As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Claudia Harvey, CEO of Dig It Apparel® Inc. which struck a deal with Kevin O’Leary on CBC Canada’s Dragons’ Den. This work opened the door for Claudia to launch and invest in other businesses, such as SPOTMYUV’s Suncayr to make a quantifiable difference in the world. She is a founding partner of BG Wealth Group Inc., BG Investment Holdings Inc. and BG Marketing Authority. She was awarded the Top Female Business Leader Award in 2019 from New York’s International Association of Top Professionals and is a contributing author of America’s Leading Ladies along with Oprah Winfrey and Melinda Gates. She is an international keynote speaker and shares events with Tony Robbins, Mark Victor Hansen, Bill Walsh, Jim Treliving and more. Claudia and her team help others emulate her success, grow their businesses and expand their wealth.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path? Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
There have been a lot! I’ve been invited to speak at a Tony Robbins event; I’ve participated in a book compilation that included Oprah and Melinda Gates, but I probably go back to the infancy of being an entrepreneur launching my first business, Dig It Apparel. The idea of stepping into opportunities presented to you versus shying away out of the fear of the unknown has always been part of my DNA. We were six weeks into the start of selling our first product, Dig It Handwear, and we pitched on Dragons’ Den, the US equivalent of Shark Tank. Kevin O’Leary, who began on Dragons’ Den, bought into Dig It, which solidified our position in the marketplace that this little start-up had legs. When the episode aired, it was a surreal — 90,000 hits on the website that night (before social media was a thing). The little company that started in my kitchen was on the map.
Fast forward 11 years, and the pitcher is now the investor. I’ve learned a tremendous amount from watching how Kevin grew his business, and Dig It acquired Suncayr in late 2020. Suncayr has a patented product called SPOTMYUV that will revolutionize sun care habits. We recognized this gem of a product, and like a shark or a dragon, bought the company to grow it to its potential.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I think hindsight is 20/20, and we can call it funny now, but at the time, it was a pivot point in my start-up.
We bootstrapped the company, and our personal dollars went into the company’s foundation, including purchasing inventory. After coming off Dragons’ Den, we had our first big box order. We paid upfront, out of pocket, for $30,000 worth of product made by a manufacturer we thought we could trust. This was our entire cashflow for the spring season tied up in inventory. When I received the goods, 50% were unsellable. I opened the boxes and realized our total cash flow was in these boxes of product that I had to save to ensure I met my retailer’s timelines and needs. If we didn’t salvage this situation, there was no going back; the money was spent, the company was done.
So, in the middle of February in an unheated warehouse in Toronto, with space heaters under the tables by our feet, minus 2 degrees outside, we took apart all 10,000 pairs of gloves; I hired people I couldn’t afford. For two weeks, we matched salvageable right hands to left hands, retagged them, reboxed them and got them out the door, meeting the retailer delivery expectations by probably a day. It saved the order, we unthawed, and I learned my lessons. Which is :
- Take control of every aspect of your business to vet your relationships carefully, and only partner with people you can trust, depend on and have your back.
- The network of people you surround yourself with is so critical to helping you grow.
- You don’t know what you don’t know until you do! Then learn from it, do not forget and then trust your gut (which is based on hard lessons learned).
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
In preparing for the Dragon’s Den show, one of the fondest memories I will carry forever was practicing the pitch in front of my mom. She grilled us relentlessly. To put this into perspective, my mom was about 75 years old and had retired at age 71 from hairdressing. She had a high school education, was a German immigrant that came to Canada after World War II, did not know the language with $100 in her purse, and lovingly raised two kids in a modest lifestyle… At age 70, my parents had an amicable divorce, and during their marriage, she, as tradition dictates with many of that generation, left all the money management to my father. However, upon separating, she took a lump sum settlement from her divorce of $30,000 and learned how to play the stock market. Upon her death at age 80, she had quietly parlayed her initial $30,000 to over $400,000.
She spent her days watching business shows, reading news magazines, watching the stocks and learning this new environment she had traditionally left to my father. She continues to be my inspiration, and one day I want to grow up to be just like her.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
I LOVE the book “Shoe Dog: A Memoir” by the Creator of Nike, Phil Knight. It speaks to the trials and difficulties he experienced creating, running, and growing the brand to where it is today. It spoke to precisely what Dig It, and many inventory brands struggle with: building a stellar brand and having enough cash flow, incredible people and business savvy to navigate the twists and turns of business. Many people do not know the challenges that can confront you as a Founder in trying to build a brand from the ground up. Phil Knight lived and breathed his brand from his first shoe… it’s a fantastic book.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
“I’ve learned that whenever I decide something with an open heart, I usually make the right decision”. Maya Angleou
I always strive to have three things in my life, and that’s strength, balance, and harmony. Strength from within, and I surround myself with people that will support me, are like-minded, are optimistic. Balance means that I can manage both my personal goals and business objectives with the wheels staying on the cart…that can certainly take some maneuvering at times! Harmony occurs when the events and people that matter in my life are all moving together in harmony. And each of the three needs to be in congruence with our personal goals. And if those three things are not in my life, then I’m out of synch. It affects how I move through life. In retrospect, I realize that as I added family and other commitments outside a career to my life, I inherently gravitated towards these words until I carved out an individual path that worked for me. And I think a lot of entrepreneurs and business people strive for similar things, but they might not even know it or have yet to identify it in themselves.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I believe in the power of paying it forward and helping organizations dedicated to empowering women and youth. I sit on the international Advisory Board of Sonas.org and created the BG Scholarship Fund, which provides under-privileged children with a post-secondary education that will help them realize and achieve their full potential. Never forgetting my Canadian roots, I am also a member of the Foundation Board of Princess Margaret Hospital, one of the five most renowned cancer research hospitals in the world.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?
I think we as women have made tremendous strides forward in the past decades. We’ve come together as a sisterhood to help each other. Unfortunately, it is also a slippery slope backwards when things out of our control, such as the global pandemic hit us.
- Approximately 3 million women in the US dropped out of the labor force in 2020
- The participation of women over 20 years old entering the workforce is at an all-time low.
- But hopeful signs, the state of California mandated that every publicly traded company must have a woman, person of color or LGBT on their board.
- Should we applaud that? Well, yes and no. Unfortunately, the number is low, and it has to be MANDATED, but at least it’s an acknowledgement and a step forward.
I think many women continue to be the primary caregiver in the home, and I’ve personally known women with careers that took a step back when they had children. I did too. I left the corporate world to be more present with my young family…and started Dig It on the side. When they went to school, before they got up, and after they went to bed, I took every minute I could to create the pieces of the company…. And still carved out time to be with them. To live in “strength, balance and harmony.”
So it’s finding the right balance that fits each woman in her particular situation. We support and amplify each other, never sit in judgement. Again, who we surround ourselves with is hugely important. I’ve created bonds with my close girlfriends (from all walks of life and backgrounds), and we have each other’s back. It takes a village to raise a child and takes a well-oiled machine to raise a company.
I think we also struggle as a community to help our young girls growing up believe they too can be the leaders in the arena they choose. Its strong women role models such as Oprah Winfrey, Sheryl Sandberg, Mary Barra, media personalities Gwyneth Paltrow shifted her movie stardom to found Goop, a product-based company she believes in…. we need to prime our girls that it can be done and they can aim high and believe in themselves.
Can you share with our readers what you are doing to help empower women to become founders?
After Dig It successfully struck a deal with Kevin O’Leary, I was asked to speak specifically about being a woman, mother, starting a company and what it took to draw a Dragon’s (Shark) attention. I began to speak more and on international stages to help inspire.
I also speak at universities and colleges to the business classes about the real and genuine challenges of starting a company. Again I think getting to our youth is so important to enable them to believe there are alternative paths to the traditional corporate model of “success.”
After speaking, I’ve had people come to me that they saw me a couple of years ago and came back to see me because what I talked about changed the path they were on. That is a humbling feeling, and I feel if I’m going to speak, then it’s my responsibility to speak the truth AND encourage women to choose a path that is right for them.
This might be intuitive to you but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?
- Feeling of pride that you created this with your vision. That your vision has merit.
- An ability to carve out a lifestyle that meets your personal needs.
- Be a leader to other women that need a nudge to rise to their own capabilities.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Can you please share 5 things that can be done or should be done to help empower more women to become founders? If you can, please share an example or story for each.
1 . Understand your own personal definition of success and what that means to YOU. Then carve out a path to meet that.
I attribute my parents’ definition of success to their upbringing. Born and raised in Germany, they grew up through the 1930s depression, World War II, and post-Germany world fallout. With $100 and in search of a better life in Canada, they believed the definition of success was making money. The more you had, the more success you had.
Within 12 years of graduating from university, I lived the life my parents defined for me. I worked on Bay Street (equivalent to US Wall Street) with a staff, international clients worth millions, a car allowance and an expense account. I traveled North America for work on average 15 days per month and had become what I had envisioned since that fateful day I first encountered Toronto’s skyscrapers. As icing on the cake, I married and had my first son. I was living life large, living my dream and found “success.”
Three years after the birth of my firstborn, I realized “success,” the lifestyle and all its benefits came with a price. I constantly travelled to different time zones taking me away from my family, worked from 5:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., had client pressures thrust upon me, staff pressures demanding attention, corporate imposed quotas and a family at home needing my attention. I began to feel I wasn’t doing anything well. When I was at work, I wanted to be at home, and when I was at home, I thought I needed to be at work.
I was travelling to Chicago one cold day in February, and when the customs officer asked me, “Are you travelling for pleasure,” I grumbled back “No, this is just work.” This epiphany moment was like a lightning bolt to my forehead. My inner voice was screaming at me. I sat on the plane and reflected on all the effort, time and energy spent to become “successful.” Here I was, spent. I had it. It wasn’t a momentary vent of “I’m tired, it will pass.” This was a full-blown realization that I wasn’t happy, and I finally listened to my pestering inner voice. My life scale was off-balance, tipping in one direction and slamming to the ground. My definition of “success” had changed.
2. Surround yourself with people that compliment you! Everyone has unique abilities, and I strive to accentuate my talents with theirs. We do not duplicate; we compliment. For example, while I can understand a balance sheet and speak to what I want it to look like in the future, I have accountants that explain in minute detail what we need from a financial perspective to make my vision a reality.
3. Believe in yourself and your vision, and then the “how” will unfold. We as women need to know that our vision is often a unique perspective, and we should trust our inner voice guiding us to our vision. I believed in expanding our product line in Dig It almost after the first product was launched. In late 2020, Dig It acquired a company with a unique patented product SPOTMYUV which will speak to the needs of the same women who have bought our products over 10 years. It’s taken 10 years, but the vision I had to add companies to Dig It versus building from the ground up has come true.
4. If it doesn’t work, move on instead of stagnating in the same place with a false sense of loyalty. We as women tend to be kind to others that have not been kind or fair to us, sometimes to the detriment of ourselves. When I began Dig It, I opened up my first business bank account with the bank I had personally banked since I was 13. At that point in my life, I had a mortgage, multiple credit cards, retirement savings and much more with this bank. When I asked the bank for the first company loan to pay inventory (instead of using my own personal funds!) for a guaranteed sale and purchase order in hand, the Small Business Bank Manager asked my husband to sign the loan. Dig It was incorporated, and my husband didn’t have any signing authority nor ownership in Dig It. I was so affronted that I walked across the street to a competitive bank that didn’t know me from Jane and asked to speak to the Small Business Manager (which was a woman). I explained who I was, who our company was and what our vision was. She signed my business, and I moved my business banking to them without looking back.
5. Rinse and repeat what works. Focus on your successes, amplify what works and then repeat it. Dig It was my first venture, and I now partner in four other successful companies.. and growing.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I started The BG Scholarship Fund just for that purpose. I travelled to Cambodia in 2019 met the Founder of Sonas. Sonas is focused on rebuilding a new village economy that connects craftspeople, brands, influencers and consumers through a transparent value chain powered by inventive thinking.
The BG Scholarship Fund supports one deserving youth per year to go to University from this village, and when they graduate, they, in turn, need to sponsor a deserving child … and so on and so on. In the course of 10 years, who knows where these individuals will go, what lives they will touch and transform their corner and perhaps the world.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Hands down, it would be Oprah Winfrey. I think her story of perseverance, her sense of humor and her humble ability to connect with others has made her a role model for many. She wrote chapter one in America’s Leading Ladies, and my chapter is right after hers…so one degree of separation… I’m putting it out to the universe that we will meet one day in person. That will be a spectacular day (at least for me).
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Social media: Facebook: @ClaudiaHarveyInc and LinkedIn: Claudia Harvey.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.