Humble Beginnings - Lilli chats to Collective Hub about co-founding TBE
Lilli Boisselet is the creative half of a duo who founded The Boundless Edit, a profit-for-purpose production company empowering women in business in developing communities. Beginning her career at a coveted Interior Design firm in Sydney, she spread her wings into photography after a chance meeting with a National Geographic photographer in Madagascar. Since then, she has championed women in creative business in developing communities, working from Uganda to Nepal to tell their stories and encourage creativity in children.
We chatted to Lilli for our 50th Issue to learn more about the highs and lows of starting her own business and what’s next for The Boundless Edit and the women they support.
Have you always been interested in starting your own business?
I remember being six and making custom wallpaper for my friends’ doll houses around the neighbourhood and trading them for musk sticks, so that drive for business has always been there. I worked for several incredible business women and men for my first few years out of university, but eventually I wanted to control over where I was headed and the opportunities I pursued, so, naively, I started my own business and I’ve been on a huge learning curve ever since! TBE is actually still just a Passion Project of mine. I study and work full time in other ventures, so we spend as much time as possible on our projects, but it's unfortunately it never seems like there's enough hours in the day!
How did the idea for The Boundless Edit come about?
The idea actually started when I was travelling in India years ago with my Mum. I took a photo of a group of children in a remote village and when I showed them, I had to tell each of them where they were in the picture as they’d never had a photo taken before and had no mirrors, they didn’t know what they looked like. It brewed with me for a few years, until the opportunity to begin our first project in Madagascar came up, and I wanted, on one hand, to offer people the ability to have precious memories of their lives in the way we take for granted. And on the other, to share the stories of these pioneering, creative business women at the front line of changing their traditionally patriarchal communities.
So, The Boundless Edit started as a charity, but it’s evolved to become something different. I’ve learnt the best assistance is a two-way street; it’s a value exchange. I’ve learnt some of my most valuable life lessons from some of the people living in the most extreme poverty on our planet. I would have previously said ‘they have nothing’, but in fact they are some of the richest human beings I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. So our mission now is to be a profit for purpose production house, a connection between parts of the world where riches are differently dispersed.
Tell us about your workspace, what inspires you and what do you like to surround yourself with?
My workspace is anywhere with my laptop and my camera. It ranges from a tent in the bush in the middle of Madagascar to a hotel in Paris, a slum in Nepal to a cafe in London, a fashion magazine office in Sydney to a tiny school in Micronesia. I am inspired by change, challenging myself somewhere unfamiliar sets my creative juices on fire.
What processes or strategies have you found invaluable to the success in your business?
This might surprise people given my life is a little chaotic - but establishing routine and being militant about sticking to it. I have a checklist of seven things that I must do every single day, no exceptions. This bit of stability keeps me grounded, no matter where I am or what I’m working on.
Who has been your biggest influence in business?
My biggest influence in business has been my niece. I see what we’re fighting for in her eyes, I want every young girl in the world to have the same opportunities as her, where her gender will not define her future. I actively try to surround myself with ambitious people as I believe the anecdote that you’re the summation of the 5 people you surround yourself with most. There’s so many great networking opportunities for women in business now, I prioritise being proactive in putting myself amongst it.
What was some of the best advice you received early on in business?
Your success will ride on whether you learn the skills to hold yourself accountable for what your business achieves before anyone else does.
What has been the biggest learning curve since starting your charity?
To be frank, the biggest lesson I’ve learnt is humility. I thought when we started that I would ride in on a white horse and save everyone and base my self-worth on being this altruistic person. I’ve learnt it’s not about me, TBE is a conduit for telling the stories of amazing creative women around the world.
The adventures, the experiences, the people I’ve had the honour of meeting and hearing their stories and wisdom because of the work we do has enriched my life far more than anything we have done for anyone else. These incredible women have helped me more than I could ever help them and I’m privileged they allow us into their lives.
How do you ride the highs and lows of entrepreneurship? What helps you stick it out when things get tough?
My partner always says, ‘Good or bad, keep an even keel.’ I have moments where I’m sitting on an airport floor by myself with a 12 hour delay, crying and feeling overwhelmed, with $6 in my bank account, but you always show up tomorrow. To be frank, you have to have the balls to make tough decisions and become comfortable in the uncomfortable, to write down the steps you need to take to solve the issue and tackle them one by one without being overwhelmed into inaction. And a great cup of coffee and a big piece of carrot cake with lots of icing. There’s not much that can’t be fixed after that!
How do you balance between work/home life or me time?
I work pretty much all the time, between all the ventures I have my hands in, and I don’t say that to try to and seem busy and important, it’s just what I like to spend my time doing. I feel enriched by what I do… 80% of the time! I love spending time with the people I get to work with and I love getting to work towards these visions everyday. I read a book last year that talks about when you find harmony between who you want to be and the work you do, your work and life are your contribution to the world rather than competing forces, and I hope I’m edging closer to that. I’m also obsessed with the ocean, so I’ll always be in water if I’m looking for me time, I call it my vitamin sea.
Your biggest career highlight so far?
My career highlight is seeing a young girl we sponsored in Nepal graduating her Primary School last year. It’s millions of those small moments accumulated, all around the world, everyday, that are the tidal wave of change for womens rights.
How has your life changed since launching your business?
It’s a mix between really high highs and really low lows. Before TBE launched, my life was more comfortable and safe. But to be honest, there wasn’t the fulfilment of being part of creating something with a vision that’s so much bigger than myself and my immediate small world. I prefer the sleepless nights riddled with stress and jet leg over that comfortable life any day. I’m so grateful to have met my partner around the same time TBE started to take off, and he encourages me to pursue our big goals together, wherever in the world they take me.
What’s next? What’s in the pipeline?
We’re launching our latest venture, which is opening up our projects to invite like-minded women to come along and experience TBE firsthand. We’re heading to Morocco in September with our friends at Fair Fabrics to work with their local artisans and I’m counting the sleeps I’m so excited!
Finish these sentences…
When I wake up in the morning the first thing I do is… Smile at my partner next to me if we’re in the same country or say good morning to him on WhatsApp.
Three things I can’t live without are… Phone calls with my Mum, ocean swims with my Dad and seeing my brother and sister-in-law raise my niece into a formidable four-year-old woman!
The best book I’ve ever read is… ‘Shantaram’ by Gregory David Roberts. But I also love ‘Banker to the Poor’ by the founder of micro-loan powerhouse Grameen Bank, Muhammad Yunus, and ‘The War on Women’ by journalist Sue Lloyd-Roberts, every word Maya Angelou and Paulo Coelho have ever written, ‘Birds Without Wings’ by Louis de Bernières and ‘The Artisan Soul’ by Erwin Raphael McManus. I just finished ‘Utopia for Realists’ by Rutger Bregman which was interesting. I’m obsessed with books and I’m always reading four of five at the same time, as well as listening to more on Audible - so it’s impossible to say just one!
My favourite quote of all time is… “When you grow up, you tend to be told that the world is the way it is and your life is just to live inside the world, try not to bash the walls too much… That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: Everything around you was made up by people who are no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it, the world is malleable… Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.” - Steve Jobs, co-founder, Apple.
The most important thing to remember in business is… Time doesn’t change things, people change things.