This interview series features inspiring female entrepreneurs who have launched and run successful businesses. Through our peers’ experiences, we can learn practical lessons and insights to empower us on our entrepreneurial paths. Crucially, storytelling de-risks entrepreneurship so we believe it is an essential pillar in closing the opportunity gap for female founders.
Firstly, tell us a bit about you.
Tell us about your business, how did you come up with the idea?
The idea for Living Ashram has been percolating for years. Our first generation product, The Giving Week™ wellbeing calendar, with it’s 7 doors that users open (after completing conscious breathing and gratitude practices) to reveal one deed of appreciation behind each door…was first inspired years ago, when I was desperately looking for alternative advent calendars for my children, that supported the values of compassion, tolerance, acceptance and collaboration, that would offer opportunities for meaningful connections and conversations with loved ones.
I deeply believe in business as a force of positive change, and that those who are able, must stand and give voice to the voiceless. When I created Living Ashram, there was no question that we would be anything other than a 360 degree ethical, profit for purpose business; creating products and services that empower people to make substantial and sustainable positive change in their lives, while simultaneously uplifting and empowering targets of abuse to live healthy, independent lives.
25% of all profits are dedicated to targeted programmes at Hestia, Solace Women’s Aid and UK Says No More, to enable women and children to permanently break free of the cycle of abuse and live healthy, independent lives. When you support your positive mental, emotional, physical and spiritual health by buying and using our products and services, you are also supporting those who are voiceless or still trying to find their voice.
What was the moment that everything changed for you? Describe that moment when you decided to fully commit to your idea and the first few steps you took to make it possible.
Through a major breakthrough experienced after an exceptionally painful and significant life change, and my subsequent journey spanning years; uncovering, healing and rebuilding from deep trauma, I could no longer ignore the ever increasing global disconnection and suffering. I fully committed to the idea of creating a platform, services and products that empower users to create substantial and sustainable positive change in their lives in 2018, and we have been preparing, building and evolving ever since.
What were the initial challenges you came up against and how did you overcome them?
Communication: Our idea to provide a science and evidence based, root level up, Whole Human approach to wellbeing that drew from decades of combined research and practice across neuroscience, psychology, physiology, mindfulness and spirituality, was so all encompassing that it was a huge challenge to break our message down into bite size, easily digestible and articulate pieces!
Focus: As a startup and new business, focusing on a key target audience and channel was also a challenge, as there were so many options.
Suppliers: We were fortunate enough to find the right suppliers in some areas, but also chose others that were completely out of alignment with our ethos, intention and values.
We overcame the above challenges with the same approach, digging deep to really understand what was important to us, setting our intentions, and determining what clear actions we could take to realise our intentions. Taking a lot of time to step back, reflect and constantly refining and pivoting whenever required, with ZERO ego, complete humility, asking for help and support when needed, and never being afraid to step away from partnerships and contracts when they were clearly not serving the business. We also spoke to as many established entrepreneurs and potential clients as possible, reaching out whenever needed for advice, introductions and support.
What was the first win that made you feel you were onto something?
Three things: the look of sheer delight and hope when people receive and engage with The Giving Week™ wellbeing calendar, the heart wrenchingly positive testimonial from a wellbeing app user and her mother (who was undergoing chemotherapy for cancer), and the incredible positive change in the look on people’s faces, their energy, mental, emotional, physical and spiritual state after attending one of our wellbeing workshops.
Did you take the investment route for your business or are you self-funded? Can you share some insights on your decision and the process?
It has caused many stressful moments, but I was fortunate enough to self-fund. I was so eager, passionate and committed to creating positive change with our products and services, that I didn’t want to wait to secure buy-in from investors.
What has been your best investment?
The mindset and toolkits I received through my MBA programme at London Business School remains one of the best investments of my time and energy. The MBA, combined with hands on, business and life experience, and the willingness to keep learning and evolving, has equipped me with the ability to go into and understand the crucial factors underlying any business situation, and how to forge a path ahead.
Within a business, taking the time to build the right team with skills that are complementary to mine and each other, who are fully committed to our mission, purpose and values, who are open to evolving, and who choose to put the company first when needed, has been a wise investment.
https://simply-docs.co.uk has been a lifesaver for legal costs. We do have an incredible (and unfortunately eye wateringly priced) law firm representing us for more complex issues, however Simply Docs has been invaluable for smaller legal documents that we could customise and access 24/7. At £35/year for the business documents subscription, it’s hard to go wrong for the small, straightforward legal documents.
My incredible freedom coach, Dana Grant, has been and continues to be, one of the best life and business investments I’ve made (neither of us are fans of the term “life coach” as it is increasingly overused). She’s advised me through some very harrowing moments, giving and reminding me of frameworks and exercises to always arrive at a place of clarity and peace from chaos and overwhelm. www.thedanagrant.com
Have you made any mistakes or faux pas? If so, can you share with us?
Hahahaha, SO SO many!!
Hire slowly, fire quickly. For any business owner out there – really take your time when making hiring decisions, whether internally or a supplier. Call current clients, previous employers, really take the time to understand what drives a potential hire or supplier, and whether you share the same values, ethics, interests and way of doing business. Never rush, no matter how shiny and exciting the prospect. Always listen to and trust your intuition (that’s your gut, not your mind), it is rarely wrong.
Batch test and trial wherever possible. Again, don’t rush into large production numbers or large investment decisions. Test test and test again, in small, manageable chunks. Drop your ego and any attachment to things when they don’t work. Pivot and refine as often as needed. Repeat. Repeat again. Always ask yourself, is this the most efficient way of doing this? How can I do this smarter? Who can I collaborate and share with?
What’s your experience of being a woman in the start-up ecosystem and what in your mind needs to change?
Very positive support from other female founders – THANK YOU and THANK GOODNESS for the sisterhood, and enlightened, conscious, open minded, aware people of all genders everywhere. I’ve been told I’m too old, not old enough, that my two children are liabilities and distractions, that I don’t have the skillset to be a founder, and had my business called a “project” by too many men to count….
I have an MBA from one of the top business schools globally, over 20 years senior level experience across sectors and countries, at blue chip multinational companies and small and medium sized enterprises, and my deeply dedicated, personal healing journey researching and experiencing multiple modalities, therapies and schools of thought spanning years, with incredible teachers and communities around the world, and being a parent have given me a depth and breadth of compassion, wisdom and knowledge that I might have never otherwise developed, and I am and always have been, 100% committed to our business.
What needs to change, is for a complete abandonment of the idea that women are somehow not quite as capable nor dedicated as men.
What’s been the greatest lesson you’ve learnt since starting your own business?
Always trust your intuition and never rush.
Have you had any role models or mentors along the way?
My advisor/coach, Dana Grant, having built a multi-million dollar business from scratch (outside of coaching), has been a wonderfully supportive, insightful and warm mentor.
Sarah Blakely – I don’t personally know her, but absolutely adore and have huge respect for her vision, dedication, honesty and huge support for women. I also have big respect for Hannah Feldman, co-founder at Kidadl, and her tireless dedication to the company and ability to articulate so brilliantly on product, strategy, investment and everything in between.
In terms of personal role models, Martin Luther King Jr, Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Maria Montessori and Brené Brown are some of my heroes, for their integrity, compassion, honesty and life of service.
With the future in mind, where would you like to be/where do you see yourself in the next five years?
Continuing to create and spread positive change globally through Living Ashram, and continuing to create beautiful, meaningful, heartfelt memories with all my loved ones.
Can you tell us one of your goals for 2020?
Establish Living Ashram as a leading voice in wellbeing, with our root level up, Whole Human approach.
What can our readers do to support your business?
Try our wellbeing app, introduce it to your friends, families and other businesses, commission our wellbeing survey analytic reports to really understand and support your teams’ wellbeing, and attend our events and workshops!
25% of all profits are dedicated to targeted programmes at Hestia, Solace Women’s Aid and UK Says No More, to enable women and children to permanently break free of the cycle of abuse and live healthy, independent lives. When you support your own positive mental, emotional, physical and spiritual health by buying and using our products and services, you are also supporting those who are voiceless or still trying to find their voice.
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What books, podcasts or resources would you recommend? (Please include hyperlinks)
Download our wellbeing app for a free one month, zero commitment trial for book recommendations, articles and videos to support your positive, Whole Human wellbeing: www.livingashram.com
One of the most insightful and impactful books I’ve read that’s equally applicable to leadership, business, self-awareness and raising children is Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck’s seminal work; Mindset: Changing the way you think to fulfil your potential.
Michael Braungart and William McDonough’s groundbreaking book, Cradle to Cradle is a must read for every company thinking about, or is currently producing any kind of product. It completely opened my eyes and changed my mindset around the true meaning of sustainability, and how to ask the right questions around supply chain, manufacturing and usage.
I really like Masterclass, a web and app based, monthly online subscription with modular, bite size app/online tutorials on everything from business (brand building, strategy, marketing, negotiation etc), to special interests such as music, culinary, film, entertainment and sports, taught by inspirational leaders in each field.
What advice would you give anyone about to start a business?
- Do extensive research on if there’s a market for your product or service
- Understand the key factors affecting success in your market (who buys, when do they buy, what are their budget and priorities, are there any macro factors that could challenge or support your business)
- Understand who the key players are and how you are unique or different (is your USP really a USP, and is it easily communicable and understood)
- Speak to any many people as possible who have walked this road before you (successfully and unsuccessfully, we can learn valuable lessons from both)
- Get the right legal documents and structure in place from the beginning
- Find people who believe in you and your vision, and are willing to advocate and support you, whether in time, advice, work or finances
- Take a long hard look at your finances and life responsibilities, ask and answer honestly if the life of an entrepreneur is really what you want and makes you happy
About the Author
Leah Williams is the Blog Editor for Found & Flourish, working with Founder Lara Sheldrake to ensure every piece of published content is empowering, inspiring and well presented, just like the women we work with.
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