People can’t get enough of the splashy entrepreneur success story. You know the one: “I had $100 in my bank account and now I own a seven-figure company.” Or, “How my fully bootstrapped business landed in Forbes.” We hear about wins all of the time—the impressive metrics, the scrappy mindset, the sleepless nights on friends’ couches. If you grind yourself to the ground, you will succeed. At least, that’s what we’ve been told.
By definition, Sam Levinson’s organic hand sanitizer brand, Dom, is a success. Dom’s products are stocked in 150 storefronts across Canada, including Whole Foods—which she accomplished without the help of a distributor. Levinson and her husband, Adam, fully bootstrapped the company using their own investments. Since its mid-pandemic inception in 2021, they’ve helped to change the conversation around hand sanitizer and provide a non-toxic alternative to the harsh chemical formulas on the market. “We didn't know what this world was gonna look like, but we knew that sanitizer was going to be part of it,” says Levinson.
But fast-forward to today, in a post-COVID(ish) world, the collective hunger for sanitizer has slowed down. “Is the market still there?” Levinson kept asking herself. Turns out, it wasn’t, at least not for Dom. “We believe in it. We have customers who believe in it and love using it. But there's not a lot of people who do.” So, Levinson made the tough decision to close her business. Right now, they’re just trying to get rid of all their stock, but they’re hoping to officially close in April. “There's a lot of shame that we had to overcome,” she says, “You feel like you failed, or you're giving up, or you're throwing in the towel. [But] it's okay to be done.”
There’s no one big reason for Dom’s closure, but a culmination of life changes and valuable business lessons that lead to the end. First, Levinson found out she was pregnant, and started thinking about maternity leave and what her family’s financial future looked like. “Coming back to a stable job was key,” she explains. “I thought I could do both.” Levinson now works as an IT recruiter for the Canadian government and Adam is a sales manager for a tech company, but during the height of Dom, Levinson was a full-time entrepreneur while Adam continued to balance his day job with the business. “I was like, ‘We have to pay our bills and I can't have this all be on Adam’s shoulders.’ Living in Toronto, having a mortgage, having a life… [it all adds up].”
Then, there was the business finances. When the couple first launched the brand, they decided against doing a friends-and-family round of fundraising because the market was so uncertain. “We didn’t want to take that risk with other people’s money,” says Levinson. But once Levinson and Adam started looking into getting VC funding a year or two later, they quickly learned that investors won’t even consider you if you haven’t done a friends and family round. “Now that we look back at it, we probably should have, because [launching a small business] is very expensive,” she says. Lesson learned? Ask for help, do a Kickstarter campaign and don’t spend too much money on the photoshoots, website and branding. “We probably could have been scrappy, or we probably could have launched faster, if we just took the plunge without having to be perfectionists,” added Levison.
Dom also didn’t have enough funding for marketing efforts, and by prioritizing being in local boutiques like Gee Beauty and Jacob & Sebastian, the products weren’t getting the foot traffic to convert. Plus, it costs a lot of money to make a product locally and with clean ingredients. “Do we want to keep putting our own money into it?,” Levinson asked Adam.
Money aside, there was another all-consuming reason Levinson decided to end Dom. She quickly realized that the entrepreneur life might not be for her. “I don't want to be a business owner. I don't want to be the boss,” she says. “There’s something lovely about clocking in and out, about not having to go to bed dreaming about your business. And being able to turn off, which you don't have the luxury of doing because every hour you have, it's either: you're benefiting your business or you're hindering your business.”
There’s this pressure as a business owner to always be selling, explains Levinson: to be networking with the right people, looking for the right funding opportunities and getting your brand’s message out there 24/7. And seeing all of the fancy entrepreneur features and “my business made 200% of its revenue” LinkedIn updates sure doesn’t help. Like with most social media platforms, you only see the highlight reel of business ownership. “Some days, I wish I could delete LinkedIn and Instagram and never see it again,” says Levinson.
When asked if the pair would ever start another business, Levinson replies frankly: “Right now, I want to be able to shut off. It felt like I got my MBA in business without actually doing it. But I like having a life. It’s hard to have that when you own your own business because you are your own boss and every failure and every choice is on you. I don’t think I would ever do a product-based business again. I’d probably do an experience or service-based business. Who knows what will happen down the line. It’s not a ‘no’ for the future.”
Even though Levinson’s business ultimately “failed,” she’s left with valuable lessons. For any entrepreneur at a similar crossroads, she recommends asking yourself, “Where do you see yourself, and where do you want to go? What do you want your lifestyle to be? Who’s paying the bills? Who’s going to help you grow your business? Who is going to help it fundamentally survive? Can it survive?” Levinson adds: “Once you accept what it actually looks like on paper versus in your daydream, you can figure out your next steps. I will always look back and wonder, but I have to be okay with that.”
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