Elise Heslop was once a full-time financial services marketer with a penchant for languages and travel. Upping herself and her young family to live in Northern Italy was a leap four years in the making. And once there, her next leap idea emerged, and her high design, low tech furniture company Plyroom was born. One leap leads to another.
And quite frankly, if I could interpret the leap stories as furniture, I think Plyroom would be about the closest I’d get. By design, Plyroom products inspire flexibility and freedom – a beautiful dining table transforms into a desk which transforms into the perfect hallway piece. The height adjustable cot, becomes a junior bed, and then a workspace. Each piece of furniture can reinvent itself and take a leap of it’s own!
What started as an idea that brought her passions and values to life, has transformed into a products (and a lifestyle) that makes time for creativity, playfulness and the enjoyment of the little things – the very ingredients essential to taking a leap! Hold space to join the dots of possibility, entertain ‘what if?’ and see that small hunches can lead to a big ideas.
What did you want to be when you grew up and why?
I could never make up my mind. I saw myself being a hybrid ballet dancer/fashion designer/translator. I loved costumes, music, and how stories were told through movement. I also loved languages, and thought working for the UN as a translator would be pretty cool. It totally made sense to mix a few occupations together so I could get the physical, creative and mental mix right.
What did/do you study?
I studied arts and commerce. I focused on languages and after trying nearly every commerce subject I found that marketing was the subject I liked the most. The language major in my Arts degree was a great way to travel under the guise of academic pursuit.
What has been your most scary/courageous leap you’ve ever made (preferably in your business/career/life direction)?
The most exciting leap was quitting my job and moving overseas as a family to live in a small town in Northern Italy. We didn’t really have a lot of plans for what we would do once we got there, the aim and the end point was just to go. When we told people what we were planning on doing, the word ‘brave’ was mentioned a lot. It’s funny though because before we left it just felt really exciting, and I found the word ‘brave’ a strange way to describe it. It was only once we got there with our four suitcases and were in the midst of finding a place to live, buying a car, getting our kids enrolled in school, that it suddenly felt very real and I understood why people were saying that!
Another scary leap was coming back and starting something totally different to what I had been doing before we moved. Being away from our Melbourne life and starting an idea for a business while we were overseas felt exciting and I was really optimistic that it could work. I was a lot more inclined to say ‘yes’ and ‘why not?’ being out of our day-to-day lives. Once we got back, doubts crept in but fortunately I was already too far down the path to turn back, so I kept going.
What were you doing before you made your leap?
Working full-time, doing the juggle. I was managing a marketing team in a financial services company, had little kids in kindergarten and prep, and I was doing what a lot of working parents do: racing from place to place, arriving to pick up the kids right at the last minute, feeling guilty because I never did tuck shop duty or reading time… getting into work early so I could to try to get a headstart that never really lasted more than 30 minutes because everyone was trying to do the same thing! In hindsight I wasn’t looking after myself and was stretched.
Who have been the biggest 3 – 5 influences in your life, in terms of your career and doing work?
My brother – an entrepreneur for as long as I can remember, he has gone from subletting apartments in Barcelona to writing books about edible gardens. His job description is ‘hard worker’ and he always makes it look fun.
My parents – they are both very hard workers and have always been willing to carve out a new career path at different stages in their lives. Growing up, I think I expected that what I chose at school would be ‘it’ forever. Seeing how people can change what they do for work has been liberating. Sometimes it works, sometimes it leads you in another direction and sometimes it doesn’t go so well, but it’s not about the result. It’s taught me that I don’t have to have the one profession and buckle in to a vertical journey.
My husband – he is always supportive. Having his own business himself, he is very pragmatic – he is always a great judge of a situation and good at telling me if I need to get over something and just get on with it.
What did you have in place before you made the leap?
Before we moved, we had about four years of planning and saving to make sure we could do it. Our kids were really young but I changed from part-time to full-time work and moved jobs to try to give my career a bit of a boost so we could save more.
In terms of starting a business, I didn’t have much in place. I had time to invest in many discussions with my suppliers, which I established while we were away. From there, I had prototypes for a photoshoot. I also had the support of friends who had started businesses before, and friends who hadn’t but who were equally supportive. Aside from that, it was one foot in front of the other.
What was your defining ‘I can’t do this anymore’ moment that lead you to the leap?
Halfway through our time overseas, in the depths of winter, my deadline loomed for when I intended to get back in contact with colleagues in Melbourne to find a job for when we returned. Instead of doing that, I spent a lot of time on the internet looking at other things, trying to escape the inevitable. I procrastinated a lot. I fine-tuned my already strong procrastination skills. I started thinking about other ideas and turning them into something that I could do as an alternative to a full-time corporate gig. One of them seemed to be an idea I was a lot more excited about than the others, and one that on paper seemed like it could be worth a try.
How did/do you overcome/work with the fear that comes with leaping? How do you decide to choose courage?
I kept the leap small and I didn’t over talk it and talk myself out of it. It helped being far away so I wasn’t tempted to tell too many people about it. The more people I spoke to early on, the more opinions and doubts I got about whether it was a good idea. I decided to do my own research quietly and just keep going. I wouldn’t call it blind belief that it was a good idea but at that early, fragile stage, I didn’t need people telling me things that weren’t constructive. The hardest thing for me was starting and I didn’t want anyone to give me a reason not to start.
I figured that once I had started, I could refine and adapt if I needed to. That might have been naive but sometimes not knowing what you don’t know can help.
How did you fund your leap?
We made the decision to move overseas about four years before we did it. We worked out how much we would need for the time away and then set some goals around income and savings to get us there. We were also lucky to have a very strong Aussie dollar at the time we were away.
On starting the business, it was a very modest start that used personal funds. That kept the whole exercise very real and forced me to keep fixed costs very lean.
What other leaps have you made in the past?
Growing up, we moved cities a few times, and at uni I studied overseas, so I think these moves gave me a little bit of practise with new beginnings, but I wouldn’t say I am a perpetual ‘leaper’.
What leaps didn’t work out? What did you do about it?
There have been directions I wanted to take the business in that I wanted to work so much but they haven’t landed well for a number of reasons. Either I didn’t execute them well or articulate them in the right way, they weren’t resourced well enough, or they just weren’t a good fit. The good thing about these is that they have helped me realise that the world doesn’t end. They also point to what my next step should be, how I can improve for next time or better understand what I don’t want to do.
What are you most fearful of? How do you deal with it?
I’m still fearful of not having the right ‘credentials’ to back up what I do. I deal with it by trying to work with people who are great at what they do and being around people who have faith in what I’m doing when I’m not able to summon my own self-belief. If it all gets too much, I go for a walk.
How would you rate your level of happiness about making your leap?
1 being sad, 10 being rad.
A definite 10. I’ve learned so much and starting Plyroom has opened up my eyes to so many talented and kind-hearted people who have been willing to help and share their experiences.
Something that helps me feel like it’s a 10 is reminding myself why I did this. I am not building an empire. This is a business that shares my values, and it’s about having time for the important things in life.
What’s the biggest upside to making the leap?
Knowing that if you put one foot in front of the other, you can go a long way. Another upside is that it starts and stops with me, and I can only get out of it what I put in. It’s forced me to look at myself a lot more constructively rather than just critically, with the intention of improving what I’m not so good at. The flexibility that comes with it has been really amazing too.
What’s the biggest downside to making the leap? And how do you get through it?
Working for yourself can be lonely sometimes. It’s a stark contrast to being in an large office environment where there is always a meeting to go to or someone to chat to. To not feel isolated I’ve tried to focus on building my networks and reaching out to people in similar circumstances.
What might be your next leap?
Good question! I think an important one is going to be growing the team. So far it’s just been me.
What are your favourite words to live by?
Comparison is the thief of joy. Theodore Roosevelt.
A piece of advice for someone with an itch to leap?
Talk to other people about their experiences. Those people will most likely give you invaluable advice and honesty. The great thing about speaking to other people who have made a leap is that it makes you appreciate that everyone has come from a beginning.
Right now I’m:
Eating: Pumpkin soup
Drinking: Too much coffee
Reading: ‘Let My People Go Surfing’ by Yvon Chouinard, lifelong climber, adventurer and founder of Patagonia
Loving: Planning a trip to Milford Sound later in the year. The anticipation is a holiday in itself.
Wherever you are in your work/life, the most essential thought to have is the one Elise mentioned – keep reminding yourself why you do what you do. Of course it’s allowed to change, you’re allowed to choose a different ‘why’, you can grow out of one and into another. Just stay mindful about it and check in with it often. Never take your time, your energy, your focus, your care, your life for granted. You are valuable. You are precious. Spend yourself wisely.