Women entrepreneurs are looking forward to a strong 2020, according to the 2019 Women Business Owner Spotlight, recently released by Bank of America. In honor of Women’s History Month, which celebrates “women’s contributions to America and the world,” we asked several women business owners to share their stories and best tips.
Meet the Entrepreneurs
Lauren Bercier and Laken Swan—founders, Something Borrowed Blooms, a Rent & Return Floral Company specializing in premium silk flowers. “We create on-trend wedding flower collections and rent them to couples saving them up to 70%!” Started 2015.
Gini Dietrich—Founder, Spin Sucks, a professional development business for communicators. “We provide online and in-person training to a PR professional who is looking to evolve their career and learn new skills. Started 2015. I started a PR firm in 2005 and Spin Sucks was our blog, which launched in 2006. By 2015, we discovered we'd built a big enough brand that we could roll Spin Sucks into its own P&L with its own team.”
Mika Leah—CEO, Goomi Group. Goomi Group provides onsite fitness and wellness programs, classes and sessions to companies and organizations nationwide with customized programs that fit any budget. Started 2015.
Colleen Puffpaff—Owner, Pigtails & Crewcuts, a hair salon catering to children. “We have fun theme chairs, movies playing, fun stylists and toys from wall to wall. While our main focus is haircuts, we do everything from birthday parties to ear piercing as well!” Started 2019.
Olga Vidisheva—Founder & CEO, Shoptiques.com. Shoptiques provides small businesses with the software and tools to streamline operations and increase sales. In addition, partner stores are featured in front of millions of customers through the Shoptiques.com marketplace. Started 2012.
What motivated you to start a business?
Bercier and Swan: We were both young mothers looking for an opportunity to start a business that would allow us to be in control of our future. We were motivated by the rental trends being adopted by millennials, especially Rent the Runway. We saw a gap in the traditional wedding market where couples were looking for new alternatives and we decided floral was the perfect fit! We currently fulfill over 500 wedding orders on a monthly basis. When we started, our goal was to ship 12 weddings per month.
Dietrich: I hate this question because it makes it sound like I’m impossible. And maybe I am. But the truth of the matter is, I have a massive problem with authority, especially with authority who doesn’t know what they’re talking about. When I left my job to start my own agency, it was because I was sick and tired of my advertising colleagues dismissing the work I did and treating me like a tactic instead of a strategic partner.
Leah: Three weeks after my 33rd birthday I was wheeled into emergency heart surgery. Five heart stents and four procedures later, I realized my life was short and I wanted to make a difference in the world. Goomi Group was started to make wellness simple in order to help others get healthy and happy, which I believe go hand in hand.
Puffpaff: I am the mom of two young boys. When they were babies, I worked part-time for my father, allowing me the flexibility to be around for my children. As my boys transitioned into full-time school, I wanted more of a career but didn’t want to sacrifice the flexibility. Owning a business allows me to [be there for] my kids while building a business.
Vidisheva: Walking down the streets of Paris, you can’t help but be mesmerized by the fashion, architecture, culture—and the boutiques! Years ago while traveling for work, I came across a gem of a store in the Marais district with the friendliest, most stylish owner. The owner pointed out a pair of shoes and I knew I couldn’t leave empty-handed.
I still dream about visiting that tiny Parisian store again, but I’ve been lucky enough to discover so many other boutiques. Each one is special in its own way, but they all have something in common—beautiful hard-to-find pieces and a knowledgeable owner with a distinct style perspective. This is why Shoptiques was founded. We grant women access to the most stylish boutiques and replicate that same intimate in-store experience. Shoptiques is an online destination to browse, discover, and buy the best boutique merchandise in the world.
What’s the most important advice you got when you started your business?
Bercier & Swan: Don’t give up. Your greatest accomplishments are just past the most trying times. For both of us, giving up has never been an option. Although we have a lot of accomplishments to be proud of, it’s important to note there was equal or more hard work and grit.
Dietrich: Oh, man. It was so long ago...and there has been so much advice. I remember when I was starting out, I would read the typical entrepreneurship magazines and they freaked me out. So much to think about—and so many failures! So I stopped reading them and just started doing my job, as I’d been taught to do. Of course, that came with its own set of challenges. I didn’t know, for instance, that I had to actually set up a business with the state and with a bank. I didn’t know what P&L stood for. I had a lot to learn.
Leah: Since we have no overhead costs because we bring everything on-site to companies, I was advised to, “Just start and see if it will work; what have you got to lose?”
Puffpaff: Take it one day at a time! I didn’t have a clue what this meant until we actually opened. The first year of business ownership is a rollercoaster. One day is great—you feel like you’ve got this down and the next day all your stylists and receptionist call out and you’re scrambling to find someone to come in so you can open your doors. Trying to always see the forest through the trees is really important!
Vidisheva: If you don’t ask, the answer is always no. We are all guilty of sometimes talking ourselves out of pursuing an idea or asking for help. The best advice I got was, “Go for it, because if you don’t, you are guaranteed a no.”
What was your biggest challenge?
Bercier & Swan: Changing consumers’ mindset in a very traditional market was a big undertaking, but through e-commerce and digital advertising we’ve been able to connect with today’s brides who are more accepting of change and open to eco-friendly alternatives. Utilizing real bride reviews has been one of our most powerful sales tools in breaking the traditional mold.
Dietrich: Sales. Not because we don’t have them, but because I cannot figure out how to train someone to sell like I do. And I don’t love it, so I’d really, really like to figure that out. I hired a crackerjack professional late last year who shows incredible promise so we may very well be on our way.
Leah: There were times it felt as if the company was growing faster than we could keep up. However, we solved this by revising our workflow process to make sure everyone on the team had their own swim lane and no one drowned.
Puffpaff: There are so many challenges opening a business. We had difficulties securing an SBA loan. We had a faulty sprinkler system go off in our salon four months after opening, flooding our entire salon, causing thousands of dollars in damages and forcing us to close for two weeks.
The most challenging thing for me is opening and running a business while dealing with a lifelong struggle with anxiety and depression. As I said before, it’s important to always try to see the forest through the trees and that can be hard when you add those to the mix. Solving this challenge goes back to taking things one day at a time and having a strong support system. My husband is the crux of my support system.
Vidisheva: When you start a business, the challenges are never-ending and ever-changing. You learn to accept them as part of the journey. My biggest challenge was managing my busy professional life when my grandmother was ill. It was challenging emotionally and physically, but I am grateful I got to spend time with her before her passing. That wouldn't have been possible without my amazing team, who went above and beyond to make it doable for me.
Did you/do you have a mentor? Other female entrepreneurs you admire?
Bercier: My old boss, Gina Babineaux who has started several successful businesses.
Admire: Sarah Blakely of Spanx.
Dietrich: I’ve had a ton of mentors throughout the years. I had a boss at the agency where I worked who was incredible. Then, as I started my business, I hired coaches and joined Vistage. Both of those things were incredibly helpful. Today, I study more on my own— everything from marketing and customer experience to business growth and sustainability.
Admire: Michelle Obama, Brené Brown, and Susan Cain are the ones you’ve heard of. In my industry, there is Ann Handley, Michele Linn, Cathy McPhilips, Mary Getz, and several of our women entrepreneur clients. They inspire me daily.
Leah: Oprah once said that she surrounded herself with people smarter than her, and I can say that I do that every day. Everyone has something to teach you, you just have to listen. Admire: Arianna Huffington, Oprah Winfrey, Rachel Hollis, Sara Blakely, Brené Brown, Vera Wang, Taylor Swift, J.K. Rowling, Sheryl Sandberg and Barbara Corcoran—to name just a few!
Puffpaff: My Aunt has always been a huge influence in my life. As a young adult, she found herself in a male-dominated field where she had to fight to make a name for herself, even though she was more qualified than most of the men she worked with or worked for. Her drive to work through tough situations and keep going even has helped push me when things are hard.
Admire: I’m a part of a lot of mom blogs full of female entrepreneurs and I admire them all. Being a mother is challenging. Being a partner is challenging. Being a businesswoman is challenging. Trying to mix and find the balance in all of these is nearly impossible and yet I see women doing it successfully and to their fullest every day.
Swan: Kristi Brocoto, founder of The Basketry. Kristi was my first boss and the biggest influencer in my decision to pursue a degree in marketing and later take the entrepreneurial journey. I was inspired by her Kristi’s passion, commitment and drive to grow her specialty gift basket service and her generosity to the community she operates in.
Vidisheva: Pauline Brown is a friend and mentor. We first met professionally when I interviewed at The Carlyle Group where she was a partner. Over the years, Pauline has become a close friend. I made a leap to pursue Shoptiques at her house, and her support, advice and encouragement has helped me tremendously. Today, Pauline sits on the board of Shoptiques and guides and advises me and our team.
Admire: Jessica Livingston, Anne Wojcicki, Reshma Saujani, Sara Blakely.
What keeps you going?
Bercier & Swan: Songs: Do the Next Right Thing from Frozen 2 and This Girl is on Fire by Alicia Keys. Podcast: How I Built This.
Dietrich: I’m a cyclist and, and while I’ve taken a sabbatical from racing while I raise a kid, I cannot focus without a good ride every day. The other day was a rest day but I was in such a bad mood, I needed to do something. So I went to SoulCycle where the instructor was dressed in an Elton John, sparkly Dodgers jumpsuit. That made me much happier and I was able to lead my team without being a grouch.
Leah: My favorite quote I tell myself almost daily is, “You only fail if you stop trying.” It’s also important to remember: If you don't go after what you want, you’ll never have it. If you don’t ask, the answer is always no. If you don’t step forward, then you are always in the same place. You only fail if you stop trying.
Puffpaff: I had a tutor in middle school who always told me to “go the extra mile.” I apply this every day with my customers and my employees. Most people think haircuts are just haircuts. But when a parent comes in with a child with Sensory Processing Disorder, Autism or a general fear of strangers cutting their hair, the haircut becomes much more. I’ve watched my stylists lay on the floor playing with kids for an hour before attempting to cut a kids hair.
I push my stylists to have that mentality with our customers, but I also have that mentality with them. Most of my stylists are young and just starting out in the “real world.” We go the extra mile for each other.
Vidisheva: Our team and our partners. Each time I step into the office, I am grateful to work with such a passionate and driven team who wants to help small businesses around the world succeed and who raise the bar of excellence every day! I am challenged by them, proud to work with them and excited to create something so impactful together.
Also, our partners. Small businesses have so much passion for what they do. We feel so grateful to work with them and help them grow and succeed in today’s world. Every time a boutique tells me they didn’t shut down because of our tools or grew 30% more than they expected because of our software, it just makes all the hard work worth it!
Writer’s Note: I have met many women entrepreneurs in my career who have inspired me. Here are some motivating quotes from some of them:
- Sara Blakley, founder, Spanx: “The smartest thing I ever did was to hire my weakness.”
- JJ Ramberg, Founder & Managing Director, GoodShop, Cofounder, Goodpods: “A lot of us start out nimble. You need to stay that way. You want to have that in your culture. Check to see why things are going wrong and fix them. Understand what’s going on in your business so you know if there’s a drop somewhere.”
- Anita Roddick, founder, The Body Shop “If you think you’re too small to have an impact, try going to bed with a mosquito.” And, “If you do things well, do them better. Be daring, be first, be different, be just.”
- Muriel Siebert, founder, Siebert Financial Corp, the first woman to own a seat on NY Stock Exchange: “When a door is hard to open, and if nothing else works, sometimes you just have to rear back and kick it open.” And, “Do your homework all of your life.”
- Martha Stewart, founder, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia: “When you’re through changing, you’re through.” And, “Without an open mind, you can never be a great success.”
- Lillian Vernon, founder, Lillian Vernon Corp.: “Don’t spend more money than you’ve got. Don’t spend money before you’ve got it.”
- Oprah Winfrey, founder Harpo Productions, OWN, Oprah.com: “You can have it all. Just not all at once.” And, “The thing you fear most has no power. Your fear of it is what has the power. Facing the truth really will set you free.”
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