Nicole Snow

When Nicole Snow, a former US Air Force veteran and an American entrepreneur, established Darn Good Yarn back in 2008, nobody could predict that she would change face of modern female entrepreneurship scene. While combining her passion for art and the will to help those who are in need, she managed to turn traditional skills into economically viable, sustainable entrepreneurial idea.

We’ve managed to get the hold of Nicole for a brief interview and she has told us a little bit more about her road to success and the way she affected the lives of many women and their families on the other side of the globe.

When was the first time you realized you wanted to join the US Air Force and was it difficult for you to handle all the challenges that were set upon you?

I dreamt of joining the US Air Force since I was in the 7th grade. Actually, my biggest wish was to fly KC10’s, so I started taking flying lessons when I was 13. Needless to say I was thrilled when, years later, I was granted full US Air Force Scholarship at Clarkson University. I was so proud of myself – only about 30% of the US Air Force officers were female and I managed to become one of them.

And yes, it was hard at the beginning, however, not once did I regret my decision to join the US Air Force. At times, the training was exhausting and getting used to the severe schedule was quite difficult, but I was quick to adapt. After such strict regime, every other challenge I encountered in life was much easier to deal with.

Still, after two years of loyal service, you left the US Air Force. What was the real reason behind this decision?

The US Air Force is actually where I met my spouse, and we’ve been inseparable ever since. But due to the nature of his job, he had to move quite a lot, so I made a decision to stay by his side and follow him. And even though his job was the initial reason for leaving the US Air Force, I too felt like it was the time for me to move on. That career offered me job security, but I was not quite happy, so I felt like I should take a different road in my life. Yes, it was my childhood dream, but after serving two years of active duty I realized it did not fit who I was at that time and who I was starting to become as a woman.

What is it that you appreciate the most from your time spent in the US Air Force?

When I look back in the end, I am grateful to have been a part of such great organisation. It was truly an unforgettable experience. Since I was a resident advisor, I had the opportunity to gain some valuable leadership skills, learn how to organize my time better, and most importantly, I learned to trust my gut. I can say with absolute certainty that the US Air Force has made me a better CEO. If I hadn’t been so confident in myself, I wouldn’t be where I am today, both when it comes to my personal and professional life.

You went from a military class pilot to yarn business pioneer. Can you tell us more about how that happened?

When I started knitting, it was nothing more than a hobby. A way to unwind and relax from work. It was my mother-in-law who taught me some of the basics and then I perfected my technique by watching online videos. As the time passed I noticed that it is impossible to get the hold of a quality yarn, so I decided to dig deeper into the problem. Soon I realized that the companies which sold recycled silk failed to provide quality one, so I decided to take matters into my own hands.

At the time, my husband and I lived in California. That’s where I made friends with a woman from India with whom I was sewing garments from recycled silk. She was the one who introduced me to the members of Indian community in California who manufactured yarn from recycled silk, and if it hadn’t been for them, I would have probably never started Darn Good Yarn.

Initially, I wanted to provide people who do arts and crafts with world-class material. Eventually, this idea took me around the globe, all the way to Nepal and India. When I saw just how talented those women are and how underestimated their work is, I knew I had to do something about it. It was obvious that they possess highly valuable skills and I wanted the entire world to see that and appreciate the work they were doing. I also noticed that there was a lack to basic supply in the poorest regions of these two countries. That’s when I started to provide spinning wheels for those who were willing to work but could not afford one.

People refer to 08 as a triple bottom line business as it helps people, environment and makes profit. However, the ways in which you affected the lives of women in India is outstanding. Would you tell us more about it?

Before I established Darn Good Yarn, even though they were extremely hard-working, many Indian and Nepalese women were unemployed. The ones that had only about 3 months of work a year were considered the lucky ones, what was obviously not enough to support their families, especially with salaries lower than $2 a day.

Today, craftswomen from Nepal and India distribute quality yarn and goods worldwide. They have an all-year round jobs and earn between $13 and $16 a day. We at Darn Good Yarn are all really proud to have helped those women become autonomous and self-reliant. They’ve gained economic independence and are able to provide for their families, get food and proper medical care, as well as educate their children.

I understand that you’ve also traveled a lot over the years. Would you be able to select one trip as your favorite or the one that had the most influence on you?

I’ve visited India and Nepal on numerous occasions, and even though trips were mostly business-related, I had the opportunity to see how Darn Good Yarn changes the lives of working women and their families for the better. But I will never forget the 17-year old girl I met a couple of years ago. She was spinning banana fibers and told me how she was saving to go to medical school. She had to work because of her family’s poor financial state and there was the time she thought she will never get the chance of getting proper education. We spoke about the effect of Darn Good Yarn on a multitude of occasions, but the conversation with this girl is what made it real and what motivates me to keep moving forward.

For the end, is there any advice you would like to give young women who are only at the beginning of their career?

Well, I know this is going to sound cheesy, but I always emphasize that doing what you love and not giving up on your dreams will lead you to success. If I had given up after I was fired and told that I wasn’t a good fit for small businesses, I would’ve never got to where I am now. I was disappointed, but not discouraged.
As I already said, trusting my gut is what got me where I am today. Find your focus and believe in yourself, but remember that your business is not all about you. It’s important to know that your family is on board with you and that you can always count on them. And in the end, believe me when I say it – getting a paycheck and earning a lot of money is not something that should be your primary goal, but the will to do greater good.

In 2012, Leaders in Heels interviewed Kate Morris, the founder of Adore Beauty, who shared what she had learned starting her own business.

Two and a half years later, Adore Beauty has tripled its revenue to a turnover of more than $7 million. Now the leading Australian beauty website, Kate has the big international beauty retailers firmly in her sight.

A true cosmetics junkie, Kate’s passion for growing Adore Beauty is immediately apparent. After seeing Adore Beauty’s growth in the last three years, the next question for Kate is: if we can do this, what else can we do?

Are you embarking on the next stage of your business? Kate has shared her tips with Leaders in Heels to help you take your business to the next level:

Keep innovating

For Kate, it’s critical that Adore Beauty is at the cutting edge of retail innovation – which means accepting that the team has to have the courage to fail.

“You see this with a lot of new companies, they try a new thing once and when it doesn’t work they just stop. Of course, you can’t stop”

When something doesn’t go right or doesn’t work the way you had planned, ask yourself: what have I learned from this? Re-engineer the experiment to see how you can give it another go. Do you chuck it out, change it, or try again? The one key lesson that Kate has learned is to just keep going!

Focus on your culture

Working out your company’s values is key to guiding your strategy and decision-making. In Kate’s experience, life as a business owner will often present you with two paths that both seem okay. Resolve these challenges by having a clear picture in your mind about where you want the business to be in 10 years time. Kate recommends taking time out of the business to work out what values are important to you. What will make the business better? What will make it a place where your staff wants to work? What will make it a place that you want to work? What will make your customers come back?

Don’t be distracted by your competitors

While it is great to keep an eye on the landscape and reviewing the environment that you are doing business in, don’t fall into the trap of focusing on everyone else. Keep focused on how your business relates to your customers and your goals. What value are you driving?

Make sure everything is scalable

Can you get your goods out the door and maintain your customer experience? Make sure you plan to grow at a speed that grows and maintains your customer base.

Focus on your transition from founder to CEO

Be strict with yourself! You need to set up systems and start delegating to take your business forward.

You have to get past the stage where you think ‘oh, this is easy, I’ll just do it!’ – there comes a point where this attitude holds the business back”

Kate has seen her role change over the last couple of years, and now looks to the key areas of her business where she can add significant value. As a CEO, she recommends hiring, supporting and trusting your staff to do their job, to help you focus on achieving your business goals. Kate also notes that there is a temptation to shy away from critically reviewing yourself and your performance: it is okay not to be good at everything! What is important is identifying your strengths and weaknesses, and considering training or mentoring if you need extra support.

Invest in your systems

Don’t shy away from difficulties updating your systems to the required level to support your growth. While Kate admits that replacing Adore Beauty’s entire ERP system while the business was moving presented a big challenge, it’s critical that your systems can support your growth.

So what’s next for Kate? From a rapidly expanding brand portfolio to spreading the word on Adore Beauty, we can’t wait to see what is in store for this inspiring entrepreneur.

Kate’s final piece of advice for Leaders in Heels readers: While growth is an exciting time for any business, don’t lose your head!

According to recent analysis, it has been found that Fortune 1000 companies with female CEOs earn higher stock market returns than those with male CEOs.

With the number of women entrepreneurs on the rise, an increasing number of companies are looking to hire female executives and bring them into the boardroom as they acknowledge the fact that women are capable of delivering tangible and intangible advantages to the company’s bottom line.

However, despite the mounting evidence that women add to the strength of a business, it can be hard for some female leaders to manage the social complexities of the workplace and make a place for themselves as leaders.

Here are a few tips to make your presence felt in what may still be considered largely male bastions:

1. Build a rapport early on

Building a rapport with your new colleagues is extremely important in any work environment. There will surely be at least a couple of commonalities between your male colleagues and yourself, so make the time to figure them out.

Learning about their interests and understanding that men can sometimes be less expressive as women may help. Give your new colleagues time, seek their opinions and insights, and ask them about certain industry-related concerns.

2. Feel and act confident

You were hired for a reason and the company recognises your skills and experiences will benefit the business. Don’t be shy about giving your opinions, your colleagues (male and female) should respect you for this.

And remember it is perfectly okay to say ‘no’ to certain projects if you think your plate is already full. Taking on more work than you can handle will ultimately end up hurting not just the quality of your work, but also the company. Work on the projects you’re really interested in giving your time to and do a good job at them and appreciation and success will flow your way.

3. Play to your strengths

According to experiments conducted at Michigan State University, it has been suggested that women should ‘play up on masculine abilities’ if they want to succeed in male-dominated industries. Qualities such as assertiveness, independence and ambition should be played up more as opposed to being warm, supportive and nurturing.

However, sometimes being a good leader entails being more dependable and accessible than overconfident. The former traits come naturally to most men, while women are more intuitive, collaborative, and good communicators, which are also exceptional skills to have in a good leader. That’s where the advantage is.

Capitalize on your advantages and create an inclusive work environment which supports your team and strengthens it.

4. Build a support system

You may want to touch base with the other women in your organisation or other employees who inspire or encourage you. Just knowing that there are people in similar situations or who support you will bring you comfort and support that you may need.

5. Keep Learning

Irrespective of the professional stage you’re at currently, or the dizzying heights of success you touch in the future, never stop learning. The world is always changing and so is the industry. Your knowledge and skills need to change and upgrade to if you want to keep up. Manage your time and life in a way that creates maximum opportunities to learn for you.

Include learning in your everyday routine. Take night classes, or attend conferences and workshops. Read books, articles, and/or blogs. Learn more about what inspires you and the things you’re expected to know. Doing so will enable you to grow, which will reflect in your professional life and attitude.

All said and done, women continue to rise through the ranks to sit in boardrooms, run businesses independently and launch successful startups. The future looks bright as we continue to move towards equal opportunity for all.

Andrew Cravenho is the CEO of CBAC, which offers invoice factoring for small businesses. As a serial entrepreneur, Andrew focuses on helping both small and medium sized businesses take control of their cash flow. Prior to CBAC, Andrew founded an annuity financing company relieving tort victims of financial hardship.

Image credit: le temple du chemisier

When you have young children, going to your office job can sometimes make for a really nice change of scenery. Being among co-workers instead of children can feel like an entirely different world. For example;

  • There’s no requirement to tidy up after everyone else, clean up their spills or wipe their bottoms.
  • There’s no piercing ‘muuuuummm’ requests stabbing at your eardrums every four minutes.
  • You can go to the toilet and no-one will follow you into the cubicle and try to climb all over you.
  • There are adults there, with adult things to say, and nice sophisticated conversations that do not involve the words bum, fart or undies.

It can be really quite lovely.

When you have young children, going to your office job can sometimes make for a really nice change of scenery

But while you may circulate in this whole other world, and even relish in it, you are not entirely inconspicuous. There are clues to the parenting world in which you also exist. You may try to cover up as much as you can in the name of professionalism, but there are some tell-tale signs.

Here’s 10 that might sound familiar:

  1. You look in the bathroom mirror a few hours after you arrive only to find that your top is on inside out.
  2. You have baby wipes in your handbag.
  3. You gasp at your phone when caller ID shows it’s the daycare centre calling, imagining the worst-case scenario.
  4. You only wear jewellery which cannot be broken with a swift yank of a small hand.
  5. You randomly laugh out loud when recalling something cute your child said that morning.
  6. You work super-productively because staying back late is not an option.
  7. You have narrowed the possibilities of the stain on your black pants to be either snot, toothpaste or vomit – none of which would be yours.
  8. You spend your entire lunch-break running errands.
  9. You have a strange nostalgic smile on your face when your co-workers complain of hangovers from bars and clubs they went to last night.
  10. You probably consume more coffee than anyone else in the office.

However, there are some things your co-workers may not know, and might not want to either.

Like how when you sat down at your desk to begin the day at 9am, you had already been up since 5am. You bathed, dressed & fed multiple people, did two loads of washing, cleaned the kitchen, vacuumed, walked the dog and managed the school drop-off without forgetting the show & tell. Give yourself a pat on the back for this, but perhaps don’t expect your colleagues to – they will find this information excruciatingly boring.

Another thing they might not want to hear about is how the pictures on your desk represent the little people who give your life a depth and meaning you have never experienced before. They are the reason you are doing all this. They are your little rays of sunshine and you wouldn’t have it any other way … and you simply can’t wait to get home for cuddles, giggles and to pretend to be the pirate queen of the dining table ship.

But you don’t need to tell your colleagues that, keep some stuff to yourself. They know enough already.

What do you share with your co-workers about your life as a parent? Share your comments below.

Sally Miles Sally is the Women’s Editor at Leaders in Heels. She is a wife and mother to two children and spends her working hours as a publisher at a global education company.

Featured photo credit: Lotus Carroll via photopin cc