Have you had to pivot this year? Maybe you had to pivot from going to work in an office to walking down the hallway to your home office instead. Maybe you had to pivot to an entirely new job or are still in the process of finding a new job in a pandemic. Sarah Lin, entrepreneur and founder of EllieFunDay, discusses when she knew she needed to pivot her business and explains the role God holds in her company.
Tell us a little about yourself!
I was born in the Midwest but raised in Honolulu, Hawaii. When I was 11, my family moved to the frigidly windy Northern California. I remember wearing down jackets in Golden Gate park as a kid in the middle of June! I’ve always loved creating and making things growing up. Wherever I was, I would have some sort of craft-on-the-go, like a friendship bracelet or some sort of paper craft. I always loved making things.
As a good Asian girl, I pursued a science degree in college and planned a career in mental health. I spent some time in the Tenderloin District (red-light area) in San Francisco working with at-risk youth experiencing homelessness. That is where I felt God open up my eyes to the brokenness of this world. At the same time, I had a deep yearning to explore my creative side, so I went back to graphic design school. After graduating from design school I slowly worked my way up the ranks at various design agencies, working with Fortune 500 companies and growing my portfolio. I had a decent amount of success with industry awards and publications but I felt a deeper yearning to use my gifts and skills sets for something a little bit more meaningful. That’s when I started to feel like God was calling me out to start something different and new.
When you made the switch to entrepreneurship, what were some initial hurdles you had to get yourself over?
I had zero experience in sewing manufacturing, supply chain sourcing, and importing, let alone running a business! So my hurdles were monumental. I had to learn everything from scratch, from teaching our artisans how to check for quality control to developing our supply chain of organic cotton. These were all things that we needed to learn on our own.
As the company grew, a lot of stress and anxiety also came with it. I needed to learn how to manage that through meditation and mentorship. A lot of my fears were internal and I knew that I needed to overcome them first before I could lead my team healthily. Due to a lack in business and finance background, I also needed to bring in a CFO to balance my skill sets.
As a business owner, how has God factored into your business plan?
God is THE factor in our business. From the very beginning, I was shown how to listen to His voice first before anything else. From how to start or to whom to talk, He’s always shown us the way.
Our very first year, we asked God for a sales goal and He said 1000 blankets. We thought He was crazy, but that stretch goal proved to us that it was Him who was bringing in the opportunities. From then on, every design collection, sales opportunity, and big decision is led first by prayer.
Once the pandemic hit, we were greatly affected by a drop in sales, and so we prayed and God told us to make masks way before anyone else started making masks. That helped keep our business afloat earlier in the year. Now that everyone is making masks we’ve had to hibernate our business and pivot to fully operating it as a non-profit. Our artisan partners innovated during this time and saw the need for menstrual health products because schools were closed and girls couldn’t have access to these free products. They prototyped various reusable menstrual pads to be distributed to the local girls and women in their surrounding neighborhood. We are now actively trying to fundraise to help keep our artisan working and impacting their communities. We would love for you to join alongside of us during this time. Here is a link to our current initiative.
Were there ever times, as you were growing your business, that you doubted that you had made the right choice in starting your own business?
There will always be doubts whenever something isn’t working the way that you’ve planned. Our very first batch of blankets arrived with a 50% defect rate. I was ready to cry and ask myself why did I chose to do this? But it was through persistence and learning that we knew this was something pretty normal without any sort of training with artisans. More often than not, these hard lessons helped us to see that in business there will always be problems and it’s our job to find the solution.
The other times where I really doubted that I made the right decision were when I’ve needed to make time and monetary sacrifices. I’ve had to miss weddings, birthdays, and many special days due to work commitments. I’ve lamented this but God has shown me that in order for true impact to happen, sacrifices need to be made.
In Romans, Paul talks about becoming living sacrifices which is our spiritual act of worship. I don’t think I fully understood this verse until recently. When I sacrifice my time, body, and money, God is pleased because He knows that the heart of what I am doing is for the kingdom, not for myself. Less of me = more glory for Him.
What advice would you share with someone thinking about making the jump into entrepreneurship?
Ask God to define your metric of success. This early lesson from a fellow entrepreneur really helped keep me grounded. I live in the Silicon Valley where success metrics are based on scale, likes, and speed. It’s easy for me to be distracted by what everyone else is doing around me. But to constantly keep God at the center of what you do is the most important aspect of entrepreneurship. Obedience to His word is what He calls us to and to keep love at the forefront is our basic job.
Anything else you’d like to share?
Here are some great resources I’ve utilized:
- Business Model Generation : great at prototyping a business quickly as opposed to writing a whole business plan.
- Killing It An Entrepreneur’s Guide to Keeping Your Head Without Losing Your Heart: Sheryl is a great example of a CEO that has experienced it all, failures, hardships and balancing a family. I truly value her words of encouragement while reading this book.
- SoulTime: This ap has been great at grounding me in the morning and it has a mental health component where it checks in on your mood daily and you can have friends linked to you to check up on you when you need a little word of encouragement. Their meditations and readings have been really helpful during my times of stress and anxiety.
Sarah Lin delights in all things beautiful and dreams incessantly of a better world. Sarah has worked for over a decade in the graphic design industry in both agency and corporate contexts. For many years she has dreamed of designing a creatively beautiful product that helps empower under-resourced people groups. That was the impetus for EllieFunDay; they design baby blankets and children and women’s wear that empower marginalized women in India.
In her previous life as a design director, she has lead global marketing product launches for Applied Materials’ market entry into the LED sector and the cSi and thin-film solar field. She has also spearheaded the branding of Safeway’s corporate responsibility reporting which has set them on a new trajectory of accountability. Her greatest asset is telling great stories about great products.
She is now fully devoted to developing EllieFunDay into a socially conscious lifestyle brand that makes true impact. Ellie Fun Day employs marginalized women with a fair-wage and dignified employment. Her mission is to bridge the gap with design-focused products to bring about economic empowerment for the poor. Ellie Fun Day products can be found in over 250 stores globally, including Anthropologie, Barneys NYC, Nordstroms and Restoration Hardware. Their products have been featured in Martha Stewart Living, Huffington Post, Travel and Leisure and alongside of celebrities like Kate Hudson’s baby, Kirsten Dunst, Jessica Alba and Ren Bannister (Eva Chen, the former Lucky Magazine Editor) and Instagram stars.
In her nuggets of spare time you’ll find her concocting tinctures of small-batched spirits and looking for new ways to pretend to surf in the cold frigid Nor Cal waters. Her most exciting travels have taken her on an Indian overnight train while sleeping next to a police officer, alongside of trekking through the Keralan waters looking for water snakes.