We had the good fortune of connecting with Simi Khabra and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Simi, how has your work-life balance changed over time?
I’m 46 years old, and I’m finding that my work life balance has changed quite a bit over the years. As a 20-something, I was highly driven to make money and buy a house, so I worked a lot. As a software developer in Boulder, it was good work and I enjoyed it quite a bit. My weekends were usually filled with hikes and hanging out with friends, so I felt quite balanced at the time. I was good at what I did and felt validated at work. It was challenging and also fun. Without a family, there was plenty of “me” time, in addition to work, and I was still fresh and invigorated by it.
Then, at the age of 31, I became a mom and everything changed. I had the luxury of being able to leave my career and stay home with my son, which is was really important to me, but eventually, I started to feel like my whole identity was wrapped up in being a mom and a wife and I started to lose my spark. I missed feeling good at something, because honestly… does anyone ever feel like a great parent? I mean, there are good days and bad days, but it’s hard work and it’s emotional work. I loved being a mom, but I missed parts of the old me. This second stage of life, parent-life, teaches you a lot and puts things in perspective, but it’s not an easy time. Or, it wasn’t for me, anyway. I lost myself without work. I did a bunch of things over the years… I worked from home as a bookkeeper, I got my real estate license, I learned to knit and crochet, I learned to make jewelry and started an Etsy shop, but nothing really stuck. Soapmaking started the same way… as a hobby, but it turned into a lot more. It became an obsession and a passion. I wanted to learn everything about it. I soaked it all in and got immersed in an incredible community of makers on Instagram. It felt like I had found my home. And, of course, the timing was perfect. My son was older. He was about 11 at the time, and he was going to school, after nearly three years of homeschooling. I got some of my time and energy back. I was craving work and I had an intense desire to build something.
About three years ago, I went through a divorce. During that time, my work was my salvation. Making soap felt like therapy. But, my business was definitely not my focus. Life took over. When that long year came to a close, I left some old things behind and I started the new year feeling light and excited about my business again. That was when I knew I wanted it to grow. I also had a very supportive partner by my side, encouraging me and seeing things through fresh eyes. It made all the difference. His energy about my business inspired me to make something more out of it. 2019 is the year I turned my hobby into a business.
So, lately, instead of slowing down into life, my balance has shifted more into a work cycle. That’s indicative of where I am in my life. With a son that is about to turn 15, who has plenty of his own interests, I am finding myself with a lot more time on my hands than ever before. I’m seeing the old me come back to life. So, with a lot of “life” and not much “work” for the majority of my 30s and early 40s, my late 40s are bringing me back to work. But this time, I’m building my own business and it feels different. It’s definitely a LOT of work. Sometimes I wonder why I keep doing it because when you own your own business, especially when it’s growing as fast as Muddy Mint has been, it’s nearly constant work. It’s all I ever do, talk about, and think about. But, I’m still really really excited about it and I’m hunkering down for a few years of intense work, before I get back to life…
So, I guess my work-life balance has been pretty intense. It’s all or nothing. I’m balancing it out over the long-haul. Over a lifetime, really. But, I’m making sure not to burn out, by taking things slowly and growing organically. By hiring employees when it makes sense. And, by making sure that I’m always available for family time, even if it means I have to work a little longer the next day. I certainly don’t have it all figured out, but I’m feeling really good about where I’m at right now.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
Many makers start out doing something for the love of the craft, and that’s exactly how I started out. Soapmaking is a science and also an art form. I started out of curiosity. I had started buying handmade soap off Etsy to help with my dry skin, and I became obsessed with learning how to make it. I watched a ton of videos before working up the nerve. Real soap is made with a chemical reaction between sodium hydroxide (lye) and oils. You mix the sodium hydroxide with a carrier (water) and add it to an oil (like olive oil), and you get soap! It’s literally like magic (or science)! Ha! The trick, of course, is to mix it in the right quantity. In order for olive oil to turn into soap, you need a certain amount of lye. Too much and you get lye heavy soap, too little and you get mush. That’s where the science and math comes in and I think this is what attracted me to soapmaking. And, of course, with science, all kinds of things can go wrong! The temperature and the things you add to the soap, can all cause a different reaction to happen. As you move to different recipes and larger batches, things can start to go very wrong, if you don’t know what you’re doing. That’s the challenge, and also the beauty of this craft. I got to where I am today because of my love of soapmaking. It wasn’t easy and it was slow and organic. I didn’t make any money at first. But, it didn’t matter.
Eventually, people were buying my soap, and they were coming back. I love that soap is a consumable product. It isn’t wasteful. There’s hardly any packaging. When you’re done with it, there’s literally nothing left! It serves a purpose, but it also makes you feel like you’re pampering yourself. I honestly can’t imagine a better product! 🙂 Soapmaking has been a journey for me, and part of that journey led me toward natural soapmaking. What this means to me is that I don’t use any fragrance oils or artificial colorants in my soap. I also try to be as eco-friendly as possible and part of that means not using palm oil in my soaps. That’s the route my soapmaking took me and that has attracted people to my product that care about these things. I learned that I was sensitive to artificial scents and it turns out other people are too. I try to make soaps that many people can use. I use essential oils to scent my soaps, but I also make unscented soaps, as some people are sensitive to essential oils as well. I make soaps without shea butter, as some people are allergic. Of course, I can’t accommodate everyone, but I try to stay true to my values and what matters to me.
After 4-1/2 years in business, I’ve found myself. I think it can take a while to figure out who you are as a business. But, my goals and my mission are very clear to me now, and that has really helped me this past year. It helps me decide which opportunities to follow and which ones to say no to. I know my customers really well and they trust me. It takes a long time to build that trust (and seconds to lose it!), so I always have my customer’s best interest in mind. There’s plenty more to learn, and as I scale up, there will be plenty more challenges! My business grew five times in revenue last year, and it was a scramble to keep up, but I’m looking at 2021 with a lot of anticipation and optimism. I can’t wait to see where this story goes!
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
What a fun question! With everything going on now, we’d definitely head outdoors. I live in Longmont, CO and one of my favorite local hikes is Rabbit Mountain. I also love walking around McIntosh Lake in Longmont, especially at Sunset. I’d probably have to take them to Mount Sanitas in Boulder, which is the classic Boulder hike. The typical touristy stuff can also be fun, like heading up to Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park. For some more local stuff, I’m a big fan of Ziggi’s Coffee on Main Street. I live in Old Town, so walking down to Ziggi’s is a pretty common occurrence. I remember when they first opened way back when and now they’ve really made a name for themselves! I love getting a Bhakti Chai, which is also a local company. Strolling the shops of Main Street, visiting the library, hanging out in Thompson Park… that’s my idea of a perfect day. Supporting small local businesses is really important to me and some of my favorites here are Dryland Distillery, Maker General, A Florae, Thalken Mercantile (in Lafayette), and Few of a Kind Vintage (in Niwot). There are a ton more and there is a fantastic maker community here in Longmont as well. Hopefully there would be a market or some fun events going on that week!
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I’d like to shout out my boyfriend, Troy, first and foremost. He’s been at the backbone of every decision I’ve made as a business owner. He’s the guy behind the scenes that I talk to non-stop about everything. He knows my business inside and out, from my wholesale clients down to recipe details. He’s always been encouraging, but also honest with me. He lets me lead, but he’s always there. Having someone to talk to about every intimate detail has been integral to my growth. Jenny, my assistant, has been a lifesaver for me. She’s my friend and also my first employee. She takes the stress out of my days. She takes care of all the online orders and is part of the day-to-day flow. She’s great company, and she’s freed me up to take care of all kinds of things that were getting pushed to the backburner before. She’s changed my business in 2020. After hiring her, everything became way easier! Working with somebody else gives you a reason to start the day on a good note. I’m more organized and productive since hiring her. My customers… they are the reason I do all this. They are incredible and deserve a huge shout out. The reviews, kind works, engagement on instagram… they keep me going. I feel like some of them are like family! I know many of my repeat customers by name and their support of my work is integral to my business. It’s like having a little fan club following you around! You certainly don’t want to let them down. They are at the core of everything that I do. And finally, my fellow soapmakers! They inspire me every day on Instagram and they’ve helped me tremendously over the years. This community of soapmakers is so kind and giving with advice and knowledge. I’m extremely grateful for this community and seeing their beautiful work every day makes me strive to be a better business owner.