November is National Entrepreneurship Month, a celebration of the Americans that, according to the proclamation, “combine passion, resilience, and ingenuity to solve hard problems and create products and businesses that improve our lives.” We can think of no better person who embodies these admirable qualities than Julie Eggers, our co-founder, and CFO.
Though she has been an integral part of Gardenuity since our inception, Julie’s business drive burned for many years before our founding. In fact, entrepreneurship is something that came naturally to Julie, by way of both of her parents. Her father started a company that manufactured windows for mobile homes, just as the popularity of mobile homes was on the rise.
“I always heard this story of him running the business and his partner running the marketing and sales,” Julie said. “He was honest with customers, so people enjoyed working with him.”
Her father passed the year after he sold his business, when Julie was 11 years old. Though the entrepreneur of her family was no longer with them, Julie credits her mother with inspiring the necessary skills for a career in innovation.
“My mother would ask how she could have helped me in business,” Julie said. “I told her that she did. She allowed me to figure out my world. When I started my first job, I didn’t have to ask someone ‘how do I do this?’, because I was used to figuring things out myself. My mother raised us to have a good work ethic and a business mindset. To be an entrepreneur, you have to be a jack-of-all-trades, and my mother prepared me for that.”
Armed with these essential insights from her parents, Julie began her journey in innovation very early on post-college.
“Technically, one could say that I had entrepreneurial aspirations as early as 21, even though I had a corporate job at Mobil Oil,” she said. “I had Caramel Corn by Julie–one handful is never enough!–and I sold it on the side while working full-time.”
Julie received her MBA from SMU before leaving her full-time job at Mobil. She then pioneered several business ventures, including SuspendHers, a device that helped keep pantyhose and mastectomy bras in place that “gave me great joy to provide to those who needed them.” She also had a cake business, born from a desire to provide her friends with meaningful birthday gifts. Forever the innovator, baking cakes provided her an outlet for creativity and invention.
“When I started making cakes, I realized that I had to have a better box to put them in,” Julie said. “So I went on a mission to figure that out. I realized it had to be upside down, I needed the cake to be in the lid, and they don’t make boxes that way. I started researching and figuring out the logistics of how to make that vision work, which is very much my way in entrepreneurship, and found a box maker and had them custom-made.”
This story is indicative of Julie’s passion, creativity, and stand-out logistical expertise. Even in speaking with Julie for a few minutes, it’s evident that her mind for problem-solving is outstanding, her skills inherent.
“I enjoy learning how to invent things,” she said. “I like figuring out the products, figuring out the business, and running the business.”
It is a mindset that she has embedded into the fabric of Gardenuity. When she and co-founder Donna Letier, her entrepreneurial collaborator for over fifteen years, first started the company, they knew that they wanted a product to “change the world.” Julie’s eye for efficiency and creative problem solving helped them fine-tune their mission, “to make gardens and gardening experiences accessible to everyone”.
“No one’s first idea is exactly right, it has to evolve,” she said. “As an entrepreneur, you have an idea, a problem you are trying to solve, but part of being an entrepreneur is refining the idea as you grow, reading the data, listening to the customers, always finding ways to improve upon the original idea. You have to be resilient and bring that irrepressible mindset to work every day. Donna and I are both improvers, we always want to make things better. She can make it better for the consumer and much ‘prettier’, I can make it more efficient. The basic principle of doing something that matters, that is good for the world, good for the planet, that is good for people–our basic mission and principles have stayed the same. But you always have to adapt and change.”
One thing many entrepreneurs don’t talk about is patience- it takes most companies time to get it right, to get their “secret sauce” perfect, to really establish roots- “patience with persistence”, is something Julie is practiced at. “Many of the companies in the news today are those who claim to be an overnight success- for entrepreneurs starting out, don’t let this discourage you. What they might not be telling you is the years they worked on their concept before it saw the light of day.”
“I have always looked at challenges as opportunities. Setbacks and pivots are common elements of entrepreneurship. While many see these as negative experiences, I have always seen them as opportunities. Each challenge reveals an opportunity to grow- either to fix a problem or to make sure to not repeat the same setback in the future.”
This mindset is part of who Julie is, she is smart, courageous, tenacious, and guided by an unwavering faith. “Entrepreneurship is multifaceted and demanding; there is always a reason to give up. I am fortunate to have an absolutely fearless business partner for whom giving up has never been an option and to have witnessed perseverance in my father and resiliency in my mother, and I have had unbridled support from my husband and kids.”
And though Julie is an entrepreneurial force unto her own, she is quick to credit others in helping her get to where she is today. Speaking with other successful business leaders is something she believes is critical to success in any industry.
“Donna and I are beneficiaries of the wise counsel of those who were willing to talk to us along the way,” she said. “There are plenty of people out there who will give you their insight. Be humble to the fact that they have something to teach you. And, before you leave, make sure you have the next person to talk to. Whether you are offering a service or developing a product, even if you don’t think someone is a fit for your business, they can lead you to someone who is.”
It doesn’t hurt to lead with kindness, either.
“At the end of the day, it’s about having a good attitude and being positive,” Julie said. “I say you get more bees with honey…If you burn bridges, you will burn everything. If you build bridges, the people to whom you have been kind and respectful will always work with you.”
For those looking to have their own entrepreneurial journeys, Julie’s advice is simple: work hard and be dedicated, have faith, trust in your purpose, and pray.
“Someone always told us that showing up is 90% of the game,” she said. “Part of our success is that we show up everyday, and we never give up.”