Tenacious, creative and inspiring are three words that people use to describe Sarah Thornton, Co-Founder of The Finders Keepers, and we couldn’t agree more. From what started off as a humble project of passion shared with friend and Co-Founder Brooke Johnston TFK has grown to become Australia’s largest design markets, featuring the work of thousands of independent makers every year. One word. Wow. More a festival than a market, this bi-annual event hosts design, handmade goods, live music, and great food that are enjoyed by thousands.
From an outside perspective this looks like one smooth sailing and very impressive ship, though the road hasn’t always been easy. Like many passion-fuelled startups, it was a journey of self discovery, steep learning curves and the building of a rock solid community that underpinned the incredible success of The Finders Keepers. We caught up with Sarah recently in her new home base of Byron bay to dig a little deeper….
OC: Where are you + what’s the time?
ST: At home in Bangalow near Byron Bay, at its 8:45pm.
OC: Tell us a bit about what you do
ST: I am co-founder and director of the The Finders Keepers Markets, alongside my business partner Brooke Johnston, we started in 2008 as a small design event in Sydney. We are now Australia’s largest design + art market in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne which runs as a bi-annual 3 day event.
In 2014 we bought Polli, a jewellery and accessories label so I am now co-owner, designer and director of this brand too. Taking on Polli meant I could get back to my creative roots as a designer, which was very important to me!
OC: What do you love about what you do?
ST: Through The Finders Keepers we help to support small business and create an awesome platform for makers and creators to not only sell, but connect and grow. The buzz we get every event is what drives me to make the next one better.
Polli keeps me creative and engaged as a designer. Although its quite a juggling act between 2 businesses, they both keep me happy and on purpose.
OC: What sacrifices have you had to make to be a successful entrepreneur?
ST: We started out with the mindset of “doing it for the love not the money”.
For many years we built our community and events, with zero (at the start) to a very little wage. I don’t think we could have got to where we are today if we didn’t inject a massive amount of love and hard work into what we do.
When you believe in something so much and you’re passionate about, you end up where most people wouldn’t dare tread.
I don’t see that as a sacrifice, it was more just what we had to do to get to where we are now, and we never imagined it would ever turn into what it is today! So everything from there really was a bonus.
I did work very hard, I had full time employment at the start and worked every other minute on the business, very late nights but it was worth it. I was young and had heaps of energy so wouldn’t have had it any other way!
OC: What makes you happy?
ST: Getting a good dose of nature. I am lucky to live in such a beautiful area, eating well, getting enough sleep and seeing my family happy and making my children laugh. When my life is in balance I am my happiest.
OC: Tell us about a high point in your career.
ST: Last year 2015 was a high point for me, we grew to a company, hired more people, grew our events, re-branded, launched new websites and had record sales! It was crazy but phenomenal how hard we worked and what we achieved.
OC: Now tell us about a low point.
ST: The point of quitting. We hit an all time low, and it was the hardest thing to deal with and I am so glad we got through it! That moment, turned everything around for the better. It took a long time to build ourselves back up, but we did and those low points although painful always get us to a better place.
OC: What did you need to know to get out of there?
ST: I think it was at a time when I didn’t really have a strong sense of self worth. I didn’t have the strength to tell myself we were worth more, that I was worth more and I had to keep the little candle of hope flickering.
It took me a while, and a life changing conference to get me back on track. It’s not like you change over night. I was well and truly a “work in progress” and I still am! I am so much stronger now than I was before, I think that comes with age and experience and getting through motherhood. You become a little bit more bulletproof.
OC: What’s your coffee order?
OC: What kick ass daily habits do you have in place?
ST: Most of the working week I start my day with exercise it makes a massive difference to my head space and energy for the day.
My days vary greatly depending on what is on so what greets me at my desk as urgent, can dictate my work flow! I try to dedicate a chunk of time to the most important tasks of the day in the morning.
As we have a lot of tasks running at the same time over various teams, we use Asana for our project management. I use that to delegate tasks and our staff use it to keep me on track with their projects and deadlines.
OC: How do you generate new ideas?
ST: Depending on what project we’re working on. If it’s a creative brief, everything for me starts on Pinterest. Brooke and I share boards for everything, every idea starts to be visually storyboarded there! It makes it so easy for us to collate inspiration to kick start a project.
If its something that isn’t creative, its lots of brainstorming with the team.
I usually get my best ideas in unexpected places, when my brain is not distracted. Classic entrepreneur, my brain never stops ticking..
OC: If you had the chance to start your career over again, what would you do differently?
ST: I wish there was an Owners Collective course when we started The Finders Keepers! I wish I had more confidence in myself and our vision. However, I wouldn’t change anything else. Every job and experience I have had, has shaped who I am today and has contributed in little ways to our strengths, and how our business has grown and evolved.
OC: If you could share one piece of business advice with others, what would it be?
ST: This is more of a personal one! Work on yourself FIRST. This took me years to really do properly as I spent so much of my time looking after other people, giving and working hard to please others. As much as that is of course important, it can totally wear you down. I now see how important it is to make sure you work on the foundation of you, you are the heart of your own business and if you’re not looking after yourself you’re not going be the best boss lady, mama and wife you can be!
OC: What do the next few months hold?
ST: We’re mid curating our first market for the year, and mid designing a new range for Polli!
OC: Give us the 3 words other people would use to describe you?
ST: Tenacious. Creative. Inspiring.