#IMadeThis – Innovators, entrepreneurs, and idealists
Ever wondered how successful entrepreneurs turn their dreams into reality? What drives them to push the envelope, create change and advance their industries? We had the opportunity to ask Canadian small business owners how they transformed their ideas, goals and passions into reality.
While doing research and interviews for her MBA, Joanna Griffiths, Founder and CEO of Knix and Knixteen, saw an opportunity to improve women’s lives. Winner of the Start-Up Award at the 2018 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards, Joanna says she feels compelled to empower women to be unapologetically free. Purpose-driven, disruptive and passionate, Joanna and Knix are taking women’s underwear to a whole new level.
Joanna recently shared her journey — and what she’s got in store for the future of Knix.
Q: What motivated you to start designing, and redefining underwear?
Griffiths: When I was doing my MBA I was working on a research product, which involved interviewing hundreds of women. I discovered that when it came to intimates, women were looking for better products — and that the category was making them feel really bad about themselves.
I saw an opportunity to improve women’s lives and take my life on this planet and contribute in a big way. Eventually I passed a point of no return and became compelled by this desire to build something better for women.
Q: What should people know about Knix?
Griffiths: We are a women’s intimate apparel company that is reinventing products that give women the comfort and confidence to do whatever we want — to be unapologetically free. We have built our brand by showcasing phenomenal everyday women and sharing their stories.
Q: Has this been a calling?
Griffiths: This wasn’t always a passion of mine. Before this, I had a career in media, where I spent a lot of time making famous people more famous. But I took away a lot from that. I learned from that experience that every individual can have a voice, and that singular people can have a huge impact – regular people just like me.
Q: Early on you had success with crowd-funding and a big pre-order from Hudson’s Bay (HBC). How did you meet the demands at an early stage of your business?
Griffiths: I was not prepared at all. With that first campaign and distribution with HBC, I was really unprepared and had no idea what I got myself into. I had no idea how hard it was to create a business that serviced large-scale department stores. I made a million mistakes — I was in totally over my head. But again, that’s a common theme — I have felt that way at every new stage of growth.
But I don’t give up. I figure my way through it.
Q: Who supported you and helped you to succeed?
Griffiths: Kathryn From was my first investor in Knix, and she had a maternity bra company called Bravado. She’s been an amazing mentor.
But there have been so many people — even those who simply offer encouragement. I won The Disruptor award in Shopify’s Build a Bigger Business competition last year, as we are one of fastest growing companies on the platform. Harley (Finkelstein) has been a huge champion — he has talked about Knix during company wide presentations, and says he wants his daughter to have my photo in her room.
I feel really blessed — at every corner I have had amazing people champion us. To be honest, the list would be hundreds of people long.
Q: What is the best advice you received when starting your business?
Griffiths: The best advice I got was to attach yourself to a mission or cause that’s bigger than you, greater than you. Because anytime you have to fight for something or ask for something, you realize you’re not doing it for yourself, you’re doing it for the bigger mission.
In the beginning I wasn’t good at asking for things for myself. I came from a background of working in media and entertainment, and basically dedicating my working life to helping other people be successful.
With that in that mind, I made Knix a very mission-driven organization, which made it possible to keep going and not give up. It has also enabled us to recruit incredible people who share same mission and values, and to build both amazing brand loyalty and love from our customers.
Q: How have you been able to find and retain amazing employees?
Griffiths: Being a company that is purpose-driven really speaks to people. A lot of our employees started as customers — they followed our brand for a long time and love what we do.
Overall, though, it hasn’t been an easy road for us; when working for a company that’s growing quickly, what you need changes quickly. We went from very small, where people needed to be jacks-of-all-trades. Now we are a larger team and need great leaders, managers and subject-matter experts.
The kinds of people you need changes at different stages.
Q: How does diversity factor into your hiring process?
Griffiths: If you can introduce diversity in the beginning, it can be a more organic way of building your team. Once you start hiring people with diverse backgrounds and skill sets, they in turn hire people with diverse skill sets.
Back in 2015, the business wasn’t doing great. That was a bit of a wake up call. Once we started building a more diverse workforce, there was a definite trickle-down effect.
We also made the strategic decision to make sure we have some equally strong male voices and a good balance of men and working here. That was part of reason I wanted my husband to join the company.
Q: What is the single biggest challenge you have faced as a business owner?
Griffiths: That’s hard to answer because the challenges change all the time.
When you’re just getting started, you have no track record to convince people to work with you — so that was challenging. Once you get more established, everyone wants to work with you.
Q: Do you have any “If I could do it again …” stories?
Griffiths: I really under-estimated how much of a mental game it is, building a company. And how important self-awareness is. If I were to do it differently, I would have started working on those pieces earlier on.
When you start, you think you can do it all. You hold things close to your chest. You don’t know what you need so it’s hard to communicate. I wish I had been faster to admit my strengths and weaknesses in order to find the right people to offset them.
Q: Do you feel that as a woman you faced – or continue to face – unique or additional challenges when starting and running your business?
Griffiths: In the early days, trying to raise money was a challenge. Raising money from external investors tends to be male-dominated. Our first product line was female-specific, kind of taboo, and not super sexy to talk about. So getting buy in for that was challenging. Early on, I was told I had a ‘cute lifestyle business.’
Q: What advice do you have for business owners looking to raise capital?
Griffiths: You have to know your numbers and your business inside and out.
It’s also important to realize that there are many different kinds of capital out there, so understand the difference between bank financing, VC, group equity, angel investors and family equity — and choose the path best for you, that best lines up to your goals. All investors are different — they have different thresholds, tolerances and return expectations. That is the most important thing — you’ll never have a great partnership if your investor doesn’t align to your goals.
Q: What’s next for Knix?
Griffiths: We want to be a global brand — a brand that holds a very special place in the hearts and minds of customers. A brand that’s loved. We want to disrupt the whole category; there’s lots of room for continued innovation and room to establish ourselves. Every day we feel that we’re just getting started.
In November 2018, 23 women were recognized at the 2018 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards. These exceptional women, and their trail-blazing companies from a variety of industries, share a common goal — to be the best at what they do.
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