Episode 40: We’ll Find Something for Them to Do

This week, starting with a conversation about crucial hires Dana White and Laura Zander have made recently—an operations manager for Dana, a salesperson for Laura—we found ourselves exploring some of the great unresolved debates of entrepreneurship. Which comes first when hiring: filling specific needs or finding places for good people? With sales people, do you motivate by paying commission or build a team by paying salary? And in finance, do you bootstrap to maintain control or raise capital to grow faster? Obviously, there’s no right answer for these questions, but Dana and Laura tell us what’s been working for them.

Episode 40: We’ll Find Something for Them to Do

Guests:

Dana White is founder and CEO of Paralee Boyd hair salons.

Laura Zander is co-founder and CEO of Jimmy Beans Wool.

Producer:

Jess Thoubboron is founder of Blank Word Productions.

Episode Highlights:

Laura Zander: “Maybe we end up hiring a little earlier than we would have because we’re constantly keeping our eyes open for good people.”

Laura Zander: “He’s a real team player. He’s really given his all, and he’s accounting for probably 50 percent of our revenue right now.”

Dana White: “They’re not in Silicon Valley or Silicon Alley. They’re looking for businesses like mine. They’re looking for minority women businesses to take on that aren’t in tech.”

Full Episode Transcript:

Loren Feldman:
Laura, the last time you were on, we were talking about your real estate issues and the building that you tried to buy that didn’t go through. But along the way, you mentioned that you’d hired a salesperson who was having quite a bit of success. Can you tell us a little bit about that? What led to the hiring and how is it going?

Laura Zander:
Sure, it’s a lot more serendipitous than it sounds. I’m not quite as intentional. But I had a sales rep that would visit me all the time, a guy who I had become friends with and we would talk outside of work. And he was working—

Loren Feldman:
I’m sorry, this was a sales rep that was trying to sell you something?

Laura Zander:
Yes, yes. At Jimmy Beans, he worked for one of the yarn companies that we bought from, a company that was out in New York. He worked for them for, I think, seven years. He would come and visit our shop twice a year. And then, whenever we had issues, we could talk with him. He was a great salesman. Really, really good, really knowledgeable, really understood the product. Did a great job and was a real hustler.

He and I happen to be what I call “self-improvement buddies.” Over the last 10 years now, we’re always like, What’s up? What’s the latest?” He just bought me a book called How to Think Like a Monk. We’re always comparing notes and on this journey of constant, never-ending self-improvement together.

He left the yarn company a couple of years ago, maybe two years ago, and he went into real estate and didn’t like real estate. Then he went and worked for a corporate company, and just was miserable. He missed traveling. At the same time, I had been talking to him for about a year, because we had purchased that company Namaste, which is now Della Q. We were making handbags and had been thinking about how to expand our reach with that and had talked with him, kind of loosely, casually, about, “Hey, maybe you could go to Australia for us, and take our bags, and see if you could sell them to some different yarn shops.”

But it never financially made sense. The market wasn’t big enough to support the cost of sending him to Australia or sending him to Canada, and then the hotels, and all the expenses that go along with it. We didn’t think we could get enough revenue to make it worth it. Anyway, so when we bought this Madelinetosh company—this yarn company, which is a multimillion-dollar business—I was talking to him in January, and again, serendipity. He needed a full-time job for his own personal financial reasons, as opposed to being just a sales rep, which is usually a strictly commissioned job. The reps in our industry get anywhere from eight to 12 percent on all sales. He needed a full-time job, and we just decided, “Why don’t we do this? Why don’t we try it? Why don’t we hire you as an employee, and then we’ll pay your expenses, and you can drive around the country and sell our yarn and our bags to different shops?” It could be a win-win, where he gets to travel all the time. We actually bought him a tent that goes on top of his Subaru, on top of his car.

Loren Feldman:
You make your sales person live in a tent? [Laughter]

Dana White:
Wow.

Laura Zander:
No, he wanted it! He was so excited. I mean, what a great win-win. You know, tents are expensive. It was a couple thousand bucks. But it takes 15 nights of him staying in the tent, as opposed to the hotel, to pay for the tent. And now he’s got a tent that he can go camping with whenever he wants. He’s like me. He sleeps in the car sometimes. Before we got the tent, he would just sleep in the car.

Loren Feldman:
Do you want a salesperson sleeping in the car before they call on an account?

Laura Zander:
I trust him, and I trust his judgment that he’s not just going to sleep in the car right before he goes to an account. Maybe he does that two nights before, and then he stays somewhere where he can take a shower. But the point is that he is fully committed and invested. We’ve got to cut costs, and we’re trying to figure out how to build up inventory, and he’s not going out to super fancy dinners. He’s a real team player. He’s really given his all, and he’s accounting for probably 50 percent of our revenue right now.

Dana White:
Wow.

Loren Feldman:
Whoa.

Laura Zander:
Oh, yeah. It’s ridiculous.

Loren Feldman:
What had you been doing before? Had you ever had a salesperson like this?

Laura Zander:
No. The Madelinetosh business—this yarn business in Texas—they had a group of sales reps, I think six of them, and those reps would go from store to store. They were paid strictly on commission, but they also had other accounts and other companies that they repped for. So while they contributed a fair amount, this wasn’t their full-time job, and this wasn’t the only company that they were repping. We thought that by having one full-time guy who was 100 percent devoted to us that we can make a big difference that way.

Loren Feldman:
So, before buying Madelinetosh, you’d never really had the need to have a full-time person like this.

Laura Zander:
Correct.

Loren Feldman:
I know a lot of business owners struggle with hiring that first salesperson. There are concerns about whether they know what they’re selling as well as the owner does. There’s also the issue of how you pay somebody. Is it salary or commission? Were you concerned about any of those issues?

Laura Zander:
A little bit. I wasn’t concerned about him knowing the brand and knowing the line as well as I did, or as well as any of us did, because this is what he does. He’s really good at knowing it and learning it. He knows the product way better than I do. Granted, I’ve only been there a year, so it’s not like I was the founder of the company.

Loren Feldman:
Right.

Laura Zander:
He doesn’t know it as well as the founder. That said, this is what he does, and this is what he’s good at. In terms of the pay structure, that’s where I’d like to say that this was super intentional. I guess at some level it was, because we talked about the different ways that we could approach it. Do we just do a commission thing? Do we do a salary plus commission? But when it came right down to it, we ended up in a very unique situation where we came up with a win-win scenario for both of us, and we both had to give a little, and we both had to trust a little.

Loren Feldman:
How are you paying him? What percentage is salary, what percentage commission?

Laura Zander:
No commission. Just full salary.

Dana White:
Oh, wow.

Laura Zander:
Yeah.

Loren Feldman:
That’s really interesting. I’ve had a lot of great conversations through the years with a lot of very smart business owners who have told me that they think it’s a great idea not to pay commission, that you want employees to feel like they’re on the team and part of the organization, and not just lone wolves out there for themselves. But then when I raise this with other business owners, they think that idea is completely insane. How did you decide to just do salary?

Laura Zander:
Again, this was very situational. He needed the constant income. And so we gave him a salary that would be the equivalent of what he would make in commission if he were to sell X number of dollars for the year, which is where we feel comfortable. But we knew, and he knew, that he wouldn’t be able to sell that amount for at least a year or 18 months because they don’t get commissioned until the customer actually pays. The way our industry works, and the way our business works, is he could put an order in, but the customer is not going to receive the product for four months. So then he’s not going to get his commission for four months. He wasn’t in a position personally to be able to wait for those four months.

Again, what we just decided is, “Look, we’ll pay you this salary. And then, once you start to exceed that, then maybe we can talk about bonuses, we can talk about whatever, but that’s not going to be for a year or a year and a half.” That said, in our kind of loosey-goosey arrangement, where we’re at is we bought him a couple-thousand-dollar-tent for his thing. We’re being really flexible. We’re like, “Okay, what part of the world do you want to go visit?” Once things open up, of course.

Loren Feldman:
Does he know that he’s accounting for 50 percent of your sales?

Laura Zander:
Oh, yeah, absolutely. He comes to Texas, and everybody hugs him, and the whole team is so grateful because he’s providing jobs for some of these people.

Loren Feldman:
I’m not sure you’re supposed to be doing that right now.

Laura Zander:
What do you mean?

Loren Feldman:
The hugging part.

Laura Zander:
Oh, no, okay. I hope they’re not actually hugging him, but they’re virtually… great point. No, they’re not actually hugging him. But they’re all like, “Thank you. Gracias.” Anyway, I think part of the give and take is, “Hey, how does Australia sound? Does that sound fun? Or do you want to go to New Zealand?”

Loren Feldman:
Had this been an international business before? Is that what you bought? Or is that something that you’re initiating?

Laura Zander:
It has some international sales, but it could grow 500 percent easily. They haven’t done a lot of work to encourage international sales. As soon as Canada opens up, he’ll go to Canada. We’re doing that, and then his dream in life is to have a van—a Sprinter van that’s got a bed in it and all that stuff, so we’re looking at buying him a Sprinter van. And then he can drive that around instead of using his own car, and then he can sleep in that instead of sleeping in a hotel most of the time. It’ll have its own shower.

Loren Feldman:
I was going to ask… I think the shower might be key. [Laughter]

Laura Zander:
Then he can take yarn with him and sell yarn, like cash and carry, and we’re just being really flexible with each other. Here’s a van that could potentially cost $100,000. How do we make that make sense from a financial standpoint, but then also give him a really cool lifestyle? Again, like I said, it’s kind of a unique situation.

Loren Feldman:
Yeah, it is because you had the person first. It’s not like you decided to hire someone and then searched the world for exactly the right person. Do you think you’ve learned anything doing this? Has it changed your thinking about how you want to sell going forward? Would you hire more salespeople?

Laura Zander:
It has changed the way we’ve thought about things a lot, actually. What Adam and I—Adam is the salesman—he’s really trying to get involved with the development side of the business as well, not just the sales part. We talk a lot about, “Do we need sales reps?” We love our sales reps, and we’re not going to let them go, but at some point, when one of them drops off, or one of them is going to do something else, do we need to replace them? Or could we have Adam literally just go to all 50 states and drive around, and then we build an inside sales team just to support him and do follow-up that way?

Do we have more people, like you said, on salary and less people on commission? We’re just kind of exploring it and testing it out. But you’re right about the fact that we had the person first, and I mentioned that because that’s how we’ve approached a lot of the business. People were like, “Let’s go hire for blah, blah, blah.” And I’m like, “Well, I don’t want to hire for them. I want the person to come to us.” Like the woman who we just hired from Denver—we just hired two people from Denver—and they came to us, and we found positions for them. We created positions for them. We weren’t really looking for them, but when somebody good shows up, then we figure it out. Then what has happened historically is the business grows to support them as a result of having them, so maybe we end up hiring a little earlier than we would have because we’re constantly keeping our eyes open for good people.

Loren Feldman:
Interesting.

Laura Zander:
We haven’t had to get to a point where we’re like, “We need a salesman,” because we ended up filling that position before we realized we needed it.

Loren Feldman:
Dana, you have told us in recent conversations about a big hire as well. You hired an operations manager that you were very excited about last time we spoke. How’s that working out?

Dana White:
It’s working out really well. It’s working out really fast. She hit the ground running, and it’s going really, really, really fast. She’s excited about the work that she’s doing. She’s excited about the business, and I’ve been happy to have the conversation with her. You know, “What are you seeing?” My view is very different. I’m the owner. Sometimes to me, all I see is doom and gloom. But then you’ve got somebody who was the director of operations for a national chain, was a general manager—

Loren Feldman:
A national chain of hair salons.

Dana White:
Yes, a national chain of hair salons, and so her perspective is very valuable. She’s been with me over a month now, and we talk all the time, but her assessment on Paralee Boyd was, “Wow, this is a plug-and-play business.” The manager who she hired and who also has experience managing several salons is, “I’ve never seen anything like this.”

Again, I’ve set up relationships with them, even though [they’re] short. I’m not into flatteries. Don’t butter me up. That’s the worst thing to do, because I see right through it. But I like the fact that their personalities aren’t that way. They are straight-shooters, so listening to their feedback on what they think, with their vast experience, about what Paralee Boyd is, and they still stand true with the fact that, “There was nothing wrong with your business. You just need good leadership, and you need volume.”

Loren Feldman:
And good people. I think the last time you were on, you talked about shutting down the business for maybe a week or two to staff up. You had been struggling to keep people working, and I think she was leading that process of staffing up. How did that go?

Dana White:
It went amazing. Fully staffed.

Loren Feldman:
Wow.

Dana White:
We had one more position but we decided to add that after. So our goal for reopening was met and exceeded with a waitlist of stylists.

Loren Feldman:
What did she do differently? Why was she able to get you staffed up like that so quickly?

Dana White:
She hired for the person, not for the position. Because she said, “Your systems and processes are strong enough we can train anybody, as long as they have a license.” She said, “We’ll train anybody.” And she said, “That’s what I mean, your business isn’t as bad as [you] thought it was.” She said, “Please, I walked in here on the day of my interview, and my job is to look at what’s going on that the owner isn’t talking about: missing light bulbs and anything that was a concern. We didn’t have retail on the shelves, but you had a plan for that. But you needed leadership to help you execute, so all I saw from day one, interview one,” she said, “was you need leadership. And I came in, and now look at your business.”

Our numbers have gone up. We had a couple of slow days, but she’s really, really eager. I think Jay or Paul brought up a good point in a previous episode about having a leader who used to be in a corporate environment where things move very quickly. Things move quickly at Paralee Boyd because there’s not a lot of layers. But I have a social media person who has our calendar planned out for what the posts are going to be. Sometimes I’ll get a text message: “Dana, we should post about this today.” And it goes, “Oh, okay, I don’t think she realizes how deliberate our branding is.” They even created a site for us to hire on Facebook—a Facebook page—and I said, “Take that down.” It was not branded at all. Didn’t have our logo. Weren’t our colors. It was another Paralee Boyd Facebook page, so they were very anxious. But I said, “Guys, similarly to a corporate environment, that has to be approved, and that has to be designed so it’s the brand.” That was just the manager who was used to running smaller salons. It didn’t come from my operations manager who knew that.

They’re working very quickly, and I think they’re very excited. But we met and exceeded our hiring goals to the point where we have a waitlist of about three or four stylists. We also were able to start an earn-to-learn program because the problem in Michigan is you have young ladies and men who want to be cosmetologists and get their license. But the time requirement doesn’t allow them to work and support their children or their families. Well, Ashley has started an earn-to-learn program where you can get your basic amount of hours for cosmetology school while working at Paralee Boyd. And then because she’s an instructor, she can transfer the hours to finish your cosmetology license at a full school if you choose.

So they could just work here, make money, get their hours, we’ll train them, and then they can decide if they want to complete at a cosmetology school. We have two people already in the program, and that’s it. It’s working out really, really well. I just have to—what’s the word or the phrase—I guess, “get ready” and make sure I’m the leader ready for this type of employee.

Laura Zander:
Are you having trouble letting go at all?

Dana White:
Not at all.

Laura Zander:
I guess I struggle a little bit with the phrase “letting go” because I’m like, “I don’t have any problem letting go. I have a problem letting go if somebody doesn’t know what they’re doing.”

Dana White:
Exactly.

Laura Zander:
But if I find somebody who I trust, or they are competent… But okay, so are you having any control issues?

Dana White:
Not at all.

Laura Zander:
You’re not. Huh…

Dana White:
No. I did a lot of work on the front end and I was very clear about what I wanted and how I wanted it done. The only time I’ll take back that control is if I walk in my salon and see something else. What I think we’re going through right now is the establishment of trust and the understanding that, “Yes, I understand that you have umpteen many years in salon experience. But this is a different salon.” I think she gets that it’s a different salon, so she defers to Dana. So this is different. I know it would have worked at Great Clips or Lady Jane’s, but let me make sure it works here.

Laura Zander:
[Laughter] Dana in the third person. Do you refer to yourself in the third-person when you talk to her?

Dana White:
No. But she defers to Dana, because she’s like, “Let me make sure.”

Laura Zander:
Got it.

Dana White:
She said, “This is a very precise business.” She says, “I’ve never seen anything like it.” And it wasn’t until we were busy one day, and she looks and says, “Oh my goodness, it’s a machine.” She kind of stood there and watched everything just kind of fall into place. It made her role clearer as to what she needs to do to make sure that everything just keeps running like a machine.

Laura Zander:
I love that she’s hiring for people, not for position. You just articulated what I was trying to say. That’s been our approach the whole time, I think just intuitively. And man, some people do not like it. They get really frustrated internally because they’re like, “This is exactly the skill-set that we need.” I’m like, “We’re not a factory. We’re looking for people.” If we find somebody who fits that skill-set 50 percent, but they have 50 percent of other skills that we didn’t even know we were looking for, and they’re a good fit for the business, then we’ll figure it out. That’s the beauty of being flexible.

Dana White:
She basically hired based on who I am and what I need.

Loren Feldman:
Is she literally hiring people who have no experience doing this?

Dana White:
No, no, no, no. So in cosmetology, you have to have a license for so many hours. It’s not like retail, “Okay, you’re running the cash register, you’re managing the floor for putting apparel out.” No. We have an industry standard and she meets that, but what we were doing differently in the past was we were checking the boxes and hiring people who were out for self, hiring people who didn’t quite grasp the vision and what we’re trying to do, couldn’t quite let go of the fact that this is not a traditional salon and were trying to perform traditionally in this salon. They weren’t making it. What I think and what I believe I’ve seen her do is she’s hiring for, “Do you understand who we are and what we’re doing? If you can grasp that, how the salon is different-”

Loren Feldman:
What is it that they don’t grasp, generally? What do they not understand about your salons?

Dana White:
They want it to be walk-in-only, seven days a week, but I want to take my time. I want to talk. I want to promote myself. I want to have my cell phone on the floor. I want to talk to this person in my chair as if they’re my customer versus Paralee Boyd’s customer.

We had an example of a young lady who came in, and she didn’t realize who she was talking to. You have no idea that that’s the chief-of-staff for such-and-such, but you’re just running your mouth. Because in your mind, this is a traditional salon: “This is my customer.” No, this isn’t your customer. This is a customer of Paralee Boyd.

We had another customer who felt that he was giving a client a compliment because her hair looked nice. He said, “You’re gonna make a baby tonight,” and she burst out in tears. And she said, “I really hope so.” Not realizing that she and her husband had been trying for a very long time. You don’t know who’s in your chair.

She hired people who would have no problem carrying out the customer-service level and the mindfulness level of Paralee Boyd. And she said, “These people came to us. These are people who started following us on Instagram. These are people who sent their resumes, not necessarily through Indeed, but who were referred to us, who wanted a change. They kind of already knew that they wanted something different. And I said, “Well, what was that something different for them?” And I’ll tell you guys, seriously: they wanted to work in a salon owned by a Black woman or a Black person.

Loren Feldman:
I’m glad you mentioned that, Dana, because one of the things I wanted to ask you is, you’ve expressed concern that, in the past, when you had even a white receptionist that some of your customers wondered if the salon was still Black-owned. I believe your operations manager, you told us, is white. I’m wondering if the same issue has come up.

Dana White:
Absolutely, absolutely. I’ve had people text me, “Do you still own it?” I’ve had people lean over and whisper to me, “You still own Paralee Boyd? Right?” I say, “Yeah, why?” “Girl, we saw two white girls in there.” “So, why don’t you think I own it?” And then they get caught!

I guess annoys me even more is how impressed they are. The fact that I could have two white people working for me now, they’re super-impressed, and they respond to the business differently. But they’re not surprised when it’s the inverse. When you see two Black people working in an all-white business, you don’t think that the business is Black-owned. It’s just one of those obvious things.

Laura Zander:
I know it’s not the same thing, but in a similar vein, that’s what I experienced for the first probably 10 years because of my age. All the women who worked for us were 20 years older than me and so people would come in, and they’d say, “Can I talk to the owner?” They just always assumed I was the high school help and would go to the other woman who was working there and just assumed. Again, I know it’s different, but it is similar in some ways, what the preconceived notions are. And then when they find out it’s me, they’re like, “Whoa.” And actually, that still kind of happens when I go to trade shows and stuff. They’re like, “Wow, I was expecting this old white guy.”

Dana White:
I get that too. I get age, color, and marriage, actually. Because they’ll look down at my hand and see there’s no ring. I’ve gotten that before. And then it’s funny because if I’m standing next to [my boyfriend], they refer to him as the owner. Then he said, “I’m here to change the light bulb. You might want to talk to her.” And so, it’s a couple different things. But with my team, that has definitely been, especially over the first couple of weeks, even though there’s a gigantic picture of me that you can see from across the street, they still wonder if I’m the owner.

Laura Zander:
What do you say to your team about that? How do you address that with your team?

Dana White:
I don’t really. I kind of laugh about it with them. Both my manager and operations manager have told me, “You have one of the most loyal customer bases [we’ve] ever seen. They want you to do well. They’re just waiting for you to just take off. They want you to do well.” And communication with them is key, but communication by phone. My guests are not email people for some reason. They’re not website people. They’re not social media people. So they have been making a lot of phone calls, calling people and talking to them, checking in with them.

Loren Feldman:
So Dana, you’ve told us two things, you’ve told us that some of your customers are concerned that you might not be Black-owned anymore. But you’ve also told us that some of your customers are impressed that you have white employees. Is this a net positive for the business? Or a problem that you think you have to deal with?

Dana White:
I think it’s a net positive, and I don’t think they’re two different categories. They’re both. The first response is, “Is this Black-owned?” “Yes, it is. They work for me.” “Oh!” Net positive for the business.

Loren Feldman:
Interesting. The other thread that we’ve been talking to you about, Dana, is your winning Detroit Demo Day and a $200,000 infusion that you have to decide whether you want to take as a loan or as a convertible note, and you have to decide how you’re going to spend it. And also the possibility that that could lead to other investors taking an interest in what you’re doing. Where does all of that stand?

Dana White:
I have a VC who is interested. Actually, I’ve had a few approach me since winning. I have a VC who I’ve spoken with who I’m actually very interested in working with, and so I haven’t touched the money yet. I have a call with the team next week to talk about new developments, and this new development is the next step in pursuing VC dollars, so that’s where we are. After I had this initial conversation, it was, “Hey, don’t spend your money. Hold on.” And so, okay, let’s hang on. I’ve done my vetting. You talk to people who know who these people are, what they’re about, and everything’s been glowing and positive.

Loren Feldman:
Have you talked to other entrepreneurs that this VC firm has invested in?

Dana White:
No, I’ve talked to other entrepreneurs who are in the VC world who know who they are. I don’t want to say it’s a club, but it’s, “Hey, who will take you on?” And most of the people who I’ve talked to who are in this VC world really are interested in this firm taking them on, and they’ve gone on to tell me why.

They just have a really great reputation for taking care of the businesses that they work with. They are definitely not a traditional VC, and that was part of the conversation. If you’re going to work with Paralee Boyd, similarly to a tech startup where you’re expecting so much of a return in a year, this is not the company for you. And they agreed. They said, “Nope, we’re of the same mindset.”

Loren Feldman:
It sounds like you’re clear in your mind that you are willing to sell some equity to bring in venture capital. We’ve all heard the horror stories about that, are you sure this is something you want to do?

Dana White:
It is. Because it’s not VC in general—it’s the unicorn VC. And we’ve talked about that before, to make sure that it’s—

Loren Feldman:
“Unicorn” meaning not that they’re looking to invest in unicorns that grow really quickly but “unicorn” meaning there are different kinds of venture capital firms.

Dana White:
Exactly. Similarly to Laura hiring and myself hiring, or even taking on a VC, it’s all about fit. Who works? Who doesn’t? The end game might be great, but if it’s not the right fit, it’s going to be ugly in the end. For me, in trying to figure out, one: Is VC the way to go? I believe so. You have to reverse-engineer your vision, and say, “Okay, what’s the best way you feel you could get there?” And I did that and I think VC is the way to go, but you want to make sure you want people who don’t want you to have 10 percent ownership. Because then the next series round, it doesn’t look good if Dana only owns 10 percent. Working with people who understand that Dana needs to have a sizable investment is important. And not every VC firm is like that. Some VC firms are, “We want half upfront.” You’re like, “Whoa. You want 51 percent of my company? For how much?”

Loren Feldman:
I’m curious what Laura thinks. You have any thoughts?

Laura Zander:
No, I’m just excited to watch how this all plays out and to talk to Dana in two years and see what the experience was like. You have such a different model and experience than we do because you want to open other locations. So in my mind, you do need a lot of capital, right? And you need somebody who can help make that happen. I mean, that’s a totally different situation than we’re in. So, it’s exciting.

Dana White:
I’m a little nervous, because we’ve all heard the horror stories, and I’m just like Miss Cieley in The Color Purple. I’m just waiting to see what color the wall’s gonna turn next.

Loren Feldman:
You know, Dana, the other thing that’s interesting about it is, we’ve all read countless stories in recent years about how it’s almost impossible for women to get venture capital, that the percentage is tiny. It’s even harder, almost impossible, for minorities to get venture capital. And it’s really hard for non-tech companies to get venture capital. So you’ve got a trifecta here.

Dana White:
I know.

Loren Feldman:
How do you explain that?

Dana White:
I think it’s the VC firm and what they’re looking for. I don’t think they’re looking for tech companies. This is a company based in the Midwest. They’re heavily involved in the Midwest. They’re not in Silicon Valley or Silicon Alley. They’re looking for businesses like mine. They’re looking for minority women businesses to take on that aren’t in tech. You look at their portfolio, especially the list I have of about five to six potential VCs, and they seem like they would be a fit. They all have a business development component. They all come with a vast network, literally a phone call away, to help get you what you need to grow. They’re very invested in making sure you grow, not so much for the short return.

But again, they want to set you up to succeed so they can get bought out and you can move forward. So yeah, it’s kind of a weird trifecta, but I think COVID brought that on, too. I think COVID required VCs and all these other companies to look at what are viable companies differently. When thrown something like an international pandemic, some of the ones you thought were going to just skyrocket and take off didn’t. They closed. I think businesses or VCs or people are investing or looking at companies a little differently, based on the new information from the pandemic and what we’ve learned about the resilience of companies.

Loren Feldman:
We’re almost out of time. I’m not sure this question makes sense for you, Dana, but I’d like to ask Laura the question that I asked William, Jay, and Paul last week, which is about what this year has done to all of you, in some sense, and to your businesses. I’m curious, one: Do you think your business is worth more or less today than it was when this year began back in January? And I’d also like to ask you: If somebody were to come along and offer you twice what you think the business is worth, would you consider selling it now?

Laura Zander:
Great question. Do I think the business is worth more or less than it was?

Loren Feldman:
Yeah.

Laura Zander:
I don’t know. I guess it’s probably worth more. But a big part of that is because we bought a company that was about to go bankrupt.

Loren Feldman:
And turned it around.

Laura Zander:
Yeah, and we’ve turned it around. So our revenue has grown 50 percent, or 80 percent, or something this year, versus last year. But that’s because we bought another company. We’re not comparing apples to apples.

Loren Feldman:
If you hadn’t bought the company, Jimmy Beans Wool still would have had a pretty good year, right? People have been knitting.

Laura Zander:
Yes, we’re really lucky that we’re in an industry that has really benefited from people staying at home and needing something to do to reduce stress. So yeah, we’ve had a good year. Would I walk away if somebody offered twice what it’s worth today? Probably not, only because in the next three years, we’re going to be worth twice as much. This year is still a year of huge investment. We got a new facility that’s going to be custom-built. We’ve invested, we’ve tripled our inventory, and on the Texas side of things, we’ve invested in a new computer system, so it’s not worth as much as it might be.

Loren Feldman:
Was that a deliberate decision to triple inventory?

Laura Zander:
Yes. When we bought it, there was almost zero inventory.

Loren Feldman:
Oh, I see.

Laura Zander:
I mean, there was literally zero inventory, so we’ve had to go in and—

Loren Feldman:
So three times nothing.

Laura Zander:
I mean, there was some, but it wasn’t even the right inventory. That’s a great question. Like, who wouldn’t walk away? Or, if somebody offers you two times for your house, of course, you would move, wouldn’t you? Why wouldn’t you?

Loren Feldman:
Well, it depends on your situation. And you just gave us a good reason not to, because you think it’s going to be worth even more soon. And that’s kind of the answer that William gave us. Paul said the same thing you just said: “Why wouldn’t I do that?”

Laura Zander:
For me, it’s really fun. I enjoy it.

Loren Feldman:
And that’s what Jay said. Jay, is further along than any of you.

Laura Zander:
Yeah, he’s old. [Laughter]

Loren Feldman:
We’ll find out if he’s listening.

Laura Zander:
Yeah, exactly.

Loren Feldman:
But he likes going to work, and he doesn’t have any hobbies, and he doesn’t want to move to Florida. But if somebody offered him three times, I think he would really start thinking about it.

Dana White:
I’m eight years in. This month will be eight years for Paralee Boyd. My answer is absolutely not.

Loren Feldman:
Well, you’re at a point where exciting things are happening. It really wouldn’t make sense for you to walk away at this point.

Dana White:
I love the possibility of the vision way too much. Offer me four or five times. That means, you know it’ll probably do 10 times. If you’re offering me double, you probably know it’s double that. So, no. I want to see what the end of the story looks like, and I don’t necessarily need to be in the front seat, but I definitely want to be in the cockpit when I see what happens.

I think the value of my company has definitely increased this year, and I’m so surprised by it. Our numbers, it’s hard to say, because I closed a location. In our midtown location, yeah, numbers have gone up, because we don’t have the Southfield location, but we’re there. So we’ll see. But I think we’re much better situated now than we were last year.

Loren Feldman:
Last question: I hate to do this, but we are having this conversation at a time when COVID cases are just exploding across the country. I’m curious how concerned both of you are by that and what impact you think it might have on your businesses. Dana?

Dana White:
I’m very concerned, but we’ll do what we have to do to keep my staff and my customers safe. If we need to close down, we need to close down. I hope we have a plan in place. My product line will be here by Black Friday. So there’ll be things that people can buy online. We’re just trying to see: if we have to close down, we will keep the staff safe, but I just hope the government is prepared to help small businesses like they were before.

Loren Feldman:
Laura, you were going to open your one brick-and-mortar retail location last time we spoke. Did that actually happen?

Laura Zander:
It did. Yeah, it’s open. Just a little bit. I mean, we don’t have a ton of traffic. I think I think we’re just open on Saturday and Sundays, just for a little while. But am I concerned? I think I’m with Dana. Many of us have grown accustomed to this as the new normal and the new way of life, so whatever needs to happen is what needs to happen for the greater good, and we’ll just adapt on the back end. I’m not concerned because I know we can adapt because we’ve had practice.

Loren Feldman:
Dana White and Laura Zander, thank you as always.