I was born in Morocco to a Jewish mother and Catholic German father and raised in Algeria. Living through this contrast from the outset gave me the strength and courage to go after what I wanted in life.
In 1997, seven years after immigrating to Canada with my four children, I decided to launch my own beauty and wellness business. I’d invented an exfoliating glove called the Renaissance that I thought was a breakthrough product. I went to all the banks. I was well-prepared and I thought I knew it all. But at every bank, the answer was the same: No.
More than two decades later, millions of the gloves have been sold worldwide and I’ve expanded my business to include a range of cosmetics, treatments for cellulite, burns and acne, and a test laboratory.
But the road to success was not easy. Here are four key lessons I learned along the way.
Lesson #1: You can’t do it alone
In 2012, I was one of the “dragons” on the Quebec TV show, Dans l’œil du dragon. I didn’t really know what I was getting into and I asked myself, “Me? Giving advice to entrepreneurs?” In the end, I loved it because, like its sister shows in English-speaking Canada and the U.S., Dans l’œil du dragon shed a new light on entrepreneurs, including the sacrifices and concessions they had to make to overcome challenges along the way.
Whether you’re a startup, a growing business or large company looking to sell internationally, you can’t do it alone. You need good partners. I emphasize the word good because you’ll need many partners to succeed.
For 10 years, EDC has been and still is my partner. I also have my bank—RBC that I’ve been with for 18 years—my accountants and tax experts. But even when EDC couldn’t be a direct partner, it provided sound guidance, advice, services and programs because EDC is more than one thing.
Choose partners who share your values because you’ll be going on a long journey together. By remaining transparent with them, these partners will know your strengths and weaknesses, and they’ll stand by you. That’s how true partners interact.
Lesson #2: Success can be fleeting
It’s false to think that success, once achieved, is permanent. I tell entrepreneurs, be like squirrels: When you’ve accumulated or achieved good things, put some aside because when tougher times set in, you’ll be able to tap into those resources. And not just financial resources, but human ones, too. Be prepared because they’ll always be challenges.
As entrepreneurs, we’re so passionate that we want to do it all right away. Be patient. Take things step by step. Listen to others. Choose the right collaborators—and by that I don’t mean someone with deep pockets. I mean someone who can impart knowledge, with whom you can exchange ideas, who inspires confidence.
You’re going to stumble and fall—not just once, but many times. You need the determination to get back up. You also need to believe in yourself; self-confidence—not to be confused with arrogance—from deep within that helps you believe that “my life, my passion is to be an entrepreneur. I don’t want to be or do anything else.”
Lesson #3: Work-life balance
Balance is critical. At 62 years old with four children and six grandchildren, my own balance—my life mantra—is my family. This is what gives me my strength, and that’s the message I want to pass along to every entrepreneur. Latch on to what defines you and take responsibility for the choices you make because in the end, you’re the one who decides. Being happy is what matters most.
Lesson #4: Nothing ventured; nothing gained
You can’t be an entrepreneur if you don’t tread into the unknown and take chances. Don’t shy away from areas that differ from your usual niches—exploring different ideas and ways of doing business can be tremendously enriching.
Exporting is also about taking risks, but those risks can be managed with help from EDC and other partners. First, get to know the target country, its cultural or language differences and what’s going on there—that’s where EDC can help. Talk to companies who work in the same market to find out what challenges they face and how to tackle or overcome them.
Bottom line: Dare to export at the scale that suits you and be proud of who you are. Canadians are admired around the world for our values, excellent products and social consciousness. We fight for human rights. We fight for the environment. We fight for justice.