After Crying 'in a Fetal Position' Upon the Sale of Her Last Company, This Entrepreneur Keeps Her New Venture Separate From Her Identity Blindsided by emotion when she gave up her business and broke up her team, Christiane Lemieux learned a valuable lesson about personal distance.
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In the Women Entrepreneur Series My Worst Moment, female founders look back on the most difficult, gut-wrenching, almost-made-them-give-up experience they've had while building their business—and how they recovered.
On paper, Christiane Lemieux has had a series of successes. In 2013, she sold her first company, DwellStudio, an online home decor company, to Wayfair, an ecommerce giant selling home goods and furnishings. But the day after it was finalized, she woke up devastated, wondering what she had done. She not only had to give up her baby, but she had to dissolve her team. Lemieux tells Women Entrepreneur what she's learned from this emotional experience that helped her dry her tears, leave her executive creative director role at Wayfair, raise $1.5 million in funding from Forerunner Ventures and launch her new direct-to-consumer home brand, The Inside, last fall.
"The building of DwellStudio took place over the course of a decade, and the excitement around the sale was exhilarating. I initiated the sale, but I had no idea how emotional the finality would be. Waking up the next morning and realizing that the company was no longer mine was heartbreaking -- like, "lie in a fetal position crying' heartbreaking. I imagine it must be like saying goodbye to your kids when they go to college. I still see it, but it's no longer mine.
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I learned the hard way how much my company was a part of my identity. It was the end. I shaped every part of it, and then had to let that go. In retrospect, I should have seen it coming, and I would caution anyone selling that the experience will be much more emotional than you anticipate.
The hardest part was disbanding the people that worked side by side with me for a decade. It really became about the loss of this other creative family that I had cobbled together. The transition meant letting go of some parts of the organization that were duplicated at Wayfair -- like IT, customer service, finance and HR. The lesson I fundamentally learned is that the company, the brand, is the sum of all the parts. The people are the most valuable -- way beyond the product.
At first it felt like I was never going to get over the sale, and I struggled with moving on. I still do. It took time. And therapy.
The Inside uses some of the same manufacturing base as DwellStudio, and I see my fabrics and designs every time I am on the factory floors. My heart breaks a little -- it's like running into a friend that you have lost touch with. I think in order to completely get over it, I will have to switch industries.
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But I would do it again, and I hope to with this company. This time I know what to ask for, too. I was a babe in the woods last time. This time I will be a tiger.
If anything, I think the sale of any future company would be easier for me, because I would never get as invested the second or third time. I am so passionate about The Inside, but this time, it's measured passion. I would say, for anyone, that keeping some kind of distance between the personal and business identity is really a healthy thing.
When I started DwellStudio, I was just out of college with no family or real external responsibilities. This time, I have a family and children, and I have to separate so that I can be present for both. It's a challenge on both fronts, but it helps me on both, too. Work and life do bleed into each other sometimes, but I am conscious of the decisions I am making now and the impact they will have on both work and home."