Anne Parmer: How did you become an entrepreneur?
Anne Kirby: I come from a long line of entrepreneurs. My great-grandfather, grandfather, and father were all self-employed. Working for my father at a young age instilled an entrepreneurial spirit within me—it was in my blood. I wanted to be self-employed, and at first I thought I’d take over the family business, but over time I realized it was not the best fit. My interests were in design and marketing and I was excited to create my own path. Out of my five siblings, I was the most interested in business—I think because it was part of my family upbringing.
I went to school for design, marketing, and communications. When I got out of school, I worked for my father, held various internships, and freelanced. It really was a natural progression into entrepreneurship. When I moved to Lancaster, I had to find a job—and I always excelled at the jobs I had, but I was never satisfied. Even in great jobs, I struggled with upper management practices, which became the kick in the butt that I needed to take the leap into freelancing full-time. And so I did, and I haven’t looked back.
It’s been a process and I was lucky enough to have an understanding of what entrepreneurship and being self-employed entails. At the end of the day it’s a lot of hard work and sacrifice. This initial understanding made me more comfortable taking a risk.
What is your vision for the future of your company? Of your community?
I look to bring all my separate businesses together for an over-arching vision, because they have similar missions and visions. For me, building relationships—whether it’s The Sweet Core or The Candy Factory or Perkup & Company—my passion is connecting. Sometimes I’m facilitating the connections, sometimes I’m making space for the connections to happen themselves.
This year, I’ve been reflecting a lot about the changes in my life. I have been taking a look back at the last 20+ years and asking how I got to where I am—without regrets—while reflecting on the experiences and decisions that have directed me here and there. It’s been a general assessment of my life. Through this process, I have been able to articulate how being a young, single mom in high school shaped my worldview, my relationships, and my view of community. I hadn’t stopped and thought about the process, because life moves quickly, but I want to give Mom’s House and the women who run it a lot of credit for teaching me what a community coming together looks like.
When I had my son Austin, I was 16 and in high school. I was lucky to be accepted into a local Mom’s House, where you have to be actively engaged in the community and, in exchange, they provide free childcare. You had to give back to the community through cleaning, participating, and supporting others. It influenced how I’ve shaped The Candy Factory, because it was my first taste of people gathering from similar situations and collaborating for the good of everyone involved. I hadn’t realized how impactful the experience of being a single mom was to shaping this community.
My philosophy is to give back. We are here to serve the community. If we can build relationships and partnerships and bring people together, then we are successful, whether or not we make millions of dollars. I want The Candy Factory to be a hub where people can grow personally and professionally and I want to encourage our members to contribute to the community.
Volunteering and giving back to the community has been a large part of my life. When I moved here, I realized that I had to volunteer locally to better understand my new community. I decided to volunteer at a local civic center providing basic computer support and training for seniors. This allowed me to build new connections and give back. When I started The Creative House of Lancaster in 2007, it was because I was isolated and I wanted to facilitate professional connections. Everything grew from that, including my business—The Candy Factory.
Lancaster was really different ten years ago and we wanted to create a tight-knit group that could connect—beyond handing one another business cards across a handshake.
We knew quickly that we needed a collaborative space to work. I get to meet the most amazing people daily. It’s a truly unique opportunity that I wasn’t getting until opening The Candy Factory in 2010. Once the space became available, I signed the lease—and had 15 folks sign up on opening day.
What’s so great about this community is that it grows by word of mouth. Our members are our cheerleaders! It’s made our growth organic which has worked well for us. We have some really invested members, and that makes us very special.
What has been the biggest challenge to creating a new venture?
There have been a couple.
Trying to get people to see your vision has been a challenge. Sometimes it’s hard to articulate that vision. For example, expanding our space into a once windowless tower. It was the same with starting The Candy Factory—trying to explain and get people to buy into your vision when there’s nothing to see yet can be difficult. A huge part of it is passion. People see that you’re excited enough about it that they are willing to take a gamble on it.
Our recent construction for us was really hard. It was a year of heavy construction. It was loud and sometimes dirty, but our core membership stuck it out. People who believe strongly enough in the community and see your vision help the others remain invested—even through challenges.
Another challenge is knowing that the risks you take come at a financial cost; you must have hope to keep your head above water while going through transitions. We had two venues opening at the same time and we just had to believe that it would work. There's a challenge to putting the anxiety of the risk aside. In the worst case, if it all came tumbling down, I’m still alive and I’ll survive.
In turn, this challenge has also been the fun part—selling people on a vision and then seeing that vision become visible. Once it’s tangible, people really get it. And then they reap the benefits by being early adopters of the space or the project.
What advice would you give to an earlier version of yourself?
I would start networking years before I did. I networked through volunteering and other projects, but not as aggressively as I have over the last 12 years. So I suggest you don’t hold back. Don’t wait until it’s the perfect time. Put yourself out there and truly get to know people.
If I had started even five years earlier, I think I could be five years ahead of where I am.
Networking is so powerful and at the end of the day, it comes down to who you know. You can carry yourself on your skills and education, but I feel like it’s about the connections you make, even if they aren’t obvious yet.
It’s about building relationships and taking ownership of your projects—which have truly become passions of mine rather than businesses. If anything, they’re more like children!
I would have also told myself to take more risks. It’s good and bad. I played it pretty safe when I moved here, even though I’ve always been a kind of risk-taker. It took me five years to feel comfortable enough to put it out there.
Tell me about your biggest surprise or lesson learned as an entrepreneur?
Some things you just can’t control. The more flexible you are, the better. Let go of control, let things form, and see what happens. I’ve learned to step back and go with the flow.
When you have a concept or idea, you sometimes want to own every aspect, but you need other perspectives—people who can challenge you. When I started The Candy Factory, I was definitely challenged and it sort of sobered me, making me think of other things that refined my vision. So, letting go of needing immediate gratification and being patient and flexible has been a huge lesson for me.
What question did I miss? What else should I know about you?
I think what I’ve learned over the last 20 years is that when businesses support each other, we all gain. There are challenges and struggles and people who might not get it, but a supportive business community, like Lancaster, is really important. We’ve seen the benefit of that—a strong merchant community.
So it goes back to connections—how do we as businesses support each other? How do we as women support each other? At times, I didn’t see the value in women-only groups, but there are challenges that we face that are really unique. I’ve become more passionate about specifically supporting women entrepreneurs.
As Kick-Ass Female Entrepreneurs grows, I’d like to see more support for young women in business. How do we let our kids know, even at a young age, that you can do this? You can be a successful business owner. We need more organizations like the Women’s Business Center and more forums like #SheOwnsIt as a model for the younger generation of women. SCORE is working to bring on more female mentors. Our community is coming to a realization that we need more women mentoring and supporting other women.
For me, as a female business owner, I’m very passionate about building up Kick-Ass Female Entrepreneurs by creating a safe space for women to come and grow relationships. It’s not about passing on a business card or giving a pitch; it’s about giving females the space to articulate why they do what they do and what they are passionate about. Our last meeting was 40 women passionate about their side projects, but often struggling with the same core issues:
As a mother and a business owner, I’ve become really in tune with the challenges we face. Groups like Kick-Ass Female Entrepreneurs are great because there’s no agenda other than genuine connection and building confidence.
Anne Kirby started her first design and marketing company in 1999. After feeling the effects of social isolation, she acknowledged the need for a collaborative community and started a social networking group called The Creative House of Lancaster in 2007. Anne founded her thriving coworking space, The Candy Factory, in 2010 after identifying the need amongst members for a shared collaborative workspace. Eventually moving into a larger space in 2014, the Candy Factory inhabits 14,000 square feet of space in the historic Lancaster Storage Company. Anne also opened Rock Candy, a second location coworking space at POD 2 on the Rock Lititz Campus in January of 2017. The Candy Factory and Rock Candy serve as coworking communities which provide professional yet relaxed work environments for people looking for creative, affordable ways to work. Her coworking spaces focuses on connecting members and building relationships while providing the means to grow personally and professionally. Additionally, Anne recently opened a social enterprise cafe called Perkup & Co. which employs disadvantaged city youth in collaboration with The Mix at Arbor Place. As well as running these three companies, Anne also facilitates an all women’s group called Kick-Ass Female Entrepreneurs and manages an online promotional platform called DO. that looks to connect Lancaster, York and Harrisburg businesses. Anne actively speaks locally to organizations like SCORE, Cultivate Lancaster, and others on the topic of coworking and cultivating community.
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Joe Chiarella, Sculptor of companies, products and relationships.
No Agenda Other Than Connection
Anne Kirby, Founder of The Candy Factory, coworking in Lancaster. The Sweet Core, Perkup & Co & Kick Ass Female Entrepreneurs.