Marie Chevrier is the Founder and CEO of Sampler, the leading platform helping brands like L’Oréal and Nestlé deliver samples online and gather insights to build one-to-one relationships with their customers. After starting her career in advertising at J. Walter Thompson and later working at a venture capital firm in New York City, Marie founded Sampler with a mission to transform the way consumer packaged goods companies distributed product samples. Today, one in three of the top 100 CPGs work with Sampler reaching over 50 million consumers globally in 24 different countries. Marie is also a dedicated advisor to Technology and CPG startups including ScoutCanning, member of the RetailTomorrow advisory board, and Co-Founder of RetailTO - a community dedicated to growing and strengthening Toronto’s Retail ecosystem.
Marie Chevrier shares her experiences with childhood phobia and how it set her philosophy for self-growth as an entrepreneur. She also talks about what it is like to be married to another founder and how forgiveness can help with our mental health.
Thanks for just making the time. I was really excited to capture your story. When I was at this women founders’ event [by a mutual friend Caterina], your name was mentioned a lot. A lot of women say that you really support them.
That's really cool. I'm originally from Montreal, just outside of Montreal. I grew up in a small town. I have a sister and a very, very big family. My grandmother and my grandfather actually owned a taxi business and a convenience store while I was growing up.
My entire family is just so incredibly hardworking. Even from a young age, I was 10 and a half when I had my first job. I was babysitting for literally half the neighborhood, running my little babysitting business, driving referrals to my friends, and just figuring it all out.
I first came face-to-face with mental health when I was young, when I had an incredible, terrible phobia of being alone, sleeping alone, anything alone in general. I relied a lot on my parents like crazy. The funny thing about that first entrepreneurial story [babysitting business] is that my mom needed to come babysit with me because I was too scared. But at the same time, I still was running the show and I wanted to have that entrepreneurial drive.
I've been really lucky to have found myself in an awesome position to push my boundaries because a lot of times, I had boundaries and I just overcame them. A big tipping point for me was at age 18, when I decided that I was going to move to Ottawa and go away for school. To move into res with new people and figure out this stuff on my own was a really big step.
Ever since then, I've just taken these incremental steps to figuring out how I can push my own boundaries. I’m constantly surprising myself in those things. That's been really exciting. I can say now, I've traveled the world and I stay in hotels all alone like a big girl. I'm not afraid of those things anymore.
But that in itself, when we talk about mental health, it can be these little things that follow you for so long. That impair you from doing something that really you should be doing.
After college, I ended up in marketing. I started as a brand ambassador handing out free product samples. And naturally, I quickly understood the problem that giving out free product samples just at random made very little sense. You're just giving them to anyone that walks by, and you're not truly understanding who they are, how they will react to your product, and so on. That particular mission of solving product sampling really stuck with me. But it will have taken another five years before I actually went on and solved that.
I worked in agency. And then, I worked for a venture capital firm in New York called Rocket Internet. And there, I learned a ton. I learned about what to do and what not to do in starting a business. I was at a time in my life where I was thinking, "Could I actually get into entrepreneurship? Should I go do an MBA?"
I had just gotten accepted into an MBA in London. I could either go and do my MBA or I could throw myself into the fire, start working for this awesome company, and just figure it out along the way. And I decided to throw myself into the fire. That was quite rewarding.
It's also where I met my husband or at the time, my boyfriend Evin, who would inspire me to push to the next level. I worked at Rocket Internet for two years. Then, I ended up founding a startup within Rocket Internet called DropGifts. Unfortunately, that startup failed. Our biggest competitor got acquired by Facebook, so we closed the business.
I was left with this decision of, "Okay. What do I do?"
I had this underlying crazy dream to launch what would later become Sampler. I was thinking, “You know what? Although I'm leaving a lot behind and I really did love being in New York, I'm just going to move to Mississauga and live on my friend's couch.” It wasn't actually a couch. It was a wonderful bed. She lent me an extra room and didn't charge me rent while I figured out my business.
That was incredibly challenging but important time in my life. I had really no income because I was starting a business. My boyfriend at the time also was running his own startup, so he also had no income. I quickly turned into a solo entrepreneur in a long-distance relationship.
Anyways, Evin and I ended up doing four years of long-distance relationship. And still today, we've been married two years and so seven years total together. For the last few years, we've been doing back-and-forth between New York and Toronto, not really calling either home.
I'll speak for myself. There's quite a bit of pressures that come socially and from your family around, "Okay. All your friends have kids. All your friends have three kids now. When are you next? When are you doing it?" I mean, those are some of the personal struggles that Evin and I have had to deal with.
But ultimately, I wouldn't change anything.
Thank you for your honesty. I know in my circles, the topic of relationships and children come up a lot. Especially for my friends who are serial entrepreneurs and later in life.
Yeah, I've been thinking about it because of these social pressures. People are making me realize, "Holy crap, maybe I don't have that much time." A lot of my friends have had trouble conceiving. Is my time running out? You just start freaking out about these little things.
For us, it's just not a realistic thing, right? It's just there's no way I could take a baby on my carry-on and sleep on the plane last night for three hours and be in today, right? And that reality might change. I'm at peace with that.
Where I have always struggled is the feeling not good enough. The moment you feel really good in something. For example, our company could be doing so incredibly well. You get home and you realize, "Crap, I've missed my mom's birthday. Or I haven't been there for my grandma as much as I wanted."
For example, this weekend we're at a wedding. And it's 10:30 and it's my friend's wedding. I'm so excited for my friend. My husband is so excited because it's his friend from college. It's 10:30 and I'm exhausted, completely exhausted. I know I'm no fun. I'm trying so hard to not fall asleep at the table. It can take an emotional toll sometimes because you just don’t feel good enough.
And it's impossible to be good at all of those things at the same time, right? Sometimes, something’s gotta give. It's about not putting those pressures on yourself. In my case, I have the most supporting husband in the world.
I know this problem comes up for a lot of founders. Figuring out how do actually maintain our relationship with our partner, while being able to show up in our business. I would love to ask, what has that journey been like for you? What have you noticed or learned from that?
I would definitely not get an A+ in any of the hints or tips that I'm going to share. I can share some tips. But the biggest tip is you're not going to be able to do that 100% of the time. You're both going to need to be forgiving and understanding of each other's situations.
People say, "Is it worse or better that you're both entrepreneurs?" It's both. A lot of times it's great because he understands or I'll understand. For example, this weekend on our vacation, he had to work for four hours, so I went to yoga and I figured out my own activities. I was really understanding about that.
A really simple thing that we do is we cook together. First of all, it's super unhealthy to eat out every day. I eat out every lunch. We make food when we're home and there is a joy in just making the food together. Even if he calls me and for 15 minutes during the day, we plan what we're eating for dinner. We have that touch point during the day.
We also like to go on each other's business trips.
Obviously very good communication is important. Making sure that if something's bothering you, you're talking about it and not holding it in. For my husband and I, we always come into every conversation with being clear that our objective is to forgive each other, right?
In a conflict, if you go in and you're like, "I'm mad. I'm mad. I'm mad." It can almost feel like there's no resolution and it can be really bad. But with him, every time I go into an argument, I know that we just need to talk it out and we'll move on. That sense of security and having a conversation feels less combative.
Obviously, you probably have experience on how to resolve a conflict. Is that a thing?
Yeah, for sure. My partner and I, we're big fans of nonviolent communication. He's great. He entertains me because when I'm coming from coaching training or I'm learning some modality, he'll tell me, "Oh, tell me about this book. Tell me what you’ve learned."
You're the first person I've met who's framed the idea of coming into a conversation with the intention to forgive. In business and relationship, that's rare.
It's my first time saying it out loud as well. It's just something that I've always felt in our conversations.
We do these screaming moments too. I've slammed doors. I've definitely sat in balls crying in my shower about an argument. But deep down, I don't think it hurts as much because we come from a place of... I don't know, maybe that's just what a marriage is.
There's just this thing I had never felt in any other relationship, where I have the intention that he's my person. He feels the same way. We'll figure it out.
I love that. In our Type A industry, we can be incredibly harsh and unforgiving. To ourselves, to others.
For sure. I was talking about forgiving others. But I have been working a lot on my self-forgiveness. I realize that I was seeing myself through the lens of someone else. I'm imagining what this person is thinking of me, or I'm reading their body language, and I'm thinking, "Oh, she must think I'm silly. She must think my idea is terrible. She must think that."
I had to just stop. I've had to stop. You don't know what they are feeling. Even if they are feeling a certain way, you have no control over that and that does not define you. That was a really powerful learning.
As I was preparing for our Series A, I had this pressure on this number. It was like, "We need to raise $7 million. We need to raise $7 million dollars because every startup I know at this stage raises $7 million." It was this unnecessary $7 million that was in my brain. And I was spending time in front of spreadsheets being like, "Where can I spend $7 million?"
Only to realize after several meetings with mentors and my board that we really only need $3 million. That's just a business example. But those are unnecessary pressures that just turn into bad decisions if we just don't think about why we put that pressure on ourselves.
Especially when it comes to raising money, we often aim for more and more. But we sometimes don't ask…
How much do I really need?
Which is a very basic question, right? Because no one needs $3 million, raises $7 million, and is expected to achieve the exact same thing, right? That's not true. I could've raised more, but the pressure would've just been that much more. And ultimately, I didn't need that much.
There’s a lot of unnecessary pressures that we put on ourselves. Family, the industry. My family that loves me so much and just can't wait to see me become a mother, right? As a mother, you'd want to see your daughter or your son become a parent. That's normal.
I've also had a man ask "But don't you want to sell this company and go have babies?" In a board room setting. That was really insulting because my business is my family's largest asset. I would never compromise that.
What I find interesting is that it requires having personal power to stay true to yourself. It is so easy to sway to other people’s requests, especially when we’re in scarcity mode or rock bottom. A lot of people do things that are not a reflection of who they are or what they want.
I mean, I've never actually seen it put that way. It's actually really beautiful how you put it that way. I want to use it as a tool because I don't think I ever stop and say, "What does Marie want?" I don't think I stop and say that a lot. Other than with a broad stroke saying, "I want to be the company that revolutionizes product sampling."
And that's true. I put my energy 90% of my week into that. But as far as more in the weeds of that, what hours does Marie want to work, right? How does Marie want to spend her weekends? I don't know that I've done that in a while.
It's just that we've been at it for five years. I have 23 employees. We're going to 30. I have so much support, right? I'm at a really nice place. When you get to this place, you can actually build your team around you.
It's important to ask yourself, "What do you want and what is the pressure that you feel you need?" Because even right now, it’s really hard to stop thinking, right? I'm always thinking about expansion areas. Internationalization is a big one, which is crazy because Sampler is in 18 countries. And I just can't stop thinking about it.
Maybe I should stop more often and do that. Ask myself what I want. I'm going to take your tip.
Thank you for doing this interview, by the way. It speaks a lot to your character that other women, other founders say, "Hey, I think Marie is authentic. She's somebody that I can go to when I need help.”
Yeah, that's the biggest thing. Just be real. This interview wasn’t rehearsed. These are not things that I've thought a lot about and that's perfect. That's how we need to have all of our conversations, especially when we're sitting across the table from somebody who's in the same boat.
Sometimes I'm sitting with women and men that are afraid to share and tell me how their day actually went. And that's sad, right? The best thing I can do is be genuine and try and be real. I loved your answer earlier [before the recording]. I'm like, "How are you doing?" You're like, "Up and down," right?
You're being real. We all need to be more real because next time I have an up-and-down day, I'm going to think about you. I'm going to be like, "She was brave enough to say it." To just put it out there sometimes, it helps, right?
Yeah. I hope it is an invitation for everyone else to be real because when each of us do that, others can do the same.
Sometimes all this person needs is someone to relate. To be honest, I don't know that I'm doing much more with those women. I'm making introductions as much as I can. For the most part, I'm just saying, "I know how you feel. But I don't have all the answers." I'm just relating.
Thank you for your support.
Thank you. Of course!