Business + Friends – The Story of Minnow Designs

Minnow Designs is the brainchild of two friends (both mums) who have made it their mission to design beautiful, purposeful products that ‘fill the gaps’ in a parents life. Lorraine, a Fashion Designer and Stacey, a Marketing Consultant met when they were young and carefree, had babies at the same time and went into business shortly thereafter.

The idea for Minnow came from the ladies first borns running through Australian seaside rock pools together. They were constantly on the lookout for sharp rocks, shells and slippery bits. The ladies needed something comfortable and malleable that would protect their little feet. Socks, but stronger and quick drying. Then, Minnow Designs was born.

Co-Founder Stacey, a serial founder, brand strategist, digital marketer & copywriter is negotiating the winding, terrifying & exhilarating entrepreneurial journey. After founding and selling 2 businesses she now spends her days finding novel solutions to everyday problems & scaling Minnow Designs.

 

What ignited the spark in both of you to start your business?

We were at the beach one day one sunny summers day with our newly toddling firstborns. We’d imagined a day of chat and Instagram worthy toddler adventures and that was NOT what we got. The sand was too hot for the squirming toddlers to get down and walk on, the rocks were slippery and there were shells and pebbles everywhere.

We spent the whole time bending over pregnant bellies and huge beach bags to put shoes on and pull them off and hold their hands over the slimy bits. By the end of it we were exhausted. We looked for aqua shoes but what we found didn’t come in small enough sizes, had a hard, inflexible sole inappropriate for developing feet, rubbed their feet and were really ugly. We knew we’d stumbled (literally) upon a gap in the market.

Minnow Designs - junior

 

Initially, what difficulties did you face?

Funding. It costs money to produce product at the sort of minimums required by decent factories who could supply well made product under ethical labour conditions. We also didn’t know anything about running a business! We began with a mindset we see all the time in corporate escapees. We thought it would be easy. We were very quickly disabused of this notion!

 

Who or what was integral to you overcoming these hurdles?

We both took on consulting work to pay for our first production run. We leveraged our networks and produced our first run in the factory owned by the family of a friend who Lorraine had met when she was living and working in Hong Kong. We also just got stuck in. We made mistakes, course corrected and just kept going. We have very clear, delineated roles and responsibilities so there was always someone taking an objective look at things.

When one of us made a mistake, the other wouldn’t let her dwell on it. So, we were able to fail forward without getting too stuck in our own heads. We supported each other and lived the equivalent of jumping off a cliff and building our parachute on the way down.

 

How did you decide to go into business together? 

We were friends first and we knew that we had skills that would compliment each other in business. Lorraine is a fashion designer and I was a marketing manager. She had the supply & production experience and I could brand and sell product. We just needed a great idea that filled a gap in the market.

 

Were you friends before you started the business together? 

Yes. I went to University in France with Lorraine’s husband George. When George met Lorraine in Hong Kong and brought her back home to live in Australia I knew I’d found a friend for life.

 

How do you make the most of being in business with a friend?

We prioritise the relationship above all else. The co-founder relationship is the only thing in the business that isn’t fixable or figure-out-able. Not only do we owe it to the business and our investors to keep the friendship solid, we owe it to ourselves. Despite the fact we’ve each invested tens of thousands of dollars and thousands of hours of our time and tears in this business, we both agree that the business isn’t worth losing your family over. However, like most family (especially family you spend 50 hours a week with) we don’t always agree. We are committed to the belief that the other always has the very best intentions and an equal commitment to our common goals.

The other thing we swear by is to have really clear roles and responsibilities. We have almost no overlap. We make the big decisions together but she or I, and never both, has oversight over and responsibility for delivery.

 

Any advice for people of thinking to start a business with a friend? 

 

Stacey Fisher

 

Make yourself as functional as possible, in every way. Get yourself a business coach. Listen to podcasts. Work on yourself before you ever open your mouth to speak to your co-founder. If you’re in a foul mood and can’t even smile at the dog, stay home. If you’re not happy about something, examine your own motivations before you raise it. Ask yourself what you need to do to show up to that discussion as the most functional human you know. Commit to big, lofty goals you both agree on and always have a business plan. Create twice as many contracts as you need. Leave too much up in the air and open to interpretation and you’re setting yourself up for trouble.

 

Do you have any tips for those struggling to gain a successful work life balance?

This was the number 1 question I was asked by new founders when I owned my digital marketing agency and I now have a very clear answer.

One I had to learn the hard way. The first thing you need to do is decide on the life you want, exactly how many hours you have to work in a day and exactly how many days a week you’re willing to work. Then you have to commit to sticking ONLY to those hours and vigorously protecting your time from other people’s manufactured deadlines. When you run a business the day literally never ends. There is always something you COULD be doing. There will ALWAYS be urgent things that feel impossible to ignore.

So, relying on gut feel and a vague sense of urgency to guide your day is a fools errand and an absolute recipe for resentment if you have a young family. Don’t bend your day to fit the work, bend the work to fit your day. Your business is going to take time to build. Probably more than you’re going to like. You can do it in the guilt ridden crash/ burn cycle that most entrepreneurs find themselves in or you can be a grown up about how you manage your energy and your time. Those are your choices.

Though I will say that the baby years are going to be crazy no matter how good you are at managing your time. They’re small and unpredictable and catch ALL the bugs. Pure adrenalin got me through my day back then. I did it myself just recently and I’m still no closer to understanding how primary carers of small children who own businesses function.

 

How have your kids impacted the way you structure your day?

I simply have less time available to schedule things in the diary and less brain space to mess about trying to solve other people’s problems and indulge in my own brain drama. I have had to dig deeper than I thought possible, examine how I get in my own way and protect my physical, emotional & mental energy ruthlessly. I do a lot more in the early morning whilst my kids are sleeping and a lot less in the afternoon when my kids are home from school.

I discovered a technique at the end of 2018 that changed everything for me. At the end of every day I empty my brain of everything that is swimming up there. Literally everything I’ve ever wanted to do, ever plus all the things I have to get done goes uncategorised into a Google doc that stays open on my computers. Then, once a week everything on that list is broken down into distinct tasks and then those tasks are inserted into my calendar until there is nothing left in the Google Doc. I give myself extra time for urgent stuff but try to move a big rock or two a day. I know at every moment of every day how much time I can commit to an urgent task, the impact that urgent task is going to have on my day and the things that will be sacrificed to make way for it. This process makes it very easy to say no and to prioritise.

 

How has your family impacted your business venture?

It’s taken longer to build than it would have if I were single. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It gave us time to test, to recognise the things that were not working and to course correct before we’d wasted too much time or energy.

Minnow Designs - toddler

When you think of your journey, what is the thing you are most proud of?

I believe that being forced to fail on the regular has made me a better, more humble, more compassionate human.In corporate you can hide your flaws behind process, hide your mistakes in the apparatus and you can easily stay in your lane, doing only the things you’re best at. A founder can do none of those things. I also think that the time pressures of raising a small family whilst building a business (in my case, businesses) have made me a better friend, wife & mother. When you run a business as complex at mine without a lot of staff, you get really good at being clear about your needs, which leaves less room for ambiguity and misunderstanding. Most of all though, I’m proud of the product. Kids and parents really love Minnows and it’s so beautiful to create something that helps little people explore the world.

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