Oct 31 2009

One Entrepreneur’s Journey: Corey Colwell-Lipson of Celebrate Green by Amber Singleton Riviere from UpstartSmart.com

This part of a series called “One Entrepreneur’s Journey,” where I’m talking with solo entrepeneurs about their successes (and failures) along the path of entrepreneurship.

In this interview, I spoke with Corey Colwell-Lipson of Green Halloween and Celebrate Green, both part of a company (The Green Year, LLC) that she started with her mom and business partner, Lynn Colwell.  Last year, they wrote their first book, Celebrate Green! Creating Eco-Savvy Holidays, Celebrations and Traditions for the Whole Family, and they’re on their way to becoming a nationally recognized success!

Tell me a little about your business and how you got your start.

We’ve got two main things going on.  The first one is Green Halloween.  It’s not actually a business, but it is what started everything, so it’s an important part of the story.  In 2006, I went trick-or-treating with my girls and another group of moms and kids.  We were amazed to see that the kids were interested and excited in the things that weren’t conventional candy that were being handed out.  I think that year they were bubbles and stickers.

After Halloween night, the moms were sitting around talking, “Why is it that the kids got so excited about these things?”  We realized that kids today are over-exposed to candy.  It’s not that they like it any less.  It’s just that it’s everywhere.  When we were kids, they wasn’t the case.  Now, teachers keep candy on their desks, doctors offices hand out lollipops, and it’s at birthday parties.  It suddenly struck me that we might have an opportunity to make the holiday a little bit healthier, and if we could do so, then perhaps we could make it a little more earth-friendly as well.

I didn’t know what people would make of this idea, but the next Halloween, I launched a community initiative called “Green Halloween,” and really sort of over night received the support of businesses all over the Seattle region.  Whole Foods Market, a hospital, a parenting magazine, people kind of came out of the woodwork, loved this idea, were excited by it, and said, “How can we help?”

Moms, through blogs, found out what we were doing here in Seattle and began spreading the word.  We had a lot of people contact us and say, “When is Green Halloween going to come to our cities?”  We weren’t sure how we would make that happen or what we would do, but the following year, in 2008, we officially took Green Halloween nationwide, again with the sponsorship of businesses and organizations and with the help of volunteers.

We’re heading into year three, and we’re continuing to expand and grow.  We’ve partnered with Dr. Oz and his organization in New York City and another organization called Action Arts League in California.  We’ve partnered with EcoMom Alliance.  We’ve got things happening all over the country.

Green Halloween itself remains a grassroots initiative, but it is tucked under the umbrella of a business that my mom and I started together, which is called The Green Year, LLC.  That business is basically expanding on the ideas of Green Halloween and taking it out to other holidays and special occasions year round.  We have a book that came out last October, and we speak and write and do all kinds of things.

What has been the biggest way that you’ve gotten the word out about your organization?

I believe it has been blogs, other people getting excited about what we’re doing who’ve helped to spread the word.  We’ve been featured in dozens of blogs, in newspapers, magazines, radio interviews, and we’ve done some television.  It’s really peoples’ enthusiasm that has helped carry our idea.

What have been some of the challenges and rewards of working with a family member?

My mom and I had never really worked together, and we weren’t sure that we were going to be the best fit, but because things happened so quickly, we didn’t really have time to stop and think and analyze, “Okay, what’s your role going to be?  What’s my role going to be?”  We both have very strong personalities, but at the same time, we bring different things to the table, so her talents and expertise and passions are a nice complimentary fit to mine.

When we wrote the book, we had a publisher who asked us to write the book in six weeks, and that’s a very short period of time.  We didn’t even have an official outline at that point.  It just sort of flowed out of us.  We had no plan, and we really didn’t discuss how we were going to do this.  We didn’t have time.  One of us would just start writing one chapter.  The other would write another.  We would send it over to the other person by email and look at some edits and sort of flip flop back and forth like that, and finally, we had a book.

We took that sort of method in working when we started expanding out to other things, where one of us just says, “I’ll take this project,” and the other one says, “Great, how can I support you?”

It’s been truly an amazing process.  I’ve had so much fun working with my mom, and believe it or not, we haven’t had all that many challenges.  For the most part, we work together seamlessly.

Do you each have clear roles now within the company?

Yes, we take on different parts of the business.  My mom pretty much oversees all the PR, communications, and marketing.  She reaches out to all of the media.  I oversee all of the partner relationships.  For whatever reason, I was born with no fear of cold calling some CEO and letting them know what we’re doing and asking if they want to partner, and that’s actually been a very successful way that we’ve found a lot of our corporate partners and sponsors.  For anyone seeking corporate sponsors, literally, just call them up and ask to speak to their top person instead of emailing or starting with an intern.  So, I have handled and overseen all of that, as well as all of our coordinators and directors in cities all over the country.  As far as our writing, articles and that sort of thing, we kind of just say, “Who wants to take this one?  Who wants to take that one?”

Your business kind of came to be without much planning, but do you have future plans and goals for the company?

We do have set goals.  We do have ideas about where we want to go, but you know how people talk about vision boards?  I’m actually slightly opposed to a vision board, only because I feel that if you’re so focused on what you think your plan or dream or goal is, you might miss out on other opportunities that could take you to fabulous places.  I think that often times in business, it’s the product, the goal, the outcome that is paid so much attention, but what about creating a process board that says, “I want to be surrounded by people that inspire me”?  Then who knows what the outcome will be, but it’s the process, the journey that’s going to be the biggest part of your story.  Time and time again, we see people who get whatever it is they thought they wanted, and they’re still itching for something else, because I think it’s about the process.  I’m not really sure it’s about what the eventual goal is in the end.

I do want to throw in there that my mom and I have a luxury that maybe other entrepreneurs don’t have, and that is that this is not a need, it’s a want.  That does allow us flexibility and to be open and take risks that maybe other people can’t.  We recognize that we do get to make some of the decisions the way that we do because we’re in a fortunate position.

What would be your best advice to new solo entrepreneurs?

I think the most important thing is to do what you are passionate about.  Make sure that at the root of your business is something that excites you and that you are jumping out of bed in the morning to do it.  The hard times, the challenging times are going to be there, but because you really are excited about whatever this is, you’re able to quickly skip through those moments.

There is one other thing I would like to add.  There is no way that we would be where we are were it not for the generosity and enthusiasm of other entrepreneurs and people in our support network.  Stacey Kannenberg alone is the perfect example.  She is there at every turn to support her fellow entrepreneurs.  I think that both being open to the support and help of others and being open to helping others, even when your own plate is very full, is key.

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