An Advocate for Women Entrepreneurs
Before co-founding her latest Boston-based fashion startup Peach, Janet Kraus had a lot to be proud of. She started and sold two successful companies, and as a member of the faculty at the Harvard Business School, taught entrepreneurship (she continues to be an Entrepreneur in Residence at HBS).
She became the wife and partner of an awesome man, Jim, and the mother of two beautiful twin girls now 10 years old. Every day she instills in them the confidence that they can dream big and achieve those dreams, especially as girls. She’s traveled the country as a celebrated public speaker on topics related to entrepreneurship, and has sat on the boards of a variety of start-up companies. Janet has become a strong advocate for women entrepreneurs.
Janet views her current role as Co-founder and CEO of Peach as the piece de resistance. As she says, “It is the perfect intersection of the passion that has defined the tapestry of my life – empowering women to be the entrepreneurs and leaders they aspire to be – through the Peach mission and direct sales business model.”
Here’s a glimpse into the amazing woman behind this inspiring brand.
A Strong Mentor
Who was your greatest mentor and what did he or she teach you?
My greatest mentor was my mom. Though I’ve always known that she was my wise adviser and rock, her recent passing made her influence on my personal and professional life crystal clear.
My mom and I pursued very different careers. Literally, no similarity. She was all corporate America as a major banker. I was an entrepreneur from the start. I sold home grown tomatoes door-to-door from my red wagon at age 9; then my first money-making venture, the summer after college, I sold Cutco knives to my mother’s dismay! Mom was a tad irritated because my parents had just spent a ton of money on tuition and I chose to sell knives door-to-door. I loved it and never looked back!
Despite our very different career paths, she provided me with professional advice and words of wisdom that were truly game changing for me as an entrepreneur. Here are three nuggets of wisdom among the many:
- Be an active and engaged listener. People sometimes think that being an entrepreneur means being heard. But, as mom always said, there’s a reason we have two ears and one mouth! She advised me to be an active, engaged and curious listener. That’s the way to build relationships, to gain your supporters and champions, and most importantly, to be a leader. Through active and engaged listening, you’ll have the data and power to help make meaningful decisions, which is leadership at its core.
- Learn how to share and sell your ideas well to anyone. In particular, she coached me to prepare my business ideas in a way that could be shared with really smart people who have “no idea” what you are doing. As an entrepreneur, I have always had to pitch my business ideas to potential investors, advisers, partners, and the media, most of whom have relatively little context or understanding of my world. My mom, a very smart person indeed, was often the first stop on my road show of pitches. Because she was not the “that’s nice honey” type of mom, I learned from her pretty quickly that if you don’t give context and share your story in a compelling, succinct manner, supported by data, even really intelligent people won’t get it! That’s why I always encourage entrepreneurs, including our amazing Peach stylists, to really hone their pitches – to make them tight, compelling and authentic – so that their audience really understands and relates to what they’re sharing and/or selling.
Believe that power comes from enabling others. My mother invested in other people all the time. Over 1000 people came to her Memorial Service less than a month ago. We have received thousands of letters. Why? Because her life was about the success of others, In particular, she invested extra in women. Although most of her life was as a corporate leader, in her earlier days, she actually began her career by helping women craft their resumes and job interviewing skills. She helped them translate all the non-paid work they had done into skills and competencies that would be valued in the world of paid work. I believe her life’s journey is my life’s journey, although our paths for getting there have been different and of our unique creation.
Supporting Women Entrepreneurs
Why are you so interested in supporting female entrepreneurs?
As a serial entrepreneur, I know how hard the path is to take an idea and leverage every ounce of creativity, passion and brain power into making it into a thriving business. I know that my success to date has had a lot to do with the many people who have helped and guided me, from my professors, family, friends, advisers, partners and investors. With my background on the front lines and in the classroom, it is my calling and my joy to give back by coaching and mentoring others who are on the entrepreneurial journey.
I also believe that the more women who become successful entrepreneurs, regardless of the size of their business, the better the world will be. Innovation and creativity is unleashed, new economic activity is created, families are strengthened and more women are making money. This all leads to changes in power dynamics in the world towards gender equality, which is something that is really important to me.
How does Peach support female entrepreneurship?
At Peach, our mission is to be a force for good for women and this inspires us to invest in the power of female entrepreneurship, as a means to elevating a woman’s everyday life and helping her thrive.
We do this in two important ways. We offer women the opportunity to develop their own retail fashion business and the tools, training and support to help her succeed. We also offer under-discovered, female designers and makers of inspiring accessories, a platform for their growth. We feature them with our seasonal apparel collections (on the Peach website and social media) and their products are sold by our large national network of stylists. This gives them tremendous new exposure and our clients love to discover their amazing brands and learn their stories.
See some past entrepreneurs Peach has featured.
Balancing Work & Life
How do you balance work and life?
It’s not easy, but I try to be very organized and very intentional in how I spend my time. I do not leave a lot to chance. So, just as my team and I do long term planning for the business, I spend a lot of time doing long term planning for my life. For example, making sure the ratio of work time and family time is correct, fitting in community and friends, and understanding quality vs. quantity.
My “life calendar” is always two months out. This does not work for everyone, but it works for me. The added benefit of being so deliberate is that you really stay conscious of the choices you are making. It creates a way to stay really “present” in your own life. I find that when I’m present and centered, I’m a much happier person.
Having said this, being very deliberate has its challenges. When you are so scheduled in your personal and professional life, you can sometimes feel trapped by the “plan”. I’ve realized over time that I need to give myself the “freedom” to do whatever I want sometimes, to just look at the plan and blow it up. I try to build in enough extra time that occasionally I can just bag the plan. Or when a meeting gets cancelled suddenly at 3PM, I’ll just take that as a sign that I should have the afternoon off. I am also committed to vacations – big and small – and to weekends. If you compromise those weekends and vacations, it can really come back to bite you!
One of the things I love about being a CEO is that I get to set the culture for my company and I’ve been committed to creating a culture that is not just about a strong work/life balance, but a family first culture. At Peach, you’re part of the team because you’re capable and committed. You have the flexibility to figure out how to do your work in a way that fits into your life. There is lots of articulated trust and as a result, we have a happy and super productive team.