I had always dreamed of becoming an entrepreneur and running my own company one day. From the time I was very little, I saw my father run his own factory in Columbia, and I often spent my free time helping out. 14 years ago, my family and I had the opportunity to immigrate from Bogota to Vancouver, after I had completed my MBA in Germany.
When I arrived, I was doing some volunteer work with the Salvation Army and I happened to meet a psychologist, John, who was also volunteering. We got to chatting about work and business. He told me that he was doing a bit of work with dogs and I loved the idea of working with animals. We were both in a transition period in our lives and looking for our next venture.
One day John showed up with this yellow van with a white stripe around it — it looked like an old government van. He painted black checkers around it to make it a, “dog taxi.” As soon as I saw it I knew we had the potential to do something with this company.
Our relationship and business continued to develop and grow over the next few years. I took a full-time job at IBM to help make it work financially. After a few years of getting the business set up, I was able to quit my job and devote myself completely to the business, and during this time John and I also got married. The Dog Taxi, as it is known now in Vancouver, has been in its current location for four years — although some days that feels more like four months!
Q: When did your daughter arrive on the scene and how did you manage with childcare?
When our daughter was born nine years ago, we were dog boarding out of our home. The good thing about that, was that I was able to be at home with her and also at work. She spent a lot of time in a baby sling as I walked the dogs around the neighbourhood! We are also lucky to have our parents close by which was a big help for us.
When my daughter turned one, we were able to sponsor a woman from Peru to be a live-in nanny. For us, having another Spanish speaker in the house was wonderful! I then went back to another full-time job for two more years to help us be able to invest more in the business. I was still working each evening then on the business as well, doing all of the accounting, payroll and expenses.
One thing that this time taught me was that we had to let go of certain things and trust other people to run different aspects of the business. We hired people, and developed systems and processes to run things more efficiently.
Q: What have been some of the biggest challenges in starting this business?
Finding a location with the right zoning which would enable us to expand outside our home was very challenging and time consuming. It took many tries with our current landlord and lots of back and forth to get to the space that we have today. Vancouver is a very expensive city, and that always keeps the pressure on for us to be busy to be able to pay the associated property tax with our rental unit.
There have also been more regulations and licences needed than I ever could have imagined! I wouldn’t have thought for this type of business that there would be so much paperwork to go through. It took us a long time to have all of the right things in place for us to be able to operate our business.
Q: What are some of the pros and cons of working so closely with your husband and other family members?
In the beginning, it was challenging just like a new relationship is, we had a lot to figure out. John was the expert on dog training and animal behaviours and I had a lot of learning to do in this area. It took me a long time to learn how to use my voice properly to speak to dogs, it has to start from the stomach.
On the flip side, I’ve always been in charge of the money and that has made it easy. With my business background, John is very comfortable with me managing the finances of the business.
The best part about working with loved ones is that you get to spend so much time with your favourite people! For me, this was always my dream that I would work alongside my family. We love running this family business because now we have so many shared memories and stories from this time together.
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Q: What has been surprising on this journey of running a small business?
That we did it! I can’t believe it’s been four years in our new space and we are still doing it. Our brand is very recognized in the city and we are always thrilled when people recommend us. People wave to us as the dog taxi drives by around the city. It’s been a lot of fun to see how positively people react to it.
Q: How has your daughter now been influenced by having entrepreneur parents?
Valeria loves talking about our business. She has her own business cards, “Puppy interpreter,” and is always giving them out to people at her school. When we get new clients, we ask them how they heard about our business, and many times they say that one of their children heard about it from our daughter at school.
Her, “summer camps,” are here at the Dog Hotel, helping us to run the business. She understands the meaning of hard work, and yes, sometimes she does complain about helping out! We often get requests for people to come and volunteer in our space, and when our daughter sees how much the volunteers love helping out, she recognizes how lucky she is to be a part of our business. She is a natural with all of the dogs, she has an amazing understanding of animal body language.
Q: How have mentors helped you along in this journey?
My father was my first mentor growing up, as I watched him work hard to run a business to support our family. I’ve also been a part of the Forum for Women Entrepreneurs for the last year and I feel like it has changed my life. Since being assigned a mentor and business consultant, I feel like a new person running this business. My mentor has not only been great with career advice, she has been an emotional support and sounding board. It’s so important to find other women you can connect with for feedback, validation and personal struggles. The rest of the time I am running this business with my husband and brother, so it’s refreshing to have a woman to speak to about business issues — and the latest family drama too!
Q: How do you try to find a balance between work, family life and time for yourself?
After 6 pm we try to take a break from talking about work. My brain is done at that point and I would rather focus my time and energy on my daughter. I also carve out time to do yoga two to three times a week and drink lots of water. Finding a workout that both challenges you and is something you enjoy really helps balance the stress of running a small business.
Q: What advice would you give to other moms thinking of starting their own business?
One thing that has really helped our business is having everything close by. Our home, work and our daughter’s school are all within walking distance. Not having to commute on a daily basis has made this manageable. You really want to be able to maximize your time at home with your children. Also — don’t be too tired from work from your kids, this makes you a grumpy mom! Find a way to re-charge after work so that you still have some energy left when you go home.
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This is part of a series of everyday mom inspired stories who made radical changes in their work life to pursue their passion, all with kids in tow. If you enjoyed reading it, please leave a comment or a clap! See the full series at: medium.com/the-mompreneur
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