In honour of Women's History Month, we’re featuring women who inspire us. These entrepreneurs turned their passions into a successful business. We hope their stories inspire you to create businesses and lives that you love.
In our third post in the series, we’re featuring the co-founder and Sr. Director of PR at Mabel’s Labels, Julie Cole. Mabels Labels is a Canadian brand that is best-known for their durable, personalized waterproof name labels and tags for families.
Tell us about yourself.
My name is Julie Cole. I’m the co-founder of Mabel’s Labels
, I’m a parenting blogger and mom of 6 kiddos. I started Mabel’s Labels 15 years ago with 3 other founders in my sister’s basement. We actually sold the company 2 years ago.
I’m still with the company full-time; I’m part of the management team helping to steer the strategic direction, and I work as the Sr. Director of Public Relations. I do a lot of relationship stuff, media, spokesperson, communicating and connecting.
What was the moment when you realized you wanted to open up your own business?
Some people are born entrepreneurs and some people kind of fall into it. I don’t think I was born an entrepreneur. One of my business partners was by nature, she was raised by entrepreneurs. I see entrepreneurship as a talent. Like somebody who’s musical, artistic, and like any talent you can learn it. Once you get a taste of it, look out!
We started Mabel’s Labels for two reasons: We felt there was a great product missing from the market; it doesn’t exist so maybe we should create it. A cute, durable personalized label that can go on their bottles, sippy cups and their belongings.
Second, I had a desire to leave the traditional workforce. I was a lawyer. At the time my eldest child, who was only 3, had autism. I wanted to be there to take him to appointments, like his music therapy program.
So, the combination of a great product idea and lifestyle shift were the driving factors!
Julie styled The Dressy Sweatshirt with denim and a long necklace.
What has been your biggest success so far?
One thing that we did right from the early days is that we weren’t afraid to ask questions, we weren’t afraid to learn (you gotta park your ego at the door if you want to learn!). We treated it like a real business from the start - with a full business plan, shareholders agreement, took minutes at meetings etc. We took ourselves fairly seriously from the start.
Another thing is that we truly understood our market: Moms. We understood that market because we were the market. We understood that word of mouth was so important for our market. We knew moms talk about products they love and hate like it’s their full-time job.
We launched previously to the era of social media. There was no Facebook when we started. Once it did launch, we became early adopters of it. We understood quickly the importance and relevance of social media and community to moms. I started blogging before people knew what a blog was, it was a way of connecting with our community and becoming relatable as a business owner. We built a very strong community from day one, and that has become our secret sauce. It’s made it fun, and it’s led to sales.
“Some people are born entrepreneurs and some people kind of fall into it. I don’t think I was born an entrepreneur. One of my business partners was by nature, she was raised by entrepreneurs. I see entrepreneurship as a talent. Like somebody who’s musical, artistic, and like any talent you can learn it. Once you get a taste of it, look out!“
What has been your biggest challenge in running the business?
Julie: There are many of those!
If you’re an entrepreneur, I always say you’ve got to have a fairly good appetite for risk. I’ve found that for us, we’d just get used to how we’re supposed to run this company, then we’d experience growth, and the company would change and we’d have to learn a bunch of new things.
So you can never just get comfortable. You have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
And if that is not your shtick, then entrepreneurship is not for you.
If you’re ever too comfortable, then you’re not challenging yourself. You’re not challenging your business, and you won’t get to the next level.
Change is constant. It can be fun, but a challenge.
Another challenge was having four business partners. It was both a pro and a con. In the early days, we could divide and conquer. But, you have four different opinions coming to the table which can make for feisty conversation - it can be challenging. We did a good job of understanding how each other best communicates and how to relate to each other. I’m still so glad we did it this way!
What do you love most about what you do?
[What] I love most [is] providing families with a product they love that they feel connected to and that they feel we’ve responded to their needs. I love that we have such a strong community. I love connecting with other moms. Our tagline is “Labels for stuff kids lose” but in our hearts, whenever we do anything like creating a new product, content etc., we always ask ourselves “Is this making mom-life easier?”
What advice would you give someone looking to start their own business?
1. Do all the practical stuff:
Have a business plan, shareholders agreement etc.
2. Set your expectations:
Understand that you’ll be working so hard without getting any money. A lot of people think, “Oh this is great, I’m going to make millions,” but people wait in line for years before that happens. Have an understanding of what it really means.
3. If you have a spouse/partner/family, make sure they understand too:
In our early days, my husband would come home, I’d hand him a few babies, and go to my sister’s basement and make labels until 2 am. Then, get up with the kids, and do it all again. I lived that existence for a good couple of years before I was able to draw a salary. If your partner/spouse doesn’t understand the sacrifices the family will make for your business, either the business will fail or your relationship will.
4. Understand what kind of exit you want:
If it’s 15 years later, and you’re still in the basement making labels, that’s not cool. Although you have to give it your all, you also have to know that in two years, this is where I need to be. If it’s not working out after a while, you need to know when to throw in the towel. You need to plan your exit, and what success and failure look like for your business.
"Understand that you’ll be working so hard without getting any money. A lot of people think, “Oh this is great, I’m going to make millions,” but people wait in line for years before that happens."
Where do you find inspiration?
Julie: I have a peer group that I meet with weekly. We provide each other with such great peer mentorship and I have so much respect for each and everyone. They’re always so honest, transparent, serve it to me straight up, ask honest questions and aren’t afraid to look vulnerable, which inspires me.
Second, my grandmother, who passed away recently at 101 years old. She was such a smart, innovative thinker, [and] well before her time! She always had the best tidbits of life information.
Third, my mom. I was raised by a woman that never complained. If something was wrong, she’d just fix it. I try to be a positive role model for my kids and be like this as well.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Julie: “You’re as good as the best of them and better than none” - Grandma
I want my kids to be oozing with self-confidence, but also be humble.
“Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.” - Maya Angelou
This relates to me. I try to live this way throughout my life whether it’s business, my family, my friendships. If I like what I’m doing, then I’m successful.
What’s your favourite thing to do when you’re not working?
Hanging out with my kiddos and going to hockey games. I have a fun, big family, and my kid’s friends and our neighbours drop in often. I’m just living life and not taking it too seriously. Clearly, if you have 6 kids, you like hanging around kids!
About Mabel’s Labels
started humbly out of a basement and has grown to be an award-winning, market-leading company loved by Moms and kids alike.
Mabel’s Labels is the best-known brand of durable labels for families, and our growing line of products features baby labels, child safety products, sports labels, household organizational labels and seasonal items. They’re extremely durable, they’re laundry, dishwasher and microwave safe – and they’re 100% guaranteed.
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