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Female Founders: Alison Ruks of Mobo Co On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder

An Interview With Candice Georgiadis

Nothing stays the same. It’s always changing. Just as you think you have it figured out, something will change. Whether that is an economic change, a supplier change, a retailer change, it is a constantly evolving adventure and it is imperative that entrepreneurs be fluid in adapting to constant changing economic and environmental conditions.

As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Alison Ruks.

Alison Ruks brings over 15 years of experience specializing as an entrepreneur, consultant, and executive leader in consumer packaged goods, natural health, cannabis, and education, and she oversees multiple companies including Mobo Co. in the eco-friendly and sustainable baby accessories category. Passionate about making parenting easier for new moms, Alison brought to market the world’s first fashion-friendly breastfeeding hat that helps normalize breastfeeding in public while providing an easy-to-use solution for moms who aren’t yet comfortable nursing uncovered. The Mobobaby 2–1 Nursing Cover + Hat is one of the only nursing covers on the market that the baby wears, instead of mom.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I have been working since I was 13 years old, I held various positions but nothing was ‘ticking the box’ for self-fulfillment.

After my second round of university, I became pregnant with my first child. I continued working in my executive role and when I gave birth to my baby, I observed the presence of ‘mother-in-the-workplace’ inequity, and also experienced the systemic deficiencies of support systems for mothers. I silently suffered from severe postpartum depression and anxiety for several years, which affected both my home life and my bond with my baby.

Pairing my ‘entry to motherhood’ experience with a history as a long-time executive and entrepreneur — I was overcome with insatiable motivation to establish a business that gave back to the parents and mothers that give so much; a business that provides products, insight, and entertainment to make parents and mothers’ lives a little bit easier, and creates a community network for parents to feel supported, learn, connect and relate in a safe and respectful environment. I committed to eventually pursue a dream of creating a business that centers on benefitting parental and maternal health ‘when the time was ‘right’.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

As soon as I started this company, the pandemic hit and I instantly became the wearer of about 35 hats. My daughter’s school was closed so she was home with me 100% of the time, and we had no family, friends or childcare to help us out.

I was still doing consulting work to pay the bills, I was the primary caregiver to my daughter, and now I was also an entrepreneur that was solely the one working on building the business. A typical day had me up at 5 a.m. to get a few hours of work in before my daughter woke up, and then I’d bounce between teacher, consultant, entrepreneur, chef, chauffeur, housekeeper, healthcare practitioner until she went to bed around 7 p.m.

Then, I’d high-five my husband and I’d head back down to my office until around midnight to finish my work. Then sleep for 5 hours and do it all over again. For months on end. It was exhausting. It was like Ground Hog Day, Bill Murray style.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Funniest mistake: I was presenting our flagship product on national live stream when my shirt kept creeping down on me. I had to keep adjusting my arm position and weirdly had my arms in front of my face to prevent a nip slip.

What I learned: Always choose your clothing wisely when presenting your product on national live stream. Preferably a turtle neck.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I have had so many amazing people enter my journey. My family was key, and then I was so blessed by getting to work with Arlene Dickinson and her Venturepark business community. Arlene is an amazing entrepreneur, venture capitalist and longtime investor on Canada’s Dragon’s Den, which is akin to the USA’s Shark Tank.

She is a mother of 4 and an entrepreneur who built her empire from the ground up. She was a great source of support and feedback when developing our flagship product, the Mobobaby 2–1 Nursing Cover + Hat. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. She loved our product and gave me amazing advice to take it to the next level.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?

I am surprised that it’s as high as 20%, to be honest. There is a stigma about the woman entrepreneur. And, that stigma mainly focuses on our historic stereotype of being the shrinking violet, the sensitive one, the mother, the primary caregiver, and we just generally get looked at differently than men. What I’ve seen in my journey, is that women get screwed when it comes to startup funding which can prevent them from starting a business.

Yes, some women have created amazing businesses on a shoestring budget, but that is rare. Start ups need money. Over my career, I have seen so many men with mediocre business ideas and questionable character get startup funding so much easier than women. Women are more likely to get mentorship, coaching opportunities, entry into accelerator programs, etc., but that isn’t always what we need. We need investment. Cold hard cash. We need people to believe in us.

Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?

As individuals, the general viewpoint on women entrepreneurs needs to change. Anyone who questions whether a woman can run a company on her own needs to go back to the drawing board and learn a few things about what women have done in history. As a society, it’s a similar thing. The viewpoint on women needs to change.

The government needs to put forth way more initiatives to back women entrepreneurs, and they need to do it now and for the foreseeable future. They can’t just run a random program for spring and summer and expect they’ve done their job. We’ve been historically marginalized and shoved to the side when it comes to having the resource is to make things happen, and change is long overdue.

This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?

Women naturally care about their people. Of course, this has its limits, we all know horrendous women but overall, women are naturally more nurturing. It’s well known in HR circles that a team that feels valued and cared about works harder and creates far more value than a team with toxic leadership and culture.

Women can get stuff done, no matter what they are handed. Have you seen what a mother does in a day? Imagine taking those skills and putting them into a company. Enough said.

Women run companies make the most money, according to Mr. Wonderful. Kevin O’Leary has stated this repeatedly in his tenure, women-run companies make more money. We’ve got it in us, we just need the opportunity to make it happen.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?

The main one is that you can start a business with $100 and build it to a life changing multimillion dollar operation. Yes, that can happen (as we’ve all seen on Shark Tank), but it is very rare. To build a business, you need money, you need resources, and you need a support team. Even as someone with multi divisional executive experience like myself, I cannot do it all alone.

Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?

Heck no. Entrepreneurship is not at all for the faint of heart. You have to have nerves of steel, a strong backbone, and the time and drive to build your business. You have to handle rejection. You have to handle obstacles. You have to be prepared that your business will be on your mind 24 hours a day seven days a week.

There is no clocking out at 5:00 PM. Stuff happens after 5:00 PM and it’s your company, so you’re the one that has to deal with it. If the thought of that makes you shudder, your best bet is to go find a nice, tidy, union job and enjoy your freedom.

This brings to mind one hilarious meme that showed this lady at a desk saying “I got sick of my Monday to Friday 9–5, so I started my own business. Now I work 7 days a week, 365 days a year.” Sadly, it’s kind of true. Especially in the early years. As your business grows, however, it is the hope that you can hire the right people in the right places, so that you can enjoy some of that freedom in the long term.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

You will feel guilt. A lot. Entrepreneurship comes with so many ups and downs. You will let people down no matter what you do, whether it is your own team, or your spouse or partner, or your child.

You will work more than a full time job. I think Mark Cuban said it really well on Shark Tank one day, he said something along the lines of “I’d rather work 80 hours a week for myself than 40 hours a week for somebody else.” That is the reality of it for most entrepreneurs. Yes, some will have that golden opportunity where they started a business and can live the four hour workweek, but that’s not the norm.

It will be hard to get funding. Women are just at a natural disadvantage to get the type of startup funding that men do. Even if your idea is awesome and you and others totally believe in it, actually getting an investor to close on believing in your business takes an incredible amount of time and resources.

People will be mean. This can come through customers, suppliers, and especially on social media. There are trolls in every corner that will take a dig at you and your business, it is inevitable. That being said, there are just as many — if not more — amazing people who will support you and be your cheerleaders, but you do need to realize that there will be trolls.

Nothing stays the same. It’s always changing. Just as you think you have it figured out, something will change. Whether that is an economic change, a supplier change, a retailer change, it is a constantly evolving adventure and it is imperative that entrepreneurs be fluid in adapting to constant changing economic and environmental conditions.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

I am structuring our company to give 1% of all sales back to supporting parental and maternal health, but I also commit to spending a specific amount of time per month mentoring other up-and-coming entrepreneurs.

Parental health is so important to me, because if we don’t have healthy parents, we don’t raise healthy kids, which is our entire next generation and the future of our economy.

With mentoring other entrepreneurs, throughout the journey, I am building a platform to hopefully provide a long-lasting and valuable source of inspiration, mentorship, and motivation.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I desperately want the government, businesses, and individuals to care about the health and well being of parents, particularly mothers and primary caregivers. Maternal health is in a horrendous state in North America, with the United States and Canada taking an embarrassingly high position on the maternal mortality charts, as well as postpartum depression and anxiety.

If we care properly for our parents, we have healthier happier kids, which shapes a healthier and happier future for the entire world. Parent health matters and it’s long overdue that mothers and parents in general get the support they need, They deserve to live better lives.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

I’d have to go with either Barbara Corcoran or Lori Greiner. Both of them are incredible women who have busted their chops to get to where they are, and they did it with grit, kindness, grace, and overall just plain awesomeness. I would love to absorb their vibes, even if just via osmosis.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis is an active mother of three as well as a designer, founder, social media expert, and philanthropist.

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