March is Women’s History Month and as a woman-owned small business, this month is particularly special for us. To celebrate, we asked Compass founder, CEO and do-it-all badass Annie Lang a few questions about being a woman in business, challenges she faces and how she’s working to inspire future generations of female entrepreneurs.
What does it mean to you to own a small business as a female?
In the 1960’s, women couldn’t open a bank account without the approval of a male family member. 1974 was the first year women could apply for a credit card by themselves. And just in 1988 (a year before I was born) women couldn’t apply for a business loan by themselves.
I’ve been thinking about that a lot the past few months and especially during Women’s History Month - how far women have come but also how far we have left to go. Having a creative job was always part of my plan, even when I was a kid. Because I didn’t want to end up in a cubicle editing pics or finding space for barcodes on cereal packaging with my graphic design degree I felt pretty driven to create a job for myself. It was a really meandering journey from spending all my free time creating anything that popped into my head and picking up design jobs from other small business owners to feeling very empowered to start my own woman-owned small business based on things I have a passion for.
At the end of the day, I have a voice and I have a purpose. I get to help other people connect and communicate with each other and share their love for the outdoors. It’s colorful and goofy (and sometimes serious) but it’s empowering to me.
As a female entrepreneur and small business owner, who inspires you?
I was one of those lucky kids who grew up with a mom that always kept our craft supplies stocked. All the freedom and creativity I was surrounded by still inspires me to this day (but it also fuels my impulse buying of paints, paper and craft supplies that I don’t necessarily need!). So definitely my mom, who was always up to something creatively.
In the business world, I am always floored by the women who turn their ideas into an entire lifestyle. Who knew that Reese Witherspoon would go from starring in Legally Blonde to devoting her life to telling other women’s stories, starting a production company and a lifestyle brand. And freaking Joanna Gaines? Come on with that. Both women are so not my style - you won’t see me decorating my house with Magnolia or wearing a Draper James dress, but I can’t help but find inspiration in what they are building.
Of course beyond the business world, all the women I am inspired by gain their power from voices - either using their own or helping others be heard. Stacy Abrams. Greta Thunberg. Malala Yousafzai. RBG. Jacinda Ardern.
And then, there’s Beyoncé. I love Beyoncé. We run this mother.
What challenges did you face starting a business as a woman, particularly in the outdoor industry?
Typically stationery is considered more feminine. Not something you would typically see in a store next to a wall of technical packs or hiking footwear. As Compass evolved to have outdoor inspired products, getting outdoor retailers on board was (and still is) a bit of a struggle. Whenever we get rejected when reaching out to retailers or other brands we want to work with, it’s hard to not take it personally. But I am also the kind of person that is going to put my head down after someone says “no” and get to work to try to maybe change that no into a yes in the future. There is so much to be said for hard work and just showing up everyday. To be constantly changing and evolving and adapting and staying true to the voice you have and eventually people will start to take notice and you’ll start to get more yeses than nos. It’s just about showing up and proving you belong over and over again.
What advice would you offer to women looking to start their own business?
Bring something new to the table. Find your own voice, and own it. And don’t wait for the perfect time to start -- just start. Now. When I started this business, it was just a creative outlet - a side project. I didn’t have a savings account. If I would have applied for a business loan, there’s no way I would have been approved for one. But I just started with what I had - some paper, some art supplies and an account on Instagram. Lean into your voice when starting out.
And please, please, please… find a group of other women business owners to ask questions, lean on, vent to and support you because yes, day to day things you are rocking by yourself, but it takes a community of amazing people to keep you going on your worst days. And let’s be real, it feels great to be able to share wins with women who you know will be cheering for you on your best days.
How do you set an example for the next generation of female entrepreneurs and small business owners?
Pretty early on I decided to just follow my gut when it comes to decisions, stay true to my voice and mirror my values as a person in my business. Especially true for small business owners, your business is an extension of yourself so I think in a lot of ways it should mirror a bit of who you are as a person. I think people become more connected to a business when it is more than just selling a product - people want to support businesses with a voice and a purpose and I hope that comes through in what Compass does. We all know how powerful using your voice can be.
Looking to celebrate the all-star outdoorsy women in your own life this month? We’ve got five unique gift ideas for under $50 to help you let them know how much they inspire you!
More People, Way You Roll + Lit and Legit cards - Made with responsibly sourced 100% recycled (30% post-consumer) FSC paper and printed in the Midwest with vegetable based inks (what up - no chemicals or petroleum!), drop a note in the mail for your favorite badass females!
Enamel pin - Adorn the backpacking pack, commuter bag or briefcase of the lady boss in your life with some bling that’s just her style.
Notebook + pencil - Whether she’s jotting down a camping trip packing list or drafting her next business plan, she’ll love these adorable accessories.
- Shoulder season beanie - It’s that time of year where one day it feels like winter and the next, summertime. Keep her cozy with a beanie perfect for those ‘in between’ days.
- Compass Paper Co digital gift card - For the go-getter who’s always celebrating others, set her up with the paper goods collection of her dreams.