Navigating the Highs and Lows as a Female Entrepreneur: Jean Scholtes
Today we sat down with Jean Scholtes – mother, wife, entrepreneur, business owner, and a long-time supporter of Sundara Fund. Jean lives in St. Louis, Missouri, where she runs her own business: Kind Soap Company. With all natural ingredients, luxurious scents, eco-friendly packaging and charitable contributions built into each product sold, Jean has truly made her vision come to life in making the world a better place, one bar of soap at a time. The Kind Soap Company expands past bar soap, offering everything from a Pumpkin Facial Fruit Enzyme Peel, CBD Plus Therapeutic Bath Salts, to Cedarwood and Citrus Deodorant for men.
Jean opened up to us today in a candid and honest conversation, diving into the trials and triumphs of being a female entrepreneur, while providing valuable advice to anyone else who is thinking of, or who is already embarking on, the entrepreneurial journey. Keep reading for an inspiring one-on-one conversation Jean had with our Executive Director, Michelle Fusco.
“Jean, can you tell us what event or series of events inspired you to start Kind Soap Company?”
At four years old my son was suffering from very bad eczema. There were a lot of nights where he couldn’t fall asleep, he was in so much pain. I took him to doctors where they would prescribe steroid creams. These creams helped reduce his symptoms initially, but as soon as we stopped applying them, the eczema would come right back. There are also really harmful long-term effects from using steroids for too long (especially on children), so this prescription didn’t sit right with me. I looked into a handful of soaps claiming to help improve eczema – while also stating that they were composed of all natural ingredients. When I looked further into each individual ingredient in these bars of soaps, I was horrified and came to learn that most of the ‘healing’ properties were actually known skin and eye irritants – which is the complete opposite of what I wanted to put on my son. I decided I wanted to start learning how to make my own products with cleaner ingredients. This was a game of trial and error, experimenting with soap making in my basement – until I eventually put together the perfect soap recipe. After only using my own soap on my son, which is all natural and doesn’t include any skin irritants – my son's skin cleared up! Creating a product to help my son heal his skin was the main driving force behind the creation of the Kind Soap Company.
“What has been the highlight of your journey as a female entrepreneur?”
The most notable highlight of my journey has been creating ‘something from nothing’ – and knowing that all of my hard work is truly helping people. A lot of my customers have been living with eczema or psoriasis. When they tell me that the products I’ve created are drastically improving their skin and overall quality of life, this means everything to me. Knowing that I’ve helped and continue to help people who have been struggling with their skin is the biggest highlight of this entrepreneurial journey for me.
“Can you tell us about a particular hard time? Is there anything you learned from this hard time or piece of advice you’d like to share with other female entrepreneurs who may be experiencing the same hurdle?”
Starting my own business has been a lot more financially strenuous than I thought it would be. There has been a couple of years where I haven’t been able to pay myself a salary. There’s been years where I couldn’t afford to hire any paid staff members either. I can’t survive without my support staff – so paying my employees first to help keep my business up and running is a priority for me now. The impact of not taking a salary or taking very little salary, runs deeper than just impacting your life financially – it impacts your personal relationships as well. This became true for my marriage. My husband got laid off of his full-time job and as a result, started his own entrepreneurial journey at the exact same time that I started mine with Kind Soap Company. We were both simultaneously responsible for generating our household’s income all on our own with our start-up companies. We in turn, lost our health benefits from our previous employers – which is tough for a lot of people in the United States to afford.
"Building a business from the ground up is not for people who quit easily – and I do not quit easily. It definitely takes a certain type of person to be a successful entrepreneur. You have to be tenacious. You can’t let the low times stop you indefinitely."
My advice for anyone who is married and looking to start their own business: make sure that your partner doesn’t embrace the entrepreneurial journey at the exact same time! It would have been helpful for one of us to have had a full-time job (with benefits and a reliable salary), while the other put their energy into starting their own business. There were a few years where we were living on our credit cards, we couldn’t pay our mortgage, my car was repossessed because we fell behind on our loan payments, and we couldn’t afford health insurance. My car was taken away from me right in front of my parents...that was one of the most notable low points for me on this journey.
“What do you think are the most common mistakes entrepreneurs make? How can they avoid making them?”
One thing that has been really hard for me and a common entrepreneurial ‘mistake’ I’ve made is comparing myself to other entrepreneurs or others who are working in the same space as I am. Comparison is the thief of joy… I should probably get that tattooed on my arm. It has previously caused me to lower into a negative space and prevent me from pushing forward. One way to avoid this is to remind yourself (as I do myself), that everyone is just doing their own thing and no matter what it looks like on the surface, they’ve got their own set of issues that they are working through too.
"We are so conditioned to compete against others – and especially compete against other successful women. It’s really hard to undo this conditioning but I’m working on it every day."
“We are living in a particularly difficult time right now and it can be hard to put ourselves first. What do you do for self-care that helps you feel grounded?”
Baths, face masks and a shower steamer. I rely on my own products for all of my self-care needs. For my shower steamer, I’ll normally use a combination of essential oils such as citrus oil, lemon, bergamot and even pepper – all to help give me a little bit more energy when I need it. I went through an aromatherapy certification course, so I’ve really learned how to mix-and match interesting ingredients together.
“Which other women do you admire and look up to?”
I look up to Glennon Doyle. I’ve read two of her books: Love Warrior and Untamed. I also love watching videos of her and her wife, Abby Wambach – they are both so inspiring. Similar to Glennon, I’ve dealt with anxiety and depression my whole adult life. Her books have helped me cope and are so relatable. Living with anxiety and depression makes it hard sometimes to own your own business. Glennon has taught me to be more kind to myself.
“Is there any other piece of advice that you want to share with other female entrepreneurs?” Yes – I want to tell them that they shouldn’t expect overnight success. Expect it to take a long time to feel like you are successful. In the words of Glennon Doyle, “just to the next right thing, one thing at a time.”
There are a lot of factors out there that will try to take you down knowingly or unknowingly – lean on other women to support you through these hurdles and surround yourself with people that you admire. Try to find some mentors in the fields that you are working within so that they can share with you how they overcame obstacles that are relevant for your own journey.