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?
My name is Laura Pajuodyte, I’m a Lithuanian living in London, and I deeply care about mental health and gender equality. I am an abstract artist and founder of Canvas by LP – a space where creativity and mental health collide.
Over the last four years, I’ve been working as a Product Manager in Consulting, where I’ve seen and experienced my share of stress, anxiety and burnout. Very quickly, I found art to be my coping and de-stress mechanism and am currently creating art with the purpose of breaking down the stigma around mental health.
Tell us about your business, how did you come up with the idea?
I launched Canvas by LP in March, initially as an outlet to showcase my art, which I was creating to combat my anxiety during quarantine. Born out of charitable causes, I was simply trying to fundraise for mental health charities and cheer up a few of my friends with colourful art.
At some point along the way and very organically, Canvas by LP grew into much more than just art. Right now, it is comprised of three things:
1. Studio art shop – where I sell original abstract art and commissions that give back to mental health charities. I’ve already fundraised over £740 and hope to reach £1000 by the end of 2020!
2. Community – currently centred around my newsletter subscribers. This is a group of people who want to explore creativity and mindfulness as a way to improve their mental health. It’s about bringing people together, from sharing insights on wellbeing and creativity, to smaller virtual or in-person events, such as book clubs and live painting classes that I run in partnership with other organisations.
3. Storytelling – branded as #MindMyStory campaign. I’ve launched a series of interviews to normalise our conversations about mental health and mental illness. It’s a collection of raw stories that aim to raise awareness of all sides of mental health and remove the stigma around what living with mental illness really is.
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.
I vividly remember deliberating and waiting around to build up the courage to ask my friends if they would like me to paint some abstract art for them. I had been thinking about selling my art for a few years, but it wasn’t until February this year when I realised I have to do something about the growing stacks of canvases I have in my flat.
To my biggest surprise – the first two friends I approached and offered to make them a custom painting for free were overjoyed with the idea. I was simply trying to do a good deed. I remember wrapping those paintings when I had a lightbulb moment, so I added a note to them: “If you like this painting, please choose a charity and donate to it the amount of money you would have otherwise paid to buy this piece’.
To my shock – they both did! And so the idea of art with purpose was born.
What were the initial challenges you came up against and how did you overcome them?
There is so much more that goes into making art to sell than I ever anticipated. From finding paint supplies that I like to work with, to learning how to varnish and frame a painting, to packing and producing an original art certificate – I had so much to learn.
I’ve found the most help in a small community of growing artists that exists on Instagram. There is an amazing sense of solidarity and ‘we-can-do-this’ attitude amongst us all, so sharing tips and tricks through stories and DMs has literally been the best school.
What was the first win that made you feel you were onto something?
A few weeks after I sent the first two paintings to my friends, I shared some of my work on a personal Instagram account. I proposed that 100% of profits from the initial set of commissions will be donated to mental health charities and didn’t really expect much in return, as long as I would get a chance to paint. I thought no one would reply, but the response was overwhelmingly positive. My Instagram account, which I was barely using, literally blew up with messages from friends who wanted a piece of art for their homes. I knew I was onto something.
To date, I’ve gifted, donated or sold about 40 pieces.
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?
I’m completely self-funded. I quickly realised that to run this long term, I need to make it sustainable and so 100% for charity model would not work beyond the initial few months. Which is why I have thought through the pricing structure, and it’s also why I am transitioning into donating 30% of my profits from November. I hope this will allow me to start investing more into building out the #MindMyStory campaign and charity (or non-for-profit) collaborations, so that art with purpose can leave a long-term impact in fighting mental health stigma.
What has been your best investment?
Fairly early on, I decided to start experimenting with different types of acrylic paints and mediums. I bought Golden A-Z Acrylic Box Set of 14, which is basically a starter kit that has small samples of different mediums, gels, pastes and paint. It had massively loosened up my painting style and helped me to identify what I like working with.
Have you made any mistakes or faux pas? If so, can you share with us?
I have a few times overpromised and not been able to deliver on time, which is probably my biggest mistake so far. When you’re running everything from social media, to partnerships to production on your own, it’s hard to judge how much you can commit to. And then again, evaluate how quickly you can deliver it. I’m still learning on how to stop myself and take it slowly on a daily basis.
What’s your experience of being a woman in the start-up ecosystem and what in your mind needs to change?
I’m not sure where it’s because I’m primarily working in the creative space or because I started Canvas by LP during lockdown, but I haven’t had a chance to experience much of the traditional start-up ecosystem. I do think that there is a growing focus, especially on social media platforms like Instagram, to promote and support local small businesses. Going into the festive period, there is a big overall sentiment to shop small and support the pandemic-made entrepreneurs like myself. It makes me happy – a lot of this push is driven by females for females!
What’s been the greatest lesson you’ve learnt since starting your own business?
Learning to be ok with being slow. It’s easy to get sold into the idea of launching a business or a side-hustle which will explode within the first few months. It’s common to see those types of ads on Instagram when you’re a small business owner, and I’ve found that it genuinely can mess up so much with your attitude and perception of what good progress looks like.
Slow mindset is key if you don’t want to burn out, especially during the first few years that are the hardest and most crucial for long term growth. I think so often we get hyped on the idea that in order to be successful we need to launch quicker, better, bigger than any other business. I think the idea of being ‘average’ at what you do (but doing it well) or simply growing slowly is just as good. It means you’re able to keep work-life balance, you’re able to spend time with your loved ones, and you’re able to test your product-market fit without a heavy debt or unsustainable employee base.
Dream big, go slow.
Have you had any role models or mentors along the way?
My biggest role models and mentors are actually a bunch of people within my family. My dad has his own business and has taught me loads about the commercial mindset over the years. At the same time, my uncle is an established artist and sculptor. I’ve been able to rely on him for any advice on composition, colours, ‘where next’ to a specific painting. And also my sister, who’s an architect, is one person that is able to give me unsolicited criticism on what I’m doing wrong, even when I don’t want to hear about it. But it’s always really useful advice, so I can’t complain!
With the future in mind, where would you like to be/where do you see yourself in the next five years?
Firstly, one that every artist hopes for, I would love to be an established artist launching collections three times a year and selling them out.
Secondly, I would love to grow #MindMyStory into a podcast, book and any other medium that would allow individuals to continuously share stories about their mental health, to recognise that anxiety, depression and mental illness looks very different to everyone. And to grow it into a continuously.
Lastly, I wish to be working more with mental health charities and non-for-profits, to run mental health and creativity focused projects.
Can you tell us one of your goals for 2020?
I started 2020 with two goals. Firstly, I wanted to travel. Secondly, I promised myself that I would dedicate the year to professional development.
Now whilst travelling is out of the window, I was grateful to be able to spend two months with my family in Lithuania, which pretty much ticked off my need of travelling until 2021.
As for self-development, I never anticipated that I would start Canvas by LP, but it has given me a platform to be learning on a daily basis. So whilst it’s not exactly what I imagined my year of self-development would look like, it’s been a perfect playground to test and learn more about running a business.
What can our readers do to support your business?
Firstly – please join the Canvas by LP community by signing up here. It’s my most cherished space where I pour my heart out and share tips, tricks and updates about art, creative living and the mind.
I will be releasing Christmas gift cards in November and have a few exciting community projects in the making, so this is the place where you will be the first ones to hear about all the updates.
If any of the readers would love to take part in #MindMyStory campaign and share their experience with mental health, please drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we will take it from there!
What books, podcasts or resources would you recommend?
- Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam M. Grant
- Notes on a Nervous Planet by Matt Haigg
- Masters of Scale with Reid Hoffman
- Now You’re Talking Network
- Sarah Blakely Teaches Self-Made Entrepreneurship MasterClass
What advice would you give anyone about to start a business?
Be bold and just make the first move. It’s easier to pivot once your business is live than to design a beautiful product to only realise no one wants to buy from you.
Focus on one thing at a time. It’s easy to get worked up that you need to set up and fully run every social media channel. But sometimes it’s enough to find one main channel that you can use to communicate with your customers and focus on growing it first. Only once it’s strong, should you think about what to focus on next.
Where can we find you?
About your 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.
I’m Samantha Jameson, the Founder of British hand, bath and body care brand, Soapsmith.
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