As part of our series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading My Company,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Hannah Serimian, a third-generation entrepreneur who grew up working in and around all aspects of business. Being an entrepreneur and innovator is part of the fabric of her identity. Hannah is passionate about creating products for women and is constantly thinking about solutions and products that can improve her daily routines and complement her consumer’s lifestyle. It’s the mission for Boxy Girl and the Boxy Girl brands to create thoughtfully curated and innovative product lines, ranging from organic skincare to organizational solutions for the home.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. I know that you are a very busy person. Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you grew up?
I am a California girl, born and raised in Fresno in the Central Valley. I am a third-generation entrepreneur. My family was in the antique and furniture business with stores all over California. My grandparents were antique dealers and appraisers and my dad designed and manufactured furniture. My childhood was spent at furniture shows, auctions, antique stores, loading and cleaning furniture, staging our stores, and going on buying trips for new design lines. Design, development, and aesthetics run through my veins. Working in our furniture stores as a child, teenager, and young adult allowed me to experience first-hand what it takes to own a business and create businesses that are profitable and successful. Customer service was always very important in our family business, and it is crucial that I provide our Boxy customers with exceptional service and unmatched quality and products that are affordable and efficient. My father, Dan Chapman, was instrumental in helping me develop Boxy.
What were your early inspirations that set you off on your particular journey?
As antique dealers, my grandparents introduced me to the craftmanship, design elements, and features of exceptionally made early American furniture. They primarily focused on Seventeenth, Eighteenth, and early Nineteenth Century American-made antiques. I learned from my grandparent’s important aspects of identifying quality such as materials, finishes, and hardware. Their influence has allowed me to carry forth that same critical eye and discernment in my endeavors to develop products for our Boxy consumers.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take-aways’ you learned from that?
In developing a company from the ground up, the learning curve is very steep. Project management and professional relationships have different nuances than other relationships we have. When I first started, I had to learn how to structure, plan, and engage in professional engagements. At one of my early meetings, I was not so prepared and addressed my professional contact using the wrong name. My takeaway from this and something we have implemented at Boxy is: before any professional engagements, we establish a one-page tear sheet with facts and prudent information. This has helped me to be more efficient and productive in all meetings, and I don’t call people by the wrong name. Haha!
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?
It goes without saying, my parents and my grandparents have been my most significant influences. But the universe has been very generous with me in allowing many mentors and teachers to come into my life along the way. My VP, Jenna Perkovich, is a talented journalism graduate from Cal Poly who has a diverse skill set that has been perfect for Boxy. I have learned from her the power of perseverance, grace, and work ethic. She inspires me every day to fight for Boxy and its place in the marketplace.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
When I started, I had fundamental business skills and experience in retail, design, management, and business. However, in 2015, the digital platforms as we know them today and the integration of social media with digital marketing has been a disruptive technological intervention in consumer buying and the marketplace. This has been exciting and a great opportunity, but it has also been challenging to keep up with the pace and rate of change. It’s also been difficult as a small, female-founded startup to compete in the marketplace fairly with significant influence and disadvantage caused by large, dominant corporations that can out-market you.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Boxy is a manifestation of my dreams. It is my life’s work and it is my art. I have chosen to sacrifice in order to create. And these sacrifices have come at a price. We only have a finite time on this earth in this experience and what motivates me and keeps me going is knowing that my life’s work is my love-letter and my legacy to my children.
So, how are things going today? How did grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Currently, Boxy is in the fight of its life. My tradename and personal name are being used without my consent. Subsequently, I am currently in a trademark infringement battle to save Boxy and preserve our intellectual property and position in the marketplace. This is one of the most challenging and difficult things I have ever faced. The unauthorized use of my tradename and intellectual property has harmed me personally and has harmed Boxy significantly. Unfortunately, our legal system at this time does not allow for efficient and expedient access for remedies for such significant infringements. Keeping Boxy alive and fighting for its name is not something I anticipated or thought I would ever be in this position. But I will continue to fight for Boxy, for my life’s work, and my creation, so that my love-letter to my children will show by my efforts: perseverance, grit, and determination.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Before starting Boxy, I found that there weren’t many organization options for women and the home, particularly organization for makeup, skincare, and office. My products were different than anything on the market, both in quality and design. Boxy has two design patents on the original organizer and I am the inventor of the stackable box! We have now expanded our brand to include organization for the entire home: Boxy Boy, Boxy Baby, and Boxy Brand. We have introduced an all-natural, herbal-infused skincare line for everyone in the family. We have introduced a vintage curated collection for organization and storage. We have also developed a tray and box organization line for the home and office, and we are in development on our Boxy-on-the-Go line- products that will keep you organized in your day-to-day routine and for travel.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Keep it fresh, for yourself and your team. The magic doesn’t always happen in the tasks. The magic comes through creating. It has been a priority for me to incorporate learning opportunities, playtime, and creative connection experiences so this can allow myself and my team to get out in the world in different ways, have new experiences, and come back to the Boxy table with fresh perspectives and new ideas.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I am passionate about supporting women and closing the gender gap in business. I devote a significant amount of my time mentoring female founders, businesswomen, and young up-and-comers. This is truly one of the most rewarding aspects of being a female-founder. I have the opportunity to participate and witness other women grow, thrive, and accomplish their dreams.
Wonderful. Here is the main question of our discussion. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my company” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
- All obstacles and setbacks are not failures, they are opportunities to learn and grow.
Reframing failure as society has taught us, such as “win at all costs,” creates an environment of shame and fear. If we can reframe failure and the social norms attached to the definition of success and view each experience as an opportunity to grow, we can be much more effective as leaders not only for our companies but for our families and our communities.
2. It’s going to be harder than you ever imagined. You’re going to have to make sacrifices and give up things you didn’t expect.
Before Boxy, I was a full-time domestic executive, aka housewife. By the way, I do not like the term housewife and what it implies. Being a mom, running a home, and coordinating your life and your family’s lives is one of the hardest and most important jobs we experience as women. When I decided to start Boxy, I knew it was going to be difficult and things were going to change. What I didn’t know was the pain and the loss my children and I would feel because I couldn’t attend every pick-up, drop-off, or field trip. I couldn’t be a classroom mom. Choosing to follow my dreams and having a career meant that I was going to have to allocate my time very differently. My children struggled to adapt, and so did I. It is still difficult to balance career and home-life, and I work at it every day. This is just one of the sacrifices women make when they choose to have a career and fulfill their life’s work. There are many sacrifices and all of us are different, and along the way, you’re going to have to decide if you’re willing, able, and capable to endure the trade-offs that are asked of you every day.
3. Enjoy the ride.
As a new entrepreneur, you will have unbelievable, exciting, and remarkable experiences. You will grow personally and professionally. You will meet people that will enrich your life, that will teach you how to navigate the vast, complex realm of owning a business. What you create and what you build comes directly from you. A lot of women feel they are an instrument for their family or their community. Being a female-founder and owning your own business allows you to have the autonomy and independence to have something that is uniquely yours. Stop along the way, pause, reflect on your accomplishments and what you’ve learned, pay attention to the moments that blow your mind, keep a journal, take pictures, and reflect on the experiences and opportunities that would not have happened if you hadn’t taken the risks. Stand in that pride. Stand in that gratitude. And enjoy the ride.
4. Ask for help more often.
Starting a business is scary and you want to do it right and you want to do it well. You don’t have to know everything. You don’t have to know all the answers. You won’t know everything, and you can’t possibly anticipate the things that owning a business will present along the way. Make connections early on with people who have the skills, the foresight, and the track record that align with your personal values and visions. Use these relationships as resources. Create a network of support so that when you face difficult challenges (and you will), you have a small army of wisdom and support for you to access. My grandma always said, “if you’re the smartest person in the room, find a new room.” Surround yourself with smart, ethical, passionate people.
5. Fair and reasonable doesn’t necessarily exist in the marketplace or business. But you can be committed to your company embodying values such as equitability, fairness, and reason. When you make that commitment, it has a ripple effect and can collectively move all of us towards equality and fairness.
As business owners, we encounter difficult circumstances that aren’t fair or reasonable. These are opportunities to learn and grow. And sometimes, these situations offer us a gift. They show us the characteristics that we do not want for our businesses and professional relationships. When people interact or engage with us in ways that are harmful, unfair, and unreasonable, their actions give us a point of reference for our own growth.
Now that you have gained this experience and knowledge, has it affected or changed your personal leadership philosophy and style? How have these changes affected your company?
These experiences have changed me. My core values are the same, but my beliefs about the system we live in, our institutions, our government, and laws have impacted me. Before Boxy, I was naïve and blind to the misogyny and injustices happening every second and every day in business and our greater collective systems. I awakened to the dire fact that women today represent one of the greatest enslavements in humanity’s history — we are underpaid, we are undervalued, our ideas are not invested in, we are not believed, and we are not supported in the same ways as our male counterparts. The statistics and data don’t lie. But for me, actually living it in business has caused me to use my experiences as a platform for change.
This series is called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me”. This has the implicit assumption that had you known something; you might have acted differently. But from your current vantage point, do you feel that knowing alone would have been enough, or do you feel that ultimately you can only learn from experience? I think that learning from mistakes is the best way, perhaps the only way, to truly absorb and integrate abstract information. What do you think about this idea? Can you explain?
I would agree and also offer a response I’ve given in other interviews, and that is: I am grateful that I didn’t know. Had someone told me, I don’t know if I would have had the courage to do it. The beauty of not knowing allows us to meet every opportunity and experience anew. And if we can meet these experiences as opportunities to learn and grow, we can carry that knowledge forth and build something greater.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
50/50 immediately! Fifty percent women in all government institutions. Fifty percent women on all publicly traded corporate boards. Fifty percent women in leadership, executive, and decision-making positions will change our society, world, and life as we know it. Women have important contributions to make to our society. If we do not develop systems that support women in their stages of life — having children, raising children, family life, and career trajectories — we will miss out on the critical contributions and solutions that our society desperately needs right now. Women possess skills, ideas, and knowledge that are vital to a healthy, robust, and sustainable society. 50/50. That’s my call to action.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Instagram: @theboxyboss @boxygirl
Facebook: BoxyGirl, Hannah Serimian