From the pop-friendly Studio DIY products to Baby Boy Bakery journals to Color Theory Premium Inks by Studio Calico (above), April Foster, CEO and founder of Inked Brands has launched some of the most beloved influencer products. A leader in influencer commerce, you come to Inked with a vision and they do the rest. But do they rest? That's a whole different question.
Which is why we caught up with the entrepreneur and mom of FOUR (!) to find out her thoughts on influencers, hard no's, and where she finds the time.
You’ve said that you’re an entrepreneur at heart. For young women wondering whether or not they should launch a co, what does that mean to you?
If you’re a creator and are constantly curious, inventing new things or if you see better ways of doing things, or a hole in the market that you know how to address; I think it’s just in your blood.
What do you consider the most essential skill when starting?
Paying attention. It’s about learning when the details matter and when they don’t and are just paralyzing you. It’s about paying attention to the numbers, to customer feedback, to your team and fixing what you can and letting go of what you can’t. Being disciplined in this practice and objective is extremely important, too. I can remember times as I was packing boxes I realized weights on them were wrong and I’d have to call back and unpack then repack half our orders for the day. That wasn’t pleasant, but it saved us money and helped us get to the next month. When I haven’t paid attention to the details that matter, mistakes are made, sometimes ones that are incredibly costly.
How do you know when it’s time to hire?
For me, I had to hire right away because I was keeping my day job so the profits could fund the growth of the business. Also, I was hiring for the positions that were most well-defined and easiest to monitor (customer service & fulfillment). This didn’t mean I wasn’t involved. In the early days, I answered customer service daily alongside my employees and packed boxes with them, too. I have strong opinions regarding understanding your business and customers, and the primary way to do that is to get in and get your hands dirty. Many founders of VC-backed companies are robbing their founders of this valuable experience. But, when the duties are compromising your ability to perform tasks that ONLY you can do, that’s when it’s time to hire.
Micro-influencers have played a large part of your strategy in growing your biz. For a long time they were overlooked by bigger brands. What do you think people aren’t paying attention to now that they should be?
There is so much media and investor attention towards fast growth, but it’s the slow and steady brand builders that will win the race. Influencers who become insta-famous, can just as instantly become irrelevant. I’m interested in the people and brands who want to run a marathon, not a sprint; those who want to get it right instead of just getting a quick paycheck.
What does Inked offer influencers that other companies don’t?
We combine products and content in a way that is meaningful and relevant to the influencer or thought leader and their followers. That’s our main differentiator. We work as a partner to develop, source, and design these products, then display and sell them in a unique and meaningful way whether that’s subscription, traditional ecommerce, or premium content such as online courses.
What do you as CEO offer influencers that other companies don’t?
The main reason I started this model three years ago was because I could see influencers’ desire to have long lasting revenue streams and not be overloaded with sponsorships that devalue and exploit their brands. I’m committed to that and our policies and practices align with that.
You’ve said not to surround yourself to “yes men,” what’s one of the hardest but most useful (in the long run) “no’s” you’ve ever heard?
I hear “no” every day and I’m probably not the only person that hates hearing it. The most useful “no” I’ve heard in my career came at a pivotal time for the business. My CFO/COO was diagnosed with terminal cancer, which was a resounding “no” that I wouldn’t be able to grow the company as I first envisioned. That “no” taught me that I’m not in control (which bugs the fire out of me!), it taught me patience and selflessness, and that my family and spiritual well-being are the most important. That “no” helped me more than any “yes” ever has.
Your pump up jam when you can’t seem to find the inspo?
Ha! I live for silence. With 4 young kids and never any alone time, if I can be by myself with zero noise, that’s the most refreshing thing ever. That’s probably not the answer you were looking for.
RIght so, uou have four kids, so we have to know… where is the time? What’s the most important mom lesson you’ve learned?
I’m forever wishing for more hours in the day! From the time I became a mom, I knew setting a routine would be so important to the well-being of our family. I thrive in a structured environment as does my husband. So, we stuck to a fairly rigid schedule that still works almost 7 years in. Our kids go to bed by 7pm and sleep 12 hours most nights (there’s an occasional potty emergency). That allows me to set a work schedule where I’m home in the evenings for mealtime and bedtime, then I have time after 7 to work on tasks that require undivided attention while it’s relatively early. As for a mom-lesson I’ve learned which is entirely the opposite of my work approach: have low expectations! With four little people each with minds of their own, I expect there to be misbehavior, I expect to wake up during the night, or to have a car that’s not pristine. I expect to not be able to eat organically or healthy all the time. By setting low expectations, I’m not disappointed nearly as often, I’m more patient and understanding, and in general, I’m a happier person and better mom.