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…)

Lynne Goldberg: OMG! I Can Reinvent Myself

Lynne Goldberg MeditatingIn 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 Lynne Goldbergschedule, 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 withOMG I can Meditate! Poster 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.

OMG I Can Meditate! Logo“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.”

Test drive the meditation app.

Tips from Lynne Goldberg

  • Building a business process requires a great deal of perspective.
  • Do what you are passionate about. You’ll find success, if you truly love what you’re doing. But remember, you can define success in many ways. Happiness should be the baseline.
  • If you’re thinking of launching an app, keep these things in mind: Keep it simple; Be patient. It takes time to build a brand; Believe in it and let go of expectations; Breathe!

 

 

Angelle Albright: Easing the Burden of Baldness

Angelle Albright
Angelle and her her sister Danielle sporting Chemo Beanies

Before she got sick and everything changed, Angelle Albright lived a charmed life. At least she thought she did.

“I guess you could say I was a little egocentric. I would never have wished cancer on myself, but looking back on the trajectory of my life I would not change a thing. Breast cancer saved me. Without it, I would never had the opportunity to help others as I am doing now. But after cancer, I became a different person. My eyes were opened to a new way to live.”

The youngest of six children, Albright was Chief Video Editor at a New Orleans television station, then an English and journalism teacher before she took time off to raise a family. She was just 38 and had three children under the age of 9 when she got her diagnosis. (more…)

Ferrall Dietrich: Road-tripping Her Way to the Core of Her Passion

IMG_2544Ferrall Dietrich has fond memories of growing up the daughter of a US Naval officer in Europe, moving every two years, and being home schooled alongside her younger brother by her mother, for whom adventure and family time was the priority. While her father commanded a US Navy ship that patrolled the coastal waterways, her mother commanded the family’s Series Land Rover that toured the windy coastal roads waiting for the ship to dock so the family could reunite.

“She would load us in the car and we would study in the backseat as she drove all over Europe,” recalls Dietrich. “We drove from port to port around the Mediterranean as well as up into England and Scotland.”

The car was old. There was no defrost, no AC, a heater that warmed only the driver’s right leg, and the windshield wipers were manual at best, but it didn’t matter. “It was such an adventure – driving all over Europe, staying in pensiones, exploring new towns, doing things a bit different,” Dietrich laughs.

In between trips, the family was stationed in Southern Italy, but, for Dietrich, the road trips were the most memorable times. Her mother — long before the days of cell phones and satellite navigational systems — managed to track the ship, route a path to the next docking station, and teach the children at the same time. For her mother, the hard work was a love story. “She couldn’t bear to be without my Father,” recalls Dietrich. But for her daughter, the lesson was “You learn a lot on the road, you take risks, life is an adventure.”

When Dietrich was in ninth grade, the family moved back to Washington, D.C. for good.  Although now settled, Dietrich was left with a permanent sense of adventure. After high school, she attended Colby College in Maine where she majored in Russian and Soviet Studies, motivated in part by a desire to enter the clandestine world.

“Hands down, all I wanted to do was be a spy,” says Dietrich, who envisioned the career would come with a built-in travel and adventure schedule similar to the way in which she grew up.

But when she went down the path – from being interviewed to taking polygraphs – a realization seeped in that she hadn’t expected. Being a spy may come with adventure, but it also came with a structure and lack of freedom that was not appealing. “There’s a lot of control over your life that I wasn’t willing to give up. When it came down to it. I wanted freedom.”

So Dietrich settled on what she called a “very D.C.” career path — meaning she worked on Capitol Hill as a legislative correspondent and an assistant on the staffs of both a U.S. Congressman and Senator. From there she moved to the Japanese Embassy as a political consultant, the only woman at that time in a non-administrative role. Finally, she left the political world for small business, joining her father, who had built a financial engineering company after he retired from the Navy as an Admiral.

In 1999, now bitten by the business and entrepreneurial bug, the then-32-year-old decided to pursue a full-time MBA program at the University of Maryland to strengthen her business management and financial skills. Upon graduation, Dietrich decided to give a more traditional career path one last go, and accepted a position with Arthur Andersen in the Office of Government Consulting: “Amazing people and experience, but I knew within a year that the job was not for me, and I started to search for that next step, for inspiration for that next chapter.”

She and her husband, who had a similar upbringing of living overseas and traveling decided to hit the road. Amazingly, both of their employers agreed to give them one-year sabbaticals. “We put together a bucket list of places we’d always wanted to see and took off, spending a full year traveling the world. We spent a lot of time in Western China, climbing in the Karakorams and to the base camp of K2 from the Chinese side, and explored New Zealand, Bhutan, and Australia for months. We climbed and trekked and camped our way around the world and loved every minute of it.”

When the year was over, Dietrich returned to an Enron-scandal-plagued Arthur Andersen, and the company dissolved, relieving her of the decision to return or not.  The adventures of the past year had solidified Dietrich’s resolve to move away from corporate life and seek a more entrepreneurial path. As such, she moved to the National Historic Trust for Preservation to run their start-up Corporate Good Neighbor Program. In the next couple years, she also became a mother to two boys, moved with her family to Boulder, Colorado, and then back to D.C. Throughout these years, she stayed rooted to the adventure of the outdoors through adventure racing, endurance riding, and trail running.

Dietrich always wanted to give her boys a taste of the kind of upbringing she and her husband had experienced. Starting when the boys wereIMG_2522 5 and 7, every summer after school ended, she put them in the car with the dogs, threw a tent on top and hit the road. They camped their way across the country, with the West being the perennial favorite, and racked up 10,000 miles each summer. “I wanted to try and recreate my own childhood experiences as best I could for the boys. And selfishly, nothing made me happier than the freedom of no schedule, being outside, exploring and seeking adventure at every turn. It is so amazing and for the boys, such a wonderful way to grow up.”

All those miles on the road proved an invaluable incubator for entrepreneurial inspiration. As she drove (and drove), an idea started brewing. She knew she wanted to go back to work, but the idea of an office job in a big company was no longer appealing. She kept wondering  “How do I bring a little bit of what I love about the West — the outdoors the energy, the laid back feeling of it — how do I bring that home?”  One thing that always struck her upon returning to D.C. after a summer on the road was the lack of diversity in the women’s activewear and lifestyle market.  Her road trips, her time in small towns and cities across the country, and her love of the outdoors exposed her to so many unique women’s brands, none of which could she ever find in Washington. As a result, Dietrich started toying with the idea of opening her own women’s activewear store. Initially, the idea seemed daunting – mostly from a financial perspective.  However, after significant time spent researching the industry, its trends and the marketplace, combined with a deep personal understanding, she decided that if there was ever a time to do it, it was now. She decided to go for it.

And so began core72, a local, women’s boutique that not only features all the activewear and lifestyle brands Dietrich discovered and loved over the years, but also encourages local women to get out and be active through sponsored in-store and community events promoted via core72 social media.

Launching the business was a team effort as Dietrich’s husband took a year off to help her put the business together. “We both needed to be 100% behind it so we worked together on the financial and business plan and all the marketing research,” she explains. To fund the business, Dietrich and her husband used their own savings structured as a personal loan to themselves. They backed that up with a SBA small business loan for unforeseen needs.

Years later, Dietrich cre2012_LaPlata_way_down_rest (2)dits her MBA as being critical to her success in terms of helping structure the business and understanding the financials. Another key to her success? Research, research and more research.  Dietrich talked to as many other small business owners and local retailers as possible and tapped into the experience of brand representatives at the Outdoor Retailer trade show in Utah.  She also read every book available on opening a store (Retail Business for Dummies anyone?) and planned as much as possible in advance to understand the flow of inventory.

But Dietrich stresses that even if you have the idea, the desire and the start-up capital, a solid business plan is absolutely critical to credibility for potential landlords and suppliers. “Every vendor we work with – and even the landlord of our store – required a solid understanding of why core72 should represent their company. People want to know you’re positioned for success, that you’re going to do a great job representing their product and be a viable, successful storefront.”

Dietrich credits LivePlan, a business plan software program, as well as available data from industry associations, with helping her establish benchmarks for the business, although she admits that none of it truly makes sense until you’re in the thick of it: “Every month is a lesson learned,” she says “For example, I’ve never paid as much attention to the weather as I do now — literally the city shuts down when it starts to rain or there is any inclement weather.”

Despite a slow March, thanks to late in the season freezing temps, the store, now entering its second year is exceeding planned expectations, and doing well enough that she is considering opening a second location. It turns out, as Dietrich had hoped, that people in DC do want to get out and look great while doing it. And she’s the perfect adventurer to inspire them.

Dietrich’s Tip on Launching a Retail Store

  • Be passionate about what you are selling. I am intimately familiar with our brands and have personally “tested” many of them.  I really believe in these companies, many of them women-owned and “Made in the USA”, I believe this knowledge translates into an authenticity that customers appreciate. While it is important that core72 is successful, it is also important to me to support these brands and introduce them to a new marketplace that I know will be as excited about them as I am.
  • Know your customer base. Throughout our business plan, we tied in the theme of “They are Us”.  I specifically opened a store in an area with which I was intimately familiar and could service a demographic I understood and knew very well. This familiarity made the initial buying process a bit less daunting and somewhat less risky. We build on this foundation of customer knowledge every day, tweaking our inventory buys, and delivering, hopefully, a more tailored, personal shopping experience.
  • Prepare for rainy days. We opened the store in March, 2013 and met/exceeded planned financial projections every month that first year. We were confident in our business model, in the inventory we needed and our steady stream of customers. Then, in March, 2014, we met the winter that would never end. D.C. came to a screeching stop, and no one was in the mood to shop. People were done with the weather and either got out of town or stayed home. We had shipments of inventory coming in, bills that had to be paid and half the income we expected.  It was a huge wake-up call. We made it through, but it was tight financially, very scary and I never slept.  It was a reminder to keep the expenses down, rein in the big inventory buys (we can always reorder), and squirrel away as much as possible every month for that rainy day – because it WILL come.

Mary Beth and Helen Graham: A Tale of Two Sisters

Graham_SistersAlthough as close as sisters can be, Mary Beth and Helen Graham couldn’t have chosen more opposite paths in their first careers. They both graduated from Smith College, three years apart, and – through economic ups and downs, and workplace, and customer challenges – the two have leaned on each other to find their rhythm and passion. They eventually came together to fulfill a dream of running their own business and in the process have discovered the best coworkers they ever could have imagined – each other.

But their stories are their own to start.

Graduating with an English literature degree in 1988, Mary Beth left Smith not sure what she wanted to do when she “grew up”. After a stint in artist management, another at a veterinary front office, and a variety of other temp jobs, her uncle suggested teaching. “He felt I’d have a real aptitude for it and he was right. I loved working with the younger kids, molding their minds. That moment in kindergarten, when you can almost see the metaphorical light bulb switch on when they get reading – it’s a great feeling knowing you had something to do with that!” (more…)