There are some beloved characters in pop culture. Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz. Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird. Yoda from Star Wars.
And then, of course, Dora The Explorer…
Okay, maybe that last one is a bit of a stretch. But for Ellen Bennett, the founder of multi-million dollar apron company Hedley and Bennett, that children’s character’s can-do adventurous spirit resonates with and lives within her. And she has tapped into those qualities to approach entrepreneurship in a somewhat unique way.
I definitely feel like I was a bit of a Dora the Explorer. With enough kind of humble enthusiasm, you open a lot of doors. That’s what I did. And it worked. And, you know, I don’t always land all of my wild adventures, but in this case, it really was the beginning of a whole new journey. And it’s so simple as just showing up sometimes up to the place where you’re going to meet the people, or have a chance to talk to somebody who will get you into the next door. And then you keep asking and you keep asking and you’re just, you gotta be relentless.
The places Ellen was showing up? They were Michelin star restaurants in Los Angeles and she was going around to the back doors to put her product in front of some of the best chefs in the world. Ellen was not well-known. Her product was an apron — something that every restaurant in town already had in bulk. And she was a one-woman operation trying to leapfrog all of the traditional lanes to go straight to the top and find success.
She didn’t have Dora’s map or her partners in crime to guide her. She was Ellen the explorer and she was out on her own.
Welcome back to The Journey.
- Walk Through the Door and Ask: You don’t always need to go through regular channels to get things done. If you have enough confidence and gumption to be aggressive, get in front of the decision-makers, and simply ask for what you want, you just might get it. There is risk and rejection involved in this strategy, but the opportunity is there for the taking if you’re willing to try.
- Don’t Listen to the Haters: Those who don’t see your vision may try to dissuade you at the beginning of your entrepreneurial journey. Push through, turn those voices off, and do the work that is in your heart. Along the way, you will have to inspire others through your own passion, and you will need to get creative at times to help your vision come to life.
- Let It Go: Utilize your strengths and minimize your weaknesses. Learn when you need to turn off the hustle of doing everything yourself and let someone else whose skill set is more suited take over tasks that you are less apt for. Lean into the assets you have that brought the business to life and delegate those smaller, albeit necessary, tasks.
“It became very normal for me to do things that kids maybe ‘normally’ didn’t do at that age. [My mom] never said you couldn’t do any of that, so I just did it and that was huge for me. I think it’s such a gift that my mom did that with us because it opened all these doors without me even realizing that the doors were open or closed before. It was just like, ‘Here’s the world. Go.’”
“I was shocked, honestly, that we were all in there using the best equipment. Literally ordering scallops from Japan and doing crazy things with this special vinegar made by some man in the mountains of the Himalayas. And yet we all were dressed in polyester sheets with basically a shoelace strap around the base, tied to our bodies, like ‘Good luck. Godspeed.’”
“Every single chef I sat with, they’d tell me, this is what’s wrong with it. This is what’s right with it. I need better pockets. The straps aren’t working, I hate this thing about it. And so they were all my focus group and it just made a really good product because they were developing it with me.”
“I got chosen to be in the New York marathon, so I went to Nike andI bought myself a hell of a great outfit. And I was like, ‘I am a freaking runner. Now let’s go.’ That made me feel like I was something that two minutes before I wasn’t, it all was mental. I loved that. I had convinced myself of something very different immediately after having a different thought. And I wanted that feeling, that exact moment to exist when people wore our aprons, where they put it over their head and they’re like, ‘This is legit. I am legit. I’m going to do this.’ I thought the way to make people feel even more that way is to have incredible chefs wearing that product.
“I have very much learned to shed the roles that aren’t best suited for me and help people do the best that they can do by giving them the roles best suited for them, versus having everyone doing everything. We used to ship everything. Now we have a distribution center that does that all for us, so that we can focus on what we do best, which is make really amazing products and outfit home cooks now and get into the home cook space.”
Ellen Bennett was a spunky curious young girl raised in a bi-cultural Mexican and English household. Her maturity at a young age, and her ballsy confidence set her on the way to living in a foreign country by herself at the age of 18 beginning her love of the food and restaurant industry. She’s found her way into the best restaurants around the country and worked with the likes of Martha Stuart and Alton Brown. The scrappy beginnings of her apron company, Hedley & Bennett, were founded in her own self-confidence and her wish to share that feeling with others.
This season of the Journey is produced by Mission.org and brought to you by UPS. To learn how UPS can help your small business, go to UPS.com/pivot.