In conversation with Eliza Blank of The Sill
You founded The Sill back in 2012 with the help of Kickstarter. Can you share more about how this helped catapult your business forward? Any best practice tips for our readers who would want to use Kickstarter for their businesses?
Starting a Kickstarter campaign allowed me to validate my initial concept for The Sill. Creating the campaign forced me to think through the problem we were solving, who we were solving it for, and how we would tell our story. Of course, the cash helped too! After the Kickstarter was over, it meant The Sill was real. I was now accountable for delivering on our promise to bring The Sill to life. It was an exciting time. The Kickstarter was launched in April of 2012 (two months after I quit my job), and TheSill.com was live by June of 2012.
What was your background prior to founding The Sill? Did you always have a passion for plants?
I studied Communications at NYU and started my career in Brand Strategy and Brand Management at Living Proof. When I was 26, I chose to take a leap of faith and launch The Sill, and I haven’t looked back since.
I grew up in Northampton, Massachusetts, surrounded by greenery and nature. But I didn’t appreciate it at the time. It wasn’t until I moved to New York City for college that I realized how much the natural world had an impact on me — on my daily life, my mood, even my sense of well being.
What was your vision for your first thought about opening a store? How did you want the customer to feel when walking in?
Honestly, the store was a bit of a happy accident. At the time we were operating out of borrowed office space and it was clear we were growing out of it (and perhaps overstaying our welcome). When it came time to consider our next space – it only made sense to get something ground level in case we wanted to sell our plants right out the door. It happened that a bodega nearby had moved out and there was a “For Rent” sign in the window. I called the number and the rest is history! The store itself did not come together right away but over time we listened to our customers and developed what we felt was the best IRL representation of The Sill.
What is the biggest challenge you have encountered while building The Sill and what did you learn?
When I was in my twenties and the business was just getting started, it was especially difficult for me not to be apologetic. I felt like I was asking my team (or partners, or vendors) to do me favors instead of doing their job. I didn’t have the confidence. One of the best things I’ve done in my professional career was to enlist the help of an executive coach. Working with a coach really helped me see my strengths more clearly and gave me the confidence I needed to lead.
You are not only a founder and CEO, but also a mom! What lessons have you learned having to balance all these different roles?
I don’t know if I’ll be able to truly balance CEO/Mom/Wife/Individual Human in a given day, but I strive to give my full attention to each area of my life whenever possible. During the week, my daughter genuinely gets my full attention in the mornings. On the weekends, I don’t allow myself to get distracted by work when I’m with her. Similarly, the evenings are for myself and spending time with my husband. I’ve learned to compartmentalize. My typical week day is 7:00am-8:30am family time, 9:00am-6:00pm work, another hour of family time (my daughter goes to bed at 7pm) and then my husband and I will go on a walk and have dinner together. I will either work into the evening, read, or we’ll watch a movie together. We’re pretty low key!
What is a challenge you didn’t expect to have while juggling being a mom and a founder? Any tips for new mothers who are also running their own businesses?
Tips? I’m still collecting them for myself! One of the hardest things I had to face was travelling while my daughter was still young and I was still breastfeeding. Pumping on a plane or in a public restroom really adds a whole new dimension of complexity to a workday. I still remember flying out to the west coast to visit one of our stores and was met with such relief because I coincidently sat next to another new working Mom on the plane. We both pumped sitting side by side and shared photos of our daughters. That meant so much to me! The only tip I can really offer is to find ways to be kind to yourself – and don’t try to do it all!
How has your industry been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?
At this point I have to assume everyone worldwide has been impacted by COVID-19 – The Sill is certainly no exception. We have had so many ups and downs. It will take some time before I can properly reflect on the impact it has had — on me as an individual, on my business, and on the general public. What I can say is this – I am so proud to be working with my team at The Sill through all of the good and bad.
In what ways have you had to pivot since COVID-19 hit? Have you found that people are craving nature (in the form of plants!) as the lockdown continues into the summer?
The good news, as we expected, plants and gardening are providing the much needed emotional support in this new era of social distancing. Our customers are investing in plants as a way to boost their home decor and specifically their home office decor as they spend more time in their primary residence.
With that said, we haven’t had to “pivot” the business per se, but COVID-19 has forced us to relentlessly prioritize to help stabilize the Company and set us up for future growth. Of course at our brick-and-mortar stores we’ve had to adapt. We are open in NYC, LA & SF offering curbside pickup. You can also opt to go in for socially distanced shopping (2-3 customer max capacity and masks are required). All of our events and workshops remain online for the time being.
Where do you see The Sill in the next 5 or 10 years? Do you have any exciting projects in the pipeline?
The Sill is about to turn 8 years old! It’s wild. Add another 5-10 years on top of what we’ve already achieved and I think we’ll have put a plant on every sill. 🙂
What does being a Mamaprenista mean to you?
Being a Mamaprenista is about ruthless prioritization – doing only what is most important. The adage work smarter not harder becomes a reality for founder/entrepreneur Moms. You also get really good at asking for help and delegating. Truthfully, I’m a much better CEO now that I’m a Mom!
For more insights into Eliza’s journey, check out her podcast episode here!