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female founder feature: kate westad, palette by pak

female founder feature: kate westad, palette by pak

we’ve all been there. packing for a vacation, business trip, or just a day-to-workout-to-night day in the life. in the dark days [pre kate + palette by pak] we had to either pack, unpack + repack our entire skincare routine into said bag or *gasp* leave home without our goops, glops + glam. no more! kate westad, founder + ceo of palette by pak, has invented [and patented] the ‘original high fiver’, the first of its kind compact, convenient + leak proof travel tool of our dreams.  if you think her product is life changing [you’re right, it is] wait until you read her story! 

tell us what your product is and the story of how you got started. 

 

i am the founder of palette by pak and i invented the palette the original high fiver. it’s what i humbly like to call the travel + beauty tool of your dreams! but seriously, it has been so incredibly amazing to see our product go from vision to reality and help solve real world beauty and on-the-go problems. 

 

how did you take the business from “idea” to “launch”. 

 

i could see the high fiver so clearly in my mind. from the design, to the material, to the colors, to the name. i think the biggest part of this journey was staying true to my vision and going with my intuition, no matter what.

 

As an inventor, I have sketchbooks and lists upon lists of ideas. And as an attorney, I knew my first step would be about protecting my ideas. So I took my idea to an attorney friend of mine and he said he could help. It really just snowballed from there. One person would introduce me to one person and another person to another person. It really is true that you just need to start and the path will appear. It was a long process, well over two years. My biggest challenge was manufacturing in the USA, but it was so important to me. As a sustainably minded company, I just had to have it made locally with as tight of a footprint as possible.

 

execution is key! as you close out your first year in business, what would you do differently? what did you feel you did particularly well?

 

we actually didn’t fully launch ecommerce sales until august. so we are at the six month mark. i literally would do nothing different. i have learned so much about each choice and decision. you truly can’t learn to run a company without testing what works and what doesn’t for your brand. i think being open minded and always choosing the most exciting choice that feels right in the moment has helped. making discerning and intuitive choices that resounds with me as a founder is key. someone recently described me as having “big dreams, killer instinct.” I wil try to live up to that description any day of the week. I look at this process as a complete learning experience. As a litigation attorney you are so used to taking a subject and learning everything about it. This really was no different. plus I thought it was fascinating and was enthralled with the problem solving aspect of entreprenuership.
 
 
I also really think you need to find the right people to help you. When you are so small, the people you bring in to help you are so crucial. And knowing who to bring in when is equally as important. For instance, I was not just launching my invention, I knew I was launching a brand with numerous inventions and multiple innovations in the works. It was important we came out strong and our creative, branding and marketing reflected who we were and was on point. And mostly we were just having fun!
 

you’ve self funded this entire business (!!!) talk to us about that decision and why you took that path instead of raising vc money. 

 

for one, it can be easier – you can start immediately and go at your own pace. two, you answer to yourself. when you have such a strong vision, you know where you want to go. autonomy, freedom with a dash of “holy sheet cake, this is very expensive” comes to mind.

as a self funder, how do you market your product and get it in front of as many eyes as possible in a cost effective way? is there a particular platform or methodology that’s worked exceptionally well for you?

 

marketing can feel like literally lighting money on fire. but if you want people to visit the world you are creating, you have to build streets, you have to create traffic. i do not believe the “build it they will come” philosophy. you must get out there once you are done testing in a big way. and you have to have a point of connection with your customers. for us, we are so  passionate about reusing materials, sustainability and eliminating single-use travel bottles. plus we are a problem solver for our on-the-go modern beauty lifestyle and we created this product to help people. these are connectable points for people. i truly believe we all want to be better and help save the world. People can do that with our product by skipping one travel bottle at a time. 
 
 
We have also tested so many platforms and channels since launching. We did all of our testing live in the market. I feel like we have learned so much in just 6 months. Now that we are preparing to scale and roll into retail, we know better where to position our product. people tend to just focus on the montary gains but the market insight to us has been immeasurable. Plus so many opportunities came from testing. We will continue to test as we grow and diversify our efforts. 
 

talk to us about the patent process. how did you go from having this idea to securing its patent? why did you decide to patent your product out of the gate?

 

it is an expensive long process. not for the faint of heart but come on, nor is launching a startup. as a lawyer and based on what i invented, i decided to go this route. it is not always available, but in my case it was. i regret nothing and would go this route 1000 times over. innovation protected is the way to go. And you really do need a qualified patent lawyer for this process and a set aside budget as it is quite expensive. This is not one of those things you can do yourself.

 

i think when you are passionate about something you make it happen. for me, i stopped watching tv, i stopped trying to have everything be so perfect at home. i stopped trying to find “hobbies” and instead did what i felt passionate about. as an only parent of 4 kids, i took those “found” hours and launched a business. for me, it was something i had to do. for me, there was no alternative. i had to make it happen. my kids are my biggest fans and the biggest supporters. i like to think i am showing them that you can create something out of nothing and find so much satisfaction in it. life is also short, so we talk about that a lot in our house. if not now, when?

 

signature question – how did you come up with the name?

 

i could see it so clearly in the vision of my product. i feel like it was just meant to be. 

 

can you talk a little bit about how being a mom impacts your life as a solopreneur / founder? what’s the balance like there and what advice do you have for moms trying to build a business? 

 

I am an only parent of of 4 kids. Their dad died over 5 years ago. I think going through something so devastating and tragic makes you also realize life is short. It became this passion project for me, to get these ideas out into the world as soon as I could. I tell my kids aythikng is possible, and I hope by me chasing my dreams they can see they can chase theirs as well.

 

Through this process, I was working two jobs. Sometimes your house isn’t clean. Sometimes the laundry waits. Sometimes you get take out. I would spend my free time on evenings and weekends doing start up work. I think sometimes we are so socialized to just do what we are expected to do in our daily lives. You have to conciously make an effort to take those hours and shift them towards something you feel passisonate and excited about. And sometimes you have to stop trying to be so perfect and accept that for now, this is what needs to happen to make your dreams come true.

 

what’s your best piece of advice for someone in your shoes? 

 

just start. as you go down your path, the steps will just appear. people will come to support and help you. but sometimes the hardest part is just taking the first step. it can be as simple as a sketch, a phone call, reading and research and taking notes. it only takes one little spark to create a flame. i truly believe that anyone can chase their dreams, no matter your age, experience or current situation. anything is possible!

catherine's high-fiver

 since i’ve recently become a skincare junkie these are obviously not all the products i use, but  the ones i use every.single.day. i  start my routine with the milky moisturizing cleanser from sanitas followed by a few spritz’s of the essence by the same brand [not pictured]. with still damp skin i’ll put The Ordinary. Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5 for an extra moisture boost. step three is the skinceuticals c e ferulic to help even out my skin tone. last morning step is the Biossance Squalane + Probiotic Gel Moisturizer. in the pm i swap the c e ferulic for sunday riley’s juno oil. 

gabi's high-fiver

the 5 products I cannot live without [and that you’ll find in my palette by pak high fiver]! if I ever gift these to you in a blankbox, just know i love you more than average. the drunk elephant c-firma, drunk elephant protini and drunk elephant virgin marula oil are my morning ‘skin cocktail’, good genes by sunday riley is a new addition to my skincare routine and i’m o b s e s s e d. a little pricey, but worth every penny. and last but definitely not least, drunk elephant’s babyfacial, which i use 1x per week to exfoliate. 

 

team blankbox: our first [full] year in business!

the fill: team blankbox + our first full year in business

it’s officially 2020 and the end of a decade! 10 years ago, we were both in our freshman year at holy cross and hadn’t yet become friends; little did we know a decade later we’d be best friends + cofounders saying goodbye to our first full year in business with blankbox! it’s been a wild ride of a year full of ups, downs + a whole lot of sideways – and we’re here to tell the story!

for our first ‘the fill’ of the new roaring ’20s, we’re interviewing – you guessed it – ourselves! we’re getting candid on lessons we’ve learned + what’s surprised us, the do’s + donts of getting press + navigating your cofounder relationship, the best constructive criticism we’ve received + what our accomplishments this year have taught us. our *law + order opening credits* – here are our / their stories

gabi koshgarian catherine wang blankbox founders
blankbox founders gabi koshgarian catherine wang
corporate gifting holiday gifting custom corporate gift boxes

if you had to pick one word to describe the last year, what would it be and why? 


FAST! There are going to be a lot of unexpected things that come up (good and bad) and you have to move fast, change fast and learn fast. As cheesy as it sounds, we’ve developed a “we will get anything done” mentality – when something unexpected comes up, we know it’s not even a question if we can get it done so we don’t waste time with that – we just touch base and figure out a plan to make it happen.

what were your top 2 accomplishments and why are they important to the brand on a broader scale?


Press – 2019 was the year of PRESS! #humblebrag Forbes and the Today Show [among others] #humblebrag we were so excited to have the opportunity to tell our story as founders and show the world a little more blankbox!

Beyond the excitement of the press itself, there are broader brand implications; the first, validation. We learned that press doesn’t necessarily drive immediate sales and ROI (which was surprising, but we’ve since heard the same from a lot of other founders so don’t expect ROI in the beginning!) It does validate your brand and put your name in the mouths of a much broader audience than you can do on your own. 

It also gives you street cred when you’re pitching other outlets, which brings us to our next broader brand implication: learning how to pitch yourself. I [gabi] used to be the master of the next great American novel pitch email explaining in detail what blankbox is, how it’s used + why they should love it; oh and did I mention the subject along the lines of: “founder of blankbox reaching out / [something personal about them or an article they wrote here]!” If you love blankbox and want to write novels about it, that means everyone else wants to also right?!

Hard no. 

Luckily for us [+ the victims of our novels] two really important things happened mid 2019. The first, Cate Luzio held a “Ask an Editor” night at Luminary with senior editors of digital media outlets designed to answer all the press questions you have but have nobody to ask aka help people like us figure out how to actually write a press email. Catherine sat in the front row [if this shocks you, email us because we clearly need to get to know you better!] and asked so many questions and…drum roll please…got SO many answers! If you’re a founder / on a small team and a member of Luminary, highly recommend going to the next one of these. If not, highly recommend becoming a member [and if you don’t, come as our guest]. Events like this designed to facilitate answers to specific questions that are otherwise difficult to get are so important – especially when it comes to the Dark Underworld that is PR. 

The second important thing that happened was meeting Melissa Conner from Jennifer Bett Communications – we originally met at the Female Founder Conference back in March – by met I mean I cornered her and introduced myself [again, if this shocks you, reach out to me let’s get coffee] and she quickly became a mentor of ours. JBC started doing “Office Hours” where you can go and get answers to all your PR questions from VP level experts [this is for brands who are not clients] – for anyone who hasn’t gone, I highly recommend it. Again, any opportunity designed to give you answers to specific questions – especially when it’s one on one with an expert you wouldn’t typically have access to – so important and helpful!

Here is what we’ve learned:


-the subject should be your angle: answer the “why do they care to open this”

-short and sweet. We learned that editors receive hundreds of emails a day, a lot of them pitches. Long winded means they open it [if they open it], probably gasp dramatically at the length and then immediately close without reading the email you just spent an hour crafting. *crying emoji* Instead: open with the reason you’re writing. If you read an article they wrote last year and think your product is perfect for this year’s version, say that. If you read several of their articles and have an angle you think works in their niche, say that. Then introduce yourself and your brand in 1-2 sentences: it’s okay not to give all the information about your brand that you think is relevant. If they care, they’ll ask. 

-one of our most successful pitch emails to date was the simplest email we’ve ever written to a stranger, and it landed us on the today show (hi jenn falik, we love you!) it was a 5 line email from catherine introducing herself as the founder + blankbox that started with who we are (1-2 sentences) and ended with why you care (1-2 sentences). That’s it. 

Alexa, play started from the bottom by Drake. 

 

best pieces of constructive criticism you got and how they changed your mindset?


“Your website doesn’t reflect the quality of your box”: this is actually a compliment framed as constructive criticism but gave us a whole new perspective on how others are perceiving our boxes without having seen them. We’re around them 24/7 so we know the quality, but this helped us not assume that people who haven’t seen them do. The suggestion here was to build in more video content on our website that showcases each individual feature of the blankbox that we’re proud of [the quality and thickness of the box, the built in ribbon, magnetic closure, texture, et] that may not be as visible in a photo. 

Editor’s note: Videographers hit us up at hello@blankboxnyc.com!

 

“I would buy a solid color box but not one with designs on it”: when we were in the pre-launch design phase of blankbox [hi madeline, hi 1,000 designs!], we finalized the 3 we ended up launching with in part because we love them [and the 500 people we surveyed did too], but also in part because none of them is necessarily polarizing. There aren’t any bold colors or super specific patterns that would rub people the wrong way….BUT it turns out not everyone even wants design at all! 

We never even considered a solid color box as we thought those already existed. So many people have asked us to make a line of [higher quality than existing options] solid color boxes: we plan to do this in gen 2 and call them ‘blankbox basics’: stay tuned!

Editor’s note: this also taught us that no matter how much you survey people, do your research, and create options within your brand – you cannot please everyone. And that’s okay! It’s hard not to take personally as the founder + chief “I give so many fucks about every tiny detail” officer but the mentality that you can’t please everyone helps.

any surprises? what did you learn for next time?

PR doesn’t lead to sales – as we mentioned above, this was super surprising to us! Each press hit is definitely great brand validation and leads to more press, but we haven’t seen meaningful ROI yet from press hits. Part of this is likely that some of our press pieces involve blankbox as part of a ‘round-up’ rather than a standalone brand, but we’ve also heard similar stories from other entrepreneurs. 

people want to hear from us and see our faces behind the brand [okay diana, you were right – keep reading and this will make sense!] we learned that people will buy a really good product that solves a problem for them, but they will even more likely buy that product if they feel connected to the founders somehow – to all you seasoned founders rolling your eyes and whispering ‘duh’ to yourself, bear with us!! We were shocked at how much of a difference this can make + are focused on building our own personal brand as part of blankbox – starting with this interview of ourselves, obviously. 

This really came to light when we sent a short + sweet email introducing ourselves to random strangers [+ a lot of people who already knew us, hello CRM user error!] it was the shortest email we’ve ever sent, but had the highest open rate of anything we’ve ever sent. *powerful*

editor’s note: Want to see it? Email us at hello@blankboxnyc.com – we share the love!

 

contracts really matter. again, duh right? but when you are a startup in pre-launch phase working with a big supplier, you have zero leverage [or so you think]. not naming names, but when said supplier refuses to sign a supply agreement because ‘they don’t do that” and you’re in a time crunch to get to production phase and sign anyways….you end up with a higher % than anyone would ever want of damaged boxes. surprise – they don’t want to refund you! and if you don’t have a contract, there’s nothing you can do. lesson learned: do not work in good faith with anyone you don’t implicitly trust. always have a contract. lesson learned 2: refusal to sign a contract is a red flag.

 

talk about your cofounder relationship – what roles did you play and what did you learn?


First of all, we learned that it is okay [and actually better] to get into business with your best friend, if you have the kind of relationship where you can separate personal and professional. We’re both direct people and respect each other’s opinions and work styles so much that it works – of course we disagree but we’ve never disagreed on something we can’t resolve thanks to the ‘feel strongly’ method [trademark pending]. If one of us feels strngly about something, the other agrees and we do that. It’s never failed us. 

We both come from finance + operations backgrounds [hence, the “day” jobs as COO of our respective companies, which we happen to love. Shout out to the best, most supportive bosses in the world!] as cofounders of a direct to consumer gift box company, it turns out we can’t survive on finance and operations alone [whaaaat?!] we have to get creative and learn marketing and social media quickly [hi arianne! Keep reading to find out who arianne is]. I [gabi] was really surprised by how much I wanted to slip into the more ‘creative’ sides of the business and how much I never wanted to see the word tax again – it required a lot of learning on my part [like how to actually use Instagram and how to use Photoshop…hello all-nighter tutorial a week before launch!] but it’s something I’ve really enjoyed. Catherine handles our operations, including order fulfillment and vendor management – as her boyfriend would say, she is a HAWK. Nothing gets by her, which is absolutely ideal when it comes to startup operations. 

editor’s note: I [gabi] also call her the Chief Margin Finder [has she ever physically wrestled the company credit card out of my hands…maybe]. 

One thing we will say is when you’re looking for a cofounder, pick someone with the exact same work ethic + work style as you do. If you burn the midnight oil and have a ‘get shit done’ mentality, don’t pick a cofounder who checks out at 4:59:59pm every night and gets strangled by the tiniest bit of change. It’s not going to work.

Lastly – we learned that we think each other is hilarious. Stay tuned for a couple upcoming podcasts where this becomes all too obvious. 

share some blankbox box facts! [okay fine, since you asked]


most popular box: for personal use, the most popular box is ‘at first blush’ [bridesmaid proposals, which are our #1 personal use!]; for corporate gifting, checker me out is the most popular

most popular filler: crinkle! People are typically filling their blankboxes with multiple items, so the filler lets you ‘stage’ in a really cute way

largest order: 50 boxes [to any companies reading this who want to set a new record: challenge accepted]

Ideas for gen 2 boxes: our boxes have sticky corners that require peeling off the corners for assembly; in gen 2, we want to make these corners magnetic for easier assembly / storage! We’ve also received requests for solid color boxes, which we will release in gen 2 and call ‘blankbox basics’. Stay tuned.

what’s next for blankbox? 


In 2020 you’ll be seeing us in [hopefully] a few stores! In addition to serving our direct to consumer and corporate clients, we want blankbox to be a gift packaging option at the stores you all know + love so you can take care of your gift + gift packaging all at once. 

We’d also like to focus on expanding our B2B corporate gifting client base – blankbox solves a real problem for companies and brands that otherwise spend so much time, energy and additional $ on packaging just so they can gift to clients, customers, investors, etc. we’d like to get our name out to as many companies + brands as possible.

Editor’s note: If you have ideas, reach out at hello@blankboxnyc.com – we’d love to hear them!

day job: coo of a boutique commercial real estate company in midtown 
favorite me-time activity: once a week i take myself on a reading / breakfast date to two hands in soho. their scrambled eggs + a good thriller = <3
currently reading: the wives by tarryn fisher
currently binge watching: servant on apple tv
favorite brand [other than blankbox]: drunk elephant
favorite box: checker me out [this is like choosing a favorite child] – i love the neutral colors paired with pop of color gifts

day job: coo of a contracting firm based in midtown
favorite me-time activity: monthly facial @ female-owned and operated silver mirror facial bar. 
currently reading: proof of heaven by eben alexander and the institute by stephen king 
currently binge watching: just finished lost in space on netflix. i need something new! email me recs please! 
favorite brand [other than blankbox]: dressweights. i love a flowy dress/maxi skirt moment and these mini, reusable weights are the only thing keeping me from not flashing all of nyc on the daily.

favorite box: checker me out – i use one as a keepsake box and keep it on my bookself as home decor. peep our insta for inspo. 

checker me out - blankbox corporate gift box branded gift box
dont stop til youre proud
pass the rose - blankbox floral gift box with gifts

meet madeline: graphic designer [+ chief box designer]

how did you find blankbox [or blankbox find you]? tell us what you do.

i have been best friends with gabi since the eighth grade and when she told me about the idea for blankbox i immediately wanted to be involved. i have always been passionate about all things creative and have a background in graphic design—that’s where i found how i would fit into the equation: i designed the patterns for the three boxes. i also worked with team blankbox on their logo and branding.

what’s one piece of advice you gave team blankbox from the beginning that has shaped their design and branding?

design is a never-ending process (helps save our sanity – it will never be “perfect”); especially when first launching, make sure you are happy with your product but if you keep trying to make every single aspect of every single design perfect, you will never actually “do” it, which is the most important thing. 

the best branding is clean and simple, and we wanted our box designs to speak to that. we kept the patterns and colors eye catching but simple, with no polarizing colors. this also shaped our strategy to create custom gift boxes that people could keep post-gifting as home decor, storage or a re-gift box. 

what do you find is super important for small [and growing] brands when it comes to design and branding? are there any mistakes you see a lot of brands make?

again, keep it simple. also, create your own content, if possible.

what’s one brand you work with [besides blankbox] that does something unique with design and branding that you think more brands should emulate?

i worked with a brand called arts unkajed, which is a brand that sells art pieces and is a unique take on art therapy using the acrylic pour technique – i love how she is proactive in getting her work out there and explaining the importance of each piece – she doesn’t just sell her pieces, but also hosts workshops and rents out spaces in popular markets in boston to teach her audiences about what her products mean and why they are important.  when selling a product or service, communicating the broader meaning behind it is important for people to feel connected to it.

how can brands contact you?

madelinehoward5@gmail.com – email me! i love working with new companies as they get started with logo design and brand idea

 

*editor’s note: this is a photo of madeline and gabi circa 2007. nothing like a good peace sign photo to remind you of how far you’ve come. 

meet brittany: calligraphy + personalization

how did you find blankbox [or blankbox find you]? tell us what you do.

@blankboxnyc reached out to me on Instagram (thank you, social media!) to meet for coffee one morning! i immediately knew Gabi and Catherine were awesome and had created something amazing and i was so excited to be a part of it. if we hadn’t connected through Instagram for “work”, I would’ve totally chosen them as friends!

I create their personalized gift tags (all by hand) using embossing powder and a heat tool! I love being able to add a personalized touch to their gift boxes and seeing the final product put together!

 

what’s one piece of advice you gave team blankbox from the beginning that has shaped their strategy?

If anything, these ladies are the ones giving ME advice! Gabi, Catherine, and I are constantly exchanging strategies on how to manage our full-time jobs with our side hustles. Time management is key and I’d say we’ve successfully navigated our (often demanding) full-time jobs while still keeping our creative juices flowing!

 

what do you find is super important for small [and growing] brands when it comes to personalizing their products? are there any mistakes you see a lot of brands make?

I think personalized items are so special and remind you that an item was specifically created for you and no one else owns that item. I love when products are handmade and tailored specifically for me. That’s the beauty of blankbox! The gift giver can fill the boxes up with items that are specifically tailored towards the recipient! I love options when personalizing items, but I do believe in analysis paralysis – sometimes it’s so difficult to make a decision so some sort of guidelines or restrictions are always appreciated!

 

what’s one brand you work with [besides blankbox] that does something unique with personalization that you think more brands should emulate?

I work with @theme_nyc by personalizing their hand tie-dyed pieces! I love how each piece is unique and it’s been fun seeing the different ways each customer has chosen to personalize their item. I’ve seen customers personalize the wrist area of a hoodie, or the lower back area of a shirt. I’ve even gotten a request to draw a cactus on the pocket of a sweatshirt! I love being able to incorporate each customer’s unique creativity.

 

how can brands contact you?
Instagram is best! @bmletters

meet arianne: social media strategy + manager

how did you find blankbox [or blankbox find you]? tell us what you do.

Gabi messaged me on Instagram and we got coffee! she was running the blankbox instagram full time + needed help with overall strategy + leveraging instagram to target the right customers and drive revenue

 

I work full time as a social media strategist for brands in the health, fitness, fashion, beauty, and female entrepreneur industries. I do everything from full content creation to email marketing, hashtag research, custom Instagram stories, and of course, my signature engagement process, where I organically grow your Instagram account. I love working with budding female brands because it’s super fast-paced and hands on and I absolutely love the fact that I get to be a contributing member of so many amazing and inspiring teams.

 

what’s one piece of advice you gave team blankbox from the beginning that has shaped their strategy? what do you find is super important for small [and growing] brands when it comes to social media? are there any mistakes you see a lot of brands make?

Focus on quality> quantity and always pay attention to the cohesiveness of the brand.

Something that I realized when working with blankbox and that definitely comes up a lot with my ecommerce clients is the question of lifestyle versus more product shots. Based on sales/ customer acquisition and overall engagement, you might be surprised to learn that brands who just really focus on quality product shots seem to perform better than brands that go the lifestyle route. Of course there are exceptions to this—Chillhouse, for example, has done a really great job of creating that more lifestyle-focused brand on Instagram. But generally, if you’re just starting out as a brand or business, you need to be really clear on what you’re trying to market and to whom. Too many regrams of generic quotes or other people’s content won’t make you stand out. Invest in product photography, learn how to use photoshop, or outsource social media completely to someone who can cover multiple of these angles (like me 😉)

 

what’s one brand you work with [besides blankbox] that does something unique with marketing and social media that you think more brands should emulate?

I work with Isabella Silverio (@isabella.guava) as her content marketer and she has been my first introduction on leading marketing and social media initiatives outside of the ecommerce space—What makes her stand apart is her tough-love blunt copy paired with her inspiring and genuine tips and aesthetically-pleasing Instagram feed. She has created a guava girl community by connecting with her audience- she has really taught me the importance of building a strong community for ANY type of brand (ecommerce, public figure, coach etc.) before asking your audience for favors (ie buying your products). 

 

how can brands contact you?

The best way to contact me is via email (seekingmillennial@gmail.com) but you can also always find me on Instagram and slide into my DMs if you have a quick question (@seekingmillennial)!

 

 

meet diana: photographer

how did you find blankbox [or blankbox find you]? tell us what you do. 

I’m a photographer and founder of Diana Davis Creative. blankbox found me through our amazing network of women here in NYC

what’s one piece of advice you gave team blankbox from the beginning that has shaped their strategy? 

SHOW YOUR FACE! People want to know the founders behind this awesome brand!

what do you find is super important for small [and growing] brands when it comes to photography? are there any mistakes you see a lot of brands make? 

Waiting to start. Some brands are hesitant to invest in their business right away and think iphone photos are going to cut it, but people pay attention and take brands seriously that take themselves seriously. Quality images are key

what’s one brand you work with [besides blankbox] that does something unique with photography that you think more brands should emulate?

I work with Native, the natural deodorant brand. They are always trying new things and they aren’t afraid to invest in their photography. They also totally nail user generated content mixed in with their own.

how can brands contact you?

Follow me/DM on Instagram at @dianadaviscreative.com or give me a shout at hello@dianadaviscreative.com

female founder feature: candace ourisman + ashley bronczek, secretly gifting

female founder feature: ashley bronczek + candace ourisman, cofounders of secretly gifting

there is no more appropriate female founder feature at the height of holiday gifting season than the dynamic duo behind secretly gifting! like blankbox, secretly gifting is focused on keeping gifting as thoughtful as possible, with washington dc based cofounders candace + ashley literally flying around the world to source the “most unique, high quality gifts out there”. they’re the faces behind thousands of gifts [and equally as many smiles] since launching their business to “take the guesswork out of gifting”. 

as fellow #giftrepreneurs, cofounders + thoughtful gift enthusiasts, we’re excited to tell their inspiring story! 

where did the inspiration come from to start secretly gifting? and our signature question: how did you come up with the name secretly gifting?

secretly gifting was an idea that came to us because it was something we were organically doing for friends and family. we have always loved treasure hunting for ourselves and for others, so during a lunch with a fellow entrepreneur, a lightbulb went off and we decided to turn our passion into a business. 

our name is inspired by a few things. many of our clients don’t know about the magic behind the scenes so we are in essence, secretly gifting. also, candace’s instagram handle is secretly fancy, which is a nod to the finer things in life but also a reminder to not take yourself so seriously and have fun!

 

we’re cofounders too so we understand that there’s a share in all responsibility, but a natural tendency towards certain ones. what makes your cofounder relationship work and how do you divide and conquer day to day responsibilities?

we like to say that the venn diagram of our skill sets has very little overlap, which is why our partnership has been so successful. ashley is our operations mastermind. she is incredibly detail oriented, which is a huge help since we have a small team. she is also amazing with big picture strategy and keeping us on track. her previous work experience as a gemologist is super helpful for our clients who are looking for that perfect piece of jewelry. i [candace] am the creative mastermind behind our brand and handle everything from our social channels, to copy writing, to pitching to press and beyond. my career started in fashion, working my way up to a buyer and after that i worked for years in real estate on the business development and marketing side of the business. both of these experiences have been tremendously helpful with sg.

 

do you have any advice for new or soon to be entrepreneurs who are deciding between bringing on a cofounder or doing it solo?

we are pro cofounder all the way! it’s such a privilege to be able to have a constant support system when growing a business. we also rely on each other to stay focused and always remember our goals.

editor’s note: so are we! especially when you can leverage different + complementary skill sets.

 

as a two [wo]man band at the beginning, it’s really hard to do it all…but secretly gifting is both a service and a product business… so you pretty much do! talk to us about the evolution of the company and your services since you launched. what have been the two hardest challenges you’ve encountered as a gifting concierge?

our business began as a gift concierge company servicing individuals buying for their friends and family.  since launching almost three years ago, we have had the pleasure of exploring many different avenues. in the beginning we said yes to absolutely everything, which i would recommend to any entrepreneur. it’s a big game of trial and error and you learn as you go in terms of what works and what has the greatest return on investment for your business and brand. 

present day secretly gifting has a few cornerstones of our business: personal gifting, corporate gifting, large scale pop-ups and drum roll… we are launching e-commerce in february!  we are extra excited for e-commerce since it allows us to connect with a larger audience. it is important that all of our fans and followers are able to have a piece of our brand and shopping from our highly curated selection of the most fabulous giftable items will allow people to do just that.

editor’s note: look for blankbox gift boxes on their curated gift site!

 

let’s talk competition: as fellow giftrepreneurs [that’s a word now], we know a little something about competition. what’s your competitive edge + how do you differentiate from the other gift concierge or curated box companies out there?

secretly gifting is not a curated box company, we are also not slap a logo on a corporate gift and call it a day company. we differentiate ourselves by traveling the globe in search of the most unique, high quality gifts out there.  essentially, we are treasure hunters and it is our access to the most fabulous gifts and brands that sets us apart. another differentiator is our commitment to client services. our clients are the priority and we take great pride in delivering customer service that is second to none. finally, with ashley’s background as a gemologist and retail services as well as my experience in fashion and corporate branding, we are uniquely positioned to do what we do, and be the best in our field.

editor’s note: we started blankbox for similar reasons; we didn’t want to be another curated box company, or a “slap a logo on a corporate gift and call it a day” company [thanks candace for our new favorite phrase]. a lot of people ask why blankbox doesn’t have any gifts inside…that’s why! we are a custom gift box company created to make thoughtful gifting chic, custom + convenient. the gifts inside are thoughtfully chosen by YOU! thank you for coming to our ted talk. 

 

you talked about saying yes to everything as a new brand to figure out what brings the best roi what has been the best roi-producing marketing or advertising activity you’ve done? 

it has been the combination of both instagram and local and national press that have been the most impactful for our business. we have been incredibly fortunate to have been featured in every major local publication in the washington dc area as well as the wall street journal, yahoo finance and the washington post. 

 

what has produced the least roi that you’ve learned from?

saying yes to hosting numerous events and in-store activations that don’t necessarily align with our brand.

 

we love following you guys on social media and seeing all the amazing trade shows and places around the world you go to find creative + special gifts for your clients. what is each of your favorite gift you’ve curated?

thank you!  this is the impossible question.  it’s like picking a favorite child.  we are pretty obsessed with our cheeky snow globes we discovered in paris. check out our insta to purchase!

editor’s note: cheeky snow globes pair perfectly with a blankbox. just saying. 

 

how do you discover new brands? how can the founders of emerging + growing brands reading this contact you for inclusion in the ‘experts on gifting’ database?

our eyes are always peeled for the latest and greatest.  we make it a priority to travel numerous times of year nationally and internationally. we attend all of the major gift shows and also will pop into any small boutique in random towns.  sometimes we find the coolest items while on personal travel from fabulous local boutiques. 

we’re always looking for new, exciting brands! brands and founders can reach out to us on instagram @secretlygifting or email us at info@secretlygifting.com.

'winter survival guide' gift box by secretly gifting

we asked the gifting gurus of Secretly Gifting to fill a blankbox with their favorite go-to winter survival products. here's what they had to say:

we're both pretty obsessed with the marbleous, darling blankbox! we would fill it with items perfect for surving the cold winter months ahead in style! each item is as glamorous as the fabulous box it inhabits:

-follain just launched a private label moisturizer and we are smitten!
-this stunning mignonne gavigan headband has winter nights out written all over it
-this fenty beauty gloss bomb lip gloss is as hydrating as it is beautiful

shop the products and fill your own blankbox gift box below!

*all product images, press images, and headshot images are property of the respective companies
**this is not a sponsored post. all obsessions are 100% real

byrobynblair candy art female founder feature blankbox

female founder feature: robyn blair davidson of byrobynblair

female founder feature: robyn blair davidson of byrobynblair

you know that feeling as a little kid when you had a pumpkin basket full of fresh halloween candy all mixed up and colorful and ready to make all your sugary dreams come true?! this is like that.

between wall art, candy dishes, phone cases + jewelry boxes, byrobynblair custom gifts satisfy our sweetest desires + make all our nostalgic candy dreams come true. grab your favorite candy and read robyn’s story!

tell us the story of how you got started. have you always been an artist?

 

i actually had no intention of making candy into a full-time business or becoming an artist! i was starting to care more about the things in my home and making them a reflection of who i am. at the end of the day, i wanted things around me to make me smile. one day, i was inspired by candy in a bowl on my coffee table and made my first piece for myself to hang in my apartment. after my friends and family saw it, they asked if i would make one for them and the rest is history!

 

tell us about the process from first having the idea for your art to actually launching? what was the most difficult part and is there something you wish you knew at the time?

 

when i had that first thought of what i wanted to make, i started googling shadow boxes and going to arts and crafts stores to find what i envisioned. but, i couldn’t find anything like what i had in mind! i designed and created a piece to be thin enough to hang on the wall as fine art but thick enough to have the depth to allow real candy in the piece. when i made my first piece, i hung it on my wall and it made me smile. i felt success in creating exactly what i had first envisioned.

getting any business off the ground is a difficult process, but my decade of experience working for a contemporary brand (which i helped start as well) gave me the knowledge on how to be resourceful and figure things out on the fly. this played a huge part in me finding a place to cut plexi and build my own custom shell for my pieces.

 

what was the first piece you ever did and how has your art changed since then? do you have a favorite?

 

the first piece i ever made was a frame filled with dubble bubble with hot pink writing that said “in case of emergency break glass.” it’s still my favorite to this day! some things have changed since the beginning, like the way i hang my pieces, some quality perfection with the plexi, and the glue i use to help preserve my pieces.

 

do you have team members who help you make the pieces? at what point did you decide you needed to hire and how did you find the right people?

 

i do! from the very beginning i knew i couldn’t do it all myself. the first person i brought on was someone to handle all of my financials, invoicing, quick books, etc. this has allowed me to focus on everything else!

at the stage i’m at right now, it’s a mixture of energy, trust, and skill. i have to feel good about the person i’m bringing on and spending a tremendous amount of time with, and of course they need to add value and be an expert on something i’m not. that something that everyone should look for when making a new hire – finding someone they’ll enjoy spending every day with and who can bring a new skill set to the team.

you created a first of its kind concept, which can present challenges when entering the market. what was your marketing strategy and messaging to start and has that changed? what has been your best marketing “platform” in terms of generating inbound commissions?

 

i created a piece for myself without thinking about it any further than knowing i wanted to hang it on my wall. when i saw the response from friends and family, i knew it was something that could be in other people’s homes and make them smile. it sounds so simple, but it’s really the foundation of why i do what i do. there was no marketing strategy or messaging thought out past the way i felt about my work and choosing to share it. instagram has been the best platform to share my creations with the world and it’s how a lot of my clients find me.

 

you recently expanded brb into candy dishes and a line of prints with dormify. why did you decide to expand your product offering + how do you choose the right collaborations?

 

i launched prints with dormify because i think they’re a phenomenal brand with an engaged audience of people that would enjoy my art. i also wanted a price point that was more accessible and dormify was the perfect brand to do that with.

 

my candy dishes started similar to how i began my wall art. i thought of something i wanted on my coffee table and figured out how to make it. the candy dishes are another way to bring happiness into people’s homes. 

 

collaborations can be amazing if they’re the right collaboration. working with too many people can be confusing if it’s not well thought out and purposeful. i have had to say no to people i would love to work with because they weren’t the right fit at that moment, but there’s always other opportunities down the road! 

editor’s note: all of robyn’s collaborations make perfect custom gifts! and luckily for you, we also happen to have a chic + custom gift box. peep the bottom of the fill for our blankbox + byrobynblair pop of color custom gift idea!

 

what else can we expect from by robynblair?

i have a lot of fun launches and collaborations coming up! follow @byrobynblair and byrobynblair.com for updates!

make a [sweet + colorful] moment with blankbox + byrobynblair!

and here you thought we were just custom gift boxes! we love custom gifts too, especially when they’re sweet + colorful.

brighten someone’s day, home + life with a blankbox filled with a candy dish, phone case or jewelry box from byrobynblair. best part: they can keep their ‘checker me out’ blankbox + byrobynblair candy dish for the perfect neutral + pop of color coffee table centerpiece!

*all product images, press images, and headshot images are property of robyn davidson and byrobynblair
**this is not a sponsored post. all obsessions are 100% real

all images are property of respective companies

female founder feature: kristen tomlan of cookie do

female founder feature: kristen tomlan of cookie do

we all know the best part of baking cookies is eating the raw cookie dough…whether you’re 8 or 28 (guilty!) there’s no shame in swooping in finger [or spatula] first for that little indulgence. kristen tomlan, founder + ceo of cookie do, wanted to make that little indulgence safe to eat, accessible….and fun!

so grab a cup of edible cookie dough + a spoon and read how a cookie shop trip with girlfriends turned into her making all our childhood cookie dough dreams come true.  in the words of kristen….“let’s dough this!”

edible raw cookie dough. genius idea. how’d you come up with it and to what extent did you test the market as you were creating do?

 

i have always been a lover of unbaked cookie dough! i came up with the idea when i was with a bunch of girlfriends. we went to a cookie shop, and instead of purchasing any baked cookies, we opted for the unbaked cookie dough in their freezer instead. that was the moment that i came up with the idea – safe-to-eat & bakeable cookie dough for all to enjoy! when i first launched, i tested the concept online before i opened up our first retail store. it was the best decision i made because it gave me the ability to be flexible & see what customers really wanted before investing in brick & mortar.

 

 

you were in branding and design before launching your own business. talk to us about why branding was so important to your concept and how you thought about it before launching. has the branding or consumer messaging changed since?

 

branding what i lived and breathed. it was where a bulk of my professional experience was focused. creating a product is one thing, but creating a brand is really what is valuable. anyone can copy a product, but they can’t just steal your brand. since we launched, messaging has been the same, which is important because consistency is key. customers know what we stand for and what to expect.

 

 

you’re a solo founder and despite the fact that us entrepreneurs have a tendency to try to ‘do it all’…what type of team or support system do you have to help you execute your vision? who was your first hire and when did you decide to hire for the first time?

 

at first, i was doing it all. i had to. but as the business grew and has changed over time, i’ve added valuable people to help execute my vision and manage different parts of the company. my first hire was my executive pastry chef, brianna, who is still with me today. she’s been an integral part of the business operations from very early on!

 

 

part of being an entrepreneur and even more so a food-based entrepreneur is being able to innovate quickly. how often do you release new flavors and how do you come up with them? have you had to pivot in any way as the wellness industry has grown?

 

we release a new flavor every month. experimenting and recipe testing is one of the most fun parts of the job! we get our inspiration from other desserts, nostalgic treats, and sweets from all over the world! even though the wellness industry is growing, i feel strongly, more than ever, that there is always a place and time for indulgence. it’s a work hard play hard mentality – people are more conscious than ever about they they are putting into their bodies. however, when they do indulge, they really want to make it worth it. for me, i look at it as mental wellness – if it makes me happy and brings me joy, then it’s a positive.

you have a lot of competition and likely quite a few copycats. why does your customer still come to you? on the business side, do you own any intellectual property or trademarks or is there another way you “protect” your brand from copycats?

 

we do have trademarks to protect us, and it all goes back to creating a unique brand and experience that is difficult to replicate. sure, we have copy cats, which is a form of flattery. however, i don’t think there is anyone who is doing it truly how we are.

 

signature question – how did you come up with the name do?

 

it was the first thing i decided when i came up with the business. the name was going to be dō, spelled how “dough” is pronounced. the business was all about the dough, so i wanted the name to reflect that.

 

what’s next for do? (asking this question so you can talk about your cookbook coming out but feel free to add anything else!)

 

i have a cookbook coming out in october! hello, cookie dough is 110+ recipes to eat, bake & share! it’s been a labor of love that i have been working on for over 2 years. it’s such a great extension of me and of the brand. i can’t wait for people to be able to make safe-to-eat cookie dough at home!

where are you from? st. louis, missouri

favorite brand that does branding really well (should i say brand again): glossier, soulcycle, apple

favorite do flavor: heavenly!

is there another type of food or food category you think could use disruption? (what do did for cookie dough, dirty lemon did for lemon water, etc.) i think there is always room for innovation in food!

female founder you admire and why: julie rice, christina stembel, whitney wolfe herd

favorite restaurant in nyc: rucola or colonie (my fav neighborhood spots)

words you live by: do what makes you happy

finally, you can have your cookie dough and eat it too. 

*all product images, press images, and headshot images are property of kristen tomlan and cookie do
**this is not a sponsored post. all obsessions are 100% real

all images are property of respective companies

women to watch: interview with ariella maizner: founder of theme

'women to watch' female founder interview:
ariella maizner: founder of theme

if you have instagram and love inspiring young entrepreneur stories + a splash of tie dye, chances are ariella maizner, designer and founder of theme is already on your list of women to watch. she started sewing when she was 7 years old [same] and 3 years later has become our favorite youngest designer ever.  each piece is designed + hand-made by ari, and is inspired by another female founder.

at just 10 years old, ari already has a lot to teach us about taking something you love doing and turning it into a booming business. read her story + how she’s grown her business in new york city below!

you started your company when you were 9 (!!!). talk to us about how you got started and how you grew theme to what it is today. 

i started sewing when i was 7. and loved making things that i would want to wear. especially for special events. then my friends started asking me to make them pieces too. i fell in love with it and begged my mom to launch my own brand when i was 8. we used to stay up late coming up with logos! then we started posting on instagram and people loved what i made and were really supportive of me. 

 

what was your first piece?

the robyn maxi was my first dress. it’s a candy color striped maxi dress with a purple belt. i still love it. i named it after @byrobynblair. she was the first founder that sat down with me and gave me amazing advice. i love asking her for advice still. 

 

a big part of growing theme has been your ability to put yourself out there and network. talk to us about different inspiring people you’ve met and how they’ve impacted theme.

of course…you both have been such amazing supporters of me and theme! thank you for being there for me since the very beginning! and helping me present theme in such a perfect box!! it made a major impact. 

really everyone i’ve met with are all incredible people. i am really really lucky to learn from them. everyone has really been so kind and given me different ideas and smart advice. i feel lucky to have met with founders, Ceo’s, influencers and the most supportive group of women. i’m so blown away. 

also amazing companies have been super supportive of me too. I partnered with @thetot for my first wholesale deal and just did a collaboration with @statebags. their founders have been so amazing. i’ve also done pop-ups with cool stores like love shack fancy, ever after and lester’s.

i’ve learned a lot about production and fashion from so many people who have done it before, and even got my own wework office and showroom! i’m also super lucky to have the support of the team at rent the runway and excited to now be on jetblack! both big time innovators in the fashion industry which makes me want to come up with new ideas too!

 

you started sewing when you were 6 for fun. how did you decide to turn it into a business? 

i just had this idea for making a brand! i wanted to call it theme from the start. i used to always ask my mom what the theme of the parties that we were going to was so i knew what type of dress i should make. once i had a name. i had a vision. 

 

what’s been the most challenging part about taking something from ‘for fun’ to a real business?

it’s hard work. but it’s also what i love to do. so it makes it worth it. and i’ve met so many amazing people. my mom always asks me are you sure you want to keep doing this and i always say yes.

  

you originally started theme as a collection of signature pieces, each completely different and inspired by a #girlboss. you now are focused on a collection of custom tie dye tees, barrettes and headbands. talk to us about how you balance growing the new tie-dye line while not losing focus on your original hand-made designs.

i am still making my one of a kind pieces. and very focused on that and making them for more people to wear too! i am working on something exciting for holiday! the tie dye just took off and it was something i could make without having to go into mass production. and i could still make it myself…which i liked. i love seeing it on so many people and how happy they are in it. 

 

what’s it like being only 10 and running a business? how do you manage your time with school, theme, and being a kid?

 

i have a lot of support from my family. i really focus on the design and learning. i get to go to cool events and meet amazing people. otherwise my days are normal and filled with things i always do. like camp in the summer. the beach and family vacations. and then back to school with after school activities and hanging with friends. 

 

what advice would you give to other young aspiring entrepreneurs?

 

if your serious about something….go for it. but get advice along the way and learn from people. it’s ok to make mistakes. and you may hear no but it’s ok follow your dream. 

 

we first met because you messaged us on instagram, and you’re always such an incredible networker. talk to us about building your confidence as a young entrepreneur. how has building your network helped you with theme?

 

i am lucky to have a lot of supporters and people who love what i am creating and building. i am learning along the way from them. it’s really cool. 

 

our signature question… how’d you choose ‘theme’ for the name?

 

i knew i wanted to call it theme from the beginning, but since i launched i realized theme has the words the me in it. and that is really powerful. i hope that all the girls that wear theme can be the best me they want to be.

*flashbacks to what we were all doing at 10 years old*

*all product images, press images, and headshot images are property of ariella maizner and theme
**this is not a sponsored post. all obsessions are 100% real

all images are property of respective companies

women to watch carrie berk gen z author + influencer

women to watch: interview with carrie berk: gen z author + influencer

women to watch female founder interview:
carrie berk: gen z author, influencer + no bully ambassador

carrie berk is far more than your average sixteen year old… she would certainly put our sixteen year old selves to shame that’s for sure [don’t act like you weren’t addicted to spray tanning and beverly hills 90210 when you were 16] . carrie has been busy in a…different way. she’s authored more than 21 books, has 106,000+ loyal instagram followers  and hosts a popular fashion blog. she’s more than just one of our women to watch….she’s THE woman to read [and follow]! 

you’re only 16 years old have accomplished so much. how did your career as a writer and influencer start? how old were you?

 

i have loved to write ever since i was eight years old! i specifically was captivated by the idea that i could infuse real-life themes into fictional scenarios in order to project a message to my audience. i decided to become an influencer after launching my style empowerment website, carrie’s chronicles, in 2017 because i thought that social media was a great way for me to further spread a message of inclusivity, positivity, and unapologetic individuality.

 

most of your books you co-authored with your mom. tell us about that process. any plans to solo-author a book in the future?

 

we start off by brainstorming, just jotting down some notes with a pen on paper. then we chat about the general arc of the novel, although we often change the plot as we progress. we usually alternate writing chapters and go back and forth editing each other’s work. once we have a completed first draft, my mom prints it out and i mark it up with a bright red pen. after going through that process multiple times, we receive galleys in the mail, which are giant sheets of paper that have two pages of the book on them. at this stage, we can only make emergency edits. finally, we receive an advanced reading copy in the mail, which looks just like the actual book but it’s not available to the public yet. and yes, i would love to write a ya novel of my own and have some ideas i’m working on!

 

how has your writing/genre evolved since you wrote your first book? what’re your favorite topics to write about?

 

i’ve always loved to use my writing to call attention to bullying. it is extremely rampant among today’s teens and tweens, so i like to show the impact it may have on someone, why it’s important to think and choose kindness before you say or post anything. my most recent book series, ask emma, is my first series that shines a light on cyberbullying. as a social media influencer, this is something i frequently experience personally, and i wanted to capture that emotion through emma’s eyes.

 

your blog, carrie’s chronicles, is one of your more recent endeavors – tell us about the inspiration behind the blog and how you see it evolving over the next few years.

 

my peers used to bully me because i didn’t want to dress like everyone else—i love my bold sense of style but my classmates would tell me my glitter sneakers were too “out there!” over time, i recognized that my style is my superpower, and there’s nothing more beautiful than being your authentic self. over the next few years, i aim to continue writing articles that hopefully inspire others and expand my site’s reach to a larger audience. 

you have 75k+ instagram followers. what’s your favorite part about having this platform? least favorite?

 

producing content that makes people smile is definitely my favorite part! my least favorite part is the occasional cyberbullying and hate messages i get. i’ve learned to just shake it off and try to not let it faze me. 

 

talk to us about your work as a no bully ambassador.

 

i help no bully on their mission to teach people, especially kids, to practice kindness and empathy toward each other. recently, i wrote the script for their public service announcement video called “girls against bullying,” showing how teens and tweens have a responsibility to empower each other instead of tear each other down. 

 

where is the coolest place you’ve traveled for work? why?

 

i was on the boys of summer tour this past summer in los angeles and san francisco and it was amazing! i loved meeting so many fellow influencers and fans. plus, blasting music on the tour bus in the middle of the night was a lot of fun! truly one of the best experiences of my life.

 

how do you balance school, friends, and such a robust career at your age? do you ever get tired and just want to ‘be a kid’?

 

i am so thankful for all the amazing opportunities i’ve had, i wouldn’t change anything for the world. plus, i’ve made so many amazing friends in the industry that i’ve had an amazing time with!

 

we feel kind of silly asking this since you already have such a big career, but what do you want to be when you grow up?

 

i would love to be the editor-in-chief of a fashion magazine like vogue!

 

what’re some upcoming projects we should look out for?

 

ask emma: boy trouble comes out this fall! i am also launching a carrie’s chronicles merch line in september, so stay tuned!

do you think it’s weird for a 28 year old to start reading ask emma and the cupcake club in public? asking for a friend… 

*all product images, press images, and headshot images are property of carrie berk 
**this is not a sponsored post. all obsessions are 100% real

all images are property of respective companies

women to watch nicole ayoub founder + ceo of truly you skincare

women to watch: interview with nicole ayoub: founder of truly you skincare

'women to watch' female founder interview:
nicole ayoub: founder + ceo of truly you

nicole ayoub, founder of truly you has been on our list of women to watch since the minute we met her [through another female founder, obvi. so on brand]. we were instantly impressed by her grace + business sense….and that’s before we found out she’s only 16. when we were 16, we were doing many things but starting a company definitely wasn’t one of them. nicole started her company at age 12 [same] and set out to solve a real problem. 

truly you is a brand with a mission to free all you eczema sufferers (guilty) and sensitive skinners from the stress of finding products that work for you. read on to learn how this #girlboss solved the problem for you and how you can get ya hands on her products.

you started your company when you were just 12 (!!!). that alone makes you one of our women to watch, but you’re actually solving a real problem. talk to us about the inspiration behind the brand and how you teamed up with your mom to do this.

 

i started the company at a time in my life when my friends and i were first starting to get interested in makeup and skincare. the inspiration behind the company was the fact that, because of my eczema and extremely sensitive skin, i was not able to use the standard, name brand type skincare products. if i was to sample a product, say at bath and body works, i would get a massive skin reaction from all of the chemicals/fragrances used in the actual item. my company is based from 100% organic and natural ingredients so people, such as myself, can have and enjoy a body scrub for example without the consequences of a skin reaction.

 

in order to execute the startup of the company, i looked to my mom for guidance since she works full-time in business. she helped teach me about taxes, invoices, the difference between wholesale vs. retail, etc. 

 

we know a little bit about how your operations started but tell us more about the behind the scenes of truly you. what does your day-to-day look like?

 

day-to-day, i work to grow the company’s influence: reaching out to potential retailers, expanding the company’s presence on social media, and go about general marketing activities. when i get an order from a customer or retailer, i hand make, package, and label those products fresh so they can last as long as possible. i refrain from making a giant batch and then storing those products until i get an order since the formulas to all of the products do not contain any preservatives. 

 

it’s been two years since you started truly you. how has the brand evolved? what’s the most important lesson you’ve learned as a business owner? what do you know now that you wish you knew when you started truly you?

 

over the years, i would say truly you’s presence in peoples’ lives has definitely grown. i feel like more people know the name truly you and the story behind the company and that is really all thanks to advertising, social media, and a lot of word-of-mouth! the number of products has also grown tremendously. when i first started out i only sold body scrubs and now i have been able to add 6+ more lines. 

 

the most important lesson i have learned as a business owner is that you have to stay true to why you started the company in the first place. the story behind the company is the real selling point, especially in truly you’s case. without embracing the company’s story, you have no meaning behind the products you sell, there is nothing driving you or the business. as a result, i try to keep the true essence of truly you in the back of my mind at all times. 

 

one thing that i know now that i wish i knew when i initially started truly you is that even though people may misjudge and underestimate you because of your age, there is no reason to let that get to you. believe it or not, when i first started i was a bit embarrassed because i thought people would laugh at my ambition and think of the company as another “lemonade stand” run by another “kid”. now, i use those thoughts as a way to drive me in order to show people that even though i am fairly young, i am still a legitimate entrepreneur. 

what advice would you give to other young aspiring entrepreneurs and our other women to watch? 

to other young, aspiring entrepreneurs, i would give them the same advice i said in the previous points—your company’s story is everything and do not let your personal fear of others have any effect on your ambition or drive to succeed in business. 

what’s it like being a teenager and running a business? do any of your friends own their own businesses yet? how do you manage school, truly you, friends + family?

it is really cool being a teenage entrepreneur. no, none of my friends have their own company. in fact, i used to wish that i was sporty or artistic like a lot of them, but i have realized that my company is what sets me apart and makes me unique. 

it does become difficult at times to balance truly you with other things in life, specifically school, but i find a way. sometimes i spend a saturday making products, but i make sure to fairly manage it all. sometimes my mom or my friends will come hang out with me while i am making products or we will facetime.

the first time i met you, we were at an event at luminary. how have you leveraged networks like luminary to help learn and grow your business?

well, i feel like this interview is a great example of how i have leveraged networks like luminary to help me learn and grow my business. it has allowed me to reach out to other startups, founded by women who are looking to network and make connections just as i am. those new relationships/connections can then lead to potential opportunities whether that means actual business or some version of marketing. in the midst of it all though, i am also just learning from the women i meet. the majority of them are older than me, and as a result it makes them mentors and bases of inspiration.

what’s the biggest challenge of your business? if there is someone reading this interview that could help you with that challenge, what would your ask be?

the biggest challenge of my business is growing it into other retailers and spanning truly you’s influence beyond my local market. this occurs mainly because i am a small business and i am a young entrepreneur. those two factors, i feel, have an effect on how people view truly you. they may see it as a bit less professional than other brands, in the end choosing not to bring truly you into their store. if somebody could help me with this challenge, i would ask them to help spread the word that truly you’s products are just as professional and effective as those, say for example, in sephora. these products are made by an entrepreneur who puts a lot of heart and effort into running her company, in turn, having an immense amount of dedication behind the products she sells. 

we saw you just released face masks! we’re so excited to try them! any other products in the works you can share with us? or maybe, ‘dream’ products you’d like to eventually develop?

so far, i am mainly just focused on spreading the word about the newly released face masks and getting others to understand how unique and personable they are than the majority of other face masks out there. they come in a powder state and all you have to do is add a bit off water and then apply. with that though, consumers can add their own oils, serums, etc. that work for them personally, making the face masks extremely unique to the person using it. in the future though, i am hoping to expand the line of lip balms i have and maybe do some travel size versions of the most popular products. 

our signature question… how’d you choose ‘truly you’ for the name?

when i was trying to find a name for the company, i knew that i wanted it to connect with each and every one of the customers on a personal level. to put it into context, it is true to you and who you are when you have sensitive skin and must adapt to that. it is truly who you are when you choose to refrain from using chemical based skincare products and live a healthier lifestyle starting with the things you put on your skin; in this case organic and natural skincare products. in essence, i wanted the name of the company to be true, hence “truly you”, to each and every person who uses truly you products. i wanted it to describe how everyone’s skin sensitivity or desire to maintain an organic/natural based skincare routine has a direct connection to them and who they are. 

this interview makes me want to face mask reeaaalll bad. on that note…

*all product images, press images, and headshot images are property of nicole ayoub and truly you
**this is not a sponsored post. all obsessions are 100% real

all images are property of respective companies

female founder feature: neha govindraj, co-founder + coo, glowbar

female founder feature: neha govindraj, co-founder + coo of glowbar

it’s an age old dilemma [no pun intended]: what is the secret to looking young forever? i say this with the full backing of my degree from sephora university: SKINCARE!!!! one strong skincare routine a day keeps the wrinkles at bay, and keeps us youthfully glowing with clear, beautiful skin in the meantime. yes, please. 
co-founder + coo neha govindraj is making glowbar the new secret weapon for your skincare: a cross between a spa and a dermatologist, they use clinical products and science-proven techniques to keep you glowing….and going. everything is under 30 minutes, meaning you can get in, get out, and get on with your day. read their story below!

first things first – you have a super cool story before glowbar. tell us! how did your previous experience help shape glowbar?

 

before glowbar, i was at bain & company as a management consultant and loved it! i primarily consulted businesses in retail / consumer in ideating and implementing strategic decisions. my experience at bain gave me perspective on how businesses grow, what problems they face and how to solve them. i also spent some time at glossier working with their executive team on growth strategy. these experiences helped set me up for success with starting glowbar because i felt so ready to build towards a vision and tackle any problems that came our way.

 

what sets glowbar apart from other facial spas? talk to us about how your differentiators helped you raise money. what questions did investors ask and were there any that surprised you?

 

glowbar is all about real results and professional skincare, offered in 30 minutes. we’re truly an intersection of a spa and a dermatologist: all the brands we use are clinical / professional grade and we aim to do things in the treatment room that you can’t easily do at home–– that is why we even have you cleanse your face for us (at our gorgeous wash bar)!

during the fundraising process, it was so important for us to stress how our differentiators would translate to the consumer. it wasn’t enough to just state what the differentiators were – that was an interesting learning, and it led us to build a strong strategy on educating our potential customers.

 

how do your investors come into play in the day to day of the business (for example – are they more focused on growth or are they ‘in the weeds’, helping you guys decide on what products to sell/hiring/marketing strategy, etc?)?

 

our investors really expand our existing network. they are the best people to go to with any growth-related (or sometimes even, ‘in the weeds’-related) “asks” –– which we often do!  they either weigh in themselves, or put us in touch with whoever they think is best suited to answer. 

 

signature question – how did you come up with the name for glowbar?

 

rachel (my co-founder) actually did in her apartment one day, and it stuck! we love it because the name ‘glowbar’ gets people in the right mindset of what to expect–– a destination that leaves you glowing.

what advice would you give other entrepreneurs looking to open their first retail location? any lessons learned?

 

ask a lot of questions. and continuously follow up with people. brick and mortar was a new beast to me–– there are so many moving pieces, and a lot of instances where things might slip through the cracks. understanding what those are and being on top of it is tough but important!

 

you launched just over a month ago. tell us about the experience – the great, the good, the bad, the ugly.

 

it’s been incredible seeing all the thought and work behind building glowbar starting to come to life. beyond that, watching people experience the brand and build new habits is truly the most rewarding part–– they just get it and it works. the tough part? being consistently on your a-game. we’re open 7 days a week, 11-14 hours a day. that means making changes real-time to continuously optimize for providing the best possible experience for clients and our team, while simultaneously thinking about the future!

 

since launch, you guys have executed super unique and creative marketing strategies. talk to us about them. what marketing strategy has seen the best roi so far? 

 

thank you! one of our favorite initiatives right now is the “tear one” flyers we have posted throughout the city. we’re continuously replenishing them and people have been loving them! they’re a nod to those babysitter flyers back in the day. and hey, they work. some of them have “lucky you” written on them which let you come in for a treatment on us!

we also have a few ‘face it forward’ cards floating around–– if you land your hands on one, you come in for a treatment on us, and then… ‘face it forward’ (aka pass it to a friend to do the same!)

 

you co-founded the company with rachel – what were you looking for in a cofounder and talk to us about your strategy for tackling different roles. 

 

i couldn’t love mine and rachel’s relationship more. we are both so different in what energizes us (making it easy for us to tackle different roles), but are so similar in our values and goals. it was clear off the bat when meeting rachel that she was ego-less, sharp, and in this to start a great business that people needed. with that, i quickly knew she was someone i wanted to build with–– i am forever grateful to have taken the leap and now be in a founder relationship centered in confidence and respect. we continuously put our brains together to make sure that glowbar is the best it can be and nothing slips through the cracks.

 

what’s next for glowbar?!

 

so much. but first, more locations! 😉 

where are you from? south florida

 

favorite brand other than glowbar: peloton

 

biggest mistake you see startups making (drawing on mgmt consulting experience): not questioning every, single, part of what exists today.

 

skincare routine: cleanse, tone, treat, moisturize + spf (am only). morning and night.

 

self-care activity: dancing in front of my mirror by myself.

 

female founder you admire and why: kirsten green. what she’s built with forerunner is incredible, in a space where few female founders exist.

 

favorite place in nyc besides glowbar: my apartment. it sparks so much joy and i love hosting.

 

words you live by: ask enough of the right questions and you will figure it out.

now imagine if you could get a facial in the time it just took you to read this. thanks to neha + rachel, now you can! book glowbar here!

*all product images, press images, and headshot images are property of neha govindraj and glowbar
**this is not a sponsored post. all obsessions are 100% real

all images are property of respective companies

female founder feature: divya gugnani, founder + ceo of wander beauty

female founder feature: Divya gugnani, founder + ceo of wander beauty

it’s july, which means we’re officially less than 6 months away from 2020 (*what*) and we’re spending the month going back and forth between home and the closest body of water. between the constant travel and hustling to crush those 2019 goals, one thing is for sure: not one of us has time for a 20-step beauty routine. divya gugnani, founder + ceo of wander beauty…..just gets it. like her brand name suggests, her mission is to keep us gorgeous on the go. in her own words, “less time spent in front of a mirror, and more time doing”. can we get an amen?!

your background is in tech… how on earth did you go about breaking into the beauty industry? 

i’ve always had a strong interest in beauty, especially as someone who loves to cook (i went to culinary school!) who can be found concocting a face mask with the ingredients in my kitchen. after my last company ‘send the trend’ sold to qvc, i joined the qvc team and led digital innovation where i spent a lot of time on their beauty brands and business. i had the opportunity to work with some amazing brands, but none of them were speaking to my lifestyle. most brands were advocating artistry and 20-step routines, but i was a mom of two working full-time, getting ready on the subway each morning. i didn’t have time or space for that type of routine. i needed products that multitasked the way i did and kept me gorgeous on the go – so my co-founder, lindsay and i created them.

 

being a serial entrepreneur, disrupting industries is in your nature. tell us how you’ve disrupted the beauty industry with wander.

most beauty brands tell you that you need more, more, more: a separate cream for your body than you use on your elbows, five brushes to do a full face. wander beauty is saying the opposite. we’re giving you fewer multitaskers that streamline your routine, without compromising on performance or ingredients. all of our multitaskers set out to solve a problem, whether it’s a our dual-ended dualist concealer that allows you to both conceal and brighten with a two-in-one formula or our play all day translucent powder that eliminates the traditional mess and waste associated with a translucent powder by storing the powder inside of the puff. 

   

talk to us about your marketing ‘message’ to consumers? who is your target customer and why does she value your product? how do you communicate your value prop to her?

our target customer goes beyond sociodemographics – we are catering the time-starved woman who is living her life in motion and doing her beauty routine beyond the bathroom. we are offering her less time spent in front of a mirror, and more time doing

we work to socially co-create all of our products with our community so that we are not just giving her something that she wants, but something that she is asking us for. we are always asking ourselves how we can innovate, from packaging to formula, to give her the best solution to the problem she presents us with. 

 

you serve as ceo of wander, but co-founded the company with former victoria’s secret model lindsay ellingson. how do you divide + conquer in your roles?

lindsay and i come from such different backgrounds, but shared the same problem of not feeling spoken to in the beauty space as women living life on the go. we both have different strengths, which complement each other. she is our creative director and spearheads all of our creative. i’m our ceo and a data junkie and work more on the business side. we overlap on product development, which we are both so passionate about and bring our own unique perspectives to. 

 

wander is currently in it’s last month of it’s pop-up shop on the upper east side. can you tell us a little bit more about that experience and why you decided to do it? is this the store’s first pop-up?

yes! this is the brand’s first-ever pop up store. being a predominantly direct to consumer brand, we rely on our own digital storytelling and content to bring the brand to life through a screen, which is why we own the process internally rather than outsource. beauty is such a tactile experience, and we wanted to bring the brand alive in real life – and what better place to serve an on-the-go consumer than new york city? since our inception, we’ve seen the most growth from owning our own branding and storytelling, and having that then drive our own .com’s growth as well as having a halo effect on our retail growth. by owning our retail experience, our goal was to drive brand awareness while continuing to foster that personal relationship with our community.

 

what challenges have you faced with the pop-up vs. your online direct-to-consumer platform?

if you’re not challenged, you’re not learning! the entire pop up has been a learning experience – especially since i had never launched a pop up space myself. we’re lucky that we are still small and agile enough that we can still experiment and learn from our mistakes and adapt in real time. for example, we tested several types of our daily classes in our first few days to see what topics and times resonated most, and adjusted the following week to better accommodate our consumer and continued to adapt throughout the pop up as we see patterns. at the pop up store, it’s all about human interaction and bringing the brand to life through our ambassadors once they’re through the door. 

 

we spend a lot of time talking about what works in starting + growing a business, but as you know a lot of entrepreneurs live and breathe what doesn’t work (the hard way). tell us something that has worked really well for your brand and something that hasn’t worked for your brand that maybe you expected to?

i think our focus has really worked for us. we want to be something to someone not everything to everyone. we are two modern women who are more time-starved, busy and active. we are always doing beauty beyond the bathroom ™, and we focused on that lifestyle across all age groups, ethnicities and geographies. we are inclusive yet focused on our clients and their lifestyle. we create multitaskers that serve a purpose in their lives and save them time and space. with regards to what doesn’t work well, we thought that being in traditional retail channels would allow new clients to discover us. what we realized is that many retails have a vast array of brands and with limited space both in stores and online we don’t have chance to highlight our innovation and differentiation. so we learned from that and decided to pursue our dtc business and truly own our conversation with our clients and our community.

 

our signature question, how did you come up with the name ‘wander’?

we’re all about staying gorgeous on the go, so travel inspiration is the thread that runs through all of our branding and imagery. ‘wander’ came from the idea that even if your life is busy, whether with the day-to-day of life or a jetsetting adventure, your beauty routine should wander with you.

 

editors note: visit the wander beauty pop up store through july 31st at 787 lexington avenue (between 61st and 62nd street) and mention the fill to get 20% off of your purchase

favorite piece in the wander collection: this is like picking a favorite child! right now, i can’t stop using our trip for two blush and bronzer duo. it’s makes me look like i spent the weekend at the beach without having to go anywhere.  

 

female founder who inspires you: sarah kauss at s’well. at wander we create multitaskers so you can do more with less products. we care about sustainability and that mission lives through our product and packaging decisions. sarah has taken it to the next level with s’well and i admire that.

 

favorite me-time activity: swimming. i call it my “vision time” – completely device-free, and i can be truly alone with myself. 

 

favorite restaurant: novikov in miami- the fish is fresh and spectacular and i have yet to have a less than outstanding meal there.

 

go-to brands (other than wander): obe fitness for home workouts, tamara mellon for comfortable well crafted shoes, giapenta for intimates, primary for my kids clothes, inkbox for when i’m feeling adventurous and want to make a temporary bad decision. 

 

personal mantra / favorite quote: “i do not fix problems. i fix my thinking. then problems fix themselves.” -louise hay

 

fun fact about you that most people don’t know: i love to travel. i went to 18 countries during my two years doing my masters degree.

you know what they say….we have the same 24 hours in a day as beyonce. divya and lindsay, thank you for letting us use less of that time beautifying and more of that time….becoming beyonce. or as close as possible. 

*all product images, press images, and headshot images are property of divya gugnani and wander beauty
**this is not a sponsored post. all obsessions are 100% real

all images are property of respective companies