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The Barcode Podcast is presented by Titanium CPG Insurance. Titanium protects forward-thinking consumer brands with a range of commercial insurance products and risk management services designed specifically for natural and organic food and beverage companies. Learn more at titaniumcpg.com

Entrepreneurship starts with a problem to be solved. We often think that a product needs to be created to solve that problem, but that is not always the case.

In Jessica Honegger’s case, her company was created when she invited women into her home to create a marketplace for talented artisans in Uganda as she and her husband were raising money to grow their family through adoption. Jessica continued gathering women together to buy these beautiful handmade goods, and the business took off. Today, Noonday Collection creates economic opportunity for over 4,000 artisans living in vulnerable communities around the world – partnering with over 2000 social entrepreneurs across the US, who are able to earn an income and make an impact.

Listen in as Ben and Jessica discuss the challenges of growing a business in the US while partnering with their artisans overseas, the power of an integrated mission in growing your brand, how leaning into your strengths as you courageously address your weaknesses can help you grow, and how partnering with like-valued people is the best way to win in the marketplace.

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BEN                           The Barcode Podcast is presented by Titanium CPG Insurance. Titanium protects forward-thinking consumer brands with a range of commercial insurance products and risk management services designed specifically for natural and organic food and beverage companies. Learn more online at titaniumcpg.com.

Welcome to the Barcode Podcast where we equip emerging consumer brands. I’m your host Ben Ponder, and at Barcode we’re here to give our listeners the knowledge and tools you need to thrive in the marketplace. And it’s my pleasure today to welcome to the studio Jessica Honegger of Noonday Collection. Welcome Jessica.

JESSICA                  Thanks.

BEN                           So glad you’re here. We’re going to be talking about fashion, and mission, and design and integrating all of these things, teambuilding, we’re going to go in a lot of different directions. Before we do that, and again, you’ve been prepared for this, I want to hear about your favorite meal ever.

JESSICA                  That is a challenging question because there is nothing more that I love than to sit around the table and share a meal, but my husband and I started a tradition a couple of years ago, and every Valentine’s Day we have a lobster dinner with our kids.

BEN                           Nice.

JESSICA                  Which is pretty funny because we’re not from the East coast.

BEN                           Ok, so you have to source the lobster.

JESSICA                  You have to source the lobster.

BEN                           Right.

JESSICA                  And we get out the china.

BEN                           Okay.

JESSICA                  Because we got beautiful wedding china.

BEN                           That is often unused.

JESSICA                  It never gets used.

BEN                           Right.

JESSICA                  We get out champagne glasses and we’ll pour the sparkling grape juice for the kids.

BEN                           A useful time to actually practice some etiquette for the kids.

JESSICA                  It’s a little etiquette, but meals can go so quickly with kids. I mean, gosh, they scarf stuff down. I’ve got two boys. I mean, really meals can be about five minutes. You know?

BEN                           Absolutely. And they’re like, “Can I be excused? Thanks.” Yeah.

JESSICA                  But lobster requires some effort.

BEN                           That’s true.

JESSICA                  So I really appreciate meals that involve almost this inactivity.

BEN                           Right. Which is hard for a kid because especially if it’s something you have to wait for, that’s also really difficult.

JESSICA                  It teaches a lot of things.

BEN                           Yeah.

JESSICA                  And it teaches kind of hunting.

BEN                           Right.

JESSICA                  It’s messy.

BEN                           You have to work for these bites.

JESSICA                  You have to work for it.

BEN                           Uh-huh (affirmative).

JESSICA                  It’s this juxtaposition of this beautiful china and beautiful champagne flutes with this kind of gritty, get in there, get that lobster out.

BEN                           Right. I love it. It’s very primal in that way.

JESSICA                  It’s very primal.

BEN                           Do the kids help at all with the preparation? Do they think they’re helping?

JESSICA                  Well you know Ben, that actually reckons me back to the time that we started this tradition.

BEN                           Okay.

JESSICA                  It did involve some tears.

BEN                           Oh, yeah.

JESSICA                  Because live lobsters.

BEN                           Oh yeah, yeah.

JESSICA                  That you then put into a boiling pot of water.

BEN                           Yeah, that’s really tough.

JESSICA                  So there might’ve been a family member that was a little bit disturbed by that.

BEN                           Yeah and you can’t always predict that either.

JESSICA                  Mm-hmm (affirmative).

BEN                           I have a kid who’s very sensitive to that. They could watch a war movie and if there’s a dog suffering in the war movie, that’s the thing that sends him over the edge.

JESSICA                  Yeah.

BEN                           So yeah, sometimes you forget.

JESSICA                  We forgot a little bit because we hunt in our family, we fish, so it was a little bit like, “Really a lobster?”

BEN                           Right.

JESSICA                  “This is what’s going to seal the deal for you.”

BEN                           The crustacean.

JESSICA                  Yeah.

BEN                           It was Little Mermaid.

JESSICA                  That’s what they think it was. But you know what? This person recovered and we are all on board. We’re all a lobster loving family.

BEN                           Oh, that’s really good stuff.

JESSICA                  In fact, I was planning a trip. I travel a lot for work and my husband was like, “Babe, you can’t be gone on that day next year because I mean, that’s our Valentine’s lobster family dinner.”

BEN                           That’s awesome.

JESSICA                  I was like, “Well, this a well-established tradition. Wow.”

BEN                           So when your kids are older, this will be really interesting because they might have significant others who they’re bringing.

JESSICA                  It’s true.

BEN                           And it’s kind of a tryout in front of the whole family.

JESSICA                  They’ll have to pass the lobster test.

BEN                           That’s right. Yeah, do you know how to crack the lobster?

JESSICA                  Or do you even like Lobster?

BEN                           Do you like lobster, that’s right.

JESSICA                  I mean, gosh.

BEN                           Is it just straight lobster? Do you have a set menu that goes with the lobster?

JESSICA                  Yeah.

BEN                           And are there any desserts?

JESSICA                  We tend to just do strawberries covered in chocolate.

BEN                           It’s red themed.

JESSICA                  It’s very red.

BEN                           Everything is red.

JESSICA                  It is like all-in Valentine’s. Even the china that we pull out is pink.

BEN                           Perfect.

JESSICA                  Yep. So, we go all-in, we’ve got roses, we’ve got champagne, and then everyone writes each other cards.

BEN                           Oh, so that’s really good because you’re really trying to make a moment and a memory and that’s really crucial with your kids and kind of building those family together memories.

JESSICA                  Yeah. it’s awesome.

BEN                           That’s a really great tradition.

JESSICA                  It’s fun.

BEN                           I love it. We need to figure out some derivation of that for our kids. That’s a really good idea, so thank you for sharing that.

JESSICA                  Well, and then you don’t have to deal with all the like, “What do you do for Valentine’s?” And it’s such a weird holiday.

BEN                           It is.

JESSICA                  So now we just we made it our own.

BEN                           That’s a great idea. I love it. Thank you for sharing that.

JESSICA                  Mm-hmm (affirmative).

BEN                           Okay, so let’s transition. We’re going to talk about Noonday Collection and we’re not going to do the typical long version of things, but I do want to make sure just to level set; because again it’s an awesome story. It’s an awesome company. And I don’t like to presume that everybody who’s listening is familiar with every brand that we’re talking about because that may not be the case.

So tell us the genesis, and I know for you that obviously you created the company to solve your own personal problem, right?

JESSICA                  Mm-hmm (affirmative).

BEN                           So give us a little bit of the backstory and then we’re going to dive into some different parts of that.

JESSICA                  Yeah, absolutely.

So, Noonday Collection, we are a socially responsible fashion brand and we are creating economic opportunity for artisans that live in vulnerable communities around the world that have often been outside of the typical marketplace, that haven’t had access to the typical marketplace, and we create a marketplace for their really beautiful handmade goods. And we do that through social entrepreneurs across America, women that we call Noonday Collection ambassadors, and these are the women that are earning an income while also making an impact. And it’s a well-established business now.

BEN                           How many years ago?

JESSICA                  We are nine years in.

BEN                           Okay.

JESSICA                  Nine years in, we have about 60 Austin employees, 2000 Noonday ambassadors around the country and 4,000 artisans around the world. And it’s this beautiful ecosystem of relationships and of really empowering one another and leaning into one another during the good times and the bad.

BEN                           That’s awesome.

JESSICA                  Yeah, it’s a dream, but it did start from a challenge.

BEN                           Right.

JESSICA                  A really challenging time in my husband and I’s life where we had been previously flipping houses in real estate and, AKA Chip and Joanna Gaines.

BEN                           That’s right. That’s right.

JESSICA                  Oh yeah.

BEN                           Uh-huh (affirmative).

JESSICA                  And the recession hit.

BEN                           Yeah.

JESSICA                  And we had decided to adopt internationally. We had two kids the old-fashioned way but wanted to grow our family through adoption. And we began the process, which is expensive. And when we began the process, we had a little bit of a nest egg and we thought, “Okay, that’s going to pay for the international adoption process,” but a few months in the recession hit, we began living off fumes, couldn’t close any of our deals. Suddenly that little nest egg was paying for the groceries, but we didn’t want to let a financial obstacle prevent us from growing our family through where we really felt like what we were supposed to do.

BEN                           Right.

JESSICA                  And I mean, we’d already even identified a child, and so I knew I needed to start some sort of side hustle.

BEN                           It wasn’t theory. You were already there.

JESSICA                  We were there. I knew I needed to start something, and previously my husband and I had visited Uganda a few months before the recession hit, and some friends of ours that we knew through an organization we used to work for called Food for the Hungry International, they were living in Uganda to create entrepreneurial opportunities for Ugandans. Everything from bug repellent systems, to maybe just a one-man plumber shop.

BEN                           Yeah.

JESSICA                  And one of those businesses that they had a lot of vision for was an artisan business because they had met this talented young couple Jalia and Daniel who were talented, smart, but extremely poor and just didn’t have access to a marketplace.

BEN                           Yeah.

JESSICA                  And on that trip to Uganda, they had said, “Jessica, would you sell some of these items? Would you ever think about starting a marketplace for them?” And I laughed them off.

BEN                           Hmm.

JESSICA                  In my head I was like, “Are you kidding me? My plate’s full.”

BEN                           Yeah.

JESSICA                  “I’m doing real estate. I’ve got two kids; I’ve got another one on the way.” But fast forward, and I felt like courage really cornered me.

BEN                           Yeah.

JESSICA                  I mean, who wants to be broke? I mean, no one. That was just a really desperate time for us filled with a lot of anxiety. I remember specifically this one deal that was supposed to close, and it was going to be what we were going to live off of for three or four months. And I mean, it wasn’t that much money anyway that we were going to get. And I remember my husband calling me and saying, “She decided not to buy the house because she’s worried about the economy.”

BEN                           And that was a hard time for just about everybody, but certainly real estate was particularly hard hit. I think it’s important to pause for a second and just acknowledge that. I feel like sometimes people think that entrepreneurs always, like you had an idea and you had extra money lying around and that sort of thing. And “Yeah, I’ll just do my idea,” but more often than not, it’s somebody who’s solving a particular problem that you’re facing and it’s not always out of abundance. Sometimes it’s out of scarcity, but there’s nothing that motivates you like that kind of hunger or desperation.

JESSICA                  Mm-hmm (affirmative).

BEN                           You’re like, “No, I have to do this, and I don’t have another way to get there.” And that’s the thing that can kind of drive you through some really difficult times.

JESSICA                  Yeah, I think actually limited resources and boundaries promotes even more creativity.

BEN                           Yeah.

JESSICA                  Because you’re solving a problem always with a certain amount of resources that you have available. I see this all the time with the artisans that we work with. I’ll travel to Guatemala and they’re using little combs as ways to set up small weaving contraptions to weave some of the accessories that we purchase from them, or they’re using a corn husk for their spool of thread. And I just see that sometimes it’s that when you’re in that place of feeling limited, that you actually are able to be even more creative.

BEN                           I think that’s a great point. Like there’s a scrappiness there for sure, but it also has an unlikely benefit. The flip side is the paradox of choice where you have infinite possibilities. What if you don’t have infinite possibilities? It actually forces you to make decisions faster because instead of this theoretical, “Oh, I could do a thousand different things,” you look and you go, “Well, I have a comb on the floor and I have something else, and I need to solve a problem.”

JESSICA                  Right.

BEN                           “So let’s just do something.”

JESSICA                  “Let’s just do it.”

BEN                           Yeah.

JESSICA                  So, that was definitely the spirit. I think it was after I got that phone call, I remember thinking, “Oh my gosh, we really don’t have any money,” and we didn’t feel like stopping our adoption process. And I recalled that conversation that I’d had just a few months prior in Uganda and I texted my friends and I said, “Can I sell that product after all?”

BEN                           Yeah.

JESSICA                  And I went, and it was just sitting in storage, all of this product. So, they were trying to solve this problem around economic empowerment for some of the Ugandans they were working with, and they spotted this talented Ugandan couple that made beautiful things, but they hadn’t thought through the marketplace part, which is often the most challenging part.

BEN                           That’s right.

JESSICA                  Is creating a brand that people are attracted to and they want to purchase. So, I dusted off the goods and I invited a bunch of women into my home thinking it was just going to be maybe a one-night fundraiser.

BEN                           Mm-hmm (affirmative).

JESSICA                  But-

BEN                           Did you have a label for that at the time? And again, now we think that’s a trunk show, right? But was that a thing, or did you feel like you’re just winging all of this?

JESSICA                  I definitely was winging that night. I was also selling my grandma’s dishes.

BEN                           Yeah.

JESSICA                  I was selling my clothes. If you want to buy it-

BEN                           Name your price.

JESSICA                  You could buy it that night.

BEN                           That’s right.

JESSICA                  Yeah, you could have it for sure. Yet we were still trying to make it as Realtors.

BEN                           Right.

JESSICA                  And so I remember that the day arrived where I’d invited all these women in my home and suddenly I was thinking, “This is the dumbest idea ever because I’m going to be perceived as desperate, as a failure, people are going to question how we’re growing our family and if we can’t even afford to adopt, then why are we actually even considering a third child?”

BEN                           That’s a really vulnerable place.

JESSICA                  It was very vulnerable, and I wanted to call it all off. I thought, “You know what? Never mind, scratch this.” And that’s really when I learned what courage was. I had always equated courage with Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks and these amazing heroes.

BEN                           Right.

JESSICA                  I would have never used the word courage to describe myself.

BEN                           Yeah.

JESSICA                  But what I realized is that courage was being afraid and just going ahead anyway. So, I was ultimately afraid of what other people were going to think.

BEN                           Yeah.

JESSICA                  But was I going to let that stop me from getting these initial funds that could help fund our adoption? So, I didn’t cancel.

BEN                           And that’s awesome. And by the way, a little interjection here, Martin Luther King actually talks about, he got nervous every time he stood up to speak.

JESSICA                  He did, yes.

BEN                           Right? And that’s part of it.

JESSICA                  It is.

BEN                           You just keep going.

JESSICA                  Yes. There are some people who maybe aren’t that afraid, but I think we assume that leaders are successful people that never get afraid, and that’s just not true.

BEN                           That’s not true for almost everybody, yeah.

JESSICA                  It’s not true.

BEN                           Yeah.

JESSICA                  So I think what leaders and successful people have done is learn to make fear their friend. That night was the beginning of my relationship with fear, my new relationship with fear where I realized I can make this my friend.

BEN                           Channel it a little bit.

JESSICA                  I can channel it, yeah. So, I didn’t call it off and so many people came, and they loved the product. There was this one necklace that sold out and I had friends say, “Well, I would love to get more of that.” So, it really was the next day when I woke up and I thought, “You know what? There is a hole in the marketplace in this model of direct sales. So many friends had tried to talk me into selling for their direct sales company.”

BEN                           Right.

JESSICA                  And it had never appealed to me simply because I didn’t just love the product and maybe I didn’t see the purpose behind it. So, I just thought, “I bet there’s other women out there like me who would love to open their homes or host a party with a purpose.”

So pretty much I texted my friends back in Uganda and I said, “Can I get more product?” And they said, “Yes, we’ll get you in touch with Jalia and Daniel.” Jalia and Daniel didn’t have a computer at the time. They were house-sitting people’s homes. I mean, they didn’t have a home. They had two kids that weren’t in school. They were extremely poor, and come to find out later, they didn’t really know what to do. I was asking them to make these certain necklace styles and they had no idea how to do it and they didn’t tell me that. They were like, “Yeah, absolutely. We’ll deliver you 20 necklaces next week.”

BEN                           That’s right. They weren’t even sure what you were asking for.

JESSICA                  No. But they are so entrepreneurial.

And they’re going to make it happen. So, we really grew one another’s businesses. Nine years later, Jalia and Daniel now have a hundred full-time employees and would definitely get voted best place to work in Uganda. They have a daycare and a scholarship program and celebrate people’s birthdays who have never had birthday parties before, and it all started really from feeling desperate and afraid, but not letting that hold us back.

BEN                           That’s really cool. That’s a great story and great lesson.

So you have the first party and then you say, “All right, I think this kind of worked, and I think I want to do this. I’m going to have a second party.” Did you invite the same people to the second party, or how did you make the switch from, “I’m just trying to do this one time,” to, “What if this actually were a business? How would I structure that? Am I calling the same people? Am I calling a couple of the same people and a lot of new people?” How did you think through that at that time?

JESSICA                  I didn’t really think much. I just started getting on the phone and asking people if they would open up their homes and invite their friends over because that night at my house was just maybe my circle of friends.

BEN                           Right.

JESSICA                  But these other women, they have their own circle of friends.

BEN                           Mm-hmm (affirmative).

JESSICA                  So I just started asking women and I thought, “You know what? Remember that necklace you loved? I’ll get you that necklace for free as a thank you.” So, there was a little bit of an incentive for them.

BEN                           Right.

JESSICA                  They could get some free product, invite their friends over. I’m still amazed and so humbled though that women actually did it because it was a scrappy thing. And you know, obviously we’re in Austin and I just am so grateful to have burst company in this town. I think that is what did launch it into such rapid success because women are using their purchasing power for good. And so that was not just an absolute foreign concept to them.

BEN                           And there’s an openness to new things here. That’s really important.

JESSICA                  There’s an openness to new things and newness, and people weren’t just stuck on brands or having to carry around a Louis Vuitton, you know?

BEN                           Mm-hmm (affirmative).

JESSICA                  People were like, “Oh, it’s made of seeds. That’s interesting. Cool. I want that.”

BEN                           That’s right.

JESSICA                  You know?

BEN                           Yeah.

JESSICA                  So really, women were so open and receptive and wanting to open their homes. And then once I started going into other women’s homes, then I would invite people that I didn’t know at their houses.

BEN                           Right.

JESSICA                  “Well, hey, would you have a circle of friends? Would you like to gather up some people?” And women just were really wanted to do it. I mean, not everyone.

BEN                           Right.

JESSICA                  We started the whole podcast with this idea of a good meal and you know, we’re going to recall a good meal, not because of the food.

BEN                           It’s the conversations, the connection, yeah.

JESSICA                  It’s the conversation, it’s the experience and people are looking for experiences. Experiences are what change you. Experiences are what you remember, and stories are what you remember.

BEN                           Mm-hmm (affirmative).

JESSICA                  And so I was gathering people around product, but also around story.

BEN                           Right.

JESSICA                  I mean, getting to share this connection with Jalia and Daniel, “Let me tell you their story and they’re in Uganda, and they’re trying to make it. And let me tell you about this little boy in Rwanda that we’re wanting to adopt, and you’re helping with that.” And so, I think that this idea to harness gathering, to harness purchasing power, to harness just something bigger and beyond ourselves, all while making fun jewelry. It was a very potent combination that I had never come across before.

BEN                           And it seemed like it worked well enough, even in those early days, that you weren’t tempted to say, “Well, I should probably go open a Ten Thousand Villages store down the street.” You know, kind of a retail outlet. You knew pretty early on that there was something powerful about these connections.

JESSICA                  It’s powerful to gather and it’s powerful to story tell.

BEN                           Mm-hmm (affirmative).

JESSICA                  And if you just see a product in anthropology, you’re going to pick it up, but you might never understand the story behind it. Whereas, in these Noonday gatherings, you get to story tell and really help people understand the power that they have, the power they have to influence their community, by saying, “Hey, invite your friends over.” It really helps them be the solution to the problem, and it helps people see there is a problem in the world.

BEN                           Yeah.

JESSICA                  There are people that are in these really vulnerable situations where unemployment rate is upwards of 60 and 80% in places like Uganda, Haiti and Guatemala. And so first of all, you’re painting a picture of this problem and then you’re letting the customer be the hero, that they get to be the solution to that problem in a really fun way. “Oh, darn, I have to wear those earrings, that’s a bummer.”

BEN                           Yeah, it’s a fun hero.

JESSICA                  Yeah.

BEN                           That’s really cool.

BEN                           So how did you know when Noonday was becoming more than just a little side hustle? What were the indicators to you that like, “I could find myself doing this all the time”?

JESSICA                  Yeah, I was kind of doing it all the time, even just from the get-go because I just run fast, really hard and fast.

BEN                           Yeah. Once the switch was flipped in your mind-

JESSICA                  The switch was flipped.

BEN                           Like, “What real estate? I don’t even remember.”

JESSICA                  Yeah, I wasn’t stopping and being really deliberate, but I would say when I realized it wasn’t a side hustle anymore is when I committed to partnering with a business partner.

BEN                           Mm-hmm (affirmative).

JESSICA                  And so after about nine months in, other women said, “Can I be a part of this?” And I said, “Yes, let’s come up with a compensation plan.” So, I quickly began to multiply myself. So other women, women in Seattle, someone in Nashville, they started their own Noonday Collection businesses by doing the same thing, inviting their friends over and then their friends inviting them over.

BEN                           And did you picture that from the very first day, or did that just kind of happen organically? Did people come to you saying, “Could I do this in my town?”

JESSICA                  You know, I did picture the potential of multiplying myself pretty quickly from the beginning because I thought if this is working for me and I know there’s other women out there like me, then this could work for someone else in another geography. And so, even in building the website, which I went and pawned my grandma’s gold jewelry. I had that first initial party and then woke up the next day and realized, “You know what? I think I can keep doing this.” And I had a little bit of a business background. Obviously, having worked in real estate, we already had a corporation set up, and so I just kind of filed the new name and doing business as with the tax office in town, and then I started importing product, which actually wasn’t a big deal either, DHL and FedEx. A lot of people are like, “How did you figure out customs and all of that?”

BEN                           Right.

JESSICA                  And I’m like, “I don’t know, But the product came to me.”

BEN                           That’s right, yeah.

JESSICA                  And then I did realize that I built a website that could scale. I mean, it couldn’t scale that far.

BEN                           Of course.

JESSICA                  So that was it.

BEN                           Yeah, but it was a good starter.

JESSICA                  It was a good start. So, it had that affiliate possibility so that other people could just latch on and get all their sales through their own customer base. So that part, honestly, the beginning part, felt very clear to me. It was the scaling operationally especially where I was stuck. We had PayPal, but PayPal wasn’t talking to the shipping. I would go wait in line at the post office with boxes and boxes of jewelry for them to mail.

BEN                           Right.

JESSICA                  I was getting really evil eyes at the US Post Office.

BEN                           Oh sure, yeah.

JESSICA                  Like, “Ugh, it’s her again.”

BEN                           You’re the problem. That’s right, yeah, uh-huh (affirmative).

JESSICA                  I mean the whole thing was so laborious and I don’t love operations. I don’t love building systems, and that’s where I was getting stuck.

BEN                           How long had you been doing that when you started discovering that stuckness?

JESSICA                  Probably 10 months.

BEN                           Okay.

JESSICA                  Because at this point, I’ve multiplied myself, I have a few ambassadors at this point, I’m still going out and doing trunk shows myself.

BEN                           Mm-hmm (affirmative).

JESSICA                  And then I’m coming home and I’m handwriting labels, shipping labels and inefficiencies drive me crazy.

BEN                           Right.

JESSICA                  They really do. I just am not always the right one to figure out how to make a system more efficient.

BEN                           Yeah.

JESSICA                  So at that point I thought, “Okay, I could get an angel investor.” I thought an angel investor was an angel.

BEN                           Like just a do-gooder.

JESSICA                  I seriously thought, “Okay, maybe someone could just write me a check for 60k.”

BEN                           Wouldn’t that be awesome?

JESSICA                  That’d be so nice.

BEN                           Uh-huh (affirmative), yeah. Thank you.

JESSICA                  I thought that’s what an angel investor was.

BEN                           I’ll give you a hug. I’ll give you a hug of thanks.

JESSICA                  Yeah.

BEN                           And it turns out they’re not that angelic.

JESSICA                  They kind of want something in return.

BEN                           That’s right.

JESSICA                  I have a little a prayer request sheet that says, “Angel investor, 60k.” To this day, it sits on my office desk.

BEN                           That’s awesome.

JESSICA                  Then I just began to talk to different folks. And one of the guys that I reached out to was someone named Travis Wilson, who I think is a friend of yours.

BEN                           Mm-hmm (affirmative).

JESSICA                  And he and I had met previously in Africa. Joe and I had been visiting Africa and he was running a microfinance bank in Africa.

BEN                           So you were mission-aligned from the start?

JESSICA                  From the get-go, mission aligned. Also, had been mission-aligned with my husband. He and I had met doing Food for the Hungry, where we were really wanting to serve the poor. That’s what we wanted to do with our lives.

BEN                           Yeah.

JESSICA                  So that has always just been critical from the beginning, that mission alignment. I knew that Travis and I were mission-aligned, and I kind of was reaching out to him more for help. We exchanged children, so I would go watch his kids and then his wife would come watch mine in order to save on babysitters.

BEN                           Yeah.

JESSICA                  So one night I was at his house while he and his wife were out on a date and I saw this big stack of Excel spreadsheets on his dining table and I was like, “Wow, I don’t know what that is. That looks good.”

BEN                           That looks very organized.

JESSICA                  That looks organized. There was like a budget plan.

BEN                           Systematic. Yeah, uh-huh (affirmative).

JESSICA                  I was like, “Whoa! I need to get together with Travis.” And like, “What does he do??”

BEN                           Right?

JESSICA                  “I don’t know what he does for a living, but it looks organized and systematic.”

BEN                           It’s so foreign to me.

JESSICA                  Yeah.

BEN                           Uh-huh (affirmative).

JESSICA                  I just reached out to him and were mission-aligned. He had never heard of this direct sales model. Which honestly, is a pretty old model. 1940s, I think. Tupperware was the first company to start.

BEN                           Right.

JESSICA                  And really its roots are in empowering women, which is really cool. It’s one of the first job opportunities that got women out of their home in this way that that was culturally appropriate.

BEN                           Right.

JESSICA                  So this trunk show model, this ambassador model, and then social impact, and we would just get together in the early mornings before he went off to his nine to five, and he just started asking me really good questions. You know, “What’s keeping you up at night?” And, “Is this a nonprofit? Is it for prep?” Just all those kinds of things.

BEN                           And as you two talk through those things, what at that point was keeping you up at night? And then had you thought through some of those nonprofit, for-profit things? Where was your mind at that moment as you guys were kind of charting the course for what it would become?

JESSICA                  You know, I had a lot of clarity around what it was in that first year, and it’s scaled, but the heart of it actually hasn’t changed.

BEN                           Mm-hmm (affirmative).

JESSICA                  So it’s truly about empowering women here. Because I had lived overseas, my husband and I had met through Food for the Hungry and I experienced a lot of purpose and passion. Then when we moved back to America, we both floundered for a while and real estate was fine, but it wasn’t to me – meeting some larger purpose in my life. And I really lived with a lot of angst, had some depression, just felt disconnected from my purpose. So now with Noonday, suddenly I was on fire with my purpose and I’m like, “Man, I know there’s other people out there that would love to be connected to this purpose, and that need an income, and that need flexibility.”

BEN                           Right.

JESSICA                  Because I had two littles at home, all of those were problems that Noonday was solving for people like me. Moms, young kids, needed income, needed purpose. And then Travis had an operational background. He had his MBA, and then also had done a small stint at Amazon and had worked in finance. He’s extremely, extremely brilliant around being fiscally responsible.

BEN                           Yeah.

JESSICA                  And P&L, I hadn’t really done a P&L. I was like, “I’m selling, I’m selling.”

BEN                           I try to sell it for more than I bought it for.

JESSICA                  That was my basic math, which honestly will get you far in this life. Because the Ubers of the world aren’t following kind of basic fiscal elementals, you know?

BEN                           That’s exactly true. It’s one thing I love about product businesses.

JESSICA                  It’s true.

BEN                           It’s baked into the business model.

JESSICA                  It is baked into the business model.

BEN                           Yeah.

JESSICA                  So I knew, I’m selling like crazy, and I was being very fiscally conservative. I was buying inventory every week at this point, so it wasn’t even investing much, but a lot of my pain points were around these efficiencies. And I’m like, “This isn’t scalable to me to stand in the line at the post office.”

BEN                           Right.

JESSICA                  And I didn’t want to run finance. My husband was getting up at four in the morning to help. I mean, he is a very detailed-oriented guy, so he really was a founder in that first year.

BEN                           Yeah.

JESSICA                  I mean, he was doing the operational things, but he’s also trying to make it as a Realtor. Anyway, it was a very stressful time. So after about probably three times of meeting together, Travis says, “Hey, I’ve been saving up, my wife and I our whole life, we have this nest egg in hopes that someday I could run a business, or start a business and I’m interested in being your business partner, and I’d be ready to live salary free. We’ve got enough for about 14 to 18 months.”

BEN                           “You want to give it a go?”

JESSICA                  “And you want give it a go?” And that scared me to death.

BEN                           Because then it wasn’t just you.

JESSICA                  No. Someone was willing to empty their life savings on this idea.

BEN                           Yeah.

JESSICA                  And this belief that this was going to be more than just a side gig.

BEN                           Right.

JESSICA                  And so that’s when I had to really get serious.

BEN                           How did you process that?

JESSICA                  Ugh, it was really stressful. And we met with a guy who did something called The Birkman, which was kind of like a personality profile just to kind of evaluate if we would be good business partners, and this guy was so amazing. So, we both completed this evaluation and it’s kind of complex, so it definitely needs a mediator to explain it.

BEN                           Right.

JESSICA                  So we were going that day to meet with him to explain it all. And that morning I just had this sense of, “Is this the work? Is this my life work? Is this really what I’m meant to step into?” And basically that day when we were meeting with him, I had written something down in my journal that morning and he quoted the exact quote to me that I had quoted in my journal that morning and said, “This is the work that you’re meant to do, that God’s prepared in advance for you to do.” So that kind of had my attention.

BEN                           Yeah.

JESSICA                  And I just realized… He said, “Jessica, you’ll take risks, but you want to know that they’re going to be 100% successful.”

BEN                           Okay, yeah.

JESSICA                  I’m like, “That’s an oxymoron. Is that a risk?” And so, I think I just had to let go and just embrace that I can’t 100% predict the outcome.

BEN                           Right.

JESSICA                  I don’t 100% know how this is going to go. And I had to just surrender the responsibility I felt for the salary for Travis and his family. And that was a lot of my fear. I really didn’t have a feel of failure at the beginning.

BEN                           Right.

JESSICA                  I didn’t have time to think about it.

BEN                           Because it was just you.

JESSICA                  It was me.

BEN                           You’re go, go, go, and it’s like, “Well if I screw up it hurts me, hurts my family.”

JESSICA                  Hurts my reputation a little bit.

BEN                           Yeah. There aren’t other people depending on me in this way, yeah.

JESSICA                  So when someone linked their success to my success, which is interesting because Jalia and Daniel had already done that. They had linked their success to my success, and in a sense, I had linked to my success to their success.

BEN                           Sure.

JESSICA                  Because if they couldn’t deliver, then I would have unhappy customers.

BEN                           That’s right.

JESSICA                  So this whole idea of linked success and linked prosperity is what’s really helped me to move forward in scaling the business because when it’s not just about you. You have stakeholders and you’re leaning into one another, there is an accountability that just builds in. And I think entrepreneurs are known as starters and that we like to fly the coop when things get hard or unfigureoutable, or whatever.

BEN                           Yeah.

JESSICA                  And I have definitely had those urges over the years.

BEN                           Because as you grow, again, when you haven’t done it, you think when we get bigger it’s going to be easier because I’ll have more money.

JESSICA                  That is what you think. That has been my lesson this year, what I’ve been determined to let go of this year, is that there is no point of arrival.

BEN                           No.

JESSICA                  That is the biggest myth that just stumps me. It keeps me from living in the present because I have believed there is a silver bullet that we’re finally going to press.

BEN                           Right.

JESSICA                  And that silver bullet will create, I don’t know, billions of dollars of success.

BEN                           Right, yeah.

JESSICA                  Whatever I’m defining success as. And then I will have arrived at this point of success where then blank, I don’t know what. I don’t know what I tie to that myth that there’s a point of arrival. I even had this moment yesterday where, because Kendra Scott is another Austin company that has scaled to be –

BEN                           Tremendous success.

JESSICA                  … a huge, huge billion-dollar valuation.

BEN                           Right.

JESSICA                  And I had this realization, I thought, “You know what? Kendra Scott woke up this morning, I bet she had a lot of stresses.”

BEN                           Yeah.

JESSICA                  I bet that she was stressed out about, “How are we going to grow this next year? What’s our strategic growth plan? ” You know? And it just brought me a little solace.

BEN                           Yeah. Because there’s a lot of zeros, there’s even more people dependent on what you’re doing.

JESSICA                  Yeah, yeah, there are.

BEN                           And you never get past that.

JESSICA                  You never really get to escape that. So, this year for me has been about settling in for the journey and realizing that maybe the destination is the journey.

BEN                           Right.

JESSICA                  And I need to quit going after some destination that I think will then lead me to a life of no stress, and glory, and unicorns, and rainbows.

BEN                           Right. Yeah, the grass is always greener, around the corner, next to you and that sort of thing.

JESSICA                  Yeah.

BEN                           Well, so I think that was really cool. You obviously recognized in Travis a personality and a set of skills and gifts that you felt like were complimentary to your own, that would unlock your ability to do what you do really well. So, do you feel like, at that point, were you self-aware enough that you knew how you needed to be focusing your time based on what you’re really good at?

JESSICA                  I knew where I needed to not focus my time.

BEN                           Right, like “Get me out of Excel and out of QuickBooks. ” Yeah.

JESSICA                  Yes. That’s always been more clear to me, like, “Okay, I know I don’t like doing that. And that could ultimately lead to the failure of the company.”

BEN                           Right, right, yeah.

JESSICA                  He really had that foresight to scale our operations. I remember in the early days, I think our first really big investment was in our accounting software, NetSuite. It was like a $40,000.

BEN                           It’s expensive.

JESSICA                  It was. And we weren’t paying ourselves a salary yet. As a marketing and salesperson, I’m like, “Are you kidding me? You know what I could do with that?”

BEN                           That’s right.

JESSICA                  And yet, to this day, we still run everything off of NetSuite. Now it talks to our shipping, we’ve been able to scale.

BEN                           You built out the infrastructure in anticipation of the growth because if you hadn’t done that, you would’ve grown and it would have been really, really painful to try to build systems, kind of build the plane while you’re flying.

JESSICA                  Yes, I even, I met with an entrepreneur at NetSuite yesterday and I mean, she’s had her business for a few years and she’s just now figuring out her P&L and getting her books in order. And she’s like, “I just realized I owe taxes that I haven’t been paying.”

BEN                           Yeah

JESSICA                  She’s like, “I just had to write a $20,000 check.”

BEN                           Yeah, the government’s not cool with that.

JESSICA                  Yeah, uh-uh (negative), that’s not going to fly over here in the good old USA. It flies in some of the other places where we are, but not the USA.

BEN                           That’s right.

JESSICA                  So anyway, I think that all of those things I knew I valued as important. I just didn’t want to have to be the one to figure that out.

BEN                           That’s really cool. So in those early days, you recognized that in order to realize the vision that you had very clearly from the early days of Noonday, that you needed Travis and his skills and his vision for how to build out the infrastructure that would  get you to that mountaintop.

Now, once he came on board and you’re now able to focus on some slightly different things, how did that, in that moment, in the growth trajectory of Noonday, how did you begin to utilize your time? At that point, were you starting to take trips to visit artisans? Were you starting to say, “We need to develop new artisan partners, and how do we find these people?”

JESSICA                  Yeah, definitely sourcing for sure. So, I did, I started to travel more, and I took my first trip to Guatemala after Travis came on to go and find weavers.

BEN                           And how do you find them? Would you just go to a village and say, “Hey, who’s the best Weaver here”?

JESSICA                  I did do that. I had lived in Guatemala before. There is another woman who been a consultant with us and her whole career has been in artisan goods. So, she had a few names of people for me to call when I arrived at Guatemala. But it was pretty crazy. I mean, I arrived and then kind of started calling a couple of people that she’d gave me their numbers. And this one woman I found Ana, had a little store and a village that you had to take a bus and then a boat, and then it tuk-tuk to, to get to.

BEN                           Nice.

JESSICA                  And I loved her things and met her and followed up on the other side. Now she’s actually built a whole workshop and she’s employing like 45 women in her community. So yes, scaling that and then ambassador training, so sales training. I was doing a lot of the training, writing, training, here’s how to get other women to gather, here’s how to find other ambassadors.

BEN                           And were you interviewing a lot of those ambassadors to say kind of like, “What’s working for you?” How are you discovering the right way to build that program? Was it all gut?

JESSICA                  The first, at least year and a half, I interviewed ambassadors to see if they could even join. So, they had to create a whole style board because I wanted to see if they could style.

BEN                           You weren’t just taking anybody off the street?

JESSICA                  I wasn’t.

BEN                           You were choosing.

JESSICA                  I was interviewing and that led to this, but then during the interview process I would say, “Listen, this is sink or swim. I’m really not going to do anything for you. Can you just go be a go-getter?”

BEN                           “I’m really engaged right now and I’m going to be doing some other stuff.”

JESSICA                  Yeah.

BEN                           Yeah.

JESSICA                  Yeah. I mean, it was part of the interview process; describe a time where you’ve been a pioneer and are you a pioneer? So, I really leaned into that entrepreneurial spirit and attracted some amazing entrepreneurial women that were really purpose-driven.

BEN                           Well and that’s hugely important though that you recognize that because if you’re busy building your business and doing a lot of other things, you weren’t going to be around, certainly if they were spread out geographically, you weren’t going to be around to babysit and handhold.

JESSICA                  There was not handholding.

BEN                           And so you needed to find the people who could kind of maintain motivation, even in your absence.

JESSICA                  Yeah. So, they were those kinds of outliers. Because now we’ve grown so big and thankfully, we attract a wide variety of women. And we have our outliers that can, “Just leave me alone. I’m going to go do my thing,” but now we do a lot more handholding.

We have a lot more systems set up and that’s really gratifying. I mean, I got a card this week from a husband of an ambassador and he said, “I don’t know you, but I just need you to know what I’ve seen in my wife, since she has started this business two years ago, she’s a different person. She’s found her passion. She’s been able to help our family. Thank you so much for starting this.”

BEN                           That’s really cool.

JESSICA                  And that’s super humbling.

BEN                           Yeah, that’s awesome.

BEN                           Now, one thing that you do that I think is probably, and again I don’t pretend to be an expert at this, but I assume is pretty unique, is that you are actually working collaboratively with your artisan partners on the design end of things, right? So, it’s not that you just have people here in the U.S. who are sketching things and then you’re just sending it off to a factory and say, “Make this and make a lot of it.”

JESSICA                  Mm-hmm (affirmative).

BEN                           That’s not really the model that you guys have followed. How do you kind of do that collaborative, creative process together and across a lot of different cultures and other boundaries?

JESSICA                  It’s been really fun just to see how the artisans have evolved over time because at the beginning when I would talk about our spring fashion season and our fall fashion season, I mean, a lot of these countries don’t have falls.

BEN                           Right.

JESSICA                  Guatemala’s known as the Land of Eternal Spring.

BEN                           That’s right.

JESSICA                  So they’re like, “What are you talking about?” And how colors change and trends. And so now we have a really refined process where we have a kickoff, where our designers do send trend boards, and color stories, and just some initial ideas. Then artisans will then send ideas back to us like, “Well, here’s this new technique that we tried,” or, “Here’s a new material that we’ve discovered, or a combination of materials.” And then that kind of gives us some initial ideas. And then we do begin to design and then we will send sketches over to our artisan partners. Then they will kind of take those as an input and they might change something based on a skillset that they have, or on a better material that they think is available, or a lot of times artisans now will actually just send us items that they’ve designed and say, “Hey, will any of these fit into your upcoming buys?” Which that used to never happen.

BEN                           Yeah.

JESSICA                  But now they have this skillset.

BEN                           They have the confidence too, yeah.

JESSICA                  They do. So it is, it’s a collaborative process and it’s been extremely gratifying to see how much they’ve grown in their own being able to design for a western marketplace.

BEN                           How did you I guess sort of develop the Noonday style? Obviously, the falls and it changes with the seasons and the years, but certainly you also want to have a coherence across collections, even though they’re made in all these different geographies and cultures. And I can see Macy was wearing a Noonday necklace and my wife Amy was like, “Oh, is that a Noonday necklace?” She knew it, she recognized it. And so how do you think about that? Because you don’t have a big Noonday logo.

JESSICA                  Right.

BEN                           But there’s a certain style that you’ve created that has a lot of variation. How do you do that?

JESSICA                  Well, I do think that the materials and the handmade nature of our products sets the style in that way where there’s something organic about the materials that we work with, and handmade means we’re imperfect by design, and that means there’s going to be variations. One necklace might not be exactly like the next necklace, and working with natural materials like horn, or paper, or seeds, or up cycled artillery. So, in that way I know I struggle with this because it doesn’t always look cohesive to me.

BEN                           Right, right.

JESSICA                  Because with Jewelry companies, it’s usually like, “Here’s our standard color of gold that we’re using. Here’s our standard class.”

BEN                           Right.

JESSICA                  I mean everything is so standardized.

BEN                           Well, you think about a couple of other Austin area companies, James Avery and Kendra Scott, have a very distinctive style. Right?

JESSICA                  Very, yes. And you know, their clasps are going to be the same, and their earring backs are going to be the same.

BEN                           Right.

JESSICA                  But we’re getting from people all over the world. And so, there isn’t that, but I would say our style really is, it’s handmade and it’s for the woman who isn’t afraid to take a risk and who wants to be globally connected. There is often a little bit of a global element to our pieces, but I would say just there’s something soulful. It’s a soulful style.

BEN                           Yeah, that’s really good.

BEN                           So on the global connection front, you had mentioned earlier that you’re really passionate about storytelling, and so you and your team have done a really good job of telling stories and those stories are of your artisan partners and the workers there. There are stories of ambassadors and that sort of thing.

BEN                           How do you decide, “I’m going to go on a trip?” Again, you’re busy, you’re a mom, you’re running a company. How do you do all that? How do you go to Uganda, or Indonesia, or wherever you’ve got to go to develop these relationships, tell these stories, bring people along, how does that work?

JESSICA                  Yeah. Well, we have a product team now that one of our production managers used to live in Rwanda and we have our VP of product, Philippina. So, we have a global team that is now working with our artisan partners and helping them to scale their businesses, making sure their P&L is in a good place, all the things that we’re committed to as a fair-trade business, as a B Corp.

BEN                           Right.

JESSICA                  We actually finance when we place our purchase orders, and since I know this is a consumer goods crowd that listens to the podcast.

BEN                           Yeah, yeah, absolutely.

JESSICA                  We’ll pay at least 50% upon placement of the PO.

BEN                           Up front.

JESSICA                  Up front, so that the artisans have money to purchase raw materials.

BEN                           That’s right.

JESSICA                  You know, all of these things.

BEN                           Because in many of these countries, they may not have access to lending institutions that are viable, right?

JESSICA                  No. Oh gosh.

BEN                           Yeah.

JESSICA                  Or they’re like 38% interest.

BEN                           That’s right.

JESSICA                  I mean, it’s crazy.

BEN                           Right.

JESSICA                  So in a sense we’re a microbank to our artisan partners. And we have a commitment to long-term partnership and that is what makes us different than maybe if you’re shopping traditional retail and you see, “Oh look that’s made in Rwanda,” but you might never see that again at that store.

BEN                           Right.

JESSICA                  Whereas we’re committed to growing partnerships over time. That really acts as a constraint to us because we are always looking to balance that supply chain, but we’re a market-driven company, but we’re always trying to balance impact with the market. So, we always know that we need some fun pieces. Like Vogue today, just put our really cool, chic wrapping paper on their website today.

BEN                           Yeah.

JESSICA                  But the wrapping paper hasn’t been the bestseller at a trunk show because wrapping paper is harder to sell. It’s a weird size in a trunk show gathering.

BEN                           Right.

JESSICA                  It’s just not really what you expect. But we know we have to have those things that are going to be editorial that might not be huge unit drivers, but we want our huge unit drivers to be balanced among all of our artisan partners.

BEN                           Right.

JESSICA                  So if we have a strong editorial piece, we know we’re not going to be able to buy much, that’s not going to make much of an impact, then we want to make sure that that group then has a strong unit driver.

BEN                           Right? Because if your goal is to make an impact in all these communities you have to have a reliable supply of goods, and you can’t have a reliable supply of goods if your artisan partners are out of business. Right?

JESSICA                  Right.

BEN                           And then moreover, you can only make so big of an impact. If you buy a million units from somebody today and you say, “Well, I’m never going to order anything else.” Right?

JESSICA                  Right.

BEN                           Then you can’t actually have a viable business in that way because then they’re just going to evaporate.

JESSICA                  Yeah, and I mean I’ve even, being out in the field, heard of these stories where maybe a big retailer does place some unheard of order with an artisan business and they will go and build a new workshop and do all of this work to scale just so that they can actually fulfill that order and then they never see the order again.

BEN                           Yeah. And that can happen, honestly, that happens in almost every consumer-packaged goods sector.

JESSICA                  Oh, really?

BEN                           Yeah. Like with food and beverage and things like that.

JESSICA                  Right because you’re sourcing from people.

BEN                           That’s right. Yeah, and you say, “Oh, I got into this big retailer.” That’s very exciting, but if they only order one time, then that actually didn’t help you very much.

JESSICA                  Right.

BEN                           Or, if there’s a lot of lumpiness in that, as well.

JESSICA                  Right. So, consistency obviously is what we provide our artisan partners. Consistency, consistent orders.

BEN                           I’ve seen your impact journal that you publish on your website. You’re actually taking pride in the duration of your relationships with these artisan partners, right?

JESSICA                  We are.

BEN                           That you’re like, “Hey, we’ve been working with these people consistently for five years, six years, nine years.”

JESSICA                  Yeah. I’m really proud of that, and again, that also is just this lesson I’m learning of, it’s about the journey, not the destination, and really partnering with people over a long period of time, and our partnerships are so strong. And of course, we’ve gone through lean times and of course we’ve over inventoried and ordered too much of this, or we thought something was going to be a bestseller and it wasn’t.

BEN                           Right.

JESSICA                  And so then we’re sitting on it.

BEN                           Because you can’t always predict it right.

JESSICA                  Yeah. It’s an art, not a science. I mean, there’s certainly a lot more science to it than I realized.

BEN                           That’s right.

JESSICA                  Actually, one of our first hires was an inventory planner and it’s funny because Travis and I don’t have a retail background. He did a small internship with Amazon, but we hired this consultant from the very beginning, which was another crazy story where a photographer was sharing an office with us, and I was like, “Oh, I need a merchandising consultant.”

BEN                           Yeah.

JESSICA                  And this photographer was like, “I have a friend who’s a merchandising consultant.” I was like, “Oh, that’s a thing?”

BEN                           That’s a thing? I didn’t know that was a thing.

JESSICA                  And so we hired this consultant and she said, “You have to hire an inventory planner.” So that was one of our first hires. We didn’t even know that was a job. Like, “Really? There’s someone all day who’s just planning out inventory?”

BEN                           Yeah, you couldn’t even compute that. You’re like, “What?”

JESSICA                  No. Now we have two, we actually have two and a half inventory planners now and that was a crucial decision that we made that was so good.

BEN                           Because otherwise you would’ve just been stuck with a lot of things, or you would’ve been out of stock in all kinds of things.

JESSICA                  Yeah.

BEN                           And missed opportunities.

JESSICA                  Missed opportunities. So, it’s interesting how it can be a scientific process to predict the future of what people are going to buy, but it’s not a 100% foolproof.

BEN                           No, not at all.

JESSICA                  Yeah, so it’s challenging. And when we have buys… I don’t know if consumer packaged goods, if you have these buy meetings where it’s like, “Okay, we are now deciding on our inventory for the next season.”

BEN                           Sure.

JESSICA                  And I’m sure you do these taste tests, and all of those things.

BEN                           Right.

JESSICA                  So we have these big meetings and it’s not like a typical buy meeting where you go in and you’re like, “I think that’s going to sell. Love that color. That’s a great fit.” But it’s like, “Okay, well who makes this? Okay, well if we’re going to buy this from Uganda, then that’s going to be a high unit driver. Let’s look at Guatemala now.”

BEN                           Right.

JESSICA                  “And scarves are down trending. Okay, well scarves are down trend in Guatemala. Well, what else can we get them to make, aside from scarves, so that they can have a consistent order?”

BEN                           Right.

JESSICA                  It’s a lot of problem solving.

BEN                           That’s super tricky. Yeah.

JESSICA                  It is.

BEN                           Now, one of the impetus behind a lot of fair trade and things like that were back in the ’90s and early 2000s when all these new stories would come out about sweatshops and stuff like that. And then you’re partnering with this global network of artisan partners and I think there’s maybe a caricature of these Americans kind of swoop in and have their photo ops and give high-fives to people. How do you make sure that you’re developing genuine collaborative relationships that are truly empowering for women and workers even when you’re not there?

JESSICA                  Right. I mean we do have internal audits that we do, and we have a shared understanding of what are four, or five principles of fair trade are, how we operate with our artisan business partners. And we have them do surveys, and we visit at least once a month. Someone on our product team is out visiting. But again, I think it is about that longevity, and I think when you’re working with people over time, you’re able to really see the integrity, and it’s really making sure there’s integrity at the top because especially in so many of the countries where we work, it’s that leadership that’s been a missing gap oftentimes, where it’s expected that leaders would exploit or not pay on time. So, it’s not like we have these outside auditors coming in to constantly audit us, even though we are a part of the Fair-Trade Federation and the B Corporation, but it really is having a shared understanding of values and of mission with the leaders at the top.

BEN                           But these cultural norms can be different, right? So, there’s certain cultures where bribery is not, it’s not poo-pooed it, it’s expected. Right?

JESSICA                  Mm-hmm (affirmative).

BEN                           And so you’re having to navigate a lot of really complex intercultural issues when you’re working across the globe.

JESSICA                  Yeah, we are, we are. It is never a dull day at work.

BEN                           A l0t 0f our listeners are in their early-ish stages of growing their own brands and companies and things like that. If you could transport yourself back to the early days, kind of in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure time machine, what’s some of the advice that you would give to younger Jessica? Because again, the journey happens for all kinds of reasons that you say, “Hey, really focus on this and ignore that.”

JESSICA                  Definitely. As much as I knew what my weaknesses were and I quickly latched onto a business partner who could compensate for that, I still failed to walk in a lot of confidence and what I did have to bring. So, I think I spent more time feeling like I should shore up these other areas instead of really just finding that sweet spot. I think we talk a lot about scaling operations, but there’s also scaling our mindsets as you grow and being able to have that growth mindset and being able to understand that you’re going to make some mistakes along the way. That was really hard for me. I just wanted it to be like you press the button and you take off.

BEN                           Yeah.

JESSICA                  Do you feel like it was unique to you, like I’m more of a perfectionist, or do you feel like that’s a common struggle for a lot of the women that you’re close to where you feel like it’s on your shoulders,  you’ve got to do it all and you’ve got to do it well?

JESSICA                  You know, I can’t speak for all women. I can say that The Atlantic did a study at HP that when women were applying for a promotion, they felt like they had to be 100% competent before they applied. Whereas men-

BEN                           The men didn’t care.

JESSICA                  … it was like 40% were like, “Oh, I’m just going to go for it.”

BEN                           That’s right. “I’ll just wing it.”

JESSICA                  “I’ll just wing it.” So, there is a sense where women just haven’t really stepped into the fullness of our confidence and we can get stuck in comparison.

BEN                           Right.

JESSICA                  But you know, comparing our weaknesses to our strengths, comparing to one another. So, I did spend some energy in those first few years around a mindset that I wish if I could go back in time, it robbed me of a lot of the joy and a lot of the good things that were happening along the way. And then I was raising a young family at the time and still am. And so just the whole idea that I could be a good CEO and be a good mom, that I didn’t really embrace that truth until maybe three- or four-years in. So, I know that, that just robbed me of presence.

BEN                           What was the mindset shift that allowed you to imagine a world where you could be a great CEO and a great mom?

JESSICA                  I realized I had this formula that was perfect parenting and perfect kids, that’s not actually real.

BEN                           Yeah, it doesn’t work so well.

JESSICA                  It doesn’t. First of all, there is no perfect parenting. You’re going to screw it up.

BEN                           Or a perfect kid, yeah.

JESSICA                  And no matter what good a job you can do, your kids could still end up in jail at age 30.

BEN                           Right.

JESSICA                  So I think it was just letting go. It was letting go and it was realizing I could influence an outcome, but I couldn’t absolutely control an outcome.

BEN                           Yeah.

JESSICA                  So I could just do the best I can with what I have and love and bring presence, and that there could be paradox. I used to, when I’d go off to fashion events in New York, and I wouldn’t want to tell people I was from Texas.

BEN                           Ah.

JESSICA                  Because I’m like, “Well, fashion people come from LA.”

BEN                           That’s right.

JESSICA                  “They don’t come from Austin.”

BEN                           Yeah, I’m kind of country.

JESSICA                  Yeah, country. I’m country. So, there’s this whole idea, just embracing and being fully confident.

BEN                           Your identity too, yeah.

JESSICA                  In all the different parts of my life, that I could wear lipstick and statement earrings at a CEO event that might be primarily men.

BEN                           Right.

JESSICA                  And I could be from Texas when I am going and meeting with the Vogue editor like I did last month.

BEN                           Right.

JESSICA                  And I can now always show up at my kid’s soccer game because you’re there to coach my kids’ soccer, which is awesome.

BEN                           That’s right, that’s right.

JESSICA                  Because I have to travel, but that doesn’t make me a bad mom.

BEN                           Right.

JESSICA                  So it’s like reconciling all these different facets of my life and realizing that they weren’t contradictory.

BEN                           Right, and that you’re modeling certain things for your kids too, in the same way that you hope that they will discover their passions and pursue them, that we have our passions and pursue those too.

JESSICA                  Absolutely.

BEN                           That’s really cool.

BEN                           So what does success look like for you and for Noonday at this point? Theoretically, it could just kind of, keep going and going and going and you never reach the summit. There’s always another summit. How are you present in that?

JESSICA                  We do have an audacious vision to build a flourishing world where women are empowered and where children are cherished and where people have dignified jobs and where we are all connected. We define flourishing where humans can be fully able to express their humanness. And I think often when you think about social impact, we often talk about the poor in terms of getting them to this baseline like, “Oh, they can send their kids to school now, or they have a safe place to live.” Flourishing is a child graduating from high school and you have enough to be able to throw a graduation party.

Flourishing is a husband being able to buy his wife an anniversary gift, which Jalia and Daniel, finally Daniel was able to buy a gift for his wife on her anniversary two years into their business. These are the moments that create humanness for people, and there is still so much flourishing that we want to see happen even among our current business partners. And then there’s honestly so many people that are still stuck in unemployment. There are people stuck in human trafficking. And our mission of really being able to create economic opportunity in vulnerable places, I mean we haven’t even scratched the surface.

BEN                           Sure.

JESSICA                  And we really aren’t a household brand yet. And when I think about women across America, I mean, there’s only 2000 Noonday Collection ambassadors. And I got that note this week from this husband who said, “I wish you could know how much this has changed my wife.”

Last week I was at a Noonday trunk show, at a Noonday gathering and I was there to support this ambassador and her best friend pulled me aside and said, “She’s come alive. She’s finally found herself since starting as a Noonday Collection ambassador.” And that idea that we can connect people to their purpose while helping them earn an income and it creates freedom for them, it creates freedom for people living in these vulnerable communities. That is our mission, and we want to scale that in a way that we just, we haven’t yet hit that place of scale.

BEN                           Yeah, scale, scale.

JESSICA                  Scale, scale.

BEN                           Not just scale.

JESSICA                  Yeah, we’ve scaled, but I’m talking about scale, scale.

BEN                           That’s right.

JESSICA                  I want Kendra Scott scale.

BEN                           Yeah, absolutely. And once you get to that, there’s always more scale, right?

JESSICA                  And maybe there will be, but because of our mission, we have the infrastructure, we have the culture, we have the brand, and that’s what we want to see happen.

BEN                           Yeah, that’s really powerful. And I think that clearly, you’ve integrated the mission. I think for a lot of brands they say, “Well, I need to have a mission because I read somewhere in a book or a blog post that, that’s a thing that a brand should do. And so, does that mean I need to give some money to a nonprofit or something like that?”

Obviously for you, it’s woven into the very fabric, no pun intended, of the business, and it’s at a micro scale, right? So, you’re present with your ambassadors, and your partners and the workers there, but then there’s this broader vision of how do we enable flourishing across these communities, not just in Texas, or in Seattle or wherever it is, but in villages in Guatemala and other places?

JESSICA                  Yeah.

BEN                           So I think that one part of your story, Jessica, that’s really powerful is how you, and again, I appreciate your honesty and candor and vulnerability around fear because I think that we hear a lot of stories and a lot of successful entrepreneurs like yourself, and we assume that they’ve conquered it, right? And certainly, you want to channel it and conquer it in some ways, but it stays with you, you carry it with you. And I feel like the way these moments in your story along the way, where you were able to recognize the fear and then address it and channel it in ways that were positive and productive and ultimately, led you to bring on a business partner, and led you to do some things maybe differently than you would have done if you were acting out of fear.

Like with bullies where you assume like, “Oh, somebody’s a bully,” and so you’re like, “No, they’re a bully because they’ve been hurt,” or, “They’re a bully because they are afraid,” or whatever the thing is. Like when we’re comfortable in our own skin as a human, as a woman or a man, as a business leader, whatever those things are, as a Texan who wears makeup to meetings, or whatever, the thing is then we can kind of operate. First of all, you see things more clearly and then you can operate in your strengths in ways that end up being very powerful and productive, not just for yourself, but for your family and for your employees and your partners.

JESSICA                  Yeah.

BEN                           So I want to thank you again. I think you’ve given me and our listening audience a tremendous amount to think about, to chew on about kind of your concept of linked success and that it’s not just about you being successful as a business, if your partners aren’t successful, then it really limits your success, and if your ambassadors aren’t successful, then how successful really were you? And are you causing this broader, not just financial success, but flourishing in these moments and opportunities? And I think that that whatever our listeners business is or projects, or wherever they’re at, there’s always some interesting ways to translate that to their own context and their own journey. I appreciate you giving us all of that great food for thought.

JESSICA                  Absolutely.

BEN                           So just as we wrap up here, I just want to remind our listeners that if you want to learn more, please visit barcodestartup.com/podcast. You can read the show notes there and we’ll have links to any people and companies that we mentioned in our conversation today.

And again a reminder, please share rate and review the Barcode Podcast so that your friends and your co-workers and colleagues can learn alongside you from these powerful stories like Jessica’s. So, thanks again for listening to the Barcode Podcast and we’ll see you next week.

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