march: the second issue

female founder spotlight: cate luzio, founder & ceo of Luminary

step aside, chrismukkah, everyone’s favorite celebration is here: international women’s month! we’re so excited to celebrate all the inspirational, impactful women in our lives and couldn’t think of a better way to do this than sitting down with a woman who created a place for other women to connect, create, and collaborate:  cate luzio, founder & CEO of luminary. 

fun fact: in under a year, cate went from leaving an executive-level banking position and decades long career in finance to creating, funding, curating, and opening the doors of the first female-focused collaboration hub; think less traditional co-working and more perfectly curated apartment filled with people you want to meet. palace is honestly a better word; if you’ve ever been in the space, you probably want to move in and may think we do in fact live there. they have wine on tap, why would we leave? check out the space here!

can you share the “aha!” moment that made you realize you wanted to pivot your career from finance into the ‘next thing’? did you know at that time a workspace for women was what you wanted to do or did that come later?

I didn’t have an “a-ha” moment when I decided to leave banking, but I did have a “what now” reflection point after a pivotal meeting with my [male] mentor. he encouraged me to try something else and then explained “what’s the worst that can happen? you can always go back to banking.” I couldn’t get his comments out of my mind, and then I made the decision to give myself a chance to pivot.

the idea to create luminary was born two months later in march 2018. I realized that women needed a space in NYC to go to invest in their professional development (without sacrificing self-care), build community, and get work done. I created a business plan and it was full steam ahead to make it a reality; we opened our doors just eight months later in november 2018.

editor’s note: gabi + catherine moved in shortly after with the ‘side hustle’ membership. cate cannot get rid of them.

 

was anything holding you back from creating this? how did you work through that process?

nothing held me back. I truly feel luminary fills a gap for professional women “in the middle” – those who are pivoting and entrepreneurs looking to advance, so I just went for it.

in my opinion, preparation and execution are critical. I spent most of my career building, fixing and rebuilding businesses. writing a business plan was my first step; once that was done, I held focus groups and discussions with different women who reinforced that a place like luminary was needed. building out a 15,000 square foot space in less than eight months meant a huge hustle and having the best team around me.

 

your tagline for luminary is ‘come sit at our table’; can you talk to us about why this is important to luminary’s mission and to you personally?

we’ve all felt intimidated at some point in our lives. whether it was walking into the cafeteria on the first day of school, looking for someone to sit with, to your first day of college orientation or your first job, those feelings of self-doubt trickle in. whether you’re an extrovert or introvert, we’ve all had these feelings and I wanted to create a place that was welcoming, open and engaging. our “come sit at our table” mantra is important because we are inclusive not exclusive. we are a community of women across all ages, backgrounds, levels, and industries. our goal is to inspire and be inspired and build a diverse community.

 

you’ve built a great team at luminary; can you share some ‘how to hire right’ secrets?

building the right team around is you is so important. I look for people that want to work hard, that have passion for what they are “selling” and believe in our mission. this isn’t just a job or a company, it’s a family that’s part of a bigger community. we rely on one another and succeed when we work together. I have always said you’re only as good as your team. we win together, but we lose together too.

how would your team describe your leadership style?

my team would definitely say that I am direct and demanding, setting the bar high for myself and others; but I’m compassionate, open, energetic and mission-driven. I wouldn’t say my hiring style has changed from banking to luminary, but I had to hire a team with completely different skill sets and backgrounds. when I look at the team we’ve built, I know we have something special.

 

you’re a seasoned finance professional, but first time self-funded CEO; can you share a few things that expectedly, or unexpectedly, challenged you with this career change and how you navigated them? 

self-funded or not, being a first-time entrepreneur is a roller coaster. the highs are super high, and the lows are super low; it’s hard to navigate the challenges most of the time to be honest. as a self-funder, I focus on execution and acceleration of results to cash flow positive, so I need to be laser-focused on revenue and expenses. I think whether you self-fund, you raise or you leverage various loan options, it’s still a ton of pressure, but that’s also what makes the success matter that much more. 

what has challenged me the most is that roller coaster and the lack of infrastructure that I relied on more than I realized working for a big bank. on the positive side, I was pleasantly surprised by the number of women, especially entrepreneurs, that have reached out to see how they can help. it’s really inspiring but I still feel there needs to be a support group for female-founders. maybe I’ll create one at luminary! want to join? 

 

can you talk to us about your decision to self-fund vs. raise money? were there different funding avenues you explored or did you always know you wanted to self-fund? 

frankly, I never really explored other options. I knew that if I wanted to open luminary in less than a year, I wouldn’t be able to fundraise. It’s a long process and as we are all aware, women get less than 2% of venture capital funding. I’ve been working with and supporting initiatives focused on gender equality for many years and I wanted to walk the walk and put my money where my mouth was. not everyone can self-fund, but I had saved a good amount from my banking days and wanted to invest in this company. I continue to look at funding options and leave the door open as the business grows. 

 

what do you consider your best pinch-me moment? 

the day we had our launch party, our furniture arrived at 8:30am (161 pieces of furniture, 3 weeks late from Asia and elevator out of commission). the entire team and then some pulled together, and we kicked off our launch party at 6pm. I couldn’t believe we did it, but then again, I knew we would. that day I received flowers from someone special and the note said, “never a doubt.” I think that was my pinch-me moment that we had done it – in less than 8 months. 

 

is there a female founder you view as a mentor?

there have been so many, but I will say the co-founders of The Second Shift, Gina Hadley and Jenny Galluzzo. they have been incredible – the advice, support, introductions to other female founders and just “get it done” attitude. I also recently met Michelle Cordeiro Grant at LIVELY and we just clicked; the idea generation, brainstorming on how to collaborate and reciprocity around introductions has been fantastic. honestly, we have several female-founders that are luminary members and they all inspire me!

editor’s note: check out our february issue if you missed our february spotlight on michelle cordeiro grant! and yes, thank you for asking, our pinch me moment is when worlds collide and founders we adore meet and click with each other – and invite us to sit at their table.

 

we ask every founder we meet this question, because it’s always a good story! how did you come up with the name for luminary?

after dozens and dozens of names on poster board, i checked my linkedin and had a message from a former colleague whom i didn’t know. he said that he hoped i was well and even though we had never met, he saw me as a luminary for so many. i actually googled it because i knew it meant light but when i read the definition: “a person who inspires others, a guiding light, a role model, an influencer, a leader, a legend, a heroine”, i knew. i wanted to build a community of luminaries.  

cate, thank you for being a luminary for us (and so many others) + for giving us a home away from home. we can’t wait to see what the future holds for luminary [i.e. the roof deck coming in april] and for all females who get more sh*t done because of you.

*all product images, press images, and headshot images are property of cate luzio + luminary. 
**this is not a sponsored post. all obsessions are 100% real

#bts with blankbox: a glimpse into the last six months

blankbox is officially six months old (!!!!!!) it’s crazy to think that exactly six months and ten days ago, we decided to stop talking about blankbox to each other, anyone who would listen, and ourselves in the mirror and just DO IT. *patiently awaiting nike sponsor*

we get asked all the time “how is blankbox going?!” and according to our instagram insights people actually like to hear from us… so here goes. we’ve decided to honor this glorious anniversary by recapping the good and the not so good of our first six months in business. it’s important to know that behind the instagram highlight reel, revenue goals and exciting things we share with all of you, there is an equal amount of blood (if you’ve ever wrestled with an industrial tape dispenser, you know), sweat (have you ever carried 5 boxes at once to the post office….times 5 trips?) and tears (usually fueled by sleep deprivation). but seeing you guys use and love blankbox makes every second worth it. 

the good.

first things first, we actually did the damn thing. the first week of launching a business is basically a drug-less high. we took the week off from our day jobs and split our time between packing boxes + sprinting back and forth to the post office, and responding to the outpouring of texts, calls, emails, and carrier pigeons from people we love. 

 

we joined the female founder collective, brainchild of rebecca minkoff & elisabeth leonard, which has introduced us to so many female founders-turned-friends + impactful contacts. special shout out to our amazing photographer diana davis (@dianadaviscreative), who manages to take the only pictures of us we can both agree on, and cate luzio, the inspirational founder of luminary, which also happens to be our new home away from home (side hustle membership for the win). 

 

we launched the fill as part of our brand’s mission to fill people’s brains with meaningful content the same way our customers fill their boxes with meaningful gifts. we’ve been victims of the inbox overload and wanted to give people real stories, fun and inspiring features, and on brand product recommendations of things we actually use and love. naturally, we decided to bump the launch up a month…two days before sending it out….#entrepreneurlife.  

 

we were featured on somethingnavy as part of brand director tara foley’s wedding day seen here, and played a part in many other weddings for bridesmaid proposals, wedding welcomes, gifts to the parents, and more. second best feeling to the first week of launch is seeing blankboxes as part of our customers’ special days and meaningful moments – it’s surreal. we’re not crying, you are

 

we participated in the formerly’s money talk series, a newly launched and female-founded personal finance platform, where we shared what it’s like to launch a business and how we ‘try’ to keep our personal spending habits in check while bootstrapping blankbox. read here! 

 

we were interviewed by swaay media, talking about bringing this new concept to market, starting a business with your best friend, and our advice to new(er) founders! we’ve recently started focusing on press coverage to grow our business: the highs of this are hearing the reaction to the blankbox concept (and designs!), talking to influential people who actually care about what we have to say (what?!), and waiting excitedly for the articles to come out (stay tuned for more where that came from!) the lows of this….see the not so good. but before you read on, check out the piece here

 

we‘ve learned skills we hadn’t touched with a ten-foot pole in our finance careers: product development, production and quality control, social media, website building, digital marketing, and what customer acquisition channels work and don’t work for us. we’ve also learned that everyone we talk to knows something we don’t, and that a lot of these things we mention above can be learned simply by asking people around us.  

 

if this was instagram, we’d just end there. but this is REAL LIFE, PEOPLE!  

post office photo

the not so good.

we pop’d up in three locations over the holidays: our thought was by popping up alongside gift-able companies, people would naturally gravitate towards chic, convenient packaging. while sales were less than inspiring – we’re learned an incredibly valuable lesson… people who attend pop-ups want to touch and feel your product, so displaying your boxes like they’re the newest exhibit at the MET is a not-so-good idea. our tower of boxes seemed to deter customers from picking up a blankbox and learning more about the product. 

we realized can’t afford a PR team or like, 1/10th of a PR team, which was pretty discouraging since this is an area of entrepreneurship we need the most help with. cue hours of cold emailing pitches to dozens of editors & publications, with a response rate lower than the legal alcohol limit.  

we had our first post-office mishap where a customer never received her box (eeeek!) we knew it would happen at some point, but we still felt personally victimized by the USPS. 

there’s no leaving work at the door: with your own startup, there are no days off or clocking out at 5pm. the perks of this are that the business is basically your child and you don’t necessarily want to leave it at the door; the cons, you will have dreams about boxes. a lot of them. on a more serious note, it can be exhausting to continuously create the mental space for it and continuously feel the pressure of ‘I can always be doing more’. cue a lot of pep talks to ourselves and scheduling time to step back and have “me” time with the same importance we would assign anything else on our calendar.   

march gift guide: the 'celebrate the women in your life' gift box

as if we needed another reason to celebrate women, march is women’s history month and home to international women’s day! naturally, we’ll all be needing thoughtful gift ideas for the women in our lives – mothers, sisters, best friends, girlfriends, mentors, inspirations, you name it – okay, okay also ourselves. you’ve convinced us. 

whoever the lucky recipients may be, here’s a guide to curating the perfect gift to celebrate international women’s day + all the women in your life. like our february gift guide, each of these products is created by a female founder so you can support women by supporting your women. as always, self-gifting encouraged.

grace bonney coffee table book - blankbox gift guide the fill

'in the company of women' by grace bonney

catherine's sister gifted her this book for christmas and it's since become one of her favorite 'coffee table books with content you can actually read'. from media titans to tattoo artists, grace bonney's collection of interviews with 100 creative women will leave you inspired.

cuyana tank - blankbox gift guide the fill

cuyana - black silk scoop tank

fun fact: cuyana's nyc store launch was the first event we attended after launching blankbox. karla + shilpa (the founders) were manning the cash register, so we bought a piece to introduce ourselves. little did we know we'd be resisting the urge to wear this simple but elegant staple....every day.

aurate new york gold - blankbox gift guide the fill

AUrate new york - gold huggies

a touch of class, a touch of sass...and basically a hug for your earlobes. the gold is the highest quality; these are a recent purchase, but in over a year of stacking their rings, not one has a scratch or blemish. simple, stylish, and a hint of elegance will elevate even the old 'im pretending i just worked out' look.

drunk elephant skincare - blankbox gift guide the fill

drunk elephant - the littles

drunk elephant has completely changed my skin. to say i'm obsessed would be an understatement; if they gave $$$ for referrals we'd be jetsetting to bora bora and cruising around on our yacht. the line is pretty pricey (but so worth it), so the littles is the perfect way to try the products + get #drunkinlove.

all images are property of respective companies

strong women. may we know them, may we be them, may we gift to them.