Jen Gotch Gets Real

Ban.do’s founder and CCO chats with us about her odd jobs, best business advice, and mental health.

Ban.do recently celebrated its 11th birthday—congrats! I know the company has really grown over the years. Can you tell me how it all began?

It was a very happy accident. Around 2008, I had made a flower crown to renew my vows, and I thought, I think I want to sell these. Strangely, a friend of mine had made a similar flower crown for her 30th birthday. If we both thought about these flower crowns, maybe we’re onto something. So, ban.do actually started as a one-of-a-kind, elaborate hair accessories company and grew from there. It was a fun side project, but we weren’t planning for the future of a company.

Wow, I never would’ve guessed that. How did you come up with the name?

When we were brainstorming, we were looking at the word headband and how to say it in other languages, and bandeau in French is headband. I thought we should change the spelling into one that everyone could pronounce, instead of people pronouncing it as “bandoo,” but that’s one of many decisions I would remake if I could. I thought it looked cooler if it had some mystery to it by changing the way it was written. We started with headbands but didn’t realize we’d be selling planners one day.

Your company is known for its bright, cheery planners. I just got mine in the mail the other day. How did these planners come about?

The planner came up for very organically. In 2012, I sold the company, and we were acquired by a company called Lifeguard Press, who licenses other large brands like Kate Spade and Lilly Pulitzer. They had seen success in the planner space with their licenses. They suggested we make a planner. I was like, do people use planners? I thought of them as something prior to smartphones and Google Calendar, and they’re like, no, no, it’s a huge category. Neither our creative director Ali LaBelle or I really understood planners, so we went and bought every planner we could find and challenged ourselves to create a point of difference with ours. Approaching it that way really helped us when we broke into what was already a competitive planner market.

The planners are so indicative of our brand and our sensibility down to the compliments, the art, and working with other people to create that, fun to-dos. It’s such a great encapsulation of us so I feel like the fact that it came through and was received the way it was has always been a point of pride for us.

Your brand sells more than just planners. There are Monstera inflatables and flamingo tumblers to roller skates and graphic tees. What’s your favorite ban.do item?

Our Iconery necklaces. It would be hard to pick just one because that whole collection is based on my own personal experience. We’ve donated over $125,000 to Bring Change to Mind [a nonprofit working to end stigma around mental health]. How could that not be my favorite?

I really appreciate your openness on your battle with mental health. Did you know you wanted to incorporate that into your brand?

I didn’t start out thinking, I’m going to be a mental health advocate. It’s always been a very natural thing for me to talk about mental health. When I understood the positive impact I could have, I made it more intentional, but I’m so happy to be able to do that and be in a position where sharing my struggles might inspire others to think that it doesn’t have to limit them. It’s been such an important part of my life and my own personal growth. We have sold more anxiety necklaces than any of the others. Now that we can talk about it, we can talk about how to work through it.

I’m sure running a large company can be stressful at times. How do you wind down each night?

The end of the night is usually centered around peace. I love personal growth, so I’m probably digging into a self-help book and staying away from my TV and phone—truly winding down instead of trying to numb my mind.

What kind of books are you interested in?

I’m really focused on spiritual growth and working toward enlightenment. I spent a lot of time trying to understand mental health from a physical standpoint, but now it’s understanding the ego and what your thoughts are telling you and understanding that. I get a lot of enjoyment of understanding the human experience.

You’re so self-aware. How has that influenced your professional and personal lives?

Becoming more self-aware is one of the best things you can do for yourself, especially when it comes to managing other people. I didn’t understand how my personality, strengths, and weaknesses would permeate through the business. It was really eye-opening for me. Now, I’m much more aware of the weight of my words and how my actions set an example for everyone. If I’m afraid of difficult conversations, then I set the tone that we can’t have difficult conversations. At the same time, if I’m encouraging emotions in the workplace, then people feel comfortable being emotional in the workplace. Understanding my impact on company culture took me awhile, but now I’m highly aware of it.

Ban.do has such a fun voice. How does this “fun” translate to workplace culture?

When some people come into the office, they say, “Oh, it’s so quiet, and everyone’s working so hard.” And I’m like, well, it is a business. But I like to believe that we prioritize having a lightness along with the responsibility of keeping a business thriving. Being fun goes beyond the idea of going on vacation. It’s also learning about yourself, how to do your finances, or how to do a flower arrangement. We also have lunch and learns, and we’ll do yoga. It’s less about having fun in the traditional sense because that’s very counter to a workplace and more about deriving enjoyment and fulfillment from your work.

Why is it important to invest in workplace culture?

We have a highly creative workload, and having a pleasant, welcoming work environment is very conducive to creativity. Work is a very vulnerable place to be pulling stuff from your gut, putting those ideas on paper, and letting people decide if they like it or not. It’s frightening at times. For all of those reasons, making it feel good, encouraging, safe, and pleasant is very important to me.

I noticed that you majored in English, right?

I did—literature and philosophy, actually, because I was told that those would help me with law school. I also studied three years of Latin. None of which have really helped me in my career.

That’s a big jump from pre-law to chief creative officer of ban.do. How did you discover your passion?

It was a career path without plan. I decided when I was taking the prep course for LSAT that I, in fact, did not want to go to law school. About a year after graduating college, I made the move out to California, and that helped me understand the huge expanse of jobs that are available. I tried all different sorts of jobs. I’ve applied what I’ve learned to the next endeavor. I like to say it’s been a very swirly path, but somehow, some way, it’s always fed into the next thing. 

Did you have any odd jobs?

I did all of the normal stuff like working in the mall and waiting tables. Copywriting, personal shopping, food styling, teaching art. I had a styling job for three years for a giftwrapping catalog, and a couple times a year, I would spend a couple weeks in San Diego wrapping a bunch of empty boxes. I feel like I’ve been able to take things from most of my jobs and apply it to this one.

Even giftwrapping?

I gotta say the skill to be able to really giftwrap and be resourceful with your materials has served me so well. There’s a creativity, exactness, and discipline to it, which has certainly helped me.

Your book, The Upside of Being Down, is coming out March 24, 2020. Tell me about it.

It’s in the style of a memoir, but there’s a lot about my struggles with mental health and how I was able to apply that to professional growth and creativity, as well as the positive pieces I’ve derived from those struggles. My editor had been asking me to do a book for three or four years, but I really didn’t see how I’d be able to find the time. When she re-approached me, I felt like the timing was better. If I can reach a broad range of people through a book and help them feel better, I can’t think if anything other I’d want to do.

And I understand you’ve been sharing some expertise with the community. Tell me about Honor Roll, your free advice series.

Once a month, we welcome around 70 to 100 people from the community into our office. It started from my desire to help other people learn about business. I started [my career] without any knowledge or plan, and I learned so much in the early years that I wanted to share. Now, it’s evolved into a space where we pick a theme and then talk about something like mental health, networking, social media, growing a business, or emotions in the workplace. We love to offer it to our community and are hoping to grow it so that we can accommodate a larger audience.

You have a lot on your plate. How do you spark creativity in yourself and your staff?

You can’t tap into creativity all the time, anytime. You really have to set yourself up for success, and part of that success is identifying that if you’re done for the day, then you’re done for the day. Forcing creativity never yields the type of results that you want, so rest your brain when the ideas aren’t coming. Creating a space that feels interesting, inviting, and safe—and inspiring more than anything else. Inspiration and passion fuel creativity more than anything else. It’s also not trying to put parameters on creativity, but obviously, we have deadlines. But I always tell people who create the deadlines, we’re going to do our best, but this is not a switch that you can flip. Sometimes if it’s not there, it’s not there.

I let people go outside and take a walk when they need to, take a half-day from home, or go sit in a park and think. Part of our secret to encouraging creativity is trying to allow for that. As someone who personally knows the value of getting out of an office and finding the proper space to create especially when you’re up against a deadline, it’s a priority for us to get there.


Kristin Blake is a former editorial intern for this magazine. Email her at kblake021@gmail.com.

Originally Published December 2019