I’m six months into this blog and admittedly sometimes I wonder what’s it all for which is natural during any start- up idea. Then I spoke to Barb Stegemann last week while she was in town to celebrate her latest fragrance launch for her company, The 7 Virtues. After our 20-minute conversation, I felt like I had a Red Bull for my mind. I was re-energized and ready-to-go again. Sure she’s a seasoned PR pro and motivational speaker who has the right words at the tip of her tongue, however if those words inspire, they’re always worth listening to.
Barb started her business in 2010 (using her credit card as financing) to create a fragrance that would give back. Inspired by her best friend who was wounded while on duty in Afghanistan, she purchased essential oils from the area which would coax farmers away from cultivating illegal poppy crops. Her hope was to help ease the burden on the military and to help locals become commercially independent. On her daunting quest, she made her way onto CBC’s Dragon’s Den where she landed a venture capital deal that has since ballooned into a collection of socially and environmentally responsible fragrances and candles available at Hudson’s Bay, Lord & Taylor and Fenwick Bond Street. Here are highlights from our convo that amped up my mojo. Hopefully she’ll light up your nerve-y centre too.
On her commitment to social responsibility
“I’ve never been out to sell perfume. If my original seller in Afghanistan was selling saffron, I’d be the spice lady instead of the perfume lady. I was going to buy whatever that man was selling to help him. Never in my wildest dream did I set out to make perfume, straight up. I just knew he needed help. I wanted to do something for the region and keep the military from working alone, and building commerce and trade is a way out for communities and children who are beholden to oppressors. Not everything is measured by our bottom line and that’s what’s exciting and that’s what’s thrilling.”
On kickstarting your own feel-good idea
“Whatever your dream is and if something in the world isn’t working, just start. Don’t get overwhelmed. Don’t think about the obstacles that are in the way and don’t compare yourself to anyone else. Just harness that bit that you can do. For me it was buying $2,000 worth of essential oil from a farmer and cold-calling Hudson’s Bay from my garage. And don’t pay attention to the naysayers who mock you and say who do you think you are. Stay on your course and with what feels right and live your dreams. I was a single soccer mom and I wanted my own dreams that were separate from my children and separate from my commitments and that was creating The 7 Virtues and I’m really glad I did.”
On building a business that hasn’t failed
“No amount of suffering can compare to the suffering that a young girl in Afghanistan faces when she wants to read and she’s not allowed, and she’s forced to become an opium bride because the Taliban ordered her father to grow opium crops. I think about those little girls and our brave troops protecting them and I think I can’t possibly fail in this mission to serve them. You come close to failing a lot when you’re building a business, especially in the first few years, but I tackled it like a soldier would and none of my hardship can even come close to what these girls and the military face.”
On baby-ing your new business idea
“One of my favourite philosophers is Socrates and he inspired me to believe women should value giving birth to their ideas as much as they value giving birth to their children. So when my son was bullied, I marched up to the school and I got my son to a safe environment as soon as I could. I know I’m not the only mom who would do that. If anyone was going to harm our children we would kick them to the curb like a mama bear. And you should protect your business idea as much as you would protect your children. Those ideas are your babies and The 7 Virtues is my baby and I protect it. We know how to do that intuitively.”
On the power of “no”
“I started my first company when I was 30 and I started it so I could spend more time with my children who were 5 months and 5-years old at the time. When you’re running your company from home, you can be there at 3:00pm and make them a warm snack and then take a private call in your office. The main thing is to learn to say no so you can be with them. I make dinner every night that I’m home with no phones and no TV; nothing is on while we have dinner. Now we don’t hold hands and pray. I think it would be really cool but we’re not that kind of family. However we make sure that no one interferes, not even the doorbell. I also say no to events and work commitments, especially before and after I’ve been on the road. We all have to learn to say no which I know is a difficult habit for many women to start.”