Cathryn Lavery is a serial entrepreneur and designer. As co-founder and CEO of BestSelf Co., they took the company from zero to 8-figures in less than two years.
They won Shopify’s Build a Business Competition in 2016 and the Build a BIGGER Business competition in 2017 – making BestSelf Co. the only company to win both awards consecutively.
As an irish immigrant with a standing start and zero business experience, Cathryn has transformed herself into a serial entrepreneur, creating multiple brands and even helping others bring their ideas to life.
Cathryn and her work have been featured in Fast Company’s 2017 Innovation by Design Awards, as well as Entrepreneur, MTV, Huffington Post, Forbes, Inc. and more.
Originally from Belfast, Northern Ireland with a Masters degree in Architecture from Glasgow School of Art, Cathryn moved to New York City in 2011 to work as an architect. She currently lives in Austin with her two dogs.
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Nicole Holland 0:04
Hey, there entrepreneur. Welcome back to another fascinating episode of Fascinating Founders. I'm your host, Nicole Holland and I'm thrilled to be your guide as we dive in and uncover the stories that came before the success of some of the world's most fascinating founders. Hailing from a multitude of industries and socio-economic starts, you're going to learn what's made these fascinating men and women realize their dreams from an inspired idea to millions in revenue, disrupting, innovating and impacting humanity for the better. Today's episode is brought to you in part by Podcasting Goldmine. Are you reaching and converting your ideal buyers through podcasts yet? You'd better believe that your competition is the podcast industry is exploding right now with billions of dollars being poured into it and well over 1 million active podcasts in the directories in just the past 90 days alone. Hundreds of thousands of new podcasts have been added and the industry will continue to grow. Whether or not you're a part of it your market my friend is listening to podcasts. And I would love to personally help you design a strategic podcast marketing plan to help your company scale and reach your business growth goals through podcasts from getting you featured as the expert guest on premium podcasts that your ideal buyers are already listening to, to designing and launching a profitable podcast for your company to show sponsorship and advertising. Podcasting for business growth is totally my jam. If you're ready to take a serious look at how you can effectively leverage podcasts for business growth, visit PodcastingGoldmine.com and request a complimentary consultation for us to explore how we can make podcasts work for you. Again, that URL is PodcastingGoldmine.com. Now you never know what we're going to get into on an episode of Fascinating Founders. So get your notebook ready, cozy up with a Great Cup of Joe. And let's dive into another inspiring journey with today's guest.
Catherine lavatory is a serial entrepreneur in designer, as co founder and CEO of best self Co. She took the company from zero to eight figures in less than two years. She also won Shopify is build a business competition in 2016 and the build a bigger business competition in 2017, making best self co the only company to win both awards consecutively. As an Irish immigrant with a standing start and zero business experience. Catherine has transformed herself into a serial entrepreneur, creating multiple brands and even helping others bring their own ideas to life. Katherine and Her work has been featured in fast company's 2017 innovation by Design Awards, as well as entrepreneur, MTV, Huffington Post, Forbes, Inc, and more. Catherine laterally. Welcome to the show. I'm super excited to have you here with us today to talk about your story.
Cathryn Lavery 3:24
Yeah. Thanks for having me, Nicole. Absolutely.
Nicole Holland 3:27
So let's kick things off with you giving our listeners just a quick overview of what you and your company do and the market that you serve.
Cathryn Lavery 3:35
Yeah, so my company is called best self and we create tools to help people achieve more, think bigger and also be present. So we help we started with the self journal, which is based on a 13 week goal system. So not just sort of organizing your life but really finding where it is you want to go. And then we've gone into creating tools around helping people have better relationships, both like intimate relationships and friendships. Because we realized, we kind of started with this type a person or on goals and getting the most done in the most in the little amount of time, so we can do more. And then I think, you know, hitting some goals myself, you hit all these business goals and things that we grow up thinking, it's gonna make us happy. And then you get there and you're like, Oh, wait, there's actually more to life. So that's almost kind of become a place where we can help people lead a fulfilled life in every area.
Nicole Holland 4:25
I love it. And as a belt, best self journal user, and also having played with so many of your products, I love your cards that have prompts for writing and for conversation and to get people out of their comfort zones. You guys have so many neat tools. And I do love that how it's not really your tools, don't isolate. It's not like just for x. It's it's really it feels like to me as a user, at least, it's very holistic in nature.
Cathryn Lavery 4:56
Yeah, I mean, it's it's been a journey for sure. And I think that has been My own personal journey is, you know, again, like I said, starting with one intention of, you know, hitting all these goals, and then we hit these business goals. And, you know, I'm feeling personally like, I'm not where I want to be. So then it became more of Okay, what else? What else is missing? And so that's kind of where these other products and ideas came from really helping people live more fully, and not just for work, which is pretty much what we're brought up to focus on. And, again, I think it does take you getting to a certain place and then realizing how much more you're missing out on.
Nicole Holland 5:33
Yeah, for sure. So let me ask you was this was best self first and entrepreneurial endeavor of yours, or did you have anything before that?
Cathryn Lavery 5:42
So I've been pretty entrepreneurial growing up, even though I didn't know anyone else. Like I didn't know entrepreneur was an actual job. I, I had an eBay business when I was like 1313 to 14, and then I was an architect. So I pretty much became an architect because you know, I didn't know that you could just run your own business or do anything like that. And then when I was an architect in New York, and I started a business on the side of that, which is a ecommerce store, but it was designing products and not ended up doing well end up making me enough that I left my job, I sold it later than I had a software thing for a second. I learned a lot about how to build something and take an idea and make it reality but it wasn't an area in industry that I was particularly passionate about which I realized that I'm a creative person, I like to do make products and I like to make things and when it comes to selling it, I'm not as excited about that. So, um, you know that when we first started selling, it was really I was coming at it from the problem solving creative type of thing rather than from a marketing point of view. And I still, I'm pretty much like product first marketing second, but I've had a couple of things. This is definitely the the most Successful one that I've had. But you know, I think that every project or company or product that I've done up to this point, almost like a, you know, it's just like a brick in the same wall of learning things that I didn't know that has helped me with this business.
Nicole Holland 7:13
I love it. And I think that a lot of founders and entrepreneurs can really relate to that creativeness and the desire to create and desire to get excited about things, but not getting excited about selling. So with a product based business, obviously, you have to sell with any business you have to sell. So how did you overcome those challenges?
Cathryn Lavery 7:38
I mean, when when we started, I had a business partner that was into marketing. So it was very much like, at the beginning, he was more on the sales side of things. I was more on the creative side. I also felt like, Okay, how do I create something that sort of is a great product is not a hard sell. And that really solves a problem. So I think that's the first thing is as long as you always admit That you're creating something that is of value and that people are really going to get a lot of benefits from it's much easier to sell in that in that regard.
Nicole Holland 8:09
Nice. And you mentioned you how to partner so is to How did that happen? Like how did did you have a partner for your other business ventures as well? Or were you solo until you decided to do the best self journal?
Cathryn Lavery 8:22
I was solo and until that we met an entrepreneur group.
Nicole Holland 8:25
Do you have any like, was there anything that kind of went through your head that you're willing to share or any experiences that you're willing to share about picking a partner because I think this is something a lot of people find challenging is finding that right fit and being willing to take that risk of sharing something that you're you've put everything into with someone else. So is there anything you can tell us about kind of your journey to getting and did you know you wanted a partner before you found him or Was it organic? Did you beat him and then decide to partner like, I'd love to know more about that part of the journey.
Cathryn Lavery 9:06
So we were accountability partners for about a year before we started anything together. And then we had an Amazon business where, you know, sourcing products and creating a brand on Amazon before we did that sell. So it's very much like it was not very aligned with my values as far as the Amazon thing, because it wasn't really things that we cared about or whatever,
Nicole Holland 9:31
just money that that was just commerce.
Cathryn Lavery 9:33
Exactly. And so it didn't, didn't wasn't like a long term play. It was very much like a short term play. I think with a when you're looking for a partner, figuring out what your skill sets are, and how are they complementary to each other? Are you doing the same role you don't need a partner that you both doing the same thing, I think also is there's different positions and needs at different times of the business. So at the beginning like both of us, it was important because it was really just us. And then really having a structure in place that protects you and the company, if one of you decides, okay, I want to do something else, one thing I would have done differently is sort of a vesting type thing instead of an I know, this is kind of normal with startups a lot. But, you know, we didn't really know what we were doing at the time, but really vesting over time, so that someone after, you know, a year or two years decides, okay, when it's not someone that gets 5050, I would also never do a 5050 partnership. Again, it would be vested over time. And also, it's hardly, it's very rare that it's really 5050 of roles and responsibilities. So, you know, at the beginning, it's kind of like, things are the best then and so it's hard to believe that anything could ever, you know, go wrong or change. But you know, people are humans and we all go through different life chapters. And so what we wanted at one point might not be what we want later and so really sitting down and putting an operating agreement together. That is is really solid in aligning, okay, if this happens, this is what we do. If this happens, this is what we do. That's the best thing that you can do to sort of set yourself up for success and make sure that hopefully things don't go sideways. But if they do, that you're protected and the business that you've built is also protected.
Nicole Holland 11:17
Such good advice. Thank you so much for sharing that. Talk to me about how you decided to go from the journal. I believe that was your first product, I could be wrong. So clarify that for me if I am, but how you went from the one product and started adding on or did you just know you wanted lots of products from the beginning.
Cathryn Lavery 11:40
So I didn't know what the product line would look like. At the beginning, I knew that the self journal was the first product, but I was kind of thinking ahead as far as what the brand would be called. So I didn't want to call it just self journal. I wanted it to be like best self because there's so much that could go into that. So it's kind of a left a lot of freedom to walk could go along with it. But then again was pretty, you know, it kind of spoke for what it is that we were trying to do. So we started with the self journal, which we launched on Kickstarter. And the other products, we realized that there's basically three tiers of products and we've done this over time as we've made mistakes and we've learned is that there's tier a products and their products that people are going to come and find you for. So it's like self journal, or the DAX or things like that, where it's like solving a problem, and people will search you out for that. And then there's tier B products that are kind of accessories to tra so that they're not going to come find you for those but they really upgrade to a products and then there's tier c products that are like brand products which only like your top people and funds are going to buy because they love you and the brand but nobody off the street if they don't know you would buy and so really figuring out okay, if we're looking at you know, 70 2010 to 70% of our time and development and energy should be focused on creating and more marketing to a product. And then 20% on TV and then 10% on T or C because it's not really about solving a problem. It's really about, you know, building the brand side of things, which is easier because you're doing the things interior and TV that already do that. These are just like, nice to haves and not neat jobs. Thank you.
Nicole Holland 13:18
Wow, that was super, super helpful and really interesting. So cool. What are Are there any things like since you've been doing this and like you guys have gotten quite a bit of positive feedback pretty quickly, right? Didn't you bring the stock exchange Bell and you were on the cover of a magazine? Like, these are things that you had pretty quickly along? Is that right? Or am I mistaken?
Cathryn Lavery 13:45
Well, so we launched our store. So we launched our Kickstarter in mid August 2015. And we launched our store on Shopify January 1 2016. And then we ended up winning the build a business competition, which is a competition that shot OSI do, where it's for brand new businesses that haven't previously had a business. So they want to essentially give a contest or put together contests that are that for the best stores on their platform. And they do this by creating these amazing prizes that you would never get otherwise. So instead of it being like a money based thing, it's like you got we got to bring the New York Stock Exchange Bell and we went to the gassy mansion on Long Island with Tony Robbins and Dean Ferris and Marie Forleo and daymond. JOHN, I played Monopoly with daymond john for like six hours. That's so fun. It was the two is I started with like a eight or nine of us and it was down to me versus him and it's like two in the morning. And it was funny because it was just like, after that I think just sitting playing. I learned later that he really judges or not judges is the way the word is really. When he invests in anyone he will play Monopoly with them because you'll understand Okay, how they strategize how they Are they fair? Are they do they try to cheat at all, um, things like that. And so I only learned that afterwards so So then after he's like, yo, like you're really great at, uh, strategizing, and all this stuff. And it was funny because then after he ended up being a huge supporter and affiliate for us, and really like, we didn't take any investment from him, but he's been a big supporter of the company. And so then in 2017, we scaled you know, three to four x within the 10 months and they announced this build a bigger business competition so they take your, your sales at the start and then eight months later and see who grew the most. So it's really about how you are growing. So it's for companies that are doing over a million and less than I think 30 I forget exactly and see how much they grew. And so we ended up winning for the year after which they've never done before and we got to go to Fiji with Tony Robbins and Tim Ferriss and Marie Forleo again and Damon you know Just like in Sam, we got during the stock exchange fell again. So it was like this once in a lifetime event that we got to do twice. So just like incredible sort of press and experiences that we got pretty, pretty early on.
Nicole Holland 16:13
Amazing. And how do you feel like that impacted your business from the outside? So obviously, getting to getting to be supported by and getting to know personally, these brilliant leaders, world leaders who can support you internally, that the press, the positioning, things like that, how did that affect your business? Do you think?
Cathryn Lavery 16:39
I mean, I think it definitely, of course, it helped, I think, because, well, it's funny because our thing was, okay, let's take a goal, break it down, and we'll show you how to get there. So we've done it for our Kickstarter. So our goal at the time was 15,000, would you hit in 28 hours, and then we went on to do like 322,000 a month and then after that, My goal was the day after our Kickstarter ended and we're in this like hangover of, oh God, what's the next thing? And Shopify sent out this email about their contest and I known about the contest for a few years. I even entered it with my other Shopify store years before but I wasn't even like, close to coming in any sort of leaderboard, but it was just like this thing that I had in the back of my mind. So when I got this email, I was like, Oh, we should, yeah, we're definitely applying for that. And then I printed out the like, I made sign so like, nerdy, but I like printed out like this poster of like, Okay, this is the goal that I want. And then best case scenarios, we get it, but we don't really have a lot of control over that. But we do have control of like, how do we create a sustainable business, which is a win in itself. And so really being true to magic and breaking down big goals into Okay, how do we have to show up every day to get there and I think, like people seeing that we tend to eat our own dog food and do that was powerful, because then it was like okay, they really do the things They tell other people that,
Nicole Holland 18:01
Catherine, you're fascinating. And this conversation has been fascinating. And I wish we had more time. to to I have so many questions for you.
But we are going to have to wrap up shortly. So before we do, can you sum up your very best advice for a business owner who wants to follow in your footsteps in about 60 seconds or so? What would you tell them?
Cathryn Lavery 18:25
I would tell them to always show up on give more value than you take because then people will always feel like there's a law of reciprocity there. Be consistent with what you do is don't change and go after the new shiny object all the time. I bet. You know, like I mentioned the beginning I've had a few different projects and when I look back, there's learnings like very specific learnings that got me to where I am nine. So one thing is like this staying consistent, don't, you know, go for the shiny object all the time. But if something is not working, you're not aligned with it like a software product that I had wasn't aligning. With me, so in the long term, it wasn't gonna be a good fit. So not getting into that sunk cost bias and sticking with something even when you know, it's not what you want to do, because what you learn from it, you can take on to the next thing. So consistency, knowing when the right thing is and always, like showing up and giving value and having integrity.
Nicole Holland 19:21
Amazing. Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom and experiences with us. Before let you go, let's make sure that everybody knows how to reach you. So feel free to share any links we should know, as well as any final words of wisdom you've got for us.
Cathryn Lavery 19:37
Yeah, so you can see all of the stuff that I just talked about on BestSelf.co. I have a personal blog on LittleMight.com which is just my way of being like, you can be one person they can make a big change in the world. And then on social, it's just my name Cathryn Lavery. So, uh, yeah, I'd love to help anyone that I can. Any wisdom just feel free to reach out to me and, I will answer any questions that I can.
Nicole Holland 20:03
Thank you so much. This has been amazing.
And there you have it. Thanks again, for tuning in. I do realize that there are about a million other things you could have been doing over the past half hour. And the fact that you chose to spend it listening to this podcast means the world to me. I would love to know what your biggest takeaway from today's episode was. So feel free to send it on social tagging me @TheNicoleHolland on Facebook or Instagram, or send me a message from my website FascinatingFounders.com. You'll also find show notes with the transcript from this and all other past and future podcast episodes on the website. that URL once more is FascinatingFounders.com Thanks to my Podcasting Goldmine team for the production of today's episode, and a special shout out to Effy Ceruti, for composing the intro and outro music for this season. If you're looking for custom composed music for your own podcast or any other aspect of strategy, design, or production for your existing or new podcasts, the Podcasting Goldmine team can help give us a ring at 218-GET-SEEN or contact us through the website for a custom quote. And once again, if you are ready to explore effectively leveraging podcasts for business growth, visit PodcastingGoldmine.com and request a complimentary consultation to explore making podcasts work for you. Again, that URL is PodcastingGoldmine.com. Coming up on Fascinating Founders. I'm excited to introduce you to more fascinating men and women who've taken their inspired idea and against all odds have grown it into a multi-million or billion-dollar enterprise. Until next time, this is Nicole Holland, signing off.