16/12/2015 12:34 GMT | Updated 16/12/2016 05:12 GMT

Women in Business Q&A: Karin Sun, Founder, Crane & Canopy

Karin Sun is the founder of San Francisco-based online luxury bedding brand Crane & Canopy. In 2012, after being frustrated with trying to furnish their new home without breaking the bank and noticing a lack of high-quality yet affordable bedding on the market, Karin founded Crane & Canopy. This online home goods company offers luxury designer bedding, duvet covers, sheets and home décor accessories without the department store markup. Crane & Canopy has partnered with the largest domestic violence service agencies from around the nation to give the gift of a safe night's sleep through the donation of new bedding. Working hand-in-hand with each shelter and their individual needs, Crane & Canopy's donated bedding is used to refresh a shelter's bedding or, be gifted to a woman affected by domestic violence and abuse as she leaves the shelter.

Prior to Crane & Canopy, Karin held brand and marketing roles at Procter & Gamble, building brands like Gillette Venus Razors, Gillette deodorants, PuR Water Filtration and Gain detergent. Her experience at Procter & Gamble spanned across new product development, strategic and marketing planning, consumer targeting, current business management, retail differentiation and commercial and product launches. Hailing from Huntington Beach, California, Karin received her AB from Harvard College and her MBA from Harvard Business School.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?

Through leadership experiences, at school organizations, non-profits and business teams, I have learned that achieving a vision requires enrolling and energizing a team of talented individuals. I've experienced firsthand how strong leadership can move an organization and its members to implement positive changes and achieve concrete results. Leading organizations also has taught me never to be satisfied with the status quo - that believing in an organization's potential and taking action can and will shape the future.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Crane & Canopy?

Growing up, I always imagined that I would start my own company. It just took me over 8 years at a Fortune 500 company, Procter & Gamble, before deciding it was time. That being said, choosing P&G as my first job out of college was one of my best career decisions because I learned to grow and build a business and a brand. When I was at P&G, our then-CEO A.G. Lafley highlighted the simple idea that "consumer is boss." If we developed ideas and products that solved real problems for consumers, the rest would fall in place.

When I started Crane & Canopy, Lafley's core tenant was always on my mind. When talking to consumers, we found that there was a need in the market for high-quality home goods. Almost 80% of surveyed women found that bedding, in particular, was difficult to purchase without breaking the bank. In fact, only 12% of women were very satisfied with their experiences buying bedding. Inspired by the challenge, I created Crane & Canopy.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Crane & Canopy?

I love the launch days of our new bedding collections. That feeling of introducing something new to the world never gets old for me. Each launch represents months of collaboration and teamwork from the complex details of shipping and production to the creative elements of photography and design and photography.

Another highlight was launching our cause partnership, first with Safe Horizon and then with other domestic violence organizations around the nation. One of the unspoken epidemics in America is domestic violence with over 1.3million women affected each year. At Crane & Canopy, we believe that everyone deserves a safe and comfortable night's sleep. We have partnered with the largest domestic violence agencies to give women and children the gift of a safe night's sleep by refreshing a shelter with new bedding or giving bedding to women leaving shelters to begin a new chapter in their lives. I love building a business that can make a positive impact on women's lives, and I know this is only the beginning of our involvement in the community.

When Crane & Canopy was in its infancy, establishing factories that delivered products at the high quality we expected was our biggest challenge. One of the first shipments we received had to be completely scrapped. It was then that we realized that we had to get hands-on and intimately understand our supply chain. Our initial challenge was an invaluable learning opportunity that made us a stronger company.

What advice can you offer to women who are seeking to start their own business?

Your support network matters. The autonomy, creativity and control of starting your own business bring a great deal of excitement, but it can also get very lonely. Make sure you have a strong social and emotional network. It can be family or close friends who are completely supportive of you and your dream. Every entrepreneur goes through ups and downs. Without people to listen and even inspire you to tackle the next day's challenge, it can get overwhelming to do it on your own.

Know your strengths. It's important to know your strengths and weaknesses, especially when running your startup. If you are a big picture thinker, make sure you have a partner on your team whose strength is ironing out details. If you are not a morning person, start and end office hours later. When you hire people who compensate for your weaknesses, you can focus on your strengths and build a more well-rounded and sustainable team.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?

The biggest lesson I have learned while building Crane & Canopy is the importance of prioritization. As an entrepreneur, wife and new mom, my time and energy is limited. It is easy to get bogged down on the little challenges and nuances of running a business. I always asked myself, "Will this make a difference?" The answer is never always yes.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?

Being afraid to ask for help. Right out of college, I was placed in a role leading a 5-person team. Unfortunately, I was the least experienced and youngest person on the team by at least ten years. As the leader, I could have pretended to have all the answers and charged forward to show management that I had everything under control. Instead, I asked a lot of questions, spent extra time with my team members to understand what was going on and relied on their functional expertise to guide the project. It worked. People were more than willing to answer any questions I had, guide me through difficult situations, and went out of their way to make sure that I stood out as well.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?

I am the biggest champion of the mentor-mentee relationship. I have greatly benefitted from both mentors and mentees who have given me advice and inspiration through my personal and professional life. Mentors have served as sounding boards, given me different perspectives and ways to think through situations, helped me navigate my career and celebrated my successes. I recall my mentor's critical role when I was about to make the leap to entrepreneurship. I asked my mentor whether or not I could sustain my motivation and enthusiasm, especially coming from years of very structured roles and projects. She told me not to worry - that starting my own business would be one of the most exhilarating adventures and that I should do it sooner than later. She was right, and I haven't looked back since.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?

Susan Wojcicki, the head of Youtube, is a female leader I admire. Although she was one of Google's first employee, she has managed to stay ahead of all things innovation and tech and has taken big risks with her company. I love that she has been willing to try so many different things and willing to go against the norm.

What do you want Crane & Canopy to accomplish in the next year?

Our team will continue to focus on introducing new designs and collections every few weeks, a goal we have consistently reached since first launching the company. We look forward to another great growth year for Crane & Canopy.