Denise Roden: Loss So Often Leads to Gain

Denise RodenThe first line of Denise Roden’s scrapbook reads, “This is a book about me, for me.” You wouldn’t know it until you glance through those pages, but at one point in her life Roden weighed 265 lbs. It’s possible she weighed more but she can’t say for sure because she never stood on a scale until the morning of her life-changing bariatric surgery. Something else you wouldn’t know by looking at the confident blonde is that starting her own business at the age of 48 has been transformative – even more so than the surgery.

“I feel like I’m somebody now. I worked so many years in an unfulfilling job because I was following theDenise Roden money. Looking back I see how lost I was all of those years. Sometimes when you are overweight you lose your voice. Starting this business has given me my voice and self-esteem back. I did this. I left a well-paying job, but I finally took control. This is for me and no one else.”

Roden grew up in Alabama, north of Birmingham, in a typical Southern family. Raised on fried food and Hamburger Helper, weight was always an issue as she and her siblings rarely exercised and were not encouraged to spend a great deal of time outdoors. By high school, Roden weighed 200 lbs. She tried aerobics and played some sports, but the slow slide into obesity had begun, interrupted by spurts of yo-yo dieting.

Following in her grandmother’s footsteps, Roden enrolled in college to become an elementary school teacher, but her heart wasn’t in it so she dropped out after two years. Ideally she would have done something with computers, but it was 1983 in Alabama and there weren’t many options for that type of career, especially for a young woman.  She continued working odd jobs, toying with the idea of going back to school. She never did, though; instead marrying a soldier at the age of 23. The pair moved first to Virginia and then to Korea where he was stationed.

Weight gain continued to be a problem. “I tried everything. Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, that crazy grapefruit diet. You name it, I did it. But nothing worked because I was looking for a quick fix rather than being mindful about what I was putting into my mouth and actually changing my lifestyle,” she recalls.

After Korea, the couple moved to Massachusetts, but the marriage was on the rocks. Roden took a secretarial position and taught herself how to use the Wang computer (remember those?). “I did a lot of payroll and accounting, and generally picked up the skills of whatever needed to be done. I was like a skills sponge,” she laughs.

Following his tour in Massachusetts, Roden’s husband was accepted into nursing school with the Army’s support and they moved to North Alabama where the marriage continued to flounder. “My parents had been married for over 40 years.  I didn’t think divorce was an actual option and deep inside me, I really thought I could make it work. However, I just gained more weight.”

“I feel like I’m somebody now. I worked so many years in an unfulfilling job because I was following the money. Looking back I see how lost I was all of those years. Sometimes when you are overweight you lose your voice. Starting this business has given me my voice and self-esteem back. I did this. I left a well-paying job, but I finally took control. This is for me and no one else.”

After returning to school to get an associate degree in general studies, Roden held various office managerial positions and built her finance expertise. After several moves, the couple settled in suburban Washington DC, where Roden worked as Director of Finance and Administration at the non-profit Jewish Women International. She stayed for 14 years.

Denise RodenFour years after the move to DC and several counseling sessions later, the couple finally separated. When her husband got orders to go back to Korea, Roden declined to follow, choosing instead to do a BA in business administration while working full time. Around the same time, she began looking into bariatric surgery as a solution to her weight problem. She was suffering from a barrage of related health problems such as high blood pressure, sleep apnea and hypertension, and the surgery – a stomach or intestinal operation that helps obese patients lose weight – felt like the last option.

After a year of reflection, Roden decided to go for it. As she was still covered by spousal military benefits, the surgery, and accompanying tummy tuck and breast implants to adjust for excess skin were all covered. “I just had to buy the bra,” Roden laughs. “It was such a gift.”

Roden dropped 100 lbs relatively quickly and was transformed. She attended bariatric support group meetings and after getting certified by the Bariatric Support Center International (BSCI), became a support group leader, a task she enjoyed but found frustrating when noticing who was attending the sessions.

“It was the patients required by their insurance firms to be there as part of pre-op or the success stories. The people who really needed to be there, the ones experiencing what I call ‘the creep’ – the slow but steady weight regain – were not coming. I had always felt there was a number on the scale that, if crossed, would be a slow descent from which I’d never recover. So I vigorously fought off the weight regain by focusing on my own wellness and happiness.”

This proved to be challenging considering what she was experiencing at the office.

“I learned a lot in the 14 years at JWI but I also grew up during that time. I was 34 when I started working there. For many years, the salary and work motivated me, but when I hit my mid-40s, I was no longer happy. I didn’t feel valued and wanted something more fulfilling. I’d start crying on Sunday nights when thinking about work the next day.”

A way out finally presented itself when, about two years ago, Roden received an email from BSCI offering her the opportunity to purchase a license for their bariatric support curriculum. At this point, Roden was on meds for high blood pressure and anxiety so she felt she didn’t have much to lose. Her new “permanent fiancé” was encouraging Roden to make a change and was unequivocal in his recollection of those days, “He reminded me just last week, ‘Do you realize the first word out of your mouth every morning was shit! Do you know what it’s like to start your day next to someone who says that every morning?’ I guess it was tough on him too,” she says a little guiltily.

She considered the cost of the license, and determined that she could swing it with the income from her condo rental and some Army spouse benefits. She gave six months’ notice and filed for an LLC.

Today Roden operates the Bariatric Center for Success. She earned a health coaching certificate from Georgetown last year and offers several services targeted at weight-loss surgery patients. Her educational curriculums include “Success Habits™ of Weight Loss Surgery Patients” and “Back on Track™.”

“For me and the 200,000 Americans who undergo this surgery every year, it’s not the end of worrying about food. You think it is the solution – albeit a drastic one – to your problems, but unfortunately it’s not. You need to change your mindset too, otherwise it won’t work.”

Getting the business going hasn’t been easy. Although most insurance plans cover bariatric surgery they surprisingly do not cover educational support services prior to or after the fact, despite that about 50% of patients experience considerable weight regain between 3 and 5 years following surgery. They even pay for revisional surgery when patients relapse but don’t invest in the more cost-effective and less invasive approach of peer support on an ongoing basis. Roden is working to build up connections and partnering with local hospitals to get the support services covered by insurance.

“It’s taking some time but it’s so worth it. On Sunday nights now, I start thinking about the week ahead, what I am going to be doing. I get excited and that means more to me than anything. Especially because I am helping people defeat those sabotaging thoughts and behaviors that cause weight regain and be successful long-term.”

Tips from Denise Roden
  • It’s really difficult to do everything on your own. Working from home, I found it hard not to let personal demands eat into professional time. I joined a women’s co-working space (Hera Hub) to address both of these issues. I’ve met a lot of women who’ve given valuable support to my business, I’ve learned from others, and I’ve been more disciplined about my working hours.
  • Keep lines of communication open with those around you. They might not know how challenging what you’re trying to do is.
  • Also, be sure you have enough for start-up cost. For example: website, CMS, accounting package, etc. There are so many little things.
  • As the President of BSCI, Colleen Cook said, “Reach Further, Dream Bigger, Aspire Higher” That’s exactly what I aim to do!

Dawn Richardson: From High School Teacher to Spirits Distiller

Dawn RichardsonDawn Richardson had an unusual upbringing, but in a way one that made her the ideal candidate to take the leaps of faith required of an entrepreneur. “I was a gypsy kid and went to 20 different schools before I graduated from high school.”

Richardson’s mother was a 70’s hippie, roaming the West with her family living out of a school bus. She was the first female construction worker in the state of Utah, earning money where she could season-by-season and taking classes in small college towns along the way. “You might say she marched to the beat of her own drum,” says Dawn.

But to her daughter, it was normal, everyday life, and there were parts on the road Dawn loved. When it was time to go to college, Dawn headed to a small liberal arts school in Durango, Colorado, where she could explore lots of classes and go skiing. She got a degree in political science thinking that she might eventually head to Washington, DC and work in politics.

“My parents (Dawn’s mother married when Dawn was 13) had always pushed me to teach but I would protest, ‘I don’t want to go into that underpaid, female-dominated, and underappreciated profession,” she remembers. But ironically her desire to travel helped push her in that direction. The family travel bug got her, and she headed to Japan to see the world while earning money teaching English. She taught in Japan for two years, and then returned home and got a masters in education and a teacher’s license and, after brief forays teaching skiing, and then working for a cell phone company, headed back to the classroom.

 “Because of my unconventional upbringing, I always had an openness to it. I would think, what’s the worst that can happen? You lose your business and have to get another job? That’s not so bad.”

For the next 14 years, she taught social studies to high school students. Dawn loved teaching but felt it was time to move on. She felt additional pressure outside the classroom from parents and administrators and then a mysterious illness sidelined her and gave her time to think. “I got a virus that caused my spinal cord to swell and it really scared me. I thought it could be the stress of teaching or just being around all those germs. We still don’t know what it was. Suddenly I was faced with my own mortality and I realized, I’m not happy and I need to change that.”

Dawn and her husband, a software developer, had always talked about opening their own business some day. “Because of my unconventional upbringing, I always had an openness to it. I would think, what’s the worst that can happen? You lose your business and have to get another job? That’s not so bad.”

Together they investigated several options including a beer garden, but were deterred by the enormous start up costs of upwards of a million dollars. But when Rising Sun Distillerythey really started looking at the business, they realized the largest profit is made in alcohol. Then a story on the evening news about local distilleries caught their attention. Looking at the viability of that kind of business, it seemed to make sense.

They started slowly. Her husband continued working and Dawn got her real estate license so they could bring some money in as they were starting up.

They consulted with another distillery in Colorado where they live, and read lots and lots about the business. Then they began experimenting by making wine and beer. When they felt comfortable, they went all in. Cashing in 401Ks, and selling a rental property they owned, the Richardson’s were able to cover the start up costs of property and equipment. Additional business and home equity lines of credit covered them through a few months of operating.

Rising Sun Distillery LogoThey launched Rising Sun Distillery with a line of gin and vodka. Their niche? Local, organic, non-GMO products. And just five months into the business, they are also recipe testing some peach vodka and a pear brandy to expand their product offering soon. While any entrepreneur knows that making the product is just the beginning, the Richardson’s count themselves lucky to be launching in Colorado.

“First of all, alcohol is a highly desirable product. But also, we live in a state where we can go door-to-door and sell our product because liquor stores are all privately owned.”

While her husband and her mother take the lead on outside sales, Dawn develops the recipes and manages the in-house tasting room where they feature their liquors in a range of artisanal cocktails.

In the short four months since they’ve opened, Rising Sun can now be found in 25 different bars and liquors stores in Colorado. Slowly but surely, they are growing the business.

“It’s a bit scary for sure. We’re not paying our bills with profits yet but we’re seeing signs that sooner rather than later, that will happen. But there’s so much to learn in this industry and I feel like we’re just babies starting out. But it’s really fun.”

Richardson’s one regret?  Her freewheeling childhood gave her a comfort with risk taking, but it didn’t give her any mentors in business. I’d love to talk to other women who are doing this because it can be hard and that would be a nice support.”

Tips from Dawn Richardson
  • Assess your comfort level with risk, if you are not a risk taker and are not comfortable with the worst case scenario, then opening a business might not be the best choice.
  • Working for yourself is a 24 hour job.  The satisfaction of working for yourself far outweighs working for someone else, but it is very hard to leave work at home and have a work life balance.
  • There is so much more to opening a business than I first thought, and a lot of the tasks are not in my skill set.  It is important to know when to outsource and when to hire help or when to join with others.

Mary Lou Bradley: Painting the Picture-Perfect Life

Mary Lou Bradley

Mary Lou Bradley worked for the man who created Three’s Company, a TV show those of us of a certain age will remember. She also worked for Bill DeBlasio before he was the mayor of New York City. She went to culinary school and learned to make pastries. And then, at age 55, she became an entrepreneur.
(more…)

Tina Ambrogi: Setting Up Shop Her Way

Tina AmbrogiThere are two things that Tina Ambrogi dreamed about as a child growing up in Massachusetts: living in the San Francisco area, and building a tunnel between her home and the house where family members lived next door. She envisioned this tunnel as a place where artists could hang out, where people would barter and trade goods. “That never happened,” she says wryly.

But it’s a funny thing about childhood dreams; maybe they don’t ever really go away. (more…)

Nicole Morgenthau: Once a Teacher Always a Teacher?

Nicole MorgenthauAs a young girl in Washington State, Nicole Morgenthau dreamed of being a doctor – a dream she held onto almost all the way through her college career at Virginia Wesleyan. But, in her senior year, it dawned on her that it was still going to be a really long time until she actually got to work in the field. Twelve more years of training seemed daunting, and, simultaneously, her English professor approached her and suggested she consider a career in literature, an area that seemed to be a natural fit for her. So Nicole pursued a focus in creative writing and ironically, instead of diving into a career right away, went on to get a masters in literature at Old Dominion University. (more…)

Pam Shields: Fighting Alzheimer’s One Sit-Up at a Time

Pam ShieldsBy the time her two daughters were in their preteens, Pam Shields realized that the frequent travel her job in the IT industry demanded no longer worked for her and her family. She wanted to be home more, more available to her kids. So in 1999 she left a high-paying, fast-track job in the corporate world to pursue something that had always interested her: personal fitness.

She also knew she had good managerial and leadership skills, and so by January 2000 she had already started her new physical fitness business. But it wasn’t without trade-offs. “My income,” she says bluntly, “decreased by about 95%. I went from a six-figure salary to almost nothing.” (more…)

Julia Westfall: Building a Community of Women

Julia_westfallJulia Westfall could easily have coasted to retirement. She was 59 years old and had a good job as director of finance and human resources for a marketing and communications company in Bethesda, Maryland. Her twin daughters had started college. She absolutely could have coasted.

But then Westfall read an article about something called Hera Hub and was intrigued. It sounded like the sort of thing she wanted to be involved in. “I wasn’t really interested in retiring; it wasn’t something my husband and I ever talked about, other than planning for it financially. I always saw retirement as something far off in the future, regardless of my age.”

So Westfall began doing some research early last year on Hera Hub – a work and meeting space where women could connect and collaborate – and then reached out to its owner, Felena Hanson, who is based in San Diego County. Many Hera Hub members are professionals who had previously worked from home but found it isolating, or wanted to continue working at home part-time but also needed a space to hold meetings or meet with clients one-on-one. Westfall learned Hera Hub has three established locations in California, but more importantly, Hanson was offering franchise opportunities.

Westfall continued to do her due diligence. She scrutinized her own finances, had a franchise attorney look at the contract, and even went to San Diego to meet Hanson and tour the Hera Hub locations. Impressed with what she found, she signed the franchise agreement after three short months.

“This struck me as an amazing opportunity to do something to help women in small business. I’ve worked with a lot of small businesses over the years and gotten a great education along the way. At this point in my career, Hera Hub seemed like a really exciting way to use that experience.”

Westfall admits there have been some who questioned her decision to buy a franchise rather than starting her own IMG_2811business. She responds, “I didn’t want to do all that branding work; reinventing the wheel. I found an existing opportunity that really suits me and my vision. I’m all about taking advantage of what someone else has done and using what they’ve learned. The franchise option was very attractive to me.”

But Westfall is still a trailblazer, as the Washington DC space is the first franchise for Hera Hub. “That intrigued me, too. I kind of like being first at things. It’s a challenge and I feel like I can make a difference for the people coming up behind me.”

Signing the franchise agreement was only the first step, after which the real work began. Westfall needed to find a location for the business and also to build brand awareness and educate people on the concept of shared workspace. When it became obvious that finding the right space wasn’t going to be easy, Westfall decided to open a temporary location so she could get started as soon as possible.

Westfall recently signed a lease for her permanent location in the Friendship Heights neighborhood of Washington, DC. Hera Hub refers to its décor as “spa-inspired,” but don’t show up expecting a pedicure. The space is serene, quiet, and conducive to working, and private offices and meeting rooms can be reserved as needed.

IMG_2858Hera Hub also hosts evening workshops, programs, and events, where members come together as a community to learn from and support each other to the extent that they choose to.

“It’s a great group of women,” Westfall says of her founding members. “One is an artist. Another woman has a proofreading and editing company. There’s a website designer, an art curator, a business coach, a woman starting her own private equity firm. That’s what’s so great about Hera Hub – it’s real mix. This gives us the opportunity to make connections, support each other, and pass along some individual perspective.”

Eventually, Westfall would like to have about 120-150 members of different membership levels. At that point, she

Julia with member and artist Diana Ludet
Julia with member and artist Diana Ludet

would consider opening other Hera Hub offices in the DC metro area.

Westfall reflects on her age and why she isn’t ready to retire. “The advantage of me being 60 is that I’ve already done so many things, and your experiences make you who you are. I don’t think I would be as successful if I had done this at 40. I would have missed 20 years of experience. This is the right time for me. Also, being older, my husband and I have had the chance to establish ourselves financially.

“I’ve also had people ask if I’m buying this business for my daughters. I’m not. Sure, if they get out of college and are interested and have something to offer I would welcome them, but this business is for me. Although I guess I do want them to know that they can do whatever they want to do, at whatever age they happen to be.”

And for Westfall, Hera Hub can open doors at any age. “You always know that these amazing women are out there – especially in an area like Washington DC – but now I get to actually build relationships with them. That’s where I’m getting the most benefit – getting to know these women who are at all stages in their businesses, all different backgrounds, different education levels. I probably never would have crossed paths with most of them without Hera Hub. I’m very grateful for that.”

Tips from Julia Westfall
  • Whatever your business, find a community of people who care about you and support you.
  • Figure out where your strengths are, and be honest about your weaknesses. Then find support in those areas where you’re not as strong.
  • The pressure to achieve work/life balance can be intense. It can be hard to see the big picture when you’re in the middle of it, but it helps to see work/life balance as something that’s spread over your entire life. Sometimes it’s more about work, and sometimes it’s more about family, and that’s okay.

Marlo Scott: The Sweetest Revenge is Just Being Happy

Marlo Scott

Everyone’s job stinks from time to time, but if you find absolutely no joy in what you do then it’s time to get out. Some of us are lucky and can do this sooner rather than later but others, like Marlo Scott, bide their time, planning and preparing for the day when they can bust out of the toxic work environment once and for all.

“I spent seven years in a hostile industry. The media business is full of bully bosses, but this was only fuel for me to figure out how to work for myself. When I was passed over for a promotion that I should have gotten, I swore I would get my sweet revenge on my bad boss. It was only a matter of when.” (more…)

Lisa Crites: Helping Mastectomy Patients Feel Better and Heal Faster

Lisa Crites

In her 30s, shortly after getting married, Lisa Crites lost her mother in a car accident. She was devastated and sank into a severe depression. At the time, she wanted to reach out to other women who lost their mothers tragically but it was too difficult. A decade later, she felt the same helplessness when diagnosed with breast cancer, but on that occasion she decided to take control of the situation and user her experience to help others.

“When my mother died, I never found a platform to help others but equally I didn’t have the strength to do it. When I was diagnosed with cancer, although I had no control over the cancer in my body, I did have control over how I could use what I was going through to make life better for other women. By developing the Shower Shirt I was not only helping others, I was helping myself.” (more…)

Esther Nio: Bringing the Sweet Taste of Deutschland to Silicon Valley

Esther NioIf you find yourself in Los Altos one day, pining for a bite of some authentic Bienenstich so good you lick your fingers clean of the vanilla custard, then you’re in luck. A small hike from Googleplex and a straight shot down San Antonio Road lies Esther’s German Bakery. You’ll have to do U-turn and probably fight over a parking space but it’s worth every bit of aggravation to get your hands on some of Esther Nio’s Echte Laugenbrezn (real pretzels) or Schwarzbrot (rye pumpernickel bread).

“And don’t worry about the calories,” Nio says, “We use organic whole wheat flour in our cakes to make them less sinful.” (more…)

Lyndsey DePalma: Working to Create a Space to Relax

Lyndsey DePalmaAlthough it’s hard to pinpoint the exact reason that Lyndsey Clutteur DePalma decided to open a tea shop, it could have been her great-grandmother Agnes, with her lifelong love of tea and appreciation for its medicinal benefits, who planted the seed.  Or it might have been DePalma’s own longing for a space for tea drinkers to relax in a world overrun by coffee shops. Or maybe it was the fact that she was turning 30 and did not relish the idea of a lifetime in human resources at a big four accounting firm.

DePalma majored in biology as an undergrad but realized about halfway through that while she did like biology, she couldn’t imagine herself working in a lab. After graduation, a friend helped her get a job at PricewaterhouseCoopers, where she started in an entry-level administrative role. She was soon moved to the human resources department and from there worked her way through the ranks to become an HR manager. She stayed for nearly eight years.

A few years into her job she decided to go back to school part-time to get her MBA. She didn’t have any particular goal in mind at the time; she just wanted to become more business savvy and thought the degree could be useful in her career. But as she pored over the business plans of so many others as part of her MBA classes, the idea slowly began to take root that perhaps she shouldn’t just be studying other people’s business plans but actually writing one of her own. She’d always had the idea in the back of her mind of opening a tea shop, so she decided that maybe, just as an exercise, she would write a business plan. “And that’s when it all kind of came together,” she says. (more…)

Ellen Reich: The Square Peg Who Found Her Hole

Ellen ReichEllen Reich has always struggled with trying to find just the right profession, something that would enable her to mesh her aesthetic side with her political leanings. It took her some time to figure it out, but today Reich is the proud owner of Three Stone Steps, a small import business specializing in “ethically-sourced” products.

“I never took a linear path, I meandered a bit, but that’s sort of what I do. And in the end, it all worked out. I like to think I’ve had an impact on making people more conscious about what they buy, where things come from and if they are fairly made. I don’t hit them over the head with it, but I find it really satisfying when it happens.” (more…)