BethAnn Lederer: CEO Working Wonders, Top Ten Sustainable CEO
BethAnn Lederer has built Working Wonders into one of the leading resources for green interior design material and products for the home and workplace.
In 2010 she was named one of the Top Ten Sustainable CEOs alongside big names such as John Mackay of Whole Foods and Yvon Chouinard of Patagonia.
BethAnn spent over 18 years in the healthcare sector working as an educator, marketer, and advocate for both childbirth and geriatric care services. She started two non-profit organisations for promoting the wellness approach to maternal-child and integrative healthcare. She carries a deeply rooted passion for sustainable design, and is a USGBC LEED AP, championing green products that protect indoor air quality.
We spoke to BethAnn about her tips for balancing motherhood with a career; the Afghan startup she'd like to champion; and the tough choice facing every entrepreneur.
TNW: How did you come up with the idea, and then arrive at the decision to turn your idea into a reality?
BL: WorkingWonders™ was born out of an approach to life that began when I became pregnant with my daughter. I started asking questions about what would be best for my baby, and continued on a path of independent research that led me to uncover the extent to which toxic chemicals have invaded our homes and lifestyles. Years later, I did an extensive remodel of our family home and began looking for the healthiest products and services available. Despite an intense “green product safari,” I couldn’t find products (or people who were knowledgeable about them) in stores where I lived. I dreamt of a retail brand that would vet better products and make them easy to find, learn about, and buy. So I founded it.
TNW: What makes your company different from your competitors?
BL: We are the first to recognize that the way retail functions in the United States is detrimental to our sustainability goals – and actually propose a market solution. For example, we already have Whole Foods and a host of better grocery stores. But we don't have a Whole Homes counterpart out there on the retail landscape. WorkingWonders™ is a better model and option for home and lifestyle shopping.
TNW: What is your business model?
BL: WorkingWonders™ demonstrates that it's possible to build and outfit an entire home with healthy, sustainable products and services. I've sourced better options for every facet of the American home. Our model looks at how to bring them together in the right venue (and across all selling channels), and what the overall impact would be on sustainability and the economy. Products made in the U.S.A. represents the majority of what we do, but there's also a smaller percentage of fair-trade and higher standard European manufacturing that goes into the product lines as well.
TNW: Who were your first customers and how hard was it to attract them?
BL: We are targeting women who represent the healthy, Whole Foods shopper—those who understand the problems inherent in today's conventional retail offerings and are actively searching for a better alternative.
Every woman who comes in lights up once they see what we're doing. Their reaction proves time and again that women are waiting for a WorkingWonders™ store.
TNW: What is next for your company?
BL: We are continuing to ramp up our website traffic (and sales), get deeper penetration into the sustainable design and build communities, and forward the process of securing investment. We’re in conversations with retail and sustainability industry champions who want to support WorkingWonders.
TNW: Have you come across any exciting start-ups recently and what is it about them that appeals to you?
BL: Because WorkingWonders™ is all about aggregating sustainable home products and services, we are constantly running across amazing startup companies. Recently we partnered with an organic, fair-trade company called glo, or Green Living Organics, who do beautiful linens for bed and bath. We also work with true design innovators, like Peter Danko Design, whose tremendous creative potential the market hasn't yet realized.
A young company that would stand to greatly benefit from our concept is Arghand, a bath and body company comprised of a small women's collective in Afghanistan. All Arghand soaps and oils are hand-made, and every bit of the revenue goes directly to the collective and their families. This is the kind of initiative we'd love to see have greater visibility.
TNW: What are the advantages of gender diversity in a start-up? Are there any disadvantages?
BL: As a woman, I know how important it is to finally build the type of healthy, earth-best store we've been craving.
Women are responsible for 85% of all consumer purchasing decisions, so WorkingWonders™ represents tremendous potential to impact our economy and sustainability agenda.
But the men I work with are no less savvy on how these consumer issues affect our health and the environment. Sometimes we frame things with different language, but both sides understand the importance, particularly as going green becomes more mainstream.
TNW: What is your top tip for balancing motherhood with a career?
BL: Some people think in terms of keeping their career and their home life separate. I've always thought that is more trouble than it's worth because I'm as passionate about what I do every day and the great people who I get to work with as I am about my friends and family. When I was a childbirth educator I'd sometimes hear women who were pregnant with their second child say things like, "I hope I'll have enough time, love, etc… for this one." You can think about love and time as always needing to be divided, or you can think about them as being abundant.
Being a mother, like being a CEO, doesn't have set hours. It takes practice to learn what the complicated steps of the dance are for prioritizing each of these roles on a daily basis.
And no matter how well you learn to dance, there will be days where you stumble. View it as practice rather than something to be completely mastered, and aim for excellence, not perfection.
TNW: Is there a moment in the history of your company that you remember as the highlight so far?
BL: In 2010, I was named one of the Top 10 Most Sustainable CEOs by Triple Pundit. Looking at the names on this list, I'm still amazed to see myself among them – Yvon Chouinard of Patagonia, John Mackey of Whole Foods, Jeffrey Hollender of Seventh Generation, and Eric Schmidt of Google. Of course, compared to those companies, WorkingWonders still has a long way to go. While they have already succeeded on a large scale, I thought it was exciting to have WorkingWonders recognized as an important piece of a plan to advance our nation’s sustainability agenda.
TNW: What do you think could be done to increase the number of women entrepreneurs?
BL: Simply put, increase investment into women's concepts. Women are poised to accrue a tremendous amount of wealth over the next couple of decades, so we should be looking at strategies for women helping other women.
TNW: Any lesson you would like to pass on to other women leaders?
BL: I feel that one thing women excel at is the ability to quickly find common ground with others. This is essential in order to hasten the growth process of a social business.
I also feel that every entrepreneur will at one point need to choose between looking good and being authentic. Choose being authentic.
I think this is one of the biggest choices, and challenges, facing entrepreneurs who want to make the world better—it takes a willingness to be vulnerable in front of “the big players,” along with the courage to stand up to them.
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