Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Oh sorry. That wasn't for you. It's for me. Thank you.
One of the first things I did when I started my company (still yet to be named at that point) was start a Gratitude Book. The minute I told my friends what I was doing, there was immense support. I recorded it. Then, I would read the notes later that week or month. And wow; I had a lot to be grateful for.
The gratitude was the fuel that kept me going during the hardest part of starting a business which was simply, starting a business.
I worked with Bernie at New York Times Digital back in 2000. He's in the internet biz, so I went to him for some advice: "It's about time you are living your life to your worth," I transcribed in my Gratitude Book from what he said earlier that day at lunch. "I'm right behind you. Tell me how I can help."
Neil and I have been friendly for years, but not close friends. I went to him because he's a fantastic web and graphic designer and an expert at internet usability: "This sounds great. If you want, I am happy to test your usability when you get to that point. I think you'll go really far with this."
In the first weeks of starting my business, my Gratitude pages included quotes from Sharon W, Sharon R, Maria, Stacy, Glen, Elana, Elena, Bobby, Michelle, Michael, Amy, Jennifer, David, Myles, Morty, Andrea S, Andrea D, Sherri, Melanie W, Ilya, Andrew, Brian E, Brian W, Ron, Lara, Steve, Heidi, Penina, Beth, Jessica H, Jessica L, Debbie, Caryn, John, Mary Pat, Jules, Chiun Kai, Jeff.... well the list goes on and on (and on and on).
In fact, for New Year's, I sent out 100 Thank You cards, to 100 friends: new friends, old friends, not really friends but supportive anyway, and anyone who said anything at all that enabled me to keep going.
Since then, I have literally met, or connected with online, hundreds, perhaps thousands of people who have said incredibly supportive things to me. About me. About SavvyAuntie.com. Or are just along for the ride.
Here's a blog comment that really humbled me today (and inspired this blog post) from a good Twitter friend: "A corporate twitter entity obviously needs to be transparent and (at times) engaging and personal, but we’re finding that challenging without a real “face” to the brand. @savvyauntie has done a great job of doing both, because essentially, the founder, Melanie (THE savvy auntie) is both. I think that really helps her followers engage with who and what she is. Kudos to her, she’s done a great job."
Thank you, Tyson. It's going in my Book.
And Thank You.
Yes. That one was for you. Because you read this blog. And that's something I am truly grateful for.
Don't worry. You're already in the Book.
I need a bigger Book.
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
So as I said in my first post, on June 12th, 2007, I woke up an entrepreneur.
The big idea is the easy part. Well, it's easy once you dream up the "big idea."
But now I had to start. Tap tap tap.... fingers on keyboard... tap tap tap.... sigh. Now I had to start.
Ah yes! A business plan! Isn't THAT what you are supposed to do? You have a big idea and then you sit down at a computer and you write 25 pages of "business plan" that takes weeks. Because You Need a Business Plan.
So I started a business plan. Got through about three paragraphs. Then I looked online for business plan writers. Which didn't make any sense. Because how can anyone know what you are planning?
So I wrote a fourth paragraph.
Then I read Ladies Who Launch: Embracing Entrepreneurship & Creativity As A Lifestyle, by Victoria Colligan & Beth Schoenfeldt with Amy Swift. And they said that some of the most successful women entrepreneurs never wrote a business plan. They said that women start businesses from the gut, not from an Excel spreadsheet, and that as more and more women start and thrive in their own businesses, the world needed to take a look at what makes these women successful. And it's not a business plan.
But then I had coffee (and the most amazing pastries) with my friend Michael, who is a genius and genuine, and he is a master of business plans. And he gave me an outline for a business plan. The outline was 25 pages. So I wrote about five.
And I never really wrote a full on business plan.
Here's the thing. If I ever need to raise major capital, I'll write one. Because those are the rules of the game. But I believe that as long as you have a basic outline of what you are going to do, why you are doing it, how you are going to do it, and how it will thrive, you'll be ok. For me, the important thing was to start my company rolling and not get mired in "the plan."
Which doesn't mean I don't have a plan. I have pages and pages now, and spreadsheets too. Numbers and data and more numbers and more data. And it changes. Just about every day. Because in technology, the most important thing to be is flexible. The second most important thing to be is focused. The business plan keeps you focused. But truly smart entrepreneurs, in my book, are flexible enough to go with the flow and keep learning and moving and learning and moving.
There is an old Jewish adage: We plan. God laughs.
I hope S/He's not laughing at me. Cause man, that would be a cruel joke.
Sunday, April 27, 2008
I got a call one Sunday morning at about 8AM. "We're in labor! We're on our way to the hospital!"
So I started planning. Not that I didn't have 9 months to plan. Not that I didn't shower my SIL with a maternity something or other (Ummm, do you have a bag that doesn't say "I Just Bought Something at a Maternity Store" on it? This is awkward. I have to walk around with this bag. I am not pregnant. Ummm hello?), and debate names with the parents-to-be (I did have opinions for better or worse, and I love the name they chose), and stared in awe at the sonogram pics (there's my little lima bean!)
But nothing had truly prepared me.
When you nominate yourself for the SavvyAuntie.com Beta program, you are encouraged to give us 250 characters as to why you are a Savvy Auntie. One 20-something New York City Auntie wrote:
"People always tell mothers that having children will change their lives but nobody tells the aunts that their lives will change too. I would do ANYTHING for my 3 nephews and niece. I love them more than I thought I could love anything or anyone."
Nothing prepared me for walking into the hospital room and seeing my brother, whom I have always loved, but now, at this moment, loved more deeply that I could have imagined, as he held his baby boy. A teeny tiny little boy - who all of a sudden looked exactly like my dear brother - would I have know him at one-hour. I cast my eyes on my baby nephew, my first. My generous SIL let me hold him, actually encouraged me to hold him, just a few minutes later. My emotions were so deep. Our mother had passed away a number of years before, and so I held him for her too. Grandmother and Aunt holding baby boy. "Nobody tells the aunts that their lives will change too." But my life had changed.
From that moment on, I become "Auntie Melanie." I wanted my nephew to know that I was not just a grown-up playmate who came to visit and play. I was his family. I was someone he could always depend on. Someone who would always be there for him. Someone who loved him without ever needing anything from him in return.
Poor kid. I didn't let it go. At too young an age, I explained to him that I was his daddy's sister; I was his family. I tried to make him repeat it, failing every time. And then one day, one random fall day, he turned to me at just 2 years and exclaimed, as if I didn't know myself: "Auntie Melanie! We're family!" That breakthrough moment was followed by a big hug. And the love we have shared from that moment on has been the greatest love of all (along with the love of his sisters.)
That night, I went home and wrote a little book called: "Auntie and Me - We are Family." It will be published one day soon. In the meantime, I was still a beauty executive: editor of a glossy magazine and running internet and intranet sites. I was too busy doing the corporate thing to focus on the children's book.
But when I left the corporate life in the winter of 2006, I refocused on the book. And then I saw a need for more than just a book (plus my potential agent said I needed a 'platform' - I needed to be 'somebody' - in order to get the book published) and I thought about an online community for Aunts. And then I did the research (to come in a later post) and said: "Whoa! I'm not the only one!"
That was June 2007. And here we are, as I am about to give birth to SavvyAuntie.com, and I am now an Auntie many times over - not just to my sibling's kids, but to everyone in my community who knows me as Auntie Melanie. And I am an entrepreneur.
Nothing prepares you to be an Auntie. I'm not sure there isn't much to prepare you to be an entrepreneur. But everything in my life has prepared me for this moment; right here and right now. Everything has prepared me to launch an online community in honor of my nephew and nieces and in celebration of everyone else's. This, right here, right now, is the proudest and happiest time of my life. And I am proud and so very happy, to have you, dear Readers, right here to experience it along with me.
At least that's the plan.
Friday, April 25, 2008
I love marketing books. Love. Like the feeling you get on a date when a very attractive person sits across from you, smiles back at you, and says with his eyes: "It's ok, I like you too." It's the kind of love that makes your heart pitter-patter and your brain dance the happy dance. Yup. I love marketing books. And for this love, there is no cure.
I love marketing books because they not only teach me, they embrace me. They enable me to live the best possible business life I can live. When I apply the thought-leadership in the books I study, I become more successful. I read them as a non-profit marketer (thank you Philip Kotler!), as an internet marketer, as a beauty executive, and now as an Auntrepreneur. I owe so much of my success to the men and women who have shared their knowledge with me through their books.
Still, I don't fall in love easily. Not every so-called "marketing book" is going to win my heart. But the courtship is fun. When I browse the new business books section at my local Barnes and Noble, my heart races for the opportunity of a new discovery. I want to find a new lover - one I want to take to bed with me and read by the soft light of my night table lamp. I want to find a book that impresses me with its intelligence, one that promises a better business life, one that I truly believe will love me back by making me giggle, inviting me to the next chapter and yes, making me feel that the world is full of opportunity.
And so I go to my bookstore....walk through the cool entrance way.... up the escalator....to the right... in nervous anticipation of what's to come. I gaze optimistically at the shelves - first at the front-facing newbies that BN, my matchmaker, has imagined I might like the most. Then, I lovingly touch the spines of the other books on the shelf... some old loves, some I have flirted with but never committed to.... and some begging for my attention. I enjoy the feeling of my hands on the cool glossy hardcover books with stunning typography etched out on the spine: "The New Rules of Marketing and PR," "Word of Mouth Marketing," and my latest love, "Groundswell."
I never fall out of love either. Classics live on, even as times change. Yesterday, a Twitter friend asked for guidance on some marketing books he could read to help him with a business idea. I Twittered back a listing of Al Ries classics. How can you call yourself a marketer and never have read one of Al Ries' books? Read them all! And then read these by Seth Godin. And then, if you want to be a true revolutionary marketer, meet my friend Guy Kawasaki.
My love affair with marketing books is a little one sided, after all. These guys talk talk talk and I listen listen listen. Sure, now that some of these books have blogs connected with them, I can comment here and there. But really, this has been a one-sided romance.
Until now. You see, I am now "social media friends" (or friends 2.0) with many of these authors. David Meerman Scott, whose "New Rules of Marketing and PR" I actually read twice, is someone I Follow on Twitter. Andy Sernovitz, whose "Word of Mouth Marketing" book is tabbed and bookmarked all over, is someone I Follow on Twitter. I Follow Seth Godin too, of course. And the Groundswell co-authors - Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff -and I have had some back and forth on Twitter following my sincere praise of their first book together (read: I hope there are more to come). But my strongest relationship is with Guy Kawasaki. All of these authors are major successes. And Guy.... Guy is a guru. And he connects with me! I am his reader. I have turned the pages of his books, read his blogs, followed his career, and he talks to me!
Recently, Guy Kawasaki launched a website called Alltop.com where he centralizes what he believes to be the best blogs on the Web, and categorizes them so that people searching for topics of interest can discover the perfect blog for them. I am proud - and deeply honored - that Guy has added my blog to Alltop.com in the "startups" section.
By featuring my blog and my startup on Alltop.com, Guy Kawasaki, in his own way, sits across from me, smiles at me, and says with his eyes: "It's ok. I like you too."
Now you know why I swoon.
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
I must apologize.
Yes, it's just my 4th, well actually my 5th, blog posting, and I am already apologizing. You see, dear Readers, I had to take down my 4th blog post entitled: A Picture is Worth...," by request of my siblings. I had included an image of a drawing that my niece had made for me, where I am wearing the most beautiful rainbow dress, and spoke about how that drawing means the world to me. But my siblings thought that by posting it, even without mentioning her name, it invaded her privacy. And so I respected their wishes and removed it.
Being an Auntie is the best job in the world. We fall in love with our nieces and nephews from the moment we see them for the first time. We want to give them the earth, moon and stars. We want to celebrate them. From the moment they are born, our life is bigger than ever we imagined it to be.
When I started my company - SavvyAuntie.com - it was an organic idea that came to me when I realized that there were no resources available for the modern, cosmopolitan aunt. I found it frustrating that I didn't know the words or tunes to basic kiddie songs. I learned about Dora the Explorer from my nieces when they were aged two. Bob the Builder? Different from Bob Vila, in case you were wondering. Ming Ming? Turns out she's a beloved Nickelodeon WonderPets character, not a Chinese dynasty.
I had changed diapers, but never at this rate. I had fed bottles, but never to one-day-old infants. I had given hugs and kisses, but never with all my heart. Now my life was filled with books, songs, games, toys, characters, movies, boo boos, tears, laughter, surprises, rashes, baths, disappointments, bigger issues I wont get into here, and love. Real, true, never-before-felt-anything-like-this love.
And so I set out to create a community online for Aunties like me. First it started out as a guide on how to be a Savvy Auntie to nieces and nephews of all ages. After all - what could be more wonderful than a community for Aunties learning about how to care for the kids in their lives, as well as a place to celebrate and love (and let's admit it, show off) their nieces and nephews? It would be a community full of joy and devotion. Along with Gift ideas, Activities and Expertise.
Naturally, within days of dreaming up the idea for SavvyAuntie.com, I began talking to Aunts. Lots of Aunts. First time Aunts. Aunts of adult kids. Aunties by choice (friends with mom/dad). Aunts of one. Aunts of twenty. Aunts next door. Aunts 5000 miles away. Aunts named Auntie, Mimi, Shishi, Gigi, or just her first name. Aunts who don't think they are good Aunts. Aunts who think they are uber Aunts. Guilty Aunts. Spoiling Aunts. Great Aunts. Cool Aunts. Dealing-with-the-parents'-divorce Aunts. Too-ill-to-play Aunts. Godmothers. Mommy Aunties. Married Aunties. Single Aunties. And Aunts more or less like me.
And yet, with all these differences, there was so much we all had in common. Being an Auntie, the truth is, is not just about the good stuff. It's not always giggles and swim goggles and Googling gift ideas. We all have to work within the rules of the family. "She wouldn't let me touch the baby for months!" cried one desperate Auntie. "They expect me to babysit all the time - but I want to go to a party and meet someone," exclaimed a single Auntie. "I never do the right thing. It's like they lost respect for my intelligence once they had kids because I don't have kids yet," said one Auntie. "They never visit me. I always have to travel to see them, which is getting expensive. It's like they hold the kids hostage," complained another Auntie.
Being an Auntie is about being part of a family or, if an Auntie by Choice, someone else's family. And I think we can all relate to the fact that "family" is not always easy. For that reason, SavvyAuntie.com will launch with a "Dear Savvy Auntie" column with actual psychologists, coaches and therapists to answer Aunties' questions and help Aunties cope. There are also Forums and Groups where Aunties can connect, support and empower each other. And each Auntie can start her own Blog - where she is free to write about any aspect of Aunt-hood she likes. (As long as it wont get her in trouble with her siblings, I suspect.)
I have been asked by my brother and SIL not to talk about the little ones in my family in this Blog or on SavvyAuntie.com. At first, I thought it put me in a bit of a predicament, understanding that as Founder and CEO of SavvyAuntie.com, I should be the leader and help all Aunties celebrate their special relationships with their nieces and nephews - sometimes by sharing my relationship with my own, even in generic terms. Now, after taking a day or two to think about it, I realize that the best leader I can be is to be an authentic one.
While I love my nieces and nephew to the nth degree, Aunt-hood has plenty of challenges. Just like motherhood comes with it's own. Just like marriage comes with it's own. Just like singlehood comes with its own. Just like family comes with it's own. It's not always "Hokey Pokey." But it's real. And that, my dear Readers, both as a CEO and as an Auntie, is all I can be.
PS - Aunties needing to cope - SavvyAuntie.com is launching soon. Sign up for the Beta Test so we can get your questions - and answers - in first!
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
For the first time, I am not spending the Passover Seders with my nephew and nieces.
It's not that I don't want to. They have been busy learning all the Passover songs and traditions and I am always so proud to see them perform them, just as I did when I was their age. The Passover Seder is specifically designed to keep children asking questions and participating. Some say it's this way to keep the adults interested as well. Seeing the wonderment in the children's faces as they discover the story of the Exodus from Egypt all over again, puts a fresh spin on a centuries-old story we ourselves have heard for decades now.
Those of us Aunts who don't have kids of our own are able to delight in our nieces' and nephews' new discoveries all the time - whether it's a brand new toy, a new activity, or new crafty creation of their own. Their constant asking of "why," over things we take for granted, is amazing. Their excitement is inspiring and their inexperience and naïveté make us recall a time when the world was simpler.
Aunties are fortunate that we are able to experience the world anew through the eyes of our nieces and nephews. Their first word, their first step, their first school play, their first goal, their first award... all make us feel a warm sense of nostalgia for our own discoveries and accomplishments. Their glow of pride and amazement is infectious. From their first peek-a-boo giggle, we're hooked.
I'm not spending the Seders with the kids this year because I love the idea of hosting my friends and sharing my own customs in my own home. But my nephew and nieces have taught me a lesson in wonderment. This Passover, I will learn new traditions from my guests. I will ask questions I never thought to ask. I will eat from unleavened bread and recall a time when I myself was not yet fully baked. This Passover, I will experience a sense of wonder. That way, the kids will be with me after all.
Sunday, April 13, 2008
I've been asked if I've always wanted to be an entrepreneur. "Always" is a long time, and I believe my first answer to the question: "What do you want to be when you grow up?" was probably "nurse." Or "teacher." Or whatever girls responded in kindergarten in the 1970's. (Asked the same question, one boy wanted to be an engineer just like his dad. I didn't know what that meant-- and I don't believe the boy did either -- but I felt slight envy for his more sophisticated response.)
In elementary school, I was determined to be a psychologist. Or a psychiatrist. I think I might have interchanged them without any reference of knowing which was what. "Why would you want to work with crazy people," a well-meaning great uncle asked. "They're not crazy," my 10-year old self responded somewhat defiantly. "They just have problems. I want to solve their problems."
But once I became a teenager, adults stopped asking me what I wanted to be when I grew up. Perhaps the question no longer resulted in "cute" responses from naive children. Or, perhaps they just had confidence that I would find my way. I like to believe the latter. Anyway, I knew I enjoyed drama and performed in plays and musicals at school and elsewhere, swooning over some of the leading men along the way. I knew I was a better writer than the majority of my classmates. And I knew I found design and typography interesting.
When I got to university, still no one bothered to ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, so I studied Japanese because it felt that if Sony were going to take over the world, I might as well speak the language. And I knew I wanted to go into marketing at some point, translating my fondness for the fonts I admired in ads into something "legitimate."
And yet despite the fact that my career life was quickly approaching, no one was asking me what I wanted to be when I grew up. So, I became a marketer. (My math scores would not ascend me to the sciences to become either a psychologist or a psychologist and my acting skills were probably not up to "becoming an actress" snuff.) My first major position, after I moved to New York from Montreal, was in non-profit marketing. I moved on to various for-profit marketing positions at New York Times Digital, American Express and L'Oreal. I had success-- reaching goals, winning awards and earning promotions. But I was never satisfied. There had to be "more." And along the way, my colleagues told me: "For you, there has to be more." And finally I started asking myself: "What do you want to be now that you're a grown up?"
In the meantime, from the mid-1990's, I had lofty fantasies of starting my own business. I wanted to open a "think tank" cafe, where I envisioned thick-black-rimmed-glasses-wearing-people sipping lattes over the latest Mac and discussing incubating ideas. Then, I wanted to manufacture chic tablecloths because I love to entertain and could never find something young, hip and sophisticated with which to dress my table.
I also read every issue of FastCompany and, for a while, kept the old issues until my small New York City apartment refused to cooperate with storage. I was bedazzled by modern job titles like: "Chairman of Fun" and "Chief Innovation Officer." I was intrigued by new media gurus like Seth Godin and was determined to give "Permission" to my consumers. I ate revolutionary marketing books for Sunday brunch and studied the people who were part of creating this new century of marketing, technology and new media.
I read books about entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship. At work, I was passionate about creating spectacular things from nothing at all. I wanted to be Built to Last.
Now that I am not quite 40, I have a new career: I solve people's problems. I seek out the spotlight. I'm a writer. I'm a marketer. I study best-practices. I connect with my gurus. And I have a plan. Seems I "always" had it. I am an Entrepreneur. Since you asked.
Thursday, April 10, 2008
On June 12, 2007, I woke up an "Entrepreneur."
Of course, I hadn't yet done anything productive, other than the 'waking-up' part, but I knew that this day would be the end of chasing corporate jobs I didn't want, and the beginning of taking charge of my life and my destiny. That foggy New York City day was the day I got on what I call my "Magic Carpet Ride:" my journey of learning, dreaming, coping and living life like never before. The wind is behind me and somehow I am managing to fly.
It's now ten months since that fateful day, and I am about to launch SavvyAuntie.com, the first online community for Aunts. Why Aunts? Well, women without children represent about 50% of the US population of women. (I'll give you more detailed data in another post). While mommies can be Aunties too, and I love and welcome them, it's these women in particular - women who love and adore their nieces and nephews and other kids in their lives - who deserve a community of their own to celebrate aunt-hood, get answers, find ideas and connect with other Savvy Aunties. It's Auntie's turn to shine.
It may not come as a surprise that I am an Auntie. I love my nephew and nieces with all my heart. And they are the inspiration for this company.
So, naturally, you'll learn a lot about my life as an Auntie here. But those who follow my story will also learn about what inspired me to start this company and how it was built, just about every step of the way. You'll also "meet" some of the amazing people who I've come to know on this journey (and many who have been there from the start). And, you'll get some insight into what it takes to build a business, a brand, and what I hope is true success. Once SavvyAuntie.com is launched, I'll continue to share my story with you so I can be as transparent with my dear Readers and Members as possible, and give you the inside-scoop of the company and the dreamer behind it.
I dedicate the SavvyAuntie.com Blog to you, dear Readers, the people who choose to join me on this journey. I also dedicate it to the hundreds of Aunties who have shared their thoughts, ideas and support from the beginning, as well as to the women and men who wake up every day as Entrepreneurs. And finally, I dedicate this Blog to my beautiful family, in particular, my nephew and nieces, who are the sun behind every day that I shine.
Today, April 10, 2008, I woke up an Auntrepreneur. This is my story.