“When I am at work, I work hard—and when I am at home I ‘mom’ hard.”
What does it take to go from business idea to lady boss? This column features an entrepreneur, who happens to be a mom, each week—walking us through the process of how you too can take your ideas from dream to reality. If you missed our last article featuring Kim, who manages her husband’s musical career, on why having a business plan is so important, you can read that here. This week, we’re discussing why seeking funding may be the key to your growing company’s ultimate success.
VONBON is a line of beautiful baby and children’s clothes made from comfortable, sustainable fabrics. Pieces can be spotted on the kids of some of the biggest celebs (including model, Coco Rocha), and the brand has quickly become associated with cool, modern littles.
Jennifer Wilson, founder of VONBON, shares her secrets of success, including why seeking and securing funding was so important in the rise of her brand. Currently expecting her second child, she’s no stranger to the challenges facing mother entrepreneurs.
But she is proof that motherhood + an incredible career can absolutely coexist.
The company began in 2013 as a “made-to-order” baby and children’s brand with a focus on the gift-giver. It was created with the thought, “What would friends and family want to get for their loved ones?” Quality was important, style was important, and a sense of luxury permeated through everything.
As a mother now herself, Jennifer changed some of her designs to better suit the functionality and reality of children. Her pieces evolved to include designs that grew with your child, and stood up to the test of hard play. They are now available as ready to ship items, allowing customers to purchase with quick turnaround.
With a studio in downtown Vancouver, Canada, Jenn’s business has experienced huge growth in the last three years, much of which she attributes to seeking funding at key points.
What would you say sets VONBON apart from the large number of other children’s clothing companies?
No doubt that the industry is saturated with an overwhelming amount of choices in baby and children’s wear. What sets us apart is our dedicated commitment to quality, sourcing sustainable and responsible materials and processes for our garments, great attention to detail of fit and function all while creating stylish pieces.
Your kids just love to live in them.
Our fabrics are designed by myself and my team in-house, so there is nothing else like it. It makes our clothing really special and a little piece of me goes into every single item.
Has VONBON grown with or without the help of loans/grants/other forms of funding?
Although I started out with basically no capital, maybe $2000 that I had saved from my full time job earnings, I was able to start my business. I invested that small amount of money in a laptop, some fabric samples and my website domain/ platform. I contracted a graphic designer to help me put my designs into digital format and create my dream fabric. As time went on, I had to move from “made to order” to “ready to ship” items to meet my customer’s needs and I required some help to do that.
Establishing as a “made to order” brand, I was able to take on less risk, test the market and re-invest the money that was being made. Transitioning to “ready to ship” meant that I was going to need to have stock on hand and there was more risk involved with a much bigger upfront cost. There is no way my company would be where it is today, if I had not gained the help of outside investment from Futurepreneur, (a Canadian entrepreneur financing network). Not only does the organization assist with funding, they have an amazing mentorship program that works hand-in-hand.
The mentorship has been just as valuable, if not more so, than the funding I received.
How did you make the decision to seek funding?
It was a no-brainer. My customers wanted a faster turn around time and I needed to have product on hand, that was ready to ship instead of taking a couple of weeks to be made. The sales would have been lost if I wasn’t able to give my customer what they wanted at that moment. It was either move ahead or stop all together, so I made the decision to go for it and seek funding.
What would you say to other entrepreneurs considering funding?
There are many different ways to seek funding, and you as the owner of the company, need to assess what your needs are and find a solution that best works for you. Some people are able to gain investment from friends or family before making the step to seek funding or grants from financial institutions. The process will be different for each individual. I recommend looking into as many resources as you can.
What types of financial challenges have you faced, and how have you overcome them?
I think the biggest challenge we faced financially was when I first went out to seek funding. It was nerve-racking and I was second guessing myself on whether I should or not. Looking back, it was just a small stepping stone to where the company is today. Each time we go to manufacture a new collection, our units grow and so does the cost to produce. I don’t think I will ever get over the feeling of, “ Oh my gosh, can we afford to do this?” But then, we do and we grow some more and we keep evolving. It is really exciting, but scary at the same time!
Cash flow can be a problem for many companies, so being creative and evaluating where your cash is tied up, is key in the success of any business.
Do you ever second guess yourself?
If I am going to be totally honest, second-guessing myself probably happens on a weekly basis.
When you pour your blood, sweat and tears into something that is truly your passion, you want to see it succeed. It feels like there is no other option.
Unfortunately, in business, there are more hiccups than smooth rides and it is all about learning to deal with those issues and keep moving forward.
It is VERY easy to become discouraged over the smallest detail or problem, and I have had to push myself to continue to look at the bigger picture and not get hung up on all the day to day road blocks that pop up. Having a strong support system, especially built of other business owners and entrepreneurs has really helped me to rise above those insecurities and focus on what’s ahead. Learning from and sharing with other’s who are going through similar struggles with their businesses and brands has been a huge part of my success.
How has your decision to receive funding impacted VONBON?
Without the funding we received there is no way I would have been able to give my customers what they were asking for. As much as the made-to-order process might work for some brands, I am now competing with the fast fashion market of big box retailers. I needed to be able to give my customer a more quality made item, in less time, and without funding I wouldn’t have been able to achieve that.
How important would you say confidence is in running your own company?
We ALL have our own insecurities and days where we feel completely defeated, but having the confidence in yourself, to get through those down days and push forward is key in the success of any entrepreneur and their company. Like I mentioned before, creating a strong network of other entrepreneurs has been one way to keep my confidence up and be able to feel connected to those with similar struggles. We are all in this together. Learning and growing with one another is essential!
How does being a mother affect the way you run your business?
When I started VONBON it was my baby, I had no children of my own. I would eat, sleep, and breathe VONBON and it started to effect other areas of my life in a negative way, including my marriage. Becoming a mother has made me realign my focus, my priorities and establish some clear guidelines. VONBON continues to be a huge passion of mine, however, since becoming a mother I have learned that it is OK to NOT work all the time. I have a strict schedule of Tuesdays and Thursdays off with my daughter, where I do not work when I am with her. It has allowed me to stop feeling guilty for not working ALL the time and stop feeling guilty for not being a good enough mom. When I am at work, I work hard and when I am at home I “mom” hard and it’s been working really well for me and my family. It is the closest thing to “balance” that I think I will ever achieve.
If there is any one piece of advice you would give to aspiring lady bosses, what would it be?
Be really clear on what your idea of success is personally and professionally. Take the time to write it down as a reminder of what you are working so hard for. Everyone has a different vision of what success looks like for them and their business, and it is very easy to get caught up in the race to do bigger, grow faster and sell more. Be sure to check in with yourself and make sure you are on YOUR path to success.
What does the word “motherly” mean to you?
Motherly means something completely different to me now, than it would have 10 years ago. It means allowing myself the opportunity to nurture all aspects of my life, not just the relationships with my children. Fostering other passions and interests only supports me and my own needs as an individual, allowing me to be a better mother, wife, friend and business owner.