Building Success in Self-employment

The delicate art of timing the leap to working for yourself.

The delicate art of timing the leap to working for yourself.

Thousands of working British Columbians dream of leaving the nine-to-five workday behind to start their own business. While the entrepreneurial dream is alive and well – in theory, at least – actually taking the plunge into self-employment involves a whole bunch of details that bring the dream down to cold, hard reality. Natalie Grunberg is one entrepreneur who is getting a real-life lesson in bringing the dream to reality as she transitions from a full-time job as a special-ed instructor at Vancouver’s Prince of Wales Secondary School to running her own business. 


The Problem

In 2008, while vacationing in France, Grunberg hit upon the idea of creating a service that would provide French-style lingerie to North American women. She had noticed that French women were often very confident because underneath their work clothes, they wore sexy and intimate lingerie. She wanted to help other women feel the same way but had little money, no real business experience and certainly couldn’t compete with high-end women’s-apparel shops.

The Solution

Grunberg, who had worked in advertising and radio in the U.S., immediately found an entrepreneurial model to emulate: what she calls a “New York state of mind.” She describes this as an approach that features guts, determination and a willingness to perform sometimes plodding hard work. Grunberg engaged Blush Lingerie Inc., a Montreal maker of fashionable Parisian-style intimates, and within a few months launched Panty by Post, a cheeky web-based subscription service that allows women to order lingerie online and receive it by mail. The business was an immediate hit when it appeared just before Valentine’s Day in 2009.

But there can be a wide chasm between launching a popular idea and running a business: at first there is euphoria, then reality sets in and the grinding work of growing it begins. So while Grunberg set about learning how to make her business more than a fancy one-hit wonder, she continued to work at her teaching job.

Always blessed with an entrepreneurial drive, she found mentors and experts who would train her in the intricacies of business operation: legalities, website management, mail-order shipping, finances, marketing, business plan writing and a dozen other unglamorous tasks. Her chief skill, however, was a solid work ethic and a refusal to let obstacles stop her from building the business. For almost two years, she has been working nights and weekends to expand it. To date, she has 1,200 subscribers committed to one panty a month, starting at $16 apiece, and she sees a spike in one-off sales around holidays, particularly Valentine’s Day.

Her business has reached break-even point – and may even be edging into the black – and Grunberg feels confident enough to start looking for investors. However, she hasn’t quite reached the point where she’s ready to leave her day job.

“I’ve seen some people grow too fast and come under financial pressure because of it,” she explains. “When that happens, you make stupid decisions. I believe slow and steady wins the race.”


  • • Don’t give up your day job until you’re ready. It can be alluring amid the excitement of idea generation to dump your job. But it takes money to bootstrap a business until it’s ready to stand on its own.
• Learn humility. Being a genius at your job doesn’t translate to successfully running a business. You’ll need help, so swallow your pride and ask for it.
• Forget the glamour. Your product or service may appear glamorous on the surface, but the foundation of a business is an ability to undertake the tough work to deliver it.