INNOVATORS VS COVID 19
Cathryn Lavery of BestSelf Co Tells Us Why Identifying As a Problem-First Company can Help You Navigate any Challenge
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Cathryn Lavery: Pretty good. We’ve been adjusting to the new way of living, and everyone is healthy.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded BestSelf Co.
Cathryn Lavery: I grew up in Northern Ireland and went to university in England and Scotland, where I trained to become an Architect.
After graduating in 2011, I secured my dream job as an architect in New York City. I was super excited to emigrate to the US and start a new life.
But things didn’t work out as planned!
A couple of months before moving over, I got an email to say my pay was being cut because there wasn’t enough work.
It was a blow, but I felt reassured by their promise to increase my salary once the workload increased.
But that wasn’t the only goal post to move…
I arrived in the US with just a few hundred dollars to my name and two weeks to find my feet before starting my job.
But one week in, my new employer rang with the news that they still didn’t have enough work for me. They were pushing my start date back a further six weeks.
It was at that point I realized that I couldn’t trust a job to look out for me.
So to help me get through those first six weeks with no income, I started to hustle and do things on the side. I launched my first Shopify store and continued working on it alongside my architecture job after I started.
About two years in, I realized architecture wasn’t for me. Besides, my Shopify store was generating more income than my paid job – and I was only putting a couple of hours into it each week.
At that point, I quit my job to become a full-time entrepreneur, and I’ve not looked back.
BestSelf Co. was born from the need to solve a personal problem. As a new entrepreneur, I had a lot to learn, and I was also struggling to find the time and get sufficiently organized. I got interested in personal development, and the more I read and understood, the more I began to see that success leaves clues.
It turns out there are some specific things that the world’s highest achievers and top-performers do. I distilled these habits and practices into a daily planning template. When I showed my entrepreneurial buddies, they said they wanted one too, which made me explore the idea of turning it into a product to sell.
This daily planning template became the Self Journal, which launched on Kickstarter in 2015. The product raised over $322k against a target of $15k. On the back of the success of this crowdfunding campaign, BestSelf Co. was born.
How does BestSelf Co innovate?
Cathryn Lavery: As a company, one of our biggest strengths is understanding our customer’s problems and then solving them with easy-to-use products users can integrate into their everyday life.
Take our flagship product, the Self Journal.
I crafted the daily pages in this tool to help users implement the daily successes strategies of high-achievers. Everything from the daily gratitude practice to the 30-minute timeline is there to help people create the mindset and motivation they need to win the day.
You don’t need to understand why the product works to get results from it. Simply follow the template, and you’ll become more effective and productive. It just works!
Another way we innovate is to broaden the problems that we solve for our customers.
In the early days of BestSelf Co., we focused heavily on time management and productivity. But as my own life and priorities shifted, I’ve realized you can only really be your best self if you’re successful in all areas of your life.
It’s for this reason that we created our range of Discovery Decks.
Designed to help people deepen their relationships, we now help our customers work on their relationships through connection and conversation, as well as assisting them in mastering their minutes.
Another way we’ve innovated is to offer our product development and design skills as a service. We’ve co-created several products with other companies this year. Stay tuned; those products will be available in the new year.
We’re also very innovative with our marketing. We’re always looking for new ways to reach new people and provide value to the community. For example, we created the Impact Deck specifically for GQ’s winter Best Stuff Box.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Cathryn Lavery: BestSelf Co. has been an online business and a remote team from day one. This meant we didn’t have to adjust to a new way of working or selling like some businesses. I’m grateful that our day-to-day operations haven’t needed to change dramatically.
But that doesn’t mean we haven’t been affected.
When the pandemic hit, we decided to go all-in on supporting our customers and helping them find certainty and clarity among the chaos.
For example, we realized we have a lot of experience and knowledge in both remote working and managing a remote team. When the pandemic started, we created a free Work At Home Summit to share what we know works to help newly remote teams get up to speed faster.
Even if market conditions change, I don’t believe that means you’re powerless to do anything. I believe taking responsibility for everything that happens inside your business [even the things that are outside of your control] puts you in a position of power. By taking responsibility, by default, that means you’re acknowledging that there’s something you can do to shift circumstances in your favor.
You don’t have to have all the answers right now. Instead, it’s about taking continuous action in the direction you want to go.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Cathryn Lavery: When the pandemic first hit, like most businesses and most people, it sent a shock through the system. We were hit pretty hard because, at that time, we were expecting a large replenishment order from our manufacturer. We typically run pretty lean on inventory, especially after our peak season. So when the manufacturing process was delayed almost a month, then there were added delays with shipping, customs, and receiving. We felt the pain because we were sold out of some of our main products.
Like many businesses, we laid out different scenarios in case we needed to act. We cut expenses where we could, reduced marketing spend, and planned to cut salaries by 20% company-wide. Thankfully the PPP came, and at about the same time, inventory arrived, and sales picked back up.
Lesson learned: Avoid knee-jerk reactions, come up with contingency plans, and be nimble.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety, how do you project yourself and BestSelf Co in the future?
Cathryn Lavery: As a business owner and entrepreneur, you’re always going to face an element of stress and anxiety. The question is, how can you set up your life to give yourself the space you need to take care of yourself and ensure there’s room for all the things that matter to you.
One of the ways I mitigate stress is with intentional planning of my day and conscious use of my time.
I’m a big advocate for work-life harmony. I believe it’s not always possible to create balance because it depends on what season of life you’re in. For example, sometimes you need to be busier at work, then other times your personal life demands more attention. As long as you achieve harmony over time, you should be good.
One way I maintain work-life harmony is through scheduling. If something isn’t in my calendar, then it doesn’t happen! I schedule both my personal and my work life with the same rigor. A lot of people schedule work stuff; fewer schedule personal stuff because we’re not taught how to do that.
For example, I schedule monthly calls with the friends that I want to connect with. I have these set up as recurring events on my calendar. I systemize where I can.
Another way I maintain work-life harmony is by being intentional with my time. We all have the same 24 hours a day, but do we use all those hours well? I’m conscious about using my time productively for things that can enhance my life, such as self-care, reading, journaling, or quality time with loved ones.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Cathryn Lavery: Being the first 13-week planner, we’ve seen dozens of competitors pop up in the space. We’ve also seen it with our decks. We welcome competitors, as it helps us stay on top of our game.
The way we plan to stay in the game is by rooting down into our identity as a problem-first company.
This means we make it our goal to understand our customers’ challenges so well that we can create products that resolve them in meaningful ways. This shift in focus has allowed us to unlock a creative wave in the business and has been the trigger of new products and revenue streams.
We take a lateral thinking approach too, which helps us figure out how to serve existing customers in new ways.
For example, we realized lots of our customers enjoyed journaling for self-discovery as well as for daily planning. We found that journaling is one way that people can get clearer on their goals. Market research revealed that writer’s block was a big problem for journalers – so we created a deck of prompt cards to spark creative thinking. We called this product the WordSmith Deck, and it became the first of a whole new line of prompt decks.
The secret is to keep coming back to the core problems you’re trying to solve. Solve a real problem in a meaningful way, and chances are you’ll create something that customers genuinely want.
Your final thoughts?
Cathryn Lavery: You’re always going to face problems when running a company. The question is, how do you rise to the challenge when you’re confronted with the unexpected.
I’ve found that there’s usually a way to fix problems. You might have to dive deep into problem-solving, but you discover a lot about yourself in the process. Also, problems never go away. They just get bigger! When I look back at some of the things that caused me sleepless nights in the early days, I know I could navigate those with ease if they were to happen now. For me, this looking back is a great way to see how much you’ve grown.
Problems can also be a source of innovation and creativity.
When your mind is forced to explore entirely different avenues, more often than not, you come up with a spark of inspiration that you wouldn’t have discovered otherwise.
In other words, problems can be a catalyst for massive personal and business growth.
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