Women Business Owners
The New Normal
"I always did something I was a little not ready to do. I think that's how you grow. When there's that moment of 'Wow, I'm not really sure I can do this' and you push through those moments, that's when you have a breakthrough" - Marissa Mayer
It's never too late to live your dreams and get out there, own your business and pursue what makes you happy. It's something we, as women, need as a "guiding light", inspiration, and we, as a society still too often based on patriarchy and machismo, want to have as a reminder - a reminder that women are an integral part of the economy and society, and are not only self sufficient individuals and worker bees, but also employers and entrepreneurs. And more often than not, exceptional leaders!
This project highlights some of those women who, at different stages of their lives, decided to create something sustainable for themselves, their families and communities. From successful creative agency owners, all the way to newly established e-commerce founders, and small local business owners. These are the women who are creating opportunities, promoting independence and resilience, and inspiring everyone coming after them to follow on their footsteps.
Learning their stories has been an incredible source of inspiration for me as well, pushing me to stick with entrepreneurial plans, and inspiring me to not let those stories we tell ourselves take over when I feel like I can't do it. Mostly, the conversations have reinforced the notion that what used to be an exception, women taking the lead and building something for themselves that they can manage and run, is slowly becoming more and more ordinary, the new normal.
Owner, Pura Vita
Tara Punzone was planning on opening her restaurant sinceshe was a kid. She wasn’t sure it could be a reality but definitely had afantasy about creating an entirely vegan Italian restaurant. While the idea mayturn off the most purist Italian food aficionados (what about the salame,prosciutto, sausages, cheese!!), the reality is that most of Italian (andMediterranean) cuisine is vegan by default. A most recent trip to Italyconfirmed it for Tara (“I was eating at full vegan restaurants in Napoli, Icouldn’t believe it!”) and, once back, she knew that it was now or never – and sixmonths ago Pura Vita opened its doors in West Hollywood.
Tara grew up in Brooklyn in an Italian heritage family, hergrandfather owned a sandwich shop, and she was exposed to food from early on.When at 10 years old a teacher showed a video of a slaughter house, sheannounced to her Italian family that she would be vegan from then on. Her parentswere supportive of the decision, encouraging to learn how to cook the meals shewould eat. And off she went, perfecting techniques and learning how to makevegan dishes and learning how to make vegan cheese. However, her career in fooddidn’t start until later – having graduated from a visual arts school andmaking a living as a photographer, she soon realized that handling a camerawasn’t as satisfying for her as being in a kitchen and creating recipes. So sheput the camera down and started working in NY kitchens, making her way up,learning about how to run a kitchen and how to run a business. She moved to LosAngeles in 2012 and continued to work in restaurants and learning, until thetime came to start her own restaurant. She and her business partner handledconstruction and took care of everything, making the space as resembling aspossible of New York style, warm, home-like restaurants.
Joys of running your business: “It’s been such a great experience, with the support of the neighborhood. I knew as soon as I walked in the space that this was the spot and where people would want to come and build community.”
Challenges of running your business: “Like any business, when you’re the owner, when anything goes wrong, it falls on you and you have to be on all the time. I haven’t gotten a lot of rest or down time in the last year, since we got the keys to the space.”
Being a woman business owner: “Being a chef, as a woman, and vegan on top of it, has been testing sometimes. Women are often seen as home-cooks but not chefs – as if they weren’t able to run a kitchen and a business! I noticed that sometimes people who come in and don’t know who I am, sort of dismiss me, and at the end of the meal they’ll tell their server to ‘ Tell the chef HE did such a good job’ – the server will point to me and the patrons are often surprised. I find it fascinating and I like to conduct these small social experiments that are a reminder to everyone to be kind and respectful to everyone, you have no idea what anyone is capable of, but also to have confidence in yourself and challenge the stereotypes. I think it’s really important that women start empowering themselves and not wait for permission. I’ve noticed that in our culture women are still too often waiting for permission – you don’t need it, just do what you need to do, make it happen! The more people can make it happen, the more people will make it happen, because it will become less of an exception, and it won’t be a “woman operated business”, just a business. And if you have something in you that you feel like putting out there, it’s more of a shame to keep it to yourself than not sharing it. And it’s on all of you, sharing and empowering ourselves. It should be normal.”
After a long career as a food and wine writer, Leah Ferrazzani started Semolina about over four years ago, while on maternity leavewith her second child, as a mean to contribute in a more substantial way tobeing part of the food industry and, more practically speaking, feeding peopleand her family. With a love of pasta and hospitality, and a past in therestaurant business both in New York, Northern California and Los Angeles, sheturned her passion into a profitable business. With the US exporting themajority of raw ingredients to make pasta, she embarked on a mission to figureout all she could about how to locally make organic dry pasta. After eighteenmonths of research and a couple of stages in Italy learning from the pastamasters, Semolina was born. She built a pasta drier herself, set it up in herhouse and started making, packaging and selling pasta! All while taking care oftwo young kids. Eventually she moved into a space, and then a second one, buthas kept the business small on purpose, concentrating on quality rather thanquantity, and in order to maintain a certain quality of life for herself andher family.
Joys of running your business: “What I love is that I get totalk to people about cooking all day long, and seeing their reactions when theycome back and tell me how they made a certain pasta and being so enthusiasticabout using simple ingredients, is extremely rewarding. I love changing howpeople think about cooking: it’s not scary, you just need good ingredients.Being a pasta company is a natural extension of educating people and also anextension of me. I can’t even tell you how elated I am when people come back.”
Challenges of running your business: Other than the aches and pains of scaling a business while maintaining quality (of product and of life), “the biggest hurdle I’ve had in this business is to convince people that dry pasta is not an inferior product. And I feel the responsibility to educate people about simple basic notions about cooking.”
Being a woman business owner: “There’s never a perfect time to start a business. I started one with two kids under the age of two, but I also felt the most creative during that time and it didn’t matter that I didn’t have enough money or it wasn’t the right time. Surround yourself with other women who have done it because (running a business) can be very isolating. Great women lift each other up and that’s really important, especially when you’re trying to make financial decisions: I got really great advice and the most effective one has been by women, who understand how to integrate family into the process of running a business.”
Owner, Wild Terra
Wild Terra wascreated by Danielle Noe as a community apothecary when, after years working inthe entertainment business, she decided to pursue her passion for herbs, plantsand teas. She always wanted to start her own business but wasn’tsure what since her skillset was on make-up artistry, and didn’t think shecould start over. However, after a couple of herbal apprenticeships andrealizing there weren’t a lot of resources in Los Angeles for herbalism, shefelt drawn to open a herb shop and apothecary that could also offer classes andserve as a community center for people with her same interests, but also peoplecurious about the use of herbs and teas, also for medical purposes. She foundthe right spot at the right time
She stocks a large selection of bulk organic, biodynamic, andwildcrafted medicinal herbs, tea, and spices, as well as locally sourcedproducts and related accessories. Danielle loves making customblends too and to spread her knowledge through workshops held in the store’sclassroom.
Challenges of running your business: “When I first rented the space, I had to go through many hurdles and city requirements. It was tough and I thought of giving up because I didn’t think my level of expertise was enough, but I took a step back and taught myself how to design the space too, got everything cleared with the city, built all the furniture myself to contain expenses and eventually was able to launch. I learned a lot about running a business, from legal to insurance, to city dealings, to furniture building and I’m happy I didn’t give up and it all worked out.”
Joys of running your business: “I get to work for myself, talk to people all day long about herbs and teas, people who are excited about it and curious about it. One of the best things is when people come back and mention that a tea I recommended really helped them. Also being able to have classes and meeting people from different groups, learning new modalities of medicine, and creating a community are also rewarding: people have met here and relationships and new projects have started. It’s so fulfilling and I would not give that up for a bigger paycheck.”
Being a woman business owner: “If it feels right, go for it. Even if the plan is not all there, don’t wait for the perfect moment because it will never be perfect. Just go in and it will be worth it.”
Principal + CEO, Zambezi
There are very few women owned business in the advertisingindustry and Jean Freeman, who helped start Zambezi in 2006, is proudlyrepresenting. In her role, she feels like it’s her duty and responsibility tobe an example of what the next generation should aspire to do and aspire to be. Named to Adweek’s 2017 Disruptors List and named one of the 4A’s “100 People Who Make Advertising Great, she was instrumental in building Zambezi for the last thirteen years but only took control ofit three years ago. Her company is over 60% women, diversity is very importantto her and she considers it good business practice.
Large corporations were created by men for men, and she’sdetermined to change that. California’s percentage of women in business owning roles hasrisen in the last four years, and the statistic reflects a growing need thatshe identified with, too. After the birth of her first child, she couldn’t seeherself still be part of the corporate setting she grew in, as it wouldn’t work.So she opted out, as well as other women are recently doing, in order to maketheir job work for them, and not vice-versa. Jean stresses the importance ofhaving mentors in women who have started their own businesses, and providingresources, from the fundamentals of what it means to run your business, tomarketing and accounting and everything in between.
One more advice she has is the importance of networking andneeding to understand the reality or running and owning a business; passion andrunning a business are two separate things, and the former doesn’t alwaystranslate in a successful endeavor. Hence, being around people who’ve alreadybeen there is crucial in understanding if it’s something you’re cut for. “Besmart, be curious and know there’s no dumb question, because when you’re juststarting out you don’t know – looking at when we first started, at 27 yearsold, we knew nothing, but sometimes ignorance is bliss because you just go forit!”
Being a woman business owner: “I had my daughter when Zambisi was starting out, not stable and not profitable yet, and a lot of people thought it was crazy, but it was a blessing that it happened when it did because it made me really be efficient with my time and focus on things that would move the business forward, as opposed than on things that I didn’t need to put my attention toward. Having children has made me a better manager and mentor: there’s nothing harder than trying to convince a three year old to use the green spoon and not the blue spoon! It has also made me more empathetic and given me patience – never ending patience.”
Owner, Bark n' Roll
Francine started her business while living in Hollywood andworking in the film industry: she rescued two dogs and also regularlyvolunteered at shelters. She became involved in rescue as a therapeutic way todeal with the stress of her job. When she decided to move back to Boston (NorthReading, her hometown), she realized she wasn’t much interested in film anymoreand started to study animal behavior, became a certified dog trainer withAnimal Behavioral College and, within a few months, started her own business,Bark n’ Roll, focusing on canine care, from daycare to training, and everythingin between. From her start in 2009, her business has grown considerably, aswell as her certifications in animal behavior - she's also a Certified Behavior Consultant (International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants), an American Kennel Club (AKC) Certified Canine Good Citizen (CGC) and S.T.A.R. Puppy Evaluator, and Founder and President of BnR’s Rock n’ Rescue, a 501 (c)(3) non-profit rescue organization.
Joys of running your business: “The reward that comes from being able to work through a case where the person is able to keep their dog, and the dog is also happy. And it’s rewarding to have people switch over from a philosophy of shock and fear training, to a positive reinforcement type of training, showing them that there’s an alternative that is humane and effective at the same.”
Challenges of running your business: “People think I look young, so especially when I started people would find it hard to believe me as a business owner. I still tend to get it, occasionally, when I show up to clients’ house to evaluate their dogs. But after a first conversation, they redeem themselves. Also, having employees and trusting your name and reputation to other humans, as well as finding reputable and trustworthy stuff is challenging, sometimes.”
Being a woman business owner: “I think that I’ve always carried myself in a way that it doesn’t matter if I’m a man or a woman, when teaching or in business meetings – I always play on an equal plane field, and I’m very direct, not focusing on my gender. I think it’s never too late to reinvent yourself, people have many interests and sticking to just one, or whatever it is you learned in college or what you’re certified in is not honoring the fact that human beings are ever changing and evolving, we can have different interests in different phases of our lives and honoring that by taking the risk and committing to whatever it is your passionate about can make you successful.”
Ashlee Langas & Julia Albain
Co-owners + Founders, The Mystic Rebel
Yoga instructor Ashlee Langas got her start 7 years ago when,after moving to Los Angeles to pursue a dancing career, she transitioned to adifferent kind of movement. She got certified and slowly started to build herclientele, one friend and acquaintance at a time. Fast forward to 5 years laterand she has co-founded The Mystic Rebel, in DTLA, along with fellow yogainstructor Julia Albain, who’s a healer and reiki instructor as well. Theyclicked over “hippy dippy stuff”, as Ashlee calls it, and the move intoprofessional partnership was next.
Her most recent endeavor is Stoned Yoga, a venture born fromher natural disposition to unwind with marijuana to stretch and unwind after afull day of teaching. Given that her best ideas and inspiration usually comeduring that unwinding time, she naturally thought of integrating marijuana intoher yoga and dance routine and test it with a class. The results were incrediblefrom a physical and social perspective, helping attendees loosen up, whilebuilding community at the same time.
Joys of running your business: “I get to constantly grow,evolve and change, and explore with what I’m doing. It keeps it interesting anda driving force to show up”
Challenges of running your business: “Shitty admin of it: tryingto figure out finances, I didn’t go to college, is this stuff I’m doing right?.However, the challenges help me grow, and help the business grow”
Being a woman business owner: “I feel very fortunate that I never felt the constrains of being a woman, in every aspect of business. One of the coolest parts of being in this position is that I want to help other women who want to be in business, or if they need some support and love, I want to be a part of helping them move forward, I want to be helpful and inspiring to other women. I think one thing that makes us really good about making a career change that is out of our comfort zone is that we sometimes lead from a place of ‘I have to do this thing because otherwise my soul will die’ – so the advice I would give is to trust that voice, if you feel called to do something different, you have to listen to that and tune out the noise of all the stories we tell ourselves, don’t let the fear get the best of you!”
Bea and Leah Koch
Co-owners + Founders, The Ripped Bodice
The Ripped Bodice is the only exclusively romance bookstorein the northern hemisphere and it will have been open three years in March 2019.Sisters Bea and Leah decided to sell only romance novels because there wasnobody else doing exclusively that in the country, despite romance being thebest-selling genre by an enormous margin. Being lovers of the genre, theywanted to build a space for this community, and three years into it, they feellike they’re succeeding, both through their brick and mortar and online. Theybook signings and other author based events year long, as well as romance themedstand-up comedy shows, writing classes and book clubs.
Challenges of running your business: “It’s hard to be asmall business owner in the very beginning stages: for the first year and ahalf we didn’t know if we were going to make the rent each month. Personally,we’re a little burnt out having had to run everything ourselves until recently(they got some staff to help out) and it’s been challenging to switch off.”
Joys of running your business: “We are living our dream.Every day we get to come in here and think about what we like most, the authorwe like most, promoting them. The freedom of doing whatever we want is verysatisfying. We’re learning how to achieve more of what we like as time passes.The other thing about it is Fitz (the dog, who has his own general store standinside the bookstore, with a popular line of products): it’s great to see how muchpeople love him, and we get to talk about the importance of rescuing pets. Wewere also able to host a pet adoption event, which was so great.”
Being a woman business owner: “Be kind to yourself and put themost amount of time figuring out whom you’re going to get in business with, ifanyone: it should be someone who cares more about you than the success of thebusiness. Our first priority is always each other, which we feel very luckyabout.”
Co-Owner + Founder, Craft Home
Jessica Young got into home staging and interior stylingafter working in entertainment for many years. During her last year working forthe creator of the show House, she started to reflect on what else was outthere that she could be doing, knowing in her heart there was something outsideof entertainment that she would excel at. Upon realizing her gravitating towardinterior design and home renovation shows, as well as enjoying layout anddesign of spaces, from her dorm room to her apartments, she knew what her nextmove would be. When her boss needed some interior design done, she got heavilyinvolved in the project along the show’s production designer and followingthat, she joined the her on a show, working in the art and set decorationdepartments. That propelled her into the real world of interior decoration: sheleft her entertainment career behind and worked for free for six months onseveral interior decoration projects with different staging companies, andeventually started her own home staging company with two partners, a realestate agent and a real estate developer. Almost four years into her endeavor,she couldn’t be more satisfied.
Challenges of running your business: “There have been a few: one has been creating a boundary with the people I hire, while maintaining a friendship: making sure they feel included while still respecting my role. The other has been being a young black designer and entrepreneur: there are not many of us and at times it’s been a challenge to gain the respect of the peers in my industry, and I’ve had to make sure I present myself in a way that people respond to and trust.”
Joys of running your business: “One of the biggest joys is the variety. No day is the same, I’m not going into an office every day and sitting behind a desk (which I loathe). I also love my team - the girls I’ve hired to help with the business are like family. I love the creative process and space planning, as well as being able to work with my hands and interacting with different kinds of people throughout the week is probably the biggest joy!”
Being a woman business owner: “My advice to anyone starting their business is to dress the part and don’t be afraid to go after the money. Be professional and exude confidence and you’ll gain the respect of other people who’ve been in the business longer than you.”