In honor of International Women’s Day, we are once again meeting with our very own Shannon Drake, Founder of The Dirt. We asked her how she got started, what challenges she has overcome along the way, what unexpected hobbies she has, and for any advice she has for aspiring girl bosses. We think her answers may surprise you!
1. How did The Dirt come to life and what inspired you to produce natural personal care products?
I first became interested in health after my dad was diagnosed with cancer when I was 15. I realized how the things we put in and on our body affect our health. I started making my own personal care products in highschool. Later, in college, I was exposed to the “paleo diet” during a biological anthropology class. It was eye opening to me, I had previously realised that our actions affect our health, but learning the connection between the physical design of our body and what we should eat and put on our skin blew my mind. The way I approached my whole life changed and I was on a mission to make everything I consumed as natural and biologically appropriate as possible.
2. What was your “ah ha moment” for deciding to start your own business?
What’s funny is I didn’t have the “ah ha” moment, my boyfriend did. I had just moved in with my now business and life partner Joe. Since we were now sharing a bathroom for the first time, he became my personal care guinea pig. Luckily for me, he really enjoyed trying all of my “lotions and potions”. One day he tried my homemade toothpowder. He was so impressed, he walked up to me in the kitchen, toothbrush in mouth and garbled to me mid brush and said “you should sell this stuff!”. Up until this point, it never occured to me to sell my products,but Joe was an entrepreneur and his excitement for my products convinced me that I should give it a shot! Five years later, we have an international oral care company!
3. What were some of your first challenges as a business owner and have you faced any specific challenges that you faced due to being a woman business owner?
Well, my first challenge was figuring out how I was going to quit my perfectly good job in marketing. At the time, I was a very successful social media marketing expert for an LA based fashion brand. This was back in the early days of social media marketing... Pinterest hadn't even been invented yet but my team and I had built this brand’s Facebook following to over 2 million fans in two years. We had a thriving Facebook community full of awesome women and I had a great boss. After a few months, they moved our team to a new department with a new boss. She threw my co-workers under the bus and was not supportive. I was becoming more and more miserable at work. Joe was really supportive of me pursuing my passion. I had saved up $10,000 by doing side work and cutting spending. If I didn’t buy anything besides food, this gave me about 6 months of “I’ll be okay” before I ran out of money. It all came to a head when they started filming a reality TV show at my work and asked me to be a part of it (soooo Los Angeles). I quickly realized the producers were trying to make drama and I wanted no part of that. After I refused to do the show, they threw a “2 million Facebook fan party” and shunned me from participating because they wanted to film it. It was a party for MY TEAM’S achievement, but I was pushed off to the side. That was the last straw. I eventually quit my job at the fashion brand and started doing freelance social media marketing consulting and started The Dirt. I did both projects for about 3 years before The Dirt was fully able to support me. Those were some LONG work days!
Honestly, I’ve never faced any out of the ordinary struggle starting a business because I’m a woman. Just the normal struggle everyone faces when trying something new and challenging. I did, however, get a lot of free press and moral support because I was a woman. I feel grateful that I was able to experience that extra love and support from friends and strangers alike.
4. What is the best thing about owning your own business? Is there anything that you would change?
The best thing is that I get to do what my 10 year old self always wanted... to make really cool “lotions and potions”. I always loved making things when I was young and now it’s my full time job. I also am super blessed because I get to combine my passion for natural products with my professional skill set of design. I still do all the initial design work for our product packaging, although I’ve since become an herbalist and formulator; I originally went to school for art and design so it’s nice to think I’m using my degree.
It sounds cliche to say that I wouldn’t change anything, but all of my mistakes taught me so much! I will say I wish I was more active in seeking out mentors in the beginning. It probably would have saved me a lot of headaches. But at the time I had no idea what the concept of “having a mentor” was. I was SUCH a business beginner!
5. When you aren’t in the office, in the lab developing new flavors, designing packaging, or putting out daily fires— what do you like to do?
Sew, I love sewing! Along with my passion for eating well and fitness, I also have a passion for natural fabrics and quality clothing, I see it as a part of my quality over quantity life philosophy and a way to reduce waste. It can be hard to find nice clothing in natural fabrics so I taught myself to sew and really enjoy the meditative craftsmanship that is sewing garments. I also treasure the outdoors and am an aivd fisherwoman and hunter. I get a large part of my protein from wild caught foods. To me it is a way to avoid factory farming and to promote wildlife and conservation. Many people do not realize that the fees collected through hunting and fishing licences and the sales of firearms makes up the overwhelming majority of our wildlife conservation budget. Over 8 billion dollars a year is contributed to conservation and related fields by hunting and fishing!
6. When you tell people about your favorite hobbies are they surprised?
Depends on how well they know me. My friends are not surprised at all. If anything has been consistent over my life, it is that I’m always doing something new and seemingly contradictory to any stereotype. I love yoga, hunting, sewing and backpacking. Strangers are usually perplexed in their attempt to put me in a box. I’m not a cat. I don’t like boxes.
7. What advice would you have liked to hear before starting a business?
Keep it simple! When I started The Dirt, I had a whole oral care line and a perfume line and a skin care line. It was fun to develop the product but O.M.G., I ran myself ragged. I could not make a cohesive marketing pitch and probably wasted quite a few precious months trying to make it all work. Just pick one thing and stick to it!
8. What advice would you give to an aspiring girl boss now?
1. Start now! Life is short; there is no time to waste, You’re going to fail a few times, you’re going to have to change your whole strategy. Give yourself time to make those mistakes. There is no better way to learn than through experience!
2. Find a mentor, even someone who is only a few years ahead of you can give you great advice and help you through those inevitable “crying yourself to sleep” moments.
3. Don’t create stories about how your gender puts you at a disadvantage. It will not help you; if anything it will make you resentful or defeatist. The truth is business is HARD! If you want to play this game, you have to be tough, the rules don’t change based on who you are or how you feel. The market (aka your customers) cares that you provide a service that the customer thinks is valuable, and reality cares that you do it at a cost less than the customer is willing to pay for the service.
4. You HAVE TO make a profit; otherwise your business will fail. Profit is an amazing tool to do good in the world. From paying employees, to working with charity, to raising your own family, profit enables a lot of beauty in the world. Make sure you are charging enough and don’t feel bad for charging the correct amount to survive.
5. Have fun! While starting a business requires commitment, responsibility and risk,don’t let it suck all the fun out of life. The truth is most businesses fail, only 25% survive. Have an attitude of gratitude as my favorite personal development author, Zig Ziglar would say. Everyday that you have your business is gravy, it’s a bonus in life, it’s a win, someday you may not have it, statistically speaking you will fail within 5-7 years BUT those will be some of the most wild, exciting, challenging and meaningful years of your life. I think if you have that attitude, that may actually be the key to surviving year 8.
6. It’s OK NOT TO BE THE BOSS, honestly it’s very difficult. Long, thankless hours, often with little or no pay and incredibly unstable for the first handful of years. If you find after a while it’s not your cup of tea, it’s totally ok! I think a lot of people, my younger self included, think that one’s value as a person comes from achievement, power and status.The truth is self worth comes from within and while being a boss provides you with plenty of opportunity to overcome challenges that can build self worth, meaning can be found in any career if you look close enough. Being an employee has many perks; it is nice to collect a steady paycheck, to contribute to someone else's vision, not have to worry about every detail of every aspect of a business, have benefits, stable hours and not be responsible for the livelihood of many employees and it’s far easier to start a family if you aren’t running a start-up. Don’t start a business just because it’s popular right now. Every path in life involves sacrifice; you have to decide what kind of lifestyle you want, put your ego aside and “pick your poison”.