Nicole McLaren: A Safe Space to Learn
After the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) released its final report, Métis entrepreneur Nicole McLaren decided to start a book club to promote education on the culture and lives of Indigenous Peoples, and to serve as a gathering place for people on a journey of healing.
McLaren’s dream for her book club began to grow, eventually turning into the successful subscription-based education box, Raven Reads. On this episode of the Matriarch Movement Podcast, host Shayla Oulette Stonechild meets with Nicole McLaren to discuss starting and running a business as an Indigenous woman.
The Road to Entrepreneurship
Spending hours on public transit every day may seem like a waste of time, but McLaren–known as someone without ‘relax’ in her vocabulary– spent those precious hours researching and planning her business model for Raven Reads. Like a true entrepreneur, she began researching competitors and started noticing what she liked and disliked about their products and business models. She would ask herself questions about the quality of their products, their methods of shipping, and their marketing material. Once she had enough information, she went out to look at pricing options. She knew right away that she wanted to have quality products with a beautiful brand.
“I spent a lot of time just on the design and looking at what I wanted to model it after,” McLaren said.
However, like many business origin stories, the journey was not linear. Raven Reads was in development for over two years while McLaren worked full-time at another job. She was spending hours at work, taking time for her family (two daughters), and planning her business whenever she could.
Before becoming an entrepreneur (and founding the Indigenous Women’s Business Network in addition to Raven Reads), she worked in the mining industry for nearly 20 years. As she learned more about her Métis roots, she began to notice friction between the way that Indigenous and non-Indigenous people communicate. She saw this as an opportunity for learning.
Find a Space for Innovation
Starting a business can be intimidating, but taking that first step is crucial–according to McLaren, that first step is to think about the potential risks and opportunities.
McLaren says aspiring entrepreneurs have to ask: what’s my game plan? Spending time to visualize and think about the journey you will embark on is a critical part of starting any business. McLaren advises people to consider how they would handle the inevitable difficulties that will arise in entrepreneurship. She told Stonechild that she didn’t think big enough from the beginning, which may have hindered her growth at first.
“Just think big and think of where you can go, and possibly innovate in a space.”
Another important aspect to consider during the development of a business is the location and quality of sourced material. The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us many things; one of the biggest lessons for enterprises has been the importance of reliable and safe supply chains. By sourcing Canadian materials and products, Raven Reads is able to avoid issues that arise when businesses rely on imports and foreign factories. She makes every effort to also support Indigenous businesses to continue to grow representation in the economy.
“Everything in our box is Indigenous-made or Indigenous-designed,” McLaren said, explaining that they’ve proudly invested over $400,000 back into the Indigenous economy. “...I want to see more Indigenous entrepreneurs embedded throughout the entire supply chain.”
She says there are many opportunities for Indigenous people, it’s just a matter of getting out there and taking those risks.
In terms of who’s reading the curated selection in Raven Reads, the majority of consumers are non-Indigenous people. In fact, the subscription boxes were created with the non-Indigenous consumer-base in mind to work on decolonizing and re-Indigenizing.
“You have to start with awareness and education before you can expect any sort of action,” she added.
“Anyone can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org,” McLaren said to anyone who is interested in having their products included in Raven Reads.