3 things I learnt from cancer that made me a better entrepreneur

What was I thinking of, that evening when I found myself on stage, with this statue in my hands? It was the night when Rosette la Vedette was awarded the best Belgian online shop in the Health & Beauty category. To tell the truth, I was mainly thinking about all the customers, care professionals and volunteers who inspire me each day with their resilience and optimism. But secretly I was also thinking about Mr Ronny. And how happy I was that I never listened to him...  

Yes we can, Mr Ronny!

Wendy: “It was five years ago. In a dingy office in a sewing workshop somewhere in deepest, darkest Belgium.  I was “a woman with a plan”, but also a complete newcomer to the world of ready-to-wear clothing. Across the table was “Mr Ronny”, an old hand, a dyed-in-the-wool professional and the boss of the workshop. A man with few words to spare. He muttered to himself as he looked over my first prototype. A sample of what would become the first hat in the collection I had been dreaming of for more than two years.

And then he narrowed his eyes into little slits and hissed at me: “Are you a social worker or something? No? Because I’ve seen plenty of them, you know the kind, ladies with a burnout from social work. They think they can sew and they want to create their own collection. But that’s not how it works. Chemo hats? Who’d buy those? In bright colours? Everyone wears a wig, don’t they? It will never take off, love.” OUCH!

Sorry Mr Ronny. But I continued to search for someone who did believe in my idea. And only a few years later, Rosette la Vedette ended up winning  the BeCommerce Award for best Belgian online shop in the Health & Beauty category. Thank goodness I never listened to you.”

entrepreneurship after cancer


No adventures in entrepreneurship without an adventure in cancer first

“My visit to ‘Mr Ronny’ marked the start of a very long quest. For fabrics, a workshop, an agency to create the online shop, contacts with hospitals, interested journalists and so on. The list is long. It all started on a blue Monday as a hobby that got out of hand. But my business grew, slowly but surely, putting down honest, solid roots. And I grew too. With every step I took, I felt more self-confident, more and more like a real businesswoman.

And do you know what? I would have never made it this far if I hadn’t had cancer in the first place. Because I learnt a lot from having to get on the high-speed cancer train from one day to the next. And these lessons have made me a better entrepreneur. Which is why I’d like to share them with you today. Because you don’t need entrepreneurial ambitions to put these lessons into practice. They will help you in other areas of your life, at home, at work, during your treatment and for a long time afterwards.”  

chemo mutsjes rosette la vedette 

Lesson 1: Just because you’ve never done it before, that doesn’t mean you’ll fail

 “Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase’, Martin Luther King once said. You don’t need to see where the staircase leads to take that very first step. ‘Help, chemo. I don’t know what that means. I can’t do it.’ You have no idea what to expect. So many unknown factors, so many uncertainties. But you have no choice, you have to do it. So you go ahead. And you wait and see what will happen. After every chemotherapy session, you have a better idea of how your body will respond. You learn something new about yourself. Step by step.

Running a business is not much different. You may have never done it before. But your only option is to let go, jump in and start swimming to know and understand what it is and see if you can make a success of it. “A path is made by walking”, according to Lao Tzu. A path or a staircase, the idea is the same.”

rosette la vedette team


Lesson 2: Dare to ask for help

“To be honest, this is really difficult for a seasoned control freak. But how does the African saying go again? ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.’ ‘Do you run Rosette la Vedette on your own?’ people often ask me in surprise. But the honest answer is no, I don’t. It’s true that I don’t have any staff on the books (or at least not yet). But I have surrounded myself with a team of loyal freelancers and fixed partners. My sewing workshop, online specialists, a photo shoot team, translators, an online marketing agency, a pattern designer, a logistics partner... Without their help and experience, I’d never be able to cope on my own. They have opened up a whole new world to me.

But honestly? I had to learn how to ask for help. HAD to learn. Because doing shopping during chemo treatment? I managed most days, but not always. Driving to the hospital when I was running a high fever? Better to call a friend. Recovering for three days after yet another chemo session? Nowhere better than on the sofa at ‘Hotel Mama’. Having the guts to ask for help will make you stronger, on every level. What’s more, besides helping yourself you will also make the people around you happy. Because your friends and family are only too pleased when they can really do something to help.” 

 rosette la vedette team

(A meeting with our online team after winning the BeCommerce Award? That calls for a cake!) 


Lesson 3: Stay true to yourself

‘Cancer is something you have, it’s not who you are’. I hated referring to myself as a ‘patient’. Yes, I was having treatment for cancer, but there was much more to me than that. I wanted to continue being myself, to make the journey in my own way. Here’s a tip: explain to your doctors who you are and how you want to be treated. I didn’t want too much pity or condescension, but rather open and honest communication. Seeing the lab results for myself calmed me down. I wanted to retain some form of control. They understood that, which helped. It also helped to admit to my fears: don’t imagine that people expect you to be superman or superwoman.

cancer lessons for entrepreneurs

Being able to do what I want as an entrepreneur is also very calming. I sometimes laugh that it’s ‘my way or the highway’, but there is some truth to that. Every entrepreneur is different and has different ambitions. I’ve never been interested in being a big business or raking in big profits. But I believe in doing something meaningful, in being energised by projects and people. My gut feeling is and will always be my most important advisor. And obviously, you have to make calculations and plans, check whether things are feasible and whether your gut instinct is right. But never forget who you are, what you like doing and what you don’t. Why am I a businesswoman? So that I can live my life to the full or to have it lived for me? What does success mean to me? The freedom to organise my days the way I want to, or the kick of being an industry leader, posting strong growth figures and having a workforce of 30 employees? Listen to yourself. Choose the things that energise YOU. Other people’s expectations are their business, not yours.”