Entrepreneurship is a drug and Callie England couldn’t neglect the euphoric high she felt with each hit.
“I wasn’t even thinking and that first year was so painful … yet it was so, just like, glorious … You don’t really remember anything until after the fact, but you’re like, man, that was great,” England, founder of Rawxies-turned-president of WallyGro, recalled of her beginnings as a startup founder in 2011.
“I didn’t go to business school, I have a fine arts degree. I just am really freaking driven,” she added.
An adventure grown from seeds of ambition, England rented a U-Haul, cut ties with her job in Kansas City, and rode her high to northern California, she explained.
“I had no clue what I was getting myself into.”
Rawxies — an all-natural snack food company that appealed to consumers with special diets and, at its height, lined the shelves of such grocers as Whole Foods and Dean & Deluca — was a by-product of England’s lifestyle blogging, she explained, noting the company quickly consumed her.
“There was a week where I rolled close to 15,000 of the bars I was making at the time … to send to all the organic avenues in New York City. I carried a pallet — it was three blocks down in Sebastopol — down the road because a pallet doesn’t fit, you know, in a Prius and all of these things that were just so ridiculous ,” she recalled the company’s early days.
A small fish in a big pond, England realized she could better harness her success into scalable stability if she returned home to Kansas City, leaning into advice planted by her father, she said.
“My argument the year prior was, ‘What if you could be a big fish in a big pond?’ Like, how great would that be? And I realized like, ‘Come on, get it together.’”
Kansas City offered England unparalleled geographical reach in regard to shipping her product and easier access to investors, she explained.
“That was really the start of when the business went from something I loved to do — that was just everything I thought I wanted in life and was fulfilling and checking so many boxes — to ‘What the hell have I gotten myself into?’”
‘Just the worst’
Feeling as though she was selling false promises in exchange for cash, England found herself telling investors what she thought they wanted to hear as she raised her final bridge round, she said.
At her breaking point, England made the decision to step down as CEO of Rawxies in 2016, giving the company’s board of directors full control.
“Truth be told is, the further away I got … it really wasn’t that hard to [mentally] bounce back. Once I sent in the resignation letter,” she said. “The hard thing is losing a company, everything you worked for is no longer there. It’s just the worst.”
England maintained her seat on the company’s board, as part of her exit agreement, she noted.
Free of the weight that had become running Rawxies, England started to come down from her high, drifting into a different altered state: entrepreneurial depression, she explained through tears.
“It still gets to me to think, you work for six years — I was fucking 27! I gave up everything, I slept with a laptop, I moved away, I missed so many things. All so that a fucking investor could run it into the ground, you know? And that kills me!” she said.
Wallowing wasn’t in England’s DNA, she said, adding she knew she had to find a way to turn a new leaf.
“I looked at my dad — and it’s about a month after I put in my resignation letter — and I’m trying to sort things out and I knew that I needed to do something and I said, ‘You know, so I can sell leggings part time’ … Or I had [the opportunity to be] recruited to oversee the acquisition of WallyGro. But the problem is, I’d be essentially a CEO of a company and that was the last thing on my mind.”
Food for thought, England’s dad pushed her to go for growth, firmly reminding her she’d never been one to give up, she added.
“He’s always been very much like, ‘Jump off the cliff! Put your hand on the stove! I don’t care! It’s your hand, burn yourself. Go for it!’ But hearing him say that to me, I knew that I couldn’t let [leaving Rawxies] ruin me … that would be the worst thing,” she said.
Nourished, England accepted a position with WallyGro — a manufacturer of living wall systems, created so that anyone, in any space, could enjoy gardening.
Later came the closing of another chapter for Rawxies, which had continued to struggle after her departure, England said.
“I may have been the one — a year later — to tell the [Rawxies] board, ‘You have to pull this.’ But if anything, it wasn’t because I gave up, it was because I didn’t want to give up on myself,” she said of her symbolism-rich decision to pursue a position that literally sold the opportunity to grow.
A new spark
Wallygro’s founders were ready to step away from the company they launched in 2007. England took the reins in 2017 and has yet to look back, she proclaimed.
Wallygro is an industry leader, dedicated to innovation in the vertical gardening space and manufacturer of Wally Pocket wall planters, drip irrigation, hardware, and garden tools.
“It’s a lifestyle CPG brand and it really needed an entrepreneur to oversee it, to rebrand it, to grow it, to restructure, rehire,” she said of the transition which has enabled her to tackle the ecommerce space.
“What I’ve kind of found, I think a personal enjoyment, is being able to [spark] innovation and run businesses within existing businesses,” England said.
In the process of reinventing WallyGro, she recalled realizing the way in which the process helped her reinvent herself.
“I proved to myself that ‘You are good at what you do. You actually are not as much of a failure as you think,’” she said.
Such a realization would have been impossible without first admitting she needed watering, England said.