Culture, mentors & sustainability: the right mix of ideas and execution

HerStory is a series of conversations with some of the best women in tech, in all areas of business and at all levels. They share their stories on their career path, lessons learned and points of success and failure. Hope they inspire, resonate and help you on your own journey.

Today we’re speaking with Sarah Landstreet engineer turned entrepreneur. Sarah believes deeply in supporting her team through idea generation and hands-on involvement (hence her stint on the factory floor), educating her customers, and the irreplaceable, cathartic feeling of writing out a list with a pen and paper.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I am an ideas person. Whether I’m faced with a business challenge or a creative one, I can generate multiple ideas on my own and take action quickly. That’s why I appreciate commutes on trains and planes. If I have to go to Toronto from Kitchener, I won’t drive, I’ll take the train. When I’m travelling, I will get on a plane and for 8 hours I will write to process my ideas. By the time my commute or flight is done, I’ve made decisions I’m confident in and I have a plan to turn those concepts into reality. It’s about using the time you can find wisely and not hesitating to take that first step.

How do you as a founder work with your people?

I work closely with different teams here. I can offer insights on how to have tough conversations - break bad news or gain some traction with buy-in from clients. I add a lot of value to negotiations with prospects or suppliers. If the design or marketing team needs an opinion, I can come up with new ideas or creative solutions. I am trying to foster an environment where people will come to me for that little bit extra. I’m here for them to pitch ideas to. I’m very resourceful and good at fixing problems on the spot.

One thing we do that I think is different from other startups in our ecosystem is that we try to get a lot in during the day. We don’t have a culture of people staying late. I don’t believe that’s productive. I don’t believe you can get things done at 2am; you’re probably just watching YouTube. We have a very packed day here. We work very fast and hard, and at the end of the day, I want to go home. I want my team to go home and come back refreshed and ready to go the next day.

What habits have you developed to help keep you productive?

I have to oversee HR, legal, sales, finance, marketing, creative, and production all at a high level. I have to switch gears frequently which is tough for me. As a result, I really believe in planning out your day the night before. For me, this could be writing out the 50 businesses I plan to get in touch with or the top ten things I need to get through.

I don’t believe that your day should be dictated by the people who felt like writing an email to you last night. When you open that inbox, it’s hard not to be reactive to that. You feel obligated to respond right away. But that might not be the smartest or most efficient way for me to spend my day. I have to focus on my list of priorities for the day. I encourage my staff to do the same so they can feel focused, not frazzled. I want them to think about the end result of their actions. 

I think email can be the worst, and instant messaging often appears to just be random messages or people confirming things they already know. The founder of Zara just talks to people in small groups. I’m interested in playing with different formats for effective communication in the office; but of course, I can’t just stand up and yell out an announcement or a process change (though I wish I could!).

What are the trends in business that you find exciting?

There are two things that I’m watching and really thinking about: data analytics and influencers.

I find all of the marketing through analytics slightly nefarious. I feel you lose the human factor. “Business Sarah” thinks wow, this is cool and efficient. “Business Sarah with a conscious” finds it worrisome and taking things too far. I believe that good intent and good business practices can exist hand-in-hand. It’s up to you as a person to make that distinction and that connection. Analytics is a game changing trend for sure.

Influencers fascinate me. I love how competitive Instagram is. You have all of these individuals with different interests and styles. They’re doing something very artistic, and they are able to carve out their own space. Influencers are getting the attention of big stodgy brands that know they need something new and flashy. They reach out to these individuals with a huge following because they offer something unique. It’s a significant shift in market trends: disruptive but accepted by the mainstream. This is something we work with our customers on: how they can enable their customers to market for them with our packaging. You need to give your customers something to market with; your brand needs to be attention grabbing, photogenic even. People want to take photos and share it. It’s an incredible opportunity to leverage social marketing.

Were you mentored and do you consider yourself a mentor at the workplace?

I’m a big believer in the ongoing positive impact of mentors. I have two, one who is an accountant and one who is a sales mentor. I also look to other founders for mentorship and guidance, and in fact I run a monthly female founders meeting. If you haven’t made a habit of connecting with a mentor it can be new and hard; but I do love having that opinion, advice, and sounding board. I would very much love to have a mentorship program in the office. Right now, our one-on-ones do offer coaching, development, and support but I think it would be very cool to implement an official program.

Tell us something about yourself or the way you run your business that some might consider controversial?

It’s hard. I want to be more controversial and sometimes our very existence can be. We are part of an industry that produces a lot of waste and I’m aware that paper production uses a lot of energy. But, we aren’t here to tell people to stop using mugs. Rather, if you are using paper cups, make it worthwhile through marketing your business and putting art out there. I think it’s important to remember that it takes more work to manufacture paper cups or boxes which generates jobs. I can be in this industry and care about the environment. I want to educate my customers and present options on how to make your business more sustainable starting with encouraging our clients to use 100% recycled materials, not just recyclable. Our paper cups are recyclable; but not every city recycles paper cups. That’s something I want to become involved in more at the civic level as well. I used to work in sustainable and renewable energy as a mechanical engineer. Ultimately, by choosing to engage Georgette Packaging, you are working with very knowledgeable people.

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