Marissa McTasney | Crain's Toronto

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Marissa McTasney


Moxie Trades creates and sells functional and fashionable work boots, safety shoes and other accessories exclusively for women working in trades. After founding her company in 2006, Marissa pitched Moxie Trades on the hit CBC show "Dragon's Den" in 2008. After initially walking away from a deal, she eventually landed Dragon Brett Wilson as a co-owner in the biggest worldwide deal in the show's history. 

The Mistake: 

I wish that I had a "vision board" like I do now 10 years ago when I was starting my business. It's given me a more holistic approach to everything in my life, from business to personal. I don't believe business is not personal. It is very much personal, because it dictates everything from what you eat for dinner to where you go on vacation – or if you go on vacation at all.

I totally jeopardized my family for the first few years of the business. As a young mom, I was even taking advantage of maternity leave to build the business, which is insane. It's such a ridiculous thing to do, and it works, but it's such a personal sacrifice for the whole family.  

I had young kids, and I would leave before they got up, and come home after they'd go to sleep. We'd have dinner together every night, but then I'd hop back out, and it really took a personal toll on my family life. Thank God we all worked through it. 

I don't need five people for eight hours a day. I need 30 people for one hour a day.

The Lesson: 

Now, I don't sacrifice things, and I say no a lot more. I think a big mistake when you're first starting out is that you think a particular opportunity is the only one you're ever going to get, so you say yes to everything, which is just not smart. 

So I created my vision board about three years ago, and I wish I'd done it a lot sooner. It's really helped me to pace my entrepreneurial life. Whenever the s--- hit the fan, I would think it was the end of the business. But I eventually realized it wasn't. And if I had some values ingrained in me and some rules for the business, it would have been a lot easier in the early days to know what to say "yes" to and what to say "no" to.

Now I focus on the five things I want to accomplish every day. And the five things I want to accomplish in a week. Then within a month, and a year, and I go three years out. I'm very well-planned today. I have a family vision board, and I have a business vision board that I have in my office, so everything I do today is very deliberate. 

Every new year, as a family, we sit down and go over the vision board, so I also know what sacrifices my family is OK with me making. There are always exceptions to the rules, but we all do the top five things we want to accomplish in a year, individually, and as a family. 

The vision board, along with some crucial advice from my "Dragon's Den" partner Brett Wilson, helped me to realize that I don't need five people for eight hours a day. I need 30 people for one hour a day. I need experts, a little bit every day. So we ended up outsourcing our distribution.

And I didn't want to do it, because it meant I would have to let go all of my staff, and rearrange the entire business. I also thought it would be a huge upset to all my customers. I was hard against it, and I was depressed and thought it was the end. But it was the greatest gift he gave to me. [Brett] said, "You'll be thankful for it one day." And I really am, because today my business is working so smoothly that I can take a vacation now. I can do a school trip with my kids now. Because there are a lot of people backing me up. So on a personal level, Brett really saved me with that advice. 

Now I outsource everything. I've learned that I'm not a good manager of people, but I'm really good in partnerships. So my partners work for themselves, and we all have a keen interest to be successful and back each other up. My web guy, my photographer, my graphics designer, and all of my reps work on commission only, and they carry other brands. It's good because we have a win-win partnership. That's a great environment for me, and that's how I thrive. 

Having the vision board and knowing where I want to go and what's actually important to me takes out all of the noise and the nonsense, so I absolutely think I'm much clearer today. I'm much more organized, much more well-planned, and I execute more strongly.  

Follow Marissa McTasney on Twitter at @MarissaMcTasney

Pictured: Marissa McTasney. | Photo courtesy of Moxie Trades.

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