Working in the fashion Industry, I believe there is no real ‘need’ for what we do, but it is more so an industry of ‘want’ - a luxury if you will. I think every business, specifically ones that are not directly adding to a greater good, need to find ways to give back, be it empowerment, funding, raising awareness; there has to be more meaning then just a product. And that is the main foundation on which CARING CANARY was founded. You will read Founder & Director, Georgia Harley’s heartbreaking story below, and see how the concept of impacting other peoples lives in a personal & beautiful way serves the inspiring concept behind her business, CARING CANARY.
Georgia’s business story, and as she describes herself as a ‘Soloprenuer’ will resonate with anyone who started with little more then a dining table & a big idea. Here is her story….
NAME: Georgia Harley
COMPANY: Caring Canary
TITLE(S): Founder & Director
How would you describe yourself in 5 words? Grateful, optimistic, resilient, compassionate , interested
What is the long version of how you got to where you are today? Well it all began one hot Summer day in Paddington, 29 years ago. I had a great childhood, growing up in the Sydney ‘burbs with my parents, brother and sister. Mum and dad were great entertainers and our house was always filled with friends, family and lots of laughter.
Fast-forward a few years and after completing high school and University, I fell into a job in television production at a small company. It was an unpaid work experience role, but after two weeks I was offered a paid gig as a Researcher on the then top-rating Channel 7 show, Find My Family. 20 years old, baby faced and fresh out of uni, I was launched into a gruelling job that tested my emotional fortitude. I was speaking to families who were torn apart by drugs and violence, mother’s who had been shamed into giving babies up for adoption, children (now adults) who had been abandoned on the doorsteps of orphanages and so on. I am grateful for my time on this show as it opened my eyes to the incredible hardships that so many people have gone through. It also made me appreciate my fairly ‘normal’ upbringing and growing up in a nurturing and family.
I spent 5 years working in TV and slowly climbed the ranks, becoming an Associate Producer. This meant long days, unpaid overtime, working weekends and generally not much time for anything else. It was a hard and fun lifestyle that included high pressure working environments and long days out on location, but also meeting interesting people and having lots of fun at numerous wrap parties and launch parties.
It was at this time, in late 2012, that I received the worst news of my life. My dad, my hero, the rock of our family, sat my immediate family down one night and told us he had cancer, and that it was terminal. My stomach knotted, my heart broke and my world crumbled. Suddenly nothing in my life really seemed to matter except making sure my dad was ok, and that he was comfortable and relatively happy for however long he had left with us.
Dad was the prototype of a great father. He was my biggest champion, my mentor, my life guide. When the most important person in your life is told they have a year or less to live, something inside you re-callibrates and everything you thought was important suddenly seems trivial, and your priorities shift.
I quit my job in TV and spent every day visiting mum and dad, doing whatever I could to bring a little ray of sunshine to their darkest days. As dad became sicker, I helped mum administer his needles, ration his pills, go to hospital visits, and wait by his bedside during countless Emergency and ICU visits. It was during this time that I saw mum and dad’s friends visit, but not know what to do or say. As dad became sicker, most people stopped visiting as the situation was too confronting. Popping over with a bottle of dad’s favourite red, or bunch of flowers, didn’t seem right for this situation but they didn’t know what else they could do.
On the side, I had been creating care packages for friends and family for years. I really enjoyed seeing people’s faces light up when they received a box full of their favourite things or carefully selected items if they were sick or unwell. Combined with a little quote or inspirational card, I saw how a highly thought out and personalised gift can make a big impact on someone’s day.
Seeing how much my little care packages cheered up dad, and how friends were overwhelmed they received one of my unique gift packs, made me wonder why these sorts of gifts weren’t available for people to buy. It was during this time that the light bulb went off in my head, and I realised a care package boutique is exactly what our friends and family needed for this situation. Instead of turning away because they don’t know what to do or say, enabling them to connect with my parents through a thoughtful and useful care package would have been the ideal solution.
Dad passed away in September 2013. I had helped mum care for him for 10 months and during this time I had done a lot of introspection (soul searching sounds a bit cheesy) and knew it was time to follow my heart. Two days before dad passed away, I got a job at The Fred Hollows Foundation. This job changed my life and it was exactly where I needed to be in order to deal with the grief-stricken months that were to follow. By doing a job that fulfilled my purpose in life, I could cope with the trauma that my family was experiencing after dad died. Coming to work each day knowing that I was making a positive difference in the world fulfilled me on a personal and professional level.
Skip forward a year and although I loved my time at the charity, I knew it was time for me to move on. My care package business idea was boiling away inside me and I could no longer ignore it. I once again listened to what my heart and gut were telling me to do, and took a leap of faith into the online start up world.
I launched into ‘research’ mode, reading Tim Ferris’ 4 Hour Work Week and Lisa Messenger’s Daring and Disruptive in one weekend. I was inspired and immediately started thinking of a business name. I workshopped the name with my partner, friends and family (thank you Facebook) and registered ‘Caring Canary’ a few days later. I gave myself a timeline and a budget to get this business idea off the ground. If I didn’t have s single customer by then, I’d go back to the workforce and could say at least I gave it a go.
Caring Canary received it’s first customer on April 30th, 2015, one week before my website had officially launched and a few weeks before my deadline. I had reached my first goal and saw that people were willing to pay for a service that provided them with convenient, meaningful and premium gift options.
I think it is really important people can explain their main message in a concise paragraph – if the above is the full version - What is you elevator pitch on what you do? Caring Canary is a one-stop-shop to quickly and easily brighten someone’s day, so that you can win partner, friend, colleague or family member of the year. Caring Canary connects people and cultivates happiness through premium, meaningful and convenient gift-giving. Our online store has a range of gifts and bespoke care packages, which have a positive impact on people’s lives. One of our carefully curated care packages is the most convenient way for busy, time-poor people to show someone they care. Just think, you don’t remember every bunch of flowers you’ve ever received, but it’s those highly thought-out, personalised gifts that are engrained with you forever.
Are you doing what you thought you would be doing 10 years ago? (If not, what did you think you would be doing?) The answer to that is a resounding ‘No!’ I would never have guessed that I would be running my own business. 10 years ago I didn’t have the confidence or resilience to believe that I could do something like this. I never really knew what I wanted to do, but I always knew I liked caring for people and making people happy. I guess it’s a natural fit that I found myself starting a business that delivers happiness every day.
What does ‘success’ mean to you, and do you consider yourself ‘successful’? Success to me means being in control of your life and lifestyle. I used to see success as a good job title, earning a big paycheck and working myself to burnout in order to get ahead. I no longer see this as success because this was to the detriment of my health, my wellbeing and my relationships. Today I base success as much on ‘human capital’ as on financial capital. Success to me is being truly present and connected with the world I am in and to those around me. Arianna Huffington calls it the ‘Third Metric’, where we must judge our success not only on money and power, but also on our wellbeing, wisdom, sense of wonder and willingness to give of ourselves. If you look at success that way, as a holistic combination of how you live your life, not just what you do for work, then it opens up a huge world of opportunities. I have a long way to go before I call myself successful, but knowing what I am aiming for is a great place to start, and that extends way beyond a bank balance or corner office.
What do you still want to achieve (personally & / or professionally) My biggest achievement will be when I can say that I am living the life I want, not the life I am settling for. I am constantly working towards that. I’d like to achieve being the best daughter, granddaughter, sister, friend, lover and business owner that I could possibly have been. As I evolve and the business evolves, the goal posts move and new targets emerge for professional and personal achievements. There are many things I would like to ‘tick off’ my To Do list. I’d love to win a business award, I’d love to secure a big media win, I’d love to get married and be a mother, I’d like to become more active in my community, I’d like to do the Macchu Picchu trail...There’s still many things I’d like to achieve.
Did you study anything specific for the career you are in? Before I started Caring Canary I completed a Bachelor of Arts degree at Sydney University, majoring in Art History and Theory, and Sociology. I was never one of those people who knew what career they wanted to pursue from a young age. I knew what my strengths and weaknesses were, but I never really knew what profession I was best suited for. I am currently completing a Diploma of Business specialising in Entrepreneurship. However I’ve always learnt my biggest lessons from being out in the world and ‘learning on the job.’
What have been the most rewarding things in your career to date? There have been so many things on a daily basis that make me go ‘wow, I love my job!’ Receiving messages from customers on how our packages brought tears of joy and a much-needed ray of sunshine to someone, gives me an enormous amount of satisfaction and gratitude. It’s so rewarding knowing that I am the conduit connecting two people in a really meaningful, beautiful exchange. I was lucky enough to secure a full-page story in the Daily Telegraph when I first started the business. That was quite a highlight.
Tell us about your workspace (Office / café / couch / aesthetic) what inspires you about your workspace? I am very lucky to live in the beautiful, cosmopolitan suburb of Potts Point in Sydney. My home office looks out over the Harbour Bridge and the harbor. It is very calming being able to look at water and to see the sunrise and sunset each day. My workspace is covered in positive quotes and affirmations, as well as photos of my loved ones. I also have books, lots of books, that I refer to almost daily when I’m in need of some guidance or inspiration.
What are some frustrations you have experienced on your career journey? When I first started out, it seemed like everyone wanted to give me their two cents on how I should run my business. It took me a while to realise I had to be very selective with whose opinions were worth listening to, and what people I just had to nod and smile and kindly thank for offering their advice.
I have been frustrated with the website at many times during my business journey, as I am not a web person but had to pretty quickly get a grasp on MX codes, hosting servers, payment gateways and so on. Trying to learn the nitty gritty of managing a website was causing me a lot of stress and I was sinking a lot of my time into it because I hadn’t found the right developer. I am now in the process of eliminating that frustration so that I can focus on other parts of the business.
When was the last time you where overwhelmed & cried from something provoked by work / work load? In the early days I think I cried a lot. I was working around the clock, putting a lot of pressure on myself, and putting my heart and soul into something that I wasn’t sure was ever going to take off. I think the last time I cried from work was when my website crashed and I didn’t have a web developer to turn to. I felt like I was in a very vulnerable and desperate situation.
Would you say you put pressure on yourself? Has this gotten more or less as you progress in your career? I do put a lot of pressure on myself. I always have. I’m someone who works well under pressure so this has always worked in my favour and keeps me moving forward. I would say that I have toned this down recently. Instead of thinking the world will cave in if I don’t do X,Y and Z immediately, I have managed to step back and look at the bigger picture. This has helped me move forward with more clarity and focus, and less haste and pressure.
If you are a business owner – and you often can’t just check out / have a week off when you are dealing with personal things – how do you keep on keeping on with your business when things get tough? This is a very pertinent question. I love my business, like, I really love it. I would work 24 hours a day if I could. When I am packaging up an order and handwriting the message from the customer to the care package recipient, I feel so much joy and elation knowing that I am helping these two humans connect in such a lovely way. Focusing on these uplifting aspects of my business helps me get through the tough times.
I also put a lot of time and energy into personal development and wellbeing. When my dad was sick, and when he passed away, my grief was debilitating and I honestly didn’t know how I’d ever learn to live with that pain, which felt like a huge gaping hole in my heart and my stomach. I made a promise to myself that I would never let myself go back to that place, no matter what life threw at me. As Frida Kahlo (one of my favourite artists) said, “at the end of the day, we can endure much more than we think we can.” I live by that every day and know that whatever the universe has in stall for me, I can handle it.
I also immerse myself in the love and strength that my partner, family and friends provide me unconditionally.
Has your career affected your personal life / relationships? If so how? You would really have to ask my family and friends the answer to this. Your loved ones are the people who experience the highest highs with you, but they are also there on the frontline when you are in pits of the lowest lows. When I worked in TV, I definitely neglected relationships, I was so focused on my job and working such long hours that during my free time, I was burnt out and exhausted. I started Caring Canary so that I could be more in control of my personal life. If I want to visit my mum for an afternoon cuppa, or visit a friend in hospital for a few hours, I have the ability to do so. There have been times where I have spent weeks focusing on the business and not allocating enough free time to have fun with family and friends. This is something I need to constantly check-in with myself to make sure I am focusing attention on my loved ones and my own wellbeing, not just the business.
Has your journey at times felt lonely? How? Yes it has at times, but overall, I’ve felt very supported and connected, due to the networks I am part of. I am lucky enough to have amazing relationships with my suppliers, as well as other business owners and entrepreneurial communities, who enjoy sharing stories and helping each other in whatever way we can. “Your vibe attracts your tribe” and by helping others in whatever small way I can, whether it’s donating a Caring Canary package to a fundraiser or sharing my list of packaging suppliers with another startup, I feel like this has been reciprocated to me ten fold. I’ve always had someone who I can reach out to, or who has introduced me to someone to help me through an issue. I have always been the personality type that loves engaging with others and socialising. I guess networking is how I’ve balanced that with the ‘lonely’ nature of the business.
What causes you anxiety / sleepless nights? Self-doubt… and courier companies. I can never sleep easy until I have seen that a package has been successfully delivered. Crazy? Yes, probably.
If you had your time over again, from when you started your career to right now, would you do anything differently? Yes I’d probably look for a government grant or some sort of funding to help kick start my business. I have just been told about one but think I am now too late to apply. This would have been a great way to get capital for the business, without diluting control.
What advice would you give your 21 year old self? Don’t sweat the small stuff. Don’t put so much pressure on yourself. Love yourself and be kinder to yourself. Start yoga.
Who are some women in business you admire & why? Samantha Wills, for turning a small jewellery market stall into a trailblazing international brand. The day I registered my business name, my partner gave me a Samantha Wills ring (he did well!). I wear it to every important event or meeting, as looking at it inspires me to do great things and to be confident in my business journey.
Lisa Messenger. Her books and magazine inspired me to be confident and live a life on purpose. I allign with her approach to business, which is to be authentic and provide my community with something really valuable.
Naomi Simson. Her philosophy about creating a happy work culture is one I hope to replicate when I expand. ‘Happy’ is not a word that is mutually exclusive to business, but instead, happy workers are profitable workers.
Lorraine Murphy. Founder of The Remarkables, she led the way in the online space for connecting businesses with influencers. Lorraine is one of the most generous and modest businesswomen I’ve met, and I admire her holistic approach to running a successful business.
I could go on forever here!
What traits do you admire in people you surround yourself with? I love ‘yes’ people and ‘doers.’ I find it hard to be around ‘no’ people, they are energy zappers. I like to say ‘no problems, only solutions.’ I think that’s what sets people apart, whether they see problems and roadblocks, or whether they look for opportunities and solutions.
Work life balance… Does it exist (I don’t think it does!) and how to maintain it, or a sense of it That’s a tricky one because my work is so inextricably linked to my life, that it’s hard to separate. I think that term applies if you are in working in a job that you don't like and have no passion for. If that’s the case, you should definitely balance that out with lots of fulfilling activities to ensure you are living a joyful, meaningful life. I think I live a balanced life, even though most days I’m working late into the night and also on weekends. I still fit in time to see friends, exercise, visit family and have date night. So I guess work life balance does not need to be judged by how many hours you spend working vs how many hours you spend socialising. But rather, I judge my work life balance by how fulfilled I am in all aspects of my life.
Have you ever thought about giving up / quitting? If so, does that feeling hit from the same triggers? Why haven’t you quit? Yes I have. It’s mainly due to lack of confidence and not believing in myself enough to overcome problems. Also, my partner moved overseas 2 months after I launched my website. I had to do some major soul searching on whether to quit the business and move with him, or to keep the business and try long distance. We ended up doing long distance.
I am so passionate about the vision of my business, which is to create more happiness in the world by making people feel special and cared for, that I owe it to others not to give up on this vision.
What is the biggest misconception about what you do? The biggest misconception for my specific job would be that people just think I create gifts and wrap presents all day. Unfortunately that’s not the case. As an ‘solopreneur’ I am responsible for all the marketing, financials, digital content, social media, stock management, marketing, publicity, the list goes on! On a daily basis I have to juggle multiple tasks to keep the business running.
What advice would you give someone who is starting out in your industry? Invest in a good website early on, and be in control of your hosting, domain and email servers (get logins and passwords).
Network and connect with other businesses and entrepreneurs, you never know where your next business opportunity or guardian angel will come from.
Have fun and enjoy the process. It’s only life, don’t take it too seriously.
If you knew what you know now, about how much work was involved to get you to where you are now, would you do it again or do something different, if so, what? I absolutely love what I do and love seeing the joy and happiness that Caring Canary brings to customers and recipients. I would change some of my processes and practices, but I definitely would do it all again.
I like the quote ‘Don’t just have a job, have a purpose’ - What do you want your legacy to be? That I created more happiness in the world by connecting people and making people feel special and cared for.
That Caring Canary is one of the country’s greatest places to work.
The SAMANTHA WILLS FOUNDATION is about bringing women in business together – why do you think this is important / (why did you want to be involved in this interview)? I couldn't agree with this statement more. If it wasn’t for the wisdom, honesty and guidance that so many business women have generously bestowed on me, I wouldn’t be where I am. I believe that “you rise up by lifting others” and surrounding ourselves in a supportive community will not only help others, but will lift us up also.
What are some of your favorite quotes? I’m a bit of a quote fiend, and have mentioned a few in my answers above already. Here’s my top three quotes at the moment: