by Mary Bartlett
Ruth M. Owades ’66, who started, built, and sold two groundbreaking consumer-product businesses — Gardener’s Eden and Calyx & Corolla — says that if you want to be an entrepreneur, you have to be comfortable taking risks.
“Life would be boring if there were no risk,” she says. “But it’s important to ask yourself if you can handle it. You may not be cut out to be an entrepreneur if the idea of failure scares you.”
Owades advises future risk takers to think through all potential situations. First, do you have the mindset? Do you have the right amount of personal resources, or can you raise the money? What are the implications for family and other people in your life?
“Make an honest assessment,” she says. “Can you pick yourself up and dust yourself off after possible failure?”
But failure is not a problem and nothing to be embarrassed about, Owades emphasizes. “It’s your attitude that’s important.”
When Owades started Gardener’s Eden, which sold upscale gardening tools and outdoor furniture online, she was unwilling to accept financing from family and friends. In retrospect, she says, perhaps she should have: they would have made money. But she doesn’t question that decision. “I’m a big believer in looking forward, not backward.”
Owades believes that women have a natural talent for business because they are particularly good at juggling many things. They also work on relationships. And they are good at managing laterally as well as dealing with hierarchy.
Starting out, Owades heard that women can’t do this or that. When she needed to lease a computer system, one man said he had never leased one to a woman before. “I saw this as a challenge,” Owades said.
The other key quality entrepreneurs must have, says Owades, is passion. “Ask yourself, are you really committed to this idea?” she said.
With Calyx & Corolla, the online floral business that changed the way people buy flowers, people saw a “girl” doing this and thought it must be easy, said Owades. “But it was a complicated idea. I loved flowers and could deal with all the problems and find solutions. Others wanted in just for the money. They weren’t passionate about flowers, so they failed.”
Owades’ passion for business continues as she mentors young entrepreneurs in the Bay Area, where she lives. She teaches them the importance of communication. “The businesses I ran were fun because they were verbal, visual, and with so many means of communication.”
“Consumers are less captured by words now — but luckily, there are impactful ways of getting their attention in the era of social media. It’s essential to meet the customer, or any audience, where they live — Facebook, Twitter, or the Scripps College campus.”
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