Dare to dream…

Last year was the first time I attended the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) annual gala. Some of you might remember that I blogged about it, about the inspiration that came with that evening. Yesterday, NFTE held its 2011 Dare to Dream gala. Just as in 2010, I was re-inspired, re-energized, moved to tears. And yesterday, I was also honored as a locally-grown entrepreneur. It was a magical evening. An evening filled with amazing students, teachers, and entrepreneurs. An evening filled with great friends. An evening filled with soundbytes. Here are some of my favorites.

“We can educate our way to a better economy.” Julie Kantor, the Executive Director of NFTE DC Region

“I have an MBA. A Masters at Being Amazing.” Also by Julie Kanto

“Entrepreneurs can do anything with persistence, perseverance, and passion.” Edie Fraser, Diversified Search Odgers Berndtson

“Your first business may fail, but that doesn’t mean that your second, or third, or fourth won’t be successful.” Aaron Batallion, Living Social

“No fear. There is no reason to fear.” Michelle Lee, STG International

“Hire for attitude over smarts. Attitude is everything” Mark Michael, Occasions Caterers

“The person who says it can’t be done shouldn’t interrupt the person who is doing it.” Seth Goldman, Honest Tea

The keynote address was by Rodney Walker (pictured below with his Alchimie Forever goodie bag). The entire video presentation of his journey was so powerful and moving it is impossible to capture it in a soundbyte. I saw seasoned business men discreetly wipe the corners of their eyes (I was doing the same, less discreetly) as he spoke of overcoming drugs, homelessness, poverty, with the help of NFTE. Rodney inspired me to do more with NFTE, and today I re-iterate the commitment I silently made last night to play more of a role in the life of these young students. As soon as I stop typing, I will be calling my girlfriend Minal, who is the one who introduced me to NFTE a few years ago, to make this commitment a reality. Once again, thank you NFTE.

Work-life balance?

I don’t often repost data or information without commentary on my blog, but I came across Tim Ferriss’ blog earlier today and just had to. I can’t think of the right adjectives to describe the data… amazing, amazingly scary, disturbing, funny… so many words come to mind. As I begin to think about my New Year’s resolutions, perhaps I can add to the long list:

  • Do not check email in the middle of the night (or in bed in general)
  • Take time off, and encourage my team to use up their vacation days

Thank you Tim for the reminder!

Lessons learned

I received the best introduction ever today. I was about to present at the networking luncheon for Work It Girl Networking, when the founder and CEO Teresa introduced me as the “world goddess of skin care.” May I please put that on my business card?

Work It Girl Networking brings working women together during lunch, which always features a female guest speaker. Past speakers have included Pam Sorensen, Kate Michael, Sara Damelio, and more. Today, I spoke, thrilled to be in such great company.

I was going to speak about starting a skin care business, but I have had such a momentous week that I drew inspration from recent events. On Tuesday, I signed a distribution agreement with a fabulous company, putting into place a partnership that will take Alchimie to the next level. (By the way, the headling of the Washington Post that day was the the Great Recession was officially over. Coincidence?)I have been working on this partnership for four years, very intensely for the last six months. On Tuesday, after signing the contract and having a glass of champagne, I thought about how I got there, and reminded myself of the key lessons I have learned over the last 5 years of launching, growing, and running Alchimie Forever. (And I have some new quotes to share – so many of you emailed me your favorites after my September 6th blog, thank you!)

Lesson 1: Be nimble, shift direction when necessary, and don’t get so emotionally attached to your strategy that you can’t change direction. Another way to say it: stubborn is great, stupid is not. When I started Alchimie Forever, I thought the only way to build sales was with an in-house direct salesforce. No one else could be as passionate about Alchimie as someone on payroll. I went down that route, but then realized that it indeed wasn’t the best strategy for us, and instead turned my attention to finding the right distribution partner.

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” (Albert Einstein)

“Don’t spend time beating on a wall hoping to transform it into a door.” (Coco Chanel)

Lesson 2: Be persistent. Always follow-up. Never give up. Don’t nag, but don’t forget either.

The first time I contacted this distributor was in 2006. I sent products and our press packet, but the timing wasn’t right. Over the years, I stayed in touch with them, updated them on new developments, paid attention to shifts in their team, developed and nurtured new relationships. “One day…” I thought.

“I do not think there is any other quality so essential to success of any kind as the quality of perseverance. It overcomes almost everything, even nature.” (John D. Rockefeller)

Lesson 3: This is linked to the second lesson, and involves dealing with rejection. When someone tells me “No” I translate this in my head as “No, thank you so much, not today.” Deal with rejection gracefully, and never burn any bridges.

“The only way to deal with rejection is by shining.” (Diane Von Furstenberg)

Lesson 4: Dream bigger. A recent Wall Street Journal article suggests that the average revenues of women-owned businesses are only 27% of the average revenues of men-owned businesses. The author says “it starts with the goals.” Women need to set bigger goals for their businesses. This reminded me of my favorite business book, Good to Great by Jim Collins, and his concept of the Big Hairy Audacious Goal. One of my BHAGs for 2010 was to land that distribution deal. And to think, we are only in September!

“The starting point for all achievement is desire. Keep this constantly in mind.” (Napoleon Hill)

Lesson 5: To achieve a BHAG, one must take risks. People often say that entrepreneurs love and embrace risk but my tolerance for risk is actually not that high. 16 months ago, I increased my overhead by signing a 5-year lease for our beautiful showroom. I invested in the redesign of the space. I spent many sleepless nights thinking about the insanity of expanding during the worse economic recession I can remember. What if this? What if that? Yet, it was the right decision. It brought new visibility, new credibility to my brand, to my business. And I know the distributor noticed…

“You miss 100% of the shots you never take.” (Wayne Gretzky)

“Leap and the net will appear.” (John Burroughs)

 Lesson 6: Personal and business values must be fully aligned, especially for entrepreneurs whose businesses and personal identities are so linked. As I was working on the mission and value statement for Alchimie Forever, someone close to me asked me “Are Alchimie’s values yours? Are yours Alchimie’s?” That question was the inspiration for the development of our corporate responsibility strategy, which involves donating part of our proceeds to the arts in general, and to the Corcoran Gallery of Art specifically.
“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” (Ghandi)

Lesson 7: This may be the most important one, and a lesson I continually have to remind myself of. Forget about perfection. Women in particular struggle with perfection. We (maybe I should say I?) were raised to be the teachers’ pet. Get the best grades, hand in the best projects, always look pretty. As adults, we try to be the perfect business person; the perfect wife; the perfect mom; the perfect friend. Perfection doesn’t exist, and we should all just admit that and move on.

“Ring the bells that still can ring, forget about the perfect offering. There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light comes in.” (Leonard Cohen)

 

Favorite quotes

As a CEO, one of my key responsibilities is to give my team, my shareholders, my customers, faith, encouragement, and inspiration. Sometimes, that is a responsibility easily fulfilled. Sometimes, I need to stand on the shoulders of giants and borrow from their words of wisdom. Here are some of my favorite quotes from people whom I admire and wish I knew, or had known. Funnily enough, compiling these made me realize they can be grouped into themes… themes of my life.

Why I love being an entrepreneur

In case I was about to forget why I love being an entrepreneur, three events this week reminded me why I would never, could never, do anything else in life but spend my time, energy, and money, building a business.

On Wednesday morning, the group Network of Entrepreneurial Women (NEW), which I founded in 2004, had its quarterly Breakfast Brainstorm. I founded the group when I was just starting Alchimie, and needed to speak to trusted friends who knew what I was going through – other women launching and growing their own businesses. We meet quarterly to hear speakers (this Wednesday the author and freelance writer Cathy Alter), network, share concerns and resources, and more. I leave every NEW event with a renewed sense of inspiration, dedication to my business, and sense of family and friendship.

Daring to dream, making it in business

I am writing it is 10:51 pm on Wednesday April 28th. I am wearing my favorite LBD, heels, and makeup (yes, I am at the office). Until an hour ago, I was at the NFTE (Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship) Dare to Dream MIB (Making it in Business) Annual Gala.

I have been involved with NFTE for the last 2+ years, thanks to my girlfriend Minal, who is on the board. For the first time (after judging a business class competition, inviting a glass of students to my Georgetown showroom, and hosting a joint shopping event), I went to “the” party. And what a party it was.