Last Updated on November 16, 2020
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About Jessie Lyon
My name is Jessie, I’m 32 years old and since 2014, I’ve been working with my business partner and boyfriend Case Bakker to grow Pokoloko, a give-back home and lifestyle brand based in Gatineau, Quebec. I was born and raised in downtown Ottawa, and left home at age 17 to attend Bishop’s University. After Bishop’s, I treeplanted in Northern Ontario and Alberta for two years, and in the off seasons, travelled extensively, without calling any one place home for more than 3 months at a time. I then landed an international development placement with Falls Brook Center, for which I was placed in rural Nicaragua with a grant to support the small communities there. With that grant I created Bici-Futuro, a bicycle rental company, with a group of local teenagers. When my contract ended, I returned home in search of a way to marry commerce with ethics, and met Case, who quickly become my boyfriend and Pokoloko business partner. After a couple of years of balancing part time jobs managing sponsorship portfolios for music festivals, as well as Pokoloko with Case, Case and I decided to both come on full time, and since then, it’s been an incredibly inspiring, and extremely challenging, experience guiding and growing a company that we are beyond grateful to say employs a core team of 10 in Canada, a team of 17 sales reps across North America, and over 100+ independent artisans worldwide. Other than business, my great loves are yoga, music (violin + voice), nature, and dreaming of where I could travel to next.
The Poko story starts in the back of a station wagon on its last legs. Jessie Lyon had come home to Ottawa, Canada from a year in Nicaragua where she helped a youth group start a bike rental service, and then she met Case Bakker. Case suggested they start their own conscious business selling blankets made by his Ecuadorian artisan friends Hector and Estella whom he met on a recent trip. With dreams of more adventure, and ways to give back, Jessie and Case filled Case’s stick-shift Volkswagon Jetta and sold all of Hector and Estella’s blankets to boutiques across the Ottawa Valley. Hector and Estella were living and working in a single-room concrete home in rural Ecuador with their parents and two young kids, and a way to sell more blankets meant a chance to improve their quality of life. That’s when Jessie and Case realized, these were more than just blankets. This was a way to celebrate the wanderlust lifestyle, bring global inspiration to people’s homes, and directly support the artisans behind the craft. They called it Pokoloko, from the Spanish saying “poco loco”, meaning “a little bit crazy”, which is what Hector called them when they returned to him with another order for 100 blankets. Pokoloko is more than just a saying, it’s a lifestyle all about living life to its fullest, enjoying life’s pleasures, and giving back to our local and global communities. To spread the Pokoloko spirit, Case, Jessie, Hector and Estella created blankets in more colors and patterns, to support the unique space of each person using them. What started as a dream in the back of Case’s car, has grown to over 1000 boutiques across North America in support of over 100 artisan families in South America, Turkey, Morocco, and Indonesia, who can count on steady income and healthy work environments thanks to the incredible support of the Pokoloko community. At Pokoloko, giving back is at the core of what we do. We’re always striving to do more for our makers, our Poko family, and the world we live in. We practice carbon neutral shipping, which means we plant trees for every shipment to offset our carbon footprint. Our growth over the years speaks to your support and the impact we’re making together, and we’re beyond grateful that you’re right there beside us.
How Did You Get Your First Several Customers Or Users? How Many Users Or Customers Do You Have Now?
We recruited our first customers the old school way. We filled Case’s car with blankets, hit the road to find local boutiques, and knocked on their doors to pitch our story and product. It wasn’t difficult to create relationships with the warm and welcoming small shop owners of the Ottawa Valley, and before long, we had 15 shop partners, then 50, then 100, etc. Currently, we work with over 1000 wholesale partners across North America, and have an active online shop.
How Does Your Company Grow And Acquire New Customers?
Our growth strategy is three-fold: 1. Wholesale via a wholesale marketing strategy, B2B trade shows, and a network of sales representatives. 2. Ecommerce via pokoloko.com, with a pre-planned marketing strategy involving ads, email, social, UX optimization, etc. 3. Brick and mortar showroom and B2C markets, at festivals, markets, and events, both in person and virtually. All of these channels work together to contribute to steady and healthy business growth and customer acquisition (at least so far) :).
What Actionable Tips And Tricks Do You Have For New Founders Who Are Looking To Get Their First Thousand Users Or Dollars?
- Decide what you want your life to be like, and build your company strategy around that. Do not work IN the business, but ON the business. Small business has a way of consuming your life if you let it, and it’s very difficult to break the routine if you do not start with a clear vision of how to avoid the mistake of work-life IMbalance. This has been my greatest personal challenge in my entrepreneurial journey.
- Don’t sweat the small stuff, and focus on the big picture, without forgetting that details matter. If you make a mistake, it’s not the end of the world, it’s an amazing opportunity to learn. Do not panic. Keep your eyes on the vision of the company that you believe in to your very core. But don’t forget, it’s mastering the details of business operations that will keep your customers returning. The easier it is to work with you, the more work will come your way.
- Honestly ask yourself, do you believe in your company vision? Are you gritty enough to stand for that vision even in the most challenging of circumstances? If you’re like me, believing in your mission, ad being true to yourself, is incredibly important personally and professionally. On those nights when you’re working with an impossible amount of looming deadlines, on those days when EVERYTHING is going wrong, in those moments when you realize your goals are not even close to being achieved — you will be asking yourself why, and you will need an answer to keep going. Never forget that answer.
- Evolve. The entrepreneurial journey is just that…a journey. There’s no definitive end, it’s always changing and requiring more of you, or something different of you. You have to make room for all kinds of personalities (including your own), in all kinds of different scenarios. Leave to go with the flow, without losing the expectations and standards you have for yourself and your business.
- Find partners that are good at what you are not good at. Ensure you have a solid accountant who you can trust to help guide you.
- Focus on one or two platforms / channels, and do them really well. Taking too many directions at once will get you no where.
- Be responsive and communicate well. People want to work with others who they can trust and rely on.
- Reach out and be brave. Don’t be afraid to pitch ideas, get creative, and follow up.
What Is Something You’ve Learned That Would Not Be Obvious To Somebody Who Hasn’t Worked In Your Space Before?
Your authentic story will be the thing that both grounds you personally, and sells you to your audience. Honor and nurture that in every way you can.
What’s The Craziest Thing That’s Happened To You (Good Or Bad) On Your Founder Journey?
The Covid-19 Pandemic. We went from having 1000 wholesale customers, to having 0 wholesale customers, in less than a week. Our entire operation shut down, and we realized that we needed to immediately shift to a new channel (e-commerce) immediately. Our entire work flow and life shifted in just a matter of days and suddenly, we were starting at the bottom after years of building.
What Are Your Favorite Books?
Non-fiction. Currently reading “Awareness” by Anthony de Mello.
Anything You’d Like To Plug?
- Scaling A Company Making Milions Via Instagram With Helen Hall
- Building AI Companies with Akshay Bansal
- Growing And Scaling An Ondemand Gig Business With Alok Alström
Book summaries, notes, interviews, and more!
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