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Helping Women Do It Themselves: Be Jane Answers the Call of Female DIYers

by Susan Johnston

Eden Jarrin (Chief Executive Officer) and Heidi Baker (Chief Jane Officer) of Be Jane
Names: Eden Jarrin (Chief Executive Officer) and Heidi Baker (Chief Jane Officer)
Company: Be Jane
Industry: Home Improvement/DIY
Year founded: 2005
Type of company: Online Community
Location: Los Angeles, California
Number of employees: 20

Facing an Obstacle

When Heidi Baker bought her first condo seven years ago, she needed major help to update her sixties-style home, but she'd already maxed out her budget. So Heidi decided to do it herself. But none of the home improvement instructions made sense to her; they were in all written "construction-ese," and the people working at her local hardware store in San Diego weren't much help either. "I didn't have someone to tell me I was using the wrong drill bit," she remembers. "There was nothing that spoke to me in my language."

Heidi continued undeterred, gradually making over her entire house-including adding new lighting fixtures, a walk-in closet, a bathroom vanity and a patio with multi-colored slate. It was a long and exhausting process of trial and error, but Heidi eventually resold her condo for more than twice the original purchase price. She also passed on her new knowledge of home improvement to several girlfriends who wanted to redo their own homes. Heidi says, "It was really kind of amazing how things spread. They realized that if Heidi can do it, so can I."

Finding a Partner

Enter Eden Jarrin. Eden had had a similar experience: moving to California and renovating a condo on her own. Both new to the city, Eden and Heidi met through friends and instantly bonded over home improvement stories and the lack of information for female do-it-yourselfers (DIYers). "We saw an opportunity that wasn't being addressed in the market," says Eden.

"We saw an opportunity that wasn't being addressed in the market."

Hoping to fill that void, Eden and Heidi launched Be Jane in 2005. The company, which is based in Los Angeles, California, "gives women home improvement know-how in a relatable way, not only from Be Jane but from other women," according to Eden, Be Jane's Chief Executive Officer.

Heidi is Chief Jane Officer, but both women serve as the public face of the company. Already they've appeared together on such high-profile media as The Today Show, CNN and numerous radio programs. "If you had said to me a year and a half ago that I was going to be on The Today Show, I would have done cartwheels down the hall!" says Heidi.

Aside from media appearances, Heidi focuses on building community on and beyond. Eden handles the day-to-day management of the company, including planning, budgeting, and fundraising. Eden says the latter is her least favorite part of the job. "Fundraising is always challenging," she explains. "It tends to pull you out of the business side. Showing investors how you'll make money and grow is not as direct as the other tasks."

Early Experiences

Luckily, Eden has experience in many aspects of building a business. Her first job after college was on the founding team of Omvia, a start-up company that facilitates online exchanges between businesses. "I gained tremendous business knowledge at my last company," Eden recalls. "I had just turned twenty-one, so at such a young age, I learned that business acumen very quickly. There was a lot of opportunity to grow."

A native Canadian, Eden attended University of Victoria and Simon Fraser University on scholarships for business and fine arts but dropped out six months before graduation. She says she ended up in corporate communications because it was "a good mix of business and creative."

"I was always afraid to be bored in my job."

Heidi has had a variety of career aspirations over the years--from ballerina to bartender. She attended UC San Diego for two years, studying European History, before transferring to San Diego State to study Economics, and then to Miami Dade College to study dental hygiene. "I was always afraid to be bored in my job," she explains. Her father owned a chain of stores, so Heidi learned early on what it's like to be a manager. "I always knew I loved business," she says. Before starting Be Jane, Heidi had worked as a purchasing agent for a duty-free company and a dental hygienist.

Growing the Business

When they first launched the company, Eden and Heidi were involved in all aspects of the business, but, "as we grow as a company, people got more specific roles," says Eden. They now have about twenty employees, and their management strategy is to "hire good, smart people" and trust them to do their jobs without micro-managing.

"It's taken me a while to feel comfortable managing people who are older than I am," Eden continues. "But I don't need to be an expert in everything. That's why you hire really great people. My job is to help get the best out of them. That was a big shift mentally."

Since trust is a major part of the company's culture, Be Jane employees get unlimited time off. "Everyone here works so hard that if you need time, take it," Heidi explains.

Both women admit to having difficulty unplugging from the business during vacations. "It's so hard to make time for yourself," Heidi laments.

"We have to take away each other's Blackberries if we're getting burnt out," adds Eden. "It's crazy! I was in the middle of Morocco and still getting Blackberry messages."

"I was in Estonia, and mine worked!" Heidi laughs. "We try to be conscious of each other when we need a break."

Dreaming Big

Of course, they acknowledge that businesses of all sizes demand a high level of attention. "It takes the same amount of energy to run a mom-and-pop company [as it does] to run a national brand," says Heidi. "Don't go into business if you want to work less."

"It takes the same amount of energy to run a mom-and-pop company [as it does] to run a national brand."

What other advice would they give to would-be business owners?

"Sleep now," advises Eden, only half joking. "It's a lot like home improvement: stuff's gonna go wrong, it's gonna take a lot longer and require more money than you expect."

Still, they wouldn't trade a minute of it. Heidi sums up her philosophy: "If you want to dream big, dream as big as you can. That passion is going to pull you through all the ups and downs."
Be Jane
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