April Francis: The Conversation

November 2013

Photos: Frankie de Guzman

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Dose Market was founded to bring small businesses, entrepreneurs, artists, designers, and everything in between, together for a highly curated market located in Wicker Park. More recently, you can get Dosed every Sunday. I attended for the first time last week, and not only found some cool items to take home, but also met a lot of awesome people. So, who is behind Dose? April Francis. I met April at a Nike event a few months back, and had been meaning to see if I could sit down with her for a while. Frankie and I chatted with her while the background noise of happy Dosers buzzing all around us could be heard, at the upstairs restaurant Chop Shop.

A&F: A great portion of my readers are still in school. Where did you go? Did you always know that you wanted to own your own business?

April: I went to Michigan. I started my first business when I was…I think 13? It was an online web design company. When the internet basically started. It was called Ingenious.net. My fathers an entrepreneur so it was just kind of instilled in me.

A&F: So how did Dose come about?

April: My whole life I’ve loved small businesses. Particularly boutiques, especially if it’s really well edited. I love Robin Richman. There is no other store like it. Everywhere I go, every city I visit, one of the first things I do is go shopping because I am so interested in those personalities and those editors. In 2010, somebody said to me “you should do a market at the River East Art Center” and I was like “Okay…done.” I had come up with the name Dose a few years prior as a very specific retail concept…like only dosing and selling really great stuff. So when someone said that to me, I was like “Yes!”

A&F: What did you do before Dose?

April: I had been working in various markets, forever. My hometown had this thing called Harrison Rally Days, I worked the Ann Arbor Street Fair as a street manager. When I was in college, I worked at StyleMax for some designers in Chicago. I went to New York and Paris for Capsule Show helping to sell my friends clothing designs. That actually was one of the main reasons why I was like “Dose is perfect,” because clothing designers have the most ridiculous sale cycle. A small clothing designer designs a collection, and they might not get paid on that collection until a year later. And they have to cover all the production costs. So basically, the Dose purpose, is to get money in the pockets of small designers.

A&F: You’re creating a better process.

April: Getting money into the Dosers pockets is the whole reason we do it.

A&F: That’s such a cool concept. I never would have thought that was behind it.

April: I don’t really go hard on that in the marketing aspect, because it’s hard to communicate to the consumer. Dose elevates people that are doing great things. That’s why all the tables are the same, and we have a nice indoor space. We are very selective with our vendors. We are trying to make this a very tasty option for our consumer, just because it’s all good stuff.

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A&F: It’s not over whelming like some markets can be. It’s very curated. How do you balance it all? Owning your own business has to be incredibly time consuming.

April: It is. I’m a little out of balance right now. Dose went from being a monthly event to a weekly event. I had never thrown an event before the first Dose. It’s important to turn the computer off and exercise, eat well, have time with family and friends, but Dose is a huge project, and it takes me a lot of time. I’m working it out.

Alex: Personally, I really look up to female entrepreneurs, so that’s one of the reasons I wanted to interview you. So what advice would you give to young women looking to not do the typical 9 to 5 job and possibly own their own business?

April: I would say, don’t let anyone say that you can’t do something. If somebody says that you can’t do something, then they really don’t love you or appreciate you, and they aren’t a true friend. When I first went out on my own, I had a lot of people say that I couldn’t do it or that I shouldn’t do it, and those people are not my friends anymore. You have to surround yourself with people who believe in you. You can do anything that you set your mind to. You just have to have a very clear goal. And as a woman, it can seem very intimidating to start your own business and have to deal with money and everything that goes into it. You have to be fearless, believe in yourself…writing a business plan is a very important part of the process. Write down all of the things you’re going to do. You need to learn how to deal with numbers. You cannot be afraid of dealing with money or numbers, or you need a really good partner that you can trust.

April: Just go for it. You can’t let anything stop you. That shouldn’t sound scary. I believe that everybody is capable of doing something, it’s just putting your mind to it and going for it. That’s really the hard part…going for it. Dose is an incubator, it’s an engine. It has inspired people people to start their own business, which is a huge compliment to me, and it’s a wonderful, wonderful thing because I believe that small business is very important, and following your purpose is the most important thing. Does that answer your question?

A&F: Yes, it does.

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April: One of the reasons that I love Nike is because of their line Just Do It. I was listening to a panel the other day, and Tyler Shields is a very famous photographer, and he was saying “I think of something, and I just do it.” That’s the difference between an entrepreneur and everybody else. I think everyone has the ability to do something great.

A&F: It’s all about going for it. Do you think your family owning their own business was a huge influence in your decision to own yours?

April: Yes. Most of the entrepreneurs I know, many times it’s in their family as well. But it doesn’t have to be. There’s a lot that you can do with a small business. I have hardly successful in terms of what I could be doing. I could have Doses in other cities, a whole different website…but it’s a process and you have to start somewhere.

A&F: There’s only so much you can do at what time. What’s your favorite thing about Dose?

April: One of the best things about Dose is seeing businesses kill it. Atelier Azza, Azeeza Kahn, had her first retail launch at Dose, and now she has a store on Michigan Avenue. A lot of Dosers have grown out of Dose because they have so many customers now that they don’t really need to do Dose. So the fact that we are an engine promoting small businesses and seeing results, and seeing them grow, is definitely the best thing about Dose.

A&F: So where will we see Dose heading in the future?

April: To be determined! I don’t really know. A lot of things are brewing, but one of the pieces of advice that I always stick to is “don’t promise what you can’t deliver.” I am always working on stuff behind the scenes, but I won’t announce anything until it’s actually going to happen.

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A&F: What do you think girls can start doing while they’re in college to get on a good business path?

April: Well, I think writing down all of your ideas, keeping a journal, of all the things you want to do, things that can change the world. When I was 20, I asked myself “what can I give to the world that will be fulfilling?” And that was Hope closet. I know people loved having me help style them, and organize their closets. So that was my first business and I wrote it down. Start developing skills like accounting, understanding the internet. Not only being able to code, but understanding how social media works. Always being curious and educating yourself. Capturing thoughts on paper and building a team. Interning in something related to your desired field is an important field. All of my interns and assistants are now all quite successful in their careers. I think shadowing me and how I operated was helpful to them. Understanding how the guts of a business work from IT to HR to sales, is key. If you’re going to be an entrepreneur, you need to know how to sell, you nee to know how to approach people and be confident in what you are doing. You need to develop a voice.

A&F: You mentioned that all of your interns and assistants are quite successful now. What do you look for in an intern or an assistant?

April: I look for somebody who is motivated and does things before I ask them to do something. You cannot sit somewhere and expect something to happen, you have to make something happen. So I can’t have anyone on my team that doesn’t think and doesn’t do anything. I don’t have time to babysit someone, or teach you how to do something. I would rather someone does something and does it really poorly but gave it their all, and then I can give them feedback and they can then grow from that experience.

Frankie: Everything you said just made so much sense. What inspires you the most? It’s a lot of work, so what keeps you going?

April: Happy Dosers. Truly. People that write to me and say “we are going to take over Chicago.” One of the Dosers wrote to me and said that last week. Hearing peoples success really inspires me. I think a lot of people feel threatened by others success, and I think that’s totally the wrong way to go about it. Could you imagine if everyone on the planet was successful and happily doing what they love? Life would be so much better for everybody! People have this sense of jealousy, and there is no point in being jealous. If you want something, jealousy isn’t going to get you anywhere. You just have to pick a specific goal and go for it!

A&F: That’s something we were just talking about. Women could be each others greatest advocates, and greatest supporters, but females tear each other down instead.

April: Women can be really bad to each other.

Alex: How did you deal with that? I’m not always the best at figuring out how to respond and it is so emotionally draining.

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April: It’s very, very difficult. Women not helping each other is a very hard thing. Working at cross purposes and behind each others back is something that women do a lot more so than men, and it’s so insidious. It’s just like…”it’s okay…there’s enough to go around for everyone.” I want everyone to grow and be successful.

A&F: You aren’t just out for yourself.

April: No. And Dose could be about me. I could write press releases and include myself in them, but I’ve never done that. This isn’t about me. It’s about small businesses. It’s just totally not what I’m about. I’m really shy and I like being behind the scenes. Sophia Bush is on a show here in Chicago and she came to Dose two weeks ago. Because of her mention, Dose got so many followers, and she really got the Dose spirit. Anybody that feels that way about Dose though, I really appreciate. You don’t need to buy everything disposable and made of scary ingredients. There is nothing made in a factory with child labor. You can eliminate that stuff from your life, it’s just about making choices.

A&F: Totally agree with you. We all need to support each other.

April: There was a quote the other day that was so good…it was to the sense of “if you’re not focused on your goal, you’re not going to accomplish anything.” You truly have to have a focal point.

After wandering around Dose Market for an hour after the interview, we definitely came to understand why people love Dose so much. Good vendors and good vibes made the whole experience very pleasant, and we will be heading back to get dosed again soon.