This week, I'm excited to interview my friend Ariel Kraten. She is the Director and Co-founder of GoBlu. Go Blu is a corporation dedicated to sustainable acceleration for apparel and textile companies that provide supply chain and brand-level, communications services to clients worldwide. Their mission, in their own words, is "to accelerate their client's ability to operate sustainably."
While serving in the Peace Corps, Ariel experienced firsthand how it felt to have limited access to clean water and learned how that impacted her remote Amazon community. After helping her village design and construct its first clean-running water system. Ariel led several projects that linked to sustainable development. She has immersed herself in sustainability for her entire career to dedicate herself to a cause that deeply moves her.
Were you always interested in starting your own company? What inspired you to start your own business?
Ariel never started with the intent to start a company. Instead, the company came together around a handful of people that Ariel had previously worked. These individuals all saw the same specific need globally, and they all shared the belief that their combined skills could help.
"It was a means to an end more than anything, and that end was improving the fashion industry in terms of its environmental and social impact."
They wanted to make a difference and improve fashion for good.
What was the beginning of starting GoBlu like? Did you have a hard time getting started, or did the pieces fall into place?
Starting GoBlu came easily for Ariel; the pieces mostly fell into place. They had customers before they had the bandwidth to take it on. Fashion was (and still is) evolving quickly, and the urgent need for improvements to sustainability allowed them a quick entry into the market.
"We all had reputations and relationships in the industry; we had clients ready to go before we were even ready to take them. We were quite fortunate. One of my co-founders was also particularly good at the operational/start-up part of getting things off the ground."
Was it scary when you first went out on your own? How did you get started?
When Ariel looks back at it, it seems much scarier. But at the moment, it didn't occur to her to be scared. Quite frankly, it sounds like she didn't really have the TIME to be scared. She leaned into whatever doubts she had with ease and excitement.
"I suppose I felt confident in our ability to provide services that people wanted and needed. And full disclosure, I also had a husband with a regular job, and he is super supportive, so I had less financial pressure in that sense. When we were starting the company, my husband and I had just moved back to the US from Amsterdam, along with our toddler. My husband was starting a new job; we were navigating a new city, we were figuring out how to be parents, we were house shopping…everything felt like an unknown. So the fear of starting up a company merged into a general sense of adventure."
Ariel, what is the biggest failure you've experienced in your business? What did you learn from it?
Ariel felt the weight of her own expectations bearing down on her as both her life and her company began to evolve.
"I had to shift gears and figure out how to balance the company's priorities, my own skills, and interests, my growing family (baby #2 was born a couple of years in), etc.
For Ariel, this required an in-depth look into herself.
"This required a lot of soul-searching, a lot of very difficult and honest conversations, and a reframing of my core values and my self-perception. This is an ongoing process, really, since work and life are always in flux."
What's the best advice you've ever been given in life or business?
Ariel's answer is as simple as can be, and it's one of my favorite pieces of great advice.
"End your day with a moment of gratitude. It is so easy to get caught up in what didn't get finished, what wasn't perfect, what didn't go according to plan, the imagined stressors of tomorrow."
She mentioned that on the door frame coming out of her office is a post-it note that says "gratitude." This was a reminder she made to pause for a moment and reconnect with all the positive things in her life that let her do this work.
"It is also a reminder to keep the big picture in mind. The imperfections in my day-to-day professional life seem much less significant when I remember that overall, I am working through my company to achieve things that I genuinely believe are important. I wouldn't say I manage this little reflection every day (sometimes I blow right past the post-it or intentionally snub it), but on the days I do take this advice, I find it to be really powerful."
What's the most recent lesson your business has taught you?
Jokingly, Ariel pondered that bank fees were the worst, and we totally agree! In reality, though, Ariel was grateful to learn that happy clients are long-term clients that return time and time again.
"I was recently approached about a really interesting project by someone I worked with almost ten years ago when I first started in sustainable fashion. And then I realized that of the handful of big projects that are my focus right now, three of them are based on relationships and projects that started nearly that long ago, and another project is re-upping for the fifth year.
What advice would you give to aspiring female entrepreneurs?
Ariel's advice is straightforward:
"Connect with people who support you, and support others in your position. Relationships with others (entrepreneurs, young professionals, mentors, mentees) will only get more important over time—this is emotionally nourishing, but also professionally valuable."
She also notes that sometimes connecting with people leads to business opportunities, learning something new about yourself, or simply improving your skills.
"So the more you can support one another, the more value you create for everyone."
We seriously dig it. This is such great advice for building any kind of company you care about. People want to help others that are passionate about what they do. Embracing these relationships can be hugely important to your long-term success. Never doubt it!
What is something you have accomplished that you are most proud of?
A few years ago, Ariel decided to take a step outside of her comfort zone and into the education arena:
"I started teaching part-time alongside my work, and I love working with university students. I'm proud of taking that step, and overall, teaching has been rewarding and inspiring."
What are the most important skills or traits you've found helpful in entrepreneurship? Are there any traits you've discovered that make it harder to succeed if you don't keep them in check?
Ariel believes that knowing what you are good at and streamlining is beneficial to any entrepreneur.
"You can't be everything to everyone and still do things the way you want them done."
She says to be clear on the impact you want to have in the world.
"Whether you intend it or not, your business will likely have an impact that is much broader than you initially anticipated, such as through your supply chain, within your community, or in the lives of the people who work with or for you. Where you can, be intentional about what that impact is. In terms of things to keep in check, remember that working harder is not always the answer. This isn't a sprint, so don't exhaust yourself early on. My colleague always says "work smarter, not harder," and that can look different in different situations, but I think there is definitely wisdom there."
What's your favorite 'game-changer' tool that you can share with everyone? (ie. hellobonsai, airtable, later, etc.).
"Along these lines, though, at the moment I'm inclined to say old-school conversation. We seem to all be relying on tools and platforms so much that we forget the power of a quick phone call or informal chat for making decisions, strengthening relationships, clarifying processes, heading off drama, you name it. It really can be a game changer."
Where can we find you if we'd like to learn more about you?
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