Maxine Bishko Of Lattice Gems: “Find time to play”

Find time to play: Yep, all work and no play makes “Jack” a dull boy. For the soul to constantly be nourished, it has to be replenished. Driving my passion is one thing, but being drained and burnt out is also a thing. Having experienced that over the years has made me realise that having […]

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Find time to play: Yep, all work and no play makes “Jack” a dull boy. For the soul to constantly be nourished, it has to be replenished. Driving my passion is one thing, but being drained and burnt out is also a thing. Having experienced that over the years has made me realise that having fun is essential to personal growth. It could be as simple as watching television to unwind, or getting out there with friends and having conversations. Spending time with other people and doing leisure activities reduces stress and also boosts the brain functionality — and can encourage the flow of ideas through conversation

As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Maxine Bishko.

Maxine Bishko is a female entrepreneur who moved halfway across the world from Singapore to Hawaii in the midst of the Covid pandemic, building a community of women through the love of crystals, empowerment, and self-love. The founder of Lattice Gems, she has single-handedly nurtured and grown her community by personally curating and connecting crystals of the highest quality to women all around the world. In a time where the world has been shaken and mental health has been suffering, Maxine has created quirky and fun stories for every single one of her crystals and gems in the way she perceives them to foster empowerment and positivity within her community.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I am born and bred in one of the smallest countries in the world, Singapore. And thanks to my animal-loving family, there was never a time I lived without family pets — from dogs to cats and even quails, we raised them all as part of our family. One day, 14 years ago, before the boom of e-commerce, a friend asked me, “What if you delivered pet food like pizza delivery to all the many households who have pets?” I was only 20 years old, juggling a part-time job and full-time Bachelor’s degree in college, but that idea excited me. I love pushing my boundaries and exploring new ideas. And so I raised capital from friends and family, and began 8 years of e-commerce retail as a pioneer of the pet industry at that time, which grew into distributing pet supplies from all over the world into Singapore’s pet retail stores.

Over the decade, competition increased and profit margins became slimmer in brick-and-mortar retail, so I started tinkering with designing modular pet housing to create furniture for both humans AND pets. I knew nothing about designing, or furniture, but I had a team. We started from scratch — market research, designing, raising capital, working out shipping logistics and planning our launch. It was to be a Kickstarter launch, but we only raised 10% of our total goal. Our Kickstarter had failed. And the pandemic had just hit. It was a bad year.

I had always loved threading bracelets; I was threading kid bracelets at age 3. It was therapy for me, and over the years I had made many crystal bracelets for myself. I started gravitating towards making bracelets again — it was soothing for me. I also started beefing up my crystal collection again and that’s when I found a community of women who shared the same interests as I did. But more than that, I realised that in a globally gloomy time, the love of crystals brought strength and positivity to a lot of lives. I decided that I needed to empower people in a dark time such as this — by building my Lattice Gems Tribe. So I started Lattice Gems — without e-commerce, nor did I raise any funding — I only had a quest to empower more lives. Lattice Gems was born on Instagram @latticegems and within a year we have grown exponentially — friendships forged and bonds created all over the world — and yes we have a website now 😉

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

Lattice Gems is my unique business baby. Not only did it start in a chaotic world as a beacon in the darkness, I was also closing a gap in my personal life. I was in a 5 year long-distance relationship spanning from Singapore to Russia, then China, Japan and Hawaii. Finally, we were married, but since starting Lattice Gems, I was also in the midst of migrating to where my partner was, and still is — the beautiful island of Oahu, Hawaii. I had never lived anywhere else in the world despite traveling extensively; and moving to the middle of the ocean was exciting yet scary. I was sad to leave my friends, family and the life I knew behind, but I was starting a new adventure. This propelled me into throwing myself into completing the entire migration process as quickly as possible while building my Lattice Gems community around people who lived in the United States. Finally, with two of my pet bunnies in tow, I flew from Singapore to Hawaii, where I began my life as a new military spouse; and brought Lattice Gems halfway across the world.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I first started Lattice Gems, I had packaged some crystal orders into recycled boxes from my own online shopping for shipping. I am a big advocate of recycling and reusing, but one time I had forgotten to remove from the box an order packing list for lingerie that I had bought; and it ended up with one of my customers in the UK! She sent me a message to thank me for the crystals and said she had lingerie from the same brand too. We laughed about it but I made a mental note to always check the insides of boxes if I were using recycled boxes! Today, Lattice Gems’ packages ship in custom branded packaging that I have sourced extensively for to be eco-friendly. From wrapping paper that is compostable and acid-free, to stickers made of recycled paper and soy-based inks, the only notes my community will be getting are handwritten cards from Lattice! All of our bubble wrap is recycled bubble wrap.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

When I was 8 years old, my mother got called into school. I will always remember sitting in the teacher’s office when she told my mother that I was selling bookmarks to classmates. The teacher said, “Maxine has been selling bookmarks to her classmates — does she not get pocket money?” I was getting a dollar a day (this was the 90s) for food at school and always had money left over. But I was “employing” a small group of classmates to draw and make bookmarks, while I sold the bookmarks to other classmates for fifty cents each. I would then give the “employed” classmates ten or twenty cents if their bookmark had sold. My mother had the most serious face on and I thought I was in trouble. She cleared the air with my teacher and promised that I would not do it again.

As soon as we were out the door, my mother burst out into laughter and asked me, “Why are you selling bookmarks?” I said that I loved reading and I wanted to sell things that I love so that other classmates could love reading too. As a child, I also knew that my mother was not mad and selling bookmarks was not wrong.

From this young experience my mother had shown me not to sweat the small stuff. I was not doing anything wrong except going against some rules. But I was not doing anything morally wrong and I was instead pushing the boundaries of everyone’s comfort zones. What about fostering entrepreneurship amongst students? It was a lesson from a long time ago and times have changed, but that experience taught me a lot at a young age and I am grateful to my mother for showing me that you can push past boundaries to do what most people won’t even bother trying to do. And that it is ok.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?

I started at a relatively young age because I was exposed to many young entrepreneurs. I was fortunate that I had both men and women mentors believe in me despite my gender and age. Being bold and independent, I never really felt held back by what I could achieve. Most people are not taught that failure is an option but I believe that only when you try something new and step out of your comfort zone, is a true test of character. Our society does not promote failure as a way of life, and especially in Singapore where I grew up, results matter. Perhaps many women are afraid of failure, or face lack of support from family because of demands from family life. However, regardless of gender, self-doubt is the number one killer for any entrepreneurial journey. Apart from the immense emotional and mental strength that is needed for the long haul journey to success, believing in yourself and finding that voice to speak up is extremely important to get that chance at success. Entrepreneurs with grit and drive to succeed usually do, as long as they take the first step to just try. Even if you face failure, you can only learn from it and progress from there.

Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?

Having grown up in a results-oriented country, where from the education system to the working world, society looks favorably upon your successes and demeans failure. Even though Singapore has now pivoted to become a startup paradise in Southeast Asia with robust government subsidies and policies that encourage ease of setting up a business there, society has been moulded to excel. Looking to Israel, one of the leading countries in entrepreneurship and innovation, their only abundant resource is human capital. The Israelis live in a society where their shared pride for the nation creates an understanding that failure is a natural part of any innovative economy. They understand that for every successful entrepreneurial journey, there are thousands of others who fail and that is also a natural part of entrepreneurship.

So in order to overcome the aversion to failure, it all starts with the individual. Each individual has a part to play in our society and together with a cohesive mindset that failure is part and parcel of life in every journey, the path can be paved to encourage a “just do it” mindset. As individuals, we can start learning that failure is not part of your personal identity and we do not need the approval of other people to live life. We learn to push on past failure, even if your business has been ongoing for years. I firmly believe that it all lies within the mindset of each individual.

And as a society, we can accept that failure helps us grow in more ways than one. We should encourage family and friends who are entrepreneurs rather than discouraging them because it’s “too risky” or not the conventional pathway to success. Governments should think about enacting policies that greatly streamline processes for entrepreneurs and provide higher access to funding especially for women-led companies. With less red tape, it allows individuals to be creative and further encourages them to give their ideas a shot; without the fear of having navigated a strenuous process, invest thousands of dollars or more, and still potentially fail after overcoming multitudes of obstacles.

This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?

Apart from the tons of research that show that women-led companies have stronger teams and often outperform male-led counterparts in the same industry, there are still significantly less women-founded companies in the world. Even though the number is growing progressively, women often may not believe in themselves enough to dream bigger. This leads to a lack of “women tribes” who can rally other women, fund startups and push them past boundaries to achieve bigger things. Having a large network of women who can support each other in the entrepreneurial journey is vital to more blossoming ideas, more funding, more innovation and as a whole boosts the global economy.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?

It is a myth that every founder big or small has a luxurious life, a ton of freedom to do as they please, and that every founder’s idea would leave a lasting legacy. The truth is when you take the leap of faith to start an idea, there are tons of other similar ideas and many other factors that would determine if your business makes it to that “unicorn” status. Doing the work and being hands-on is important to me, and a lot of times founders also struggle with the mental and physical stress to push their vision through. Being a founder is a lonely road with many moments of isolation, alone with your own thoughts even if you voice them out to friends, a spouse, or the team. Often times I myself have experienced imposter syndrome where I ask, “Why me?” or, “This isn’t good enough,”. It has made me realise that it is vital to keep my goals in perspective — i.e, what do I really want? — and to stop comparing my achievements to other people’s successes. At the end of the day, true success is what is defined only by yourself.

Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?

Anyone can be a founder, but it takes a lot more to be a good founder. I believe that grit and resilience are key to driving through that initial idea, because things change all the time, and bringing an idea into fruition is a tough road to walk. There is a lot to stomach. To be resourceful is also a key trait to overcome difficulties and to keep the ideas flowing. These traits also overlap with being an employee, but employees are paid to carry out tasks to achieve the founder’s goals. Many employees may not “go the distance” with the passion and vision of a founder. Typical employees are people who are content to work 9–5 and get paid Sx for y-time, perhaps people who prefer a stable income, no frills, less risk-taking.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, what are the “Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder?” (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. A good support network: This is my number one thing — being an entrepreneur can get very lonely, so to have your own tribe of people who love you, encourage what you do, or just are simply there for you, helps A LOT. There are a lot of challenging days where I have simply lost focus or get mentally drained, and that listening ear can turn things around just by being there. Actually, this is vital for every aspect of life.
  2. Find time to play: Yep, all work and no play makes “Jack” a dull boy. For the soul to constantly be nourished, it has to be replenished. Driving my passion is one thing, but being drained and burnt out is also a thing. Having experienced that over the years has made me realise that having fun is essential to personal growth. It could be as simple as watching television to unwind, or getting out there with friends and having conversations. Spending time with other people and doing leisure activities reduces stress and also boosts the brain functionality — and can encourage the flow of ideas through conversation
  3. Be Curious: I always ask questions — in my own mind, sometimes I blurt them out. I have been taught as a child that there is no such thing as a stupid question. Being curious has allowed me to recognise ideas and discover things I never even knew existed. Curiosity has allowed me to go on many an adventure, to form genuine and sincere relationships with people. Personal contact and connections can go a long way. Knowledge is limitless, and as a founder to acknowledge that and to be curious about things you don’t know increases the exchange of information and boosts achievement when you are genuinely curious and interested in what you are doing.
  4. Be Driven: As a small business owner, I am the driving force of all aspects of my business. This includes ironing out all business processes and setting goals and milestones. Sometimes a phone call is necessary in lieu of an email. Once I stop being driven to achieve set goals, things don’t get done on time and business inevitably slows down. There are so many endless possibilities to improve and automate the business that I dream of and can be worked towards, and the intrinsic desire to challenge myself and to unfold new journeys is something I relish. That being said, there are also many tasks that can be outsourced while achieving set goals, so that I don’t drive myself to burnout.
  5. Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty: Being the driving force of Lattice Gems also means that I am critical — only because I have built all aspects of the business from scratch and know the ins and outs of each process. If something doesn’t sit right with me, I know when to say no. Suppliers underdelivering what they have promised on quality? I communicate with them and work out solutions. I ensure that quality is key for everything I put out there and I do not tolerate bullies. One time, a shipment of my crystals got shipped to the wrong address and the recipient opened my boxes and stole half of my purchase, even though they shipped the remainder of the items to me. I reported the case to the police, and filed claims with all the shipping parties. Fix what needs fixing even when it is not convenient or easy.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

I truly believe that through Lattice Gems, I have not only been able to share my love of crystals around the world, but more importantly to show people the power of positivity and empowerment through beautiful creations of Mother Nature. In a time where a lot of people have felt negativity and darkness, they have turned to healing crystals, and many have found the meaning of being happy, or an alternative means to finding positivity in their lives. While some of us may have been previously consumed by a fast-paced world and materialistic whims, perhaps Lattice Gems has brought them an appreciation for naturally formed beauty. Also, the empowerment to look within themselves to find intrinsic happiness they never knew existed. Lattice Gems is constantly evolving and growing, and there is so much more that can be done to share my world of crystals, healing, and to grow the community of people so that more knowledge can be exchanged. To hold a Lattice Gems crystal is to hold that spark of joy it brings; and that alone makes the world a better place little by little.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

A movement of selfless acts to give back to families and children who live in less-developed countries with the hashtag #latticegivesback. There are millions of people who live without access to basic needs in many different countries across the world. In fact, many of the small families who ethically mine crystals are from less-developed countries such as Madagascar, India and Indonesia, to name a few. I think that in our society of technology, social media, and personal conveniences, we often lose the perspective that many others around the world still live by striving to fulfil their basic needs of shelter, food and water. Lattice Gems was built on social media and e-commerce. If I could inspire a movement for my community to use their social media to post their selfless acts for strangers, family or friends, I could then work with larger businesses to give back to communities around the world.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

His nickname “The Rock” would resonate very well with me and my community of “rock”-lovers, but that has absolutely nothing to do with me wanting to meet Dwayne Johnson. He greatly inspires me not only because of his highly charismatic persona, but because he had hit rock-bottom (pardon my rock puns, I cannot help it) several times in his life before ascending out of the rubble with sheer determination and grit to achieve the success he has today. He greatly inspires me because despite all the challenges he faced throughout his life, he took risks and worked extremely hard to get where he is today. He has never been afraid to follow his dreams and he puts his all into carving out the life he envisions for himself. I resonate with him and share a similar mindset because he has always advocated being unstoppable and that success is never overnight. We were both married in Hawaii, and we both like surrounding ourselves with like-minded people, so I think we would have an enjoyable meal together 🙂

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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