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…)
There 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…)
In a short period of time, Lynne Goldberg lost all the personas with which she had come to identify herself. They fell away, one after the other. No longer expectant mother, daughter, wife, sister or businesswoman, she was left with only one face to look at in the mirror and she didn’t like what she saw.
Goldberg grew up in Montreal, Canada, and joined the family retail chain business where she spent more than two decades in charge of merchandising management. She was a typical type-A executive, stressed out and overworked, which wasn’t exactly helpful when she and her husband decided to start a family.
“We had a lot of trouble getting pregnant and went through numerous failed fertility treatments. I was overjoyed when I finally discovered I was pregnant with twins after four years of effort.”
“It really helped me. We wear so many masks all the time and when you finally get down to it, who you are at your core really doesn’t change. Knowing that helped me shift from meeting external identities to finding myself.”
Her joy turned to sorrow, however, when Goldberg’s mother was diagnosed with terminal colon cancer. The stress, combined with her full-on work schedule, forced Goldberg to take bed rest on her doctor’s orders to save her pregnancy. It was all in vain as she miscarried and had to deliver the fetuses. Within the year, Goldberg’s mother died and her world fell apart as her brothers pushed her out of the family business.
“My mind was just not there anymore. I couldn’t perform at work and wasn’t able to do what they needed done. It was a business after all, so they asked me to leave. And despite having adopted two children, my marriage unraveled. I lost everything in a few short months,” she recalls.
She threw herself into a new line of work, using money from her buy-out to launch a home décor importing business to support herself and her children. Nevertheless, it was hard, as she was constantly travelling to China and Europe. On a personal level, Goldberg was angry, disconnected, and generally unhappy. She carried around the feeling that there had to be more to life.
Seeing her struggle, a friend turned her on to meditation.
“It really helped me. We wear so many masks all the time and when you finally get down to it, who you are at your core really doesn’t change. Knowing that helped me shift from meeting external identities to finding myself.”
She continued running the business but was really drawn to meditation and signed up for more and more courses, trying to figure out how she could develop that aspect of her life further. She began teaching meditation at hospitals and schools, until she finally came to the realization that teaching was what gave her the most satisfaction. Although her importing business was doing well, with clients like Costco and Walmart on board, Goldberg decided to sell and focus full time on teaching meditation.
“It was an easy decision. There wasn’t any meaning in what I was doing; it didn’t make me feel good. Teaching did. When you get out of your own personal drama and look at the world from a bigger perspective, what good you can do, your mentality shifts. It’s empowering.”
And her perspective did change. Goldberg reconnected with her brothers, with whom she is very close today. She remarried and – most importantly – she’s happy and fulfilled.
“I went from being consumed with anger to having family that I love. It’s like that expression says, ‘Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.’ One of my biggest life lessons has been forgiveness. Now I choose to find the things that give me joy. Instead of feeling something was taken away from me, I shifted to what I have.”
But the Type-A exec still lurked beneath the surface, and Goldberg wondered how what she was doing could be bigger – how she could reach more people and give them the same joy she was experiencing. As it happened, Goldberg’s husband, a fellow meditation convert who had been in tech, was feeling the same way. His last business produced ringtones and mobile content, and his number-one selling app was the fart ringtone. So it’s hardly surprising, he too was having the sense there’s got to be more and wanted to help his wife in her mission. The couple teamed up with another husband and wife duo who also meditated and had experience building apps.
After one year in development, the result was OMG I Can Mediate, a mobile app targeted at people who have never meditated before. The app launched in March 2015 with 12 weeks of content (the first of which is free) and over 100 specialty meditations from helping you wake up in the morning or go to sleep at night to dealing with your kids. There’s even the wonderfully named “My Boss is a Jerk” which teaches compassion.
“If you live in NY or LA, then meditation is widely accessible. But in most other places, it’s still primarily just the early adopters. We wanted to give everyone the opportunity to meditate and make it less daunting and a little fun,” the 52-year-old explains. “The irony is that the very devices that have made us more frenetic can also be the means to finding peace and happiness.”
They are constantly updating and adding new content to the app. After the launch, they were the number-one app in India – an unexpected but pleasant surprise. And AppPicker.com called OMG I Can Mediate “best meditation app available in the app store.”
Looking back at how her life has changed, Goldberg is effusive “I feel blessed, truly grateful. I cannot believe how lucky I am. We wonder why tragedy happens. Sometimes the explanation takes 20 years to figure out. If I knew back then how everything would turn out, I would have been a lot happier. But at least now I have this sense of trust that when stuff happens, it’s meant to happen and it’s going to be OK. It takes the drama out of the day-to-day stuff.”
According to the Urban Dictionary, the go-to source for the definition of all terms hip and cool (or in our case, slang we hear our kids using) to “Cheddar Up” is “to gain money through legal or illegal means.” As in “Man, I gotta get my hustle on and cheddar-up.” No small irony then that two moms in Colorado, by way of the Iowa and Nebraska plains, should settle on Cheddar Up for the name of their venture, the latest and most innovative arrival to the stage of group payments.
“Every time she hears me explain that ‘cheddar’ is slang for money, my co-founder Molly can’t keep a straight face. There is just something about two moms, handing out cheese cubes and company flyers at a school carnival that doesn’t scream Jay-Z,” laughs Nichole Montoya. (more…)
DeAnne Wingate hasn’t had a paycheck since 2010. Instead, she’s been living off the savings she put away from her days in internet advertising. It’s difficult and she knows the money won’t last forever, or even much longer, but at this moment she believes she is doing exactly what she was put on this earth to do.
Her career began in the late nineties, when much about the internet, and internet advertising in particular, was still new. Her early career was exciting, and it’s not without some fondness that Wingate looks back. “It was like the New Frontier; we were setting the rules as we went along. It was a great challenge, and great fun.” She worked first in Boston, then Chicago, and finally in New York City. “Having a corporate position in New York City was kind of the apex, the ultimate dream,” she says.
But at the same time, something didn’t feel quite right. “I knew that there was a bigger purpose for my life. I knew there was something beyond doing what I was doing. I felt heart palpitations every time I got on a plane, and I think my heart was telling me that this was not the path I was supposed to be on. This was not the way that I was supposed to be living my life.” (more…)
As 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…)
Calee Blanchard thought she had finally worked her way up to her dream job of teaching literacy in elementary school. She had taught abroad, taught students with special needs, acted as a resource teacher, and was now teaching reading to small groups of first graders in Nova Scotia, Canada. She had thought, at one point, that it was just where she wanted to be.
The problem was that as much as Blanchard enjoyed teaching, there were aspects of it that she just couldn’t embrace. After ten years she found that while she loved working with the kids she didn’t like the strictures of teaching. She didn’t like the fact that no matter how hard she worked and honed her skills, the job itself didn’t change much, and there was little to distinguish the hardest working teachers from their less motivated peers.
“I worked my butt off and thought I was a good teacher, but you might be standing next to someone who hated what they were doing and you’re both regarded in the same way,” she recalls.
All that changed in 2014, when Blanchard decided she needed to make a change. Blanchard’s friend, Katelyn Bourgoin, was in the early development stages of an innovative new idea and suggested that Blanchard would make a great partner. Blanchard had done some volunteer work with Bourgoin and clearly saw the possibilities for herself and the new company. So Blanchard quit her teaching job and together they launched Vendeve, an online marketplace that allows women to buy, sell, or swap services based on their own skills. It is, as far as they know, the world’s only skills marketplace for women.
Blanchard knew when she left teaching that she was stepping into a completely different world, but it was these differences that intrigued her. “The coolest thing is that as a teacher your pay is based on a set number of hours, and no matter how hard you work or how many extra hours you put in, the pay stays the same. In my new world, it’s all about results; it’s all based on talent and hustle. If you work really hard and are good at what you do, it pays off. The energy that I’m surrounded by now is amazing.”
“As founders, we have to be super organized and wear all the hats to get all the jobs done. As we grow, we may be able to specialize more. But you have to get your hands dirty. Luckily, we’re realizing that as women we’re pretty good at everything.”
There is a simple vetting system required to become a member of Vendeve, after which a member is able to set up a profile offering their skills, and if they wish, requesting the skills or services they are hoping to find. The services offered are richly varied – logo design, nutritional counseling, interior decorating, legal services, and proofreading are but a few of the offerings. Some services, like hair cuts or personal massage, require that both parties live in the same area, while many can be exchanged virtually anywhere in the world. Members can choose whether they wish to sell or swap their service.
Blanchard, listed as Vendeve’s COO and co-founder, refers to herself as the yin to Bourgoin’s yang. “Katelyn is definitely our spokesperson; she excels at sharing our ideas and vision, and I love the behind the scenes execution. It’s a great balance — she’s the maker and I’m the doer.”
Coming from a teaching background there were definitely some adjustments that Blanchard needed to make. “In teaching you often have to work solo. But now, collaboration is huge and at times I have to push myself to get out of my comfort zone. I am an introvert by nature. But I’ve learned that putting your ideas out there, making yourself a bit vulnerable, is what takes you places.”
And Vendeveis going places. They have four employees currently on their team and are looking to add a fifth. They have secured funds from angel investors and are in final negotiations with a venture capitalist firm. And, in just a few short months, they’ve enrolled close to 2000 members in over 18 countries.
“Sometimes fundraising and financing can be frustrating because it takes us away from other things we’d like to prioritize, but it’s a necessary part of the process,” Blanchard says. In the interest of raising capital they’ve hosted investor nights, participated in Launch 36, an accelerator program, and perfected their pitch.
“As founders, we have to be super organized and wear all the hats to get all the jobs done. As we grow, we may be able to specialize more. But you have to get your hands dirty. Luckily, we’re realizing that as women we’re pretty good at everything.
“Sometimes it feels like things are going slowly but then we look back and we’re like ‘Holy crap, we have really come far.’ We can actually just log onto our page and see the results right in front of us, the things we were just thinking about that are now reality. We are right on target or even ahead, so we’re pretty proud of what we’ve accomplished. It’s only been a few months and we have come a long, long way.”
Think Vendeve sounds intriguing? Interested in learning more? Calee and Katelyn would like to offer Career 2.0 readers full and instant access to Vendeve so you can check it out for yourself. Just go to Vendeve and enter Invite Code C2.0Passion.
Tips from Calee Blanchard
You have to have the right mindset for a start-up. You need to be stubborn and competitive and keep pushing forward.
Stop thinking about it, dreaming about it, reading about it. Take the plunge.
Share your ideas and get feedback. Ask for things. It’s amazing what can come from being direct. And offer help in return; it has to flow both ways.
The best advice we got from an adviser was this: When you pitch, share the big-picture vision of where you want to go. Don’t frame your pitch based on where you are now; it should be about your dream and where you hope to be – your vision. That made all the difference for us.
Laura Beck is chief shirt schlepper of www.stripedshirt.com, a failed start-up. Based in Austin, Texas, five years ago Laura launched a tee-shirt company on the premise customers would want to show their support for teams and organizations by wearing their colors in stripes. Nearly a month ago, she went public with her breakup with stripedshirt, and launched a Kickstopper. In 4 weeks, she’s been floored by the response (138,000+ Facebook and 7,000+ YouTube views of the video). She (along with her unpaid interns – her 70-year-old mom and 10- and 6–year-old daughters) packaged up and shipped over 400 orders: that’s 1,000 shirts sold! So, after all this Kickstopper buzz and love, Laura felt it was a good time to think through what missteps she took with stripedshirt and perhaps spare other entrepreneurial types some of her pain.
To paraphrase Frank Sinatra – MISTAKES, I’ve made a few!
1. It Was All About ME
That was by design, I had done 18 years of PR agency life, 10 running an agency and leading an amazing team of 16 people. But I was burnt out, fried from managing others, especially aggressive young guns new in their careers and eager to advance. I wanted to do stripedshirt entirely on my own. NO WAY I was taking any outside funding. First of all, I didn’t need it (again, I worked 18 years, I had savings), and second, I’ve seen the good and bad of VC-funded startups doing PR for them for years. This was also MY dream, and no one else would be as passionate about it. I didn’t bring in any partners, I wasn’t beholden to anyone! I could do it my way (Sinatra again! J). Well, turns out, a partner or two, they’ll hold your feet to the fire.
2. Over-Architecting the Website
I did some homework, but while I do tech PR, I’m not that technical, and I went with Magenta, an open-source shopping cart for ecommerce sites, and I had that thing built big from the start. I wanted to be able to expand like crazy, assuming (hoping), I’d grow, add products like long-sleeved stripes, tanks, striped beach towels, waterbottles, flash drives, and bikinis (I’m not kidding, these were on my roadmap). If I knew then … I’d have done a simple Word Press template. I would have worked with Volusion, BigCommerce, WP Engine (in my defense, none of these guys had the amazing SMB website offerings they have now back in 2010). Any of these providers likely would have saved me money as well as pain, as I put $10,000 into that cludgy website. I also went with Paypal for payment processing so I wouldn’t have to do my own SSL, my own security. And wow, Paypal + Magenta is just wonky. If I totaled up all my abandoned shopping carts, there’d be a lot fewer shirts in my garage!
BLERG! Again, with absolutely no background in fashion or apparel, I did some homework, but really just went for it. Through an amazing guy here in Austin, I was connected to some factories in India, and they took me on. But to do so, and to really show my concept, I committed to 14 different color combinations and 15 sizes. For each, to do the manufacturing, I committed to about 50 of each size of each color, with a few exceptions. You do the math. We are talking over 10,000 shirts!
And I had some colors move and needed reorders (hello, what is up with the popularity of red and white stripedshirts? I should have started RED stripedshirt, it would have been a lot more successful!) Then there were other colors that absolutely sit there. I thought my Ohio State connections from growing up in Columbus OH would make my red and gray stripes fly off the shelves. But it is my absolute slowest mover! In the end, of the 10,000 shirts, I sold (or gifted – more on that below) about 4,000 in 5 years. I’ve written off some, but about 6,000 are still in my garage today!
Now, again, if I knew then …. I should have done market testing, started with small sets of shirts, only ordered colors that were actually moving. But, there are not a lot of manufacturing options for apparel startups. It’s a pretty brutal industry all around. Margins absolutely stink. I was lucky to find someone to take on what I thought was a mammoth order, but for them, it was teeny. I couldn’t find a way to do small, test-run inventory orders.
And when I did get my inventory, 10,000 shirts arrived in a semi on pallets – that’s pretty overwhelming for one 40-year-old mom to figure out, organize, track, and manage. I quickly had no idea what I had, what I didn’t. It was too much, too overwhelming.
I could go on and on here about the problems with fast food fashion in America, all the bad stuff I hope our apparel industry sorts out soon. That cotton is still grown in the US but shipped overseas for “cut and sew” and then shipped back is absolute insanity. That factory conditions in Bangladesh, but also East LA, are so dismal should not be happening today. And that the size and scale of orders from Forever 21 and H&M give us shoppers $5 t-shirts, but other apparel hopefuls no prayer of competing, is depressing but very, very real.
4. The Premise Didn’t Work
The idea of stripedshirt – to show your colors, support your favorite team or school –absolutely did not fly. The sales I’ve gotten are mostly women ordering stripes they like. I hardly believe all the navy and white orders I’ve had are really Yankees fans ( as a Red Sox fanatic, I guess I hope not). And, when I had the idea, 20 years ago, fan-wear options just for women were really limited. Now there are tons of options – Alyssa Milano, Victoria Secret, college Ts at Old Navy. I also bet on women wanting to do “Mommy and Me” combos with their children, what I call the Lilly Pulitzer effect. Didn’t happen, those sales didn’t come.
Funny enough, my biggest sales weeks on the calendar were mid-September to mid-October. Yes, Halloween. Turns out there are a lot of costumes that incorporate stripes – Where’s Waldo surely, but also Olivia the Pig, Doc McStuffins, Pirates, French, even Freddy Krueger. While these were real sales and money in, it was kind of depressing to think someone bought a stripedshirt for a one-day-a-year costume.
5. Marketing Alone Does Not a Company Make
This one was the hardest pill to swallow because remember, before stripedshirt, I was an 18-year PR veteran. I KNOW MARKETING. I’m good at it. I thought I had this part in the bag! I thought I could build stripedshirt entirely on marketing, on PR, on word of mouth and buzz. I knew better. Way better. For 18 years, I told clients “PR is AIRCOVER for sales.” You need integrated marketing and a sales strategy. But in 5 years, I was the sales team, and I’m not a very good salesperson. I never brought on any agents or distributors, I never figured out deals with stores, or even built a network in retail. I also never did any paid search or Google ad words. I relied fully on organic search, which was very strong, but not strong enough to carry a business. I never even put in place a CRM system to continue to communicate with customers who had already bought – and hopefully loved – a stripedshirt.
Finally, I put all my trust and hope in influencers and bloggers. I gave away more shirts than I care to count to fashion bloggers to do a review with a great write up and high quality photo spread, and then do a giveaway. Lots of raffle copters out there with thousands of people putting in their chance for a free stripedshirt. I wrongly figured many of those, not getting the free shirt, would come to buy. They did not. I appreciate all the support and buzz my fashion bloggers gave stripedshirt, but make no mistake, they did not produce sales. Way too much inventory went out with very little return. I knew better. I know what integrated marketing is required to create and grow a business, I’ve counseled people on this for 20 years. But I didn’t put most of it into action for my own business.
6. Distracted by my Comfort Zone
When I started stripedshirt, the idea was to leave an 18-year PR career and do something completely new and different. That lasted one month. Thirty days into it all and I had already taken on a client on the side. Generally, for the past 5 years, I’ve been doing PR consulting for upwards of 6 clients at any one time. I hold it to about 20 hours a week. But we all know a startup is a 110% commitment. Between time with my girls, and PR consulting, stripedshirt kept taking a back seat. It was far too easy to fall back into my comfort zone, to do what I was good at, versus trying to figure out this new stripedshirt world that was hard, and complicated, and not showing any signs of success. Doing PR consulting may have kept my ego secure and my confidence up, and my wallet not completely empty of spending money, but helping others with their businesses majorly distracted me from focusing on my own.
And so, now, 5 years later, I’ve broken up with stripedshirt publicly and I’m turning back to the PR consulting I know well, including, it turns out, PR for the stripedshirt failure. Perhaps the best PR I’ve ever done – for a failure, for the closing of a business. Not exactly something you want to do a case study on to share with future clients, unless they too want to shut down their businesses!
Again, these past 2 weeks have been so amazing, very liberating and freeing to admit defeat – a relief to come clean about my failed business. Most everyone has been very supportive, and amused. Seems there are a lot of kindred spirits out there who also gave entrepreneurship a go and didn’t have smashing success. I appreciate the people who have reached out to cheer me on, even to thank me for sharing my story.
There have been some hecklers, and negative comments, make no mistake. People who said I had no business starting a business, and of course it failed, what a bad idea, and bad execution. There certainly is a lot of truth in what they say as you can see from the six mistakes I’ve detailed above. I remain proud to be public in my failure and again, hope my sharing can support others who’ve gone through this, or will go through this. Or, maybe, my stripedshirt Kickstopper, and the lessons learned, will give some guidance and tips for others of how to give their own business a better fighting chance!
Watch the Kickstopper video, when you enter “kickstopper” at checkout, you’ll get to 50% off your order.
Changes in life aren’t easy. They give you that anxious, stomach-sinking feeling and fill your mind with worrisome scenarios. But life is full of changes, good and bad, that you must embrace.
When it comes to your career, you hope the changes that come are always positive ones that help you grow and prosper. Some changes in your professional career will be influenced by outside forces, while others are completely driven by you. However, the changes you need to make to continue to move ahead professionally are not always clear.
The perfect path for you will never magically appear. It will not materialize in a puff of smoke at the optimal time. It will not have signs; it will not come with a map. To find the path that will lead you to what you want to do – to what you were meant to do – you have to discover it and be bold enough to take the first step.
It won’t happen overnight, but step-by-step, inch-by-inch, you can find a career path that energizes and excites you.
How you know it’s time for a career change
Making a huge change in your professional life can be at once exciting and terrifying. Exciting because of the possibilities, and terrifying because of the other possibilities. Still, as frightening as it may be, sometimes not making the change is even worse.
So how do you know when a career change is in your best interests?
Boredom is getting the best of you
Your work isn’t exciting anymore, so you’re just going through the motions. When you wake up in the morning, it’s hard to imagine getting out of bed and into your work chair. And by the end of the day, you’re completely drained.
You’re feeling indifferent
You’ve already checked out. You find yourself doing the bare minimum and having little concern about your performance.
Your patience is dwindling
Tasks that you used to enjoy doing aren’t fulfilling anymore – in fact, they just seem to annoy you. You can’t even bear the thought of coming back tomorrow and doing it all again.
Restlessness keeps you awake at night
When you’re at work, you find it hard to sit still and focus. When you’re not, you get this itching feeling that there’s something else you should be doing. You feel like your talents are being wasted and that annoys you. There’s something else that you want to do and you can’t wait to get started.
It’s going to be a long, difficult ride. But, it’s a worthwhile one, so don’t get discouraged by the bumps in the road.
Don’t look at these feelings as a bad thing.
As disheartened as you must feel, try to view your feelings as an opportunity. This is your chance to find what you love to do. It takes courage to recognize when you need a change and to act on it.
Make the change
Now that you know it’s time to make a career change, take the dive. Jumping into something new – something that you’re passionate about – will feel refreshing and rewarding.
What do you want to do?
First, think long and hard about what it is you want to be doing every day for the rest of your working life. What are your values? What excites you? Why do you enjoy those things?
Also, who already does what you want to do? They’ll be able to provide you with sage advice and insight.
Expand your horizons
You know what you want to do, but what do you need to do to get there? Beef up your skill set, take coursework, get certified. Whatever it takes.
Look within your company
If you like the company you work for, look within the company for other opportunities that encompass the things you’re looking for in a career. It’s much easier to make an internal transition, so if your current company offers your dream job, take it.
Maybe it’s time for a bigger career change
If the opportunity you’re looking for doesn’t exist within your current place of work, it’s time to move on. Don’t waste any more time doing something that isn’t making you happy. Maybe you’ll need to pack up your bags and move to where the work is. Maybe it’s time to be your own boss. Whatever the case, know that one day you’ll look back and be happy – not to mention proud – that you had the strength to make the change.
Network, network, network
Get out there. Talk to the people who do what you want to do, the people who can help you. Find a mentor. Ask questions, find answers. Be open and honest. You can’t have too many friends, and you certainly can’t have too many of the right friends.
It’s going to take work
It’s going to be a long, difficult ride. But, it’s a worthwhile one, so don’t get discouraged by the bumps in the road.
Remember why you’re making this career change and what’s at the finish line waiting for you. Remember to ask for help on the hard days. Remember to celebrate on the great ones.
You’ll get there, eventually.
Maddie Sciullo is the Social Media Manager/Content Manager at C-leveled, a special amalgam of incubator, accelerator, technology and business advisor plus a full-service, in-house marketing department, based in Pittsburgh, PA.
By 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…)
At 15 years of age, CJ Scarlet won the title Miss Optimist in a local competition. In the intervening 39 years, that optimism has been sorely tested, but today she is once again the reigning queen of positivity. The 54-year-old is out to change the world by reducing violent crime using technology and she believes – as do many around her – she’s got a pretty good chance of succeeding.
Following a brief but memorable career as a Sonic Drive-In carhop on roller skates, Scarlet joined the US forest service straight out of high school. She returned home to attend college but dropped out after an event that would forever change the course of her life.
“Although there was no a term for it back then, I was date-raped. He was a sheriff’s deputy and it was our second date. He told me no one would be believe me and, 19 years at the time, I believed him. I didn’t tell anyone; I felt so ashamed and blamed myself,” Scarlet recalls.
Needing to get as far away from Arkansas as possible, she joined the Marines as a photojournalist. “My father, brothers, and brother-in-law were all marines so I wanted to show them how it was done,” Scarlet jokes. She served for five years before moving to Virginia to work for two NGOs consecutively while attending university. A BA in political science was followed by a Masters in humanities with an emphasis on human violence.
“As an undergrad, I was on the board of the Rape Crisis Center of Virginia. I started working through the trauma of what had happened to me and recognized my story was the story of so many women; it was happening to women everywhere. I started to develop a deep passion for protecting people from violence and crime.”
After graduate school, Scarlet moved from Virginia to North Carolina and became Executive Director of Kids First, an agency supporting child abuse victims and their families, before taking a position as Director of Victims’ Issues for the Attorney General’s Office in Raleigh.
It was there that Scarlet made her mark launching the Commission that designed the Statewide Automated Victim Assistance and Notification System, which alerts crime victims before their perpetrators are released from custody. Over the years, she worked with hundreds of assault victims, but her achievements came with a price.
A decade earlier, Scarlet had been diagnosed with lupus, an auto-immune disease, and had been managing it but, compounded by stress, she got so ill she had to stop working.
“After three years, I burned out. I was tired of being there for victims after the violence had occurred. My health went downhill. I had to crawl on my ands and knees to go upstairs and couldn’t even turn a door knob or hold a hairbrush,” she recalls.
The next years were dark ones for Scarlet. Doctors told her she was going to die, and, not surprisingly, she withdrew into herself and suffered from depression and severe anxiety. A turning point finally emerged when she met a Tibetan Buddhist lama, a last resort for her at that time.
“I told him my tale of woe and that’s when I learned lamas don’t do drama,” Scarlet laughs. “He very kindly but very sternly told me stop feel sorry for myself and think of the happiness of other people. I replied, ‘I can’t even take care of myself, let alone anyone else,’ but he repeated my mission and sent me on my way.”
It started that very day when an ambulance rushed by and she wished that whoever was inside would find help and healing. Scarlet made her goal reasonable and decided to do one small act of kindness each day, such as letting people get in front of her in traffic or in the checkout line at the grocery store.
“They were little things that cost no time or effort but it felt so good. I didn’t realize it at the time, but with every act of kindness, I was a getting a rush of pain-reducing endorphins and mood-boosting serotonin, and healing my body from the inside out. After 18 months, I reached a point where I was so filled with happiness that it didn’t matter if I was sick or dying.”
To her doctor’s amazement, her lupus went into remission.
In 2009, feeling like a new person, Scarlet returned to work and launched an international coaching business with two partners. Unfortunately, with the downturn in the economy it was not the best time to seek clients and, after four years, they closed shop. Just as she was winding down her business, she read Abundance, the Future is Better Than You Think It Is, which discussed how technology could be used to address poverty, climate change, and other human challenges.
“I was so inspired. I tried to think what I could do to impact people’s lives. Although it kept popping up, I repressed my criminal justice background because I had gotten so burned out. But it dawned on me I could use technology to keep violence and crime from happening rather than applying it after the fact.”
Thinking of her own experience and that of other rape victims, she brainstormed what could have made a difference and developed the idea for the Tiger Eye Security Sensor, TESS for short. TESS is a wearable security device the size and weight of a quarter that looks like a decorative pin. Voice activated, TESS records audio and photographic evidence, sending it to the cloud, while alerting a monitoring security service of the crime and sending a GPS signal of the victim’s location. It’s like a portable home security system.
“What I love about TESS is that it provides actionable evidence. There won’t be any of this ‘he said, she said’ and women will have the courage to come forward because their word can no longer be doubted. And they won’t have to go through what I went through,” Scarlet explains.
Starting solo, Scarlet quickly built a team around her to implement the tech solution and develop a prototype. She bootstrapped until small angel investors came on board and she was able to hire a CEO. Her innovation was recently recognized when she was invited as one of 15 finalists from around the US to pitch in the Small Business Administration’s InnovateHER business plan challenge. And although she didn’t win, Scarlet is 100% confident she’ll be able to commercialize TESS on the market in 2016.
“I just feel like I am doing what I was put on this earth to do. I still have health issues and lupus but I don’t ‘suffer’ from it anymore. I don’t suffer from the assault either. I don’t see these things as stumbling blocks but rather stepping stones that got me to where I am today and put me in a position to help other people. And now that I’ve finally got the chance to do that, I’m not going to stop until I succeed.”
Tips from CJ Scarlet
Surround yourself with the right people. I wish I had recognized earlier that I’m a great visionary but a terrible manager. You can’t be afraid to hire people who are smarter than you are, or who have skills that you don’t.
Financing is a huge challenge. Almost every business starts out by being “bootstrapped” by the founders until you can build the product or company to a point that investors want to get on board. Surviving until you get to that point is probably the toughest and most common challenge faced by companies, but you have to hang in there if you want to succeed.
Dream bigger. Only three percent of women-owned businesses achieve $1 million in revenues. If you plan big from the start, you will be more likely to achieve your business and financial goals than if you think small.
Don’t be afraid to change the world. Humanity is facing huge challenges and we need people who have the courage and determination to solve them.
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