5 Strategies for Being a Good Partner

February 18 Stage2Startups Panel Discussion

Earlier this year, Emelie Smith Calbick and Betty Wong of Stage2Startups,  moderated a cross-country discussion on partnerships with founders from New York, San Diego and Colorado Springs. Our panelists included:

Christiana Russell and Luis Martinez

Christiana Russell and her partner, Luis Martinez, of WeThaPlug. WeThaPlug advocates for tech and innovation entrepreneurship in Black & Latino communities, providing founders with access to startup fundamental education, advice, mentorship, programming, and funding. 

Stacey Burns and her co-founder, Jonathan Liebert, of Colorado Institute for Social Impact. CI4SI focuses on education, certification, evaluation, and consultation in the Social Impact space in Colorado as well as other cities across the country. 

Stacey Burns and Jonathan Liebert

We were joined by members of the Stage2Startups community who also commented on their experiences with partnerships.

Reflecting on partnerships in our own startup ventures, we agreed with Stacey, Jonathan, Luis and Christiana on the following tips for working together:

  1. Find your comfort level. It is important to find a business partner that you are comfortable with on both a personal and professional level.  You want to make sure you can work with them on a daily basis, and that you can trust and rely on their expertise and business judgement.  
  2. Know your partner. Learn about your partner and understand their strengths and weaknesses so you can motivate and get the best of each other and appreciate the differences each party brings to the team;
  3. Know yourself. Learn to know yourself and be willing to acknowledge your own strengths and weaknesses.  It is also important to know your personal values;
  4. Always listen. As Christiana said, “Be slow to speak and quick to hear.” Listen to each other, especially during this time, when it is harder to get together in person. Be sure to check in with each other regularly and have an open door for all conversations, especially the hard conversations;
  5. Share a vision.  As Jonathan said, “You need to share the same North Star.” Even though you and your partner bring different skills to the partnership, it is important  to find someone who shares the same vision of what you want the company to be.

Our panelists all felt that running a business as a solopreneur would be harder, especially when it comes to raising money since investors prefer backing partners.  A partner is valuable both as a sounding board and as backup to get things done, especially if the other partner is momentarily distracted. They also commented on the immense value of being able to leverage each other’s skills to move their businesses forward more quickly and, if a difficult situation arises, to be able to implement a bad cop/good cop strategy. 

On the question of where to find partners, our partners suggest looking for partners among your personal network, meeting people at professional and casual events or even while you are getting an education. If you don’t know the person well, one option is to bring them on as a consultant.  This allows you to “test them out” and see if there is a good fit before fully bringing them on as a partner. Regardless, all agree that it takes work and commitment to be a good partner.

You can learn more about WeThaPlug at https://www.wethaplug.com/

You can learn more about the Colorado Institute for Social Impact at https://www.ci4si.org/

To watch the full panel discussion, go to the Stage3Startups YouTube channel.


(c) 2020 Emelie Smith Calbick and Betty Wong

How To Make Your Customers Feel They Are Your Top Priority

“Building Customer Service and Trust are Keys to A Service Business”

Marci Lobel-Esrig, Founder and General Counsel, SilverBills

Making the customers feel that they are a priority is a key to establishing the trust necessary in the kind of business that Marci Lobel-Esrig started. SilverBills helps clients manage their bills, which requires reviewing, storing and ensuring that bills get paid for people who can’t manage or don’t want to manage those invoices, like rent, utilities and tele-communications. Marci got the idea when she saw that her Aunt was having difficulty managing her financial affairs. She also saw that it was necessary to be very transparent about how the company did its work to earn the trust of her clients. Her website has three videos explaining how the process works, essentially by remotely accessing bills sent by customers and assigning customers to work through specific, dedicated account managers via phone calls instead of online, if they prefer. In this age of technology and automation, the most difficult level of technology a customer needs to manage is a phone if they enroll with SilverBills. This focus on the comfort level of her clients and making it easy for them to work with SilverBills using pre-paid, pre-addressed envelopes makes the business more accessible for older adults. 

Marci Lobel-Esrig

Marci started the business by herself, but she understood that, in order to scale, she needed to work with a team.  Her commitment to customer service was so high that the first hire for her company was a director of customer care services. Today, the largest number of staff at SilverBills are account managers.  In planning for future growth, a portion of the money she will be raising will be devoted to expanding the capabilities and the size of the account management team.

Since launching SilverBills, Marci has been building her reputation to generate trust among individuals, governments and professionals. Marci found that, as a lawyer with 25 years’ experience, she had sufficient legal skills to manage her company, but took a variety of courses in other areas.  She has worked to establish relationships with a number of strategic partners and vendors working with the same target market – like AARP and the New York City Department for the Aging. Her efforts helped her get positive press in publications such as Consumer Report and Bank Rate, which helps her company’s credibility among seniors and their adult children.

What does Marci recommend new entrepreneurs do? Learn as much as possible and participate in programs that will help you develop the new skills you may need to run a successful business.

To reach Marci or learn more about SilverBills, visit www.silverbills.com or email Marci@silverbills.com 


(c) 2020 Emelie Smith Calbick and Betty Wong

What Makes for a Perfect Startup Partner?

“Establishing open and honest communication with your co-founder is the foundation for a successful partnership.”

Stacey Burns, Cofounder, Colorado Institute for Social Impact

Stacey Burns started the Colorado Institute for Social Impact with her cofounder, Jonathan Liebert, three years ago. Today, CI4SI focuses on education, certification, evaluation, and consultation in the Social Impact space in Colorado as well as other cities across the country. 

Stacey Burns

The company evolved from a series of coffee conversations with others in the community who wanted to develop a social impact model for their business. “Those coffees inspired me,” says Stacey. “I realized that I had something to offer and the more coffee conversations I had made me realize the magnitude of the potential impact I could make.” CI4SI is helping support the growing movement within the business community to create social and environmental impact through the engine of capitalism. Called the 4th Sector, this new sector of the economy embraces businesses who strive to “merge mission and margin, purpose and profit.”

Both Stacey and Jonathan have degrees in Counseling Psychology and have known each other for 20 years. “Being friends first gave us a strong foundation on which to build our working relationship,” says Stacey. “We already had built a solid level of trust, and our shared backgrounds in social services gave us a common operating language.” Stacey also notes that she and Jonathan complement each other’s skill sets – she says Jonathan is the visionary while she focuses on implementation – and that this combination of different skills has been vital for their success. “Both of us have strong ideas but we are coming at problems from different perspectives,” says Stacey. “However, we are able to talk through our differences to come to a decision that we both can support.”

When you don’t have a long established relationship with your co-founder, then you need to build that foundation of trust and establish open lines of communication. “I have seen so many co-founder relationships gone wrong because they rushed into the partnership,” says Stacey. They know they need another skill set but they fail to walk through the steps of how the partnership will work.” 

Without doing that work upfront, co-founders can struggle when challenges arise. For Stacey and Jonathan, that challenge was COVID.  While going into 2020 they had great momentum working with nonprofits, for profits and funders on Social Impact Certification; a pipeline that stalled with the arrival of the pandemic. They quickly pivoted and converted what could have been a business-breaking situation to an opportunity. Knowing that the next generation of consumers expect the companies they purchase from to align with their values, CI4SI is now working more with organizations on how to align their bottom line with mission and talk about their impact through Social Return on Investment.  

“Working with a co-founder is a lot like planning to parent with someone,” says Stacey. “You need to talk about what happens when things go wrong or right and what success looks like before you have the child.  It’s better to do that work on the front end instead of having those conversations down the road when challenges arise.”

You can learn more about Stacey and CI4SI at https://www.ci4si.org/. Stacey and Jonathan will talk more about working with a partner at our upcoming Stage2Startups panel discussion on January 28, 2021.


(c) 2020 Emelie Smith Calbick and Betty Wong

“Whatever You Do, Learn to Sell!”

“It doesn’t matter what your age, or even what your product is, you have to get the sales process down first.” 

Tanya Moss, Founder, Tanya Moss Jewelry

“You have to know how to sell to be a successful entrepreneur,” says Tanya Moss, Founder of Tanya Moss Jewelry.  “It doesn’t matter what your age, or even what your product is, you have to get the sales process down first.” 

Tanya Moss

Selling is being able to pitch your business, to demonstrate what makes it unique, to your audience.  Whether it is a distributor for your product, a potential investor or a customer, entrepreneurs are always having to tell their story in a meaningful and compelling way to achieve success.

While studying graphic design in Mexico City, Tanya pursued her true passion of designing jewelry. But to turn those designs into actual jewelry, she needed to persuade artisans to create them. Before even graduating from school, Tanya successfully got her designs made and launched her own jewelry line. She started out selling her jewelry directly to people in their homes, similar to Avon’s distribution model. Today, Avon is a client, selling her jewelry throughout Mexico.

When Tanya shifted from direct selling to operating her own “stores within department stores”, she found that the sales techniques she had honed from door-to-door sales were critical for generating sales in the store environment, where people often tend to browse without buying. Up until the COVID crisis, Tanya had 30 stores all over Mexico. 

With the pandemic, Tanya has shifted her focus to online sales. While the channel is different, Tanya has found that her sales experience from in-home and in-store distribution models has helped her maximize her ecommerce sales. Her online store has doubled in sales since the pandemic started.

“A lot of selling is about listening to the customer and helping that customer solve his or her problem,” says Tanya.  “A successful sales person is able to match the product’s benefits to the customer’s needs.”

While selling is a natural ability for Tanya and something she enjoys doing, she credits retail author Harry Friedman’s book, No Thanks, I’m Just Looking: Sales Techniques for Turning Shoppers Into Buyers, for helping her to refine her sales techniques. Now,  she is now using the techniques she has developed over her career to train her sales team of over 50 people.

Tanya likes to say that her most successful “sale” and hire was an ex-banker, who visited her store during his downtime, and eventually joined her team. He initially met Tanya when she was trying to sell her merchandise to a new retailer, so he witnessed her sales technique first-hand. Today, he is her husband and CEO of the company – Eduardo Stolkin, who holds an MBA from

 Columbia Business School. She and her husband discovered that their skills complemented each other, and continue to do so to this day. He focuses on the financial aspects of the business while she focuses on creative design, marketing and sales.  

Tanya now wants to expand into the US market. To do that, she will need to find the right partners.  Selling them on the benefits of investing in her company will be just another day at the office for Tanya.

If you would like to see Tanya’s jewelry designs, check www.tanyamossjewelry.com.

(c) 2020 Emelie Smith Calbick and Betty Wong

 

6 Tips to Promote Yourself and Your Business

There is no “silver bullet,’ but these tips and hard work can generate the results you need.

On August 20, Betty Wong, founder of Stage2Startups, hosted an online discussion for the Stage2Startups community with 5 professional communications experts – Charlotte Tomic of Tomic Communications; Nancie Steinberg,an integrated communications “pitch specialist; John Mallen of John Mallen PR; Rajiv Jadhav of R Square Media; and, Sam Mattingly of SMC Communications – to discuss how to break through the promotional clutter to get recognition for you, your company or your cause. (Special thanks to Alex Ngo and Daniela Viola for their help on social media and as co-hosts!) Here are the tips that they shared:

Stage2Startups Online Discussion

Create a story that centers on your mission. This is the “age of storytelling,” states Sam.  “But your stories need to be relevant. Focus on developing  stories about yourself and/or your organization that relate to today’s current events.” For example, tell a story about how your company is operating during the COVID crisis that is interesting or different.   

Identify your point of difference. This is your “unique selling proposition”, notes Charlotte.  Then understand the goal(s) of the specific communication vehicle you want to contact and determine how you and your brand or cause relates to that media vehicle’s goals. For example, find an editor or news outlet that regularly focuses on companies similar to yours and pitch a story about what is new for that category.

Make sure your press release is “newsworthy “, Rajiv says “If what you have is not newsworthy, then you need to develop a story that is interesting. ” Your pitch needs to be “engaging and relevant news”for the outlet you are contacting, says both Charlotte and Nancie. Sam says “there needs to be a first mover action, or how what you are doing enhances something else or some great funding or investment story” for the journalist to be interested.

Not every communications vehicle or social media outlet is right for every brand. Sam spoke about the different audiences for corporate “holding company” brands vs. individual brands. You need to focus on the media “in your periscope,” suggests John, rather than on anyone and everyone.  But cross-over to different audiences and mediums is also happening. Rajiv gave an example of Nike reaching out to individual trainers on Instagram to get support.

Structure your content for the particular platform. Not every social media platform should get the same treatment, notes Rajiv. For example, Pinterest is image-based and appeals to a female demographic while Reddit is quite the opposite. Most importantly, once you decide on the relevance of the media outlet, you have to “follow” and make friends with the writer or journalist. “It really helps to become  a reliable source,”says Betty.

John suggests that there should be two “press releases now – one for traditional media editors and one that is “crafted for digital media to reach audiences directly.” Nancie gives credit to the multimedia news release, with hyperlinks to outside media, examples or videos.  

Treat your outreach to the media as an on-going dialogue. This is especially true for social media. Sam suggested ”quick soundbites” with the thought that you have to “treat  social media like you treat your friends…Stay in touch often and have something interesting to share.” Rajiv followed with “employ key words, hashtags, and tagging. Apparently readers and followers want consistency and they have standards.”

After listening to these experts, who have over 100 combined years of experience,  I resolved to follow-up with my own reporters. T hear the full discussion, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LmpOJ1yeHqg&t=1000s.

If you would like to speak with any of the pros, here’s how you can contact them:

Charlotte Tomic – charlotte@tomiccommunications.com

John Mallen- john@jmcpr.com

Nancie Steinberg – nbsteinb@gmail.com

Rajiv Jadhav- rajiv@rsquare.media


(c) 2020 Emelie Smith Calbick and Betty Wong

When You Have To Make A Choice

 “I realized making a difference means I had to give up my day job.”

Robin Rosenberg, founder of Live in Their World, Inc.

Robin Rosenberg had a job she loved.  After training to be a psychologist, she had an established and full practice and wrote psychology textbooks for college students. But Robin was now at a crossroads after successfully piloting a virtual reality based program to address issues of bias and incivility in the workplace, funded by a VC she knew. Should she step off her chosen career track and risk her financial stability to found a company focused on changing corporate cultures to embrace diversity and respectful engagement? She knew that if she could move the needle and create positive change in the industry, then she would have to take the leap.

Robin Rosenberg

Robin’s interest in virtual reality started over 25 years ago, based on her recognition that VR had important similarities to hypnosis, a technique she had studied and used in her psychological practice. Robin’s entrepreneurial journey began in 2012, when Trayvon Martin’s death rocked the country and sowed the seeds for the Black Lives Matter movement. Through her familiarity with virtual reality, she came up with the idea of using virtual reality as a means to increase employees’ respect for and understanding of their colleagues from different demographic groups.  That concept became reality in 2017 during the #MeToo movement when a venture capitalist she had met socially years earlier approached her, interested in exploring her prior ideas for behavior change in the workplace. Robin agreed to develop a virtual reality proof-of-concept study to help men understand the impact of women on gender bias in the workplace.

When the pilot study came back with great results, Robin realized she had to make a choice – continue her career as a practicing psychologist or become a founder of a new company.  While she believed in her product, she stepped back and took the time to think about how she could create a scalable business. She also considered how building that business might impact her lifestyle and practice. In April 2018, after doing her due diligence by talking with other entrepreneurs, she jumped all in, leaving her practice and  working fulltime to build her company, Live In Their World Inc. Robin decided to raise a friends and family round of funding, to enable greater user growth and business impact. She also established a  board of advisors so that she could get regular, timely feedback. “I feel so lucky to have my advisors. They’ve been generous with their time and incredibly helpful at every stage of our company’s development.”

Fast track to now, and Robin has created a company that aims to help large corporations and medium-sized companies address issues of bias and incivility. Her company’s unique approach is to enable participants to experience typical workplace situations in which issues of bias and incivility arise as a Black woman, a Black man and a white woman. The program uses mobile VR and Youtube 360-degree-type immersive video for remote workers, and a Oculus headset for in-office employees, complemented by an online cognitive learning module. Impact is measured periodically through employee engagement surveys. “It’s important to me that we actually change workplace behavior, increase respectful behavior and a sense of belonging in all teams. That’s why we periodically assess how employees are treating each other.”

She quickly discovered that becoming a founder who wanted to scale up her business required different commitments than being a solopreneur. For example, having that initial investor required her to incorporate her company, open a corporate bank account, hire an accountant and hold key person’s insurance. “I’ve had professional insurance since I became a psychologist, so the idea of having insurance for the company, and D & O insurance, seemed like a different variant of mitigating potential risk.”

She hired her first employee, a business development manager, only a month ago, during the pandemic, and has never met her in person.  Robin is handling all the “C-suite” positions at the moment, learning along the way, but has made ample use of contractors, including a public relations team, who are working with her on her company’s July launch. 

Robin worked hard to get as much insight as possible before transitioning from being a solo practitioner with a thriving practice to being a founder, but quickly realized that no matter how much she tried to prepare, she really didn’t understand what a founder’s life is like until she actually began living it.  Robin notes, ”Living as a founder is really different than hearing about it or seeing it, it’s a real rollercoaster.” 

To learn more about how Robin’s company uses virtual reality to help companies address gender and racial bias, visit www.liveintheirworld.com.  


(c) 2020 Emelie Smith Calbick and Betty Wong

What are Founders Doing Online These Days?

What we learned at our May 14 Speed Sharing Zoom Session.

Emelie Smith Calbick and Betty Wong, founders of Startups by Grownups

Like many startups whose business model is face-to-face focused, Stage2Startups has been struggling to adapt to the online environment.  We wanted to hear what other founders across different industries are doing to keep their customers, staff and vendors informed and their businesses growing so we hosted our first Speed Sharing Session in May. Not surprisingly, every founder is leveraging technology such as Constant Contact or MailChimp for email and social media channels to keep connected. But they also used some platforms you may not have considered. Here are some additional online channels and tools our speakers shared with us – 

  • Build a following with live video and  podcasts. Mark Pires, founder and inventor of The BeatSeat™️, hosts the “Mark Pires Real Talk”, a daily live video on youtube and a podcast. This daily online programming strategy has brought him a dedicated following on Youtube, Facebook, LinkedIn and other social media, helping him drive awareness and sales for his innovative drum and sensory therapy instrument. Listen to him live on www.youtube.com/c/markpiresrealtalk and  his podcast at https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/anchor-podcasts/mark-pires-real-talk and learn more about The BeatSeat at www.beatseat.rocks.
  • Establish your credentials with a blog. Todd Ofsink of Todd Layne Cleaners, leverages his blog to establish himself as an expert in custom-dry cleaning and laundry services with the press and general public. He also ensures his blog contains key words so that he appears at the top of any Google search.  This keeps his business  “top of mind” when people are looking for these services. Read his blog at https://toddlaynecleaners.com/blog or go to www.todd layne cleaners.com.
  • Reach your audience with Facebook Live. Janet Valenza, founder of GOGOGracious, has traditionally sold her life-style clothing collection and attracts new salespeople at mobile wardrobe salons held at locations such as hotels and clubs. With those venues closed, Janet has shifted her business fully online. She now holds events on Facebook Live and Zoom and books individual appointments for a virtual wardrobe salon. Go to https://www.facebook.com/JanVNYC/ or www.gogogracious.com.
  • Keep your customers engaged with webinars. Sharon Huang of Hudson Way Immersion School, holds webinars to keep parents informed and engaged. And because she can not hold informational open houses, she now offers free online “Mommy & Me” programs to generate a pipeline of new students to her school. Visit www.hwis.org or https://www.facebook.com/gohwis/.
  • Support e-commerce on your website. Godwyn Morris, owns and operates Dazzling Discoveries, a hands on science, engineering and technology education program for grade school children.  Since in-person activities are not feasible, she decided to create a line of paper engineering kits for parents and teachers looking for projects to do at home. She now sells those kits through her website, Dazzlinks.com using the PayPal platform. Learn more at www.dazzlingdiscoveries.com and https://www.facebook.com/DazzlingDiscoveriesSTEM/.
  • Facilitate online networking with a peer-to-peer platform. Rajiv Jadhav, an “online” reputation management expert, manifestation coach and founder of RSquare.Media, has transformed his formerly on-ground networking organization – Dynamite Networking Group, a platform of “Super Connectors and Givers” – by using Zoom to create online introductions and generate high quality business referrals. Learn more at www.DynamiteNetworking.com, https://lintr.ee/rejiveness or @rsquaremediany.

These are just a few of the creative ways founders are adapting their offline businesses to the online environment. We know founders everywhere are thinking out of the box and leveraging online technologies in new ways. And many of these online strategies will continue long after the economy reopens, making businesses everywhere stronger. So let’s celebrate this glimmer of positivity coming out of this pandemic, despite the terrible losses that have happened and may happen yet. 

As a startup blog ourselves (affiliated with Stage2Startups), we also believe in the power of blogging as well as other communications strategies to help our community for potential and existing entrepreneurs. Find our blog at http://grownupstartups.home.blog  and more at www.Stage2Startups.org or www.facebook.com/stage2startups or join our newly started facebook group! Did we miss any online strategies you are using? Let us know at info@stage2startups.org or post a comment!


(c) 2020 Emelie Smith Calbick and Betty Wong

How to Transition to the “New Normal”

“Our mission of building community and connection has remained consistent. What has changed is the way we deliver against that mission”

Suzanne Willian, Co-founder, The Co-Co

The Co-Co, a co-working, co-learning space based in Summit, NJ, is a business built on offering workers a welcoming, shared work environment with opportunities to interact and collaborate with others. In addition to providing co-working space, The Co-Co offers regular programming, such as panel discussions, events and social gatherings, all designed to build a strong sense of community among its members. 

Suzanne Willian

As a business model built on in-person face-to-face interactions, the Co-Co has had to quickly adapt to delivering their product online. We talked to Suzanne about how she and her partners have transitioned their traditional offline business to an online environment.

How are you adapting your business to an online channel?

With everyone forced to stay at home, community and connection has become even more important. We decided that we needed to fully recreate the experience our members expected from The Co-Co online. So as we did in our physical space, we offer a variety of opportunities for our members to connect, share and learn. We have hosted over 30 online gatherings since we had to close our doors, from coffee and conversation hours, to business workshops to parenting discussions. We have even recreated the co-working experience with our virtual co-working hours on Zoom. 

How are you keeping your members while you are shut?

We are focusing on the long term rather than just trying to keep revenues up during the mandated shutdown. We have two levels of membership – the co-working membership level with a higher fee and the lower fee community membership. Even though it is a significant revenue impact to us, we decided to bring every member down to the lower community level fee while our space is closed. And while we offer some online programming for non-members, we continue to offer exclusive member events.

Our goal is to keep our members engaged so that they will stay with us during the shutdown and will continue when we reopen. We also believe that our public offerings as well as the way we treat our current members today will help us gain new members down the road. 

Have you changed the way you make decisions?

In some ways our decision making process hasn’t changed at all. We launched a little over a year ago, and when you are building a brand, you have to make decisions all the time based on limited information. Under the new and ever changing rules of this pandemic, limited information is the norm so we continue to have to listen, learn, experiment and constantly adapt. It’s been a true learning experience!

Have you changed the way you and your partners operate?

All of us are having to juggle the increased challenges of both work and home during the pandemic. This has forced us to become more disciplined in how we manage the business, with each partner taking ownership of a specific aspect of the business. Before the shutdown, we might have spent more time discussing decisions as a team. But now that we can’t get together as much as we used to, we have to trust each other more. We are more likely to make some decisions independently so that decisions can be made quickly. 

How are you preparing for the re-opening of your business?

There are big implications for how a co-working space like ours can re-open. But we aren’t trying to figure out how to move forward alone. We are working in collaboration with a group of women-focused co-working communities across the country and in New Jersey and with workspaces approved by the NJEDA’s Ignite program, a rent support initiative for entrepreneurs. Our top responsibility during the initial re-opening phase will be health and safety. We need to have our procedures crisp and solid and clearly communicated to members so that they feel safe coming back.

What do you think the “new normal” will look like for your business?

I think the online channel will be a permanent component of our business model going forward. The pandemic has fast forwarded the trend towards remote work and having a professional place close by where you can focus on work will still be greatly valued. And remote workers will continue to want to connect with others, but how and where they find that community may be different for different people. That’s why we will continue to offer community and connection in both in-person venues and online channels, even after the shutdown is lifted. We believe, going forward, customers will have the expectation that services like ours can and should be offered in a variety of formats. 

To learn more about The Co-Co, go to https://www.theco-co.com.


Copyright© 2020 Emelie Smith Calbick and Betty Wong

How To Launch A Company During A Pandemic

“There’s no perfect time to launch and, we’ve been planning for a long time, so we just adjusted our plans and did it.”

Tami C. Gaines – CEO & Founder, Alivio Products

Tami Gaines, CEO and founder of Alivio Products, discovered the importance of magnesium when she got pregnant with twins and spent five weeks on hospitalized bed rest and it has remained an important part of her life ever since. We talked with Tami about the strategies she is taking to launch her company of Magnesium-based products even in the face of a pandemic.

Tami Gaines

What is Alivio Products?

Alivio Products offers Magnesium-based balms, sprays and bath soaks.  We are one of the few companies in the world that is totally focused on developing transdermally-delivered (applied through the skin), Magnesium-based mind-body wellness products. The World Health Organization estimated that 75% of adults consume a diet that is deficient in Magnesium. Without Magnesium, your body cannot achieve optimal health.  Studies show that Magnesium is best absorbed through the skin, avoiding gut issues and increasing absorption. 

You had originally planned to launch this past March. Did you launch and how was it different from your original plans?

In the face of the escalating pandemic, we decided to pull back on the launch for a few weeks to reconsider our launch strategy.  We were originally focused on B2B sales in order to get retail distribution and were having in person meetings with buyers.  However, given the current state of affairs with retail, we decided to change our strategy to sell directly to the consumer.  We’re now focused on executing our online marketing strategy to drive sales.  That said, we’re also prepared to resume our B2B strategy when it makes sense.

Are you open for consumer business now? Can people buy from your site or through Amazon?

People can buy directly from our website at www.alivioproducts.com. Later this month, we’ll be adding our products to Amazon and Etsy.

How has the pandemic personally challenged you as a business person?

I will say that I’ve had to spend more time getting up-to-speed on online marketing. I’ve been attending lots of webinars and virtual courses to learn strategies that I want to apply to my business.  I’m a lifelong learner so it’s not new for me; however, I’ve had to ramp up my learning/understanding of the online marketplace so we can quickly execute with minimal mistakes.

How are you managing your relationship with your production, shipping, and other vendors?

We were already working with all of our vendors remotely before the pandemic.  We stay connected through weekly phone calls and email updates.

How are you managing the juggling of family and work?  

I’ve been working from home for almost 20 years, but the kids were in school during the day.  I had the place to myself! I’ve been extremely disciplined about keeping the same schedule as we had before the health crisis.  I get up around 6:30am, do my meditation and workout, have my protein shake and write my goals for the day.  I wake up my daughter around 8am. While she’s having breakfast, I take the dog for a walk.  We’re both at our desks by 9am – her doing homework and me doing my work.  We break for lunch and eat together and chat. Back to work after.  She stops around 3:30pm and entertains herself until I stop around 5:30pm. After that, we always do something together – cooking dinner, watching a movie, etc. I do think the key to the juggle is the schedule.   

Do you feel you are going through additional stress and how are you dealing with it if you are?

I don’t feel additional stress because I know that we’ll get through these trying times.  How we get through it will define us.  I meditate and connect with God and the Universe every morning before I get out of bed.  Writing in my journal is also very helpful – a listening ear that doesn’t judge! I’ve been getting outside and exercising as much as possible.  I’ve been taking more baths with my own products – Alivio Products DeStressology.  They are formulated to manage stress and the effects it has on your body.  

Do you have any thoughts for other entrepreneurs who are launching their products or services as the pandemic continues?

 I think the pandemic challenges entrepreneurs to think differently – to find the opportunities to meet unmet needs.  A true entrepreneur will recognize this time as one of hope, not despair.  It’s a time to reevaluate your strategy to determine how you have to act,  so don’t ever give up!


Copyright© 2020 Emelie Smith Calbick and Betty Wong

Online Businesses Benefit in the New Normal

“Being an online business has certainly been beneficial, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t needed to adapt in the face of these new circumstances.”

Weerada Sucharitkul, CEO & Founder of FilmDoo

FilmDoo co-founder, Weerada Sucharitkul, always enjoyed international cinema, but was frustrated that so many of them were unavailable in the UK where she resides. So with her partner, William Page, she started FilmDoo in the summer of 2014. The benefits of being an online entertainment business during the pandemic are obvious, but like most businesses, FilmDoo’s founders have needed to adapt.

What is filmDoo?

FilmDoo is a movie streaming platform (www.filmdoo.com) to help people discover great films from around the world – films that can’t be found in movie theaters or on more traditional platforms like network television or even NetFlix. FilmDoo is also available as a subscription channel on Amazon Prime Video. 

WEERADA SUCHARITKUL

We are now expanding to online education since we see film as a fun and engaging way for students to learn foreign languages and explore other cultures. We are in the process of developing and launching game-based interactive edutainment tools and are currently in a pilot with the Language Flagship Programme across major US universities.

How has the pandemic affected FilmDoo and its operations?

FilmDoo’s core direct to consumer business of streaming foreign films on demand has actually benefited from the current environment since people are staying home and seeking out in-home entertainment. 

And with the rise of online education, we feel we have another great growth opportunity.  However, these direct to business opportunities have been negatively impacted since many of the deals that were set to close over the next few months have now been placed on hold or will take longer to close.

How are you adapting your strategies?

Initially, FilmDoo’s edutainment tools were usable only for films curated and hosted on the main FilmDoo.com platform, with a focus on using films for language teaching and language learning.  This is building on FilmDoo already having one of the world’s largest foreign language film catalogues online. The new edutainment platform, https://esh.ooo, would allow language schools and language tutors to create classes using any films on FilmDoo, curated by language and themes.

With recent events, FilmDoo saw an opportunity to use our edutainment platform to help teachers beyond language learning through film and to expand to other subjects, especially at K-12 level.  We identified the opportunity to separate our edutainment technology from the main FilmDoo website so that teachers can use the tool on any other film and video content hosted on Youtube and Vimeo.  This is a great way to help more K-12 schools and universities now, especially as they are all looking at new ways to bring classrooms online and to raise student engagement through the use of interactive film and video.   

How are you managing connections with your team and vendors/partners?

Given the nature of the FilmDoo business, FilmDoo has always operated a very international team, with many people working remotely and/or at different locations at any one time. We are comfortable using the  technology platforms available for online collaboration and team calls.  

Likewise, we have been able to continue to do calls with vendors and partners.  Of course, nothing compares to having face-to-face interactions, especially in building B2B relationships.  In the absence of this, it is important to maintain regular and frequent contacts, where possible.  Shorter, but more regular catch up calls are key for achieving this, especially when it is more difficult to maintain the momentum over longer calls or video calls.

Do you think there will be any loss of revenue?

As with companies across all industries, this will likely result in many of our projected deals taking much longer to close, and consequently, having an impact on our financial forecasts.  Consequently, it may also require re-positioning of our current product or strategy to identify new commercial opportunities.

How are you balancing family and friends with the changing needs of the business?

It is very difficult to balance family and friends during such a trying time as a pandemic, especially when you are coming under a lot of pressure and stress.  But I always try to allocate a certain time during the week to call my family and to reach out to friends.  

Having close friends and family to talk to also gives you an additional sounding board when you need advice or guidance as well as being the emotional, mental and even spiritual support to help get you through tough times.  It is important to continue to nurture your relationships and to spend time with people who share your vision, goals and can appreciate your worth, as they can become a source of inspiration to help get you through business difficulties.

Are you feeling any additional stress and, if so, how are you handling the stress?

The current uncertainty and how long the situation will last has provided additional stress.   However, something I’ve learnt along my entrepreneurial journey is that there are many things in life that you can’t  control.  It is important to continue to do your best at whatever task you have at hand and whatever you set your mind to, but also take comfort and relief, that there are many things in life you cannot control.  

Consequently, be open to change, to doing things differently, or in business terms – to repurpose or pivot your company – until you find what works.  Having such a mindset and an outlook to life will help take away some of the stress and give you peace of mind, especially when you have always given your best efforts and have tried to live up to your principles.

What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs?

My one advice to entrepreneurs is, “to know your worth”.  Don’t let other people take advantage of you unfairly, and don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself or what you believe to be the right thing to do.  You will not always be able to make everyone happy all the time, but it is important to know what you and your company stand for and the values that you want to represent to your team, your shareholders, your suppliers, your clients and ultimately, as the legacy of the company that you built and will one day leave behind. 

FilmDoo is offering a free film to all Startups by Grownups readers. To claim your free film, sign up and/or log into FilmDoo.com, select any film of your choice and input the following discount code during checkout: TOGETHERWITHFILM (valid for the rest of the year).


Copyright© 2020 Emelie Smith Calbick and Betty Wong