If you’re from Calgary and a foodie, health nut or instagrammer, there’s no doubt you’ve heard, if not tried Cru Juice. The cold pressed juice, known for its artisanal blends in aesthetically-pleasing bottles, was a first of its kind in Calgary. Beginning in 2014 as a thesis project for founder Amanda Hehr’s MBA studies at the University of Calgary, Hehr soon realized that Cru Juice was actually a viable business. Since partnering with long-time friend Naomi Le Bihan, Cru has quickly become an integral part of Calgary’s small business fabric.
Beyond Cru, Hehr has proven to be a true entrepreneur becoming involved with other business ventures, such as UNDRCARD Boxing Studio. Just before her morning boxing class at UNDRCARD, Chic Geek had the chance to hear Cru’s start up story and also a bit more about Hehr’s anything but a straight line career.
How did the career change in starting Cru influence you?
Now, I’m designing my life. At that time, I had two small kids, they were 2 and 4. When I started Cru, the motherhood fog was lifting. I visualized how I wanted life to be, how it would help the community, and help my personal goals. This company was a vehicle for that.
What were the challenges that came with Cru?
The biggest was financial. I hadn’t planned the salary changes. We opened the company in July 2014 and I took a salary in September. It was half of what I was used to make, which was a big deal. Also, how lonely it was would be another surprise - no employees, no peers, so bringing a partner sometimes brought friendship, companionship and camaraderie. You learn to get really comfortable being uncomfortable - going from a stable, low risk tolerance position to now being responsible for other people’s salaries.
Speaking of your partner, Naomi, how did you two meet?
I knew her for 20 years...We met when we were 18, so I knew her peripherally. We had complimentary skillsets, but we had never worked together before Cru.
Were there worries about partnering with someone you’ve never worked with, despite you knowing your skillsets would complement each other?
In HR, there are four stages of partnership, forming, storming, norming and performing. It’s a theory. It took a “storming” of six months for us to move our egos aside and learn the strengths and weaknesses to work together. We learned to respect each other.
And how did the idea behind Cru come about?
At the end of my MBA, I did a thesis on the feasibility of a juice company being local and sustainable. So in January 2014, I did the thesis and asked Naomi for advice. We were heavily in business by May. We bootstrapped this!
Tell us more about your MBA. Why did you choose to do an MBA?
I was really lacking financial skills and accounting skills to make financial decisions. And, although I had good intuition on marketing trends, I was lacking “know how” on how to quantify these decisions. I also used to be someone meekly sitting at the side in the boardroom - not speaking. This helped change that.
You handle multiple business endeavours like Cru and UNDRCARD Boxing Studio and you’re also a mother. Are there any tips or words you could provide on work/life balance?
Your business is your child, so it takes a lot of focus. Sometimes, it is really hard to develop personal relationships, so you have to make it a priority to dedicate time to yourself and personal relationships.
Were there any challenges that you faced as a woman during your career?
There were self inflicted challenges, so learning to get out of my own way. A lot of these perceived challenges... You get one shot, so step aside from fear and insecurity.
Finally, any pointers you could provide for start up companies?
If you can’t take salary for year or two or can’t pay yourself for first few months, it’s just a hobby. Some people think being [an] entrepreneur is taking less and of course there are sacrifices, but if you can’t carve out enough money to pay yourself a salary to cover basic life, your business will suffer.
Hehr’s story highlights everything about what a Chic Geek woman stands for, teaching us that it’s never too late to start, that it takes courage to redirect your life, and that she’s constantly learning how to be better in every aspect of her life.
*This interview has been edited for length