stuff up,” she giggled.

When asked how she counters people who say that they don’t need feminism, she offered a big smile, a wave and “I just tell them, good luck!”

On a more poignant note, she told the story of how, as a 22 year-old recent college graduate en route to an internship in India, she discovered that she was pregnant. She was in England at the time, and was able to persuade a doctor to sign off on her receiving an abortion “for medical reasons” – a highly illegal act for which he risked his medical license.

The doctor asked her to promise him two things: first, that she would never reveal his name, and second, that she would do what she wanted to with her life. “I feel like I’ve done a pretty good job at doing what I wanted to with my life,” she proclaimed to loud applause. Her most recent book, My Life on the Road, is dedicated to him.

I have come away feeling more grateful than ever for feminism and its proponents: as much as it has meant to me, there is no label that I more keenly anticipate shedding – one bright, shiny, beautiful day when we no longer have need of it.

Madeleine and Suzanne driving away in a car

Hello from the Lunagals!

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Hello world, and welcome to Lunagals: Adventures in Social Entrepreneurship!

Way back (as in the early 90s!) when we started our business, our focus was on making and selling products that make a difference in the world: we didn’t call it social/mission/impact etc yet – we were just entrepreneurs trying to build a successful values-based business.

As the years went by, we tried out all kinds of ideas, raised money,took chances, launched products and multiple websites, hustled at craft fairs and trade shows, started our families, and generally made it up as we went along. It was and remains busy, fun, stressful, creative, fascinating and highly rewarding. To us, this path is about as awesome as it gets: earning a living, creating employment for others, doing something that we believe in and making a difference

A few years ago, we started to notice that people like us had a name: social entrepreneurs. We also started receiving a growing stream of requests for interviews, speaking gigs, mentoring and brain picking sessions from aspiring entrepreneurs and changemakers. We love to share our story and encourage others, but it was becoming exhausting re-sending the same links and answering the same questions over and over again.

This site is basically all of it: personal and business stories, videos, blog posts, media articles and more. Want the real scoop on what 40+ years of trying to change the world through business looks like? Here you go!

Oh and hey: if you want to go deeper, let us know. All funds raised via our consultation sessions go towards funding United Girls of the World, a registered non-profit society that supports girls empowerment around the world.

With best wishes for your success,

The Lunagals

PS: Let us know what you think about the site and ask questions.