Lily Kanter, Co-Founder, Serena & Lily

“Friction is what polishes the diamond.”

— Lily Kanter

We chatted with Lily Kanter, co-founder of Serena & Lily and founder of Boon Supply about:

  • Her advice for fellow women entrepreneurs
  • Juggling motherhood with business
  • Her motivating mantras
  • Staying resilient in the face of rejection

Lily Kanter has been an enterprising go-getter since childhood, when she would charge neighborhood kids admission to the roller rink in her family home’s basement, and run a concession stand stocked with cookies, juice and candy. “It’s somehow in my blood,” she says.

This entrepreneurial spirit has led her through decades of successful business endeavors. She held an executive position at Microsoft in her early 30s; left the corporate world to open her own high-end baby boutique in Mill Valley, California, after getting pregnant with her first child; co-founded home design brand Serena & Lily with her creative counterpart Serena Dugan in 2004; and recently launched Boon Supply, an online essential-goods shop that donates 50 percent of each purchase to a fundraiser of the customer’s choice.

“You have to be nimble and pivot and start a new day every day.”

Q: What is your advice for women entrepreneurs, or women who have a business idea but haven’t gotten it off the ground yet?

It’s really important to trust your gut and believe in yourself when you think you have a really strong idea, and keep moving forward on it. It is extremely helpful when you’re able to fund your own idea until you can at least prove it.

One of the more difficult things to do is raise money for something that is not a proven idea. I was at the right place at the right time when I left Microsoft and I was able to fund my own ideas to a certain level. I feel like that’s definitely an advantage.

You also have to be able to deal with rejection. You have to be super resilient because there will be days when you get so knocked down. You have to be nimble and pivot and start a new day every day. It’s constant. I think entrepreneurs make things look easy, but it’s not; it’s never easy.

Q: What were some of the challenges you faced in starting your businesses?

I can tell you a lot of mistakes we made the first few years of Serena & Lily. Serena and I were all about packaging. We used these gorgeous boxes that looked like hat boxes with a window in front of the box. But then we shipped these boxes to 100 stores and every single one of them was destroyed during shipping. We basically had to do a product recall. It was a nightmare.

It’s that kind of stuff that constantly happens to entrepreneurs that are out into a space they know nothing about. We were completely in over our heads. There are lots and lots of stories where we had to learn the hard way. But you know what, we learned our lessons and eventually got a PhD in the home decor business.

Q: Do you have a mantra that helps you overcome those challenges or failures?

I definitely have a mantra, which is that friction is what polishes the diamond. You have to remind yourself of that. It’s true in relationships; it’s true in business.

When something doesn’t work out the way it’s supposed to, it’s a gift because there’s a new path and new knowledge that comes from it. Serena and I were very much in sync with that mentality. We were also of the mentality that if you can envision what it is you’re creating, and keep your sightline on that vision, you can manifest it.

“When something doesn’t work out the way it’s supposed to, it’s a gift because there’s a new path and new knowledge that comes from it.”

Q: How has motherhood impacted your business philosophy?

I designed a business and company culture that worked for my own schedule and allowed me to be home for dinner. We created a culture that was super family-friendly and allowed my employees to be out by 5 p.m., eat dinner with their families, and be back online later.

I’ve been able to recruit amazing people as a result of that. At the end of the day, people really do want work-life balance. I think you get a lot more from your employees when you honor that.