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Montrealer Jennifer Brodeur on Entrepreneurship, Feminism, and Having a Fan in Oprah

In 2002, Montrealer Jennifer Brodeur created an LED facial device called Max. It was the first machine in the world that used light therapy to treat issues like acne, fine lines and hyperpigmentation. When Brodeur sold her first device to a Los Angeles-based skin specialist back in 2003, business boomed, and Oprah Winfrey heard about the technology. She’s been Brodeur’s client ever since.  

At her two skin clinics located in Montreal’s South Shore and in Griffintown, Brodeur began concocting organic cleansers, tonics, facial oils and creams for her clients. She named that line Peoni. (Each item in the line contains peony root extract, which is known for its anti-inflammatory properties and its ability to fight free radicals.)

When Peoni officially launched in November 2016, Oprah put it on her list of “Favourite Things.” Brodeur began seeing orders come in from countries as far Nigeria. “I got the call, went into another room, laid down on the floor and literally flipped out,” she recalls. “My poor client was waiting in the treatment room.”

Billy had the chance to sit down with Brodeur recently. Here, she shares her advice for budding female entrepreneurs, her experiences with sexism in the beauty world, and the fact that, although she has a thriving business, she’s still can’t have it all.

Courtesy Peoni

Q: How did you take yourself out of nine-to-five grind?

I was very fortunate because I was brought up by a very strong mother. My mother was always very business oriented. My father is an entrepreneur himself. From a young age, I understood [that I’d be like them] – that I didn’t fit the mould. I just knew that. I would work for somebody and do 100 hours a week, and kill myself doing it, but I don’t think that was good. I felt like I just had too much drive.

What would you say to women who have that creative energy you felt you had before you started your business? What’s your advice?

When I hire people, I always ask what they liked to play with when they were a child. And that speaks so loudly; understanding what you like to do. My mom showed me a picture the other day and I was doing [makeup] on my sister when I was a kid. [Ask yourself]: what can I contribute to society and what can I bring forth? When you start making a list of what you’re good at, that helps.

I often tell women that it’s important to figure out what you want. And if somebody says, I want this much money a year, I want this much vacation, I say, well, you’re probably not going to get that when you’re working for yourself for the first five years. You need to eat shit sandwiches to get where you want to be. I think it’s worth it if you’re willing [to give it your all]. Because [owning your own business] isn’t for everybody. I think you need to be very strong willed and have very thick skin.

Are people taken aback by how independent and how tenacious you are? Or do you think that society is still grappling with how to handle successful, female entrepreneurs?

I still get asked sometimes on planes, why I travel alone. I get asked if my husband is okay with my travelling and if I ask for his permission. I’ve never even thought to ask him. And I’m honest with you – it’s never crossed my mind to ask him.

My husband is amazing. He’s very open minded and he’s my biggest cheerleader. I could be gone for two weeks and he’s home with the kids. He’s very involved in everything I do. But if we’re out together and somebody asks him what he does, (he’s a mechanical engineer), they’ll be like, “oh, you’re the brains behind it!” I still get that. But I [stand up for myself]. I don’t deal [with sexism] well – I kind of lose my mind.

Has anything else like that happened?

I’ve had people say, “Make sure you wear your glasses during business meetings, wear your hair up, don’t dye your hair too blonde. You want to have a certain look – you want to look very serious.” I’m like, you know what? I’ll be how I am. And in the beauty world, the higher you go the more men there are.

When we were looking for funding at one point, male investors would say, “it’s just skincare.” Or, “you know you’re going to be in a very bitchy environment.” I’m like, how do you know? Come work with me for three weeks, you’d be so fascinated by all these brilliant women I know.

I was just in Los Angeles and I attended AWE (Amazing Women Entrepreneurs) at Wanderlust. Danielle LaPorte and Sophia Amoruso of Nasty Gal were there. There was one thing Danielle LaPorte said that resonated with me. She said, “I never stop myself to think about how you see me.” I never see myself as a woman. I see myself as myself. So when I’m negotiating with a man, I’m myself. And how he sees me, how he perceives me or how he wants to see me, is his issue.

How can we begin to change the way society perceives women in business?

As a child I was bossy. I still boss my brother around. But my parents never said to me, “you’re so bossy.” My mom was like, this girl is going to do something amazing. Whereas I often hear parents say, “my daughter is so bossy pants.” But if a son did that, you’d be like, “look how strong! He’s got leadership skills.” I think we need to start changing the conversation from that age.

Do you think women can have it all?

Again, you have to ask yourself what you want. Yes, I want marriage, I want kids, but I’m also a woman. I’m also a living, breathing person who has desires, dreams and wants to succeed. And the moment you embrace that person, you’re going to attract people like you. So when I met my husband, he knew that was who I was. He wasn’t like, I’m going to change you. He’s an amazing cook, and he makes me the best food. Why would we change that? I contribute in a different way.

I haven’t been to all my kids’ school events. But my girls are well rounded, they’re super brilliant, and they’re like, “go feminism!” I tell them that I know it sucks; it would be great if mom could be here more. But I have work to do. This is how the cookie crumbles. It’s not about balance, it’s about being able to manage expectations and understanding that we’re allowed to succeed.

I’ll get shamed by women as much as men sometimes because I work and I’m not home with my kids. [They come off like], “if you’re going to have to have a child, I hope you’re going to stay home and take care of that child. How dare you work!” I’ve never heard a man say, I can’t do that job. Or, I can’t take this contract because my daughter has ballet. What man would say that? They’re going to go. Why shouldn’t we?

Published Thursday, December 15th 2016

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