ERIN CONDREN is one of those people who prove that you don’t need to fork up tons of dough for a pricey business school degree in order to create a successful business. What you simply can’t do without, though, is tenacity and drive and the courage to take chances. Before starting her stationary company, Erin Condren Design, this enterprising entrepreneur worked in a sewing factory and as a children’s video producer — in addition to being a mom. Everything came together in 2004, when a friend of Condren’s convinced her to start selling the note-cards that she created as a hobby for her and her friends, planting the seeds for the massive amount of success she enjoys today. Her company’s line of products has grown to include notebooks, calendars, personalized planners, stickers and possibly every item you could think of to fulfill your stationary needs. Lisa Frank who? Condren has joined forces with I AM THAT GIRL, an organization that helps young girls transform self-doubt in to self-love and seeks to end bullying, by creating special items for her collection that feature positive messages and compliments to help empower girls and encourage them to collaborate instead of compete. She spoke to Lady Clever about building her brand, her entrepreneurial spirit, and her collaboration with I AM THAT GIRL.
Your friend inspired you to start selling your designs. Can you tell us a little bit about how you got into making note-cards for friends in the first place?
I made the birth announcement for my twins when they were born in 2001 and designed our own Christmas Cards year after year. In 2004, a friend of mine encouraged me to create a book of “samples” and sell them at a friend’s home shopping party; from there, the website was born in 2005.
Obviously, you’re very creative, and you’ve alluded to your creativity in the jobs you held prior to starting your own business. Did you ever have doubts that you wouldn’t be able to build an entire brand and business on creativity?
I have always admired brand “empires,” especially those led by female fashion designers like Kate Spade [and] Vera Wang. There was no reason to think I couldn’t do this too, but experience and confidence aren’t created overnight.
Have you always had an entrepreneurial spirit, or did you come to the realization one day and have “Hey, I’m actually great at this!” moment?
I have always had the “spirit.” In college I created a line of jewelry that I sold on sorority row to help pay for my tuition to study abroad. After college, it was pottery at an art fair, I loved having a creative outlet!
When you first started your business, did you have a future vision for the company, or were you just taking it day by day?
In the beginning, it was definitely a day-by-day operation, but now we have to be more proactive and well-planned for long-term strategies.
You don’t have any traditional training in business. What has been the biggest learning curve for you?
Scalability has always been our biggest challenge, especially in the beginning. I started this business from my home office and now we are gaining more than 1,000 purchasing customers every couple days! My business partner and I have been layering in management roles and decision-makers that have helped our growing pains this year.
You’ve partnered with I AM THAT GIRL to encourage positivity and inspire future generations of women be who they are. Can you tell us about how this collaboration happened, and why it’s important for you to support this organization?
Last year, my daughter went through some difficult times in middle school and it brought back painful memories of my childhood. [Like] any mother, it was hard to watch my daughter suffer, and it also reminded me of situations that I might have perpetuated since I (like most young girls) didn’t have confidence to stand up for what was right.
What is one thing you’ve learned spending time with the young women you’ve worked with through I AM THAT GIRL?
It was a painful reminder that girls can be so competitive and cruel. Hearing their obstacles and “road blocks” in life, it’s incredible what these girls have overcome by surrounding themselves with a supportive young women.
What would you consider to be your biggest success?
I am so proud of my business and the people that continually contribute to it’s success. Although my name is the headliner, this is certainly not a one-(wo)man band! I work with the most talented and dedicated group of people and it is such a CHARGE to come to work everyday, as well as validating to see that our hard work can simplify, “stylize” and organize the lives of so many.
What is one piece of advice you’d offer female entrepreneurs?
There is no “luck” in a successful business. It is endless hours with a business that never sleeps. It really doesn’t get any easier as you grow, it’s just that the challenges change and new obstacles appear. I LOVE WHAT I DO, but it is very difficult to make that jump from having an “idea” as an entrepreneur to [becoming] a successful business person.
And lastly: what is your advice on building a successful career while still maintaining your personal life?
My motto has always been: “Let’s get it done so we can have some fun.” Developing a time management system is imperative to finding balance in a career and personal life, when I plan it out and do my best to stick to the “script.”
If we can be as successful as Condren, we will stick to any script (or notecard) she gives us.
For more information on I AM THAT GIRL, visit its website.