So, you want to start a business. Maybe it’s a bakery, a line of eco-friendly workout clothes, or a dance studio. Whatever it is, you’re excited to bring your vision to life. But before you can share your expertise with the world, you have to become an expert at the rules of business. As a baker, clothing designer or dancer, this is quite possibly the last thing you want to do. Tax codes, contracts, and complex paperwork stand in your way and distract you from your plan. This, of course, deters many aspiring entrepreneurs (I know it’s slowed me down a time or two). But in a country that touts the promise of the American Dream and the importance of pulling yourself up by the bootstraps, why isn’t starting a start-up a lot easier?
Jen Reuting asked herself this very question after working as a secretary for investment bankers during college. She was only 17 when her employers at the time embezzled the company funds, fled the country and left her with an empty office building and a reaffirmed interest in entrepreneurship. Instead of focusing on her classes at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, she used her scholarship checks and the empty office space she had inherited to start her first company, InCorp.com. InCorp.com provides registered agent services and Jen’s first challenge was to get some clients. To do this, she started a direct mailing campaign to the presidents of local companies offering them free services for a year. A true hustler, Jen didn’t let the fact that she was only 17 and had never owned a business before stop her: “I was 17 going on 30. I lied about my age, wore suits... I had nothing to lose.” Besides, she figured that if someone was biased just because of her age or gender she didn’t want to do business with them anyway. Smart girl. Some were skeptical at first, including her employees, but they saw how passionate she was and soon she was on her way. Today InCorp.com is the third largest registered agent service provider in the U.S., with over 100,000 users, including some Fortune 500 companies.
Great story, right? Well, it gets even better. InCorp.com was just the first business Jen started. Next was MyLLC.com, which specializes in helping entrepreneurs form and manage LLC’s (God bless her.) But, wait. Why would someone who is doing so well with one business shift gears completely? Well, it goes back to the question, “Why is starting a business so complicated and how can we make it more simple?” Jen recognized all the barriers to entry in the business world and felt that she could change the game: “I wanted to change the info space and make it easier for small businesses.”
Jen didn’t go to law school and knew how difficult it could be to understand the legal aspects of entrepreneurship firsthand. There had to be a way that this complicated process could be explained in plain English to the average person. She spoke with some lawyer friends to try to learn the ins and outs, and while she picked up a lot of legal knowhow from them, she also learned that law school doesn’t teach you anything about business law and contracts. Another huge disconnect. Wisely, Jen realized that she had to start another new company. “I didn’t want to shift the brand and alienate my current clients. But I was getting really passionate about helping small businesses.”
In her first few years running InCorp.com and MyLLC.com, Jen was able to interact with these up-and-coming business owners and saw that there was a huge need for her services. One client had just inherited some money from his mother who had passed. Understandably, he was scared to lose what his mother had left behind for him, but he had a dream of owning his own limo company, “I helped him get incorporated and told him ‘Just go for it. You’ll be fine.’” Six years later she says she sees his limos all over LA and Phoenix, and is happy that she was able to help him expand and become profitable.
Jen has helped many people take their big dreams and turn them into big business, including a few dummies. In 2007, she authored the 400 page nationwide best seller, “Limited Liability Companies for Dummies,” part of the well-known “For Dummies” series. For Jen, writing the book was just another way to provide tools to would-be business owners. “There is a lot of fluff out there, not a lot of hard facts and info. Writing this book was really rewarding.”
You would think that with two very successful companies and a bestseller under her stilettos Jen would be done. Nope. Last month she launched DocRun.com, an online software solution which generates customized legal documents for entrepreneurs. The company’s mission? To lower the barrier of entry to the small business market for entrepreneurs, providing them with easy access to affordable, attorney-level documents. Basically, it takes the crapshoot out of creating contracts and documents when you have no idea what you are doing and have no money to hire someone who does. “Lawyers don’t own the law, the people own the law. But this fear has developed. This is part of the reason I’m so passionate about DocRun.com.” (Startups everywhere rejoice!) And people are buzzing about this unique concept for a business. In testing alone, users were excited and loved the problem solving aspects of the software. “This will save people from having a lawyer charge them $5,000 to create an operating agreement by doing find/replace in a Word doc,” Jen says. The best part about the concept is the customizable aspect; the service is automated and puts everything together for you. “Most lawyers can’t keep 50 states laws in their heads but DocRun can.” That, my friend, is an “ah ha!” moment.
Is Jen Reuting ushering in a new era of entrepreneurship? Will the bakers, clothing designers, dancers and dreamers of the world soon be able to quickly and easily get past the legal jargon and red tape that clouds the business world? She seems to think so. “After the economy collapsed and more and more people were getting laid off, they weren’t going on welfare. They were starting their own businesses. This is the age of the entrepreneur.” The beauty of it all is that Jen has made money and become incredibly successful by helping others pursue their dreams. “As long as I’m capable of creating something of value it's my responsibility to do so,” Jen says. Made woman? I think so.
In high school I came up with a master plan for my life. I was going to excel academically and participate in extracurricular activities so that I could get into a good college. And the plan worked! But sadly, in my youthful shortsightedness, I didn’t plan beyond getting there, and soon found myself in a sea of too many options. I didn’t feel too bad though--everyone around me was feeling the same way…lost. I eventually figured it out and years later, as a working twenty-something, I realize these periods of feeling lost are cyclical. At different times in our lives we find our master plans don’t stretch far enough and we are unsure of our next steps. This is where life coaches like Nailah Blades come in.
Naliah Blades is a certified life coach who started Polka Dot Coaching after going through her own period of feeling adrift and unsure. She graduated from USC with a degree in Communication and ended up working in sales and marketing for a packaging company. Finding herself stuck in a career that didn’t quite fit, Nailah did some soul-searching and realized that when she thought about what she loved doing, she always came back to mentoring others. It hit her that her true calling would mean becoming a life coach--or as she calls it, “a clarity-maker for young women who are teetering on the edge of greatness.”
But what does this really mean? Is “Life coaching” just a new-age term for therapy? Does she show up to her clients’ jobs and cheer them on as they work? How do life coaches really operate? It seems like more people are using the services of life coaches and choosing this as a career path. The industry itself is booming. A study in the 2007 MarketData Report estimates that 40,000 people in the U.S. work as business or life coaches and the $2.4 billion business coaching market is growing at about 18% per year. When I got the chance to pick Nailah’s brain about it I had so many questions. She explained that while therapy deals with understanding your current state of emotions and the causes from your past making you feel a certain way, life coaching is all about moving forward. “My clients are saying I’m here now, how do I move forward? And I say let’s work on a plan to get you there” she tells me. Nailah hosts intense exploratory and planning sessions with her clients, asking them things like “What is your business vision? What problems are you solving?” She also has programs specifically tailored towards entrepreneurs which she calls “catapult sessions.”
Once Nailah explained exactly what a life coach does, I realized how helpful this type of counseling is to people of all ages. A professional perspective on life goals and planning could be so helpful in getting you closer to your dreams. “I get excited because I can see the potential in my clients from the first session even if they can’t,” she says. She takes on about 10 clients per month and works one-on-one with them for about three months. She says the length of time is important so that they aren’t rushed and it allows them to “understand who they are at their core. We brush this aside but it’s really important.” Once clients reach that “ah ha!” moment she doesn’t leave them to figure out the rest on their own, but instead goes on to make sure her clients have a really clear, strategic plan to get their careers on the right path. Her clients are mostly female because she caters to ambitious, driven women who just need an extra boost to get ahead of the game. “I can see that they are totally vibrant in their lives, they just need a little clarity.”
Some might wonder what they can learn from another twenty-something about getting ahead. But when you get to speak to Nailah, you realize she is absolutely fearless and her ability to communicate and encourage is so motivating I even felt empowered after our interview. The girl is good. And she is gaining a name for herself in her industry. She recently hosted a Fierce Leadership Summit in LA, gathering young women from many industries together and delving into what it means to take on a leadership role in the modern workplace. Nailah says that this topic is important to her because she believes “true leadership begins from within and radiates outward. You have to know yourself to be a good leader.” She says her mission now is to help women connect and feel comfortable with their own innate greatness, “That is when you are able to lead from an authentic place.” This is just a little taste of the truth she dished out regularly throughout our conversation. And her insights have helped so many already. In fact, her mission and work with Polka Dot Coaching was so in line with the goals of Made Woman Magazine she became regular contributor to our magazine.
A strong leader herself, Nailah took the plunge and became a full time entrepreneur about a year ago. She left her corporate job, where she worked with brands like Cheerios, General Mills and Dole, and devoted her days and nights to making Polka Dot Coaching grow. “It was hard to even walk into my boss’ office and tell him the news. But once I did I felt so much lighter.” Leaving behind a life path that did not inspire her changed the way she views life overall, even though not everyone was supportive at first. “People didn’t get it. But you have to find your support system” she explains. She went on to create measurable goals for herself based on milestones for her business and analytics to track her audience. She says her youth and the fact that she is all too familiar with that “lost period” in her career make her better equipped to coach young, modern female professionals. “It’s not just about working in pajamas for me. I really do feel called to help women and girls reach their full potential. We don’t play as big as we should. We don’t take those risks.”
Nailah plans to host more conferences in the future and is planning to co-host another one soon. You can find out about her one-on-one coaching sessions and her program for entrepreneurs here. She is definitely a twenty-something on the rise. But the best part is that she is taking other women to the top with her.
Beauty and brains…. Check and check for Misa Chien. This wonder woman manages to run her--let's count them--two businesses while maintaining a national modeling career. A UCLA graduate, Misa started her ‘launch business,' Miss Misa, out of her sophomore dorm room. Miss Misa is an online jewelry store that offers unique and delicately beautiful jewelry. While most people would stop at one self-owned and -operated business, Misa started Miss Misa only to gain knowledge on how to run a business on a larger scale.
This knowledge served her well during the launch of her second business, the Nom Nom Truck, a mobile food truck that serves Vietnamese-inspired dishes. Misa co-founded this business with her business partner, Jennifer Green, in September 2009. Their specialty is Banh Mi sandwiches, a fusion of veggies and sweet honey glazed pork on a Vietnamese French baguette. Misa and her team take pride in their healthy food, made with local ingredients and eco-friendly products. She says, “We look at each sandwich we serve as serving a piece of happiness.”
If you live in Los Angeles, you may have spotted this delicious moving vehicle downtown or by UCLA. The popularity of the company has grown and they are now operating in both LA and San Francisco, serving hundreds of people a day. The company even has over 24,000 Twitter followers. Misa was also featured on a season of The Great Food Truck Race, where she battled other food truck owners to win a prize. So you can add reality TV star to her list of accomplishments.
While The Nom Nom Truck has become more recognizable and profitable, for Misa it is a constant learning experience. She says that the food handling industry is challenging because of the various regulations and low profit margins. Misa also finds that it is sometimes difficult managing employees, especially as a woman. All that aside, the Nom Nom Truck is by far her favorite venture to run.
Wait, I’m running out of room and I haven't even talked about Misa’s modeling career! You may have seen this beauty in ads for Target, Mary Kay, Abercrombie, or Sketchers. Misa was originally scouted for modeling (this means that she is incredibly hawt) and has been modeling since her junior year of college. How does she do it all? I have no idea. But Misa says that balance is key and that she wouldn’t survive without her Blackberry. Her advice to other entrepreneurs? “Keep a level head and don’t let one aspect take up too much time." Words from a wonder woman… I’d listen.
Follow the Nom Nom truck here: http://nomnomtruck.com
I admit it: I am at a complete loss when it comes to applying makeup. That being said, I truly believe makeup professionals are artists. I think my hesitation when it comes to makeup makes me appreciate their effortless strokes all the more. They make us look our most beautiful, and when you meet someone who is as passionate about beauty as makeup artist Melanie Mills is, you find yourself moved.
As an editor for Made Woman Mag I lucked out with the opportunity to interview Melanie, makeup artist to the stars and owner of her own makeup line. Naturally, the first thing I asked Ms. Mills was how to best get my feet wet with new makeup products. “You gotta try it! Sit down and use a vanity. Getting out and trying is huge, it’s the only way. Play. Have fun with it.” Her answer to this question speaks to her attitude about life as well: play, have fun, and try.
Melanie has actually played with makeup her whole life. She remembers doing her friends makeup for dances as a teen. She enjoyed experimenting with it, but it wasn’t until she visited a makeup school in Milan at the age of 21 that this hobby turned into a serious passion. When she came home she immediately set out to pursue this newfound love, but the lack of funding and formal esthetician training were a… small hitch. Melanie didn’t give up hope. While getting her hair done, she told her stylist about her goals, and the stylist offered to introduce her to a friend who could possibly help. As fate would have it, Melanie ran into her hairstylist and this connection at a bar that very same evening. It turned out that an extra hand was needed on the set of the film Everything's George, and Melanie went for it. She tried it, had fun, and wound up doing makeup for a bunch of indie films for three years before going union. A bit of luck and some chance networking had given Melanie her start. “After that, I just climbed the ladder,” she says.
Melanie soon went from working on little known indie films to Charlie’s Angels and Six Feet Under. She was then referred to Dancing With the Stars in its second season, and ended up staying. “It all fell into place. I picked up the craft really easily,” says Melanie. But it wasn’t all glitter and glam. The world of beauty is fast paced and you have to pay your dues. “You are never given a job, you aren’t locked into a contract … it’s never a guarantee,” explains Melanie. “You have to plan ahead because you might not always get a paycheck. You can work 15 hours a day and all of a sudden have a month off.” Melanie had to learn to balance work and family too. “I have an 8 year old daughter, so sometimes I have to deal with missing functions at school. When you’re on a set you can’t just come and go.”
But all the sacrificing has definitely paid off. After all, Ms. Mills did win an Emmy for her work on Dancing With The Stars. When asked what it felt like to win this prestigious award, she said, “It is awesome! It is also completely nerve racking. You feel great and stoked when nominated, but you are a nervous wreck every single day up until the ceremony. But winning it is amazing!” Despite working on set for numerous television shows, the Emmy win made Dancing her favorite gig. “It’s high energy, live, and I got to do fabulous, fun glamorous makeup all the time!”
And An Emmy isn’t the only reward for hard work. Melanie’s longtime dream of having her own cosmetic line, like Bobbi Brown and Laura Mercier, is coming to fruition. While on DWTS, Melanie formulated a body lotion called “Mel’s Mix”. When celebs started coming to her house for this magic potion, Mel decided it was time to move forward with starting her brand. The mix has been around for six years and earned its name because people would describe it as “gleamy.” Launched in May of 2011, Gleam by Melanie Mills has received fantastic press and is getting a reputation as a product that is glamorous and good for your skin. Melanie has recently expanded her brand to include Lip Radiance — a line of candy-like lip glosses that are really good for your lips. Melanie describes her company as “young,” “small,” and “women based.”
There is much to learn from such a savvy business woman. Never one to shy away from hard work, she says that sometimes when you are getting your start you have to work for free. That’s right… work for free. Because “[Meeting] Any person will always lead to [meeting]another person. You have to be willing to do. You have to be able to give in order to get, and when you give, I believe you can get that back threefold. It’s all about motivation and persistence.” Melanie also believes in having a tough skin, but being positive. “When you are positive, you draw positive. Keep yourself healthy and happy. Be happy at what you do.” And right now Melanie couldn’t be happier with what she does. Working on iCarly and Victorious on Nickelodeon keeps her busy, but this Made Woman has not slowed down. “Of course the dream is to have a full blown cosmetic line. Next things are eye radiances. The color schemes are based off of travels I’ve taken and the palette is very vibrant, bold, plush, and glamorous.”
There’s also a huge, gorgeous coffee table style makeup book in the works. Inside the covers will be vignettes, stories, and photos of celebrities Melanie has grown close to. The concept will be to show two or three very different makeup looks on each celeb. For example, Brandy will portray Nefertiti and Josephine Baker. You can check out Melanie’s YouTube channel, GleamBodyRadiance, to see behind the scenes clips from the photoshoots done for the book so far.
Who knows what else the future will bring for Melanie Mills. With a positive attitude and the utmost ambition, this glam girl is truly unstoppable; and her personal motto “live it, work it, own it” is proof. Melanie explains, “If you want to be a makeup artist, architect, doctor, etc. then you need to tell yourself that’s what you are. David LaChapelle said ‘I picked up a camera and I called myself a photographer.’” It’s that easy. Just like the brilliant stain of Lip Radiance lipgloss, Melanie’s words left a bold imprint. Her example left me feeling more confident and eager to pursue my own dreams…and maybe even try my hand at getting all made up.
Made Women come from all walks of life and pursue a wide range of goals. There are those who are mothers, some are humanitarians, and other are CEO’s of huge companies. And then there are those who choose to forge their own way in their fields and create a little something awesome for themselves. We call these hustlers entrepreneurs and Elvira Guzman is one of them. A graduate of USC with a degrees in Political Science and Law & Society, she could have gone on to work for any major company in Los Angeles. But she chose to create her own lane, and then fly past every milestone on it independently. Now this little lady from West Covina is the owner of her own leading PR agency with clients ranging from pro skater Terry Kennedy,and comedian George Wallace, to the radio station 93.5 KDAY. You can attribute it all to her dedication and drive.
When I first met Elvie at SC I was immediately impressed by her forthrightness and drive. Let’s be real, a lot of people in LA have the latter but not a lot have the former. She was very open about her background and, more importantly, her plans for success. I’ve seen a lot of people just wander through college hoping something will stick. So it was refreshing to meet a woman who knew what she wanted and had a plan for how to get it. We shared a love of shopping and we had grown up not too far from each other in the Inland Empire, but at that time I didn’t have a fraction of Elvie’s drive. She was already working as director of publicity and branding for the Steve Harvey Morning Show while going to school. She may have been the original member of #TeamNoSleep as she balanced all this at once. Her hard work had earned her the trust and support of the comedian, actor, and author Steve Harvey as he later moved her to New York to run his office and manage PR for his numerous ventures. When she graduated she even received an on-air shout out from Mr. Harvey, himself. Now that is how to exit in style.
Since graduating, this hardworking PR maverick has been on the grind, producing TV shows on MTV, BET and the WB. After trying her hand at talent booking, stage managing, and coordinating college events like The Black College Expo Tour and awards shows like the Hoodie Awards, the BET Awards and the Critic’s Choice Awards, she decided to launch her very own PR Company. Her company, Elvie G PR, specializes in brand development for artists, comedians, actors, athletes and special events. Now located in Burbank, CA, Elvie has managed clients like superstars Music Soulchild, Terrance J, and Roy Jones Jr. She also oversees up-and-comers like Ashley Jordan Preston and Jackie Guerrido. But she doesn’t just represent people, Elvie also does PR for clothing line PFP Clothing and ILBTV, a Latino cable company.
Her client list has grown and changed but she says in six years she has never had an argument or disagreement with a client. She attributes this to great communication skills, saying, “Don’t get me wrong, I am firm but they know that I only want to see them succeed and want the best for them and they understand when I get ‘tough’.” Managing such a diverse client list has to be challenging, but nothing seems to faze her. When I asked her what gets her through she said, “My trust in God and my trust in my gift! I know that no matter how hard things get, God and my gift will always pull me through.”
Elvie’s gift has allowed her to cultivate the careers of many people and help them realize their dreams. In turn, the world has come to recognize her as star in the PR industry. In September, Latina Magazine recognized her as one of their top 15 Entrepreneurs of the Year. She was also on BET’s “Being Terry Kennedy,” a reality show about the life of pro skater Terry Kennedy. When the show premiered you could spot her on billboards all around Los Angeles. But of course there is more in store for Ms. Guzman. Always up for a challenge, she plans to extend her list of credits to include film producer and author. Elvie is currently the assistant producer on a film directed by Troy Byer and is writing her first book. She says that the book is very important to her because it is her way to tell her story and share her knowledge with others. “We ALL have a story. Whether your 'story' makes or breaks you is up to YOU!” Elvie says.
What type of advice does she plan to pass along? Well, Elvira says the three keys to survival in the PR industry are 1) Never date in the industry 2) Step up your contacts -a publicist with no contacts is worthless 3) Hire great people and DON’T trust them! – meaning always check and double check their work. This formula has obviously worked well for her! She has become known for her effectiveness and is trusted with the careers of huge stars. She recalls her favorite PR moment was receiving a call from the Oprah Show producers letting her know that Steve Harvey was officially booked to promote his book “Act Like A Lady, Think Like A Man”--after she had been pitching him for 8 months! Ladies take note: Perseverance pays off!
Elvira Guzman will star in an all new web series starting June 20th! "The Elvie Show" will be an uplifting and eye-opening web series that teaches rising stars how to succeed in Hollywood. Visit www.elviegpr.com for more information.
It’s December…that time of year when a jolly old fat man reminds us to spread some generosity and goodwill. But for the remarkable and dynamic Monique Ellis, founder and executive director of Toni’s House, contributing to the lives of others is a year round vocation. Monique started Toni’s House with the intent to provide a safe haven for those recovering from addiction and abuse. Over time her dream blossomed into a complete rehabilitation center for people from all walks of life to join and grow as members of a community. The mission statement is simple: Toni's House provides a safe living environment to help people in transition with the process of healing, as well as support in developing skills needed for a healthy and successful life. The result of this simple principle has changed lives.
When you are facing the worst and you don’t have anywhere to go you dream about places like Toni’s house. The spacious rooms, warm inviting décor, beautiful furniture and huge TVs would make anyone feel comfortable. Monique says that her goal was to “make it feel like a home as soon as you walked through the door.” An example of a menu for dinner at Toni’s House would be fish, stuffed bell peppers and, to wash it down, some homemade guava juice...yum! Soon there will be an urban garden in the huge backyard where they will grow fruits and vegetables for their healthy cuisine. They also offer social media and cooking classes to their residents. Talk about being well taken care of!
Monique doesn’t do it alone. She relies on the help of a secretary, Nina Griffin, a social media director, Ashley Ellis, and two managers, Lashonda Bussie, who runs the women’s house, and Gary Gall, who runs the men’s house. Gary actually started out as a resident of Toni’s House. His triumph over addiction allowed him to become a mentor to other addicts and a crucial member of this team. Gary has seen a lot of people come and go in his time with Toni’s House. He says that there are some that are “standing on the fence, looking for a place to go. They don’t know if they want to change their lives or not.” For him, it was Monique’s strong vision and the mission of Toni’s House that helped him turn the corner.
While the efforts of the staff at Toni’s House may make them seem like angels to those they have helped, it took way more than a wish and a prayer to get this baby off the ground. Ms. Ellis credits the help she received from friends and family in the form of donated furniture, food, money and even a house! (Yes, her fiance offered up a house for this venture-he’s a keeper) Because of this support, the sanctuary that would become Toni’s House was created in 2010, “Every time I turned around things were falling into place,” Monique said.
While some helped, there were also some that discouraged her from taking on such a large a project and investing so much of her own time and money. But there was more than just the urge to help others fueling Monique. Her own personal history made her a believer in creating havens for those in need. Monique’s mother, Antoinette “Toni” Espinoza, had come to the US from Mexico as a baby and growing up here she was met with challenge after challenge. When she was just a teenager she became pregnant with her first child, and her parents left her alone at the hospital. She ended up as a young, single mother, with very little support. Despite the racial tension of the time, a black nurse opened her home to Toni’s and her baby boy. This support early on—from someone who was not even a family member--allowed Toni and her children to go on to lead successful lives. Monique’s history left a lasting impression and inspired her to open Toni’s House.
The best part about Monique starting this home is that she didn’t have to do it. As the sole owner of “Ashley’s Attic”, a home furnishings and high end gift store, and as a real estate agent, she had already done well for herself. But Monique dreamed of doing more. More than making money she wanted to make an impact on the lives of others.
Ms. Ellis knows that starting a non-profit these days is not easy and says that those interested in starting one should not rely on grants and actively seek out other forms of funding. She says that “grants, even the ones from big corporations, are drying up”. She stresses that a non-profit is still a business and “should be run and branded like any other business, with business cards, logos, and a web site.” She also relates how starting a non-profit is very taxing and is not for everybody. Her days consist of driving around to collect food donations, taxiing people to court dates, overseeing maintenance on the house, etc. While there isn’t much glamour, you can see the dedication shine through in the little details of Toni’s House and how they go out of their way to make those in need feel at home. “I put my heart into this,” Monique says. Well, we feel the love. Well done Made Woman.
For more information on Toni’s house visit www.tonishouse.org and this year use Monique and all the great people there as an example. Try to hold on to those warm, giving Christmas season vibes all year long.
When I met up with Lisa Marie Todd at her West LA jewelry studio, I thought I’d be sitting down with a former In Living Color fly girl turned jewelry designer. How cool to sit down with someone I grew up watching on one of the most iconic shows of our time? What I didn’t know was that I’d be interviewing a true business mogul. In addition to her Marie Todd jewelry line, she has multiple real estate ventures in the works, a production company and Marie Todd candle lines. And she even has plans to expand the Marie Todd brand to include fragrance and body product lines. I’m still trying to figure out when this woman sleeps!
With her insane schedule, you would think I’d have to rush through a short list of pre-approved questions, or be squeezed into a short window of time. On the contrary. Our conversation felt more like a (#Made) big sister putting her little sis up on game. I learned a lot from our chat and I hope you do too:
Lindsey Day: Tell me a bit about your background.
Lisa Marie Todd: I was born in Palo Alto. I went to the University of Santa Clara. Then I moved down here and had a number of jobs [laughs]. My major was Communications. So I came down here and worked at a television production company for a while, worked at an ad agency. And then ran into a friend in San Francisco who used to be my dance partner and he says, “Why aren't you performing anymore?” I said, "oh, I'm working and doing this...." and he said, “no. you need to get back into it.” So I got back into it and started working, and started doing commercials, started doing some acting, and then In Living Color came along.
LD: How long were you with In Living Color?
LMT: From the pilot through two seasons, so a good two years and change. That was a great experience.
LD: You worked with J. Lo? I’m sure people ask all the time....
LMT: I worked with Jennifer, she was wonderful. It was an interesting time, because the sketch comedy was amazing. Keenan was amazing. And it still holds up. I don't think we knew what we were a part of when we were doing it, because I kind of went to work and went home, but it's kinda cool to look back at it. It was a great experience.
LD: How did you go from that to making jewelry?
LMT: I was looking for something to do that was creative, and I had always worked with my hands. I picked up a book one day on jewelry-making and I’m going through it and I’m like God, that's really cool, so I found a class. And it just became a passion, and a passion turned into a hobby, and a hobby turned into a business and so, that's where I am now.
LMT: Yeah, I just had a passion for it, and I felt that my daughter [who is now 15 ½] was at a certain age and I could push it. And there had been experiences in my life that...I’ll say “great losses,” that--you realize if you want to do something you'd better do it, because you may not be here anymore. And so, that really put a fire underneath me. And seriously, like 2009 I just said listen, if I'm going to do it let me do it.
LD: That’s something I think a lot of readers can relate to, including myself!
LMT: That period between 26 and 28 is reevaluation time. And you'll start weeding people out and you'll start...feeling what you really want and what you don't want. We usually know what we don't want, but we don't always know what we want. I completely remember that. It happens again, I hate to tell you [laughs], but it's better, because you have a bit more perspective.
LD: What inspires you and your design?
LMT: I find inspiration in everything. I'll literally walk around with my iPhone and see a shadow and go, I may do something with that!
LD: What type of woman is Marie Todd Jewelry made for?
LMT: She's a modern woman, independent, strong. She has a strong sense of herself. I try to start with a big picture--some women don't like big jewelry, maybe big things overwhelm them. Other women want to be seen when they walk in a room. I take one design and mold it. Sometimes we have moods. You may want to be quiet, and you just want that little earring, or necklace, that little touch. Sometimes you’re going out and you want to make a statement. So I keep all of those things in mind.
LD: I’d imagine that it’d be challenging to learn the ins and outs of the jewelry business.
LMT: I'm learning as I go and it's a great journey. I’ve been fortunate to meet a lot of people along the way who have been in the business and want to give information. There are a lot of people who have directed me: "you need this, go see this person, do that, go call this person." Early on I worked with a woman from Thailand and I said to her, “gosh, it's so refreshing to meet somebody that wants to tell someone something and isn't scared you're going to go off and steal their ideas or something.” And she said, “what you make, someone else will like and they won't like my stuff--and vice versa. The way I look at it, there's food for all.” And that always stuck with me; that we're our own competition. We should look at what other people are doing just to know what the market is, but it's us against us. Yourself against yourself. Even now, if I can help somebody or guide them, I do.
LMT: I certainly think my jewelry is modern and timeless, and something you can put away and come back to--you want those kind of pieces. I think it's affordable. It's not super inexpensive but it's not outrageous, so most people can afford to have it. I like that. I get sometimes that people say it looks more expensive than what it costs, which is good; the value of it. So I would say those things are huge selling points. And there's a lot of love that goes into it, and energy.
LD: What’s your favorite piece and why?
LMT: I love the Paisley collection. I remember designing it, and it's kind of Indian, kind of Moroccan. I wear those a lot. It just feels good. It was fun when i was playing around and designing it, and people tend to gravitate to it. And it's different, you know, it has many influences and I love all that. At heart I'm kind of a hippie chick [laughs], being from the San Francisco Bay area.
LD: Tell me more about your candle line.
LMT: I started off with one candle, but since then I’ve created eight fragrances, and I have a men’s candle line that's coming which is really fun. There are three of the original scents that men just loved and I was like, "hmm, men need candles too.” I want a woman to buy it for a man to share it with him. And I want men to buy it because he wants that ambiance for his woman. They’re very masculine--there's nothing floral or anything about them. They've got some punch to them without being offensive. That's my thing: when people smell them I say okay, do ANY of these fragrances offend you. And I have yet to have anybody say yes [laughs].
LD: Busy woman. What else do you have in the works??
LMT: Ultimately, [Marie Todd] is going to be a lifestyle brand, so I’m trying to create products that I love personally, that I want to share. So, I love candles. I love lotions and potions so I'm working on a fragrance and body product line right now. So I’m taking baby steps. I'm not making a ton of it, but baby steps to build the awareness, and I'm blessed that I can do all this stuff.
LD: Is Marie Todd your first entrepreneurial venture?
LMT: No, I have real estate things I do, I have a production company now that we did a pilot with, so that's another area that's bubbling right now. There's a film I'm working on now that I had a meeting about, it's based on a short story. It might be controversial but, oh well. I just feel like why not. If there are things you want to do and try, try them. If it doesn't work you can try it a different way but at least you tried doing it.
LD: What is your business philosophy?
LMT: A. being flexible. you have to be flexible because stuff isn't always going to work out. I've learned how to think on my feet, and if something's not working I'm not the type of person to go well that's so and so's fault or to stay on that. It's about, “how do we fix it?” Nothing irritates me more than someone saying, “well, he did that!” I’’m just like, “I don't hear you, I don't care--fix it.” Then, after the fact if you want to go talk to them about it then go ahead. Let's fix it and move on. We can't stay there.
Also, making time for yourself and your family and the business, finding that balance. It's a struggle. I have a teenage daughter and this is probably the time she needs me more than anything else these next few years. Not that she didn't need me before, but it's different now. And I'm just very aware of that and I enjoy spending my time with her. And if I'm working here and it's getting overwhelming, I'll go walk and I’ll see a cute dog or something. You know, you just trick your mind out of what's going on and you do come back better. Taking that 10, 15 minutes to get out of your head is important.
LD: What advice do you have for young up-and-coming women on pursuing their dreams?
LMT: Research what you're doing before you do it. Don't just jump in. If you can work in the industry, fine. If not, who cares? I didn't work in jewelry before but I think certainly researching and talking to people. At the gut level if you think you should be doing it or you should try it ,just do it. Don't even think twice. Don't listen to people saying, “Oh, you can't do that, oh the economy's bad.” Go do it. Because you don't know where it's going to take you. And on the journey you may think you're going from a to b but it goes a, z, p...[laughs], back and forth. Maybe you start off thinking that's what you're going to do but you meet something or someone or see something.... Just know you'll end up where you're supposed to be. So just start. Don't sit back and wish and hope. Wishing and hoping doesn't make anything happen. Just start. Just go. See what happens. Because it's a fun journey, I gotta tell ya.