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Smartbrideboutique.com founders Andrea Lown, left, and Leah Andrew, with her new daughter, Ada (PETER POWER/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)
Smartbrideboutique.com founders Andrea Lown, left, and Leah Andrew, with her new daughter, Ada (PETER POWER/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

THE CHALLENGE

Filling a founder's shoes, temporarily Add to ...

Every week, we will seek out expert advice to help a small or medium-sized company overcome a key issue it is facing in its business.

Leah Andrew would rather be spending all of her days with her new baby. Instead, she’s putting in close to 15 hours of work a week.

The new mother of a baby girl, Ada, born on Nov. 11, is the co-founder of Toronto-based SmartBride Boutique, a Craigstlist-like website that sells new and used wedding dresses.

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Ms. Andrew and her partner, Andrea Lown, had wanted to hire someone to take over while Ms. Andrew took a shortened, six-month maternity leave. But they haven’t been able to find someone with the right skills, and who would work for only a few months, to fill her shoes.

“It’s difficult to find someone who can replace the pieces of what Leah does on a short-term basis,” Ms. Lown says.

While Ms. Lown is responsible for product development, advertising and customer service, among other things, Ms. Andrew’s chief job is cold-calling bridal salons across North America to see if the stores would sell their dresses on the duo’s site. She also manages an external public relations rep, blogs and does all of the accounting.

While a fill-in hire would be expected to take over most of Ms. Andrew’s duties, it’s the cold-calling part of the job that needs the most attention.

And of course it will be tough to find someone who will share the passion and commitment of a founder, especially on a temporary basis.

The four-person company – the founders and two tech-related employees – have been in business since 2008, and saw undisclosed revenues grow by 200 per cent between 2010 and 2011.

With more people using their site to buy dresses, “our brand and our reputation is at stake, so we need someone almost as good as her,” Ms. Lown says.

The Challenge: How can SmartBride find a fill-in for a founder on a temporary leave?

THE EXPERTS WEIGH IN

David Mudd, Toronto-based principal in human capital consulting at Mercer

Leverage social media, especially LinkedIn. It gives business owners the tools to become their own recruiter. Find professionals based on their stated interest and qualifications, do a search and check them out. It’s a free resource and one that professional recruiters are using more and more.

Also consider university students. I know they want someone with experience, but they’re not going to find another founder. But don’t just pick any business student. Look for someone who’s looking to get entrepreneurial experience. They might not care about wedding dresses, but they want the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of a startup. There are many people eager and looking for this type of opportunity.

Jason Peetsma, a Toronto-based senior consultant at executive search firm Odgers Berndston

They should consider an interim placement, where an executive who’s looking to work part-time can bring his or her experiences to the organization.

Founders often have a hard time releasing control of a company, so you want someone who you know can add value and leave the organization in a better place than when you left it. An interim placement allows this company to access senior experience and knowledge at a fraction of what it would cost to hire a top executive full-time.

The cost does depend on what they’re looking for, but, to save money, the person could come in three days a week. Because they’re experienced, they can get a lot of work done in less time.

Joanna Track, co-founder and chief executive officer of Dealuxe.ca. She also founded Sweetspot.ca, where she took an eight-month maternity leave.

I was going to have a similar problem, but I ended up hiring my sister-in-law. That worked because she’s someone who I trust with everything. She was a lawyer who had done legal work with Sweetspot.ca; now she’s Dealuxe.ca’s COO.

They should see if there’s a family member who can help, because finding someone you trust is crucial for a founder.

There also happens to be a lot of women who’ve become consultants because they don’t want the time constraints of a full-time job. They should look for someone like this, but look at their own network to find someone. Search firms can be expensive. All the best people I’ve ever found have been through my own network of friends and friends of friends and through postings on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.

THREE THINGS SMARTBRIDE CAN DO NOW

Use social media

Post the job on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, and use the latter site to specifically seek out potential candidates.

Look to students or former senior execs

Students and former executives may sit on opposite sides of the experience spectrum, but both are often eager for short-term work. Depending on budget and need, consider an entrepreneur-wannabe or a executive interim placement.

Ask a family member

Trust is crucial when replacing a founder, so consider a family member or close friend. Use your own network.

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