Previous Contact Sales representatives Beth Samenuk, from Columbus, OH, and Allison Granger, from St. Louis, MO, met while they were working the same territory as partners. While working with Optometrists they started seeing a trend emerge—Eye Doctors were having trouble with patient retention. They soon formed an idea that would change their paths entirely. They left their comfy corporate jobs and jumped head and heart first into their new business: The Lens Butler. The Lens Butler is a subscription contact lens service that was born straight from the idea of making things more affordable for patients, while not stripping them from their doctors. Beth and Allison shared with me their wit, strength, and wisdom for overcoming even when the odds are stacked against you.
What made you decide to work together?
Beth: We had a lot in common and complemented each other so well in business. When we started brainstorming for ways to improve the patient experience at the doctor’s office, we knew we had to do this together.
Allison: Throughout our working relationship, we always strategized together on how to solve problems and grow business. We both have a strong work ethic and trust that each other will give 110% to the task at hand.
What is the largest challenge you have faced, individually and together?
B: Individually, I would say the strain and pressure and uncertainty that being a (female) entrepreneur can place on your family. There is so much to unpack there as you can imagine. I have two young kids (6 and 4) and a husband who works as a pharmacist in a hospital where people’s lives depend on his expertise and precision. Life is stressful as it is! My family is extremely supportive and I could not do what I do without them, but I feel immense pressure to succeed and prove to my kids, my husband, and those who have stood by me that giving up my cushy corporate job was worth it.
As for together, I think the biggest challenge we’ve faced together is being dragged through arbitration by our former employer. They felt that because we came up with this idea during the course of our employment, they should own our company. It’s not the way you want to start your entrepreneurial journey. They wanted to punish us. But, we stood up for ourselves and what was right, and we fought back. There is a silver lining—we learned a lot about our faith in each other and the business we are building, and we learned a lot about ourselves as individuals. We grew, and we’ve come out better for it. Outside of that, our biggest daily challenge is stagnation in our industry and lack of innovation. Many doctors think the way they are currently doing business is fine. None of the manufacturers want to engage with a start up. Everyone operates with a “this is the way it’s always been done” mentality, which can be so frustrating. You really need proof of concept and a critical mass. This can be hard to achieve when you are self-funded and unaffiliated, but we continue to break barriers and find solutions. It’s a grind!
A: For me the biggest challenge that I’ve faced, and continue to face, is wanting to be two places at once. As a working mom, I have a ton of mom guilt because I want to spend as much time as possible with my kids and hate missing a second of their lives. I suffer from infertility and went through a lot to bring my two boys into this world, and I don’t want to short change them as a mother. I would never want them to feel as if my work is more important than them. Before we started the business, I worked part time, which afforded me a great work life balance. That balance started to shift as we started the business. As an entrepreneur, everything related to the business falls on your shoulders so there’s not an option to let it slide or put something off. We have a very small team so everything falls on us. Women are the ultimate multitaskers though so we make it work!. And though it is said that entrepreneurs work 60 hours per week, my young kids (4 and 1.5) don’t allow me to do that. In fact, my youngest was just three months old when we quit our corporate jobs. When I get home from work, I need to be 100% focused on them. I’m extremely grateful and lucky to have such an incredible partner in Beth. She’s extremely supportive and understanding. I also have a super supportive husband who understands the needs of the business.
What advice would you give for other co-founders?
B: Trust in the vision you have for your business and for yourself, but also be unabashedly honest with yourself. Be unwavering in your faith that it will work out and be what you want it to be. You will hear “no” more than you ever imagined, but “no” should always force you to be introspective and make you work harder. Don’t chase validation or worry about everyone else’s ideas of what your business should be—it only takes one person believing in you and what you are doing for the the course and trajectory of your life to be forever changed.
A: If it were easy, everyone would do it. It takes a special dedication and drive deep within you to persevere, but if you believe in your idea, then go for it and go all in. The journey is a roller coaster with daily highs and lows. Celebrate the smallest of wins and let that energy carry you during the lows.
How did past mentors influence you?
B: I’ve had the luxury of having some really great mentors in my life that have shaped who I am as a businesswoman. The common thread they all shared was that they allowed me to pave my own way, and learn through experience. They gave me the tools and guidance needed, but the runway to do it on my own. They had confidence in me and allowed me to figure it out. I failed. I succeeded. I learned. I grew. But I fought for my opportunities. And they supported me every step of the way. They never said, “you’re too young, you’re too inexperienced, you’re starting a family, you’re a woman, you’re too driven, etc.” Instead, they embraced all those things about me. It was so empowering.
A: Past mentors have encouraged me to be creative, to think beyond the status quo and to bring my individuality to my job in order to be most successful. They’ve also shown, by their example, what can be achieved. Society inherently puts limitations on working moms, but mentors are great for showing that everyone’s path is different.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve received along this journey?
B: Keep going. Keep pushing. Work life is never as dire as it seems. You have your health, you have your family, you have things to be thankful for. I think the bigger picture advice there was to keep perspective.
A: Remember why you started. During the tough days when everything is going wrong it’s important to remember why you took this crazy leap of faith in first place.
What does it mean for each of you individually to be powerful?
B: For me, being powerful means being confident. Confidence takes you a long way, and it’s what empowers me. I know that I know this business as well as anybody. I know that it’s hard for men in my industry to take females seriously. I know that people expect me to fail, slip up, misspeak, or be naive. My confidence proves them wrong every time. And I get my confidence from the work I put in and the time I dedicate to my business. No one can take that away from me. Confidence gets your foot in the door and confidence closes deals. End of story. I want more women to trust themselves and to be confident in what they bring to the table.
A: To me, being powerful means persevering in the face of adversity. Digging deep to keep going during the lowest days. For us, the toughest challenges we’ve faced have forced us to stretch our creativity and think differently. Our best ideas have come from those moments. And that makes me feel powerful.