Entrepreneurship

A Founder's Journey Includes Insecurities and Hard Decisions with Mandy Cordia

A Founder's Journey Includes Insecurities and Hard Decisions with Mandy Cordia

MP chatted with Mandy Cordia, a retail industry veteran and shopping expert who turned her love of shopping into a full-time career spanning over 20+ years. She spent most of her career as a corporate retail buyer in women's fashion for companies like Zappos.com, Dillard's, and The Home Shopping Network. During her tenure as a buyer, she had the opportunity to buy across all product categories and work with hundreds of brands like Gucci, Tory Burch, Eileen Fisher, Kate Spade, and Free People, to name a few. 

After building a successful buying career and having her children, Cordia decided to pursue her dreams of social entrepreneurship. She wanted to use her talents to make a difference, give back, and improve the world. Cordia launched her business, The Kindness Cause, in March 2022. 

Mandy Cordia
The Kindness Cause founder Mandy Cordia / Photo courtesy of Mandy Cordia

The Kindness Cause is an e-commerce site created to easily support philanthropic causes and redefine charitable shopping through education and transparency. 

Through vetted, 60-day partnerships with small but mighty nonprofit organizations, The Kindness Cause delivers a curated assortment of meaningful gifts that give back. Every purchase supports a nonprofit organization. Cordia created The Kindness Cause to help busy, overwhelmed moms and working professionals give back in a meaningful way when life is too busy to volunteer.

As Cordia puts it, she is a disorganized-organized mom of two energetic kiddos, the wife of a high school principal, a Midwestern calling Las Vegas home, a recovering perfectionist, and someone working to check visiting each Major League Baseball stadium off her bucket list. 

The Journey

The entrepreneurial journey is one of self-discovery. What have you learned about yourself while building your business?

My self-discovery journey started before launching my business. I had a successful career as a corporate retail buyer, and then the pandemic happened. I was one of the "lucky" ones to keep my job in retail when many were laid off or furloughed. My job was already demanding, but now I was taking on three other people's work.

Before the pandemic, I traveled frequently, and I'd joke that my kids thought I worked in New York daily. When I was home, I made it a point to be present with my family, and my kids rarely saw me working.

The pandemic changed that; they saw mommy working all day, pulling all-nighters, and working on the weekends to keep from drowning in the workload. 

Every day I wished to be laid off or furloughed to be able to relax and breathe. 

It was becoming more than I could handle, and it wasn't long before I crash-landed in burnout.

One day while frantically working to meet a deadline, I heard my 3-year-old son playing in his room. I got up and slowly peeked around the corner. 

My son had set up his stuffed animals around his table. 

He made a make-shift computer out of paper and pretended to work. 

He then turned to his stuffed animals and yelled at them to be quiet; he was on an important call and needed to finish his work. 

I cried. 

My heart was broken. 

This was not the example I wanted to set for my children. 

I knew something had to change.

I sought out therapy, learned how to set boundaries, and did a lot of self-reflection. I started applying for other jobs and was a front runner for a director-level position with a startup. After an intense therapy secession, I realized that taking this new position would not solve my problems and that I'd likely find myself in the same situation I was in but for a new company. 

For the first time in my life, I withdrew my application. I needed to understand why I was so unhappy in a position and with a company I had loved for many years.

Founders volunteering time
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I discovered I had neglected my passion for giving back during this time. 

Before having children, I volunteered my time to charitable organizations. Life had become so busy that I no longer had time to volunteer. I started to buy gifts for my friends and family that supported charitable organizations as my way of giving back. The gifts became conversation starters about important issues and learning about new nonprofits. However, it often took a lot of work to uncover and learn about the nonprofit benefiting from the commercial co-venture, and the giveback was often very vague.

There had to be a better way. 

I decided my many years of retail experience, coupled with my love of helping others, put me in a unique position to tackle the problem head-on. 

I worked nights and weekends building The Kindness Cause while still working my corporate job for eight months until December 31, 2021, when I made The Kindness Cause my full-time job.

I had a lot to overcome to get to the point of launching my company. 

MP frequently interviews entrepreneurs on what life is truly like as a founder. Visit MP's founders' journeys to access all of their experiences - ranging from ugly to great.

Although I never quit on others, I was notorious for quitting on myself. I struggled to complete any goal I set for myself, including finishing a book, following through on a diet, meditating regularly, or establishing a workout routine. 

My entire life, I put the needs and wants of others before my own. I was an overachieving perfectionist to prove my worth to others and mask my underlying depression. Had it not been for therapy, I likely would not be calling myself an entrepreneur today. 

My old desire for perfection would have provided a never-ending list of excuses as to why I couldn't start my business –I didn't have the perfect branding, I didn't like how my website looked, and the list goes on. 

I had to get where I could move forward and be okay with messy, imperfect, failing, and embracing moments when I am uncomfortable. I do uncomfortable things every day.

As with any entrepreneur, I had to overcome the enormous hurdle of imposter syndrome. 

Believing in myself, trusting in my abilities, and putting myself out there has honestly been the most challenging part of becoming an entrepreneur for me.

Obstacles don't block the path. They are the path. -Zen Proverb

On tough days, it is easy to question everything. 

Did I make the right choice? 

Can I really do this? 

However, I remember that proverb and remind myself that these mental hurdles are part of my path. I've realized just how much I don't know. 

I've learned to ask for help and understand that seeking assistance in areas of weakness is a testament to my progress.

I also come from humble beginnings. 

I tied up much of my self-worth into how much money I made. I did very well for myself in the corporate world, and deciding to walk away from the salary was potentially the toughest pill to swallow. 

I lost my first job out of college just days after my now husband and I closed on our first home. 

I was young, naïve, and unprepared financially. 

That single event helped us save and prepare financially for years so that I could take this leap of faith into entrepreneurship, but that still did not make it easier to leave a consistent income.

My journey of self-discovery continues every day, and every day is a constant battle to fight to avoid relapsing into my old ways of thinking and doing things.

I am grateful that becoming an entrepreneur has pushed me to grow personally and professionally in ways I didn't think were possible.

The entrepreneurial journey is often lonely. Have you experienced loneliness as an entrepreneur? If yes, what was that experience like, and how did you overcome it?

I spent two years before launching my business working from home. I think those two years helped prepare me to work from home for myself. I like to work independently and appreciate the level of productivity that working from home provides. I make it a point to schedule regular lunch dates with friends and mentors so that it doesn't feel so lonely all the time. 

Lonely founder outdoors
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However, the real loneliness comes from friends, family, and acquaintances that don't understand or can't relate to the nuances and challenges of being an entrepreneur. 

I'm working to overcome this challenge by building a network of female entrepreneurs and mentors to support, provide guidance, and help one another juggle building a business while raising a family. In conversations with those amazing women, I truly feel seen and understood. It is also a great way to learn from one another.

The Psychological Warfare 

Entrepreneurs generally sleep less, work more, and let their health slip. This combination, combined with loneliness, often results in insecurity, self-esteem issues, and low self-worth. Have you experienced any of these issues as an entrepreneur?

Yes, yes, and yes. 

I have experienced all the above. 

I probably sleep less than most (I average about 5 hours of sleep each night but sometimes less). I do not think my sleep pattern changed from working in the corporate world to becoming an entrepreneur. I consider myself a night owl and have been that way for as long as I can remember.

I juggle a lot between being a mom and running a business. During the traditional working day, there are a lot of interruptions and obligations to attend. 

I often struggle to focus when pulling in many directions or constantly interrupted. I am usually most productive and can easily hit my flow state after my children go to bed until about 2 am. When I am in the flow, I easily lose track of time and don't feel tired because my work is energizing.

I also have a hard time turning my brain off to sleep. 

My husband has woken up multiple times to me lying in bed, on my phone, and frantically typing away notes because I need to get my thoughts out and organized.  

Because I am very passionate about my work, I often have difficulty pulling myself away from work. 

Founder working late on phone in bed
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The lack of sleep and my passion for building the business have caused me to make some poor choices in terms of my health. 

The long hours sitting at a desk, the skipped workouts, and reaching for foods that are fast and not necessarily healthy have been choices that have not benefited my waistline. 

Does it bother me? Of course! 

As a woman who spent her entire career working in the fashion industry, I can tell you the real insecurity and self-esteem issues. I'm not sure there are quicker ways to damage the psyche and get thicker skin than hearing audible gasps when you order a cheeseburger for lunch or being fat-shamed while pregnant. 

I think all women have a level of insecurity they fight due to unrealistic beauty standards regardless of being entrepreneurs or not. I've done a lot of work in therapy to understand my worth and what I bring to the table. While I want to look and feel great in the clothes I wear and to be healthy and active so that I can be the best mom, wife, and business owner I can be, I also know that the number on the scale does not determine my worth, define who I am, or impact the difference I can make in this world.

While I doubt my sleep patterns will change soon, making better and healthier choices every day is still a regular battle for me. 

I have discovered that planning and creating a routine has helped dramatically. I plan my weekly meals to avoid going with quick and unhealthy options. I schedule a time to workout, which until recently had only been at home. I started taking Pilates classes to get out of the house, socialize, and have accountability. I appreciate that the classes force me to take a break, relieve stress, and help clear my head.

Newer entrepreneurs often equate their success with the success and value of their business. If their business fails, they are a failure. If their business succeeds, they are a success. Have you experienced this warped perception of reality? 

It is very easy for an entrepreneur to equate the business' success with your success. I have encountered this, and I must actively work not to think this way. As an entrepreneur, especially a solo entrepreneur, you are responsible for every aspect of the business. At times it is difficult to separate yourself from the business. 

If sales are soft, I didn't do enough marketing. 

If a collection of products isn't selling, I must not have done a great job creating or sourcing the product.

If people are not interacting on social media, it must be because I'm not communicating clearly, or they don't resonate with my message. 

No one is to blame for lackluster results when you wear every hat. 

As I mentioned previously, as someone who used to associate their self-worth with their financial success, it takes mental awareness and constant work to avoid the pitfall of associating the success or failure of the business with your success or failure.

I've had a real fear of failure my whole life. 

I didn't get my driver's license until I was almost 18 years old because I was so afraid I would fail the test. Starting a business has forced me to face the fear of failing head-on, and I don't view failure as I did in the past. 

I now understand that failure is a part of the process. 

I know that failure is a gift, an opportunity to learn from our mistakes, and a chance to apply those learnings repeatedly until we find success. 

The Kindness Cause logo
The Kindness Cause logo / Photo courtesy of Mandy Cordia

When I started The Kindness Cause, I decided failure was not an option.

If the business were unsuccessful and didn't work out, I would come out on the other side as the most well-rounded eCommerce expert who got to give back to some incredible charitable organizations along the way. If we don't try, we will never know. 

I couldn't let the fear of failing keep me from trying.

I make mistakes every day, and I'm still trying to figure it out. However, I've adapted my mindset to understand that the business does not reflect the personal growth, learnings, and obstacles I overcome daily.

What are your three biggest fears as an entrepreneur, and how do you manage those fears?

1. Failure

Failing is hands down my greatest fear as an entrepreneur. Statistically, the odds of success in starting a business are not in my favor. So much blood, sweat, time, and passion go into creating a business. 

It is scary to think about putting yourself out there and people not liking it or responding to it. 

I had to do a lot of soul-searching to help me overcome and manage this fear. 

When I got down to the root cause of why I was so unhappy in the corporate world, I discovered that I had spent years building a legacy for someone else only to have it undone by a change in management. It felt like the years of hard work had meant nothing, which hurt. My desire for meaningful work, to make a difference, and to build my legacy was enough fuel to be willing to face the fear of failure head-on.

I've heard it said that you should focus more on your eulogy and less on your resume. I didn't want to look back on my life years later and wonder, "What if?" For me, the pros of trying outweighed the con of failing. It's also been helpful to change how I view failure in becoming an entrepreneur. 

2. Time and Money

I know businesses take time to make money and be profitable. I also knew that my time building this business would not be compensated. While my husband and I had prepared financially for this business, I have a genuine and healthy fear of no safety net and letting my family down. I have always had a regular income and have contributed financially to my household. This unchartered territory for me is mentally uncomfortable, but I manage this fear by using it as motivation. It drives me to keep going.

3. The Unknown

Lastly, I fear the unknown. 

There are many unknowns.

I manage the fear of uncertainty by focusing on what I can control. 

For example, starting out, I don't know how much revenue I'll bring in, but I can be laser-focused on my margin to ensure the dollars coming in are profitable. 

I don't know what kind of results I can expect from marketing outputs; however, I can research and partner with an organization with a proven track record of success in exceeding key performance indicators. 

It is easier to embrace uncertainty when you understand that mistakes are part of the process and give yourself grace for making decisions with the best information you had at the time. 

Focus on what you control and learn from each mistake.  

The Mistakes

What are some mistakes you made early on as an entrepreneur, what did you learn from them, and how can these mistakes be avoided by others?

1. Allowing Fear To Stop Me From Starting My Business Sooner

Because I waited, I was no longer at the forefront of charitable shopping but in the middle of the pack with much more competition. 

Do it now. 

Do it before you are ready. 

Do it messy but do it!

In the beginning, I wasted money because I was too quick to throw money at a problem or pay others for services without clearly defined goals and expectations. 

Founder overwhelmed using accounting software
Envato Elements

For example, I know just how important your financial information is; I regretted not paying more attention in accounting class in college. I thought I had done my research and reached out to an experienced eCommerce accountant for help setting up my Quickbooks and teaching me to reconcile my books monthly. 

She told me that since I hadn't officially launched my business yet, she could quickly help me in an hour and a half for $450. Because I was vague on what I needed her help on and green when it came to accounting, the meeting ended with me now out $450 and in the same position I was in going into the meeting. 

Do your research. 

Ask around. 

Try to get very clear on the ask and needs when hiring outside support services so that you aren't paying for the same service multiple times. 

You cannot afford to waste money

2. I Made a Mistake in Thinking I Could Do Everything Myself

As a mom and entrepreneur, I think I am superhuman, but in reality, that couldn't be further from the truth. I wanted to be mindful of my cash flow. However, doing it all meant that I was responsible for finding and vetting nonprofit partners, creating and sourcing products, bookkeeping, running a website, social media, marketing, legal contracts and filing, fulfilling orders, customer service, and many others. 

When you do everything, you cannot do your best work most of the time, and things will fall through the cracks.

As a product person, marketing is not my strength. I did not put enough thought, time, and energy into it when launching my company. This was a big miss on my part. 

You have to spend money to make money, and you cannot neglect any part of your business because you are pulled in too many directions.

Seek help and hire people or bring on partners to help you in your areas of weakness.

What are three things you see that are often overlooked by entrepreneurs you encounter, and how can other entrepreneurs be aware of these things from the beginning?

1. Understanding the Legalities and Not Using Contracts

You need to be aware of many legalities when starting a business. Legal issues can snowball quickly and jeopardize the reputation of your company. Hiring a qualified attorney to help you navigate the legal waters is essential. 

In starting my business, I had to understand the laws around commercial co-ventures and how they vary from state to state. I've found that people who don't know these laws have tried to give me incorrect guidance that would have been harmful to the business if I did not have a knowledgeable attorney behind me.

I also think it is crucial to protect your business by using contracts. Contracts are a great way to outline the exact agreement and expectations while protecting the company should one party fail to uphold their part of the agreement. 

2. Not Defining Your Target Audience

A quick way to fail is to try to be all things to all people. In doing so, you will spread yourself, your resources, and your capital thin while struggling to see those efforts materialize into something worthwhile. 

Defining your target audience helps reduce your marketing spend by providing direction on where to find your customers and how to reach them. It also provides for consistency in your messaging and establishes credibility and relevancy. 

3. Underestimating the Capital Requirements

Without fail, there will always be unexpected situations, delays, or issues. I think most entrepreneurs plan for the best-case scenario, which often does not account for the unknowns and challenges that pop up along the way. It will always cost more than you think. It is great to have a positive outlook but don't bring that positive outlook when doing your financial planning. Plan for the unexpected and give yourself a buffer.

The Successes

What are three seemingly insurmountable obstacles you’ve faced as an entrepreneur, and how have you overcome them?

1. Launching a Business

As I mentioned previously, I had been notorious for quitting on myself and my personal goals. I had a lot of mental hurdles to overcome to make this business a reality. The day I launched The Kindness Cause was a great personal and professional accomplishment that I will never forget. 

Getting to that day meant I hadn't quit on myself for the first time in a very long time.

2. Creating a Website Without Knowledge of How To Code

While my website is far from perfect, I am proud I did it because it was something I didn't think I could do for a long time. 

For far too long, I allowed myself to wear blinders and believed I needed to know how to code to create a website. It was just another excuse I told myself as to why I couldn't start a business for many years. 

Had I just been open to researching this, I would have discovered that so many great companies like Shopify and Big Commerce make launching a website easy for people like me who don't know how to code. 

Many great companies and resources help entrepreneurs accomplish their goals without prior knowledge in a particular area.

3. Signing My First Nonprofit Partner Before I Had a Website or Anything To Show

While I had a well-established reputation in the fashion industry, I was utterly unknown in the nonprofit world. I had many years of experience pitching my retailer to brands, so I used that approach to sell myself and my company to potential nonprofit partners. I put together a deck and started reaching out to executive directors of nonprofit organizations that had met my strict requirements for partnership. 

I might get one response for every ten nonprofits I had contacted. 

I had many rejections for various reasons. 

One is that I couldn't promise them I would raise any money as a new business. 

I could only promise them that I would try. 

Luckily, I found a nonprofit organization that was willing to take a chance on me and who also later became a wholesale partner. Once the website was up, it was a much easier sell to potential nonprofit partners. 

In business, it is important to remember that a "No" means not right now. 

Rejection isn't personal; it is simply a redirection.

What are three ways you have managed to boost your productivity without causing burnout?

1. Adjusting the Work I Do

I adjust the work that needs to be done each day by the ebbs and flows of my creativity, productivity, and attention span. 

For example, I am most productive and have the least distractions in the morning. I use this time to focus on tasks that are the more difficult or take the most brain power. 

I am most creative in the afternoon, and I prefer to answer emails and clean out my inbox in the evening. 

When you wear every hat in the company, there is plenty of variety in the work to focus on different things each day that keep every day different and interesting while still being productive. 

Founder receiving guidance
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2. Seek Help or Guidance 

Seek help or guidance or outsource your areas of weakness where your time could be better used elsewhere. As a solo entrepreneur, time management is everything. Social media content creation is not a strength for me. It takes me hours to produce mediocre content. Outsourcing this weakness frees up time for me to focus on the things I am good at, like building relationships, creating/sourcing products, and growing the business.

 It's okay not to be great at everything, and understanding your weaknesses is a great starting point in asking for help. 

3. Set Weekly and Daily Goals

It has benefited me to set weekly and daily goals for tasks that need to be completed. You will never cross everything off the to-do list, so having a prioritized list of tasks lets me know what can be pushed to the next day or the following week at the end of the day. 

This practice has helped me not become overwhelmed by everything that has to be done and be okay with walking away at the end of the day with items still on the to-do list.

The Advice

How can newer entrepreneurs develop a healthy work-life balance even when it seems like an impossible task?

The first step is understanding that there is no such thing as work-life balance, and you likely won't find balance in every aspect of your life simultaneously.

The key to success is setting firm boundaries. 

It is essential to understand why you wanted to become an entrepreneur in the first place. 

Suppose you wanted more time with your family or schedule flexibility, then you need firm boundaries to honor those priorities from the beginning. Make small steps daily that you can easily implement and will help you create the life you want.

Take time for yourself, your family, and the things that are important to you. 

It is essential to understand that the work will always be there. 

The job will never be done, and you will never have a day where you cross everything off the to-do list. You must be willing to walk away at the end of each day with the understanding that you did the best you can do for today, and you will pick up where you left off tomorrow.

Lastly, give yourself grace when you may be killing it in one area of your life and struggling in another. You must sacrifice to advance either as a better mom or parent or in your career. Shondra Rhimes summed it up best in her Dartmouth commencement speech:

If I am succeeding at one, I am inevitably failing at the other. That is the tradeoff. That is the Faustian bargain one makes with the devil that comes with being a powerful working woman who is also a powerful mother. You never feel a hundred percent okay; you never get your sea legs; you are always a little nauseous. Something is always lost.

Strive for your best and give yourself grace in times of sacrifice. - Shondra Rhimes

What three key pieces of advice would have made your entrepreneurial journey easier, and why?

1. Don’t Expect Overnight Results

Consistency is key. It takes time to build a business and to put your company at the forefront of a consumer's mind. It is essential to stay consistent, keep going, do the work, and keep putting yourself out there.

2. Never Trust a Supplier’s Product Quality Sight Unseen

If you are buying wholesale, drop shipping, or using print on demand, ensure you test the product quality before sending it to your customers. Attend trades hows or buy samples to verify the product quality before selling a product. Sending out poor-quality products will likely result in a financial loss and the loss of customers willing to shop with you. 

3. Create a Network of Trusted Business Advisors

One of my favorite quotes is:

It is not the critic who counts; nor the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena. -Theodore Roosevelt

You will find that people will have many opinions about your work. Listen intently to your customers but be cautious of advice from those who have not dared greatly enough to enter the arena for themselves. 

Find a trusted network of advisors from people who have been both successful and unsuccessful in various areas of business who are willing to engage with you, provide critiques, and offer valuable yet actionable advice. 

There is so much you can learn from those who have come before you, including how not to make the same mistakes they did.  

Responses provided by Mandy Cordia, Owner and Founder at The Kindness Cause.

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