Kind Karma is dedicated to making a difference in the lives of marginalized youth by hiring them as jewelry artisans. Every youth is an employee of the company and receives wages as they would at any other job even though they often don’t feel like this is “work”! Laurinda Lee-Retter talks about how she started Kind Karma and shares how Visa Canada is helping small businesses and female entrepreneurs like her flourish.
How and when did you start this business? Please share your growth story.
I started Kind Karma in 2017 after a personally challenging year in 2016. Since my parents had always told me that the best way to feel better and find purpose was by helping others, I decided to marry my dream of starting a business with the opportunity to help at-risk and homeless youth in Toronto.
I launched Kind Karma in May 2017, about two months after the initial idea took form, and spent the first couple of years generating revenue mostly through in-person events, tradeshows, and markets. It was wonderful connecting with customers in different venues and personally sharing not only the company mission but my own journey into the space of social entrepreneurship with them. During those years, we slowly grew our presence online through our social media channels and customers sharing our work, but the majority of our growth was done through word-of-mouth referrals.
It wasn’t until the pandemic closed these events that we were forced to work harder at establishing a robust online presence which, ironically, was what I had planned to do in the first place but had procrastinated doing by sticking only to what I knew well. Since then, our revenue has been done mostly through our e-commerce platform and it has been exciting to see our digital growth.
Tell us the products and services you offer.
Kind Karma employs at-risk and homeless youth in Toronto to handcraft fine jewelry. In addition to fair hourly wages, proceeds from sales are returned to youth artisans to support their individual goals and aspirations such as funding education, housing, or courses.
We offer fine jewelry made from high-quality materials that are tarnished and fade resistant that have been customer favorites throughout the years. But more than that, we offer an opportunity for vulnerable youth who struggle to maintain traditional work to find meaningful employment through an innovative art therapy-based employment model that has proven successful. So, while the jewelry initially attracts customers to Kind Karma, it is the work that we do among a marginalized population that fosters their love and loyalty to the brand.
What were the initial difficulties you faced?
Aside from the more tangible challenges of knowing where to invest limited start-up funds and whether my designs would be well-received or whether I wasted all my savings on products that wouldn’t sell, there were always the more pervasive mental challenges that I’m sure all entrepreneurs struggle with.
The challenge of self-doubt and fear when I launched Kind Karma made me feel incredibly insecure: Did I have the skills needed to launch a business? Would my business be sustainable, much less successful? Would I even make a difference or was I embarking on a path that would ultimately end in failure?
These doubts manifested in me pushing myself to work as hard as possible, beyond the limits I had set for myself, in the hopes that I could somehow stack the odds in my favor through work ethic. But they say being an entrepreneur is a marathon and not a sprint which is why I had to learn to overcome the negative self-talk in a different way. It was a challenge to learn how to turn those doubts off, manage stress in a constructive way, and find support in fellow entrepreneurs to help me through the challenges associated with the journey.
How did you maneuver your business during 2020-2021? Kindly list a few learnings.
Although I had set out to create an e-commerce brand, prior to 2020, the majority of our revenue was done in-person at events, markets and tradeshows. I was easily discouraged by the volume, algorithms, and processes involved with navigating the online space to create an impactful presence so I hid behind what was comfortable and stuck to what I knew, from past events, would generate revenue.
However, with the shutdowns of 2020, I was forced to confront the digital world and create a greater online presence. Luckily, Kind Karma had already established a foundation on which I could build, and with the help of some professionals to guide me, I was able to implement a digital strategy that helped us not only grow our online presence but our revenue. We started a referral program, worked with ambassadors, and redirected the funds we would have spent on events into digital advertising. We learned to think outside the box when it came to digital and use a mix of traditional advertising with new techniques (we just joined TikTok!) to reach a wider audience.
So just as starting a business and becoming an entrepreneur took a leap of faith, one thing I re-learned through the pandemic was to continue taking those leaps of faith and trying new things to re-invent how we interact with customers and develop relationships even if we only get to speak to them through digital channels.
How did you hear about Visa Canada’s She’s Next Grant Program?
Advertising truly works because that’s how I learned about the amazing things Visa Canada is doing for not only entrepreneurs and small businesses but female entrepreneurs! I saw an ad on Instagram for Visa Canada’s She’s Next Grant Program and I was genuinely so impressed that I read all the bios of the past winners and in the process, learned of all the incredible things that other women like myself are doing to make a difference.
I am truly thankful for companies like Visa Canada who are investing not only in entrepreneurs and small businesses but are contributing to making better communities across the world through the initiatives they support.
Kindly tell us about your plans for 2022.
We would love to continue to grow both in terms of revenue and our digital presence so that we can create a bigger impact among the vulnerable members of our population. We currently have four youth on staff and aside from working together, Kind Karma has allowed them to connect in different ways so that they are now each others’ friends and support system.
In 2022, we would love to be able to grow the team in Toronto with the anticipation of opening another Kind Karma office (in another city to help more urban youth across the country) in 2-3 years.
Any words of wisdom for young entrepreneurs?
I have a shirt that says, “Do what you love and do it often”. I think that has always defined my journey and is something I’d love to pass on to young entrepreneurs. Find what motivates you, find out what you love doing, and build your business around that. There will be days when the going gets extremely tough and you will question everything about the journey and why you are on it but if it’s something you love, you will find the strength to push through those challenges and keep going.
I’ve attempted to start many businesses in the past (my dream of becoming an entrepreneur probably started when I was a teenager) but I never stuck with any of those ideas because they didn’t inspire me and weren’t more than a quick means to wealth, which I equated to happiness. It wasn’t until I discovered my passion for helping people, to make a difference and create a business around it, that I found the purpose that has fueled my entrepreneur journey since.
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This Story is authored by Yugbodh, Onside Media, Toronto, Canada. If you have stories to share kindly email: – email@example.com