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…)
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.
What does a woman who has been at the height of her professional game do after 30 years on the job in both the private and public sector? Why, run for the U.S. Senate of course. And if that doesn’t work out? What next for that 55-year-old with no job or income coming in? Should she get a job? Consult? How about working endless hours for no money and with a great risk of failure? Yes, you guessed it. She launches a start-up.
“I’ve bet my entire retirement, we cashed out everything. I really want to give this a go and think the gamble is worth it. If I am successful, at the end of the day I can shout ‘woohoo, I created a legacy that will go forward.’ If I am not successful, at least I’ll be a happy pauper who knows she tried,” Bossi laughs.
As it does for so many people, Bossi’s career started more out of necessity. As a single mom with no college degree, she was lucky to land a good job in procurement at MGM Studios after moving to LA from Arizona. (more…)
Sometimes our career paths feel winding and unpredictable, and yet in the end they seem to lead us exactly where we’re supposed to be. Such was the case for Anne Marie Cassella.
With a public relations degree in hand from Utica College in upstate New York, Cassella’s first job was as PR Director for The Arc, or the Association for Retarded Citizens, as it was known at that time. The job was a good fit and Cassella enjoyed her work, but soon decided to go back to school to earn a second degree in graphic design.
In order to keep her on while she went to school, The Arc offered her a position more compatible with her student hours. “The Arc owned forty residential care homes, and I became a floating manager, going to various facilities to assess their needs and make sure they were being properly run. I had no experience in this area, but they gave me all the training I needed.” (more…)
Jenny Fulton had been a stockbroker at Morgan Keegan for 16 years when in January of 2010 she finally succumbed to a round of layoffs in the latest recession. Despite her confidence that she could probably land another job at a different firm in a few months, she was burned out, and before rushing into the same old thing again, she decided to try to figure out something different. “I was 39 and I was tired. Tired of doing the same thing for so long. I wanted something new.”
She thought about her friend Susan Cameron, CEO of RJ Reynolds. Susan had started out her career in the office equipment industry, going door to door selling goods, but one day she had an epiphany. Jenny remembers hearing Cameron say, “I wanted to work doing something I loved, and I knew I loved brown liquor, makeup, and cigarettes!” So with that realization, Cameron went and applied for a job with Brown & Williamson, which was eventually bought out by RJ Reynolds, and worked her way up to the CEO position.
Applying the same approach to her own job search, Fulton said to her husband, “I want to do something I love. What do I love? I know I love softball and pickles. My husband said, ‘Well, you do make good pickles.’” (more…)
If the key to success in any task is practicing more than 10,000 hours, then it’s no wonder Angela Parker’s jewelry company Olive Yew has gone from a small hobby in her den to an international business in just three short years. The artist, who has a self-described minor case of OCD, attributes her success in selling her designs to 80 boutiques around the world to her obsessive pursuit of perfection in everything she does. It was the very same devotion to an unfulfilling corporate job, where she was paid to master the all-powerful search engine optimization (SEO), that partially paved the way for her accomplishments with Olive Yew.
Growing up outside of Charlotte, North Carolina, Angela always knew she wanted to work in a field where she could do something with her hands. She studied sculpture in college at Appalachian State University and then, after graduation, got a job illustrating children’s books at a local publisher.
Although she loved that job, as it fulfilled her need to create, after 15 years and a promotion to creative director, she saw the writing on the wall: the print industry was not doing well and a small publisher like HighReach Learning was unlikely to make it. She was right but fortunately she had lined up another job – this time as a graphic designer at a large company: “I moved on to web design but never really liked it. I didn’t enjoy coding and I didn’t like working in a cube. I knew I had to do something more creative.”
As she was considering what that creative pursuit would be, her to-remain-unnamed company enrolled her in a web design class and also paid for professionals to come in and teach the designers SEO. The year was 2009 and, although not “new”, SEO was still being discovered.
“Although a Fortune 100 company, it was awful – the room we worked in was above the servers which made it hot in the first place. But also, the air conditioning would go out frequently, and the roof was made of metal. It was sweltering and we had a lovely dress code that featured sweater sets. But the one good thing I can say is they spared no expense in hiring the best and brightest to train us in SEO. It was painful working there but I learned a lot more than in any other company.”
After 15 years of broken AC and other challenges, Angela finally decided to make a change. She left the company, but continued on as a contractor. With a little more time on her hands, she signed up for a local metal smithing class: “I didn’t have anything in mind other than the fact that I wanted to make something – I needed to make something – with my hands.”
The class was not the kind of place to inspire the launch of jewelry empire: “It was held in a place that was part pawn shop and part jewelry repair store. It was in sort of a rough part of town, and there were bars on the windows, but they taught me the basics of what I needed to know and I loved it.”
It was April 2011, and Angela was still committed to her SEO contract, but in her spare time, she started buying equipment and set up a little studio in her house. Four months later, when Parker was 39, she quit contract work all together and with a small personal loan, and the money from sales that were already starting to come in, she started making jewelry fulltime. For Parker, “fulltime” meant sometimes staying up until 1 or 2 in the morning crafting delicate cursive and block letters and the bangles made of rose-gold-filled and sterling silver that would become her signature pieces.
“I’ve heard from a lot of people that these big changes come around the time when you’re turning 40 and for me it was definitely true. I had climbed the corporate ladder and gotten to the point I wanted to, and I didn’t like it. It wasn’t what I signed up for…it was meaningless to me. I had to do my own thing.”
Parker started slowly with a few styles. She could see the “internal eye roll” of her family and friends when she told people she was launching a jewelry business. “Everyone and their cousin seemed to be making jewelry,” Parker laughs. “So I just sort of trudged along and didn’t say much for a while.”
But Parker’s business training had taught her something critical. “You can make something all day long, but if it doesn’t sell, then it’s a hobby. If you think there’s a market for something, then there’s marketing for it that has to be done.” Fortunately, Parker found the marketing for her business just as much fun as the making of the jewelry. So during her days she spent hours crafting the metal, and then she spent just as many hours optimizing her site online, studying the analytics and figuring out how to improve them. “There were many 20-hour days. It was crazy and it was definitely hard on my family,” she remembers. “But it paid off.”
Parker, who had taken a personal loan from her husband to fund the initial start up costs, paid the entire loan off by December of the same year she launched. At first she was selling just on her website and in an Etsy boutique. But in December of 2011, a pair of her earrings was featured in a holiday gift guide in Self Magazine, and the rest is history: “Pretty soon I was up to five employees, and we expanded from the den to the dining room to the living room, and then my husband politely suggested that it might be time to look for a facility.”
The Self Magazine mention was indeed a boom for Parker’s “little jewelry business.” That article combined with a follow-up feature in Women’s Day “really started everything.”
Parker expanded her product line, and opened a facility to house her employees more comfortably. Despite the boom in sales, it wasn’t all easy: “Growing the business was a headache,” she says. “We had to go through several accountants, a few lawyers and others before we found the people that were right for us.”
Just eight months after first taking the metal smith class, Parker was able to replace her annual corporate salary. In two years, she quintupled her annual sales, and the next year she tripled them. Three years in, she is starting to breathe a little easier. For Parker, that means, only working 12 hours a day instead of 20. “I used to be a lot more of a workaholic than I am now. Today, I give myself the freedom to take mental health days just to do something else for a bit. But I do like to stay busy.”
Despite all her hard work, the rapid path to success in a creative venture that Parker adores surprised her but her staff even more. “It was funny to watch my accountant when I hired him. I could also feel him patting me on the head and saying, “Oh you and your cute little jewelry business.”
With three years of dramatic growth behind her, her accountant has taken notice. What’s next? “I have a number that I keep to myself where we’ll cap the growth. We’re close but we’re not there yet.”
Tips from Angela Parker
Look at your collective experience (jobs, school, hobbies) and how they can aid you in your new business. I majored in sculpture but wound up in marketing/design. Both help me daily in my current role.
Invest your time in marketing. You’ll be able to invest the dollars in it later, but at the beginning, you have to market your product to sell it. In this day and age, that means learning a little about SEO & SEM.
Follow the proper steps in setting up your business. If you have employees get a worker’s comp policy and all of the proper insurance & legal documents in place (business bank account, business license, etc.).
Finally, have a good lawyer & accountant to whom you can refer when questions arise.
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