Don’t shut people out because they disagree with you. You will find they are an asset to your idea or your business. There are people on the Made With A Mission team who think very differently than I do. For me, at first it was a bit painful because hearing concerns about your idea when you are a creative, is hard. Opening the business up to different ideas and methods of doing things, has single-handedly made it run more efficiently, and keep it balanced. People want to help the business grow, you HAVE to get other people’s perspectives, even when it’s hard to hear.
As a part of our series about entrepreneurs who transformed something they did for fun into a full-time career, I had the pleasure of interviewing Laura Cameron. Laura is a proud Scottish immigrant, encouraged by a lineage of entrepreneurs. She started her first business at the age of 16 and worked to pay for her studies at Université de Paris-Sorbonne. She is passionate about seeking change in how business is done, by combining “Artisan Powered Products” with a mission of storytelling. She seeks to level the playing field and provide resources specifically geared towards helping other entrepreneurs. She is passionate about helping people, through providing no-compromise products through her business-Made With A Mission. Made With A Mission is Now available at Whole Foods Market Nationwide.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
Of course! It’s my pleasure! I was born in a relatively small town in Scotland, and my parents felt a calling to America. We had no connections here. Just packed up, pursuing the quintessential American dream and lived in a tiny apartment in the bottom of a church in Norcross, Georgia. It was humble beginnings, to say the least. My dad (Sam) has always worked for himself (since he was 10 years old) and encouraged us to be entrepreneurs. One of the many things I love about my mom and dad is that they never associated fear with starting a business. They never made us feel like it was a scary thing, or that we couldn’t do it. They made it seem exciting, challenging and in many ways life-changing, for you/your family and others.
As we got older, my parents would buy my sisters and I small businesses to run so we could get our feet wet. We learned so much! The take away for me during those times was– wow, you can make a serious impact in people’s lives, and make money.
What was the catalyst from transforming your hobby or something you love into a business? Can you share the story of your “ah ha” moment with us?
My “ah-ha” moment, was a terrible one. I had failed at two partnerships and was entirely burned out. I thought I couldn’t do it anymore, and I would never measure up. I was very passionate about my business and poured everything I had into it, for most of my adult life. We had moments of success, but not enough for it to be viable. I had a plan to pack it in and go to zoo school. One morning, I was talking to one of my business mentors about my plans, he said something to me I’ll never forget. He said “Laura, I believe in you, even if you don’t. Another idea will come, you’ll see.” Of course, I didn’t believe him. I wasn’t even sure that I wanted another idea. Then sure enough, as predicted, I woke up one morning with this sentence repeating in my head- “What if there are more people like me.” There is nothing I love more than helping people, so this thought ruminated in my mind so much, I couldn’t ignore it. I thought, what if it’s possible to have an entirely collaborative brand, and we could help other passionate makers. They could make a product for us, and we could provide cash flow, sales channels, and marketing. We would also tell their story and help their businesses grow. At that moment, a light switched, and I felt like I was on to something. Made With A Mission was reborn.
There are no shortage of good ideas out there, but people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How did you overcome this challenge?
I think something that is often overlooked, or maybe that people are resistant to, is being flexible with the idea. That has saved me so many times. You might have a good idea, but you have to treat the idea as a living, breathing, organism. Let it change and evolve and think about the heart behind your idea. For example, for me (a body care business) it’s not body care necessarily that I’m passionate about, it’s helping other people. The idea of helping others never wavered, but the method of how certainly did. You have to be ok with change, it’s such a lifesaver.
What advice would you give someone who has a hobby or pastime that they absolutely love but is reluctant to do it for a living?
Richard Branson (who I greatly look up to) has a wonderful saying. He says “Screw it, let’s do it.” You are never going to feel “ready”, and don’t think about it too much. At some point, you have to cut the safety net and try it. There are small ways you can test out your idea without going full gang buster. I seriously started Made With A Mission with 100 dollars, and a heap of trash.
It’s said that the quickest way to take the fun out of doing something is to do it for a living. How do you keep from changing something you love into something you dread? How do you keep it fresh and enjoyable?
Well, I have to say. I fundamentally disagree with that statement. I feel like your vocation /life’s work should be the thing that you enjoy doing the most. You spend so much time doing it, you have to love what you do. Once you are doing what you love, keeping it fresh is easy! It’s just a matter of figuring out what lights your fire. For me, that’s constantly creating and helping others. I can feel it when I’m not/I haven’t in a while. I believe I have found what I was created to do, and that brings the utmost enjoyment.
What is it that you enjoy most about running your own business? What are the downsides of running your own business? Can you share what you did to overcome these drawbacks?
I think the best thing about running a business is to see it’s impact. I think people look at a business as this fleshly, carnal thing when in reality, there are very few things that have an impact in people’s lives like a business. I think that can also be the downside. The weight and responsibility that business brings. If something goes wrong, the buck stops at you. The most helpful thing for me is digging into a community, and hearing other business owners talk about failure funny enough, it’s crucially important. I think being a business can be very isolating, and it can cause you to think things like- I’m the only one who has experienced this, or I’m the only one that’s made this mistake. Not true! Hearing from other business owners who are further along than you, and having them say “oh no, I’ve done that too, it’s going to be OK.” is the greatest.
Can you share what was the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
I always thought that the business and the satisfaction came with getting sales, building a brand, expanding into other stores. Although that’s an important aspect of it, there is surprisingly mild satisfaction in it or I should say it doesn’t last.You think in your mind, that’s it, that’s the pinnacle of this job. When it comes, you’ve built it up so much, it’s a little disappointing. The reality of this job is that one of the greatest satisfactions comes when you know your job is your passion, and that you are living it.
Has there ever been a moment when you thought to yourself “I can’t take it anymore, I’m going to get a “real” job? If so how did you overcome it?
Oh yes. Many many many times, and that’s OK! I think allowing yourself to think about the options is important. You are never stuck, or a slave to your business. When it starts feeling that way is a good indication of something being off. At the end of the day, my faith plays a huge part in why I do what I do. Faith and support from others are all you have sometimes. Surround yourself with non-critical, non-judgmental people who love you and believe in you. In the good and the bad times, it will mean more to you than you can imagine.
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?
HA! Where do I start. I have so many, and at the time they were not funny. I think one that sticks out hugely to me is I was blasting out emails to all these buyers and I would try and send as many out as possible. I was pretty much copying and pasting the body of the email, and using the same one over and over. Well, I didn’t realize or I forgot that in the body of the email, I had referenced the store of the first buyer I emailed. Oops! I was getting emails back from buyers saying, hey we are not XYZ store. That was so embarrassing. From that moment on, I never copy and paste emails. I always write an entirely new email when I am talking to different buyers. It takes longer of course, but people can tell if its genuine or not. I have received a much better response on those too.
Who has inspired or continues to inspire you to be a great leader? Why?
I have to pick two people. My parents for sure. I genuinely feel like I won the parental lottery with the amount of wisdom and knowledge that has been imparted to me. The greatest thing that I see with them, and what I believe makes them great leaders is how much they care about others. People are naturally drawn to them because they can sense that my parents want to see them succeed. I think you can have a lot of textbook qualities that make you a good leader, but unless you have a heart for the people you are leading, people won’t follow you unless they have to or are forced to.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
Of course, I would like to think I have. Probably not in the ways that people would immediately talk about, like giving to non-profits. Not that we don’t do that, but for us, it’s more about digging in supporting people who often get overlooked. Or whom most assume don’t need any help. Helping a struggling entrepreneur is not as sexy as say building wells in Africa, yet it’s where our passion lies. Making the world a better place for us, means that we are inspiring, and encouraging others to live out their passions in a meaningful way. M|M believes inhaling those artisans grow their business and follow their passions. Man, I think if more people were able to live that out, the world would look so much different, and more colorful than it does now.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- It’s OK. You WILL make mistakes, sometimes big ones. Your business isn’t over because of them. One time we were getting ready for a segment on HSN. We had ordered a bunch of these vessels way too late from oversees, and because of the time of year, everything was taking forever. The vessels finally got to our warehouse, and as soon as we opened the box, we realized that they vessels were all marked. It looked like some had been splattered with paint. I was crushed. Thankfully, after a lot of back and fourth, with HSN, and our supplier, we were able to work it out and still do the show.
- Business is extremely tough, and it doesn’t mean you are doing something wrong if you have resistance. Just keep chipping away it. You loose count of how many doors you knock, and people you talk to about your product/business. Just because people say no, or they aren’t interested doesn’t mean you stop, or that you shouldn’t do it. Asking for feedback from the people telling you no can help you chip away at getting a better product.
- BE FLEXIBLE! Changing your idea is a part of the process, and you don’t have to have it perfectly figured out. Our model wasn’t always like it is now. I am certain if we didn’t change how we did things, we wouldn’t have gotten the deals that we have now. No question. To be married to the idea, and not want to change it at all, is like a death sentence.
- Good things come to those who help others. Almost the moment that we decided to be a brand that supported others, we started getting traction with our company, like we never had before. I think its so important to be others focused, and I do believe there are many blessings because of that.
- Don’t shut people out because they disagree with you. You will find they are an asset to your idea or your business. There are people on the Made With A Mission team who think very differently than I do. For me, at first it was a bit painful because hearing concerns about your idea when you are a creative, is hard. Opening the business up to different ideas and methods of doing things, has single-handedly made it run more efficiently, and keep it balanced. People want to help the business grow, you HAVE to get other people’s perspectives, even when it’s hard to hear.
What person wouldn’t want to work doing something they absolutely love. You are an incredible inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Oh, easy. It would be to help people find their purpose and show them how easy it is to find it. It breaks my heart to know that people live every day not knowing what that is. It’s so empty. So many dreams and passions go unlived because people don’t know how to discover them, or even that they have them!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Yes, it’s a proverb that I think about often. I feel like it’s the backbone of Made With A Mission. It says “ A generous man will prosper. He who waters others, will himself be refreshed.” So true, and I have seen it played out in my life, and others lives so many times.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest 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.
Richard Branson! I have visions of having tea and talking with him about making the business world more fun while on Necker Island of course! We have sailed by his island a couple of times, and I can see it all play out in my mind’s eye!
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.