There’s no step-by-step playbook for starting a new business. Going from corporate life to entrepreneurs was certainly not easy and we are still learning new things every day. There is only so much you can research online but actually doing it is when the learning begins. We knew we had a great concept and that we are capable of creating amazing weddings and events for our clients, but the start-up side was a bit foreign to us. All the nuances of the business and knowing the next steps to take definitely took a lot more trial and error than we expected!
The COVID19 pandemic has disrupted all of our lives. But sometimes disruptions can be times of opportunity. Many people’s livelihoods have been hurt by the pandemic. But some saw this as an opportune time to take their lives in a new direction.
As a part of this series called “How I Was Able To Pivot To A New Exciting Opportunity Because Of The Pandemic”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kelly Francis of Thirty4thStreet Productions.
Thirty4thStreet Productions is a premier event planning company specializing in turnkey micro weddings and celebrations, specifically providing full-scale event planning and day of execution. Their mission is to bring people together, no matter the distance. They combine years of event planning experience with live streaming technology to allow our clients to share their special moments with loved ones near and far. Check out what they’ve been up to at t4sproductions.com!
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
Thirty4thStreet Productions is made up of three women from different backgrounds and upbringings. I’m Kelly, our Chief Inspiration Officer. I was born in New York but grew up in London where I completed all of my schooling. I come from a large family with 4 sisters and 1 brother. Cleary girls rule in my house. As a child I always loved the idea of giving back and being able to do something nice for others. I thought for sure I would be a child Psychologist. As it turns out, I had a knack for events and planning and started out in the industry helping my best friend host events after high school.
Rafaela is our Brand Architect & Marketing Trailblazer. She was born and raised in New York City and is the eldest of three. As a child, she spent her time reading & writing short stories and entertaining her family with her plays. Her parents thought she would make the perfect attorney since she always convinced them to sway her way. She was preparing for law school when she realized it wasn’t her calling. She needed her career to be focused around the arts and turned back to storytelling. This time, she focused on translating her storytelling skills to marketing specifically social media. Now, she is proud to focus her skills on building the Thirty4thStreet Productions brand.
Shannon is our in-house Designer of Possibilities. She is from Pennsylvania and is the youngest of three. As a child she loved art but her family was extremely business oriented. This made it very conflicting to narrow down a dream career as half of her wanted to be a CEO and the other half wanted to paint by the beach all day for a living. Now she’s so thrilled to be both her own boss and have the ability to be creative every day through event planning and graphic design. And, she still finds time to paint too!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
As a company our favorite quote is “The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.” — Walt Disney
We are all doers and thrive in a fast-paced environment. We don’t just talk about what we want, we take action. And for our clients that means creating work that is as close to perfection as we can get. We do our best to ensure our clients always get above and beyond what they could have ever imagined.
As I’m sure is true for many others, this pandemic has taught us that life is short and nothing is promised. You have to take action and create opportunities where you can.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
I recently read the Drew Barrymore interview in Entrepreneur magazine, this article resonated with me and our business so much. Not only is Drew Barrymore an actress but she is also an entrepreneur. She says “good business is choosing good partners” and I couldn’t agree more. Myself, Shannon and Rafaela work so well together, we each have our strengths and we wouldn’t be able to do this business without each other.
It’s hard starting out a new business and navigating uncharted territory. It takes you out of your comfort zone and makes you doubt and question yourself almost daily. I think we can all say we are grateful to have each other to lean on when we are having a bad day, need a little creative inspiration or just need someone to send some encouragement our way.
For example, a few months ago we planned and organized a backyard micro wedding for a lovely couple. Everything was set and ready to go, but on the big day there was torrential downpour and high winds. We had prepared for this just in case, but there is nothing like setting up an outdoor wedding in the pouring rain during a pandemic. Plus, having the added pressure of an on-time start with over 100 guests waiting to virtually witness the couples union. This day made me appreciate my partners more than ever. We work hard, hold the same values and ethics and we push each other to ensure we are giving our clients the best we can give them, even in the pouring rain. Good partners are essential to a successful business and this article reinforced that for me.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before the Pandemic began?
The three of us first met while working as event planners for a major retailer in New York City. There, we focused primarily on creating experiential events to drive sales and create brand affinity. Working for a large corporation gave us the foundation we needed to go out on our own and become entrepreneurs. During our time at this company, we were afforded the opportunity to work with major brands and celebrity talent. Plus, we had the opportunity to develop key relationships with talented vendors in the industry, many of whom have become close friends and go-to vendors for many of our clients. Shannon and Rafaela moved on from the retailer a few years ago, but were both still working in events and marketing before the pandemic began.
What did you do to pivot as a result of the Pandemic?
After the pandemic hit, we were all laid off from our jobs at the same time and felt a driving force to work together again. We wanted to take our event planning skills and use them with an innovative idea that would bring joy back into people’s lives during a dark time. We really care about our clients and do everything we can to provide them with a positive experience, understanding that everyone is struggling right now.
Can you tell us about the specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path?
After events and weddings were being cancelled all over the country due to the new restrictions and guidelines, we recognized a glaring need for virtual event planners. We were already experts in event planning and also happened to be extremely tech savvy. We had already started working on new and virtual event strategies for events in our personal lives. This is when we had our “aha moment” to cater to the individuals whose events were disrupted and really needed help navigating the new world we were living in, whether it meant downsizing and live streaming or going completely virtual. We wanted to make things as simple and easy as possible by creating a one-stop-shop for our clients.
How are things going with this new initiative?
Offering live streaming services combined with event planning was the best decision we could have made. Our clients find that traditional event planners are not always tech savvy enough to handle the virtual piece, and AV companies are often very pricey and haven’t adjusted their offerings to help with exactly what our clients need. By combining these two elements we are able to offer our clients knowledgeable event planning assistance as well as high quality live streaming all in one place. We find it very important to treat the live stream portion as more than just a video and create an experience for our clients’ virtual guests. We do this by including slideshows, music and even pre-recorded videos from their loved ones.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I think we can all collectively say we are most grateful for our grandmothers. Each of us have a special bond with our grandmothers and grew up very close to them. My grandmother taught me to think like a business woman from an early age and to go for what I want in life. She would always say “you need to be business minded” and I’ve carried this with me.
Unfortunately, both Shannon and Rafaela lost their grandmas this past year. Rafaela learned to be independent and think like an entrepreneur from her grandmother who was a single mother that had her own dressmaking and tailoring shop in Peru. Shannon’s grandmother threw the best parties! She taught Shannon everything she needed to know about how to set a table, plan a meal and entertain her guests all while wearing the best outfit to make a great impression. They are both grateful for the lessons they learned from their grandmothers and for the time they got to spend with them. We would not be the strong women entrepreneurs we are today without the influence of our grandmothers in our lives.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?
The most exciting event we’ve had the opportunity to plan so far was our co founder Shannon’s 30th birthday party, which turned out to be a surprise engagement party! With Covid restrictions, Shannon wanted to find a fun yet safe way to celebrate her 30th birthday. We had the idea of a fancy dinner party and we pulled out all the stops. We created formal invitations, asked everyone to dress up and set a table fit for royalty. With the perfect setting, her now fiance jumped on the opportunity to pop the question in front of her closest friends and family. It was a very exciting and rewarding event that we are thankful to have had the honor to plan.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- There’s no step-by-step playbook for starting a new business. Going from corporate life to entrepreneurs was certainly not easy and we are still learning new things every day. There is only so much you can research online but actually doing it is when the learning begins. We knew we had a great concept and that we are capable of creating amazing weddings and events for our clients, but the start-up side was a bit foreign to us. All the nuances of the business and knowing the next steps to take definitely took a lot more trial and error than we expected!
- Invest in the best from the beginning. As a new business, we were definitely nervous to invest in expensive technology. However, when half of your business is centered around technology, it’s really important to have the best! When we did our first few events, we did what we could with what we had and I think we can all agree we wish we would have just splurged upfront. Those first events were the only representation we had to show the world what we could do and I think we would have gotten further faster if we were producing at the quality we are now.
- Never stop innovating. When we first started out, we had a strong idea of who we wanted to be and how we wanted to present ourselves. There was a bit of resistance up front when we started to transform beyond this vision that we first had. However, we quickly learned that change is good and we needed to embrace our new ideas and act quickly on them. If I tell you we’ve changed our website over 50 times I don’t think I would be exaggerating! But we know of so many businesses who don’t take the time to update their virtual presence and their businesses suffer severely from it. We want to embrace change and if we fail we fail fast and keep moving forward.
- Focus on the bigger picture. When we were first starting out I got ordained in order to be able to officiate weddings during the pandemic, given that there were so many restrictions in place. I wanted to ensure we kept exposure for ourselves and clients to a minimum. I spent so much time trying to create the perfect script for our very first client. I was focusing on the wrong things when I should have been focusing on the bigger picture and setting the scene for the couple. Once I realized their vows to each other were what would really stand out and shine, I was able to take a step back and create an impactful script tailored just for them and their love. This is when everything started to fall in place.
- There are no days off. As entrepreneurs, we are solely making this business thrive. Without any action from us, there is no growth. It can be both exhausting and overwhelming at times, but when we reach a new milestone it’s always worth it.
So many of us have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. Can you share the strategies that you have used to optimize your mental wellness during this stressful period?
The one thing that has helped us the most during this time is taking time to really celebrate our business and our clients. Seeing our clients persevere through these difficult times has given us hope that there is light at the end of the tunnel. It has reminded us that we can still celebrate major milestones in life, even if it looks a bit different.
Staying connected with family and friends has been a major part of our sanity as well. The blessing of working from home and on our own schedule is that we are each able to mold the job around our lifestyles so that we can stay connected to what grounds us while also being productive in our business.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
If we had the opportunity, we would do our best to inspire everyone to focus more on love and quality time rather than Instagram photos. If there’s anything we’ve learned through this venture, it’s that the honest and real moments are what matter most. Don’t get me wrong, we absolutely love an extravagant event! But it’s our clients who bring us the most joy.
When most people picture their wedding, they imagine every detail being stunning and just right. When our client’s dreams were shattered by new restrictions, they can all attest to being devastated at first. Their picture-perfect wedding was no longer a possibility, and after a lot of thought they realized they were now forced to choose between love and vanity. To our delight and theirs, love always won. Even though they couldn’t have the extravagant venue and fancy decor, they had love and togetherness that couldn’t be stopped. After all was said and done, all of our clients will tell you that they are very grateful to have had the opportunity to scale back and be able to focus on what really mattered on their big day. But don’t worry, we still look forward to planning their big reception in the coming years so all of their fancy wedding dreams can still come true!
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!
We would all absolutely love to have lunch with Michelle Obama. She’s such a strong and inspiring woman that has a great sense of humor and is also extremely graceful and we really admire that. She created her own story line instead of taking a back seat and sitting in the shadows of her husband, as first ladies are often expected to do. She used her platform for good and inspired women and girls across the world to follow their dreams and that regardless of race or gender they can do great things.
How can our readers follow you online?
You can find us on Instagram @t4sproductions and on Facebook at Thirty4thStreet Productions.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!