2008 : selling jewelry off of tee-shirts outside Dana Dining Hall at Colby College. (Actually a pretty good idea - lots of traffic and who was going to stop me?)
Making jewelry on the floor of my dorm room in 2010. I worked on the floor until my hips threatened to quit.
How *not* to become a doctor:
Not only did I graduate spring of 2010 into the Great Recession, I had NO idea of what to do with my life. I didn't know what career I wanted - and even if I had known, I had no idea how to get a job. It certainly never occurred to me that I could run my own business. I thought you started and ran a business full time when you were at least a little bit older - definitely not right out of college.
During my first year out of school I worked at a restaurant while selling jewelry to buy myself time while I figured my life out and (kind of) applied for jobs. After getting chewed up and spit out by NYC, I moved to Somerville, MA to try to finish the pre-med I had dropped at Colby College. I wanted to see if I still wanted to be a doctor because I really couldn’t think of anything else (note to past self: this is definitely NOT how you should become a doctor).
As soon as I started class I was struggling to keep up. What surprised me was that I wasn’t struggling because of the coursework, but because my jewelry orders were competing with school. I confided in my chemistry teaching assistant that I couldn’t figure out how to manage both jewelry and pre-med, and that jewelry was my only source of income. She suggested something that hadn't occurred to me: maybe if I did jewelry full-time instead of part-time, my income would increase accordingly. I decided to take the plunge. I dropped out of Tufts and started working 40+ hours a week hoping that if I just acted like it was my full-time job it could become my full-time job.
Turns out she was right. The only thing that had been holding me back was self-doubt. It sounds cheesy, but apparently believing in yourself really does work?! My monthly sales quadrupled by the end of the year, and I was confidently running my business full time almost immediately.
Eventually upgraded my setup.
Ten years later, after a short stint out West, I'm back in New York (is it a hub for artists, or Stockholm syndrome?). My business and I have changed a lot from when I was I was operating DLJ out of my bedroom ten years ago. There are a few things I wish I could go back and tell myself, things I’ve gotten right from the beginning, and a few valuable lessons that I’ve learned.
A few things I wish I could have told myself:
First: age is arbitrary. Despite my assumptions of when people start businesses, I didn’t realize that I'd already put in so much of the work necessary to start my business. There’s not a “right age” to start. And being young can actually work to your advantage: you have a lot more energy and willingness to put up with shit pay.
Second: it's very normal to feel soooooo lonely when you're running your own business—especially in the beginning. It was a scary feeling to wake in the morning knowing that no one needs you to be anywhere, no one knows what you’re doing, and that you and you alone are accountable for making yourself do your job. I wish I’d known that there are a million people out there just like me.
Third: it is my god-given right to wake up without an alarm, and I do not feel guilty about waking up at 10 AM. It’s a fair trade for having to pay two rents (my DLJ workspace and my studio).
Two things that I got right from the beginning:
One thing I believe I did right was that I basically put on blinders immediately. I never looked at or compared myself to other jewelers. I think there's something to be said about keeping your head down and existing in a vacuum as you start a business. I *strongly* suggest to anyone who is starting a company like mine: do not compare yourself to other similar companies while you’re still growing. Looking to the side while you're supposed to be looking forward is not helpful.
I’ve also always existed with a certain level of fear and paranoia that my business might fail. I believe that just because I’ve gotten this far my business doesn’t have an unquestionable right to exist. This is the non-glamorous part of running a business. Every year I’ve basically planned for a worst-case scenario—losing a specific source of income, losing my art studio to a high rise development, dealing with price increases of precious metal, increasing costs of health insurance , and more. When you own a small business, someone bigger is always trying to squeeze you or replace you. You are served nonstop curveballs and the only thing you can do is stay on your feet and prepare for the worst.
A couple things I’ve learned:
I've experienced some pretty serious burnout and self-doubt, but have fortunately learned how to get out of it. In my 10+ years I have never regretted taking a class to learn a new skill, or hiring someone who had skills that I don't have (even if it's temporary and part-time).
Creatively, sometimes you need days where you just think. It feels weird to just not do anything—and sometimes it goes on for a few days—but it’s not wasted time and it’s not “not-work.” It’s ok to just think, research, and explore! Also, a glass of wine can do wonders when you feel stuck creatively.
I can honestly say that my goal is not just to make money. I want to enjoy going to work every day. A lot of people think that working for yourself is automatically awesome, and while I’m sure that’s the case for some people, most of the business owners I know (including myself) have to make some changes to remain happy at their job. The thing that has kept me happiest is continuing to learn new skills to improve my business and myself. That is my goal going forward.
That being said, some things should remain the same (or better!). I’m committed to maintaining the level of quality and customer service that brought my customers to me in the first place.
Thank you to all of my loyal customers for supporting my business up until this point—I couldn’t have done it without you!