Building a 12-year-old business in a quick-exit startup culture

Samantha Schleese

by Samantha Schleese

Published: November 10, 2020

Written by Jacqueline Leung

City MOGULS: Founder Profiles Series

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Stories of strength, growth, and resilience. A spotlight series featuring founders and leaders from across Canada and the US whose stories and experiences will inspire a new generation of entrepreneurs.

A conversation with Toni Desrosiers, CEO and Founder of Abeego, the original beeswax wrap that breathes.

It didn’t take long for Toni Desrosiers to realize what she wanted to be when she grew up. At a very young age, the now-CEO and Founder of Abeego, was entrepreneurial. In a small village of 500 people, Desrosiers started her first business: a lemonade stand, before venturing off to shovel leaves, then snow, among many other hustles. She credits her entrepreneurial spirit to her dad, who is also an inventor and business owner.

One with nature

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Desrosiers invented Abeego in 2008 while she was a practicing holistic nutritionist. She noticed that airtight (usually plastic) wrappers that are meant to protect leftover food are actually not letting food breathe (not to mention, are bad for the environment).

“In nature, there isn’t anything airtight,” Desrosiers said. “It’s all breathable – peel, skin, rind – I wanted to make wraps that better mimicked nature.”

Not one to just sit on the sidelines, Desrosiers went ahead and invented the world’s first reusable beeswax food wrap. Nbd.

Today, Abeego sells food wraps made from beeswax, jojoba, tree resin, hemp, and cotton, all while maintaining a zero-waste production process.

“Together with my hard-working team of Abeego makers, I have found innovative ways to repurpose even minimal amounts of excess materials into new products like Abeebits (beeswax twist ties) or promotional items like business cards,” Desrosiers said.

The long game

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“You can’t just invent something then expect people to buy it,” Desrosiers said. Speaking the truth.

Most entrepreneurs discover this early in the startup journey; convincing other people – customers, investors, employees – to believe in your product or service is one of the hardest things to do.

“For us, it was all about getting people to notice and understand.” Desrosiers remembers having to educate customers throughout the years. Now, having been in business for over a decade, Abeego has had to incorporate customer education into every pivot, every aspect of the business.

“When you invent something, you create a market, you nurture that market, and eventually, you harvest from that market,” Desrosiers said.

In Canada, over 30% of small businesses fail within the first five years. Abeego has been in business for over 12.

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When asked what advice she would give herself back when she started Abeego, Desrosiers said, “enjoy the journey and celebrate your wins frequently. You’re not building a business. You’re living your life.”

The beauty of building something new is that you get to build it in a new way.

Desrosiers reminds aspiring founders that there’s no one way to be an entrepreneur. “You’re going to make mistakes, but those mistakes might actually be the right path,” she said.

Not all glitz and glamour

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Having a solid foundation has helped Abeego get through the COVID-19 pandemic. Like most small businesses, Abeego saw a dip in revenue in the initial days of the pandemic and had to revamp its goals for the year.

Over time, Desrosiers began to see the pandemic as just another low point in the company’s life cycle. “I’ve never seen a business as going straight up. Low points for me are always foundation building time,” the founder said.

It’s those foundation building times that have allowed Abeego to stay solid during a time of uncertainty. The company had to lay off about a dozen people because of the pandemic, but has since rehired many of them and is now working on building processes to get ready for when business picks back up.

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Today, Abeego products are sold in more than 300 retailers in North America and online around the globe, success that is largely credited to the company’s core value of living where logic and innovation meet.

In other words, Abeego treats logical decisions with curiosity – ‘Can this be done better, in a new way?’ And looks at innovation with a critical eye – ‘Will this new software help me make decisions faster?’

You’ll never see Abeego implement new technology for technology’s sake, even if an advisor or industry expert recommends it. Desrosiers warns new founders to be wary of asking for too much advice from “experts” who may pull you in different directions. “If I didn’t break up with my experts, I’d be in a totally different space,” she said.

Building wealth

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Every business owner starts off with big goals, lots of excitement, and seemingly endless determination to do whatever it takes. But somewhere along the way, every business owner hits a wall, loses steam and feels like nothing else can be done.

For some founders, that moment comes and goes often. For others, that moment comes often but lingers. Desrosiers admits that there have been times when she has had intense breakdowns and has had to take a few days off. But, “I’m so persistent as a natural state,” she said she can’t see herself doing anything else.

“I think there are points when you should change, admit that it’s not working,” she pointed out. And when asked how a founder should make the difficult decision to call it quits, an emotional Desrosiers simply said, “put yourself first.”

“We keep telling these stories about entrepreneurs who skyrocket to riches,” the founder said. “But how about those entrepreneurs who build wealth – wealth in health, emotions, life, and money?”

Desrosiers reminds entrepreneurs that “if you’ve gotten far enough to launch a business, you are someone who has good instincts.”

Not everyone is willing to take the risk, to do the work.

“A lot of entrepreneurs sacrifice themselves and their safety. I’ve made a lot of sacrifices for Abeego, and now, Abeego owes me.”

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