In a world where everything is moving online and there is a huge focus on digital from a consumer and marketing perspective, I love that there is also a huge trend in creating amazing ‘in real life’ experiences.
Ally is a female entrepreneur and founder of Woof Signs, an online sign manufacturer that is enabling small batch and one-off customization that is both simple and beautiful. Ally is passionate about making physical branding accessible and cost effective for new and growing businesses. Ally’s vision for Woof is to create a seamless online portal where business owners can bring their ideas to life and have them delivered straight to their door.
Prior to her entrepreneurial life, Ally spent her career in enterprise sales in the tech, retail and consumer goods space. Ally lead multiple account teams in prospecting and developing new and existing clients. She and her teams focused on working with Fortune 500 companies to define and execute their advertising and marketing strategies. Throughout her career, Ally has continuously coached and driven her teams to exceed their targets and go above and beyond to assist in scaling the organizations they have been a part of.
Ally holds an Honours Bachelor of Commerce degree from McMaster University. She is heavily involved in her community supporting and sponsoring local organizations and events through her business. Ally continues to have a passion for bringing people together and sharing unique experiences.
Where did the idea for Woof Signs come from?
Woof Signs evolved from an initial discussion with my brother, who also happens to own a manufacturing firm that specializes in custom fabrication. He had mentioned that their company had been getting regular requests for signs, however their team was not currently focusing on development for that type of product. With an already existing demand through my brother’s company I started to do some initial market research. I connected with prospective sign buyers as well as local sign suppliers. There were a few key things I noticed:
Customer service didn’t seem to be a strength in the industry – I had reached out to 10 suppliers with a friends logo to be made into a sign, I only heard back from one and it took over a week.
There was little to no price transparency – suppliers did not outline pricing on their website, everything was done through custom quotes, and pricing from supplier to supplier differed greatly.
There seemed to be an opportunity to productify the industry – again, everything seemed to be customized per quote with a plethora of materials, hardware, etc. to choose from. To me that seemed overwhelming for the consumer who was only purchasing signage on a seldom basis
With these three key learnings in mind, I decided it was a great opportunity to address the current industry gaps by providing a selection of fully customizable signs online, allowing for on-the-spot pricing, and a 24-hour turnaround time on customer inquiries.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I normally start each day at the gym with my spouse, we do group training and use this as an opportunity to spend time with each other while starting our day off productively. The time at the gym helps in a few aspects – gets me out of bed brightly and early, makes me feel accomplished and gives me energy to put my best foot forward. From there I normally come home, grab a coffee and reflect on the previous day and goals for the current day. Each week I plan out my high level goals for the week and then try to break that down into daily sprints that I refer to each morning. From there, each day might look a bit different depending on if I have meetings planned or if I’m working on a larger project, like SEO (my current focus). Each day I have a call with my brother at 11AM (business partner and fellow entrepreneur) where we discuss our accomplishments and struggles and keep each other accountable (very key for me as I am normally working on my own). I normally finish up my day around 6PM. I try to end each day by answering and following up on any emails so that I can go into my evening with most of the odds and ends tied up and try to disconnect.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Personally, I have a huge bias to action and I generally trust my gut (along with insights from my customers). If I have an idea for a new product launch, (normally this comes from research or customer feedback) I try to get it onto my website ASAP. I establish a minimum viable product of what I think is required to sell it (or see if it sells) and that’s my first step. Once I get it online – I let customer behaviour be my guide – are customers buying and what are they saying. I feel that this is the fastest way to get actual customer feedback and see if your idea will float.
What’s one trend that excites you?
In a world where everything is moving online and there is a huge focus on digital from a consumer and marketing perspective, I love that there is also a huge trend in creating amazing ‘in real life’ experiences. Whether it’s a huge event like Coachella or community beer and taco festivals, I love the notion of bringing people together to share a common experience and providing creative people with an outlet for bringing their wildest visions to life.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I have a call with my brother (and fellow entrepreneur) each morning. On our morning calls, we discuss our commitments for the day as well as where we landed the previous day. We are both fairly competitive and we’ll pretty much do anything to fulfill those commitments we’ve made out loud to each other. As an entrepreneur who is working solo for the most part, it is extremely important to have accountability and even more helpful to share this with someone I trust and respect.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I would tell my younger self, ‘you can do it.’ I struggled with self doubt growing up, as I’ve asserted myself in my career I’ve began to recognize how much potential I have and how competent I really am. I wish I would have know that all along and started my own business earlier on.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
You can have it all. Having it all means different things to different people. It’s a matter of prioritization and productivity. In my previous role, I felt like my career had taken over my whole life. I was spending the majority of my time on the road and working while at home every weekend. I used this as an excuse to de-prioritize the other important elements in my life. I quickly realized that was not sustainable or the key to a happy and healthy life. I decided to take control of my life, I identified what was important to me (career was definitely something that was still very important) and made a plan to make it all happen. That involved starting my own business from home, scheduling time each day for physical fitness and prioritizing downtime to spend with friends and family. It is absolutely not easy, but with the willingness and discipline, you can definitely have it all.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Break my work down into actionable tasks. When embarking on a new business there are so many areas in which you can possibly focus, and so many strategies you can potentially leverage – however – you cannot effectively do them all. Each quarter I methodically decide what I will tackle in the following three months and where I’ll place my bets. From there I break the strategy down into weekly projects and daily sprints. Doing this helps me stay focused and accountable to what i’ve committed to. It also helps to make the larger strategies much more digestible and actionable as weekly and daily tasks.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Soliciting and reacting quickly to meaningful customer feedback. As I was embarking on creating the product line for Woof, I started with my own hypothesis on nine key sign options to offer our customers. I got these online and shared them with prospective customers in meetings. As I got feedback and identified other needs from customers – I developed the philosophy, if they’ll buy it and if it fits Woof’s key product values, we’ll sell it. This lead to us launching a line of portable signage (banners, yard signs, etc) that has become a staple and top sales performer in our business.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
When I initially started my business I took the approach of trying a little bit of everything when it came to marketing and advertising – from there I ended up with money spent in disparate places and didn’t have a clear picture on what worked and what didn’t. Essentially it was a bit of of waste of time and money. I took that as a learning and started to be a lot more methodical in my planning and strategy. I started to plan quarterly and choose only 1-2 projects/strategies to embark on for that quarter. This ultimately helped me to start understanding what worked and what didn’t, and has helped in the planning for subsequent quarters.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Business management software for small and medium sized businesses. As an entrepreneur I use quite a few online platforms and tools to manage things like bookkeeping, project management, order management, email, marketing, etc – there are tons of amazing tools out there, however, I have not found one that brings everything together, a one-stop shop. It’s definitely a huge on-taking but I think if someone were to bring that all into one effective and integrated tool, it could be a huge game changer.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I recently spent about $100 investing in a local trade show. I essentially sponsored the show and provided the signage that they needed. In return they offered my services to all of their vendors. In the end it got me well over $100 in sales as well as a link on their website to help with SEO.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?
I have recently discovered Airtable. It is kind of like Google Sheets on steroids – you can create super effective and easy to use tables for almost any project. They also have templates that you can use as a basis for almost anything (Product Launches, Applicant Tracking, User Studies). I am currently using it for my SEO and Content Strategy – it helps me stay on track and provides multiple viewpoints of where the project stands.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
“The Lean Startup” by Eric Ries
The Lean Startup is a must read for any new entrepreneur or intrapreneur. It’s purpose is to help startups get a minimum viable product off the ground as quickly as possible so that the customer feedback loop can begin and the product/service can rapidly adapt to important feedback. It essentially provides a step by step guide and highlights a bias to action to get actual information rather than paralysis by analysis. The book is an easy read and will help get any new product/service up and running – quickly, but methodically.
What is your favorite quote?
“The secret of success is to do the common thing uncommonly well.” – John D. Rockefeller Jr.
- Have someone you respect that you can connect with regularly to keep you moving and accountable, especially if you’re a solo entrepreneur
- Never stop asking your customers for feedback (and leverage that feedback)
- Adopt a strong bias to action and use it (while still being logical, methodical and having a solid strategy behind you)
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