The Entrepreneur Behind a 10-Year-Old Company Shares a Simple Strategy That Will Get You Over Any Creative Block
Ten years ago, artist and designer Jen Gotch co-founded Ban.do to sell hair accessories. In the early days, the company had one small office and one employee. As the company grew, it began partnering with big name retailers including Anthropologie and celebrities who shared Ban.do's aesthetic, including Taylor Swift. Ban.do also started expanding the types of products it sold, which now includes phone cases, planners, bags, clothes and beauty and household items.
The company now has a team of 40 employees, recently collaborated with Starbucks and has more than half a million followers on Instagram and counting. Heading into the company’s 10th anniversary, Gotch said it was important for her for the business to use its platform to stand for something meaningful. With that in mind, she and her team launched a campaign around raising awareness and decreasing stigma around mental health, using proceeds from special necklaces created for the occasion to donate funds to an organization called Bring Change to Mind.
We caught up with Gotch to ask her 20 Questions and find out what makes her tick.
1. How do you start your day?
I have been trying to take five minutes before I look at my phone to just sit awake in my bed and visualize the day I want to have and center myself. I wouldn't necessarily call it meditating but I just try and let the first thoughts that come into my mind in the morning be something that I am originating rather than it being a reaction to something that I'm seeing via email or social media.
2. How do you end your day?
I use a gratitude app and it prompts me to think about what I'm grateful for, connect with something higher and just think about that. It's so easy to think of five things you're grateful for. It could be there was no traffic -- it doesn't have to be these momentous things. It helps and it puts positive things in my mind so I have a better chance of dreaming about something good rather than work.
3. What’s a book that changed your mind and why?
The Seat of the Soul by Gary Zukav. It has a lot to do with your higher self, your soul and your personality and understanding intuition and where ideas come from. As business people, especially for me because I'm a creative entrepreneur, being able to understand your thoughts in a way of what are destructive thoughts, why are they there and what are the great ideas and how to separate yourself from them a little bit and not have to own it all. I've been rereading that lately and looking at things that I underlined 10 years ago and seeing what is still relevant.
4. What’s a book you always recommend and why?
The Accidental Creative by Todd Henry. He also has a great podcast with the same name. The book is about how to be brilliant at a moment's notice. It helped me a lot when Ban.do was starting to grow and I was accountable for my own creativity. That was the values that I brought as I was leading a team of creatives. I have found just a wealth of knowledge there.
5. What’s a strategy to keep focused?
Bulletproof coffee really changed my life. I have pretty bad ADD. I drink it in the morning and I know that I'm putting something in my body that's going to help my brain stay focused on my tasks. Plus, [it helps me] counteract the fact that I work in a giant glass office and there's like so many visual distractions.
6. When you were a kid what did you want to be when you grew up?
I was very passionate about being a waitress. [When I was a kid] I took a lot of orders from my parents and just walked around with the waitress pad. That was going to be my destiny. I can't connect it to anything that I ended up aspiring to be. But I am still very tactile.
7. What did you learn from the worst boss you ever had?
That you don't get where you are going on your own. You have to recognize the help that you're receiving from other people. I had several bosses that took credit for my work in front of me that would never dare praise me. The idea of it being so hierarchical I just don't is a modern way of looking at work. It's discouraging when someone works hard on your behalf and you don't recognize that. I stay really aware of that.
8. Who has influenced you most when it comes to how you approach your work?
I worked for a woman named Ursula Brookbank and I used to style the Nordstrom catalog for many years before I started Ban.do. She was my art director and taught me a lot about creativity and about creating on-demand because that's a lot of what that job is. You plan and plan and then inevitably a wrench gets thrown into the plan and then you have to think on your feet. She taught me that if you have a creative mind you have everything you need. I've leaned on that so much in my career because obviously inevitably we're in control of nothing. Being able to create and problem-solve is a huge part of our business and many businesses. I never came at it from fear because I had someone teach me that [those challenges are an] opportunity.
9. What’s a trip that changed you?
What I've come to learn is how much I love souvenir shops and how tied that is to Ban.do and what we create. I love memories but I love that tactile nature of things, and probably why I'm in the product business. It doesn't necessarily have to be something like a snow globe that says Tokyo on it. Sometimes it's something I bought at the grocery store. I like being able to go revisit an item [from a trip], those are the things that hold the biggest memories for me.
10. What inspires you?
It could be something as simple as seeing great art. I'm at a place now where I'm so filled with inspiration that it is more about, how do I extract it from my mind? I don't actually seek it out externally as much as I used to. It's more like excavating it from from my brain because it's all up there.
11. What was your first business idea and what did you do with it?
I had a vintage furniture and faux-finishing business called Vincent's Ear and Other Lost Treasures. It was shortly after I moved to California and I still didn't know what I wanted to do. It was my first foray into vintage and thrift stores. Where I grew up that wasn't really a thing because it was a newer community. It was a lot of repurposing things, buying a $5 chair at the thrift store and then repainting it. Shabby chic was in at the time so I would make it look kind of aged. I grew that business a little bit, but the one thing I didn't do was make any money off of it because my sense was whenever someone liked something, I wanted to just give it to them because it was like art for me. I can trace roots to where I am now to that business.
12. What was an early job that taught you something important or useful?
I worked retail. I learned that the rules of an organization sometimes need to be pivoted. I remember that the return policy didn't make sense. But then there was a customer that had a great argument as to why they should be able to return something. So sometimes I would just override the system because it was clearly something that hadn't been revisited. Now being in business, I have an understanding of how easy it is to fall into those trappings and then how important it is to empower people at every level to see something that needs to be changed and effect it or at least communicate it.
13. What’s the best advice you ever took?
Business, like anything else in life, is not a linear journey. Setbacks are normal and problems are normal. If you have a sound business plan, they are temporary, as are the huge successes. I heard a piece of advice on the podcast How I Built This. If you want to have that business for 100 years it frames everything differently. Everything becomes much smaller. That has helped me as someone who suffers from generalized anxiety disorder to know that you don't have to have a big, bold reaction to everything. You can take it in stride and keep moving.
14. What's the worst piece of advice you ever got?
I actually think I'm pretty good disregarding bad advice. A lot of that has to do with the source and not the advice. So it makes it easier to see that coming. Most of my trusted people I don't think have steered me wrong.
15. What’s a productivity tip you swear by?
The thing I've been dealing with the most lately has been formalizing ideas. I realized that creatively there's a wall you have to push through. So I give myself a 15-minute warm up as I enter into anything creative.
16. Is there an app or tool you use in a surprising way to get things done or stay on track?
I use Google Drive for everything. I engage with that program on my phone, everything is there. I [initially] resisted it. The lesson in that is sometimes there are better tools than the tools that you're used to using.
17. What does work-life balance mean to you?
I definitely suffered from a really poor work-life balance. There was no balance. It was just work all the time and I loved it. I felt fueled by it. But there was a part of me that was suffering and so it just came to a point where I needed to make a plan. [So it's] approaching your free time and your me time with the same fervor that you do your work time. That means scheduling it and making sure that you have that covered -- pretending like it's a job.
18. How do you prevent burnout?
Knowing my limits and being realistic about that and honestly knowing in my mind that no matter how much you do, the work will always be there. You'll never be done. I had a huge day of meetings recently and physically I didn't do that much but mentally I really stretched. And so by 4 p.m. I couldn't think straight anymore. Rather than continuing to work I was like let's just call it.
19. When you’re faced with a creativity block, what’s your strategy to get innovating?
Releasing it and knowing that the ideas are there and everything that I need is there. It's just disconnecting from the work, whether that's going out and getting some sunlight or taking a 15-minute nap -- it's sort of a meditation but also I'm pretty sure I fall asleep at some point. I've always found that once you release that pressure valve, it just flows out. It's common to think that if I just grind harder, I'll get there. And I just don't think the brain works that way.
20. What are you learning now? Why is that important?
That you have to pay attention to the world, the people in it and your consumer and identify that at any time something that has worked for years may stop working. You have to be ready to pivot. If you're not paying attention and trying to construct new plans and strategies you will be left behind.