There is much societal pressure on women to be everything to everyone – the perfect mother, the perfect wife, and the perfect business owner. And many female entrepreneurs profess to have struck that perfect balance between self-care and running a business. But today’s guest is here to share her struggle with the chaos that is her life and assure you that it’s okay not to be perfect.
Krystina Dubrule is the CEO and Founder of Du North Designs, Ltd., a family-oriented fashion and apparel business based in McLennan, Alberta. A social worker by trade, Krystina was laid off just before returning from maternity leave after having her third child. Inspired to start her own business, she began crafting hand-sewn clothing and tutus at her kitchen table and then offering her designs at a local market, but quickly realized that this wasn’t a feasible business plan with three small children in the house. Plan B was to place a wholesale order and host home parties with friends and family, and soon she was getting requests from people she didn’t know – as far as 300km away!
Under Krystina’s guidance, Du North has grown into a network of 3,000-plus distributors in the US and Canada, and the company garners over $1M in sales annually. Balancing the needs of her family with the demands of an online business is a test of her abilities, but Krystina has learned to embrace the chaos and incorporate laughter and fun into the life she has built. Listen in as she shares her strategy for picking the right battles, the truth about work-life balance, and how to make hiring decisions when it’s time to reach out for help.
Krystina’s keys to juggling family and business
- Let some things go
- Think long-term by asking, “What are my kids going to remember?”
- Be okay with having a happy family
- Don’t ask too much of yourself
Why it’s important to be honest about the challenge of balancing self-care and business
- Demonstrates that it’s okay not to be perfect
- People won’t like your brand any less
- Painting an unrealistic picture may discourage others
Krystina’s tip for staying organized
- Reach out for help on tasks that are not your strength
- Hire staff to share the journey with you
Krystina’s hiring guidelines
- Hire for personality rather than skill
- Hire slowly, but fire quickly
- It’s easier to teach tasks than culture
- Consider whether employee aligns with your mission
Connect with Krystina Dubrule
Along with wrangling three young children, three dogs, and three cats, Krystina Dubrule manages not only to run but also continues to grow her company, Du North Designs Ltd. Thankfully, she had the sense to marry a man who loves to share a glass of wine after the kids and critters are settled for the night. Balancing the needs of her family, the demands of a thriving online business, and finding personal space is often a stimulating test of her abilities, or in her words, “chaos”. Growing up in a family run business has taught her that perseverance and commitment to success must always be balanced with much laughter and good old-fashioned fun.
From crafting her own hand-sewn clothing and tutus at her kitchen table to, with new-born baby latched to her breast, offering her designs and the first small order of leggings at a local market, Krystina has molded Du North Designs Ltd. into a business with network of over 3000 distributors across Canada and the United States surpassing one million dollars in sales a year. The business has flourished because of her beliefs; fashion should be affordable and fun, and empowering people to cherish their own success.
Laura Pennington (Host): Welcome everybody to another episode of the Better Biz Academy podcast and I have a special guest for your today and we’re going to talk a lot about how she was able to successfully grow her company so quickly without sacrificing any quality and still having the time to spend with her family. My guest today is Krystina Dubrule. After wrangling with three young children, three dogs and three cats, she manages to not only run but grow her company, Du North Designs Ltd. Thankfully, she had the sense to marry a man who loves to share a glass of wine after the kids and critters are settled for night. Balancing the needs of her family, the demands of a thriving online business, and finding personal space is often a stimulating test of her abilities, or in her words, chaos. Growing up in a family run business has taught her that perseverance and commitment to success must always be balanced with laughter and good old fashioned fun. From crafting her own hand sewn clothing and tutus at a kitchen table to offering her designs and the first small order of leggings at a local market, she has molded Du North Designs Ltd. into a business with a network of over 3,000 distributors across Canada and the U.S. surpassing $1 million in sales a year. She believes that the business has flourished because of her beliefs that fashion should be affordable and fun and empowering people to cherish their own success. Welcome to the show, Krystina.
Krystina Dubrule (Guest): Thank you.
Laura: I am excited to talk to you. How did you kind of get started. Were you always interested in fashion or was this something that emerged kind of recently?
Krystina: No, as with most women I’ve always loved fashion or had just an enjoyment in clothes really. Bu, no, I’m actually a social worker by trade and so I was on maternity leave with my third child from my social work career, and I worked for a department that was actually closed down by the government two weeks before I was scheduled to go back to work. I got a layoff notice. As you may know, social work is a pretty dedicated field, you have to be fairly committed to your job and there’s a lot of on-call and that sort of thing. At that point that was my third child, I didn’t really want to commit to a job that much and so I thought, well I’d really like to sew, let my creative juices flow. I’m going to sew clothing and sell it. And that was a total failure with three kids to sew my own clothing and trying to sell it. But I quickly realized that three little helpers at a sewing machine was a bad idea but I didn’t quite want to give up so I thought I’m going to just make a wholesale order and do sort of home parties with friends and families. That was three years ago and I started getting lots of requests from people I didn’t know to go to their house and do it – and, you know, people 200-300 kilometers away would say, hey, can you come to my house? And I was like no, I can’t but let me see if I can find someone that will. And basically, try to find someone to partner with and that’s just sort of how it snowballed. So, it went just from being something that I could do as a pastime for fun, little bit of extra money, just to keep me busy and not have to go back to work in the social work field, that just started to snowball into what I sometimes refer to as like a beast. Like I just – so I actually don’t have a business background, never had the drive to be an entrepreneur initially, but you get bit with the bug and you kind of roll with it and it’s great.
Laura: I completely agree with that with being bit with the bug. I think more people than we realize are getting into entrepreneurship and business ownership without being formally trained to do so and even some of the people who are super successful with it. I know that family is really important to you and that, you know, even in the early version of your business you were looking for something that would aligned with your family vision. Do you think it’s especially hard for women who are in a more traditional employment situation, as they’re growing a family, and do you think – what were some of the challenges that you encountered when you were thinking about leaving that traditional situation and doing something for yourself?
Krystina: Oh god, that I faced – I still face, to be totally honest with you and I still have to make decisions sometimes on something I want to do for my family and what needs to be done for the business and that sort of thing. It’s a struggle, like I don’t want to say it’s not difficult for men, but women especially, we’re kind of – especially in society today I think we are…there’s a lot of pressure to be everything to everyone. In business, it’s no different. It’s incredible to see so many women in business and doing so well and standing up and saying we could do this too. But when you have kids, that’s a whole another element. You don’t get to go home at the end of the day and keep working on your business or relax. I have three other little people that I have to take care of alongside the business and that’s not that you can’t be successful but it’s certainly another element that makes it a little bit – you have to be more organized and it’s certainly more stressful, I think. And I think men maybe don’t necessarily feel that in the same way that women do. And then, I absolutely adore and love my husband but there’s also maintaining that relationship with him. So basically, your business is like a whole another relationship aside from your – so you’re really spreading yourself a lot thinner I find.
Laura: Right, so you’ve got a pretty full plate. You’ve got this business that’s grown very quickly, you’ve got kids, you’ve got animals, you’re married – what are your sort of tricks for staying sane and that kind of environment because I know just from owning a business, that in and of itself is quite a commitment but to have all these other things on your plate seems like such a challenge.
Krystina: Well, I’m not sure I am sane but I stay off Pinterest to lessen my guilt as a mom.
Laura: I like that.
Krystina: No, and I mean that in a sense that, you know, you learn what’s important and what are your kids going to remember. Are your kids going to remember that you sent cookies to school on Valentine’s Day? I mean, let’s be honest. I sent – I found some candy canes at our local drugstore that kind of looked Valentine-ish but considering that they were candy canes, they probably weren’t. So, you just learn to pick your battles, you learn that it’s okay if the dishes are in the sink over the night. They’re not going to spontaneously combust, that’s okay. You learn to let things go, I think, and just think long term, what are my children and my husband going to remember? I don’t want them to remember mom as always being at the computer, at the kitchen table but for a while, that was kind of the reality. And there was – I had to do some self-reflection about what do I want here. And so, I would do the dishes when I have to and it’s just about I think, honestly learning to let some things go and being okay with just having a happy family and, like I said, just staying off Pinterest but just not asking too much of yourself.
Laura: I like that you talk about this message of kind of doing less and recognizing that you can’t really do it all nor should you hold yourself to that standard. And you had mentioned earlier that that’s something where society in particular puts pressure on women with regard to that. This kind of idea that you have to be everything to everyone and you have to juggle all these things and juggle them all well, which is almost impossible. So, what do you think we have to do as women and as entrepreneurs to change this perspective that’s out there in society that we have to do everything and be everything to everyone? That was something that you mentioned a little bit earlier. Some people would argue that the face of female entrepreneurship is kind of changing expectations already. There are plenty of other moms out there who’re doing the “I’m not the Pinterest mom, I’m being the best mom I can” but sometimes that means setting my expectations to what’s reasonable and what’s most important. So, what role do we play as women and as entrepreneurs in changing this perspective about what women should do?
Krystina: Well, you know, I’m going to answer this incredibly honestly. I think the same group that I met you on, someone posted one day, you know, I’m doing some research for this book and I want to know how you how you as entrepreneurs are basically balancing your needs with running a business. Everybody I’ve talked to says they’ve got the balance down pat. And so, she’s talked to seven people. And I piped up and I was like, Whoa! I don’t have that balance. And I think it’s great that there are some people that do but I think we just need to talk about that it’s okay not to be perfect and not to pretend. Nobody is going to like your brand less because you’re honest about the struggles that you have. My feeling was if you talked to seven entrepreneurs and they all said that they’ve got this perfect balance between self-care and running a business, I just don’t think they’re being honest. And so, I think that that is really important is to establish that honesty within the community that it is really hard. And I like to think that being someone that, you know, was – for lack of better term – pretty well put together, but then I opened this business and I had three kids and it was like no, I don’t know who could do this and stay sane all the time. So, I think it’s just about being honest with that.
Laura: Yeah. I mean, I agree with this. I think it’s not doing anybody any favors if you’re acting like everything is perfect because it causes guilt for all of the other people who don’t feel like they’ve got it together. It also discourages people from making the jump into entrepreneurship or motherhood or any other major commitment because they are thinking, oh well, those people have it figured out and I don’t even feel like I have my life together now before I get started with some other big project. And it just like just discourages – it gives people an unrealistic picture too and kind of encourages people to work around the clock. So how do you stay organized. You’ve obviously got a lot of different commitments going on. What are your top couple of tips for staying organized and kind of having that balance in your life?
Krystina: Honestly, it wasn’t easy making a million dollars so as soon as I identified that it was beyond my ability to be organized with everything that I was doing, I hired really good staff, and it got to a point where there were certain things you can only – and I mean not everybody’s there with tehri business – but I could only spread my – you can’t do everything well. You could do one thing really well but when you spread yourself thin across several different things with your business or with your family, if you’re trying to be everything to everyone, you’re nothing to anyone, right. So, for me, it was about identifying okay, I don’t think that I’m doing my business justice anymore at this point but by general managing. Like I know what I’m good at and I was good at marketing, so I hired a general manager and I took that money out of money potentially I could – I could have taken the time and put more hours into the business and made more money in the end but it was better for the business to hire someone else. So, I think it’s about letting go. Or for me, another really big control thing was at one point to hire a housekeeper; to let someone in to my comfort zone and clean my house. That was a big deal for me. Just little things like that is reaching out for help and the reality is that sometimes that means giving away some of your hard-earned success or money a little bit. But it’s also very rewarding to share that so I hired a general manager 6-8 months ago and I actually really love sharing the journey with her. So, it’s – I think that that’s key, it’s getting people on board and help you.
Laura: Yes, getting people on board who can help you – getting the right people to help you. So, your company grew extremely quickly. Now you have 3,000 distributors. Did you have to make a whole lot of hiring decisions pretty quickly and if so, how did you determine what it was you were going to have other people do versus what you were going to do?
Krystina: That’s an interesting one. You know, initially when I first started hiring – this was three years ago in Western Canada – the economy was a boom. You just kind of hired what you could get. That way you didn’t have to pay a lot of money for them. So, I sort of took what I could get and then the economy went downhill a little bit in the last year. And up until that point – up until about a year ago, that was the sort of position we were in. You just sort of took what you could get. And not that we didn’t have quality but we certainly didn’t have the quality that we have now when we – now we hire very slowly and fire very quickly. We’ve actually only ever had to let one person go out of 20. We also hire for personality, not for skill. So, I was actually doing a job interview yesterday, and it’s about the personality. I’m a firm believer that you can teach anybody to do what you need them to do, but you can’t necessarily teach the culture that you want within your business.
Laura: And that’s becoming such an important part of being any kind of entrepreneur whether it’s a brick and mortar business or whether it’s online completely, is you see people who are wanting to hire for the task. They’re still in this old-school mentality of, alright I need somebody who has these particular skills, somebody who has this particular range of experience. But I’m with you. I’ve actually found that the people that I had to let go on my team, it wasn’t actually lack of skill or lack of ability to learn something, it was really the personality and it was something that I should have screened for when we first had the conversation – I should’ve said, “mmm this definitely doesn’t feel right. This person doesn’t really understand the vision for where I’m going.” So, that’s very smart and probably a huge part of the reason why you’ve been so successful so quickly.
Krystina: Exactly. And especially for us, I mean, we really are – our mission statement is from empowerment is inspired by [Indiscernible 00:14:11] we really are about empowering – we call them our darlings. We’re not just numbers, we have three staff dedicated to just for talking with them and helping them. So, you know, we did have a staff member at one point that he came from a background that was very government, very regimented and he was brilliant and he had a great skillset but it just did not work.
Laura: Yeah, it’s not anymore about what somebody has on paper necessarily and sometimes, you know, I’ve found that I’ll take three people into an interviewing situation and I’m sure I know the one who’s going to come out on top. And then it shocks me because it’s usually my second or third choice who actually shows up to the interview and impresses me more. And a lot of the times my number one candidate actually falls off the list completely because it’s just – you know, they did a great job presenting themselves on paper but were the [Indiscernible 00:14:59], it just didn’t really happen. So, what does someone need to do to impress you? Is your team all virtual or do you have an office building where people report in?
Krystina: No we actually have very little virtual. We’re just moving to virtual a little bit now because we’re in a very rural area. The town we are located in actually has only 800 people and it’s quite north – I want to say about 3,000 km north of the Canadian and American border. So, sometimes we struggle with personnel just because we don’t have a lot to pick from here but up until actually the last three weeks or so, we hired a few VAs. But up until then we – we have 15 staff members here, at home office – so we do everything and we’re actually in an old school and so our offices are all big open classrooms. So, we all have to share like four people to a classroom. So, it’s very much a very intimate environment which I think is a great culture and a great atmosphere. So yeah, we don’t do – we do very little virtual – we’re very much about, the relationship here.
Laura: Wow. That’s amazing and it’s so inspiring to think about your story and how you were able to grow this so successfully. So, sort of to wrap things up, I’d love to know where people can go to learn more about you and your company?
Krystina: So they can go to the website which is dunorthdesigns.com. So, Du without the E; so, D U NorthDesigns.com. Check us out on Facebook as well. We have a really active Facebook page and Facebook following. We do a lot of fun stuff on there as well. So, that too is Du North Designs Ltd. So yeah, those are kind of the two best places to check us out.
Laura: That’s great. Well, thank you for coming on the show and sharing your expertise and certainly inspiring me but also making me feel more grounded in that it’s okay to not have everything together and to not want to put forward this image of “oh I’m perfect” and “I never have an off day” and “I do everything that’s on my to-do list”. It’s nice to talk to somebody who’s found that balance while not sacrificing family as well.
Krystina: Yeah. No, for sure, I’d love to say I have it all together but there are certain things that I’ve had to sacrifice over the years and I’m okay with that. And I’m okay with the fact that I don’t go to the gym anymore and things are a little fluffier than they were a few years ago, but I spend more time with my kids and we do family activities as opposed to me, you know, playing ice hockey by myself as exercise, we do something we could do as a family. So yeah, it’s all about that balance.
Laura: And that’s such a powerful note to end on because remember, as you’re building your business, you make the choices about how much you’re going to work, how you’re going to work, and how that’s going to fit in with the rest of your life. So, as you scale your business, be really mindful of how you do it and the roles that you ask other people to take on so that you can continue to build something that’s meaningful for you.
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