Thinking outside of the box and creating something usable, chic and with a spirit of giving is just what Nicole Flowers has done with her bag company hiip. Using a "one-for-one" model, for every stylish bag sold, she gives one away to someone less fortunate. Style and service: what could be better? We featured Nicole as she was just starting hiip back in 2012. Now—a year and a half later—we're excited to see what's new. Here's our interview with Nicole from the current issue of Delighted.
Can you tell us about hiip and what "hiip" means?
Sure! hiip is a new fanny pack company (we're just over a year old!) that has two bottom lines. Like other social ventures, we have a desire to provide a cool product to fashion-forward consumers but also have an impact on our community. hiip stands for "Helping Individuals in Passing" because for every bag purchased, we hand-deliver (not just donate) a kit of necessities to a person in need on the street. Our desire is to get to know our communities in a real way by making personal interactions that aren't usually pursued.
What is your professional background and what inspired you to start your own business?
I had wanted to start my own company for about seven years before launching into the world of entrepreneurship. After spending a year in advertising sales in Manhattan after college, I moved home to San Francisco and joined the biotechnology world as a meeting planner on the commercial side. The freedom to chase personal ideas and goals in that organization helped to develop a critical thinking mind and gave me the courage to venture out on my own. It was an amazing eight year growing experience and, though many young people want to jump right into their own business, the lessons in communication and working with people, setting deadlines and seeing how business works, have been absolutely priceless now that I work solely for myself and am building my team.
You officially launched hiip over a year ago and nine months into it, quit your day job to focus on your business full-time. What prompted you to make the jump?
Through my interactions with people outside my circle (aka my family and close friends) and my circle's circle, I realized the idea could stick and I could have a valid customer base. Once I realized and truly started thinking about it, I worked pretty hard at doing both a full-time job where I traveled a good deal and launching a small business. Nine months into doing both I knew that in order for hiip to not just be a hobby, I had to devote time and effort and so I made the leap!
Hiip is committed to giving back using a one-for-one model. What does this look like and who is it you're giving to?
My initial desire with hiip was to not only provide our customers (or hiipsters as we affectionately call them) with a cool new, functional bag but also an opportunity to get involved in the community. We partner with the Salvation Army weekly to join together and pass out the hiip Kits in various areas of San Francisco. It's an organic outreach where we put together meals provided by their team, toiletry kits provided by ours, and we head out to the streets to strike up conversations and build rapport with those living around us that we wouldn't usually see or notice. Though we're only operating Handouts in San Francisco now, I'm excited to say we'll be launching in about 10 other cities in early to mid-2014!
What has been the most challenging part of quitting your day job and running your own
Oh man. I'd have to say time management. It's one thing to have a huge to-do list and organizing apps to write it all down but actually managing myself has been hard. I'm a creative and a dreamer and it can lead to some distracted days! But the good news is I'm building a great team of dedicated people who provide strengths to my opportunities. I also miss the camaraderie of corporate life but I wouldn't change it for anything. Building something special, no matter the challenges that come along with it, is priceless.
What is most rewarding?
Seeing this whole operation grow! We have a few collaborations in the works, we're getting orders from all over the country (and even internationally), we're hiring some great talent, and we're making a conscious impact on this city. Seeing others believe in what we're doing is also a strong reason to continue on. People want to get involved, they want to help, we offer an avenue and we're a part of the ever-changing face of business. It's pretty cool.
What has been your greatest learning experience since starting this venture?
No man is an island and there is no way I can do it all on my own. Through interns and even part-time employees, I've been able to release some of the not-so-CEO things to focus on big picture items. For a while I was trying to manage every piece of the business but not only was I not completing everything well, I wasn't able to tackle as much as I needed to. I know now that investing in support is more cost-effective than trying to manage it all alone.
What does a typical work day look like for you?
I've found a rhythm in bucketing my days so I keep focus only on the week's important tasks. I only check my emails and respond to inquiries on Mondays and Thursdays and I limit it to the morning. We all know it can be a time-suck so I've addressed that accordingly. I have a weekly meeting with my Chief of Staff to review outstanding items that need to be completed over the week and other than that, each day is different. I build a to-do list at the end of each week and then schedule specific time each day to complete the various tasks. I've found that scheduling myself (and not overdoing it!) helps with my productivity. If I need to draft a contract or review a photo set, I block an hour and get to it. It mirrors my list (for a life-saver, I recommend Workflowy) so my attention is clear-cut. I do not work on Sundays (don't even open the computer) because I believe everyone should have a complete day of rest to re-focus on family and friends - two of the main reasons that I, personally, work for myself.
What advice can you give to someone who is considering starting their own business that gives back?
1. Find a cause you're passionate about because it will keep you going. 2. Provide a product or service that no one else is offering. After that, start it. The best advice I can give (that I received at the beginning of my adventure) is: Action trumps everything. Find out what works and what doesn't. Fail. Succeed a little. Fail some more. Then, once you feel like you've found your spot, do it and do it well.
What can we expect to see in hiip's future?
Favorite question! We have some fun months ahead of us. Not only do we have lots of new lines focusing on new areas of San Francisco with new looks coming (Momma and Mini to be the first come early spring!) but, as I mentioned, we'll be expanding our Handout program across the country early next year. The creativity keeps coming and we're still making improvements, little by little, to the bags and the process. It's great fun and we're so glad our hiipsters are sticking around for all that's to come!