Sonia Strobel's journey of going from working IN her business to working ON her business
by Amanda Bamford
Back in 2014, Sonia Strobel of Skipper Otto’s Community Supported Fishery (CSF), a social venture that creates direct connections between local fishermen and consumers in a time when the oceans are being rapidly dominated by big business, was still teaching high school students while running the business on the side with Shaun Strobel. Now, the business has experienced 300% growth since their iHub days, citing the accelerator as a key, pivotal moment for them and their company. Read on to learn about the biggest takeaways in recent years and the support they found within the Vancouver startup community.
Tell me about your experience at the Coast Capital Savings Innovation Hub (CCS iHub) in 2014.
The biggest benefit the iHub provided was the network and connections that came out of our experience there. The startup scene in Vancouver is a wonderful community. Before the iHub, I had never heard of the term ‘social venture’ but through the iHub, I discovered a whole community of people like me who are trying to use business principles to do good in the world— to create social and environmental change. It’s all like a web; from people at the iHub, we further got connected with other coaches and mentors and learned about other programs like SheEO and the Social Venture Institute at Hollyhock.
Also, being in a cohort is so great because a lot of them had already solved the challenges we were facing and vice-versa so when we would get together and check in with each other and see what everyone was struggling with, suddenly our challenges were solved. These other business were not people with only an idea but people who had an idea and were bootstrapping to get it done; it was exciting to work in a group of people who were all about trying and doing.
Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently?
The iHub was offering all these seminars and workshops and I couldn’t attend a bunch of them because I was still teaching; I was scared to quit my teaching career and put myself 100% into my business. When I finally worked up the courage to quit my teaching career in May of 2014, then I could fully take advantage of everything the iHub was offering.
Had I known what I know now, I definitely would have quit teaching earlier. I wish I had quit teaching as soon as we got into the accelerator and had been able to attend every session because the ones I did attend were super valuable and I wish I had done more of it. It was a steep learning curve but exactly what I needed to learn.
Did you ever feel disadvantaged in the program because you lacked a business background?
In some regards I’m glad I didn’t have a business background because we were innovating and if I had known what I know now about business, I would have been too scared to do what we were doing because it wasn’t conventional.
I used to start every sentence with, “I actually have no business training so take this with a grain of salt,” and the people at the iHub quickly got me to discard that thinking. It didn’t matter that I hadn’t done an MBA because I had learned so much by starting a company and reading books and doing everything else. Now, when I’m having a business conversation with people, nobody knows that I don’t have an MBA and it doesn’t even matter— it’s irrelevant. I have a business, I can speak the language, and I’m actually doing it.
What advice would you give to an early stage startup?
Find your tribe. You’re not alone. There are people out there doing the same kind of thing and you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Get into programs like the iHub. Make your social life around business— go for beers with people who are involved in the startup community and just soak it up. It can be very isolating, running a startup, but there is so much support if you seek it out.