Renee Wood is the founder of The Comfort Company, a Geneva, Ill.-based e-commerce business that develops and sells sympathy gifts. After she designed a piece of jewelry for someone who had lost a loved one, other people started requesting her designs, which led to the creation of the company. She says being risk-averse has helped her stay out of debt, but says she’s had to learn how to take more calculated risks to help grow her business.
Why did you start your business?
If the truth be told, I started a business quite by accident. A family member had just lost her father and I was home with a baby and unable to travel to the funeral. I took to the internet to find the perfect gift—something that would be a joyful reminder of the deep love she shared with her father, yet at the same time, acknowledge her great loss. Unable to find the perfect gift, I took the matter into my own hands, literally. Using some Play-Doh, I made a teardrop-shaped pendant, which I had my local jeweler cast into silver. Combined with a poem I had written, I finally felt I had the perfect gift. Soon after, demand for the pendant began to grow and The Comfort Company was formed to meet this growing need.
How did you get the funds to get going?
The honest answer is I embezzled money from our household. I had recently left a social work career in order to care for our three young daughters. Money had gotten very tight for a family of five living on a single income. We had a small home equity line. I remember the first time I had to dip into it….I had to pay for a print job. The invoice was $800. It was a small fortune. I paid for the cards and hid the box under my bed. I was a little ashamed of what I had done and was honestly scared I had made a huge mistake.
Have you heard of business credit?
Yes, I’ve heard of business credit. For a brief time I had a line of credit for the business, but closed it. I am very debt- and risk-averse. I found I preferred to pay-as-I-go.
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Managing the Business
What’s most challenging about running your business?
It’s hard to pinpoint what’s most challenging because I find it all to be challenging in a good way. If I were pressed for a single answer, it would be that I find it challenging to delegate. Whether it’s building a website, managing staff, negotiating merchant account rates, SEO, marketing…like so many small business owners, I feel a deep sense of ownership in everything that relates to the business. It’s a terrible challenge for me to hand over the keys.
How do you finance your business to manage cash flow or growth?
I have retained historical earnings in the business to provide enough cash to manage cash flow and provide capital for growth.
Do you use trade credit from your vendors or suppliers?
We do not. Although the opportunity is available with most of our suppliers, my aversion to debt will not allow it!
What’s the biggest mistake you made early on?
By and large, my greatest mistake in business early on remains my greatest mistake today: Not being willing to take greater risks sooner. As a person who has been risk-averse her whole life, learning how to face my fears, take more chances and be vulnerable have played a critical role, not just in the growth of my business but in my personal growth as an entrepreneur. I’d love to say I had a great epiphany, a moment in time where the skies opened up and great bolt of lightning fell upon me and I became a confident risk-taker overnight. But that is not the case. I err on the side of the tortoise. Slow and steady. True to myself. Overcoming my fear of risk is something I’ve had to overcome at my own pace—one calculated risk at a time.
What is the smartest thing you did your first year?
The smartest thing I did my first year was to ask a lot of questions to a lot of people and get a lot of feedback, but ultimately step back and let my own voice be the loudest.
What is the most rewarding thing about owning a business?
There is something very rewarding about being able to wake up every day and step into a business which brings comfort to others.
What does the future look like for your business?
Very exciting! I am launching a memorial jewelry line as well as a memorial frame collection. This is just the beginning as I move my energy from being engrossed in the day-to-day operations to spending more time on the creative process and being a visionary for The Comfort Company.
What advice do you have for someone starting a business?
My advice would be to have enough confidence to leap and trust that a net will appear.