Start. Starting is always better than not starting. There will always be an excuse not to begin — 100 reasons not to jump in. Don’t let fear hold you back. Few things are permanent, you can pivot, change your mind, make mistakes and recover from them. You must. You must take the risk and give your dream a shot.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Lizzy Dabczynski-Bean. Lizzy is a jack-of-all trades, holding a Bachelor’s degree in Music Business, and currently pursuing “The Dream” of being a full-time actor while fostering her “day job” of being an entrepreneur. She has held jobs in technology education, interior design, theater administration, graphic design, and freelance photography, in addition to owning and running Stitch People (stitchpeople.com) which creates customizable cross-stitch patterns for crafters to use to create unique, contemporary and completely personalized heirloom-quality family portraits.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
It’s a pleasure to be able to share my story, and whatever little wisdom I may have to offer!
Around 2011 I was pretty miserable. I was almost finished with college and the reality of “real life” was hitting me, and I was thrown into a pretty deep rut of depression. Because of this, I had the urge to work on a creative project in an effort to self-soothe — to make something crafty. I was always crafty as a kid, and it had been a long, long time since I’d tackled anything like that just because I wanted to.
I began to look for a new cross-stitch project. I’d always enjoyed cross-stitching — something I’d learned from my mother and grandmother as a child — and the idea of getting back into it really interested me, but all I could find were outdated designs that were far too large and complicated for me to fathom tackling at that time.
After seeing a very small idea in a magazine for cross-stitched family portraits, I was intrigued. I really liked the idea but not the examples they showed, so I went home and developed my own designs. I began to stitch family portraits for family and friends and then moved into selling them online.
My entrepreneurial training in school taught me to always keep my eyes open for a niche or an opportunity. Now — my husband and I always dreamed of owning our own business some day, but we had assumed it would be in technology! (Everyone wants to be the next Zuckerburg, right?) However, while we were keeping tabs on Stitch People via social media, it helped us understand that people wanted to learn how to create cross-stitched family portraits themselves — so I wrote a book about it! Then I kept writing books about it and producing content for an ever-growing audience. The rest is history!
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
I would say one of the hard things I faced when first starting this company was trying to exit my full-time job. My job was part of the reason I wanted Stitch People to work because I was really unhappy, undervalued, and underutilized there. It was the first time I’d experienced overt gender discrimination.
I was working at a tech start-up and I had begun with them as a part-time employee while I was attending school but went full-time after graduating. When I needed to start giving more time to Stitch People, I asked them if I could go back to part-time, and they said no. I was baffled that they would rather let me go than keep me on part-time, after I’d worked for them for over two years. I was doing over 50% of the output of my 4-person team. I was a good employee. This was quite the blow, and Stitch People wasn’t big enough to fully replace my income so I was pretty worried.
Ultimately, I left (and without the bonus I’d earned during the previous quarter because “if you’re leaving the company, you’re no longer an asset we feel we need to invest in” — classy right?) and I got a position elsewhere with a company and job I ended up really loving that was encouraging and uplifting and really really wonderful.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
The idea of what an entrepreneurial lifestyle would look like is what drove me: being my own boss, not having anyone breathing down my neck, flexibility over my schedule, autonomy over what projects to tackle — all of it!
So, how are things going today? How did grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
One thing that’s hard to convey about entrepreneurship is how everything — EVERYTHING — comes down to you, or in my case me and my husband. You’re responsible for every single moving piece. So entrepreneurship, in any arena, has a seriously steep learning curve that never really stops. You have to figure everything out yourself and that takes a lot of tenacity every day to look at that “To-Do” list and say, “Well, okay! Here we go! Time to do a hundred things I’ve never done before, and know nothing about!”
I think what I’m trying to say is, entrepreneurship is sink or swim. The only option is resilience. And when you’re constantly moving forward, the most natural result is, as you stated, “eventual success.”
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 Stitch People began, I offered only completed, handmade cross-stitched family portraits. The patterns and books came later. So, one Christmas season I had a customer from Las Vegas order a very large family portrait — 11 people, I think. She didn’t need it for Christmas but wanted it for New Year’s Day.
I got all my Christmas portraits done and sent out and was exhausted. I wanted to take a break during Christmas for my own enjoyment and family time. But when calculating shipping time for the New Year’s portrait, I had failed to account for the way delivery dates fluctuate during holidays.
So I realized I would finish this portrait, and if I mailed it, it would not arrive on time. I was mortified. But my husband and I were committed to doing the best we could for our small company so we loaded our two dogs into our car, packed a bag, and drove the 6-hour drive to Las Vegas to hand-deliver the portrait!
It ended up being a fun adventure, and is now a memory we look back on fondly. We got to meet the customer face-to-face and enjoy the warmth of Las Vegas for a day before heading back to snowy Salt Lake City. And we learned a couple great lessons: TRIPLE CHECK delivery dates, err on the side of caution with any shipping service, and be flexible enough to roll with the punches because you may have a really fun time in the end.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We always try to do right by our customers because we operate under the assumption that our customers are doing right by us. We look at our relationship with our customers or fans as a two-way street, and really try not to make choices based on greed or do things “because we can” as a company. We always try to go above and beyond for our customers, stay transparent and up front, and seek a lot of input from our audience.
For example, after putting out our first edition of “Do-It-Yourself Stitch People” we realized we were missing some key patterns (like wheelchairs) as well as less-key patterns, (like specific dog breeds, as the first edition of the book had fewer dog breeds represented). So we started an “extras” page where we developed more patterns and provided them at no additional cost, because we recognized they should have been included in the book in the first place.
We try to make good for dissatisfied customers, damaged books received, etc. no questions asked.
We want our customer’s experience to be seamless with Stitch People, as we hope our experiences as customers with other companies should be.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
(1) Ask for help when you need it
(2) Give yourself permission to treat your time as being at least as valuable as money. Sure, saving a few cents per product is possible if you do some work, maybe collating things by hand or overseeing and micromanaging processes — but how many hours will that take you? Is that the best use of your time and your point of highest contribution?
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?
A couple years into running the business, my husband and I were getting too stuck in the details of things like customer service requests and responding to social media comments, messages and questions. We put out a job listing for an Administrative Assistant to our Stitch People Community on Facebook and got 30 submissions!
Because it was a remote position, we knew we’d be communicating with this person primarily online, so we conducted the “interviews” completely via email. We narrowed the search down to two candidates and asked them the simple question, “If you could create a dream position at Stitch People what would it be?” One gal responded she actually really enjoyed the administrative side — she liked the inner workings of making a business work. The other gal responded that the idea of designing patterns really intrigued her (little did she know, we were toying with hiring a design assistant, too!)
We ended up hiring them both! They are both delightful, sharp, self-starters and I can unequivocally say that we would not be where we are today without their contributions. Thank you Theresa and Jess!
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I love this question because to me, bringing goodness and light into the world is the main reason I have ever wanted to achieve any definition of “success.”
Stitch People encourages creativity, sharing, and togetherness. It helps people feel connected to their loved ones. It’s a gift that requires hours of thoughtful work to give. It’s a gift that makes you feel so special to receive. It’s a way to share congratulations and condolences, celebrations in the present, and memories of the past.
We have heard stories of cross-stitchers who heal from illness and loss through the creation of a Stitch People portrait. We have also heard stories of people who have received a Stitch People portrait as a gift, and it has lifted them out of the rut of depression, helped them feel appreciated, or know that the memory of their deceased loved one lives on.
It’s been a humbling and inspiring experience to see the goodness others create with Stitch People.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my company” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Start. Starting is always better than not starting. There will always be an excuse not to begin — 100 reasons not to jump in. Don’t let fear hold you back. Few things are permanent, you can pivot, change your mind, make mistakes and recover from them. You must. You must take the risk and give your dream a shot.
- Don’t wait for perfection. Nothing will ever be perfect. So whether it’s a blog post, a new product, or anything else, there will come a point where finished is better than perfect. You’ll never have any products to sell if you insist they’re all perfect before launching them.
- Start with a good book-keeper and accountant early on. It’s worth every penny. There are so many nuances with accounting, tax law, expenses, write-offs, you name it. It’s worth every penny to hire this out to someone who knows the ins and outs.
- Decide your company culture early on. When you have to make tough calls is NOT the time to be deciding what the priorities are. So before tough calls hit, make sure you’re clear on what’s most important to you, your company, and company culture. That could be customer service, quality control, profit, logistics, etc.
- It’s okay to be wrong. Having the courage to move forward is important, even when it means making mistakes. (Hint: you WILL make mistakes). As long as you’re communicative with your customers, asking for patience or forgiveness when necessary, you may be surprised by how willing they are to work with you and support you. But it’s a top-down effect. You need to be the one to foster this expectation of communication, but it’s absolutely do-able and so worth it.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start 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. 🙂
This is a tough question for me because I’ve always said that when I’m a person of great influence, I’d like to start a super amazing animal shelter/refuge, save any animal that comes to us (especially elderly and disabled dogs), and try to educate people about animal and pet psychology, training and advocacy.
Animal abuse is out of control, but I truly believe that a better world could be achieved if everyone softened their hearts to other living creatures. If you can see a piece of yourself in the eyes of a dog, cat, or other animal, surely you’ll more easily see pieces of yourself in the eyes of your human brothers and sisters! And if we, on the whole, become more slow to violence and anger towards creatures that are smaller and often perceived as “lesser” than us, certainly we’d be slower to violence on our own kind.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
On Instagram, I’m @lizzydbean and Stitch People is @stitchpeople
On Facebook you can “like” us at facebook.com/stitchpeople
On Pinterest you can follow us at pinterest.com/stitchpeople
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
About the author:
Chaya Weiner is the Director of branding and photography at Authority Magazine’s Thought Leader Incubator. TLI is a thought leadership program that helps leaders establish a brand as a trusted authority in their field. Please click HERE to learn more about Thought Leader Incubator.