MW of the Month // September 2, 2014

For Dr. Michele Colon you would think being a podiatrist with a thriving practice would be enough. But being made is all about wanting more out of life and working hard to get it. So this consummate professional didn’t stop there. Michele took her knowledge and experience as a podiatrist and started her own line of women’s shoes, 34 Minutes. The market for footwear is a crowded one, but Dr. Michele Colon has honed in on the one thing missing from the shoe racks: shoes with style and comfort.


Now Michele has two businesses and the creative outlet she always wanted. I wanted to find out what made her diversify her entrepreneurial efforts and how she manages it all. We sat down to chat and I was impressed with her poise and graciousness. She’s a doctor and a business owner for goodness sakes! Check out my interview with her below:


Serena Watson: Lets talk about your educational background. I know that you went to Cal for undergrad, and then you went to University of Miami for med school. Why did you choose Podiatry?


Michele Colon: Well, I chose Podiatry because I really love the profession. We get to do a little bit of everything related to the foot, including surgery. I knew that I wanted to be a mom, and I wanted to be able to work and so, that was another thing that really drew me to Podiatry. It was one of those fields that allowed flexibility, I could really structure it and make my own schedule. I really made it into a 9-5 practice and I’m able to be home with my daughter in the evening, so it really worked out for me.


SW: So after four years of med school and another two years of physical training you had your private practice. Why did you decide to go ahead and create the 34 Minute line?

MC: Well, what I was noticing over the years, was so many women asking me, if I could fix their feet so that they could wear their high heels. I started looking at the shoes that they were wearing and what type of problems they were having, and noticed that there weren’t many options for them. They didn’t have [options with] a stylish look and feel but that would address those issues with comfort; a little bit wider, a little bit more stable, a little bit more arch support. So I started looking into designs of my own, created my prototype and assessed it. I decided that I could help a lot of women by creating more comfortable shoes for them.


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SW: Your line of shoes is intended for women in business, entrepreneurs. What is the mission behind the line in your own words?


MC: The mission is to show women that they don’t really have to suffer. You always hear the saying that beauty is pain. I really want to change that idea and show [women] that they can actually have both. You really don’t have to suffer, you can still look good and feel good at the same time.


SW: OK, so we talked about finding the right shoe, what are the worst shoes for women's feet?


MC: The worst shoes are actually the really, really flat shoes. Take an Ugg style boot for example. It’s completely flat, has no arch support. Or a flip flop or the type of sandal that’s completely flat. Those are actually the worst shoes because they don’t give any support so they kind of wobble.



SW: OK, got you. I’ll keep that in mind. Can you talk a little bit about the harmful effects of wearing these types of shoes. The really flat ones, or even the really high heels over time.


MC: Yeah, studies have shown that women who only wear high heels and wear them for years and years will actually have effects on their feet later. Their Achilles tendon starts to get tight and then contracted and then when they wear flats, they’re very uncomfortable and have to end up wearing a little bit of a heel all the time. When people wear the really flat shoes all the time, they end up getting a lot of problems like heel spurs, bunions, hammertoes and deformities like that. When the foot doesn’t have that any support and it moves too much from side to side, the toes work in a way that they’re not supposed to. They kind of grip the floor. Picture your toes gripping the floor and turning into little monkey fingers, that’s actually the shape of your toes when they get older and when you wear those type of shoes over the years.



SW: Yikes! Good to know. So, I read about this a little bit on your site, but why 34 minutes?

MC: We took the name because 34 minutes is the average amount of time before high heels start hurting a woman's foot. I get so many reactions from women when they hear that like, “I can only wear my high heels for five minutes.” Which is funny because there are some shoes that as soon as you put them on, they hurt. So, [34 minutes] was an average of over 4,000 women who answered a study conducted by a podiatrist.


SW: What makes the 34 Minutes line different from other shoe brands?


MC: When I was researching shoes and designing my own prototype, what I found was shoes were usually too narrow in the front, they squeezed the toes too tight causing some of the deformities. So I have a little bit wider base for a shoe box, I have some really supportive materials through the arch set and I have a really nice arch support inside every shoe. A lot of people said they would get store-bought arch support and put it in their high heel, but it would slip around and wouldn’t fit properly. So we built that into every heel. Also, our heel is a little bit more sturdy, and a little bit chunkier so it could give a little bit more support rather than a really pointy stiletto.


SW: Can you describe the process of going from design to production on the shoe?

MC: I had to create my own prototype, frame, dimensions, all of that, and have that made somewhere. Once I had my prototype made, I was able to take that to the factory and ask them if this was something they could duplicate and then they worked on the design back and forth with me. Luckily, I found a factory in the U.S. -- it’s actually here in Los Angeles. So I’m able to drive over there any time I want and work with them. Once we got all of the designs worked out, ordered all of our products and materials, we were able to start production. It was about a two year process.

SW: Where do you get your inspiration for designs?


MC: I actually work with my sister who is an artist and fashion designer. We work together on the styles and she is amazing, she can come up with so many original designs and then from there we decide which ones will work, which ones we want to modify and that’s pretty much the way we work together on that.


SW: That’s really cool that you guys are working together. What is the response that you’re getting from women who try on your shoes and can can wear them longer than 34 minutes?


MC: Oh my gosh, it’s so awesome to see women try them on for the first time because almost every time the first thing they say is “ohhh” or “ahhhh” or they make some type of little noise that’s just like that. Like they’re surprised by the comfort they feel when they put the shoe on. Some of the shoes they’re trying on are 4-inch heels and they’re just amazed that they can be that comfortable. After they purchase them or wear them for a while, I just get a lot of emails and comments back from them saying, “I love my shoes, I can’t wait to buy my next pair” and “I told my sister” or “I told a friend about them” and it’s really lovely comments like that from everybody.


In her desire to help her patients beyond their regular doctors visits, Michele Colon has discovered another successful business for herself. Can’t be mad at that! She is just another example of how reaching for more can bring about huge change and much success beyond your wildest dreams. For more information on Dr. Colon and her shoe line visit 34minuteshoes.com!


Published in Business

MW of the Month // August 4, 2014

Cold, sweet ice cream smashed between two yummy cookies may just sound like a great summertime snack to you, but for Natasha Case, Founder of Coolhaus, ice cream sandwiches have become dessert gold. A young entrepreneur and student of architecture, Natasha has relied on her instincts and passions to fuel her business and take her to the next level. What started out as making ice cream with her then girlfriend and later business partner, Freya Estreller, has turned into a multi-million dollar enterprise, with retail stores in LA, Austin, Dallas and New York and distribution nationwide through grocery store chain, Wholefoods.

It always fascinates me when Made Women are able to take start something on a small scale and turn it into a dream career. As Coolhaus’ founder, Natasha went from selling her unique brand of ice cream from the back of an old ice cream truck to now having a coffee table book called Coolhaus Ice Cream book, partnerships with huge brands and more. I met Natasha recently at the Tribe Talk event right here in LA and was excited to pick her brain a bit and see how she made it all happen:

SW: You didn’t always make ice cream. Tell me a little about your architecture background.


NC: I went to Berkeley for my undergraduate, I studied architecture and design. I studied abroad with Cornell in Rome. Everything they do in Italy had a huge influence on me in terms of quality, from the tailor made suits, to the food, to the architecture, and really realizing that, the best ingredients make the best product. And then I came back, finished Berkeley, and then I went to UCLA for grad school for architecture.

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SW: I know that you have used some of the things you have learned about architecture to inspire design with with Coolhaus and that’s what you studied. So why ice cream? Why food? Why not just architecture all the way?

NC: I had a really fun idea that food... kind of opens up the discussion a lot more. Food is something everyone can relate to. It’s comforting, it’s fun, it’s memorable. I got more intrigued in my own architecture work knowing that.

You have to bake architectural models and I always thought, if I was making this model of cake it would never get boring. So food is fun, and then there is this light at the end of the rainbow because when you are done you can eat it. So it’s always just been a passion/hobby for me, eating and cooking. And then I had the idea of how can you combine architecture with that? What are the ways they overlap? How can you use one to talk about the other? That’s what initially inspired the concept of what we’re doing now with Coolhaus. And a lot of our flavors are named after architects and designers so it’s about building awareness and making it accessible and fun. I call that Frachitecture…. But I still very much consider myself part of both of those worlds.

SW: Right, that’s awesome. It’s just incredible how you started something new and different and it just took off. How big was your team when you guys started out?

NC: Really we started with me and Freya and now we’re over seventy people company wide.


SW: Wow, and also you recently made the Forbes Thirty Under Thirty and Zagats Thirty Under Thirty as well. Congratulations. Were these your biggest accomplishments as an entrepreneur? If not, what was?

NC: To get an acknowledgement or award like that is great but for me the accomplishment is getting into markets in Guam or reaching people with a product that I never thought we were able to reach and running the business properly and being able to reward and bonus the corporate team and also the team on the ground in the trucks and stores. Those are the things that matter to me a lot more. I mean I’m so excited to be acknowledged and that means a lot. But it’s not like, “Oh, that’s my goal is to get Thirty Under Thirty.”

SW: I’m sure it wasn’t easy to go from selling from a refurbished ice cream truck to being in 1500 grocery stores. What has been the biggest challenge through it all?

NC: I think surrounding yourself with the right people -- anyone will tell you -- is the hardest part. Because you [are dealing with] different personalities, and skillsets... And really finetuning to make sure that you have the right team in place and that everyone’s skills are being optimized. The other thing is financially scaling. It’s hard to make the jump from three Wholefoods in 2011 to now over two thousand grocery stores nationwide. Cash flow in a company like ours that is obviously very seasonal is tough. There are times when it’s difficult and how you’re gonna get through it? What kind of precautious do you have to take. You really have to plan, be aware of your budgets. That’s definitely a challenge too.

SW: I know that Freya was your business partner and she worked on the finance and operations side. What was it like for you two as entrepreneurs, co-founders, and significant others? That had to be a lot going on.

NC: Yeah, it’s a lot. I think that while it worked, it worked great because we were able to talk about the company and evaluate it all the time. Then you start to hit a glass ceiling when you say okay, there are limitations to also being romantically involved. It’s not a purely professional relationship and it becomes time to bring in an expert, someone that you don’t have that emotional complication with. So I think it was an amazing thing to do in the startup phase for the company to mature. But I think for the next step, it made sense for Freya to move on and she had other passions she wanted to pursue. So, it all worked out in the end.

SW: That’s great. Your story is very unique, I know that you drove that old ice cream truck to Coachella to launch your product. What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs that are starting out?

NC: We like to say “action not perfection.” If you want to get something out there, don’t be afraid to test the market. The market will teach you a lot about what works and what doesn’t. Don’t feel like you’re always going to have to be perfect before you launch. Because the real test is reality.



SW: You found so many other ways to monetize beyond just ice cream scoops, so can you talk about the other ways that Coolhaus does business.

NC: Yes, so the book, e-commerce that has grown to bars and other clients now, in addition to grocery stores and foodservice accounts.  So, you know, I’ve been coming up with a variety of products and a variety of market channels.

SW: You also talked about partnerships, which ones are going on right now?

NC: We’ve done a big thing with Dexter the Showtime show last year. We did a pre-packaged sandwich and various event activations around it to promote it [along with] various media. This year, we have our partnership with the LA Forum. We have a special sandwich for them. It’s red velvet vanilla because they painted the Forum red. We are working on a partnership with Wholefoods and their Whole Family foundation which is in the very early stages. We have a lot of big brand activations. We are doing something with Jeep.

SW: So, how do you come up with new flavors and new ideas for that?

NC: Sometimes we are inspired by dishes we have in savory restaurants. Sometimes clients commissions us to do something interesting like make a flavor themed by a movie or a show. We did a Spongebob flavor, a 2012 flavor for the movie 2012. Sometimes we just want to push the envelope. We were the first to bring bacon ice cream to the masses and then suddenly people started doing bacon desserts. So we thought, “Okay, what’s the next flavor we can do to push the envelope?” And we came up with chicken and waffles.

SW: What’s your favorite flavor?


NC: It really depends on the day. I love our summer flavors right now Sweet Corn and Blueberry. I love the fried chicken and waffles. Our ___ are fresh and they have a touch of brown sugar.

SW: My last question for you, I know you started a company at a young age, what advice or feedback did you receive that kept you going and allowed you to get past your inexperience?

NC: I think you can walk through a wall if you don’t know it’s there. Sometimes not knowing about something makes you take a risk that you don’t even realize you’re taking and that risk can be your secret weapon because you’re going to disrupt the market and give something really cool and unique.

Love this Made Woman’s story? Join us on August 29th for a Twitter chat with her! Tweet us your questions for Natasha using the hashtag #MWChat!


Published in Business

MW of the Month // July 7, 2014

When a child is diagnosed with Autism, it is life-changing for families. The information around Autism—it's causes and treatments—is unclear, and in recent years, it's hotly debated. Questions like “why are there more cases of Autism than ever?” and “are environment factors an issue?” are important. But for a family just receiving a diagnosis, the most important question is “What do we do now?” Business owner and PHD Pamela Wiley has based her career around this question. She has developed a treatment for Autism which has families from all around Los Angeles flocking to her LA Speech and Language Therapy Centers. Widely recognized as an expert in her field, in 2000 she was named a Fellow of the American Speech and Hearing Association, which is the highest honor bestowed upon its members. Also during that year, she was awarded the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Business person of the Year Award for Southern California. Her community involvement doesn’t stop there. She works with the March of Dimes and helps organize an annual “Making a Difference in the Lives of Children” Luncheon here in LA.

I got the chance to chat with this Made Woman and learn about her story and how she’s creating miracles in the lives of young kids with Autism.

Serena Watson: Your career has been dedicated to Speech Pathology. Why did you choose that field?

Pamela Wiley: Actually, quite by accident. I had a young African-American professor; she was a young PHD. I took her class just because I needed to figure out a major -- My mother was applying pressure. I saw a class on phonetics, and I thought “Well I don’t know anything about that. Let me try it.” I went in and was actually so inspired by the black professionals – the black PHDs—because at the time there was a lot of discussion on ‘Black English.’ It was just very intriguing. So she’s the reason why I got into the profession actually… She was an amazing professor.

SW: That’s awesome. It’s amazing what a great teacher can do. You went to the Claremont Graduate University of Education for your PHD. How did your education there prepare you for your career?

PW: I think it gave me a great preparation because it was a smaller program. My PHD is in education; my undergraduate degrees are in Speech Pathology and ideology. So the PHD was just the icing on the cake… I already owned my business so it’s not like I need it for promotion, I didn’t need it for anything other than my own personal growth and development… The field of Speech Pathology is opening up but it’s still less than 2% African American. So when I was coming up there were very, very few of us… And you know – you experience a lot of racism. But you endure because… you know what you have to go through and you keep your eye on the end results… So my thinking was, I wanted to go somewhere where they are going to value me, value the experience that I’m bringing in and the individual that I am… Claremont was a perfect match.

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SW: That’s great to know that towards the end of your educational career you can still have an amazing experience that inspires you.

PW: I think it’s just realizing your value. I think sometimes as women, sometimes as people of color we tend to devalue ourselves. We tend to look at what we don’t have, what we’re not bringing to the table vs. all we are bringing to the table. But I was clear on it. I’m bringing an entrepreneur. I’m female, I’m African American. I’ve persevered through systems that weren’t necessarily supportive or welcoming to me and I got through it. So I’m bringing a lot to the table in my mind. It might have just been my mind but that’s what I felt. [Laughs] And I’m not asking for scholarship, I’m writing the checks so it needs to be a perfect match.

SW: That’s a great perspective. I love it… You’ve grown so much since you started. You founded the LA Speech and Language Therapy Center in 1979 and you’ve grown to have centers all over LA.

PW: We have three Speech Pathology centers, the Culver City site, Downey, and we just opened another one in Studio City last year. Then we have early intervention sites located in Culver City, Lawndale, Southgate and then a Mommy & Me program in LA. We also have a preschool for physically developing children on the same campus as the early intervention program in LA.

SW: A huge undertaking to say the least. I’m sure you faced many challenges as your business grew over time. What’s kept you going?

PW: Probably just the families and the children. I wish I had a story saying I faced many challenges but… I haven’t really. It’s like everything has always fallen into place… I’m always reluctant to say that because, you know – everyone has a story. “What was it like?” But I don’t. Doors opened up for me that I never even thought about opening. Things come my way and it just all clicks.

SW: Well, at least you know you’ve been on the right path. And through it all what has been the most memorable moment or honor in your career?

PW: I think I’m living the memorable moment right now, in that a lot of the children I’ve worked with Autism and other special needs when they were little and now they’re sixteen, seventeen, and eighteen… So I’ve actually recently developed a new program, to do some very unique pre-vocational training for these older kids with Autism. Who can be productive citizens but they need some specialized attention—so to speak -- to kind of prepare them for the working world. So yeah I’m living it right now. Most of the kids who start with us, stay with us and we are getting them as early as 18 months to two years. So now 14-15 years later these kids are older. When I decided to start this program, I contacted some of these kids that I remembered and thought would be the right age and every last one of those kids came back. So to have some of these boys come back with ‘staches, six feet tall… So handsome… Doing so well… It just means so much to me…And that’s the kind of thing that inspires me… Keeps me going.

SW: That’s great that your work is so meaningful and it’s something that you love doing. I know that you’ve done other community work. What inspired you to start the Making a Difference In the Lives of Children Luncheon?

PW: When I saw an increasing number of grandparent caregivers bringing in kids that were pre-natal drug exposed, and the kids had a host of problems as a result of abuse, neglect, abandonment, not to mention the influence of drugs in their system. So the kids were really challenging. I saw this particular grandmother who brought a child in and the child was a handful. She was really upset that day and she said “I’m not going to come back. He’s not making any progress.” So I tried to calm her down but she was just done…  When the little boy came out he had a happy face on his hand because he had done such good work and he said “look momma!” He gave her a smile and she gave him a smile and she kissed him. And she looked at me and said “OK, we’ll be back next week.” She must have been 65 or 70 and yet that smile on his face changed her whole attitude. That really moved me and I started thinking – wouldn’t it be nice to do something for people like this. We started [the luncheon] that first year and had more than two hundred participants. It went from just giving out certificates to getting celebrities involved. Back in the day we had celebrity chairs like Malcolm Jamal Warner, Cedric the Entertainer, Holly Robinson Peete, Victoria Rowell... And we’ve done that for sixteen years. In the last four or five years we’ve given away $30-40,000.

Dr. Wiley’s passion for speech pathology has lead to her having a successful career but, more than that, has changed countless lives. Her drive is inspirational and her belief in herself commands authority. Women like this don’t just make money they make a difference. For more information on the LA Speech and Language Therapy Center visit SpeakLA.com 

Want to learn more about Speech and Language therapy? Join us on July 28th at 1pm PST for a Twitter chat with Dr. Pamela Wiley! Use the hashtag #MWChat to ask her your questions.

Published in Business