#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.
Toni Desrosiers, winner of the Trailblazer Award at the 2018 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards, is a trendsetter in every sense of the word. Founder and CEO of Abeego — a breathable, reusable beeswax food wrap — Desrosiers has found a way to disrupt the billion-dollar plastic food wrap industry. And has been doing so for over a decade.
Toni recently shared her journey — from nutritionist to manufacturer – and the passion that drives her to reduce food waste through innovation and invention.
Q: What motivated you to invent Abeego?
Desrosiers: We are on a mission to save food. 40 per cent of the food the average consumer takes into their home is wasted — and most often it’s because it’s been stored improperly.
I identified the need for Abeego through realizing that any time nature has ever wrapped our food, it’s been in a wrap that’s breathable – from a lemon peel to a cheese rind to an onion skin. Abeego is a reusable, breathable beeswax wrap that’s not airtight — rather it offers a protective barrier while letting food breathe.
Our number one story is how long an avocado can live in Abeego. People post photos of fresh 3-5 day old avocados by using Abeego. A rotting avocado is a thing of the past with Abeego.
Q: Who are some of the people who have supported you along the way? What have they done to help you succeed?
I am surrounded by incredible people — Colin, my husband, has been my number one cheerleader. For many years Colin worked by my side building Abeego into what it has become today. He bought into my crazy ideas, encouraged me to keep testing, and keep trying.
Also, my team is incredible. I recognize that people come into the world of Abeego with a lot of skepticism. It’s natural. When it comes to the people we hire — they’re willing to try it and see for themselves. They become huge advocates for the brand. It’s a team that rallies behind me and believes in my vision.
Q: How have you managed to put such a great team in place? What are your practices for hiring and retaining amazing people?
Desrosiers: I start by asking everybody the same question: What does “Keep Food Alive” mean to you?
This gives a bit of a sense of their relationship with food. Abeego is a food-centric business – we want the focus to be on food and the life of food. Knowing someone’s relationship with food helps us gauge cultural fit.
We have also developed a manifesto that is based on six guiding principles. We not only look at a person’s work experience but also at their personality and how they would fit within the guiding principles. Are they aligned to what we believe in? For me, it’s critical that people in the company believe in our vision.
Q: What is the best advice you ever received as you started your business?
Desrosiers: Simon Sinek’s Ted Talk, How great leaders inspire action showed me the importance of staying focused on the “why”. I had an opportunity to meet him and it re-instilled that approach – that you need to know why you’re doing business. Not just what or how you’re doing what you’re doing.
Q: Did you ever have moments when you thought this wasn’t going to work?
Desrosiers: I still have that thought regularly. It creeps in on an ongoing basis. There was never part of me that didn’t believe Abeego wasn’t going to work. But, I wasn’t sure if the market was going to be ready to accept it. I overcame this doubt by staying very focused on our brand messaging and on the customer who was willing and ready to accept it. We’re not trying to be something for everybody. We know who we are and who we’re for.
Q: You now sell in hundreds of stores in North America and online around the globe. How have you been able to grow your client base to where it is today?
Desrosiers: Honestly, our customers talk to their friends who talk to their friends. We do a lot of promotional things where we put Abeego in people’s hands — we’ve identified that Abeego is our best marketing tool.
We do a lot of promotional things where we put Abeego in people's hands — we've identified that Abeego is our best marketing tool.
Q: Anything you would have done differently?
Desrosiers: I would have hired a COO much sooner — someone who is action-oriented and able to put things into place. I am a visionary with wicked ideas, but I need that person who has the other part of the brain.
Q: So what role do you feel women entrepreneurs play in shaping the future of Canada and Canada’s economy?
Desrosiers: In early days of Abeego, my product was quite female focused. I sought out female partners — from leaders to designers — and surrounded myself with many women in professional roles to help me carry the business forward. That has made a big difference — I don’t come up with roadblocks from a vision perspective with strong women around me.
Q: When you accepted this award, you said that you, ‘Really wanted this one.’ Why?
Desrosiers: I just love the trailblazer word. In many cases female inventors are completely overlooked. We need to highlight the women inventors of the world — they have done incredible things. Did you know a woman invented the windshield wiper? No one knows that.
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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