Identify your strengths and learn to delegate. Hire your dream team One of the most important things of running a business is learning when to let others lead. Just because it was your idea, or you’ve run your company to a certain point doesn’t mean you’re the most knowledgeable about all the pieces needed to make your business successful. Learn your strengths and stick to them — then hire people with the specific and expertise skills to fill the gaps in between.
As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Alyssa Kuchta.
Alyssa Kuchta is the founder and CEO of f.y.b jewelry, a Brooklyn-based company that brings blissful moments to life through meaningful design, and empowers the pursuit of creative passions. Alyssa first launched f.y.b in 2011 and has since grown the brand to encompass a network of 400+ nationwide retail partners, hundreds of brand ambassadors, and a thriving mentorship program for emerging creatives. Alyssa’s first book, Follow Your Bliss: Wisdom from Inspiring Women to Help You Find Purpose and Joy” is set to launch with Quarto Publishing in October of 2021.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I started my company in college while a student at the University of Delaware. I was majoring in Psychology and decided halfway through my college career that this wasn’t a path I wanted to pursue after graduating. I felt an intense creative void and was lost as to what I truly wanted to do with my life. So, in my junior year, I took a step back and started to assess my passions and interests. I got more involved in organizations on campus that fulfilled me from my sorority, volunteering for Habitat for Humanity, joining the Venture Development Center, and joining the board of Students for Haiti. I also picked up more hours at my part-time job at a local boutique. These experiences helped me realize my passions for small business, design, giving back, and fostering a positive female community. My initial inspiration for f.y.b. jewelry came when I realized that creating an accessories brand focused on empowering women and girls would combine these passions. This lightbulb moment stirred excitement and a fire within me that I had never felt before.
I created my first collection in my college apartment, launched a Facebook page to start promoting my pieces, and hosted my first trunk shows with my sorority sisters on campus. The positive response and support I had early on from friends and family, along with the resources and mentorship I had through the Venture Development Center (UD’s entrepreneurship club, now known as the Horn Program), gave me the confidence and opportunities to really support my dream. I chose to name my brand “f.y.b” for “follow your bliss” as it really captured what I felt I had done by listening to my gut and following my passion. The name represents our ethos and mission as a company to inspire others to do the same. Upon graduating in 2012, I decided to pursue my company full throttle. I exhibited at tons of pop-up events and trade shows and traveled to college campuses to recruit campus ambassadors. Year after year, we grew our team and our business.
This month marks our 10th year in business! Today, we have a showroom in Brooklyn, sell to hundreds of nation-wide retail partners, have a growing team of 30 people we work with, and I’m publishing a book, also named “Follow Your Bliss” this October that shares advice and stories from 60 incredible women who are role models of what it means to embrace our mission. My journey has been filled with lots of ups and downs, learning, growing, and changing in every sense personally and professionally. And looking back, I wouldn’t change my decision to take a leap and trust in myself for anything.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
The most interesting thing to me is just how many doors and opportunities opened when I decided to take a chance on myself, from retailers I had dreamt of working with now becoming some of our core customers, and being asked to speak on panels with other incredible founders, to the opportunity to publish my own book. When you’re passionate about something, you truly rally other people to believe in it too and that’s something I always try to embed in our college mentees.
Quarto Publishing approached me in 2019 about bringing my mission and story to life through a book. Being able to write from my heart and interview other amazing women to share the biggest lessons they learned throughout their careers has been the opportunity of a lifetime. Thinking back to my 20-year-old self who was just launching f.y.b and unsure of where it would lead,makes me super proud to be where we are today.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
There were tons of mistakes and lessons I had to learn the hard way from when I was first starting out. If I have to think of one in particular that was a huge source of headache, it would be not having a proper inventory management system in place early on. I remember keeping inventory levels tracked in a notebook — which was never accurate (especially when I had more than one sales channel!) and led to a lot of issues as you can imagine. I did a lot of things the hard way and made things more complicated for myself. Looking back, I honestly laugh at myself because what was I thinking? Technology is our friend!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. 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’m so grateful to have had amazing mentors to guide me. One mentor, in particular, is my dear friend Jordan Jollon. We connected through the UD Alumni network back in 2013 when I was at a crossroads with the company and feeling unsure of myself, and she came into my life at just the right time. We met for coffee several times a month and she helped me with everything from properly pricing my collections, creating my first line sheets, helping me set up my first trade show booth at the NY Accessories show, creating a strategic plan for growth to connecting me with others. Her belief in me, grew my belief in me, and I can’t imagine getting through those early years without her love and support.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?
In my opinion, a lot of it comes down to self-confidence and asking for what they deserve. Because of institutionalized bias, men tend not to struggle as much with confidently talking about their pursuits, asking for a raise, or raising capital. They don’t question themselves as much, where women tend to need approval from others to believe in themselves and their ideas and compare themselves with others constantly. The mental block of feeling undeserving, bossy, or narcissistic has to shift into feeling empowered and worthy. The system needs to be more supportive of having women in power, and women need to claim that power, feel less intimidated around financial conversations, and focus more on what they bring to the table.
Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?
Historically, women have not been valued equally in the workspace. Issues such as pay inequality, #metoo, and hiring bias, and board representation have perpetuated obstacles as well as feelings of inadequacy amongst female-identifying professionals. As a society we need to integrate more infrastructure that protects and supports women. On a community-level we need to offer programs and education that empower women and as individuals we need to challenge ourselves to step into our power and play our part in lifting other women up. At f.y.b, we are proud to have a mentorship program that connects emerging creatives with seasoned professionals for guidance, connections, and support. My hope is that our book, “Follow Your Bliss”, can offer a sense of guidance and community for those without the opportunity for in-person mentorship as well.
This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?
In order to empower the next generation of female leaders, we need to show them what’s possible, and we can do that by leading by example. Not to mention, according to the non-profit 50/50 Women on Boards companies with gender-balanced and diverse boards are more profitable and productive, and the workforce is better engaged. Nonetheless in 2021, female-founded start-ups received just 2.3% of all venture funding, showing that female leadership is still not being valued despite the evident benefits of having women in charge. If we want to support the economy, support our communities, and help shape the world for the better, we need diversity across our corporate leadership. Having more female founders in the mix, will help to level the playing ground, and introduce new perspectives, findings, and ideas that appeal to a broader demographic than what’s been at play.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?
I think one of the biggest myths about being a founder is that it’s “glamorous”. Our culture has celebrated being a “girl boss” in a beautiful way but it’s also created unrealistic expectations and glamorized it to a point where it can be difficult to share our vulnerabilities and the hardships that we go through. There’s pressure to constantly share your growth and success, as being vocal about the failures can make you feel like you’re falling behind others in the competitive space. It actually feels isolating more often than not as not everyone can truly relate to the pressure and anxiety you go through when you’re the face of a company.
When I first started f.y.b, I remember being really intimidated by other female founders, feeling like their success was so out of reach. But over the past 10 years, I’ve met countless founders and one thing I can tell you is that they are some of the most accessible and honest about the ups and downs of their journeys. Being a founder takes guts, but more than that it’s also being transparent with where you are having a hard time within your company. Talking to other founders can be one of the best ways of growing. Overcoming my own anxiety around where I am with my company has been one of my biggest challenges through the years. When I find myself comparing with others, I redirect my attention to how far I’ve come instead, and only compare myself with myself.
Looking back, I wish I would’ve been less intimidated and viewed us all more as mutually beneficial mentors, and not as less then. We all reach our success and milestones when the timing is right, I truly believe that.
Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?
“Grit” is a book by Angela Duckworth where she explains how the power of passion and perseverance are the biggest determiners of success, and I couldn’t agree more. You have to have grit and an unwavering belief in yourself and your ideas. You should only become a founder if you are truly passionate about your business concept, and in it for the right reasons. When you are propelled by your “why”, by your mission, by your vision, and an intense grit to succeed — you can overcome the inevitable hardships and obstacles with a greater determination than if you started a business just for financial gain.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, what are the “Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder?” (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. Know your “why”. In order to be successful in business, you need to be working towards a purpose. Knowing your why and staying true to it will help you prioritize your goals and stay on course.
2. Build your circle — network, network, network. You never know who can help you, who you can collaborate with, or who you can support through your business endeavors. The more people you meet within your professional realm, the more opportunities you’ll have to both learn and grow.
3. Identify your strengths and learn to delegate. Hire your dream team One of the most important things of running a business is learning when to let others lead. Just because it was your idea, or you’ve run your company to a certain point doesn’t mean you’re the most knowledgeable about all the pieces needed to make your business successful. Learn your strengths and stick to them — then hire people with the specific and expertise skills to fill the gaps in between.
4. Social good — what change are you trying to create in the world? I believe that how you spend your days is how you spend your life. If your business exists just to make a profit, chances are you won’t be fulfilled. Think about how you can use the platform you’ve created and the profit you make to make a difference in return.
5. Throw self-doubt out the window If you don’t you don’t believe in yourself, why should anyone else believe in you? Trust in yourself and lead with confidence and you’ll find others will follow suit.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
The mission of my company is to inspire and empower people everywhere, especially women and girls to “follow their bliss”. We do this through our ambassador program, focused on mentorship and skill-set building for college women, through the positive community we’re building through our social channels, and through our meaningful pieces that come packaged with messages like “you’ve got this” and “perseverance”. It’s been so rewarding through the years to be able to make an impact for the women who join our program, as their experience with f.y.b has been a launching pad — giving them the network, confidence, and experience to prepare them for their next internship or job role.
Through my book, “Follow your Bliss” (available for pre-order now!) I hope to further inspire and empower others through the advice and stories shared to know that they are not alone in whatever they are going through and that there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to success. It’s up to them to decide who they are and believe they are worthy of defining their own path.
My greatest hope is that our brand feels like the big sister or friend you wish you had, that encourages and uplifts you to believe more in yourself and that your dreams are attainable
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I would continue to build out my network of mentorship to help provide opportunities for people to both understand as well as to fulfill their potential. There are so many people around the world with incredible ideas and endless dreams, and all they need is the encouragement and support for them to become a reality. As an Asian American designer, it’s also incredibly important to me that this mentorship extends to vulnerable communities, and is both inclusive and uplifting to all people no matter where they come from and what stage they are at in life.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
It’s so hard for me to narrow down to just one person because there are so many people who have inspired my journey! But I would say I’d love to meet Marie Forleo and tell her in person how much her B-School program (which I signed up for in 2013 when I was just starting out) helped me grow my business. Her advice is always action oriented and relatable and she helped me think about my business in new ways and find more confidence in my work.
I also really admire Olivia Munn’s advocacy work for the AAPI community, using her platform to raise awareness for all of the anti-asian hate crimes that have occurred since the pandemic. She’s inspired me to use my voice more and share about my own experiences, as well as get involved with AAPI organizations. As a fellow bi-racial Chinese American, I feel like we would have deep conversations to relate to on our childhood, identity, and the impact having an immigrant mother had on us as individuals.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.