It Girl | GABRIELLE LODS
Foreword by Danae Edmonds:
About 6 months ago I got a lovely email from Shahnaz expressing interest in writing for Aspiring Co.. Today, we are sharing her first piece with Gabrielle Lods. Gabrielle’s words resonate so much with me and I think a lot of people will find comfort in this interview. Thanks for killing it Shahnaz!
By: Shahnaz Radjy
Name: Gabrielle Lods
Job Title/Company: Founder/Green Condom Club
Education Background: Chemical Engineering followed by a Masters in Management, both at polytechnic schools in Switzerland
1. Tell us a little about who you are.
I’m a digital nomad who grew up in Geneva, Switzerland. I have founded a few companies, all centered around sustainable products, though my main focus now is on the Green Condom Club. It’s a subscription-based platform that distributes vegan condoms worldwide, though we also sell the condoms in single-order batches. I split my time between Geneva/Switzerland, Cap Verde, Tarifa/Spain, Lesbos/Greece, and various spots around Portugal.
A few fun facts: I have a LinkedIn reference from Chuck Norris, and a work reference from Arnold Schwarzenegger. I’m good at twisting the narrative, and once used a job fair to raise funds for an event (it worked). Last but not least, although I crashed when paragliding recently, I’m still excited to get back into the air (yes, I’m definitely an entrepreneur at heart).
2. What sparked your interest in starting your business?
My parents instilled an interest in sustainability in me early on – my mother was a biologist and my father worked in water management for the state of Geneva in Switzerland. We traveled a lot growing up. My parents loved diving, but because of an ear infection at an early age, I couldn’t dive. So, I got into yoga and kite surfing. Combine that with the fact that I have no love for misplaced authority, and didn’t love corporate life when I dove into it – and voila! Entrepreneurship, with a digital nomad twist, beckoned.
I first started a company called Sustain a Bum, developing cloth diapers. That was born out of boredom with my full-time job at the time, and a curiosity about how I could apply what I read in “The Four Hour Work Week” to my life (thank you, Tim Ferriss!).
That company still exists, but I realized that instead of catering to babies, I wanted to do something for the people doing the buying. I expanded Sustain a Bum to a Sustain a Living online shop, providing menstrual cups for women. Someone joked that I should find an equivalent product for guys, and that made me realize that condoms were a great opportunity.
As a bonus, it turns out sex sells a lot better than poo.
3. Who are you most influenced by?
I tend to be inspired by specific aspects of people’s lives rather than the whole package. Some of the people who influence me the most are my mother, because of her passion for her work, Tim Ferriss for his ability to ask questions and seek answers with the right people, and different friends for their relationships, how they juggle the digital nomad work-life balance, and their mindful approach to life.
Everyone does the best to craft the life they need, but that’s not the life I need. I don’t want to just emulate what looks pretty, but rather find what works with my personality and life goals. It’s important to recognize what you really want and what works for you.
4. What was your first job and how long did you hold that position?
When I started my first company, I was working for Dupont in Knowledge Management; I did that for three years. Now I am working part-time for a company that runs a knowledge sharing platform. It takes the financial pressure off and I work remotely, so it fits in perfectly with my entrepreneurial and digital nomad lifestyle.
5. Can you share one of your proudest achievements with us?
I’m still alive! Not only that, but I have built a business that can stand on its own two feet. If I step away for a while, it might not grow, but it also won’t die. That’s pretty cool.
6. What were your initial goals with your work? How have they evolved?
When I started my first company, I wanted to find a product that reduced the environmental footprint of whoever purchased it. I also wanted something small enough to distribute easily, that wasn’t easy to damage but was easy to source, was non-perishable, and worked worldwide (so nothing with electric plugs!).
All those things still hold true – the environmental aspect is still very important to me personally. However, when researching diapers, I realized that we are much more exposed to toxic chemicals than we realize. A baby tends to be in diapers for more than two years, so if the diaper has toxic chemicals that are pretty much in constant contact with his or her skin, that’s huge.
Over time, I realized that the positive impact of using cloth diapers instead of single-use diapers would take a lot of users to be enough to make a difference. That doesn’t mean it’s not important for everyone to do their share, but it made me accept that it might be hard for me to fix the environment! On the other hand, I could do something to reduce how much we mess ourselves up with endocrine disruptors (some of the aforementioned toxic chemicals). The condoms are a step in that direction.
7. What do you think is the most important life skill you learned through your work?
First, to extract and structure the information I need in whatever it is I am doing.
Second, that sometimes you have to “just do it” as Nike says – because otherwise, you can be full of ideas, and do research for a lifetime without ever taking action, and then none of it will matter.
8. Where do you hope to be in five years?
In five years… I hope to be at the head of a business with a well-developed distribution network and a wide reach. My product is good, the market needs innovation and disruption – so the elements are all there. Of course, it will take time and effort to scale, and to really get it done I’m going to need funding and a team.
9. What is a typical day like for you?
Sometimes, it feels like I just wake up, I do lots of different things, and I go to sleep! Beyond that, I try to meditate and do yoga daily – even if it’s just for 10 minutes, and I try to make a point to see people in person. That’s particularly important because I work from home, so it would be much too easy to stay in and hibernate permanently, and that’s not good for the soul.
10. What was the biggest obstacle you’ve faced so far in the process of pursuing your goals?
I am often ahead of trends, which gives me first mover advantage, but makes it harder to build a sustainable business because there’s no customer base – or at least the customer base hasn’t yet reached critical mass.
11. What is the best piece of advice you have received?
From well-known quotes, there’s “You’ll cross (or build!) that bridge when you get to it” / “Done is better than perfect” / “This too shall pass”.
From my personal experience, I’d say there are four pieces of advice worth sharing:
· Do some research, because the idea isn’t everything – execution is important too. Ideas are like buttholes (excuse my French), everyone has one.
· Don’t do it for the money, and make sure you have a financial solution to keep you afloat while you work on your idea. It can be a generous spouse, a trust fund, an inheritance, or unemployment checks – but there has to be something there. If you worry about how you’re going to eat or pay rent, all that concern and energy will be mental space that doesn’t go towards your business.
· If your business fails, it’s ok. You’re not the failure – your idea just didn’t work.
· If shit hits the fan, ask for help. It’s ok. Don’t wait for things to blow up in your face. Mental health is a thing, and you should take care of yours.
12. When do you get your best ideas?
When I do things that are completely unrelated to my business. I tend to read a lot, meet people, and collect many concepts and ideas. At some point, often during down time, when outside in nature, when it’s quiet, or also when I am driving, some of those ideas will come together and assemble to something that I never thought of before.
13. Can you share with us one time that you failed and what you learned from that failure?
I completely underestimated the shipping price of a big order I placed, so things got messy quickly. I was lucky to be able to borrow money to fix the situation, but it was a close call.
Sometimes, it feels like I make bad decisions all the time, so my goal is to have the balance slightly in favor of good decisions at the end of each day. I have also become more zen over time, and don’t see bad decisions as failure but as part of my learning curve. It dawned on me that seeing some of these bad decisions as a failure was perhaps a sign of me taking myself too seriously.
I remember reading somewhere a quote which sums it up perfectly “I didn’t fail, I just found 1000 ways that didn’t work.”
One lesson I learnt along the way is that you can always look at the stars for perspective. What’s more, astronomy should be mandatory for all entrepreneurs, as it’s the best prescription against taking oneself too seriously!
14. How do you unwind?
Kite surfing and paragliding, primarily. I also spend time with family and friends, and don’t talk about work – which sounds basic, but it’s not.
In the long run, there is a good chance things in life will go South at some point, and then the only thing that will make a difference and keep you going is relationships, the people around you. So, don’t screw up relationships that matter just because you have a business idea you want to bring to life.
15. What would you tell someone else who is interested in entering your field?
Sustainability is gaining a lot of traction these days, which is great.
The advantage is that the pressure the world finds itself under with climate change reaching critical levels will open the door to loads of opportunities for solution-oriented businesses. The media is finally on board (for the most part), so they are convincing people of the importance of more sustainable and environmentally-friendly lifestyles – which paves the way for entrepreneurs like you and I.
The downside of sustainability approaching mainstream status is that there is a lot more competition.
So, if you have what you believe to be a great idea that has the potential to be profitable and help the planet, this is your time to act.
Make sure you focus on profitability first and foremost, as making money is what will keep you in the game. Fancy logos and complex systems can all come later. Start small and smart, and focus on finding a product or service that sells – and sell it! Then you can develop the framework around it. Otherwise, you might create something overly complex that’s not necessary, and complexity only grows over time. Keep it simple.
Don’t get lost in the busy work, keep your priorities straight, and if your idea is close but doesn’t quite work – don’t give up, just pivot and keep going.
16. What do you hope people take away from your story?
To be honest, when I read profiles of other entrepreneurs, it sometimes feels like everyone is answering the way they think they should. Answers feel… standardized, almost. That’s why I hope my unconventional take on things and transparency about the ups and downs of being an entrepreneur can be insightful.
If someone reads this interview and realizes entrepreneurship is not for them, or on the contrary, that it’s something they want to dive into – not because of flashy profiles and interviews but because the appeal of creating something and pouring yourself into making an idea come to life speaks to them, then I consider it time well spent.
17. Anything we missed that you would like to share?
I used to have post-its everywhere, it was my way of managing my life and my business. Now, I use a Bullet Journal to manage my life, and it’s revolutionary. I’m not saying this will work for everyone, but there are so many tools out there that you should keep an open mind and try different ones until you find the one that works for you.
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