“The sculpture is already complete within the marble block, before I start my work. It is already there, I just have to chisel away the superfluous material.” — Michelangelo
There I was again… staring at a metaphorical chunk of lifeless, intimidating marble. The same exact situation I was in 10 years ago.
An entrepreneur without an idea. A businessperson without a business.
Back to the Beginning
Back in 2010, I had successfully chiseled away at my block of marble to create Replacement Lens Express, the first and only woman-owned online eyeglass lens company in the world. Fast forward to April 2020; I was negotiating the sale of that company, and was starting to wonder who I would be without my business.
“Can I still call myself an entrepreneur if I don’t own a company?” So much of my sense of self was wrapped up in owning a business. I cried to a close friend about this impending, existential loss of self, to which he replied with a fantastically inspiring statement. “Are you kidding me? The only thing more badass than owning your own company is selling your own company!”
The more I sat in my artist’s chair, the less the marble intimidated me. I had done it before, and I knew I would do it again. My next company was somewhere inside of me, waiting to be discovered.
A New Approach
I got to work, but decided to work backwards this time. Rather than starting with an idea, I made a list of desired qualities and characteristics that this endeavor would embody. I didn’t know exactly what my next company was going to be, but I knew what it was not going to be. I even took it one step further and envisioned lying on my deathbed (morbid, I know!), reflecting on my legacy as an entrepreneur. Did I always stick to the same genre? Did I always run my companies the same way? Or did I have a wild variety of entrepreneurial experiences upon which I could fondly reminisce? All this introspection led me to realize, I wanted my next company to be drastically different than my last.
So I had to take a step back; what was Replacement Lens Express? And what should Newco be in contrast?
Also, RLE never made me the frontwoman. As a 27-year-old newbie, I felt like no one would take me seriously. So, I hid behind the scenes, hoping that customers would be dazzled by my website, products, and services, and assume they were purchasing lenses from an older, more experienced businessman. I was also keeping my side gig somewhat hidden from my corporate day job (I’ll speak more to that in future journal articles). Newco would put me front and center. Over the years I have participated in many public speaking events and interactive workshops with young business minds, and I began to pick up on a common theme: the repeated advice that I should be the public face of my company. Newco would be my chance to make that happen (along with my yet-to-be-named business partner, of course).
So, there I was, staring at a list of aspirational qualities, duct-taped to my slab of marble. And then like magic, the stars aligned, and the universe fed the idea to me.
The Marble Becomes Art
My epiphany was the perfect celestial storm of two major things:
(1) The current state of the economy. The financial markets were tanking due to this little thing called the coronavirus. No one really knew what it was, but they knew that they wanted all their money back. As the newest recipient of some cash from the sale of RLE, I wanted to invest while the market was at a 9% dip. But due to my philosophy that I should stick with what I’m good at and outsource the rest, I started to reach out for guidance. I really enjoy crowdsourcing for advice (aka texting a bunch of my friends) and a colleague sent me a life-changing text message. “You’re going to laugh, you’re going to think this is silly, but I invest my money with ElleVest.” I had never heard of them, but after looking them up, I learned that they focus on financial solutions for women.
This inspired: my niche. I loved the idea of helping women and knew it would satisfy my need for greater fulfillment and purpose.
(2) I was killing it as a negotiator. I was in the midst of negotiating a $10M deal for my day job, and I was absolutely crushing it. In the end, I saved the company almost half of the entire contract value and a little voice in my said, “Damn girl! You are SO good at your job!”
This inspired: my offering. This giant corporation has enough work for 100 negotiators, but what about small companies? They could certainly benefit from the same help, but they may not have the resources to hire full-time negotiators. What if I could act as an extension of someone’s business, coming in to negotiate deals on an ad hoc basis?
Alright, so I’d found my niche (by women for women) and my actual product/service (negotiating) – next up was my partner. “Can I work with you?” asked my doe-eyed husband. I smiled, kindly touched him on the wrist and said, “you can help me brainstorm a list of my most fantastic lady-friends.” After the list grew, and shrunk, the obvious choice popped right out at me: Julia. A fellow CT mom who has been alongside me on many a “Mom’s Nights Out,” she also happened to work for the same company I did. Not only that, she was the one who had completely rebranded RLE while still under my control. In fact, she was so awesome at refreshing my brand and developing my new logo that it flew off the shelf and wasn’t even mine anymore! Last year when I told her that I would no longer be needing her services for RLE because I was selling it, her response was, “That’s awesome, congrats! Make sure to include me on the next great thing you do!”
A Friend Becomes a Partner
Late that Saturday night, I put together my sales pitch and gave it to Julia by way of an informal, pajama-clad Facetime call. I talked excitedly for 99% of the time, and she used up 1% of her time to say “Yes,” and the rest is history.
Just as Newco is the stark inverse to RLE, Julia and I are also quite different. I’m a big-picture thinker, while Julia is very detail oriented. I pride myself on speed to action, while Julia has a slower, more deliberate pace of work. I’m a strong extrovert, while Julia identifies as more of an introvert. My brain gets energized by science, while Julia is more artistic. I’m brunette, she’s blonde. (I’m also pretty sure we have opposing political affiliations, but we won’t go there…) What more can I say? We are perfectly complementary, the ying to each other’s yang, and that’s exactly what I was looking for. I hung up from our Facetime chat with (1) a legally binding “thumbs-up” screenshot of Julia agreeing to take over the world with me and (2) an increased business scope. After all, why only have Newco focus on negotiations when we could also use Julia’s huge branding and marketing brain?
While Julia got to work strategically constructing our company name and formulating our color palette (time: 3 weeks, 3 days), I set to work founding the LLC (time: 2 minutes and 49 seconds). Check out Julia’s separate journal article outlining her process; but long story short, Smashe was born.
Let’s Smashe the Glass Ceiling
Julia and I have huge ambitions for Smashe Consulting. As smart women for smart businesses, our mission is to help professionals achieve their business goals. Whether we’re assisting with a difficult negotiation, repositioning your current business for growth, or helping to turn your dream into a reality, we’ve got your back. We simply want to rub elbows and hang out with like-minded business owners. This company is a passion project for both of us, and we are going to pour our hearts and souls into it.
And at the core of Smashe is the ultimate goal of expanding opportunities for women in business. Through our website and social channels, we want to drive more conversations around the current state of affairs for women in business. (I have an entire slew of disturbing statistics on female negotiators, but I will save that for a different day.) We want to find meaning and help to create meaning. This is not about money anymore. This is about doing something. About making something happen. Let’s Smashe the glass ceiling…together.