Forgive yourself — As entrepreneurs, we tend to become our worst critics and we may find ourselves comparing our success to those of others from time to time. Learning to forgive yourself for the hiccups you’ll hit along the way and to stop focusing on the milestone you didn’t hit, helps you stay balanced and is a great tool to help you move forward. Say this aloud: “I can’t be perfect. I learned something and I’m moving on.”- I promise it works!
As a part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Marie Chevrier, CEO and Founder of Sampler — a direct to consumer product sampling platform helping brands distribute samples to hyper-targeted audiences. Marie started her career in advertising in Toronto,Canada. While working there, she began to think about the potential that could come from combining social media with brand sampling. She founded Sampler with a vision to transform the way consumer packaged goods companies distribute product samples. Though it started small, Sampler grew quickly into a booming digital business. Today, her company has been listed as one of Canada’s Fastest Growing startups by Canadian Business and Growth 500 and has received investment from the world’s biggest global beauty manufacturer, L’Oréal.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
While in college, I began working with experiential firms where I distributed product samples in grocery stores and on street corners. While I was there, I always felt that product sampling could be a lot more targeted and measurable. Brands, at that point, really didn’t have any idea of who exactly was receiving the samples I was distributing and how that was converting into a purchase. Fast forward a few years and I was working at JWT — a reputable marketing agency that taught me everything I needed to know about digital marketing. Right around that time, I started getting the “entrepreneurial bug” but I felt I needed to gain a little more business experience so I joined a Venture Capital firm called Rocket Internet. After spending two years in their New York office as an entrepreneur in residence, I got the chance to become the Founder of DropGifts. When we decided to fold the business (long story here but great learnings), I decided to go back to Canada and finally start Sampler. I started Sampler in October of 2013, merging my experience in marketing and tech, and drew up an idea of what I wanted Sampler to look like. I sold my first client before the technology even existed with nothing more than a few rough mock ups and no developer at the time. I had about 60 days to find a developer and make my ideas come to life, and from there Sampler was born. We worked tirelessly to develop a sampling solution that could help brands of all sizes and categories deliver physical samples to digitally targeted consumers while gathering the consumer feedback they needed. Today we’ve worked with some of the top CPG brands in the world like: Unilever, Henkel, Mondelez International, L’Oréal and Kimberly-Clark and can reach over 50 million consumers globally in 17 different countries.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
One of my proudest moments was starting to work with L’Oréal and eventually having them invest in Sampler — it’s been such a great partnership. In fact, we were recently featured in their 2018 Financial Report for our work together. The crazy thing is, they developed a new campaign highlighting our partnership and placed billboards about it throughout their offices in Paris; it was the most exciting thing to witness. Having your clients get that involved in the success of our business is such a blessing, particularly a client whose values are aligned with your own. Knowing that your company can make such an impact on a world renowned brand and having the opportunity to collaborate and innovate together is the ultimate thrill.
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?
When we first started Sampler, one of the first things we tried to drive excitement around was running high traffic sampling events. We would essentially say “At 7:00pm on Wednesdays, we’re going to be giving out samples on our landing page and you can request a sample of your own.” The entire initiative was focused on creating these high traffic events to drive the most amount of people to our site as we could. Although it sounded like a good idea at the time, what we didn’t realize was what a poor consumer experience it would ultimately translate to. We had a mass amount of people click the “claim button” at the same time, the samples would run out within a matter of seconds, and our servers would crash every time. The entire team would be up at night answering customer requests and angry emails. As cool and exciting as it was to create this demand and excitement amongst our users, and as thrilling as it was to see 20,000 people click to claim a sample at the same time, I quickly learned the immense value of building a scalable product that can handle these high levels of demand. It was a great lesson to learn and one that has stuck with Sampler ever since.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I truly believe that so much of a company comes down to its people and it couldn’t be truer for Sampler. We have such a great group of people dedicated to working hard in achieving a common mission and to me, it’s the ultimate secret sauce to Sampler’s success.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We’ve been in the market for five years now and we’ve come to learn so much about best practices in the digital sampling space. We’ve been able to gather a lot of data on the consumers who sample on our platform which in turn allows us to help brands predict their results and ultimately optimize them. This is setting the tone for the future of Sampler and we’re now focused on building products to optimize the experience of consumers and brands alike on our platform.
We’re helping brands who’ve been using the same product sampling strategies for years and have grown to believe that blindly distributing them to non targeted audience is as efficient as sampling can get. Now we’re changing the traditional way of doing it and saying you can deliver samples to your specific audience and in turn, get the consumer feedback and insight you’ve always needed.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
Think big and no one will stop you. Over the years I’ve found that as women, we doubt ourselves and have these moments where we ask ourselves, “Am I really good enough? Or “why me?” and it’s something that has come up time and time again while speaking to other female entrepreneurs to which I always respond by saying “why someone else?” I truly believe that if you have enough conviction towards a solution that makes you want to get up every morning and work towards it for years to come, you have everything you need to get going.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
Managing a large group of people ultimately comes down to trusting your team enough to delegate. You add people to your team because you trust them, and reminding yourself of that daily will go a long way. As entrepreneurs, we need to re-think this idea of people earning our trust before we give it to them, and rather trust and empower them to do their very best work from the get go. If in time, they prove you otherwise, and you find they are unreliable, you can move on. Starting from a place of trust however, not only encourages your team to reach their full potential but relieves you of the pressure of doing it all alone.
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?
My husband. I married an entrepreneur and out of the seven years we’ve been together, four out of those were long distance. Regardless of that, my husband has stuck by my side every step of the way, even through the crazy ups and downs that come along with being an entrepreneur. So much of what makes me successful as a person is my ability to find a work life balance and without him in my life it would be very difficult to have that.
A lot of people ask me what the best way to invest in and cultivate a relationship as an entrepreneur and one of the things we do when we are in the same city is to cook meals at home together. It may sound silly, but when you’re both entrepreneurs and so much of your life revolves around work, the easiest thing to do sometimes is come home, order in, and continue working in front of the computer. Having this ritual between us and taking that time to bond over a meal is the best way to hit the pause button on our hectic life and be wholly invested in our time together.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
One of my proudest accomplishments this far has been creating 22 full time jobs for such a bright and diverse group of people coming from many different walks of life. Creating a transparent and inclusive work environment has always been a personal mission of mine and knowing that the team is now made up of over 50% women, and 35% both visible minority and women, is a very rewarding feeling. Empowering my team to become leaders in their own space and providing an inclusive workplace for them to do that has been a beautiful thing to be a part of. It’s been my way of doing my part in the world.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Network — One of the most important tasks you have as a CEO is investing in and growing your network. So much of the success we’ve experienced at Sampler has come from being an active part of our community and being willing to support other fellow entrepreneurs. Entering a conversation with the mindset of what I can do for that person has led me to create some of the most powerful and lasting partnerships and friendships in my career.
- Forgive yourself — As entrepreneurs, we tend to become our worst critics and we may find ourselves comparing our success to those of others from time to time. Learning to forgive yourself for the hiccups you’ll hit along the way and to stop focusing on the milestone you didn’t hit, helps you stay balanced and is a great tool to help you move forward. Say this aloud: “I can’t be perfect. I learned something and I’m moving on.”- I promise it works!
- Check in with your personal #LifeGoals — Over the years, I’ve noticed how easy it is to fall in the trap of getting consumed by our daily to-do’s at work. I’ve learned to pause and check in with my personal priorities once in a while, whether that means investing more time on my friendships, building a family, or taking time for my own personal development. These things can easily fall off our radar when we’re moving so fast, so I make it a point to check in, keep myself accountable, and cultivate them just as much as my professional goals.
- Empower your team: I’ve always been comfortable with the idea that I can’t do everything alone and I think that’s important. Surrounding yourself with a strong team that can get behind your vision is so important, but perhaps even more important than this, is paying it forward and empowering your team to reach their own goals and objectives. When you take the time to understand what motivates them, where they want to be in a few years, and actively mentoring them towards their success, you’ll find yourself working with a highly engaged and empowered group of people and there’s nothing that sets you up for success more than that.
- Listen to your customers: When we first started Sampler, we were working with smaller niche brands who were looking to distribute a couple thousand samples at a time. But when we started working with larger brands, not only did the orders become bigger and bigger, but our clients also began looking to target a much more specific audience. Trying to find 50,000 moms who buy organic products, in one particular city, through traditional channels was not feasible and could take quite a long time. We decided to design the Sampler Exchange where our clients could reach these large hyper targeted audiences without the need for media buys. Knowing that making this pivot would require a lot of time and focus away from the team, we could have easily ignored the signs that we needed to change and take that step forward. However, creating that extension was one of the best decisions we could have made for Sampler. Listening intently to the signs your customers give you is the best way to gather the intel you’ll need to evolve and improve your business.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I want women in business to feel empowered to be vulnerable because it’s the only way we can learn from each other as women. We have this tendency to hide our insecurities and weaknesses, or pretend we’re having a good day when perhaps we’re really not. I’d love to inspire women to express how they truly feel, the good and the bad, and being the most real, most genuine version of themselves so that others can learn and grow from it.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Que sera, sera” This is a song that my grandmother used to sing to me as a child and it means whatever will be will be. It’s stuck with me for years and to this day, it’s been my daily reminder that if you live with intention and continue to put your best foot forward, you’ll be okay no matter what happens. Sure, I’d be sad if things didn’t work out the way I’ve envisioned them for Sampler, but knowing that I’ve poured my heart and soul into building this company, and that I’ve done everything I possibly could, reminds me that I’ll still be proud at the end of the day. I’ll have lessons about business and about myself, to last me a lifetime. That, in and of itself is fulfilling. Regardless of the result, being able to say “I was the very best version of myself for the last five years” is a pretty sweet thing.
Some of the biggest 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’m reading a lot about Emily Weiss, the Founder of Glossier, lately. Obviously, I admire her so much for growing her company to Unicorn status. That’s so important for women like me who are building businesses. It’s empowering all of us to think bigger, and not to give up by giving too much of our companies up or exiting too early. Above that though, she seems really cool. Her story really resonates with me because it’s a story of continuous hard work and mini steps (like convincing the family she babysat for to introduce her to Ralph Lauren for an internship) that reminds us that this journey is not easy but that if you put the work in, you’ll surprise yourself on just how far you can go.
Thank you for joining us!