The holiday season is upon us, ushering in merry-making, frantic energy, and lots of last-minute appeals from charities. Animal lovers get hit especially hard. Mailers with mournful-yet-adorable puppies RIGHT ON THE ENVELOPE arrive each day. Kinda breaks your heart…and opens your wallet.
Jessica Mashkevich, founder of Kona Benellie, knows how that story goes. She was in an animal shelter in 2014, four years after she started her business manufacturing and selling comfort-centric robes, throws, and other items. Gazing into the eyes of a scared little guy who was curled up on the cold concrete floor of his shelter cage was a turning point for her.
“I learned that blankets are at the top of shelter wish lists nationwide,” recalled Jessica. “That day, I evolved my comfort-focused company into a social enterprise that connects a customer’s purchases with a new blanket to be given to a shelter dog in need.
“Since then, we have donated over 20,000 new shelter blankets nationwide to homeless dogs and cats in rescues and shelters large and small. Our blankets instantly bring the shelter dogs comfort and warmth as they await their forever home.”
Jessica’s heart was in the right place when she originally launched Kona Benellie, too.
“One evening when I was chilly, I put on my fluffy bathrobe, but within 10 minutes I was so overheated. I wanted the freedom to yank the sleeves off and turn my favorite robe into a shorty instantly to cool off. So I took scissors and duct tape and began crafting the one and only OmniRobe,” Jessica said.
“My mother has multiple sclerosis, and she and others with MS need to be careful not to overheat. My first product, the OmniRobe, helped people like my mom stay cool while keeping comfy,” she shared.
Comfort was in short supply when Jessica, a former vice president of JP MorganChase’s eCommerce Group, learned just how disposable human capital is when layoffs happen. It was a discouraging time, but she recalls a fantastic mentor who taught her high level business theories that honed her skills and broadened her network.
“It turns out these lessons have been incredibly helpful in my life as an entrepreneur,” Jessica said. “Relationships, resources, and a thirst for knowledge continue to be vital for my survival.”
Jessica believes these elements are important for all entrepreneurs, and offers this advice.
“Make relationships with people in your town. Smile. Be kind. Take an interest in others by asking many questions. This will help you build a rolodex of people and their job functions, which may come in handy for you in the future,” she encouraged.
“Learn everything you can about a subject that interests you. Learn everything about your business and industry, vertical and horizontal. Know your numbers! Wear all the hats in the beginning so when it comes time to hire, you will be able to know if they are doing a good job.”