Elaine Tan Comeau is the CEO and Founder of Easy Daysies® Ltd, which produces magnetic daily schedules and tools that simply and effectively help parents teach children ages 3 and up to become more co-operative, independent, and less anxious.
An enterprising mother of three children, a wife, and a former elementary school teacher, Elaine appeared on CBC’s Dragons’ Den with her business idea and incited a bidding war among all five Dragons. Child psychologists, occupational therapists, speech and language pathologists, and physicians recommend her products and they’ve been featured in several national magazines and have won numerous awards. In 2014, Elaine was awarded the Canadian Mompreneur® of the Year Award.
What are some of the challenges you face as a mom and entrepreneur?
I often get asked how I balance being a mom of three children and running several businesses. I believe that balance is about priorities and priorities are about what you value. I value my family and children at utmost importance. Success to me is measured by how happy my children are, all the time. This “measurement” allows me to know when I should stop what I am doing and be with my kids and husband. I thrive off of their happiness.
I have called myself a “Mompreneur” from the start and have been criticized for it as well. I am honoured that the Financial Post, Macleans Magazine, Canadian Business Magazine, and Huffington Post, have all interviewed me wanting to know my story about being a mom entrepreneur. They asked me why I call myself a “Mompreneur” rather than a business woman, and I said it is because I am a mom first and business comes second. I am a mom all day long and if I happen to be successful at my work around those hours, that is wonderful! My priority is my children and my family first. All my business decisions are based on this priority. I have learned that putting my family first may put me in a position to sometimes lose opportunities but it has always gained the respect of the client, or future business partner.
Most importantly I know that my children see that they are my priority. I want to be the person I want my children to be. There is nothing more important and lasting than family. I am blessed to have the most amazing and supportive husband and partner, Ron Comeau. Easy Daysies would not exist without him. I am blessed with three fantastic kids who have had to put up with mommy having conference calls in the pantry and holding the door shut with the other hand, to having up to eleven 4×4 pallets full of products in our town house all at once. I have had many mortifying mompreneur moments, including potty training while meeting with men in full suits at my kitchen table. I have learned that I have to be honest and upfront that I have children who may be at the meeting with me, or that I have to cancel a meeting I have been waiting weeks for because my child has a school concert. I believe that if my children and husband are happy, then I am truly successful.
What advice can you give to young women interested in starting their own business?
When you are considering starting your own business, you must ask yourself these three questions and be able to answer yes to all of them.
First, is your service or product solving an existing problem? If you can answer yes to this, you know that there is a need for it, and that there will be a market for you to sell to because you have the solution they need!
Second, have you checked to make sure that your product or service does not already exist? If not, that is wonderful that you have created something new and unique! However, if something similar exists already, it’s no problem, but know your competition and make your product or service stand out differently and better than the others.
Thirdly, do you believe that your product or service is going to make a difference in the lives of others? Being able to say yes to this question is the most important because believing in your product or service is what will fuel your passion and perseverance to keep you going as an entrepreneur.
What was your first export sale?
My first export sale was Easy Daysies and it was to two different companies in two different countries: USA and France.
How did that first export opportunity arise?
Both companies contacted me through e-mail. The US company had been told by a Canadian company in the same industry about Easy Daysies and wanted my products for their store. The distributor in France found my product online after watching Dragons’ Den, and we had an online conversation for a year and a half before I agreed to ship.
When it comes to exports, what do you know now that you wish you knew then?
I am still learning as I go. What I know now that I wish I knew then was how to protect my company from fraudulent buyers and to make sure I had sound contracts in place. I was very trusting and naive and that does not hold up very well in matters of international trade.
Also, having a good freight forwarder is important, as they have the expertise and can assist with all the logistics and documentation. Hiring a reputable freight forwarder saves countless hours and dollars.
How has the trading world changed since you started in business?
I have been exporting for about four years and although companies and sizes of orders change, people do not. I have found excellent companies to work with because they have shown integrity and follow through in doing what they say they will do, and I still work with them and use their services today. I have also worked with companies that refuse to have contracts, who swear on their word, and who break deals and do not pay because there is an ocean that separates us.
Being a new SME meant learning the hard way because I went with trust when there were no contracts but just big promises. Those same people still exist, but now I have learned to say no and move on. Do not be tempted by every company and order that is dangled before you. It is okay to say no!
What is the #1 thing new SMEs need to know about exporting and trade?
How to protect themselves in the process of exporting: to research the new markets, to understand the factors that will impact their pricing and marketing, to have enforceable contracts, and to get paid for your products before shipping. I have learned that it is very important to get a deposit that will cover at least the cost of the materials before it leaves the country. I learned this lesson the hard way. Business intuition means going with your gut, and if your gut says to back out of the order, do it.