With Valentine’s Day around the corner, we have approached this month’s blog a little differently.
In case you didn’t know, KOOSHOO’s Co-owners, Rachel & Jesse, are a happily married couple with 2 beautiful, young children. We thought since February is all about celebrating love, we would interview the lovely couple behind the brand to get their thoughts and advice about successfully mixing business and love.
How did you two meet?
“We were a couple of fresh faced kids both on one year exchange programs to the UK for our first year of University. We met within the first few days of school and by the end of our year in the UK, we’d decided to backpack through Europe together on the type of budget (and therefore diet) that only 18 year olds in love could sustain without getting gout. While those days feel like yesterday, they were 19 years ago this September!”
When and how did you decide to start a business together?
“In 2009 we were living in Vancouver and working jobs we loved - in design and international business - and it seemed like the next logical step was to settle in, perhaps buying a house or starting a family. While that was tempting, we decided instead to shake things up, giving notice at our jobs and buying one-way tickets to Asia.”
“We had a strict budget so that we could stretch our money as far as possible - $70 CDN per day for food, accommodation, travel and everything else. The budget allowed us 11 months of overland travel through Asia and the flexibility of schedule that took us into cities and villages well off the beaten path. It was in a polluted industrial city well off the tourist map where the seeds of what would become KOOSHOO were germinated.
While standing in line for our flight to Banjarmasin on the island of Borneo, a local of the city approached us to ask why we’d ever want to travel there. We were heading to Borneo to visit an orangutan sanctuary and had wrongly assumed that most tourists visited via Banjarmasin (turns out, they fly directly into a village near the sanctuary, but that was much too expensive for our budget so we hadn’t even considered it). It was in chatting with that local that we looked around and realized we were the only Westerners standing in line to board that particular flight.”
“That same man ended up taking us under his wing for our visit to his city. He owned a recycling plant and brought us on a tour of his facility, sharing stories about the incredible amounts of waste piling up and deforestation of the jungles around his city. He made clear that much of what was ailing his city was due to industries keeping up with the consumption demands of the West.
We didn’t realize it then but that was an ‘aha’ moment for us. No longer did we view the pollution, garbage and poverty we encountered on our travels as localized issues. Instead, we understood that we as consumers in the West were playing a pivotal role in their occurrence and that we needed to become proactive in developing and supporting solutions.
We spent the next several months ideating on what those solutions could be. KOOSHOO was what we came up with. It would be our proof to the world that business could be done in a way that uplifted communities at every step of the production process while doing good by our planet along the way.”
What is your favourite part of working with each other?
Jesse: “I love getting to witness Rachel’s creative process and skills. She is absolutely meticulous when it comes to designing products. Every single detail is thought-through - from seasonal colour planning to product sizing (down to the millimeter) to anticipating every situation a product will face in its lifetime. If I’m being honest, I still look at every product we make bewildered by how something so polished, functional and beautiful has moved from a thought in Rachel’s mind to a product used and beloved by people on every continent of the world. I just think it’s magic!”
Rachel: “I love that we are getting to actively shape the future we wish to live in. We live in a time where so much feels out of our control so as parents ourselves, building a business that we feel our children will be proud of gives us a sense of hope for the future. We’re also living our dreams so that’s pretty special too!”
Are there any challenges to being a married couple and co-owners of a business?
“Our business is always present in our lives. It’s on dates with us, it goes on holiday with us, it’s all too often the last thing we talk about before drifting off. Because it’s always the proverbial elephant in the room, it takes dedicated effort and commitment to create time where it’s back to just us - the way it was before KOOSHOO existed.
The trade off, of course, is that we get to work together, travel for work together and raise our kids together. In other words, it’s 100% worth it!”
What advice do you have for couples wanting to go into business together?
Rachel: “Look at how your relationship already functions when it comes to the following:
Perseverance and communication
Shared vision + dreams
It’s a big checklist but if you and your partner feel those areas in your relationship are crystallized and strong, and that you’re open to being vulnerable and making mistakes in front of each other, then you’re good to go. Based on our experience, if it’s for you then it’ll be one of the best decisions you ever make!”
Jesse: “Travel together first - and by travel I mean the exploring, jumping-in-the-deep-end type - not all-inclusives! Travel is brilliant because you invariably end up in uncomfortable positions where true natures reveal themselves. It’s in these moments that you discover the boundaries and strengths of your relationship.
Entrepreneurship is much like travel. It’s a roller coaster of emotional ups and downs, unexpected turns and unique shared experiences. If your relationship can thrive in the unknown of a foreign city where everything feels unexpected, then it will similarly thrive in your business together.”
Did having children change the way you operate your business?
Rachel: “Yes, [laughter]. I won’t get into the finer details as this is a whole topic unto itself (a blog for another day) but for me, the biggest difference was in letting go. Before kids, Jesse and I wore every hat in the business. We now have a 1 year old and a 5 year old and wearing every hat is simply no longer possible. The tasks I originally oversaw are now spread between a team of brilliantly creative contractors. Hiring others into our creative processes meant both letting go and opening to new possibilities.”
Jesse: “Yes, absolutely. We started this business as a lifestyle business of sorts - something we could do to work together as a couple while doing some good in the world.
With the arrival of our daughter (now 5 years old), everything changed for me. Not only did I feel an increased pressure to provide for my family (a self-imposed pressure) but even more so, I felt an increased responsibility to build something that my children would be proud of in this life. Having kids is like holding a magnifying glass to the future. Suddenly, you can see that every decision we’re making in the present has a real consequence or benefit down the line. I feel that we’ve used this new outlook on the future to become even better stewards of the present.”
What advice do you have for parent-entrepreneurs?
Jesse: “If you can, have a strong support network of friends, family and trusted childcare! Balancing KOOSHOO with parenthood has only been possible because of the support we’ve received from the people around us.
As an entrepreneur, and especially one with kids that depend on you, it’s inevitable that you will question your choice of running your own business as opposed to choosing a career with more security (that never goes away, by the way!) and it will be the words and support from those that you love that will keep you on the path you’re meant to be on.”
Rachel: “Be compassionate to yourself by taking the pressure off. You don’t need to grow your business at the pace of your entrepreneur peers. Know that it’s OK to grow (or hold-steady) at your own pace - a pace that allows for a balance between family, work and personal time.
Our society mythologizes the stories of overnight-success while ignoring the fact that the vast majority of successful businesses are the result of slow but steady progress. Do what you need to do to survive and enjoy the present, trusting that as your children grow, you will not only find more time for work but also you will now have wisdom and strength that only parenthood can teach.”
If you have any additional questions for us, we would love to answer in the comments below! Thanks for reading and following along. This journey is still only at its beginning!