It’s official. Helen & Gertrude is 5 years old! In the world of business, five is a fairly significant year. The year every bank told me we wouldn’t make it to; because as I have been reminded, 50% of businesses fail in their first 5 years. Ironically, the reason reported is due to a lack of capital or funding. So, thanks banks.
When starting Helen & Gertrude, I heard things like:
“Don’t be too feminine. Men won’t want to work for you.”
“But, you’re a designer.”
And my personal favorite, “You know you’ll have to run payroll, right?”
But this is not about the haters. This is a moment to pop the champagne, pat ourselves on the back, and scream from the rooftops about how proud we are of the business we have built. Haters be damned. Without further ado, five things I have learned in our first five years:
5. You can’t plan for a global pandemic. But we can build a culture that provides grace and understanding. Let’s not spend too much time talking about COVID, we’ve all heard enough from that guy. But, I would be remiss not to celebrate the kindness of our employees and how much credit I give that simple trait to see us through this thing. Surviving this pandemic has required untested resilience in all of us. If it wasn’t for the warmth, kindness, and empathy that each of our team members has brought to our company culture long before COVID came into our lives, our resilience might have failed us.
4. Speaking of warmth, you can still be bold and have an opinion without being a jerk. I’ve been called intimidating by a handful of people in my career. It always seems so silly to me, because I tend to wear my vulnerability on my sleeve. What I’ve learned from this comment is that I’m not easily intimidated, and maybe that’s what is intimidating. I’m not scared to give my opinion on a topic, but I’m also not afraid to be wrong or say I don’t know. Badassery doesn’t mean you have all the answers.
3. “Move fast and break things” - Mark Zuckerberg
The mantra that built my early career is over. We’ve broken enough. It’s time to build with care and accountability. The United States is a culture obsessed with growth- and super-sonic growth at that. What if we all slowed down and grew with intention and accountability? At Helen & Gertrude, we continue to ask ourselves “is our growth sustainable? Are we able to pay our employees fairly AND without them working absurd hours?” Our industry standards do not make it easy, but I truly believe we are at a pivotal moment for real change.
2. Take this as my public apology to my past managers for being such a turd sometimes. I truly had no idea what a company executive was up against until I walked in their shoes. I’m coming to terms with the fact that at every decision, there is likely going to be someone either inside the company or outside that disagrees with me. It’s a weight that is hard to set down, especially when following point #3 of holding myself accountable. Reflecting on these past 5 years, I can see all those meticulous decisions working hard in the larger system that is our company and the weight gets a little lighter.
1. The best for last, the most important part of our last 5 years - choosing a business partner is the most important decision I’ve made on this journey. You can easily find horror stories of crumbling partnerships and on the other side stories of loneliness and depression from those who ventured in solo. The relationship Leire and I have is something I will never take for granted. We have had leadership organizations meet with us individually “to give us space to talk about partnership issues.” Leire is my best friend and the smartest person I know. She literally can tell if there is a “partnership issue” on my face before the words even come out of my mouth. The amount of trust and transparency we have with each other is something we’re so incredibly lucky to have. We don’t always agree, and that is truly my preference. We push and also support each other. We know when a nudge or hug is needed and act accordingly.
The last five years have been the hardest, most fun, character-building years of my life thus far. To every employee, client, cheerleader, and mentor past or present this is my love letter to you. You are incredible and you have played a part in making Helen & Gertrude incredible. I’m so grateful for you.