She’s driven, smart and gets right down to business with her incredible eye for design.
Meet Jillian Ryan, the creative genius behind Marie Mae Company, Paper Goods with Sustainable Impact.
Hi Jillian. Meeting you for coffee was such a treat and an encouragement to my heart. I’m so excited to finally get to share your story!
Will you tell us a little about your personal life?
I grew up in Plano, Texas with my parents and two younger sisters. I graduated from Texas A&M with a degree in Economics, and immediately took off to DC after graduation because I wanted to work for the CIA. I moved there for an internship with The Scowcroft Group – Bush 41’s National Security Advisor and his team had started a boutique international business advisory firm and I was lucky enough to score an internship with this firm. I was immediately put on projects such as helping one of the world’s largest philanthropic foundations to decide what countries to focus their efforts on and helping companies do business in Africa.
I had NO IDEA what I was doing, but they were kind enough to take me under the wing and I was able to learn from some of the best minds out there on how to successfully do business in emerging markets. It was such great experience, I quickly decided to focus my career on using business as a force for good, and I spent the next nine years learning everything I could about how these markets worked and how Fortune 100s thought and did business. I was constantly amazed at the power of business as a force for good in the communities we worked in.
How did you get started? Where did you get the funding?
I initially started Marie Mae as a private sector way to fund one entrepreneurship training program, as a side business to my consulting practice – but it quickly turned into much more and where I found myself wanting to devote all of my time.
How did you decide on the specific products you have now?
Marie Mae was founded with a lofty objective: to offer beautiful products people can utilize in everyday business and change the world while doing so.
What’s your favorite of all your products and why?
Everything in our new Good Office Collection!
Tell us about your give back model. How do you do good?
As you likely know, Marie Mae was founded not only because of our nerdy love of well-designed office supplies, but also due to our staunch belief that business can and should be used as a force for good.
Each year, we choose a group or organization in an emerging market to work with throughout the year – providing several on-the-ground classes, as well as monthly mentoring, tools and resources to help our students realize their professional dreams.
This year, we have focused our efforts on the 11 ladies that comprise No.41, a social enterprise employing women to sew in Gisenyi, Rwanda. Together with their founder, we are working with each of these women to teach them practical business skills and market fundamentals to help them grow their organization.
In March of this year, we held our first week of in-depth classes at the No.41 house. I started the week off by asking what they would really like to focus on during our time together, and the first thing mentioned was helping them to find additional markets. Thankfully, that was exactly the curriculum we had prepared!
Topics for the classes included goal-setting, the importance of understanding the customer, and how to look for and pursue local market opportunities. We spend a large portion of our time doing role-playing exercises – such as contract negotiations, pitching to a potential new customer and product development competitions. My biggest take away for future classes was that the ladies LOVED these types of exercises, and it really helped them to practice the complex topics we were covering.
My favorite quote came from one of our students, Xavera, the manager of No.41. She stated “I’ve been thinking when people go back to the United States after visiting Rwanda, I won’t have a market. But Marie Mae Business School taught me to find my own market.”
What’s the driving force of your business?
Using business to change the world for good.
What has been the biggest sacrifice you’ve made?
Renting out my house in DC and moving back in with my parents to make sure I could bootstrap this endeavor for as long as it needed. (that might answer the question of my family’s biggest sacrifice as well!)
What’s the hardest negative soundtrack in your mind you’ve had to overcome?
Overcoming self-confidence issues on this journey has been hands down the biggest obstacle I have faced. But over time, you learn to start silencing that inner critic. Or at least ignoring her 🙂
What brings you the most Joy?
Being in the classroom with the women we are working with in the Marie Mae Business School. Their resiliency, strength and eagerness to learn gets me through all of the days that I perceive as hard.
Do you feel like you’re the same person you were when you started Marie Mae Company?
Haha, well I’m definitely have a lot more grey hair and wrinkles, but launching a company really does show you that you can survive and accomplish a lot more than you give yourself credit for!
What are you the most passionate about regarding Marie Mae Company?
My staunch belief that business can and should be used as a force for good.
How can we best support you?
Thanks for asking!
As we are still a new company, spreading the word about our products and our mission is so helpful.
Thank you so much for sharing your story with us Jillian. It’s incredible how our experiences guide the journey of our lives even before we can see the path. Your story is a huge encouragement to those of us who wonder how all the pieces might someday fit.
You are doing such a beautiful thing. Keep it up!
To more love,
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