Shoe Designer Leontyne Ashmore’s Advice for Entrepreneurs: How to Find Your Tribe
As an Accountant-turned-entrepreneur, Leontyne Ashmore understands the struggles today’s entrepreneurs go through when they’re trying to get their businesses off the ground. Her minimalist shoe brand, Lisbeth Joe, is currently being crowdfunded on Indiegogo. PEEKaMEET had the opportunity to ask Leontyne about her experience starting a new business and her advice on how entrepreneurs and other small business professionals can network and “find their tribe.”
Tell me a little bit about yourself and how you got to where you are today?
I live in Boulder, Colorado and moved here with my husband 5 years ago from London in the UK. However, I was born in and grew up in Zimbabwe. And when we were in the UK, I loved traveling around Europe particularly the really chic cities like Paris, Milan, Barcelona, Monaco and so on. So I guess I have a bunch of different cultures influencing me.
When we moved to the US, I had a young child and another one the way, so I decided not to work and dedicate myself to childcare. But after a couple of years, I got bored and decided to go back to accountancy. During pregnancy, I’d developed Diastasis Rectic – separation of the Abs – and discovered minimalist shoes for remedial reasons. I quickly became a convert, but when I went back to work I couldn’t find any minimalist shoes that I felt confident in or complimented my outfits, so I decided to follow my passion and created my own. By creating a shoe without compromise, combining function and style.
As a Chartered and Certified accountant, what made you want to take the leap into entrepreneurship?
The biggest thing was I was really passionate about the idea and it just didn’t feel right to not try. Being an accountant helps me understand many aspects of a business, you have an overview of all the different functions because you pay for them all. But as an accountant, the truth is I am rather introverted, but I decided I should not let that stop me from pursuing my dreams. So it’s really double-sided, on the one hand, I leaped into entrepreneurship despite the fact I’m an accountant, on the other hand, it is really advantageous for understanding the finance side.
Where did the name “Lisbeth Joe” come from?
Lisbeth Joe was my mother’s name. She died when I was just 17, of Leukemia, but she inspired my fashion and love of style. When I was thinking about starting this business, and began sketching my first designs, my mind was taken back to my mother again and again. She used to sew, as her side hustle, her designs were amazing. It was really an easy decision to dedicate the business to keep her name alive. The other reason for the name is that I wanted to have a name that evoked a high quality, well-designed feel.
How would you describe “minimalist footwear”?
Minimalist footwear is footwear that allows your feet to move naturally. Reducing the wide fitting, no heel lift, flexible sole.
What has been the biggest challenge in scaling your company?
A few months ago I would have said marketing, but I’ve invested a lot of time in understanding how to market my product. So right now I’m going to say managing the end-to-end manufacturing process which includes sourcing material is the biggest challenge. This is the first time I’ve worked in the “physical product” space and I’m rapidly learning so many new different things.
Where do you see Lisbeth Joe in five years?
I’m looking forward to Lisbeth Joe being a profitable boutique shoes business. I foresee stocking my shoes in specialist retailers and selling thousands of pairs per year online. Lisbeth Joe will also be investing in women enterprises through KIVA, and would love to have had at least 50 companies in that time period.
How would you describe an average day in your life?
My average day involves getting up 5 minutes earlier than the kids and we do exercises together, my intention is to get up before them, but that hardly ever happens. I have dedicated focused and undisturbed work time between 9:15am and 12:45pm. I use this time to do most of my must-do critical path activities and also put out all the fires. Then once I’ve picked up my youngest from school at 1pm and I am working in between playing, refereeing and protecting the house from permanent destruction.
What advice would you give aspiring entrepreneurs trying to get their foot in the door?
Carpe diem, just “seize the day”! Make the leap! You have to ask yourself if you can live without regrets if you don’t take action. If you will regret not doing it, then work on your ”WHY” as you will need this reminder frequently throughout your journey, to keep motivated.
But before you leap, and this is the double-checking accountant in me, make sure you think like a business person. If you are not clear on who will give you money for your product and why it’s worth that money, pause and work it out. Too many great businesses fail because they are serving a market that doesn’t exist.
Networking is often a major contributor to both professional and business growth. How has networking been beneficial to you and your business?
Networking has been great for me, I’ve found my “tribe” and it’s terrific for finding people to collaborate with, now or in the future. As a direct result of networking, I have participated on panels both at Boulder Startup Week and at Creative Connections. I’ve also received a lot more exposure for my business because of promotions initiated by folks I’ve met while networking.
What’s your favorite way to connect with others in Denver?
As an entrepreneur, its easy to fall into the trap of going to every networking event you can find, say on meetup, and this will tie up the working hours and the family moment you have available. You could go the other way and bury yourself in work and completely isolate yourself from people and networking. I have done both at different stages of my entrepreneur journey. I’ve found it’s best to find a healthy balance.
I first discovered this balance when I did the CO.Starter course at The Commons On Champa, a very supportive community with regular events to network at. I also joined a Heymama Global, which has a Denver Chapter, this forces me to take time out of schedule and go meet new people – like-minded entrepreneurial mama’s like myself, they have online and in-person sessions where I learn something new at their seminar and network. The SBDC has been valuable because they put on valuable educational sessions with networking thrown in.
What advice would you give to someone who has never attended a networking event before?
Think about what you need and from the event before you attend and if its the right one for you. Go in with an ask in your mind, be clear what you want to achieve. For instance, if you are in need of say marketing help, be clear on what kind of help you need, so when you do get into conversation with someone that leads that way, you will be able to articulate what you need and the person may be able to help or effectively pass on information to someone who they know can.
Also, networking is not really a pitch fest, don’t fall into that trap otherwise you will get sidelined very quickly. Be genuinely interested in the people there and offer help where you can.
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