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the art of the unreasonable request

the fill: the art of the unreasonable request

in an earlier edition of the fill, we wrote about how “one on one whisper networks” have been transformative for blankbox, inspired by Aliza Licht’s article in the New York Post. The whole concept starts with an ASK. Which brings me to the next thing that’s stuck with us since reading about it: the art of the Unreasonable Request.

 

Stephanie Burns, who is an entrepreneur and founder, writer, mom, + most importantly, HILARIOUS [we’ve never met, but she’s been hit up with an Unreasonable Request for coffee], lives by this idea. She says “Unreasonable Requests is about stretching yourself to finally ask for what you want, make a bigger impact in your business, and add more spice and excitement to your life.”  In other words, asking for what you want [in a smart way]. In other words, my favorite life motto [sorry in advance to the people I’ve said this to on repeat that want to punch me in the face]: “you don’t get what you don’t ask for”. That’s true in all aspects of life, but never truer than with a new startup like blankbox.

 

Want to be in Forbes? ASK. Want to be on the today show? ASK. Want a cooler-than-you’ll-ever-be influencer to feature your products for immediate ROI and sales? ASK. All #humblebrags but also all things we got by just…asking. It’s not “entitled” or “egotistical” or “overstepping” or any of the things we’ve been conditioned to worry about when asking for what we want. But there is an art to it: you have to think about how you can provide value back to that person. WHY does that person care to do what you’re asking them to do? Answer that question in your ask.

 

I’m a big fan of saying [jokingly, but also not jokingly at all] that if you have a pulse and an Instagram, I’ve probably DMed you to introduce blankbox and myself, grab coffee, ask for something, offer something that I think may be of value, etc. I used to think about making an Unreasonable Request and talk myself out of it for a number of reasons until one day….I realized: WHO CARES! You’ve gotta be a little shameless with self-promotion to grow your own business! And a big part of that is asking for what you want. As incredibly supportive and helpful as people can be, nobody is sitting around wondering how they can help us or blankbox today [contrary to my founder fantasyland ideas in the beginning, which is a post for another day]. 

 

We’ve gotten very comfortable with making Unreasonable Requests and even more comfortable with the “worst case” scenario: they don’t care, say no, or *gasp* leave you on read [or don’t respond to your email, twist the knife in why don’t ya!] PSA: it doesn’t matter. As our #girlboss inspo Rebecca Minkoff likes to say “no is just the beginning of yes” in business. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go be a friendly neighborhood stalker to Stephanie Burns. BRB.

 

Have an Unreasonable Request for us? Email us hello@blankboxnyc.com, we’d love to hear from you!

with love, gabi + catherine, blankbox cofounders

we hope you liked this + will pass it to as many friends / family / random strangers as you can! subscribe on our home page here and if you have any specific topics you want us to cover, shoot us a note hello@blankboxnyc.com.

the fill female founder yearbook class of 2019-2020

the fill female founder yearbook
class of 2019 - 2020

in honor of international women’s day, we thought we would share some advice + words to live by + empowering anecdotes from our female founders we’ve featured in the fill over the last year.  while these incredible women come from diverse backgrounds (from a young woman who started a company in her parents basement, to a former head of global banking turned female founder, to a household name in the fashion industry), they all have one thing in common – they’ve built companies and communities in an age where women are still paid 21% less than men. 

 

as female founders in NYC, we continue to be inspired by the energy, support + community that women bring to each other – without women supporting women, blankbox wouldn’t exist and it definitely wouldn’t be as fun. happy international women’s day!

 

we hope you liked this + will pass it to as many friends / family / random strangers as you can! subscribe on our home page here and shoot us a note hello@blankboxnyc.com.

whisper networks + how we use these as female founders in NYC

the fill: whisper networks + how we use them as female founders in NYc

photo: brian zak, new york post

Let’s face it, we live in a world of constant content: blog posts, editorials, journal articles and if you’re really going off the beaten millennial path: an actual book! It’s up to us to sift through that content from what we can actually learn from, and occasionally we read something that really sticks with us. This week, we read something that really stuck with us in the new york post: how whisper networks can help you leverage negotiating and your career by aliza licht, who is the bestselling author + host of the LEAVE YOUR MARK podcast, cofounder of homesickdotcom and a writer [she must have a ton of free time]. 

First off, what’s a “whisper network”: a whisper network is a group of professionals who help each other with industry information and learning to grow their respective businesses. In other words, it’s a safe place where you can go to ask questions, discuss taboo questions and share work challenges, whether it’s your “5-person whisper network” like Lauren McGoodwin, founder + CEO of Career Contessa or a more formal “outside the confines of company walls” whisper network of senior female bankers where you can talk about secretive topics like compensation and toxic work culture formed by former banking exec Cate Luzio, who has now translated that experience into whisper network dinners at her female collaboration hub Luminary that encourage attendees to “share work challenges, and are encouraged to ask any taboo question that may be preventing them from succeeding”. Licht writes about how there are even exclusive, members-only apps like THELI.ST for this very purpose.

The whole concept of whisper networks really stuck with me because we’ve been engaging in one-on-one “whisper networks” since we started blankbox [and before, it on our “day jobs”] without even knowing it, and it’s been transformational.  For us, it’s been less about a place to explore taboo topics and more about these “one-on-one whisper networks”, or other people we can [and do] ask questions to: anything from asking other female founders “how much do you spend on Instagram ads / day” and “do you know a great videographer who won’t cost my first born child” to “will you send me the pitch email you used for _____” and “will you introduce me to _______”. We, too, get asked questions ALL THE TIME. We love having these one-on-one whisper networks, and equally love being them for people.

We’ve developed these one-on-one whisper network relationships with select women, from other self funded side hustlers to seasoned founder veterans, and it’s completely changed our ability to grow as individuals and as a startup.  For anyone reading this, do you act as a one-on-one whisper network for someone else? Do you have a list of 5 one-on-one whisper networks you can go to with questions? If not, highly recommend.  It all starts with an ASK. which brings me to the next fill topic…..stay tuned.

with love, gabi + catherine, blankbox cofounders

we hope you liked this + will pass it to as many friends / family / random strangers as you can! subscribe on our home page here and if you have any specific topics you want us to cover, shoot us a note hello@blankboxnyc.com.

blankbox founders gabi koshgarian catherine wang

introducing fill fridays

the fill: introducing fill fridays

blankbox founders gabi koshgarian catherine wang

photo: diana davis creative

Whether you’re a baby founder like us or a seasoned veteran in the #entrepreneurlifestyle, we’re always looking to learn from the founders who came before us. If you’ve read THE FILL before, you know our goal is to FILL [get it] your brain and inbox with content you actually want, whether it’s a female founder feature with tangible takeaways and life lessons learned from real female founders or a curated gift guide for #giftspo for your next gifting moment [shameless plug…they all fit in a blankbox].

For THE FILL in january, we interviewed two certified crazy people who decided to launch a business a year and a half ago, entirely self funded and with “day jobs” as the COOs of their respective companies: ourselves. read our feature here.

Something unexpected happened when we released THE FILL featuring ourselves: we got the highest readership we’ve ever had! This isn’t a thinly veiled #humblebrag, we were genuinely shocked that so many people cared what we had to say considering we’ve featured some badass, accomplished female founders like michelle cordeiro grant of lively,  cate luzio of luminary,  jackie courtney of nearly newlywedrebecca minkoff, divya gugnani of wander beautyrobyn davidson of byrobynblairneha govindraj of glowbarkristen tomlan of doeliz + dale from sweats + the city,  candace ourisman + ashley bronczek of secretly gifting,  kate westad of palette by pak + ali kaminetsky of modern picnic. it turns out there’s a market for how to launch a successful side hustle [while  working a 9-5, lol we wish], how to self fund your business [while living in NYC], how to take a business from idea to launch [hint: it’s not as hard as you think], + all the highs and lows and lessons learned we’ve had along the way.

Once we got over the initial shock [and making sure it wasn’t just our moms clicking on the fill 100x / minute to increase our page views] we knew we had to do something. to we created…drum roll please… FILL FRIDAY! you’re now going to start hearing from (on fridays, obvi) that include our own incessant ramblings [aka blog posts] about our own experiences as NYC-based female founders with a self-funded side hustle that we feel people can learn from, things that inspire us, fun announcements, and more. 

with love, gabi + catherine, blankbox cofounders

we hope you liked this + will pass it to as many friends / family / random strangers as you can! subscribe on our home page here if you haven’t already and if you have any specific topics you want us to cover, shoot us a note here hello@blankboxnyc.com.

female founder feature: ali kaminetsky, modern picnic

female founder feature: ali kaminetsky founder + ceo, modern picnic

IF YOU’RE LIKE US, YOU BRING YOUR LUNCH EVERYDAY (OKAY FINE, TRY TO BRING YOUR LUNCH EVERYDAY) TO HELP YOU EAT A BIT HEALTHIER AND SAVE SOME SERIOUS CASH-O-LA (NEW YORKERS WE’RE LOOKING AT YOU). WHICH MEANS, YOU KNOW THAT THE STRUGGLE IS REAL WHEN YOU’RE TRYING TO FIGURE OUT IF YOU SHOULD RE-USE THAT LULULEMON BAG FOR THE 1000X, OR GRAB A PLASTIC BAG FROM YOUR LATEST TRIP TO CVS, OR JUST TOSS YOUR TUPPERWARE IN YOUR WORK BAG AND HOPE FOR THE BEST. BUT THANKS TO ali kaminetsky, founder + ceo of modern picnic, THAT STRUGGLE IS no more(!!!). WHY?! BECAUSE THIS SELF-FUNDED BADA$ has invented the chicest lunchbox-solution we’ve ever laid eyes on. not only is her product beautiful but the utility and versatility is, in our opinion, unparalleled in the industry. HER CLASSIC LUNCHER LAUNCHED HER BRAND AND SHE HAS SINCE EXPANDED TO INCLUDE OTHER INSULATED, VEGAN LEATHER ACCESSORIES FOR ALL YOUR LUNCHING (AND DINNER-ING, AND TBH DAILY HANDBAG NEEDS). 

Tell us the story of how you got started. What gave you the idea and how did you come up with the name? 

 

I had just graduated from college, and moved into the city to start my job at Macy’s where I was doing buying for them. From the start I was bringing my lunch to work every day because of how much faster, healthier, and cheaper it was (especially as a recent grad). However, I did not have a chic or functional way to do so. I was carrying my lunch in paper, plastic or old shopping bags. When I went online to buy myself a lunchbox, I saw tons of options for little kids and men but nothing for women who wanted to both look and feel their best. From there, the idea to start Modern Picnic was born. I actually came up with the name the day I came up with the idea, secured the domain immediately, and the rest is history. 

 

You have the idea for MP – now what? What were the main things you did that took you from idea to launching a product? Talk to us about those activities, and how you decided to go MP full time – was that an easy decision?

 

It took me just under two years from idea formation to actually launching the company. I came up with the idea in September of 2016 and launched on May 1, 2018.  I was only 22 when I had the idea and had absolutely zero prior experiences, skill sets, connections, or any idea how to turn this idea into a reality. The first thing I did was just start talking to anyone and everyone to learn from them, and get their advice. From there, I began developing a tech pack for our first product, the luncher. Leaving Macy’s to pursue Modern Picnic full time was absolutely terrifying. Working at Macy’s was my dream job, and was something I had worked so hard to get to, so to leave this amazing place, and stable pay check, was not an easy decision but one that I have never once regretted. 

 

You’ve self-funded this entire business (!!!) Talk to us about that decision and why you took that path instead of raising VC money. Is there anything you’ve learned about where not to put your money as a self funded entrepreneur?

 

As a bootstrapped company, you have to be extra cognizant and careful about where you are spending your money. While we are very proud of how far we have gotten by being self-funded, we feel that we need to raise in order to take Modern Picnic to the next level. I certainly do not come from a Finance background, so am trying to do everything i can do edecutate myself on the process – i.e. networking calls, attending events and panels centered around funding, and doing my own research online. 

you’ve been in business for under 2 years and already have such an amazing following! talk to us about organic growth and what marketing channels / other channels have contributed the most to that?

 

we really try to utilize all of the channels to maximize visibility and awareness on the brand. that means not just focusing on our instagram but also channels such as twitter, pinterest, linkedin, facebook, email and of course, our website. we also do quite a bit of ppc advertising and have seen success promoting via google, facebook and instagram ads which have all contributed to our organic growth.

We love using Planoly to plan our our Instagram feed, and Tailwind for Pinterest planning and optimization. Everything else is really organized and planned through Google Docs!

 

you do amazing instagram marketing! For entrepreneurs just learning how to instagram market, what are your best tips + tricks? Is there a sweet spot “spend” on ads or “type of ad” that works the best for you? How do you build the target audience for your ads?

 

Well first of all – thank you! We were working with an amazing freelancer to help us with our instagram marketing at first. He was able to teach us the ground work, and basics, on PPC Advertising.

If you are not an expert, I highly recommend working with one to learn more. This will ensure you are optimizing ad spend, and not wasting any money on low performing ads. 

All of our ads are run through Google Ads, and Facebook Ads Manager. We have a team that monitors the account on a daily basis to make sure we are optimizing ad spend, and targeting the right people!

 

you recently launched an ambassador program. What are the first steps someone looking to launch this should take + how should they grow it?

 

Our ambassador program and welcoming in 150+ amazing women from around the country, is definitely something I am most proud of with Modern Picnic. Before we launched the program, we were getting quite a bit of inquiries from different women asking if we had a program or not. So once we decided to actually begin creating the program, the first step we took was asking if they would get on a call with us so we could learn more about what they would want to see from a program. We don’t look at, or measure, our Ambassador Program as a ROI rather it is the heart of our company. It is all about the community that is being built, and the connections that are being made. We reward our ambassadors on a Tier system…meaning, the more they sell, the more we gift!

My advice would be to talk to your community and see what they would want! Because after all, at the end of the day, the ambassador program is for them and to make it as fulfilling as possible. 

 

You created a ‘first of its kind’ product with a lot of competition – talk to us about how you differentiate yourself. Why does a woman buy MP over another lunchbox?

 

We saw tons of lunchboxes on the market for little kids and for men, but nothing for women who wanted to both look and feel their best. Our lunch bags are designed so you can bring them from work, to the gym, to the dinner and anywhere in between, and no one would ever have to know what was inside. 

 

you recently launched the tote in addition to your luncher and snacker lines. Talk to us about how the idea for that product came about and what the design process was like? When you launch a ‘new’ product, how do you grow that product without cannibalizing your other lines?

 

We wanted to create a product for all types of women! The snacker is perfect for the girl who just wants to bring snacks with her. The luncher is for the girl who brings her lunch with her, and the tote is for the girl who wants to bring her breakfast, luncher + maybe even dinner with her all in one. Although all products fall under one umbrella, we feel they are different enough that they will not cannibalize each other, but instead complement each other. 

 

You’re giving your best friend a blankbox. How do you fill it? 

 

Of course with MP products ☺

QUICK FIRE WITH ALI KAMINETSKY

 

where are you from: Greenwich, CT

 

favorite NYC restaurant: Loving Pastis right now

 

what we’ll find in your luncher: GG Crackers, some kind of bar and fruit

 

favorite “me-time” activity: Love going to work out classes

 

favorite brand: Too many amazing ones to choose from!

 

best gift you’ve ever received: My best friends recently got me and Eberjay robe + pajama set and I swear I have not been able to take it off since. Softest set ever.

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 monetary 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 PALETte 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 anything 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 consciously make an effort to take those hours and shift them towards something you feel passionate 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. 

 

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