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Inspiring Stories of Our Owners

3 AAPI Founders on Building Their Delicious Food Brands

Hello Alice supports over 600,000 small business owners, nearly 7% of which identify as Asian American or Pacific Islander (AAPI). According to our data, AAPI owners are the most heavily concentrated community operating in Food and Beverage among our owner base — 23% own businesses in this industry. To celebrate, we’re highlighting some of our favorite, family-owned and -inspired AAPI small businesses that deliver you delicious drinks and snacks.  Sajani Amarasiri, Owner of Kola Goodies Kola Goodies sells teas and superfoods with ingredients directly sourced from South Asian farmer collectives. What were you doing before you started your small business? I came to the U.S. at the age of 19 for university. After graduating, I began my career working at Microsoft and Amazon, specializing in operations and tech supply chains, before I dove into my passion for connecting my Sri Lankan roots to modern life. Even during my corporate stint, I had many small side hustles. I left corporate and founded the first community-focused coworking space in Sri Lanka, called Colombo Cooperative, before connecting my eastern roots with my entrepreneurial aspirations to launch Kola Goodies, hoping to bring foods and herbs that I grew up eating to the wellness-minded consumers of the U.S. How would you describe your small business and your role in it? Is there anything special you’d like to share about it? Kola Goodies is the first DTC Sri-Lankan beverage company offering superfood lattes and milk tea inspired by my heritage, all made with ingredients sourced directly from farmers in South Asia. Within my company, I’m the CEO/Founder and as such take on many different roles — from marketing to operations to supply chain management (it’s always about the supply chain!) and everything in between. In our first full year of business, we have gone back to our roots to create a supply chain from scratch, created two first-to-market products (Kola Goodies Sri Lankan Milk tea and our Super Green Latte), and we have largely focused on sharing our products direct-to-consumers. But we’ve started to partner with experiential brands, like Boba Guys, to offer our Sri Lankan-sourced products to the masses.  Are there any challenges or unique opportunities you’d like to describe that come with being an entrepreneur? There are so many challenges and unique opportunities that come along with being a founder — in my case, the first great challenge was establishing a company in a place where I had little network, family, and support. However, this also ended up being one of our great opportunities — it’s all about taking your “weaknesses” and pivoting them into strengths. In this case, I realized, as an immigrant, I had unique insight into consumers in the U.S. and could leverage my community, use deep insights into my culture, and create products that would delight customers here while benefiting farmers in Sri Lanka and use my network there to source ethically, tactfully, and with intention.  What inspires you as an entrepreneur and small business owner?  My parents! They came from humble beginnings in Sri Lanka and built up from scratch. My parents dedicated so much to give us more than what they had and that keeps me going everyday.  I’m also inspired by the breadth of women founders, particularly AAPI women founders — many of whom are immigrants or first gen — who have boot-strapped their businesses, bringing tastes of their family’s lives to the public. It’s incredible to be part of such a huge moment, and I’m constantly inspired by the energy and momentum that’s been created. What would your advice be for aspiring entrepreneurs? Where do I start? I feel like I learn something new every day, mainly through making mistakes. The first I would say is a popular quote by Marie Forleo — “Clarity comes from engagement and not thought.” Clarity isn’t intellectual, it’s built through experience, guidance, and trial-and-error. So without waiting for the perfect time to start, just get started. Start while you have a full time job, get the experimental phase for your company done on someone else's dime, and in the future, pay it forward for someone else.  The second is to build your network and support system around you. Being an immigrant founder, this network wasn’t established for me. Over time, it’s become a backbone of how I push my company forward. Being an entrepreneur is not about having everything figured out; it’s about being a master problem solver and creating innovative solutions with limited resources — so apply that framework to all obstacles that come your way. Pooja Bavishi, Founder and CEO of Malai Malai makes decadent ice cream flavors using South Asian flavors and ingredients available to taste at their flagship location in Brooklyn, NY or in pints at select retailers. What were you doing before you started your small business? Before I started my business, I worked in the nonprofit world. I have degrees in public policy and urban planning. But I always knew that I would "eventually" start a dessert business. The "aha moment" for starting Malai came when I made ice creams infused with the Indian spices that were so familiar to me. I’d found a way to finally start that dessert business and tell my story. How would you describe your small business and your role in it? Is there anything special you’d like to share about it?  An artisanal ice cream company, Malai focuses on South Asian spices and ingredients. We create never-before-seen flavors that tell the stories of my upbringing. Although my role has changed considerably from when Malai first started in 2015, I still conceptualize every flavor we develop (along with growing the business!).  Are there any challenges or unique opportunities you’d like to describe that come with being an entrepreneur? Like most entrepreneurs, I’ve dealt with imposter syndrome. For a long time, only I believed I was uniquely solving a problem and my product was the best in a certain market. Dozens of people struck that down. While it was important to listen and get their feedback, it was challenging to not let it get to me. Sometimes, I felt like I didn’t belong or that I wouldn’t succeed. So, in those early days, I made sure to keep my tribe close. I made sure that the people who loved me most were there to give me support and perspective when it all became a little cloudy.  What inspires you as an entrepreneur and small business owner?   First and foremost, my family. My flavor inspiration comes from them. These ice creams are based on my food memories from growing up! But they immeasurably support and believe in me. My parents have been entrepreneurs for my entire life. They've dealt with their own ups and downs while still encouraging me to pursue my dreams. I am also constantly inspired by other businesses. I love seeing new businesses pop up. Seeing founders really going after what they want is powerful.  What would your advice be for aspiring entrepreneurs?   Really learn your craft. You will eventually hire a team that is amazing and will do things better than you, but you should know your industry inside and out. Live and breathe the company, the mission, the competitors, the customers — everything should be about how you can create and be the best. When you are that involved, you will develop confidence in knowing what you can achieve.  Ashley Xie and Hedy Yu, Co-Founders of Rooted Fare LA-based Rooted Fare makes modern Chinese American pantry staples such as their tasty black sesame crunchy butter. What were you doing before you started your small business? As second-generation Chinese Americans, we grew up in two worlds that were sometimes hard to navigate. As we got older and went to college, we realized how little access we had to our culture and started to appreciate our Chinese heritage more — especially through food. How would you describe your small business and your role in it? Is there anything special you’d like to share about it?   We created Rooted Fare to make fun, modern Chinese-American pantry staples that are nostalgic yet novel. We use unique ingredients and flavors from both our childhoods and our lived experiences in America. "Rooted" refers to our roots, or heritage, while "fare" stands for "food" that sustains. What inspires you as an entrepreneur and small business owner?   Building a food brand and community rooted in heritage and togetherness humbles and excites us. We also love we can play and be creative! What would your advice be for aspiring entrepreneurs?   Experiment! Two years ago, Ashley and her aunt made sweet tang yuan for Chinese New Year and she wondered how it’d taste as a spread. She took some of the ground black sesame seeds, lard, and brown sugar. On a whim, she added breadcrumbs. It became our first product: Black Sesame Crunchy Butter. Check out these small businesses, and continue to support the AAPI community year round! In honor of AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islander) Month, join Team Hello Alice and friends at 2:30 p.m. ET on Wednesday, May 25, 2022, for a webinar on finding small business success and celebrating culture. Hear from and connect with inspiring AAPI small business owners who will be offering their top tips and answering your questions live! Register now for this FREE event. For more small business tips and inspiration create a free account on Hello Alice or subscribe to our weekly newsletter.
May 19, 2022 • 6 min read
Inspiring Stories of Our Owners

4 Inspiring Female Entrepreneurs Give Small Business Advice

Meet Kaci, Amber, Angela, and Brandy, four inspiring female entrepreneurs with thriving small businesses who are ready to share their success story.  According to the Small Business Administration, there are 12 million women-owned businesses. However, women-owned firms still only make up 20% of all employer firms. Although the number of women entrepreneurs is less than their male-owned counterparts, women-owned businesses have employed “10.1 million workers and [have] accumulated $1.8 trillion in receipts.” Female Entrepreneurs on Their Challenges, Successes, and Best Advice Here is what four inspiring female entrepreneurs had to say about their journey to becoming a female entrepreneur. Plus, their advice for others hoping to become successful entrepreneurs: 1. Kaci Kai, Chief Executive Officer of Krav Maga ATX First up in our roundup of inspiring female entrepreneurs, Kaci Kai of Krav Maga ATX. She shares about her experiences with unsolicited input in a male dominated industry and what gives her confidence as a female entrepreneur. Kaci's Background My background is in marketing, design, and photography. Before starting my business, I worked for Whole Foods Market as a web designer, developer, and product owner for wholefoodsmarket.com. About Her Small Business Very simply, we teach our members how to defend themselves with reality-based, modern self-defense techniques in a safe, encouraging environment. My job as the CEO is to have the vision to move us forward toward our goals, to navigate challenging situations (hello COVID!), and to keep our business alive and thriving. But I'm also an empathetic ear when my students have a triggering experience on the mats. I'm a community builder, connecting students together who might be good resources for each other and providing a safe place for people to find friends. Challenges as a Female Entrepreneur I've never had so many dudes tell me how to run my business — people who have no experience owning or running a business in the gym industry or even just running a classroom. I think there are probably a lot of assumptions that, because I'm not the loudest person in the room, or the guy in the room, I don't know what I'm doing. But I'm smart, I'm stubborn, and I don't give up; I'm not afraid to try new things for the sake of learning. And I know my target audience: I've learned where my ideal clients hang out. I know enough about marketing to go find them, tell them what we do, and attract the people who are looking for us and what we offer. If I had listened to the dudes who have told me I'm wrong or that I'm going to fail, I probably would have failed. At some point, I realized I'm succeeding here. I'm making good decisions, because I'm making informed decisions. Inspiration as a Female Entrepreneur It's all about the people. I want to create a world in which people don't feel scared to leave their homes. I want people to feel confident walking down the street and to be able to protect their families and friends. What I thrive on are a million tiny successes that happen every day in our classes — students having an "ah ha" moment for something they've been working on, watching them improve their technique, or just having someone come in who had a bad day, get to punch and kick some stuff, and leave feeling better. Advice for Small Business Owners Find a "why" greater than yourself. Something that makes the really, really, really hard days (because there will be many of those) all worth it. For me, it's specific people I'm hoping to serve. Create a network of really smart people you can call on for advice. Do your homework. Find out everything you can about the people you're trying to serve (regardless of whether you're creating a product or service). What do they care about? What keeps them up at night? Find ways to make their lives better with whatever you're creating. Run tiny experiments to find the things that work without risking your whole business and allow you to learn. And probably most important: don't give up. Keep going. Be stubborn. You can do this. 2. Amber Ferrell-Steele, CEO and Founder of Timeless Vodka Next up for inspiring female entrepreneurs, Amber Ferrell-Steele of Timeless Vodka. Here's how other women have inspired her as a female entrepreneur and how to manage the busy schedule of a small business owner. Amber's Background I was working for a Fortune 500 company as an account manager for large fleet commercial truck tire sales for the greater Houston market! Basically I flipped 18 wheeler truck tires! About Her Small Business I am the CEO and  Founder of Timeless Spirits and Drinks, the parent company of premium lifestyle brands Timeless Vodka and Zeal Rum. We believe that you and your moments are as Timeless as we are! Moments Matter, Make Them Timeless! Challenges as a Female Entrepreneur Sure, There have definitely been some challenges as a female owner navigating the alcohol industry because it’s still a newer concept. However, for every challenge there have been just as many unique opportunities! Each year I feel as though there are more resources and networks becoming available that we are able to tap into to look for guidance, help, or bounce ideas around. It’s really exciting to see! Inspiration as a Female Entrepreneur My biggest inspiration as a female entrepreneur is actually other women! I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard keep going, I’m proud of you, you’ve got this! It’s like I’m running a marathon and each checkpoint is a new group of motivating inspiring women ready to cheer us on! Advice for Small Business Owners There will never be a perfect time! Just do it! Don’t feel like you need to have everything done before you go for it. There is never a perfect time! For the women who are worried or feel they do not have enough time because the laundry isn’t folded, your kid had a Lunchable for dinner, or you yourself had cereal for dinner (which I actually kinda love!) you are busy at work, or you’ve canceled friends plans to watch Netflix, instead, take 15 minutes to work on your dreams your business plan! I promise those 15 minutes will turn into 30 then an hour and then a light bulb will go off! Do this for you and no one else; you deserve that much. You deserve this! 3. Angela G. Solomon, Founder of Queens on the Greens Meet Angela G. Solomon of Queens on the Greens, our next successful entrepreneur story. Angela's business empowers women of color to learn and play golf. Angela's Background I'm an attorney who left the practice of law so that I could have a more flexible schedule for my children. For many years, I helped my husband build and grow his business. As my children got older, I became passionate about having a business of my own. About Her Small Business I launched with a sold-out golf clinic and luncheon on Women's Golf Day, Tuesday, June 1, 2021. In less than a year, we’ve established chapters in Maryland, Michigan, and Illinois with over 100 engaged members. All of our biweekly events this past summer had waiting lists due to high demand. Golf is the vehicle, but our movement is about much more than golf. Queens on the Greens is improving women’s health and wellness, expanding networks for business and career growth, and normalizing women of color playing golf at country clubs and golf courses. We’re excited to be chartering chapters in even more cities this year. I would describe my small business as a community and a movement of women of color learning and playing golf. Challenges as a Female Entrepreneur A major challenge I faced as a female entrepreneur was belief in myself. Growing up, I was told to go to school, get good grades, and get a good job. I did that. I aspired to become a C-Suite executive at a major corporation. When I became a mother, my priorities changed. I wanted a better work-life balance. I'd never run my own business before, so there was a learning curve. I took as many classes and courses on online business as I could and amassed a significant URL collection from registering every business idea I had. I jumped from concept to concept because my belief in my ability to succeed as an entrepreneur wasn't solid. In other words, I didn't stick with anything long enough to see if it really could work. Inspiration as a Female Entrepreneur I'm inspired by successful female entrepreneurs and I love to learn their business origin stories. Being an entrepreneur isn't easy and women can be expected to wear a lot of hats in addition to operating their businesses. Being able to create and maintain a profitable business despite internal and external obstacles is definitely worthy of respect and accolades. I'm always inspired by them and continuously learning from them. Advice for Small Business Owners My advice for aspiring female entrepreneurs is to never quit. You'll doubt yourself, but never quit. People you know and love will question you, but never quit. Very rarely is anyone an overnight success. If you have the entrepreneurial passion burning inside of you, keep going, keep stoking the fire. The journey will be challenging, but when you finally discover how to make money doing something you love, it'll feel like a dream come true! You'll be so proud of you. And they will be, too. 4. Brandy Wykes, Creative Executive of Mayes NYC Last but not least, Brandy Wykes of Mayes NYC. Brandy's Background I have been working in the fashion industry for the past 15+ years, including Lane Bryant, where I learned all about the Plus-Size clothing business and customers. About Her Small Business Mayes NYC is sustainable luxury for plus-size women, we design clothing to make women feel confident and sophisticated. All women should have that chance. Being the founder and creative executive of a small business, I touch all aspects of it. I follow trend, select colors and prints, order the fabric, sketch the garments, oversee the pattern-making and fit sessions, style the photoshoots and shoot the "behind the scenes" videos myself. I also do quality control on the factory line on West 36th street to make sure all my designs are perfect for the Mayes NYC woman. Challenges as a Female Entrepreneurs Yes, it's still an old boys club. Women have fewer options for funding and resources. (Did I mention we are currently fundraising?) I'm inspired by how supportive and appreciative other women are of Mayes NYC's efforts. Advice for Small Business Owners Start now, every small step you take will get you closer to your goal. Do your research. Who else is in your space? What makes you different or better? Research your company name (which is insanely important, you want to be found, right?). Google it, what comes up? Does another company already have it? Is the URL available? Don't just take anyone's funding — find out if an investor's goals and ethics line up with yours. We hope you enjoyed hearing from these inspiring female entrepreneurs! For more small business tips and inspiration create a free account on Hello Alice or subscribe to our weekly newsletter.
Mar 11, 2022 • 7 min read
Inspiring Stories of Our Owners

4 Inspiring Small Business Pivot Examples

There are many reasons to consider a pivot for your small business. Perhaps your products or services aren’t performing. Or, maybe your user base has shifted. Pivoting is no small task and it can be quite scary to start from scratch. We rounded up successful small business pivot examples to inspire you to leave what isn’t working behind. 700 Rivers  Catherine (Cathy) Gomes started a fashion company in her home country of Bangladesh in 2017. Bangladesh is the second largest manufacturer of apparel in the world. Naturally, Cathy wanted to be a part of the industry. She named the company 700 Rivers in honor of the Bangladeshi waterways. Cathy hired 28 artisans, all of whom have escaped human trafficking. She paid them upfront for their work and provided them with on the job training. Admirably, she even provided mental health counseling. However, Cathy’s inexperience with textiles was a hindrance to the success of 700 Rivers and therefore to her employees. As a solution, Cathy shifted her product to soap. Having a background as a chemical engineer, Cathy understands the new product at a much deeper level than fashion. As evidence, 700 Level produces all-natural soaps packed in paper boxes made from vegetable fiber. That means it’s entirely biodegradable. The soaps come in South Asian inspired scents like Orange Turmeric and Coconut Lavender. Ultimately, pivoting from apparel to soap manufacturing allowed Cathy to support and enrich her home country while sustaining the environment. Win win!  Soothi Krittika (Krit) Khandelwal dreamed of introducing a sustainable product line. She set her sights on coconut jewelry. Krit started a company in Southeast Asia where she had a large network of family and friends. She began working with the local artisan community to turn coconut shells into jewelry. However, the scale of production and learning curve for both the artisans, and for Krit, were too high to make the business successful. Krit was able to step back, assess, and pivot to paper products. The result is Soothi, her direct-to-consumer brand of sustainable journals and stationery. Soothi allows Krit to continue to work with artisans in developing countries. It also supports sustainability. Soothi donates portions of each purchase to organizations like One Tree Planted and Animal Aid Unlimited, a rescue hospital and sanctuary for street animals in Rajasthan, India.  Melanoid Exchange In 2019, Jovante Ham started Melanoid Exchange. It started as an e-commerce marketplace for minority-owned businesses. This allowed consumers to support Black-owned businesses, all in one place. In 2020, Jovante’s wife, Darsha Carter joined Melanoid Exchange as COO. Darsha noticed that people and businesses were coming to the site but that traction was low. They realized that a lot of today’s business owners don’t have the foundational knowledge to maintain an e-commerce business. That was the push Jovante and Darsha needed to pivot. Now, Melanoid Exchange is an education platform. It serves as a tool for new e-commerce business owners to learn while doing. The marketplace is being phased out to provide a simple e-commerce platform for business owners. This way, owners can practice building out a store where friends and family can beta test for functionality and design. The new enterprise is led by Mel X, the world's first AI-powered business coach.  Effie’s Paper: Stationary & Whatnot Last but not least in our roundup of small business pivot examples: Effie's Paper. Founder Kalyn Johnson Chandler is a master of the pivot. She started her career as a lawyer and practiced for ten years before starting a styling business. While she had a passion for styling and helping people look and feel good, the job that was physically exhausting and difficult to scale. Interestingly, Kalyn had experience with stationery. Her grandmother worked for a greeting card company. Still, she didn’t consider it as a career option until she was planning her wedding. She had created a custom design and wound up managing the art directing and manufacturing. Seeing a hole in the market for modern, personalized stationery, Kalyn started Effie’s Paper. (The business is named for her grandmother.) But the pivoting didn’t stop there. Personalized stationery was a start, but success is about scalability. Effie’s Paper needed to scale to meet their customers' needs beyond paper products. Enter, the “whatnot”. Kayln started stocking thoughtfully curated lifestyle accessories like coffee mugs, water bottles, and makeup bags. These items naturally complemented her stationary to further expand the business. We hope you enjoyed these small business pivot examples! For more small business tips and inspiration create a free account on Hello Alice or subscribe to our weekly newsletter.
Feb 18, 2022 • 3 min read
Inspiring Stories of Our Owners

Ron Fortin on Founding Homeschool Spanish Academy

Small business owner Ron Fortin shares the story of how he created Homeschool Spanish Academy. Plus, his advice for aspiring entrepreneurs on the initial challenges of starting a business. US Marine Corps veteran Ron Fortin moved to Antigua, Guatemala in 2010 for a job as the executive director of the Sheel Center. This nonprofit provides education, healthcare and development for impoverished children. However, another problem quickly ate away at him. He noticed that the local Spanish teaching market — hundreds of schools — were focusing on the tourist trade. This was creating inconsistent work for their many talented teachers, who often bounced from job to job seasonally. In turn, they felt unsure of their future and were barely able to scrape by.   Why not target a new market outside of the tourist trade, he thought. For instance, homeschoolers who lived in the United States, with access to computers and Skype, needed tutoring year-round. He realized this would allow Antigua’s teachers to work more consistently throughout the year. Furthermore, American students could gain valuable insight into a new culture and learn from native Spanish speakers.  With that premise in mind, he launched Homeschool Spanish Academy in 2011. At the time it was merely a vision, a belief that his idea “worked,” and a sneaking suspicion that customers might want to buy it. Today, it has more than 160 tutors, serves customers in over 30 countries, and features a curriculum that serves students from preschool to adulthood.    Q&A with Ron Fortin, Founder of Homeschool Spanish Academy Hello Alice caught up with Ron about the risks he took, how he got his idea off the ground, found his first customers, and grew it into the successful enterprise it is today. Learn more about how he built his MVP, and how those takeaways can apply to your business, in our new milestone Validate Your Idea. This interview has been edited for clarity. Were you already aware of the risks you thought your business might encounter when you started Homeschool Spanish Academy? I already knew that the product would work — I tested it on myself, which I highly recommend (try out your own product and see if you would buy it!) — so I didn't have any risks in that regard. A lot of them had to do with: Could I find enough people? Who could do the job that I needed done? Was the internet stable enough? Could I come up with the right infrastructure? Everything else I figured out along the way.  A lot of it was just feeling confident that you can take on anything that comes at you. As a marine, I had a lot of background where I've been put in really random situations, and I've been able to come out of that, so that made me less fearful.  Identify your key risks now What is an MVP?  And what was your MVP?  A minimal viable product is your version one. You don't want to spend too much time on it. The best thing about it is that you can get your product or service out there into the market, and get feedback so that you can iterate. It's that iteration that allows you to perfect your product or service. When Homeschool Spanish Academy first started, our MVP was just our teacher and Skype and a laptop. That was it. The proof of concept really was ‘can we connect with the customer and get them to learn Spanish?’ It didn't have any scheduling features or an interface. It was basically a cold call. I said, ‘Hey, I offer this. Do you want it?’ Build an MVP How did you get early adopters? We paid a freelancer to put together a list of 1,000 contacts related to homeschooling. For three months, I called each contact to get to know them, and to persuade them that they needed my MVP.  There were lots of rejections. But then again, it was a minimum viable product.  And after that, I knew who my customers were, and why they needed Homeschool Spanish Academy’s core service. Gather customer feedback now  What advice would you give to an entrepreneur who’s not sure where to start?  Get started! Don’t wait for too long. You’re not going to get the perfect product or service from day one. What you want to do is get out there and fail as fast as you can. What I want to share with entrepreneurs — especially in the veteran community — is that you know more than you think. We actually took a lot of what I learned from the structure of leadership from the military and incorporated it into HSA’s teams. We have what’s known as a team leader, and we have a “side leader,” something we came up with internally that’s similar to an Assistant Squad Leader. All that came from the military’s example of small unit leadership. If you can take one kernel and apply it to your business, I’m sure you can take more. Ready to take the first steps toward launching your MVP and acquiring your first customers? Head to Milestones and add Validate Your Idea to your path.
Jan 18, 2022 • 3 min read
Inspiring Stories of Our Owners

Small Businesses That Make $100K or More

Interested in learning from small businesses that make $100k or more a year? The true definition of success for business owners varies, but one common marker that many strive to achieve is to have a small business that earns more than $100,000 profit annually. While there are some businesses that launched and skyrocketed, there are far more examples of companies that simmered a lot longer to reach that amount and beyond.   So how does one hit that goal and how long does it take to get there? The answers aren’t tried and true for all entrepreneurs, however several Hello Alice small business owners shared their real-life experiences, wisdom and advice.  Many Hello Alice founders share that being profitable involves more than just hard work, but also being clear and focused on goals and mission, respecting your time, paying yourself (and taxes), and making smart choices.   While it may seem obvious that if you want to make more than $100,000 profit, you should outline a clear path to get there. It bears repeating that it is key to outline your revenue structure. You need to really drill down into where your money is coming from, what you’re changing, and your biggest opportunities for growth. Also, in addition to the who is paying you what, when, how, and why, what is your long-term ability to sustain it and to also grow it? Last Minute Gear James Dong, owner of Last Minute Gear, a rent, borrow or own outdoor gear supply company, advises that finding a product or service that your customers are looking for is key. “Trying to do something completely new is more challenging because there is a consumer education component,” he said. Don't Be Afraid to Pivot His company’s $100K+ success struck in his third year, but it involved a year where he had to pivot on the company’s original mission. “I pivoted after the first year, but it wasn’t a true pivot because the first model wasn’t designed to make money. I was more trying to figure out whether it could be a community solution/nonprofit, but there wasn’t enough traction to even sustain that, so I pivoted to a B2C business model,” Dong said.  Before the pandemic, but even especially because of it – many companies are having to revise their model and that can be a difficult, but necessary step if you want to be profitable. “It’s hard to accept. Pivoting can feel like giving up on your baby!” Dong said. “My advice is to set hard deadlines for yourself when you need to pivot.” Focus Your Efforts Many small businesses that make $100K or more echo the sentiments that you also don’t want to “spread yourself too thin” and that it is important to “trim the fat.” It’s common for owners to take time to access which revenue streams serve their businesses and which don’t – especially if it requires a lot of time with a low return on your investment.  Reverence Award-winning chef Russell Jackson is a renowned restauranteur and activist who is currently operating his 7th food and beverage institution, the acclaimed fine-dining restaurant, Reverence, in Harlem. About two years into its opening, the $150K+ profit is a casualty of the pandemic and falls short of his business plans. In some ways, the business model that was “designed as a $2 million-plus operation” has been more like $150K and that came down to “grinding away on a day to day basis and making life choices and sacrifices” for the good of the business, the community and his team, Jackson said. “In my 38-year career…you make all kinds of plans and contingencies and nothing prepares you for this.” Be Receptive to Guidance and Support He says one keyword of advice for business owners is to stick to your mission, your truth and your convictions, however, you must “be willing to ask for help and be willing to listen.” He created a “Board of Advisors” to “have them talk me out of the bushes and out of patterns and old ways. I had to be willing to listen to people whose opinions I respect…I didn’t want “yes” [people], I wanted brutally honest people.” His board of advisors reads like a star-studded who’s who – from renowned Michelin Star chefs, a Nobel Peace Prize Judge, a Supreme Court arguing attorney, restauranteurs, top marketing director - who are close friends, mentors and bring a diverse blend of business, operations, creativity and more to the table.  While your dream team may not resemble Jackson’s, he advises that you fill it with people you respect, who can provide difficult feedback when needed, help you think out-of-the-box, while still allowing you the space to always stay true to who you are and to stick to your convictions. Stay Connected to Your Why “Make smart decisions, not dumb ones,” Jackson states. “You have to think about why am I building it, What is the purpose? Is it my passion? Am I willing to do whatever it takes to be successful and willing to sacrifice? And, during that process, how do I protect my family, the investment” and look at building long-term generational wealth?” Passion must be the key driver most small businesses that make $100K or more. To put in the work, time and stress that comes with developing a consistently growing revenue- especially with the challenges of COVID, a pandemic and dried-up capital streams. “I’m passionate about the mission…I honestly don’t know what else I’d work on! Everything in my life comes back to issues of waste reduction and outdoor access,” James said.  He continued: “I heard this advice many years ago and it consistently stood out to me, “‘Think of your life like days of the week, so if you live an average 70 years, that’s a decade for each day of the week. Ask yourself: Where do you want to be Saturday night?’” Hoping to join the club of small businesses that make $100k or more a year? Join Hello Alice and/or subscribe to our weekly newsletter.
Jan 11, 2022 • 4 min read
Inspiring Stories of Our Owners

3 Side Hustle Entrepreneurs Share Their Best Advice

Building a successful small business doesn't happen overnight. Instead, it's often a labor of love that takes time to build. But with perseverance and dedication to the end goal, it's possible to turn your passion project into a successful business. Here, three side hustle entrepreneurs share their experience and advice in growing a new business. Plus, we hear some of their resolutions for the future. Tameka Jones, Lip Esteem Before launching her line of luxe lip products, Tameka was working as a makeup artist and manager of a cosmetic line. She launched Lip Esteem in July of 2020 in the midst of the pandemic and civil unrest in her local home of the Twin Cities. Now, she is proud to call it her full-time career. Her Why Although it was a challenging time to build a new business from scratch, it also felt like a much needed on. "There was so much trauma and racial tension that I was faced with that I wanted to bring light those around me by creating a lipstick line that would work on every woman," Tameka explains. Managing a Side Hustle "My business was a side hustle for just a few months while I was furloughed," she shares. "I had the time and the finances to start my brand. Once my job called me back to work, I knew I didn't want to go back into a toxic environment so I took matters into my own hands and made Lip Esteem my full-time job." But how long did it take? "It took me 4 months before I was able to make it into a full-time job," Tameka says. "It was and has been the best thing that has ever happened to me." In fact, Tameka is even featured on a Hulu series about her journey into entrepreneurship. "This has been an amazing adventure. I have less anxiety. I am happier," she says. It's also become a family business. "My daughter started working full-time for me three months ago and we are both happy." Advice for Side Hustle Entrepreneurs "The suggestion I would give side hustle entrepreneurs is to treat your side hustle like it is the main event," Tameka encourages. "See how the universe will make that happen—if you want it." Entrepreneur Resolution As for her goals for the future? "My resolution is to be kinder to myself by celebrating accomplishments and taking breaks when needed," Tameka says. Emmett Soldati, Teatotaller For those who think you need lots of business experience and education before starting a business, Emmett is here to say otherwise. He opened his New Hampshire-based cafe in in 2011 without having much of either—aside from a childhood lemonade stand, he jokes. Since then, Teatotaller has become a local favorite with its' array of beverages, specialty pastries, breakfast, and lunch dishes. Notably, it was even dubbed one of the "Most Instagrammable Restaurant in America" by Food Network Magazine. His Why "I had just moved back to my hometown of 11,000 people and really wanted our community to connect in a third space like a cafe," Emmett says. "I hoped this venture would add to the growing vibrancy of the small mill town." Managing a Side Hustle For Emmett, the progression to full-time endeavor wasn't linear. "It has swung back and forth between being my side hustle and main hustle many times," he says. "I've always had many irons in the fire but pretty soon into running it, it became full-time." Importantly, he recalls that it wasn't an easy transition. "Initially, this was daunting and miserable. I did not understand what it would mean to run a business full-time, which just about soaks up all your free time." But building a quality team and support system made all the difference. "Over time I found people who shared my mission and that helped me to see the forest for the trees and see how the business needed to grow," he shares. "I've been fortunate to have found employees who care about our mission and that has made it easier." Advice for Side Hustle Entrepreneurs Emmett advises intentionally building out your team to not get overwhelmed in the journey. "Find other like-minded people and bring them along," he says. "Don't go it alone." Micki Krimmel, Superfit Hero  Micki Krimmel's line of inclusive activewear is fit and tested across their entire size range from size large to 7XL. Now beloved across the world, Superfit Hero all started with a successful Kickstarter campaign and desire to promote more body positive representation in the industry. Her Why Micki got the idea for her business from a hobby she enjoyed in her free time. "I was inspired to create Superfit Hero by my experience playing roller derby," she says. "Like most women, I had spent most of my life in a constant battle with my body, doing everything I could to change its appearance and still always feeling terrible about myself. Roller derby taught me that sport and movement doesn’t have to be about losing weight. A regular movement practice can and should connect you to your body instead of battling with it. There are so many benefits of a movement practice that have nothing to do with your appearance." With that in mind, she wanted to offer activewear that supported this point of view. "I wanted to create a new kind of fitness brand," she says, "one that celebrates bodies as they are, not as they should be." Growing the Business As a serial entrepreneur, Micki was able to commit to building her small business full-time after having sold her previous company. With that, she dove headfirst into a Kickstarter campaign. "The Kickstarter was necessary to fund the business," she explains, "but it was also a test to see if the business was viable." Ultimately, the campaign allowed her to raise enough money from investors to get the business off and running. "My approach was to commit full-time to the project and see if it would work," she says. Entrepreneur Resolution As she looks ahead to the future, Micki resolves to grow by delegating. "My resolution for 2022 is to work ON my business, not IN my business," she shares. "When I first started my business, I did everything. I met with factories, tried on samples, shipped all the orders. At some point, if you’re going to grow, you have to step away from these daily tasks and instead work every day on growing your business." For her, 2022 is all about leadership. For more small business inspiration and funding opportunities, create a free Hello Alice account or subscribe to our newsletter.
Jan 7, 2022 • 4 min read
Inspiring Stories of Our Owners

Q&A with Tappas Founder Sandra Portal-Andreu

When Sandra Portal-Andreu went to her mother’s house for a family dinner, she didn’t expect to leave with a business idea. But when the performance artist came across a table of tapas, or appetizers and small bites, she wondered if there was a better way to organize them.About Tappas “I thought to myself at that moment because I saw the table, and I was like, this is not appealing at all,” says Portal-Andreu. “I remember telling my mom, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if there was a container that had different levels? You could put the different items in it, and you can even take it to a place, to another family gathering. You can open it up. Voila! Instant centerpiece, like a statement art piece.” And the idea stuck around. After working on it for five years, Portal-Andreu officially launched Tappas in 2020. Shaped like a wooden sphere, Tappas is a functional container made of three slidable levels used for displaying food or storage. Q&A with Sandra Portal-Andreu Hello Alice caught up with Portal-Andreu to discuss finding the right people to develop your product, what the patenting process is like, and why your immediate circle can open doors for your business idea. The following conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity. What were your first steps after you had the idea for your container? I started doing a quick Google search just to see if there was something that looked like what I had envisioned in my head — and there was nothing! So I started drawing. I don’t claim myself to be a visual artist, but more of a performance artist. With my very good circles and lines, I was able to conceptualize what this container would look like, and I thought about a sphere because it’s such a dynamic shape. There was really nothing out there like that. That’s kind of where it started.  Through the process of five years, I went through different designers, engineers, mentors until we were able to bring the product to market in the fall of 2020. It’s been a collaborative process where every person that I’ve worked with at whatever point in time left their imprint on this last iteration that you see. The container is functional, but it also looks like an art piece. How did you get your drawings into a physical, tangible product? I worked with a couple of designers in the beginning. At first, I actually had it with four plates, rather than just three. It wasn’t until I worked with my third designer that we sat there, and we looked at some CAD files that had already been made. And I said, “You know, I don’t think it will work with all these levels. We need to make it just three. It has to be solid plates.” From there, we were able to figure out that this was going to work because he ended up making a 3D print of it, and it was structurally sound. The balance was there, and that was kind of like the aha moment like, Wow, we got something. From that point, that’s when I went and filed a patent. When I got the patent approved, I cried. I couldn’t believe that it was even possible. So that was a huge milestone. Every little step was like an aha moment; it was a validation moment. Finally, we were able to say, “Okay, let’s go to an engineer that could help us create a prototype that would be manufacturable.”  It must have been a long process to get your product patented. What was that like? I wasn’t sure about how this whole world of patents works. I had heard about people filing provisional patents, but I took it in a way where I was like, let me just see what this prototype looks like and if it functions before talking to a patent attorney.  The patent attorney was referred to me by a friend of a friend. Their office is called Complex IP. He was very helpful in the whole process. He told me what I could patent for, what I couldn’t, and it was pretty much that! I signed the papers. I provided drawings. I paid the fees. The patent was filed in January 2018, and I didn’t get the patent approved until November 2019. The good thing is that once you file that patent, if you’re the first person to file that patent, then you’re in the front of the line. Thankfully, I was in front of the line when it came to spheres that are multi-layered containers. [Hello Alice Guide: Secure a Patent] Having worked with a few engineers, how did you find the right engineer to build the prototype of your product? I learned that your immediate network is going to be your biggest source of support. That is what happened to me because my first designer was a friend of the family. Things didn’t work out with him, so I ended up connecting with one of my best friend’s husband’s best friends. He was busy with his work, and things didn’t work out timing-wise. Then my brother connected me to another designer, so it was all the immediate people in my life that had a network of people who they knew. When I got connected to the engineer, I didn’t know anything about wood production. But it wasn’t until I had a conversation with one of my friends who happens to be my trademark attorney. She was the one that connected me to this one individual who opened the door for me to get connected to my manufacturer. That’s where the whole wooden concept came out. I used to keep this secret. I remember thinking, Oh my god, I can’t show anybody. I can't tell anybody. But I think the fact that I was able to talk to people — my friends, friends of my friends, my family — everybody seemed to give me that support like, “Hey, this is cool. You should go for it.” It sort of validated the path that I was taking. [Hello Alice Guide: Secure a Trademark] Could you share the decision process of using more sustainable materials to create the containers?  We were able to create a plastic product, but I wasn’t 100% sure if that would be the final thing. I am a mother. I am environmentally conscious. I want to leave a sustainable legacy for my children. I always knew that was the backbone of whatever I was going to create. And so, I remember thinking, I don’t really like plastic products, so why am I going to create plastic? After conversations with other people, I realized, Oh, I could make this out of wood. It would raise the quality of the product, and we can work with factories that work with sustainable goods. [Hello Alice Guide: Define Your Purpose] You launched the product in 2020. What was the deciding factor in selling the product through retailers versus direct-to-consumer? Before manufacturing, we were supposed to attend The Inspired Home Show in March 2020. We were going to be featured in the Inventors Corner. At that time, I thought it was going to be the best opportunity because I could show the prototype of the product, talk to people, and see where we could sell this. Well, corona had its plans. But that gave us an opportunity to tweak one last-minute touch to the product.  During that time, I recall having some meetings with people and retailers that were interested in meeting me because they had already known that the product was going to be featured in the Inventors Corner. Amazon LaunchPad was one of those retailers. They reached out to me, and they decided that this would be a great product to launch. So we thought, Let’s start with a small order to test the market and see if there’s interest. We had a small order during the holidays, and that gave us the encouragement to place another order. This year, we really focused on Amazon sales and increasing our presence on Amazon. But one of the things that I’m doing now is creating a Shopify website and learning how to do direct-to-consumer. Are there any business resources that helped you along the way as an entrepreneur? One of the things that I’m super excited about is that I’m part of the Babson Win Growth Lab, which is an accelerator program for woman entrepreneurs. That’s a great program for women that are thinking about launching a product or service or have already launched something and are in the beginning stages. It’s been just two weeks in the program, and I’ve learned so much from this accelerator program. They’re really beneficial, and they give you an instant community and network that you can reach out to. Do you have any advice for anyone who is interested in getting into entrepreneurship? My father’s Cuban, and my mother’s Colombian. They’re both very business-centric. My mother owned her preschool for over 25 years. My father was in the tech industry and developed nine payment software systems that have been patented by his team. They were the ones that opened that gateway to connecting with other individuals and sharing my idea. So the biggest advice I would give to anybody is to share this idea with your immediate circle. Talk about it, and then see what comes about it. An individual might be able to find that open door just by having a conversation with their family and friends. For more small business tips and inspiration create a free account on Hello Alice or subscribe to our weekly newsletter.
Oct 7, 2021 • 6 min read
Inspiring Stories of Our Owners

NuMercies Is a Self-Funded Business All About Self-Esteem

Ashley Gonzalez started NuMercies, a handcrafted vegan skincare company, once she learned about the harsh ingredients in many of the drugstore beauty brands she'd been using for years. Inspired by the natural remedies of her Puerto Rican grandmother and harnessing her skills as a trained esthetician, the former model set out to handcraft scrubs, toners, cleansers, body oils, and other products from plant-based ingredients. Today, NuMercies offers simple, all-natural products that address the root causes of many skin problems. Gonzalez's own skin serves as the proof-of-concept — totally clear and radiant despite a history of acne, dark spots, and eczema. Q&A with Ashley Gonzalez, Founder of NuMercies Hello Alice spoke with Gonzalez about her personal skincare journey, the growing pains of a self-funded business, and how she's planning to get ready for Black Friday and the big holiday shopping season.  Tell me about your journey from esthetician to becoming a small business owner. Was that always part of the plan? It really has been a journey. I'm from Chicago, born and raised. At first, I was into modeling, and when I turned 18 I decided to go to school to become a makeup artist. The plan was to use that as a way to establish relationships with photographers and agencies and stuff like that. I ended up going to esthetician school. It's hilarious because literally, I don't even wear makeup anymore after all the things I learned — it just changed me forever. My education made me realize why I needed to wear makeup since I started in eighth grade. It was mostly to cover up my skin problems. Now, unless I'm feeling fancy or getting photographed, I'm not dependent on makeup. Wow, that's a big shift! What, in particular, changed how you saw makeup and traditional beauty products? I have had skin problems like eczema since I was little. Then when I started doing modeling, I was breaking out really bad. Of course, after you break out, it becomes a dark spot. At a certain point in my life, I realized I was using makeup to cover up all the flaws that were going on without tackling the root of the problem. Why do I have acne? Why am I flaring up with eczema? Then I learned about the ingredients that are in many beauty products that can cause those very problems. That makes sense. Over the last decade, a lot of people have realized that skincare is the foundation of a beauty routine, not makeup. That trend also means this is a crowded space. What was the market gap you saw for yourself when you started the business? I immediately noticed a lot of misconceptions about the beauty industry. Through beauty school, I found that a lot of brands are produced by the same companies. If you go to your local Walgreens, Target, or wherever, everything you see is pretty much owned by the same company with a different name on the bottle. They're not really interested in telling you anything about why your problems are happening. You may get a strong potion or something in a bottle, but it's not really getting to the problem, per se. My natural approach is going to do that. You talked about how you've solved your personal skin problems with natural remedies. How do you go from that personal expertise to making products that would be attractive and useful to a broad range of customers? Excellent question! When I first started, I only made products that just made sense to me. Like, if you have acne, I'm going to write a list of every clean ingredient that helps acne. If you have dark spots, here are some alternatives. That's how I was formulating my products in the beginning, which was a disaster. These ingredients may make sense on a piece of paper, but some ingredients cannot go together. In some cases, I was just making a concoction. Now I actually sit down, and it can take me six months to make one product. That includes ordering the ingredients, testing, testing, testing, and then seeing how it does. Sometimes you will formulate something and it looks really nice, and then you'll go check and there's mold growing on it or something just didn't go right. After that, I send it to some brand ambassadors who give me feedback, too. [Hello Alice Guide: Understand Your Market] In a survey you answered for Hello Alice, you recommended others work backward, starting with their customers. Can you explain what you mean by that? Oh my god, if I followed that advice, I would have saved so much money. When I started, I just made sure that I had one of each category: one cleanser, one scrub. Then I just got so carried away. I bought a lot of stuff — a cleansing brush, a facial mister, and a whole bunch of jars that sat in my apartment. At the time, the plan was to reach out to four or five social media influencers. I thought, I'm going to be rich! They're going to just put one post out, and it's going to work! Not so fast. I realized that I should maybe start off with 15 bottles of one thing, marketed it, let it sell out, collect the data, and get testimonials. That's everything I didn't do, but it would have made things a lot easier. [Hello Alice Guide: Get Feedback From Your Customers] How are you handling manufacturing? I went to school! Ironically, it was a vegan school, so I did have a semester where I learned to formulate skincare. So I had that under my belt and launched the business. Since then, I have definitely been taking continuing education and chemistry lessons to learn how to better formulate. I would say I'm pretty good at it now, but when I first started it was kind of like one cup of this, two cups of that. And it just irks me when people make it look that easy. If you're not careful, the ingredient won't be evenly distributed. You literally have to know math, you have to know science. This isn't arts and crafts! A lot of beauty and skincare brands have told us that they've dealt with packaging shortages during the pandemic. Have you? Yes, I did! And I feel so bad! The pictures on my website and the jars I had to settle for are different jars. I don't know what happened, but every website was on backorder for like a year. So yeah, I definitely have to do that. You'll see a jar in one picture and then you'll get it and it'll have a different color top or something. But don't worry, it's the same size and stuff like that! Companies like Glossier and Cocokind preach a beauty-as-lifestyle approach and build a community that lives and dies by their product drops. Is that lifestyle brand template something you aspire to? I would say yes, at least to an extent. Ultimately, I want to develop a community that focuses on wellness through learning about skincare. I've learned so much on my own. My whole life and mindset have pretty much changed. Nobody talks about the depression that comes from a person having acne. Proper skin care can help build self-esteem! Even though I'm selling these products, I want to really want to give that knowledge back. I want people to understand why they're breaking out, for instance, and what they can do to make themselves look and feel better. Are you all e-commerce, or are boutiques and retailers part of the plan, too? I am partnered with one marketplace. I actually just got an invitation to do another big marketplace, but I'm trying to gear up for Black Friday. I am behind, but my goal is to improve my SEO and Google My Business. But other than that, I do Facebook and Instagram ads. In the beginning, I paid a whole bunch of influencers that didn't always have the best return. I do have ambassadors, which is like having children to manage — it's really hard. I need to get someone to manage them. I definitely want to do a commercial before Black Friday, too. I have to put a casting call out soon. I know Hulu offers tools to help you get a commercial out there. And I definitely need to be friends with Google. I don't know why it's taken me this long to realize like Google is everything! But I'll get there. [Hello Alice Guide: Create a Winning Holiday E-Commerce Strategy] What has been your pathway to funding your business so far? It's self-funded. I think that's why my momentum has kind of weighed on me. Every time I would get paid, I would put $100 or $200 toward the business. Then I got into a program where you get business credit, which is great. A big problem is that I got COVID recently. Everything that I had planned for this month has slowed down 10 times. When you're on a roll, you have to kind of stay on the roll. Especially when you have a customer-based product, the customers cannot see inconsistency! I'm working on fixing that now. [Hello Alice Guide: Bootstrap Your Business] This month is Hispanic Heritage Month, so I'm wondering if you have any advice as an Afro Latina to other people following in your footsteps? Oh my God, I feel like the Afro Latina community, the Hispanic community, our time is really coming. I am a minority within a minority — I'm Puerto Rican and I am Black. And we know that the Black-owned era has really taken off. I'm not one to claim one race and not the other, but I really feel like we're going to get that recognition on all ends very, very soon. I would encourage people not to give up and to embrace their diversity, because, you know, it all happens so quickly. The movement is on our side, and I really believe that the spotlight will be on us very shortly. For more small business tips and inspiration create a free account on Hello Alice or subscribe to our weekly newsletter.
Sep 30, 2021 • 6 min read
Inspiring Stories of Our Owners

These Siblings Highlight Black-Owned Businesses Through Video

Lucinda Acquaye-Doyle and Eric Acquaye’s idea for their food content business started with a couple of texts. It was the middle of quarantine, and the siblings were looking for ways to give back to the Black Lives Matter movement. “We protested, we donated, but those all felt like fleeting moments. We wanted to do something a little more sustainable — a way we can give back to our community,” says Acquaye. When Acquaye-Doyle sent a list of Black-owned wineries to her brother, an idea to spotlight the businesses quickly took shape. Soon after, the brother-sister team launched The Sibling Soirée. What is The Sibling Soirée? The New York-based brand started as a video show that reviews and highlights Black-owned food and beverage businesses. Now, The Sibling Soirée is looking ahead to offer in-person experiences through events and tastings. “We started off as an idea of providing reviews on YouTube of things that we enjoy and also in a way to promote many of these businesses that go unrecognized,” says Acquaye-Doyle.  “When we look at the percentage that are Black-owned, particularly wine producers and those in the industry, it's very small.” Since posting their first review on YouTube, the siblings have expanded the content to other platforms like Instagram and Facebook to celebrate and support Black-owned businesses. Q&A with Lucinda Acquaye-Doyle and Eric Acquaye of The Sibling Soirée Hello Alice spoke with the duo on building an audience, advice on creating video content, and what it’s like to run a business with a family member.  What was it like creating the show? Eric Acquaye: It is a fun and long and tedious process. I am a content creator; I’ve been a photographer for 15 years. I adapted those skills and we came together and we used our strengths. We love fashion, we love our culture, and we love our family. That's kind of the vibe we want to bring to the show and the brand, and I think people respond well to it.  Lucinda Acquaye-Doyle: It literally started in my living room. Because it was during the pandemic, a lot of it was over text and voice memos. We’re Ghanaian Americans; we want to make sure that we're bringing part of our culture to the feel of this. Eric has the visual ability to say, “Alright, I want this to be crisp and clean, and this is what the frame should look like.”  Looking at this initial list and doing some more research of other Black-owned products we wanted to review, it became, “Okay, I found this for this brand. Let's do a little bit of research about them. This is what it looks like. This is what we're going to talk about.” We are related, so we don't want everything to be about work. But at the same time, it's a lot of those concepts sharing and visualizing what we want it to be. Honestly, I think in some ways, we were very pleasantly surprised that it came out.  [Hello Alice Guides: Create Your YouTube Channel] https://youtu.be/S0nY8CJWV4E Did it take a lot of startup funds to launch the show?  Acquaye-Doyle: No! That's the honest answer. The beauty of collaborating is that we all have our strengths, and we brought those strengths to the production of the channel. Eric is creative; he’s a photographer, so he has videographer experience. I'm an educator and a researcher. We kind of married those two things and brought our strengths from our own pockets. With the exception of hiring an editor who, in many ways, edits based on our production and direction, everything was coming out of pocket.  How do you go about creating content for different platforms? Do you plan your content differently on YouTube versus Instagram?  Acquaye: It's an ongoing discussion. We started as a YouTube channel because it was a show and at that time, it was quarantine. We couldn't really be out in the world. Now as we slowly start to get back to things and experiencing the world as it is, the content has to expand. The show in length was great on YouTube, but we started utilizing Instagram more because those are quick moments that we can share. We have longer reviews that go on YouTube, and then all of our day-to-day moments go on Instagram. Acquaye-Doyle: One of the things that we do that is attractive to our audiences is we have started training professionally in the wine industry, but we did not want it to become a very complicated review. YouTube provided a lot of that, but the reality is everybody doesn’t have the attention to sit down and watch that. Instagram has provided an avenue for us to give a short, quick highlight of these brands and also for them to get to know us better because I think that one of the beauties about our business is the fact that we are siblings. It’s a feel-good moment. One of our viewers coined the term “Black warmth,” and we do play up on that idea. There's a lot of stressful things happening in the world. This is an opportunity for us to get the warm and fuzzies. Both of those avenues have worked well for us.           View this post on Instagram                       A post shared by The Sibling Soirée LLC (@thesiblingsoiree) For those who want to get into content creation, how do you earn income from the content that you create? How do you find partnerships? Acquaye-Doyle: We’re a startup, so we’re still trying to work on building those relationships. A lot of it has been us networking or trying to increase our network. I think the community, particularly Black creatives in the food and beverage industry, is relatively small. So we've been increasing our Instagram friends, and people started to recognize our name.  Part of it was reaching out to a Black-owned liquor store. While they weren't necessarily providing content for the show, it's like, “I have this, but you have that. Let's work together. Okay, we're going to do a giveaway. Let’s partner with your champagne company.”  You’ve grown a following since launching the brand last year. How do you build your audience?  Acquaye: Social media is key. We try to support other people in the same space as us. We want to uplift businesses and other people in the same industry. So we reached out to people, and they reached out back. We want to teach people about these brands, not just highlight the brands. We always look for the connection that we have to the brand, which is a big theme in our business. We treat it as a family, and we call our viewers “sibs.” That’s a big part of how we got people to pay attention to the brand and how we grew. We’re expanding our family. Acquaye-Doyle: That's an important concept to stress there, that we do call our followers sibs. They're not just followers. They're also part of our sibling unit. We'll have Foodie Fridays where we’ll try a new recipe and keep these videos very short. Then our sibs would recreate them and then they would start posting them. And we celebrate that. Our concept is all about celebrating, educating, and advocating. We educate each other on these different brands and we advocate and push for more people to support the brands that we highlight. A lot of these are startup businesses that may not have a lot of capital and are just trying to make it. When they see that we're not looking for anything in return, we legitimately just want to see you win, that's what I think has caused us to be successful. [Hello Alice Guides: Create Compelling Video Content] Do you have any tips for business owners who want to create their own video content?  Acquaye: Lighting is key. Crisp and clear content with good lighting goes a long way and resonates really well with viewers. Also, bring yourself to the table. We are best friends, we’re siblings! We lean on that, and I think that it shows in our content and it fits well with people. Be your authentic self because it shows when you are and people connect with that. [Hello Alice Guide: Create and Add Videos to Your YouTube Channel] Running a business with family may be a different dynamic than running with someone who’s not a family member. How do you collaborate? Acquaye-Doyle: One of the things we both agreed to very early in the creation of The Sibling Soirée was that the moment that this is no longer fun, the moment that this causes a strain in our relationship, is the moment that we're going to say, “We're not doing this anymore.” We know that businesses can be stressful, and they can cause some discord. We wanted it to be very clear that this would not be one of those things.  Our parents watch the show and are our biggest fans. After a show comes out, our dad will call and say, “Okay, let's talk about this.” It’s been a very fun journey for all of us. The beauty of working with your sibling is that we know each other, and we know each other's strengths. We also know what our buttons are. If there are moments where we've been filming too long, and I'm getting cranky or there's a specific shot that Eric wants that we haven't really gotten to yet, we know each other enough to know, “Okay, this is how we should do this.” That has made us great business partners. What are your future plans for The Sibling Soirée? Acquaye: We really love the education aspect and we'd like to expand on that more. Dinners, tastings, those kinds of events are great for us. You get the show aesthetic which is the family vibe, but we really shine when we bring that in person and that's what we want to put more out in the world. We want to do this around the world. We are looking to expand the Soirée worldwide. That's a goal of ours as well. Acquaye-Doyle: I'm an educator and an international educator. I take students, faculty, and professionals abroad. As Eric mentioned, there's no reason why we cannot have a Soirée experience in 10 minutes or take trips with like-minded individuals who are hoping to learn, so that's something that we're planning to do.  We would love to have some meeting space to provide opportunities for these experiences. We both live in New York, so we've been limited to trying out some of the brands that are local. We would love at some point to visit restaurants or different producers across the U.S., so taking the show on the road is an idea for us. We know that the idea for The Sibling Soirée doesn't have to be monolithic. There are so many different ways that we can celebrate, educate, and advocate on behalf of Black-owned businesses, so we're open to whatever is next for us. For more small business tips and inspiration create a free account on Hello Alice or subscribe to our weekly newsletter.
Sep 27, 2021 • 7 min read
Inspiring Stories of Our Owners

Why This Latina Entrepreneur Is Never Afraid to Share Her Secrets to Success

During the pandemic, Sandra Diaz was laid off from her job and uprooted her life with a move to Baltimore. But that big change inspired the Colombian illustrator to take a big risk and start her own business. With an Etsy shop named Fearless Yaya, Diaz sells art, stationery, greeting cards, and other gift items that reflect and empower people of color, specifically Hispanic and Latinx communities. The simple idea was an overnight success with customers looking for representation as they celebrate milestones such as graduation. To date, Diaz is rated an Etsy Star Seller and boasts nearly 600 sales. Fearless Yaya was also recognized as a BGE Energizing Small Business Grant recipient, which provides $20,000 to help Diaz grow her business. Hello Alice caught up with Diaz to discuss delivering a best-in-class customer experience, finding a product niche, and why she believes in paying it forward to her fellow entrepreneurs. How did you become a business owner? I grew up in Miami, but I moved to Maryland a year ago. Before I opened my business, I used to be an art director for Amazon Prime Video. Unfortunately, I was laid off, and a couple of months later, I decided that I was going to give my passion and my dreams a shot. I wanted to create a business that's inclusive and represents who I am as a Latina and will inspire and motivate other Latinas to see themselves in my work. I'm just honored and excited to go on this journey, especially because I didn't think it was possible. I didn't think I could be a designer. I didn't think I was prepared enough to be a business owner, but every day I learned a little bit more. I feel so proud and passionate about the type of work that I do now compared to a year ago. What inspired you to pursue entrepreneurship? My parents immigrated from Colombia due to the drug war, and they came with nothing. They basically built a life for my brother and me. My mom especially has pushed me to pursue my dreams and become an entrepreneur and not stress about how I'm going to do it, or where the money will come. She saw the talent that I had as an artist, and she decided to push me to enroll in our magnet school, and thanks to that I was able to take art classes for free. She's a big believer in how if you have a vision, go for it — the universe will align with you somehow. What informs your product choices? At the end of the day, the brand that I'm creating is for other people to feel seen and represented. I remember when my cousin was graduating, I couldn't find a card at CVS or Hallmark that even remotely looked like her, a proud Afro Latina with a beautiful Afro. I'm just trying to build a brand that represents Latinas and how powerful and strong and resilient we are, especially after the last year. In terms of products, a lot of artists fail because they don't think of the customer. For me, they're the center of every decision. What does the customer need? What is missing? At Amazon, they used to call it the 'blue ocean.' If you can find an area where there is no competition or there's nothing being created for that customer, that's where you want to spend your time. For me, that was Googling 'Latina graduation cards' and seeing nothing much come back. That made me realize that there's an opportunity here to grow not only my personal business but also hopefully inspire other business owners to go and pursue and create products for my community. [Hello Alice Guide: Find Your Differentiator] I feel like business owners sometimes go into this thinking, Oh, I'm just gonna launch a product, and they will come. And it's not like that! You have to really build a community, and you have to collaborate with your ideal customer and other business owners to really drive traffic to your site and your social media channels. You need to step back and think about what doesn't exist. What can I and I alone provide? What is the best I could do with the talent that I have? [Hello Alice Guide: Get Feedback from Your Customers] I see an opportunity with many of the holidays that Latinos celebrate. You can't find cards for them! I created a kind of mind map of all the holidays that not only Colombians celebrate but other Latin cultures, too. What I like to do is kind of knock them off one by one where I just create cards and put them up on my website. Your Etsy page lists you as a Star Seller as a "a shining example for providing a great customer experience." How do you cultivate that five-star customer experience? From the moment they ask a question to the moment they purchase, I'm always in communication with the customer, always ready to answer any questions if they have any specific requests. I'm always available to kind of take on those requests and walk them through the process to make sure that they have the most incredible experience. I have had people that come back to me four, five, six times and purchase for their friends or purchase as gifts. This takes work, especially when it comes to shipping. Most people will wait until the end of the week to gather all the orders and take them to the post office, but I would rather just take the order immediately so that it's delivered before the time that Etsy or USPS predicts. That way, I can delight my customer. That's something that I learned at Amazon — delighting your customer is the best thing you can do! I also include free prints or a sticker or a personalized note. With most big corporations, you're just dealing with robots. Nobody's going to say, 'Hey, I hope you enjoy your order! We're always here to serve you!' So I make sure that I do. I think a lot of that also comes from my upbringing as a Colombian. Anytime I go to Colombia — really, Medellín specifically — my friends are just amazed at the quality of customer service everywhere you go. For me, I implement those strategies in my business. I deliver incredible customer service, and then, on top of that, after it's done, I ask them to please leave a review as social proof that they had a good experience. You've been an business owner for only a year, but you already have a clear strategy and use business terms like "social proof." As someone who was trained as an artist, where did you learn to speak the language of entrepreneurship? I have a mentor! If I could give any advice to anyone in business, it would be to find a mentor who is five or 10 years ahead of you. Being able to find mentors that have been there and done that will help you navigate this entrepreneurial world. For me, I've definitely had to be very careful looking for knowledge. Like, anytime I log on to Instagram, I'm targeted by all these courses and webinars and things. I have to investigate these because some of them are great and have great information, but a lot of others don't. Sometimes they're just invested in taking people's money. I don't feel like you have to pay to be a successful entrepreneur. I definitely feel like the biggest person that has influenced me is, like, Marie Forleo, or even Tony Robbins. I've never been to any of his events, but I've watched his shows and I've watched a lot of his free content. [Hello Alice Guide: Find a Mentor] There's a lot of free resources on YouTube and the Hello Alice website. I just took a course with Hello Alice on how to grow my business on YouTube, and I literally just bought a microphone and purchased Final Cut Pro today so I could start creating YouTube videos. Over time, I started to see that I could do this all myself with the right resources. I feel like you just have to surround yourself with the right people. There are a lot of Facebook groups out there that you can join if you're a specific entrepreneur. There's also a lot of business groups within your area! Do you mentor other owners? Oh, yeah! I go and take what I've learned from my mentor, and I mentor about four or five Latina friends who are just starting out. They literally have just gotten their brand off the ground, and I'm trying to get them to where I'm at. I'm always on Hello Alice sending them grants, for example. I'm not Black, but if there's a Black-owned business grant, I'm gonna send it to my mentor or send it to the people that I'm mentoring! Even if it doesn't help me, that's fine, but it can help others and I could build community. [Hello Alice Guide: Apply for Minority-Owned Business Grants] That's the number one thing about being in the Hello Alice community; I check every email that comes through, and I'm seeing what's new. It's exciting because there are so, so many resources out there. Being able to find a space or a community of people who believe in what you believe and believe in your dreams is more valuable than any course. I know that there are some people that don't want to share their secrets, but I share everything. I literally go to my back-end, show people how I build my email list, and show them how to automate their email lists. If we all are in it together, it's going to be better than us individually trying to make it on our own. You definitely have a work to do with not a lot of help to do it. What tools do you use to stay on top of your workflow? Asana is my best friend. Every week on Sunday, I make a huge list of things that should get done, or are basically must-haves. Then I have daily tasks like fulfill orders or outreach to get my reviews. For me, it's all about organization. I get up early at like 6 a.m. and try to do most of the big tasks early. Then toward the middle of the day, where I start to lose steam a little bit, I take care of small tasks like walking over to the post office and dropping off orders. I try my best to also stay away from social media. I try to log on to answer any questions in the morning and treat it like work email, not fun. [Hello Alice Guide: Master Project Management] Another thing that I use is my planner. I know it's really archaic, but I've had a planner since high school. Being able to write down the top three tasks of the day and then highlighting them when I'm done is amazing. Something that I also learned at Amazon is to block off my calendar and make sure that I only have specific times where I am working on illustrations or working on customer service. Mostly, I'm starting to realize that structure is really important. I'm starting to take Saturday and Sunday off, but it's really hard. I used to get up at 6 or 7 a.m. and try to get all my orders processed before my husband wakes up so that we can go do something or clean the house. I definitely also am learning to delegate. With the BGE Energizing Small Business Grant, I was able to hire a designer to help me build my website. I know how to do it, but it's not the best use of my time, and thanks to the grant, I was able to do take that off my plate! What else you think other entrepreneurs should know if they might be following in your footsteps? Just don't be scared! We're all just humans trying to make it in this world, so just know that everybody has their good days and bad days. When you feel like you're struggling, know that good days are coming ahead. Also, set goals for yourself and make sure that you're constantly — like, every month — reevaluating your goals. Don't just set goals for a year; look at the data that's coming from Google Analytics or anything that you have going on. For me, I look at the dashboard at Etsy and check out what keywords are people searching for. What are the things that are people are attracted to? What are people searching that I don't have that I could create? We live in this internet world, and that gives us so much info to guide our decisions. Most of all, dive into things one by one. And if there's something you can't do, delegate!
Sep 20, 2021 • 8 min read