Q&A: Nicole McLaren, founder of Raven Reads, guided her Indigenous subscription box business through supply-chain challenges.
Here’s how she handled the pandemic.
Nicole McLaren is an award winning Métis entrepreneur from British Columbia and Saskatchewan. Combining her passion for supporting Indigenous entrepreneurs and leveraging her extensive knowledge of industry supply chains and economic development, Nicole was able to turn a small book club into Raven Reads, the world’s first Indigenous subscription box. With thousands of subscribers across Canada, the U.S., and Europe, Raven Reads continues to grow at a rapid rate while giving back to local communities. Through the success of the business, Nicole has been able to invest over $400,000 back into the Indigenous economy and over $2,000 to literacy programs for Indigenous youth and children.
How have you managed your business finances through the pandemic?
The pandemic really impacted our supply chain and ability to ship and receive products. To adjust to this, we sought out additional cash (debt) to support purchasing our raw materials earlier, allowing us to assemble our packages and ship them to customers sooner to meet our deadlines. We accessed term loan options that were offered as a result of the pandemic through our local Aboriginal Financial Institution (AFI) and via Futurpreneur. While we have increased our debt burden, we had the advantage of going into the pandemic with a fairly low debt load.
Has your approach to sales and marketing changed?
As an online business, we have not had to make any major changes to our approach to reaching our customers. Our current approach includes a blend of paid social media advertising, organic social media engagement, email marketing, and partnerships or collaborations. For example, this year we partnered with Pow Wow Pitch to host the execution of their annual mailer box featuring products curated from past and present pitch participants. This year, we have begun to focus more on our email marketing strategy and reducing our dependence on paid advertising. This is to reduce our marketing costs and reduce our dependency on specific social media platforms.
How has technology played a role in your business during this time?
While the pandemic did not necessarily impact our usage of technology, Raven Reads relies heavily on technology to handle our transactional activities with customers, such as taking their orders and handling order fulfillment. We are also a team that is 70% virtual and technology is what allows us to communicate and collaborate on tasks and company objectives. We are currently seeking capital to assist us in boosting our use of technology and enhance our website and e-commerce functionality. Heading into 2022, we will leverage technology better and develop digital products that not only complements our physical product, but provides an enhanced ongoing experience for our subscribers.
How have you managed your mindset (and that of your team)?
I had a baby 18 months ago and continued to operate my business throughout the entire time of having a newborn and homeschooling my older daughter. To manage all of this, I have had to employ working in blocks of time and compartmentalizing my priorities each day. I work around nap times and do what I can later in the day. I make sure I take time for myself and always get plenty of sleep when I can. I engage regularly with my team as they are what keeps me going — and they make sure I keep moving forward and continue to innovate. I also have a strong network of like-minded entrepreneurs who I can rely on if I am stuck or struggling to overcome seemingly impassable barriers in business. I keep sane by keeping busy and focus on keeping my family running. And when everyone goes to sleep, I take time for myself and enjoy a good (fictional) book or TV show.
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to all entrepreneurs in your industry today?
Being an entrepreneur, or working for yourself, is very different from working a nine-to-five job for an employer. You are responsible for setting your schedule, and no one is there to tell you if you are doing a good or bad job. We often leave day jobs thinking we will have this newfound freedom and not have to work as much. This is somewhat of a falsehood — especially if you are entering an aggressive growth stage of your business. Be sure that you have a support network around you to help on your new journey. Because you don’t have someone else to set the expectation around your work, you can be prone to overworking. It is entirely up to you to set boundaries, set expectations, and ensure you employ a practice to take care of yourself while also keeping your business moving forward.