“Starting a company and running a company are two different things, and the second is the toughest. Having mentors who challenge, support, call out the crazy, and celebrate the wins is key.”
Welcome to Altitude Accelerator’s Inspiring Founder series. This series will spotlight our founders, sharing their experiences, inspirations, and advice for succeeding as an entrepreneur.
Tell us your story on becoming an entrepreneur. What was the turning point?
There was never a moment that I ever imagined a future in which I would NOT be in charge of my own destiny as an entrepreneur. Even as a kid growing up in a classic suburban family neighbourhood, I was the one who said, “Forget the lemonade stand — I’m going to start a housecleaning/dog walking/gardening business and go for repeat customers.” Summers, I was charging 10 cents an inch gutting trout at my uncle’s trout farm, where I learned how to give ‘value add’ to the customer. “Why not spend that little bit extra and take home the fish you just caught, prepped, and got ready to put on the BBQ with no fuss?” By university, I was trying out a lot of jobs, including writing prospectuses for a few high-flying stock exchange companies, while writing classified dating ads for Vancouver stockbrokers on the side. Again, it was a repeat word-of-mouth side gig that taught me a lot about building a brand. After graduating, I took a job as a contestant ‘wrangler’ for a game show company. My job was to ‘matchmake’ the perfect contestants for each show.
“This dubious skillset turned out to be invaluable and accompanied me into the future as I built fantastic teams in my various companies including a marketing company, digital design agency, and now, MindfulGarden, a digital health company that is proving to be the culmination of everything I’ve learned on this long and winding entrepreneurial journey.”
Tell us about MindfulGarden. What led you to start this venture?
My mother, Esther, went in for elective hip replacement surgery so that she would be able to continue to garden and travel — both pursuits she loved. After 15 days of undiagnosed delirium and an assault of psychotropic drugs and restraints, she died. Her death became a high-profile case in Canada (esthersvoice.com), and I became an advocate for continuity of care issues. In the process, I met front-line nurses who educated me on delirium as a global, costly, and largely unaddressed health issue affecting up to 80% of patients in an ICU, especially seniors like my mother.
In 2017 I pivoted our award-winning digital agency that was pioneering interactive digital solutions for TV networks, game companies and even the Olympics into the world of digital health, focused on building an evidence-based non-pharmacological behaviour modification platform for managing hospitalized delirium. We have now finished a foundational clinical study at a large regional hospital, have a prototype out for evaluation across Canada, two patents pending, and have started both our Canadian and US regulatory processes. We are currently raising funds and looking for investors.
What are the things that keep you up at night?
4 am is a toxic hour for me. If I see 4 am it’s not a good thing and it means something is weighing heavily on my mind. My 4 am worries have changed over the years: Am I good enough, can I do this? That one has been retired; I’m too old now to worry about that — plus I have great people around me who compensate for all my deficiencies. Can we meet payroll? I don’t think that one ever goes away for a start-up. Have I been too bold in my thinking, taking on too much? Or am I being too timid and holding the company back? What’s the right balance? Right now, the 4 am worries are about our first Pre-Seed Round raise we just launched. Have we built a solid value proposition backed by research and real-world evidence? Are we showing both social impact and opportunities for profit? And finally, the nightmare: What if it’s like throwing a great party and no one shows up? Will we meet our goals for $1 million to meet our milestones ahead?
What gets you out of bed in the morning?
‘Joy’ gets me out of bed in the morning. I love what I do; I have respect for my partners and the two generations after me that they represent and I want this company to be successful for them, their families, and our investors. Plus, no way that I am throwing a party that no one shows up at — we’re going to be the party that everyone says, ‘Wish I’d been there.’
If there was a quote or person who inspires you, who would that be and what did they say?
Our company was named MindfulGarden for a reason. There is a quote by American novelist Alice Walker:
“In search of my mother’s garden, I found my own.”
After my mother died such a tragic and unnecessary death, I turned to her garden to try to make sense of things. That’s where the idea for our company came from — out of the dirt and in the presence of her prized Siberian Irises.
In your opinion and experience, what is currently holding back women from founding companies?
Keep in mind that I am answering this question as a white, educated middle class woman whose mother believed there were no limits for me. I am acutely aware that this is not every woman’s experience and that equity and diversity play a huge factor so what holds one woman back is not the same as for others.
“Women especially need to see examples of other women who have taken companies through to maturity and/or acquisition so they know what is possible.”
I was fortunate enough to have two woman and one male business mentor over the years who helped me understand it’s always about hands’ up and not hands’ out. Starting a company and running a company are two different things and the second is the toughest. Having mentors who challenge, support, call out the crazy, and celebrate the wins is key.
As a female founder, if you had one piece of advice to a young woman just starting out, what would it be?
Start now building your contact list for funding in the future. Stay in touch with these people, even if you are not going out for money for another few years. Understand how raising capital works over time and understand that while it might be easier now for women to get the money to START a business, where it counts is that next step of growth that many of us call the ‘valley of death.’ This is that time past family and friends when you need serious money for growth: a time when it’s not friendly for anyone, but especially women. That’s when your contact list over the years will come in handy.