91 - A Story of Starting to Partnering With Kevin O'Leary, With Claudia Harvey

starting a business | Dec 02, 2017

Claudia Harvey has an incredible story.  This is a true entrepreneur's journey going from wanting something more out of her corporate life to starting a business based on an idea with a friend over drinks.  Then she soon found herself on Dragon's Den, Canada's version of Shark Tank, and landing Mr. Wonderful, (aka Kevin O'Leary) as a partner.  She talks about how she got started, what has made them so successful, and how she's found more in her life by taking a pretty big chance!

Tell us how you went from corporate America to creating a product. With a strong corporate career for 20 years she was in the corporate arena in the sales, marketing and operations. At the pinnacle of her career she was the Vice President of Citibank, she loved her job and she was traveling at least fifteen days a month but with it came a lot of stress. Due to the amount of travel she was away from her family quite frequently and she felt that she was not doing anything very well. Not only did she feel that her family life was suffering but she felt the same about her work. Although, it may have not appeared that way it was really what she felt that mattered. At that point she decided that she was going to leave that type of job and find one that she did not have the demands of travel and being away so much. At that point she took an Internal Operations job where she was the between the company and the client and was first in command. What she learned from this job was the interworking of a company and how to turn profits and drive the operations. It allowed her to learn how a company runs from the front end to the back-end completely. Again, what she found was that she felt that she was starting to feel like the company was sucking her brain dry. She resigned for her job and wasn’t quite sure what she was going to do but she was going to take some time to really seek out what she wanted. During a visit from a long time friend over Labor day, Dig It was born. It took nine months to create the product; the branding, packaging and prototypes with a soft market launched in March, 2009. They then went on the show Dragons’ Den based on her very insistent business partner. Claudia really had no desire to go on Dragons’ Den because she did not want to be raked over the coals by billionaires on national television. However, they went in with a plan, they knew exactly what they were willing to give up and that was ten percent of their company and if the Den wanted more than that they would walk away. They made a match of what they wanted and Kevin O’Leary now owns ten percent of the company.   Dig It is across Canada in major retailers and they are working their way into the United States.

How and where did you know where to go for the prototypes for your business? Wendy, her business partner has retail background so she had the manufacturing connections. When setting out to start a business, one piece of advice is to tap your personal and professional network because you never know who has connections and when a door will open with opportunity. They went from manufacturing in North America to moving their manufacturing overseas. But they are very in line with making sure that their manufacturing and production are in line with one another.

How do you manage your speaking career, Dig It, and family life?  The speaking and consulting started about three years ago when she was asked to speak at corporate lunch and learns about the Dig It story. The whole experience of speaking on stage, excites her as she really connects with women and realizes that she touches people with her story and helps along the way.   With the kids it allowed her to be present with them in their school and growing up. Now that they are grown and her oldest will head to University next year she has some flexibility to be able to travel a bit more and people have started to come ask her for assistance in launching their business. And as Dig It has grown they have outsourced all the warehousing and the accounting that she was doing in her home for the first two years. They have been very tight and very financially restrictive amongst themselves and have not taken any money out of the business.

Tell us about your partnership? Claudia knew Wendy, her business partner for fifteen years before starting Dig It. They are equal partners with a shareholder agreement since day one of their business. When Kevin became a partner, he is a silent partner with no voting shares; the agreement was revised to state as such. The shareholders agreement does not dictate the roles and responsibly but they have a verbal agreement that Wendy handles the sales and marketing and she handles the operations, based on each of their background. Even thought the two of them live in different cities they talk each day and have a huge dialect to keeping in touch with what is going on. There has been tremendous growth between the two partners and she feels that they know each other better than their spouses ever knew each other. There have been growing pains but there has also been respect. Prior to getting into the whole business they took a weekend away and really wrote out the whole direction and what the vision of the company was going to be and that is where she feels that there is a great foundation in their partnership.

Looking back do you have any regrets or big lessons learned? Neither of them had experience in running a business or being an entrepreneur but they both came from great knowledge and understanding of how to run a business. One of the most important things that she has learned in this whole journey is to make sure that you have cash flow and that your cash flow is not a family member. And whatever your number is double it.

Are there any lessons that you have come across in the speaking part? Not really so much lessons but really just managing your time is key. She has hired business coaches to help her get deeper into the speaking part and motivate more people. So if you feel the need to learn and grow do not be afraid to hire a coach to help you along the way with what you want to do. A coach has allowed her to get broader, deeper and stronger with her messaging to help educate more people as she speaks and that is what her drive has become.

What is next for you? Keeping the business pretty 50/50 between the speaking and Dig It is the goal. However, it will depend on how the launch of Dig It in the United States goes. But she manages the time between the consultant work, speaking and Dig It pretty well so she feels very comfortable taking care of all of them.

Do you feel that you have done the juggle between work and family to your needs or would you have changed anything? She is very happy that she made the decision to leave corporate American and start her own business. It enables her to be present in her families and her kids’ lives.   As they have become older it has freed up her days more and allowed her to open up to do more consulting and the speaking.

A tidbit from Claudia: If you have a dream or a goal and you voice it out there and people do not understand it or they think you can’t do it, don’t listen to them. It is really important to listen to your inner voice, motivations and drive, because you know where you can take that dream. Don’t listen to the naysayers in your life, close the off because you can make a difference. Everybody can make a difference in your life and in the world. So listen to your inner voice and find ways to make it happen. If you want it deep and strong enough it will happen.

You can find more about Claudia Harvey at: www.claudiaharvey.com and www.digithandwear.com

More about Claudia Harvey:

Claudia Harvey is one of the few women to successfully strike “A Deal with the Dragon,” with venture capitalist Kevin O’Leary’s from Canada’s CBC’s Dragons’ Den and NBC’s SharkTank.

As Co-Founder of Dig It® Apparel Inc. (www.digithandwear.com) that launched sales in 2009; Claudia and her business partner entered the Dragons’ Den (CBC’s top-rated flagship business program) and faced the scrutiny of the Dragons. The unique product and business model used on the pitch was the key selling points to gain interest from the most notorious Dragons, Kevin O’Leary. With gloves in hand, her company successfully struck a deal with O’Leary in Season 4. Since inception, the Dig It brand has seen considerable national retail growth, added new products to its line, and expansion into the United States. The proof is in the pudding regarding this entrepreneur’s business savvy and success, as evidenced by Kevin OLeary’s endorsement:

“Each moment of [The Dig It] pitch built to the next, generating power and force, like a symphony with a joyous conclusion. I couldn’t help but be swept along.” – Kevin O’Leary, successful entrepreneur, venture capitalist, investor and media personality.

Her keen business sense, creativity and her penchant for risk-taking with always-stellar results has made her a much-sought-out international public speaker and business consultant. Claudia’s The Master of Influence Series helps guide and support entrepreneurs, business owners and others looking for the “secret sauce” in how to close sales and increase their company’s bottom line. She demonstrates the link between communication and building wealth!

As well, Claudia works on her latest entrepreneurial activities and provides both consultation regarding best practices to small and large businesses alike. With her 20-year experience in both publicly traded and privately held business, Claudia provides solid advice and guidance to those who are looking to emulate her success. An expert in the areas of sales, marketing, operations, finance and logistics from the ground up, Claudia’s acumen has been the driving force behind her success.

After graduating from University, Claudia worked in the corporate arena in senior management positions in a variety of organizations such as Citibank, Liberty Health Management Solutions, Eli Lilly. She created and Co-Founded Dig It Apparel Inc in 2008 and has a solid understanding of what it takes to get the job done and to succeed. Claudia’s story has been recounted in The Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail, The Globe and Mail Report on Business, Global News, CBC, The Lang and O’Leary Report… amongst many other key media outlets.

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