By Sophia Lu, Management Consultant at Accenture (and Facilitator of the Business Expansion subgroup for CYBF’s Entrepeer Hub)
Recently I’ve had a chance to speak with many young entrepreneurs, and one common theme I noticed, is that they are all very passionate about what they are doing, and making money is not really their primary concern.
This doesn’t resonate with what Milton Friedman said in 1970 that, “The social responsibility of business is to increase its profits.” In fact, more and more business owners and academia, including Michael Porter, believe in the, “Creation of economic value in a way that also creates value for society by addressing its needs and challenges,” and that, “Shared value is not social responsibility, philanthropy, or even sustainability, but a new way to achieve economic success.”
In my interview with Samantha Chan, founder of Paintlounge, she reveals why she believes the two can co-exist together.
Sophia Lu: So Samantha, tell me a bit more about what you do at Paintlounge, and what prompted you to start it?
Samantha Chan: I graduated from the University of Toronto’s Industrial Engineering program and worked as an engineer in supply chain management in Canada for a year; then spent three years in Investment Banking in Hong Kong before deciding to come back to Canada with my husband (then fiancé), before starting Paintlounge. With this move, I wanted to do something more meaningful with my life, something fun!
Working in Hong Kong was an eye opener, especially the long hours, but despite that, I still managed to walk around the city and saw studios where people could paint which were also fun places for people to meet up and relax in. Painting is something I’ve done throughout high school, so when I noticed something like this didn’t exist in Toronto, I decided to start Paintlounge in order to create a social environment for people to paint as they wish, and added a café so people could also relax while having fun.
SL: What kind of social activities do you facilitate?
SC: In addition to providing the canvas and paint supplies, we encourage people to talk with other art lovers while listening to live music, and we also hold events such as bachelorette parties, birthday parties, corporate team-building activities, and single mixers.
SL: Do you think that doing something socially good conflicts with you making money?
SC: I don’t think so at all. It’s not like I’m running a charity. I’m providing a space where people can come and pay to hang out, do “social painting,” have a coffee and snack, and take home a finished canvas as a souvenir at the end of day. It’s not that different from other cafés, but perhaps I’m filling in a gap that existed before.
SL: That is very true, but you must have had some challenges while running your business. Can you tell me about them?
SC: Yes, the biggest challenge was figuring out how to run and market the business. It was a totally new concept here. I was worried about the level of interest people had in painting so I initially opted to make Paintlounge 50 percent art, 50 percent café; but that was confusing to customers. Quickly, I learned to position Paintlounge to be predominantly art-focused, placing easels everywhere, so everyone who came in could paint, and the café took on more of a side service role for the customers who came in to paint.
SL: I know that you’ve received CYBF funding before. Do you think it was helpful?
SC: Certainly. In addition to the funding, the network CYBF gives their entrepreneurs access to is immensely valuable. I was hand-matched with a mentor who was a consultant. For me, the most beneficial part is having a mentor (whether it’s formal or informal), who has had similar experiences of starting a business before, and learning how they dealt with different kinds of challenges. CYBF’s LinkedIn Hub group is also a good example of the great group of people you will have access to and can learn from.
SL: That’s great to hear. Do you have any other advice you think would be useful to other entrepreneurs or people who are thinking about starting up their own businesses?
SC: The first year is always the toughest since no one knows about you, but you have to be patient and learn about who your target audiences are, what’s the best way to reach them, and do lots of marketing to get your name out there. For example, I’ve concentrated my efforts on social media such as Facebook and Twitter, and partnering with community events such as Night It Up! It takes hard work but you can be successful.
Paintlounge is in its third year of operation, and will be opening a second location in downtown (by College St. and Ossington Ave.) this spring. For more information, please visit: http://www.paintlounge.ca/about/
If you found this interview interesting but you have questions you’d like to ask other experienced entrepreneurs and experts, then you must visit CYBF’s Entrepeer Hub LinkedIn group to post your questions, leave comments, and get great advice and insights in the subgroups!