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Reflecting on the First Year in Business: Four Challenges and Four Successes

6-minute read

Our first birthday: one complete year of changing how women buy footwear, the first year in business for a startup company.

There were days and weeks where it was uncertain if we’d make it this far. The first year in business is scary. There is the fear of failure and the financial fear of running out of money. Psychologically, these fears can deter you from the real task at hand: building a kickass company from the ground up. Most of the startup stories we read are about successes. We are far from a success story; we’re just getting started. In celebration of reaching the 1-year mark, and to reflect on 2013, here’s an honest look at Poppy Barley's first year in business—the biggest successes and the biggest challenges.

Four Challenges

Poppy Barleys first year in business: challenges and successes of a start up business. Poppy Barley offers custom made shoes sizes 5-12. First year in business challenges and successes of a start up. Poppy Barley Made to Measure shoes and boots.

Challenge #1: Our First Remake

Our first remake was devastating. Not only did the boot not fit, but we also made it in the wrong leather colour. At that point, it was still just Justine and I sitting at two desks facing each other operating Poppy Barley. When we received the email from the customer, our eyes welled with tears. We were so disappointed in ourselves. The customer graciously accepted a remake (in the right leather colour). While a natural part of any e-commerce company, remakes and returns are still painful. We want nothing more than to make the customer happy. Now, instead of crying in devastation, we put all our energy into making it right.

Challenge #2: Being Overly Optimistic

Most entrepreneurs are insanely optimistic. We are no exception. We overestimated our sales projections for the first six months and underestimated how hard it is to raise money. We were stressed to the max. We had “the talk” with our first employee, Caroline, to let her know that we might not be able to pay her anymore. She offered to work for free. Talk about commitment to Poppy Barley. We all knew we were building something great. Luckily, some investors agreed and we received the funding we needed.

Challenge #3: Delayed Release of Flats Collection

Our plan was for Poppy Barley's debut Spring/Summer 2013 Flats Collection to be released in April (early May at the latest) to coincide perfectly with warmer weather and spring wardrobes. Our flats launched mid-June. The two weeks leading up to the launch of flats, we worked late (like really late) every night. Five straight nights we ordered dinner in. While it was painful to be out of boot season with nothing to sell, we’re firm believers in doing things right. I’m glad we didn’t cut corners to make an early release date happen.

Challenge #4: Tossing the Never Ending To Do List

We have BIG plans for Poppy Barley. Our biggest challenge everyday is our own to-do-list. It’s easy to add things, and much harder to remove. When our lists are too stacked, we are exhausted and unsure of the goal we’re working towards. It’s a challenge to stop, re-evaluate and break everything down into chunkable amounts of work. We’ve also discovered it’s way more fun if we’re all working towards the same goal with concrete objectives and strict deadlines.

Four Successes

Poppy Barleys first year in business: challenges and successes of a start up business. Poppy Barley offers custom made shoes sizes 5-12. First year in business challenges and successes of a start up. Poppy Barley Made to Measure shoes and boots.

Success #1: The Night We Launched

Poppy Barley launched at Startup Edmonton’s Launch Party on November 15, 2012. The night was amazing. We pitched. We showcased our boots to the public for the first time. We made our first sale. But the best part: our biggest supporters were all in the room. Our friends wore Poppy Barley t-shirts and served beer. Our parents poured drinks. We measured people. After months of building a company alone, we were able to celebrate with those who made it possible to launch Poppy Barley. We were the last ones to leave the party.

Success #2: The Best Team

We work with the brightest, best people. In Edmonton, our team grew from two people to six people. In Mexico, our team continues to grow as we expand the capacity of our studio to craft more boots and shoes. The expectations we set for ourselves are high. Things move fast and are always changing. We’re a team composed of practical thinkers and dreamers; all working towards a much bigger purpose. Building a company is stressful, challenging, rewarding and insanely fun. Working with the right people makes the whole experience way better.

Success #3: Being Transparent & Honest

Made to measure footwear is a collaboration between the customers and makers. At the core of Poppy Barley is an honest dialogue about everything – our products, manufacturing processes, studio, team, failures, marketing, etc. While being perfect is not a realistic expectation, being honest is a commitment we strongly adhere to. I am proud of the honest conversations we’ve had during our first year.

Success #4: Community

The Poppy Barley community is amazing! The "community" extends to so many people—our customers, fans, investors, mentors and employees. It also includes all the storytellers. I am thankful to the journalists who convincingly pitched an unknown Poppy Barley to their editors. I want to hug every person who tweets, instagrams or posts about Poppy Barley. *If you're interested in looking a little closer at Poppy Barley's first year in business, click through our 2012-2013 Timeline.

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