Welcome, Jessica! Tell us a little bit about yourself and your family: where are you and your husband from? how long have you been living here? how many children do you have? what ages are they?
I am a citizen of the world! I am Mexican and I have lived in Spain, Poland and Portugal before coming to Belgium 8 years ago. I met my Belgian husband while working in Poland and I have followed him to Portugal and Belgium. We have two fun and creative sons Daniel (11) and Mateo (8).
Tell us about your business and what it offers:
I am the CEO and co-founder of Toolbox for Mars, which accompanies and supports people in leading healthier, happier and more sustainable lives. Right now, this means:
- offering high quality zero waste products – like insulated bottles and food containers, re-usable lunch bags, furoshiki wrapping cloths – in our online store .
- joining forces with other professionals active in promoting sustainable living. For example, we are distributors of the brand QWETCH in Belgium and Holland for the well-being sector (gyms, spas, yoga studios etc).
- sharing tools that can help people find inner harmony, because after all, our ‘home’ is not only the planet we live on, but also our body and our mind.
This is why we integrate integrate meditation – in the Forêt de Soignies near Jezus Eik and online – as well as leadership coaching.
Where did the idea come from? How long have you been running Toolbox for Mars? What were you doing before you started the business / what do you do alongside it?
I started this project with my sisters Mónica and Cristina. We wanted to create something together.
For me, it was important to find a way to align my actions with my values in general, and in particular, to find a way to translate this to my professional life. And at the same time, I wanted to have the flexibility to take care of my kids.
We started almost 5 years ago. When we started, I didn’t speak French or Dutch and I was new in the country, so I didn’t have a network yet.
However, we were convinced that what we had to offer was very special and would contribute to our well-being in a holistic way: our mind, body and even our precious planet, the Earth.
I have done different things in life: import-export, real estate, teaching Spanish. Monica studied law and also a coach. And Cristina is an environmental expert and now a software developer as well!
This project represents for me a place in which I can put into practice all the professional and personal experience I have accumulated along my life.
Did you find it difficult to set up your activity in Belgium? (Admin, costs of setting up, business knowledge etc.) Who did you turn to for advice and support?
I had an independent activity in Poland and I had opened a company in Spain already, so I had a bit of experience.
My husband was key in the process since all documentation was in Dutch and I understood 40% at the time.
I didn’t turn for advice to any organization since I didn’t speak the languages of the country and, honestly, I didn’t want anyone to tell me how unwise this was.
I wished I had met English speaking organizations like the Fearless Female Founders or the Spanish Camber of Commerce whose help has been precious during the last year.
What are the best and worst things about running your own business?
Being an entrepreneur for me is a journey of personal growth, from learning languages because I needed them, to driving a van. It’s a place where you are constantly put to the test.
Having the flexibility to pick up my kids from school and drive them to their activities is priceless.
The worst is that I work in the evenings, at the weekend, and during holidays.
Have you always had an entrepreneurial spirit? Or is this something that came later in life?
I remember that when I was a teenager, I wanted to found a ‘fair’ company. In Mexico, I noticed that not everyone was treated with the same importance or respect. I dreamed of a company in which everyone was appreciated for their contribution to the success of the project, from the cleaning staff to the directors.
My parents had both their independent activities so I had role models. My mother had her dental practice at home, so in my mind, raising kids and having a profession nearby was possible.
The inspiration for starting my own company came from the many entrepreneurs I met while I was working in Warsaw. I loved to hear the story behind their projects.
During my last years in Warsaw, I met a very successful entrepreneur who loved nature. For me, he was an example of someone who had a real passion for life, humankind and nature.
Was your family supportive of you setting up your business? Would you encourage your own children to be their own bosses? (when they grow up, that is ;))
I started this project with my sisters, Monica and Cristina. For us, it was a playground of creativity. My husband was (and is) very supportive. He immediately loved the idea and is helping however he can.
My mum was reserved, because she was worried about conflicts between the sisters. But she never interfered, she just wasn’t enthusiastic.
Having said that, my project would have been impossible without the values that my parents have installed in the three of us.
They were practicing yoga when I was a child and we grew up with the concept that our life was a means to create a positive change in the world.
This question makes me realise that I have received the support not only of family and friends along my journey, but also of strangers and of life in general. I had friends taking pictures for the website, others introducing me to someone, others selling products for me.
In fact, our successes are not only ours, but are the emanate from the efforts of the many people that have helped us, inspired us, and mentored us.
Yes, I would encourage our kids to be their own bosses if this is what they want.
Do you feel that being a parent has any influence on how you do what you do? e.g. your own boundaries, or how you handle employees who have children.
For me, being a parent is my number one task. This means that I could do much more in theory, but I choose to pick up my kids at 4pm, stay at home if they are ill etc.
Now that they are older, my husband does the weekend activities with them and I am happy to give them that space for their relationship to grow stronger.
What are your top tips on balancing home and work life? How do you stay organised throughout the day and get time for everyone and everything?
My secret is to be in bed at 10pm. Then I wake up early full of energy, meditate and exercise a bit and have a good breakfast. So by 7:30am, the most important ME time is done.
Then I like to have quality time for the kids, we have breakfast together, we have great conversations in the car and we meditate together for a few minutes. They go to bed at 8pm and I work till 9pm or 9:30pm.
Can you recollect any funny child-work balancing stories?
When Mateo was in 3rd year of Kindergarten, his teacher, Charline, introduced the project ZERO WASTE that year. She made the kids draw machines that would help the planet and Mateo wanted and still wants to invent a machine that would disintegrate trash.
At that time I was selling products that could help us from the health point of view, but it was because of Charline and Mateo that we got into ZERO WASTE.
I don’t know if he will manage to invent his machine but till then we are doing our part spreading the word.
Do you have any tips for parents who dream of starting their own business?
If they have paused their professional life for a few years, like me, I would recommend volunteering in different places to create a network and to practice forgotten talents like coordinating, IT know how, etc.
I would also recommend that they surround themselves with happy supportive friends, meet and support other entrepreneurs and thus create a caring village around them.
Visit Toolbox for Mars for a range of eco-friendly products that will help you and your family lead a more environmentally friendly life.
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