History doesn’t always stay in the past and for Trish “Manyoni” Lewis, heritage is a means to profit-earning. Trish Lewis is the founder of Heritage Box, a business that delivers snippets from African-American and African history to eager children each month. Her business has been featured in Essence Magazine, ABC News and BlackNews.com to name a few.
Through Heritage Box, Trish is helping black parents raise children that are knowledgeable of their rich African heritage. Believe it or not, this thriving business is Trish’s first attempt. Trish is a firm believer of start first, improve later. Keep reading to find out how Trish Lewis has kept her business from failing.
What was the idea that sparked Heritage Box?
I have always been fascinated, no, actually obsessed with businesses that arise to solve problems. I knew I wanted to start a business that solved a problem I had, that had true impact and was in my field of passion. The idea truly fell on my lap.
My then 8 year old daughter made a remark that all they had done for Black History month was colour a picture of Dr Martin Luther King. I was shocked that this was the extent of their black history education. But more importantly, I felt as a parent, it was my responsibility to share this history with her.
My husband and I regularly visit my native country Zimbabwe with our children. However, teaching them more about Africa was something we were not being consistent about. Given this problem, or “exposed gap” in our home education, we knew as parents we had to be more intentional and consistent.Trish Lewis: I felt as a parent, it was my responsibility to share black history with my daughter Click To Tweet
We examined the reasons we were not consistent and realized that the busyness of school activities, being working parents and the children’s extra-curricular activities were preventing us from devoting the time we knew was necessary to teach our children about their African heritage. We spoke to a number of other parents and realized we were not the only ones with a desire to correct this.
The “how” was easy, our kids love getting mail! I had a literal light bulb moment when they received a package in their name and were so excited to open it and let everyone in the family know. I figured, why not package fun lessons and activities on African American history, African history and geography as a gift in the mail?
How does one make a business while celebrating heritage?
I think at its core, every business is influenced by the owner/founder’s heritage. The extent to which they show it may be different. At some point or another, I believe we all ask the question, “Who am I?”
The answer to this question normally involves an analysis of one’s lineage and heritage. I think our business helps a lot of parents who are in the process of getting to the core of who they really are. These parents care about their children having the same foundational knowledge and pride.
The key as a business built on celebrating heritage is to make yourself visible to those who share the same vision and to stay grounded in your purpose.Trish Lewis: I think at its core, every business is influenced by the owner/founder's heritage Click To Tweet
When would you say you took a chance and followed through in your dreams?
I would say by far launching Heritage Box has been the ultimate expression of me following my dreams. Even at a young age, growing up in Zimbabwe, I always dreamt about owning and running my own business. My academic strengths were in Mathematics and the sciences, so societal pressures had me focus on a career in the sciences.
It was more “secure”, and I felt I was “wasting” my talent by pursuing something else. I came to the United States and pursued a degree in biology and subsequently had a great career in the medical field.Trish Lewis: I realized that my career would never offer me the one thing I defined as success Click To Tweet
However, after my husband and I started having children, I realized that my career would never offer me the one thing I defined as success; freedom of time. The life I envisioned after the career had set off was one of enjoying quality, present time with my husband and children. The freedom to visit my family in Zimbabwe frequently, and the ability to support or build an orphanage in Zimbabwe.
Deep down, I knew that my childhood dream of entrepreneurship was the key to my ideal life becoming a possibility. With this conviction, I began to seriously consider starting a business.
How were you able to build your business without any prior experience and escape the failure that affects many start-ups?
The key for me was, this was a business I believed in with every core of my being. It was something I saw as having an impact not only to my children, but to families all across the Diaspora and to parents adopting African or African-American children.
Through early surveys, I had received a resounding “Yes , we need this” and this carried me through. It fuelled me as I read voraciously on the ins and outs of starting a business. It emboldened me as I started building relationships with other entrepreneurs and learning from them. Above all it kept me going whenever self-doubt would start to kick in.
I believe that clarity drives results. If you can get clear on why you would like to build that particular business, your how will naturally be a sustainable one. And naturally is adopting the mentality that failure is not an option. I didn’t even consider failure. I would say you have to commit to fighting for this dream, even to the point where it may seem irrational to some people.
Most start-ups fail quickly because of a lack of vision and focus. Be clear on the reason why you are in business and who you are serving. Then, constantly use this as a compass when making decisions. To build a financially viable business, especially for those without prior business background, I would highly recommend reading. I suggest implementing principles from the book “Profit First” by Michalowicz. It gives solid, easily digestible advice on managing your business finances and making a profit.Trish Lewis: To build a financially viable business, I would highly recommend reading Click To Tweet
How were you able to get the attention of Essence and ABC within two months of launch?
I realized very early on that news outlets are always looking for fresh content to appeal to their viewers and readers. There was nothing quite like Heritage Box on the market. So, I was confident that with the right pitch the media would see it as something worth sharing with their viewers.
When writing a pitch, be very clear in how your product/service is something viewers or readers would be interested in. When pitching for TV, paint a picture in your pitch so they can visualize how the segment would go. Give them possible headlines, props you could bring, maybe a video clip of you to show your personality. Make it as easy as possible for them to say yes to you.
And of course always be gracious when sending emails or calling to pitch. You never know who the decision maker will be and what other opportunities for exposure they could offer you.Trish Lewis: I realized very early on that news outlets are always looking for fresh content Click To Tweet
Why do you think it’s better to start and improve later?
The learning is truly in the doing. You absolutely just need to get onto the playing field. At the very least, to validate your idea and to truly assess your level of passion and commitment towards your business.
A lot of great ideas are never shared with the world because a lot of people believe it has to be perfect, or the timing isn’t right. The timing will never be right! Ask yourself, “what is the absolute worst thing that could happen if I went ahead and just launched?”
Write it down and really take a few days to see if this is truly worth the cost of inaction.
What will you say to women looking to start now?
I would say there is no better time than now to be a female entrepreneur. Get committed to honouring those big dreams you have for yourself with action. Surround yourself with people who are supportive and driven.
There is truth in the African saying, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”. Join or create a community of other business owners who see the greatness in you and won’t let you suppress it! I am so blessed to have very supportive family and friends. They are open to hearing my plethora of ideas and know when I need help holding myself to my highest vision.
Over the past year, I have met incredible women in business and have a network that stretches and supports me. Be willing to give value and support to others in business and the quality of your network will grow exponentially.
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