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Julie Ellis: From Labels to Angels

by | Sep 20, 2023

Julie Ellis’ story starts humbly in a basement in Hamilton, ON. Read on to find out how her Big Gorgeous Goals led her to the world of Angel Investing. This is a great story about how a founder exited and was able to put their money back into the startup ecosystem. 

Julie Ellis was sending her toddlers to daycare in 2002 when the daycare asked her to label everything. Coats, bags, bottles, lunch pails- you name it, and you had to label it. The daycare suggested using masking tape and a Sharpie. She saw an immediate problem with this. Masking tape is not durable and will hardly hold up through one dishwashing cycle.

Ellis, along with 3 other moms, got to work and created their own solution- durable -but cute- personalized labels for all their kids’ things. It took about a year of toying with the idea of a label business to nail down a launch plan. Ellis traded a foosball table to a website developer to get the project going.

And so, Mabel’s Labels was launched in March 2003 from Ellis’ sister-in-law’s basement. Very quickly, they had sales coming in from friends. Within the first two years, Mabel’s Labels hired two full-time roles to assist the team of moms with the demand.

Julie with her three kids

And as their kids were growing, the business was also growing and exceeding the space of the tiny basement. The solution? The current basement owner, Ellis’ sister-in-law, would upgrade to a bigger basement. A financial stretch at the time, Ellis agreed that they would pay rent and work out of said basement for five years. “And I remember thinking, well, if we don’t stay here for five years, it’ll be the least of our troubles,” recalls Ellis. 

The business grew rapidly during the first year of being in the upgraded basement- more than a dozen people were coming to work every day, and the home internet continually crashed with the increased traffic and numerous devices.

About 18 months after moving into basement #2, the team moved the business into a commercial space. The new space could handle their demands and still had room to grow.

The team built a celebrity following for the business during the early days of social media- resulting in eight-figure sales. Looking to expand the line of personalized labels, they introduced a product line to be sold in Canada through Walmart and Target in the States featuring labels that could personalized on the fly. It was this line that attracted the attention of Avery Labels.

When Avery first contacted the team, the business wasn’t for sale. But that quickly changed after a first meeting with Avery. The team entered a negotiation phase that lasted about five fast and furious months. The process ended in late 2015 with the sale of Mabel’s Labels.

Ellis played a vital role during this process, recalling the process of due diligence required to sell a business. “I managed a lot of the pieces,” she says, “And it’s a super detailed, heavy, and intensive job.”

In January 2016, after the deal was closed, an advisor to Mabel’s Labels called Ellis, inviting her to an AngelOne meeting. Although Ellis knew this advisor had been angel investing, she recalls knowing very little of it then. She had gotten involved in the ecosystem, joined the board of Innovation Factory, and knew the players but says she needed to learn more about the actual investing mechanisms.

She went out to her first AngelOne meeting as a guest of this advisor. In that meeting, a handful of people, including the advisor, were investing in a company. Interested in the opportunity, Ellis joined them in that investment. Looking back, Ellis says, “It’s probably not my best investment, but it was a great process to do it with such a welcoming group of people who knew what they were doing and who would bring me along.”

She uses her experiences building and selling a business to support other entrepreneurs – and to help her make investment decisions.

When I look at deals, I really distill it down to the fact that I’m investing in the entrepreneur. I can do all the due diligence I want to do. And I do value the advice and opinions of some of my fellow investors who might have more subject matter, expertise, or depth of knowledge. Still, ultimately, it really comes down to the people you’re investing in and how confident you are in them.

– Julie Ellis 

Julie learned a lot about the process of angel investing and building a company through investment after joining AngelOne. Investing in that first company gave her connections in the group beyond the initial advisor. She was hooked and became a member quickly. The Executive Director at the time, Karen Grant, asked Ellis to join the board as a director and eventually became Chair.

She credits Grant with being a great role model and advocate for women, saying, “She was looking for people with credibility in terms of the entrepreneurial space, but also looking to really bring more women onto her board.” Ellis is hyper-aware of the issues that women entrepreneurs face and brings a fresh perspective on building a high-growth business while growing a family.

While she recently stepped down as Chair of AngelOne she is still very involved with the group. “We have a great community,” she says, adding, “We have a vibrant morning meeting group with a large number of members who are working professionals.”

“Angel Investing is a team sport,” she says. Ellis’ drive comes from not only the potential reward of a financial return but also the opportunity to “lift the business up and help it achieve its goals.”

Today, Ellis runs a successful coaching and advisory business, offering workshops, mastermind groups and one-on-one sessions, focusing on women entrepreneurs with seven-figure revenue and who want to grow to eight-figures.

Ellis also recently published a book titled “Big Gorgeous Goals.” She wrote this book with women entrepreneurs in mind. She says she was interested in examining why some people achieve these great things and why others feel left in the dust of their to-do lists. The book, available through major retailers like Amazon and Indigo, examines the tools that allow people to do great things and accomplish big goals.

Big Gorgeous Goals is available from all major retailers

When asked why more people should get involved in angel investing, she immediately brings the conversation back to everyone who supported Mabel’s Labels and her own journey noting, “I couldn’t have done it myself.” She says she wants the next generation of entrepreneurs to feel the same level of support and community she felt while building and selling her business.

“I think it’s about the next generation of businesses for Canada, for the world, for Ontario,” she says when asked why she continues to be involved in the angel community. “And so I think when we get more involved, all the boats rise together.”

Visit Julie’s website here


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