In this blog series, entrepreneurs share their venture capital experience. From funding to mentorship, we’ll take a look at how Elevate Capital invested in their success. We recently sat down with Lili Yeo, CEO of Goumi.
Are you an aspiring entrepreneur? Check out Lili’s insights to see how you can bring your business idea to the market.
Lili, tell us the story you’ve told a thousand times. What compelled you to start Goumi?
It all started at the kitchen table when I just had my baby girl. I discovered I wasn’t cut out to be a stay-at-home mom. I alphabetized my husband’s closet after day two, and I started doing regression analysis on my kid’s sleep patterns.
I realized I probably shouldn’t be staying at home driving my family crazy. At the same time, I couldn’t go back to working 60-80 hours a week. Integrating back into the workplace is often a major challenge for moms. I was racking my brain about how to start this new life with my daughter.
My friend from high school visited me to get me into the help-me-be-mom phase. We talked about being a mom, and the products we used that could be so much better than they were. We dreamt about what it would be like to have products that don’t compromise between beauty and function, and are good to the planet as well. So that’s when the wheels of Goumi began to move.
When you were a child, what did you want to be when you “grew up?” And, how did that dream turn into this one?
I wanted to be a physician, then I came to realize that I really disliked blood. So my aspiration to become a physician quickly fizzled out.
I come from a long line of women entrepreneurs, and I’m a pioneer by nature. I learned I had this knack for conceptualizing ideas and my dream evolved from college onward. I was actually meant for a career in business, but it didn’t come into fruition until motherhood.
Can you tell us a little bit more about Goumi?
Goumi is a company that’s single driving passion is about “making small mighty.” We believe in the power of small. We’ve been transformed by our babies to be better citizens, better entrepreneurs, better people—and we share that gift with the world through our products.
At Goumi, we make smart baby essentials that are designed to work. From baby mittens to booties, all of our organic products were designed to do the job right. We also have a line of preemie products that help babies in a more vulnerable population.
We give back 10% of our proceeds to make other small mighty, like helping rescue human trafficking victims in the Philippines.
What seemed like the impossible challenge when you were in the early stages of Goumi?
There were so many challenges, but we found ways to move forward by tapping into our past experiences. Legal costs, for example, are not usually a part of your original budget when you’re starting a company. But, you get into a trademark situation and suddenly you’re learning more about legal than you ever thought you would.
A lot of unplanned things will come along when you’re an entrepreneur. If you can weather those challenges like we have, it gives you that much more confidence in knowing you’re meant to stay on the path you chose.
Can you share an “aha” moment from your first year in business?
It was a blessing in disguise that I already had experience with bringing products to market. Perhaps what I didn’t anticipate was...what happens after the product launch?
It was almost like an out-of-body experience—because with Goumi, I knew what to do instinctively. That was gratifying for me, and I felt like I was meant to do this. Even though it was ambiguous, the fact that something inside woke up was a really cool “aha.
Running a company can be tough on work-life balance. Do you have any rituals that help you stay healthy and productive?
I have a lot of rituals...I think you need to when you run a company. When Goumi was a startup eight years ago, my rituals were very different back then. Rituals will change as you and your company change.
No matter how crazy the machine gets, I make it a point to exercise to reset my energy. One constant that keeps me sane is family dinner time up until bedtime with the kids. That’s sacred time—no phone calls, no emails. Focus time with my family has a way of neutralizing the effects from my day. During this time I’m able to put everything into perspective and reprioritize.
Elevate Capital works with underserved entrepreneurs, such as women and minority-owned startups or those living in areas with fewer business opportunities. What are some of the challenges underserved populations might experience when launching a startup—and how can they overcome them?
For us, and for the umpteen entrepreneurs I’ve met along this journey, so much of the entrepreneurial experience can be isolating. Couple that with motherhood, and the feeling of isolation increases.
What Elevate brings to the table is getting all of us out of isolation. You realize there are so many resources available that you don’t have to create or seek. Nitin made several introductions to help us connect with the resources we needed. This is a huge benefit for an entrepreneur, who is trying to do too much already.
As always, the other challenge is access to capital. It doesn’t take as much as you might think, as long as you use the capital well. Having access to capital, then knowing how to use it the right way are two critical pieces an entrepreneur must understand. Elevate has been instrumental in guiding entrepreneurs to be highly effective with the capital they raise.
Why did you decide to put your trust in Elevate Capital to fund Goumi? And, what was the experience like working with Nitin Rai and the Elevate team?
We met Nitin before he launched Elevate Capital. We belonged to a Beaverton incubator where Nitin was one of the investors. Among this group of investors, Nitin was very noticeable. He made great contributions, gave sound advice, and established connections that helped us tremendously.
We were grateful for Nitin’s guidance and learned about Elevate Capital later. It was a natural progression for us to select Elevate as our investment partner.
Venture capital is, of course, important for a startup—but so is having continued support. What specific type of mentorship has Nitin and the Elevate team provided to guide you toward success?
In that DIY mentality of how Goumi evolved, we grew so used to relying on our own resources or operating capital. We were only growing to the extent that we could afford. It didn’t dawn on us that we could grow more if we had access to capital.
Over the course of working with Nitin, the realization that we were limiting ourselves became a reality. In the way our industry was shifting, the timing couldn’t have been better. The Elevate team offered mentorship, networking, and funding to help Goumi make the next turn.
How has networking with others in the Portland and Greater Oregon community helped your business?
I can’t imagine a better place to be an entrepreneur. Portland is just a different kind of place. I never sensed competition—this city has been nothing but positive for us. There is so much camaraderie happening in the business community here.Goumi has benefitted in so many ways—connection to supply chain, to brand support, to Amazon partners and logistics partners—all the way to funding and guidance with our international business.
We just received the New Exporter Award this year, which got us the exposure we needed for more support for international work. Being in the circuit with Elevate and the Portland community have been so valuable for Goumi’s growth.
If you were in an elevator with another aspiring entrepreneur—and you only spent five floors together—what lasting piece of advice would you give them?
Nail your value proposition. Be very clear of what you bring to the market to whoever it is that you’re bringing value to. Make sure you’re unique and solid there. All else will fall into place in terms of strategy—how to support it, fund it, and market it. If you know that unique value, it will have a filtering effect like nothing else.
Ready to bring your big idea to the market? Get support from Elevate Capital.