HBIC in Action: Claire Van Holland

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Claire Van Holland

Creative & Analytical Doer

In many ways, Claire walks between the corporate, creative, traditional and entrepreneurial worlds with ease. She’s been working at Pandora for seven years in Business Operations. She founded her first major side hustle, M.F.E.O. (Made For Each Other) with her husband around the same time she began the Pandora job, and the husband and wife design shop make sleek and delicious looking locally crafted furniture, lighting and housewares. Never one to rest on her incredibly busy laurels, Claire is currently building a new business, CV Ledger, where she’ll help creatives and start-ups with their accounting analytics and strategic planning. Phew.

Wolf & Heron: You do a lot! Tell me about the universe of Claire and how it all came to be.

Claire Van Holland: Not everybody has the inborn gumption to get out there and the confidence to lead. That was never a problem for me...I have two businesses, one with my husband, Aaron, that we’ve had for 6 years now, M.F.E.O.. The second one I started on my own, about a year and a half ago, which is CV Ledger.

To take you back to the beginning, when my husband and I first met, we were really into going to estate sales and collecting vintage things. This evolved into reselling, then refinishing vintage housewares and furniture. We did this for fun, and found that there was so much demand. We decided that the best way to build the company and take it seriously was to design our own furniture.

Around the same time, Aaron’s grandfather called and told us he was taking down this barn; he was going to burn it down. Aaron took that as an opportunity to take the barn wood, bring it back down to where we are and from that point on we’re designing, building and selling our own furniture and housewares. We learned a lot along the way by digging into the numbers of our own business. We saw that our margins were tough and unless we really scaled or outsourced to China, that wouldn’t change. Ultimately, that was not the direction we wanted to go. We always wanted to contribute to the local economy.

Along the way, I kept my full time job with Pandora Radio where I work on financial forecasting and analytics. It’s incredible how much I’ve learned from that job. I applied everything I had done at Pandora on a smaller scale to our furniture business. By looking at the data, I figured out, in a nutshell, where and how we can make more money. On top of that, I realized that this is likely a challenge that other creative business owners face. They are incredible at being creative, but they may not be used to managing the numbers or understand how to use data from their business to drive insights and decision-making. That’s how the idea for my second company was born.

I launched CV Ledger about a year and a half ago. Knowing all the things about the business model of M.F.E.O., I wanted the model of the new business to be completely different. I want as little overhead possible where I literally just need a computer and myself. I’m already embedded within the creative community, which is awesome. At this point, outreach and letting people know I’m here is the next big thing I’m working on.

I work all the time, but I’m really excited about it. I help other folks who have a creative vision, but don’t have the tools or skill set to drive business. That’s the stuff that keeps me up at night. Nothing is so bad that we can’t figure it out and help people get out of it. In some ways, I’ve become a financial therapist for people. I help people feel empowered and in control over the numbers side of their business.

w&h: Brilliant. Okay, shifting over to values, what are your most important values?

CVH: I think it’s important as a business owner, especially when you’re just starting up, that you have a chance to do every single role required of the company. Even if it’s not your forever role, it’s so important to understand what goes into each piece.

Then, when you are at the point of being able to hire, it’s amazing to be able to hire people who are better at a job than you are, because you know what goes into it. You can trust that everything is in good hands. For me, the best example of that is that I’m not a bookkeeper with 20+ years of experience. There are awesome bookkeepers out there who are better and faster than me. I know how to do it, I have done it, but now, when I’m working with certain clients or considering certain projects, I would rather put some things in the hands of someone who’s much more well-versed than myself, whom I can pay to support me. 

w&h: If you look ahead, 10 to 15 years from now, what are you hoping to achieve?

CVH: 10 years from now, maybe even 5 years from now, I’m hoping I can build a completely sustainable business such that really works for itself. I want to live a life completely on my own terms without relying on circumstances completely dictated an employer. That’s probably the biggest one for me. I want to be able to afford my lifestyle 100% from the businesses I’ve built.

w&h: What difference do you want to make in the world?

CVH: Ultimately, through my own venture, I want to help elevate other businesses. In the ecosystem of good people doing great work, I want everyone to succeed and be the person who fills in the gaps. With the furniture business, what my husband and I really want is to design something that is not just beautiful but has multiple functions.

w&h: What is in common about you, across your businesses and personally?

CVH: I’ve always had a good sense around forecasting and a weird inclination about what my next step is. I’ve always really listened to my intuition about my career and followed that. The string that pulls it all together is that this entire time, even though I never knew where I’d end up, all of the little voices and feelings that I’ve had and listened to over the years, are part of the road that’s taken me here.

w&h: Can you share a story that illustrates how you need to be influential in your universe?

CVH: I think it’s relatability. I brand myself as being a 50% left and right brain split, equally down the middle. I choose to work within the creative business world. I want to surround myself with other folks who are exceptionally creative. And I live that life too, as a creative. I’m not someone whose been an accountant for 30 years, I started a creative business first. That’s usually what brings people to me. Then it’s about talking one on one, having a collaboration and exchange. It builds trust and is how it works with everyone I work with today.

Follow Claire

Follow M.F.E.O

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Claire's Words of Wisdom

On WorkLife

"I want to live a life completely on my own terms without relying on circumstances completely dictated an employer."

On Her Why

"In the ecosystem of good people doing great work, I want everyone to succeed and be the person who fills in the gaps."

On the Journey

"The string that pulls it all together is that this entire time, even though I never knew where I’d end up, all of the little voices and feelings that I’ve had and listened to over the years, are part of the road that’s taken me here."