Among challenges confronted by entrepreneurs, that elusive work-life balance is one I hear time and time once more.
Drawing the road between life and work is particularly tough for family businesses and these operated out of the house: kitchen tables overrun with manufacturing samples, packaging provides overflowing from closets, after-hours conversations all the time circling again to the enterprise. Itâ€™s a powerful behavior to interrupt.
For Lichia Liu and her husband Christopher Guest, work-life stability isnâ€™t black and white.
The traces are so blurred, itâ€™s inconceivable to inform the place one ends and the opposite begins. But for them, it really works. Their enterprise occupies a 2-story live-work constructing in an up-and-coming Toronto neighbourhood. Everything occurs below on roof.
Gotamago is the brainchild of Lichiaâ€”playing cards, artwork prints, and equipment that includes her personal hand-painted illustrations bought on-line, via their retail store, and through wholesale clients. Lichia and Christopher run the enterprise collectively, with a group of part-time workers.
We visited Lichia and Christopher within the multi-functional house that serves as their HQ, warehouse, retail shop, occasion house, design studio, and residence.
Four years in the past, although, Gotamago was simply a facet gig and the 2 hadnâ€™t even met.
This is their story.
The Making of an Entrepreneur
As early as she will be able to bear in mind, Lichia was all the time drawing. It appeared a pure profession path for her. When she graduated highschool, although, she selected panorama structure as a result of she determined that it was a good stability between her love of artwork and a sensible profession.
In her first position out of faculty, at a panorama structure agency, the monotony of the 9-to-5 prompted her to hunt inventive side-projects.
She began knitting, and screenprinting on her Japanese Gocco machine. (Ultimately, her enterprise identify can be impressed by the machine â€”â€œGoâ€� for Gocco and â€œtamagoâ€�, the primary phrase Lichia discovered in Japanese.)
â€œMy background is Taiwanese, I’m not Japanese, however I did spend a 12 months instructing English in Japan and I really feel like I’ve a fairly robust connection to it. My grandmother additionally speaks Japanese so I discovered it once I was rising up.â€� â€“ Lichia
She opened an Etsy store in her day without work. Over the subsequent few years, as her profession would take her to Japan and Taiwan and then California for grad college, she maintained the Etsy store as a interest.
Back in Toronto, she started to experiment with watercolor.
“I began to do a lot of journey sketches, and the extra I posted them, the extra folks inspired me to put up extra. I put them on playing cards and they began to promote. That was once I realized there was one thing there that folks actually gravitated to, one thing that is hand drawn.â€� â€“ Lichia
IÂ began to do a lot of journey sketches, and the extra I posted them, the extra folks inspired me to put up extra.
The realization coincided with a interval in Lichiaâ€™s profession when she was feeling creatively stifled. She derived satisfaction from the finished tasks, however the non-creative administrative components of the work didnâ€™t encourage her. Her job was demanding, too, leaving little private time for making artwork on the facet.
â€œIn the tip I began questioning whether or not I had one thing extra in me that was artwork pushed. That if I did not pursue it now, I’d by no means have a likelihood to. There was an aha second once I was on the practice and I simply thought, â€˜I believe I’m prepared.â€™ No extra time beyond regulation, no extra working for someone else.â€� â€“ Lichia
I simply thought, â€˜I believe I’m prepared.â€™ No extra time beyond regulation, no extra working for someone else.
It wasnâ€™t a determination she ended up making calmly, although. The Etsy store was thriving by itself with very minimal effort, and wholesale orders have been already coming in, however she wasnâ€™t a particular person susceptible to rash choices.
â€œI thought, â€˜What if I did put extra effort? What would occur?â€™ I researched, crunched some numbers, and I additionally had my financial savings. I’m a fairly logical particular person too, and so I used to be balancing all of that and pondering realistically about how lengthy wouldn’t it take for me to get again to what I used to be making once I was full time. It was three years incubation, then spreadsheets and calculations, earlier than deciding to leap.â€� â€“ Lichia
Lichia figured she might fall again on instructing piano, or get a part-time job to assist complement the lean occasions.
Luckily, she didnâ€™t must.
Once Lichia threw herself full-time into the enterprise, it bloomed.
She started approaching retail stores to hold her work, and popped up with cubicles at local fleas and markets. The connections she made helped her earn extra wholesale purchasers, and even some contract illustration for media retailers just like the CBC and The Globe and Mail.
Market occasions segued into a semi-permanent sales space house at Arts Marketâ€”a group of native outlets that hire out house to native artists, makers, and classic sellers.
It was there that she met Christopher.
Itâ€™s right here that Christopher interjects, “The half that you just’re forgetting is that your apartment was overflowing.â€� When the 2 met, Lichiaâ€™s enterprise was taking off, however she was nonetheless managing the whole thing from her studio apartment. “We needed to picnic for dinner. Like setting a field down and a tablecloth,â€� he says.
In the early days, he began serving to her with the enterprise, although he was additionally working full-time as a video editor.
â€œWhen you’ve gotten merchandise, you’ve gotten stock, and stock was a lot of containers, so it began to take over all my dwelling house. I used to be utilizing my mattress as a desk more often than not. The front room flooring was lined with containers. Christopher had his personal place again then so he would come over and choose up playing cards from me to take residence to fold, as a result of he was doing labor for me on his day without work after work. That was our first few years.â€� â€“ Lichia
I used to be utilizing my mattress as a desk more often than not. The front room flooring was lined with containers.
In late 2013, the enterprise outgrew Etsy, and Lichia arrange a new store on Shopify.
“I noticed actually shortly that Etsy’s not going to be the location to determine a enterprise, particularly if I wished to have extra wholesale accounts. Just having a web site presence and telling the story on the location is so necessary for that.â€� â€“ Lichia
Christopher turned extra and extra concerned within the enterprise, serving to to construct the location, which he says remains to be a work in progress.
In 2015, Gotamago exhibited on the National Stationery Show in New York. The present resulted in so many orders that the 2 started to worryâ€”did they’ve programs in place to deal with the orders? How have been they going to handle from Lichiaâ€™s studio condominium?
â€œWhen a firm that has a lot of various areas begins ordering in mass portions, that is whenever you actually have to start out hiring, begin systemizing. That was what put us within the mindset of getting all this stuff automated. We had to determine methods to package deal every little thing, methods to practice folks. That was actually when it began.â€� â€“ Lichia
Suddenly Gotamagoâ€™s envelope wants leaped from 1,000 to 10,000 and they hired staff to assist fulfill orders.
“Having workers come into your dwelling house is just not nice. The place was so small they’d must eat their lunch over the sink.â€� â€“ Christopher
The place was so small they’d must eat their lunch over the sink.
The New York journey marked an improve of their private relationship, too: they have been now engaged. They wished to purchase a new place that might home their future household, and help the house wants of the enterprise.
“We began in search of a place to purchase however the market was loopy. We have been being outbid by like a 100 to 150 grand over asking. In the final 12 months it is gone up 33%.â€� â€“ Christopher
They finally discovered a constructing within the East York space that beforehand housed a run-down quick meals restaurant and upstairs flats. The neighbourhood, although as soon as a vibrant retail strip within the 1920s, had misplaced its lustre because the road turned a thoroughfare for commuter visitors within the 60s.
Though the constructing was â€œgrossâ€�, they noticed promise in it and the encompassing areaâ€”most of the buildings have been getting cleaned up.
Gotamago was in a nice place to purchase off the overwhelmed path: they didnâ€™t depend on foot traffic, because the enterprise was sustaining itself on ecommerce and wholesale. Retail was simply the icing.
Gotamagoâ€™s New Digs
When they purchased the constructing, Christopherâ€™s position within the enterprise graduated from technical to integralâ€”the house would wish a full overhaul.
â€œWe checked out the price of renovations, and simply the administration, the overall contractor a part of these prices, was greater than I used to be making. You simply want somebody round on a regular basis to ensure the contractors are doing the job. To get a basic contractor to do it was simply astronomical. Because I used to be freelance, I used to be in a position to be a little bit versatile, and on the similar time Rogers going via a reorganization, eliminating a lot of the freelancers.â€� â€“ Christopher
The basic contractor a part of these prices, was greater than I used to be making.
While the renovations have been taking place, Lichia stored her condominium, utilizing it as her design studio. Because Christopher was within the new house managing the development, he turned the defacto workplace supervisor, and coordinated the entire half time workers. The association, supposed to be short-term, freed up Lichiaâ€™s time to deal with design.
His strengths turned an asset to the enterprise, and he now takes care of the operations, runs the web site, and manages the workers full-timeâ€”all whereas the couple remains to be renovating the house.
Lichia and Christopher have been married of their new residence in September in the course of building, and their brick and mortar shopâ€™s grand opening occurred simply a month later. The most important flooring is a absolutely functioning workplace, warehouse, and retail store, whereas their upstairs dwelling house is ever nearer to completion.
How to Survive a Work-Live Space
Their association implies that the couple are practically all the time collectively and by no means actually have separation from work. How do they do it?
- Establish clear roles: Christopher and Lichia arenâ€™t stepping on every otherâ€™s toesâ€”theyâ€™ve divvied up the areas of the enterprise in keeping with their strengths, and have outsourced everything else.
“I’ve found that I do not like being a supervisor. You want particular set of expertise. Last 12 months at the moment we had one worker and now now we have 4, 5, half timers. It’s getting busier, and the way in which that I cope with issues generally may be very emotional, and so it is higher for Christopher to cope with it as a result of he has far more expertise.â€� â€“ Lichia
- Carve out private house: upstairs, within the coupleâ€™s bed room, Lichia has taken over a sunny nook the place she will be able to quietly work on her illustration.
- Designate particular areas for work and dwelling: whereas the couple’s total existence occurs below one roof, upstairs theyâ€™ve constructed a stunning sanctuary away from their work.
- Build a group: the Gotamago house hosts community eventsâ€”one thing they hope to do moreâ€”permitting them to work together face-to-face with folks apart from themselves.
Now that Lichia and Christopher have discovered their groove and their renovations are coming to a shut, theyâ€™re specializing in optimizing their operations and constructing a group.
Theyâ€™ve began working with a developer to construct a wholesale portal, permitting them to handle all of their orders via the identical Shopify store.
For the longer term, they hope that their store conjures up a renaissance of the once-thriving retail strip the place theyâ€™ve determined to construct their life.
â€œItâ€™s introducing us to folks, to the makers who’re right here, in addition to bringing the group collectively, and simply making this neighborhood a extra inventive form of place.â€�