Entrepreneur Kelly Lawson, founder and CEO of Canadian startup Ella, says her first experience with the ‘sharing economy’ came in the early 1990s when she and her girlfriends would open their closets to each other.
“There was a level of excitement that came with that; more variety, more options, less spending, increased self-confidence, and plenty of female bonding. We became closer, stronger, and empowered through our shared love of the frock.”
In 2015, Lawson saw an opportunity to solve a problem many fashion-loving women were faced with — a closet overflowing with unwanted clothes. Ella, a mobile marketplace for women, was the result.
Opportunities NB (ONB) recently spoke with Kelly Lawson to learn more about Ella, as well as her thoughts on entrepreneurship and living in New Brunswick.
ONB: Let’s begin with a quick overview of Ella.
Lawson: Ella is a community of style-crazy women whose love for fashion has led to the over-stuffing of closets across North America. But it’s not always just about fashion — fashion is simply the language we use to connect with each other, because sometimes words and literal conversation don’t cut it.
We wanted to create a platform for real women to connect with one another. Sure we buy, sell, and exchange pre-owned fashion there, but we are more than that. We are a community, we are a force.
ONB: You’re from Nova Scotia originally. What brought you to New Brunswick?
Lawson: Once I finished OT (Occupational Therapy) school, I was offered positions in Seattle, Kitchener-Waterloo in Ontario, and Moncton, New Brunswick. Moncton was the most affordable relocation at that point. I didn’t even hang photos on my walls that first year because I thought it would just be a launching pad for something bigger and better. It didn’t take long to realize I was already sitting on the biggest and best thing. I hung my photos on the walls 10 years ago and I haven’t looked back.
ONB: What do you see as advantages of living in New Brunswick?
Lawson: I have been spending more time lately in bigger cities like Toronto and New York. Through my travels it has become more apparent to me that things like water access, green space, the smell of the ocean, proximity to workplaces and play places, seeing your friends at the park, and living in a great house, are true privileges. These otherwise luxurious amenities are accessible to us New Brunswickers every single day.
ONB: You’ve founded multiple companies, and been a part of groups like Fusion SJ. So what’s your best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Lawson: A great mentor of mine recently gave me a book by Brené Brown.
I’ll quote her here:
“I want to be in the arena. I want to be brave with my life. And when we make the choice to dare greatly, we sign up to get our [butts] kicked. We can choose courage or we can choose comfort, but we can’t have both. Not at the same time.”
I love that quote so much. If you are an aspiring entrepreneur, you’re choosing bravery over comfort. Welcome aboard!
Now here’s what I have to say to you: Do it. Don’t wait for the perfect circumstances. Chew up your fear and spit it out; there’s no time for that. Then get ready to fail. This is an inevitable aspect of the entrepreneurial journey, and I think likely one of the hardest things for an entrepreneurial spirit to accept. You’ll hit roadblocks — ugly ones, get ready to chew those up and spit them out too, there’s no room for those either, there’s only room for solutions.
ONB: You’ve described yourself as a golden ruleist. How does that philosophy shape Ella?
Lawson: Throughout life I have had good things happen as a result of treating people with the dignity and respect that I wish to have for myself. Some of the industry’s greatest leaders have allowed me to step into their circle this way. There are many inspirational entrepreneurs and leaders here in New Brunswick—all ages, all genders, all colours—but what makes them especially cool is that they are the modest type. They are humble, subdued, and not braggy, I like that. I think this mentality is the unwritten mantra of the women of Ella. We are all successful in our own right—so enough about that—now let’s be real.
Lawson: There is always competition. Facebook has a variety of user-driven buy/sell groups that are pretty effective, and they are adding functionality to make the user experience better all the time.
I think the key is to always be looking for the hidden opportunities inside the competition. If nothing else, use competition to set your own targets by always doing one better.
ONB: What are the most valuable lessons you’ve brought with you from your time in Occupational Therapy to the very different world of Ella?
Lawson: Wow that is a great question. Sit with your hips and knees at 90 degrees and take micro-breaks to stretch every hour while hustling from behind the computer. I kid.
As an Occupational Therapist I spent my time analyzing people—both objectively and subjectively—and effectively iterating their quality of life. That profession taught me to always be observing, listening, analyzing, minding details, and thinking up ways to do things better. Because of that I find myself always scanning for connections, correlations or inconsistencies to better understand and improve upon the inner workings of things. These skills are very relevant in the tech startup world as early stage entrepreneurs are constantly wading into uncertain territory — then analyzing, validating, course correcting, and iterating.
ONB: You appeared in our recent #NBProud video. What role has ONB played with Ella?
Lawson: ONB has helped us financially with our efforts toward export and commercialization. It’s more than financial assistance, however. I can’t go without mentioning the amazing mentorship, encouragement and support I have received through ONB as well. It’s like the grown up entrepreneur’s version of Mom and Dad’s house. I come home, rummage around in the fridge, talk about how things are going at work, get validated, maybe talk money, and then head out into the world again.
Want to learn more about New Brunswick and how you can grow your business here? Connect with an ONB Business Development Executive at the button below.