Don’t dwell on failures. Failures are stepping stones to success. A “NO” is just a way of saying “How can I do better”? How many of us have had failures! Learn from those failures.
Many successful people reinvented themselves in a later period in their life. Jeff Bezos worked in Wall Street before he reinvented himself and started Amazon. Sara Blakely sold office supplies before she started Spanx. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was a WWE wrestler before he became a successful actor and filmmaker. Arnold Schwarzenegger went from a bodybuilder, to an actor to a Governor. McDonald’s founder Ray Croc was a milkshake-device salesman before starting the McDonalds franchise in his 50’s.
How does one reinvent themselves? What hurdles have to be overcome to take life in a new direction? How do you overcome those challenges? How do you ignore the naysayers? How do you push through the paralyzing fear?
In this series called “Second Chapters; How I Reinvented Myself In The Second Chapter Of My Life “ we are interviewing successful people who reinvented themselves in a second chapter in life, to share their story and help empower others.
As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Connie Inukai.
Connie Inukai retired from teaching Technical Writing at the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins University for almost four decades. For her “second act”, she became an inventor, a “Grandmapreneur,” an author (“How I got My Product on QVC, The Today Show, The View, and More…In Retirement”), a speaker, and a caregiver to two young grandchildren. She is now working on her “third act” as the creator of Write Your Selfie, a program to help people write their life story in pictures.
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?
I graduated from high school in the late 60s and my most important objective in going to college was landing a career where I wouldn’t have to live paycheck to paycheck. Growing up, my parents were divorced so money was always a concern. I became a French major in college and also speak Spanish, and some Hebrew and Japanese. I wanted to become an interpreter at the United Nations until I found out that interpreters usually spoke about nine languages fluently. I then decided to become English as a Second Language teacher because I was fluent in English! I eventually got an M.A. in Linguistics from Columbia University. After teaching ESL for ten years, I began teaching Technical Writing for 40+ years at Columbia University, Hunter College, University of Maryland, and Johns Hopkins University.
At age 68, I retired from teaching and became an inventor.
At the time, I knew very little about business but after retirement, figured that was the path I would follow.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Working HARD for something we don’t care about is called STRESS. Working HARD for something we LOVE is called PASSION.” — Simon Sinek
You have been blessed with much success. In your opinion, what are the top three qualities that you possess that have helped you accomplish so much? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
For this question, I will answer with an article that was written about me last year in Vista Today magazine.
Vista Today, May 27, 2020 — by Jennifer Leonard
First-time entrepreneur Connie Inukai, 72, knew impressing QVC would be an enormous challenge. The retail giant sees more than 10,000 vendor applications a year, and only about 500 get the greenlight to appear on its TV channels and digital platforms. But Inukai, inventor of the Tip ‘n Split, says there are three qualities that put her over the top:
In 2014, Inukai took her product idea to an INPEX trade show for inventors in Pittsburgh, Pa. There, she met representatives from QVC searching for new sellers. “I told them I was so sorry, but I only have pictures. Here’s what my product is and what it does,” she recalls. They were interested, but couldn’t move forward without seeing more. “It was disappointing. But when the woman in charge told me to come back with a prototype, I knew I would take her advice. I don’t give up too easily.” The following year, she met the same reps again, and this time it was a yes. In fact, they loved the Tip ‘n Split so much that Inukai was on-air six months later.
“QVC hosts have a lot of personality,” says Inukai. “They are so good at what they do.” Concerned that she couldn’t match their big personas, and that it would hurt her chances of getting on-air, she decided to amplify what she did have: Friendliness and relatability. It turns out, “they are just as important on QVC,” she says. Without realizing it, Inukai had honed in on a huge part of the retailer’s success formula: The backyard-fence chat, where on-air interactions are meant to feel like a casual talk between neighbors.
When Inukai and her friends started struggling to see dinner menus in darkened restaurants, she knew there had to be a way to solve the problem. “People assume you don’t do much at my age, but that is not in my DNA,” she says. Born from personal experience, the Tip ‘n Split became a passion project, something that clearly comes through as she discusses it. “I get so excited, and QVC loved that,” she says. “They knew I genuinely believed in my product.”
“Getting on QVC was my big start,” says Inukai, who later appeared on NBC’s “Today” and ABC’s “The View”. She feels her success as a salesperson never would have happened had she not showcased these all-important qualities, which first caught the eye of QVC.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about ‘Second Chapters’. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before your Second Chapter?
I haven’t always been an entrepreneur. Far from it! For decades, I worked as a writing professor at the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins University. At age 68, I put away those papers that I had been grading into the wee hours of the morning.
When I retired, I thought that was it — that I would leave my work behind and sit tight. But I couldn’t have been more wrong.
And how did you “reinvent yourself” in your Second Chapter?
For my Second Chapter, I have become an inventor, speaker, author, and “Grandmapreneur.” I have obtained one patent and three trademarks, set up a company, figured out how to monetize first my invention, Tip ‘n Split, and then my second business, Write Your Selfie. I started working on Write Your Selfie during the pandemic because I wanted to work on something that I could do without leaving the house. I am now helping others write their life story…in pictures and captions, and am having a truly rewarding Second Chapter.
If you are not excited about your work, I am a big fan of finding something you truly enjoy.
Can you tell us about the specific trigger that made you decide that you were going to “take the plunge” and make your huge transition?
I used to go out to eat with friend and none of us could read the small print on the menu or bill, especially in dimly lit restaurants. We passed around reading glasses and a flashlight. I thought “There must be a better way!” So I went home and started drawing pictures of a device with a magnifier and light…that didn’t need Wi-Fi. People my age don’t like to use a smartphone in a restaurant; we’d much rather keep the conversation going. I then added a calculating function to figure out a tip and split the bill in seconds. Although we can all do the math, after a few drinks, it might be challenging.
I was ready to retire from teaching at 68 because I wanted the time to become first an inventor and then an entrepreneur. I had never been an inventor, but with my newly deserved free time, I learned.
As my second chapter continued, I kept learning and reinventing. During the pandemic, I rarely left the house, so I went through photo albums and decided to write my life story (in pictures and captions) and use my writing and teaching skills from being a university writing teacher to start my company, Write Your Selfie, where I help others write their story.
What did you do to discover that you had a new skillset inside of you that you haven’t been maximizing? How did you find that and how did you ultimately overcome the barriers to help manifest those powers?
Barriers were time, resources, and wondering if I would actually become a successful business person.
Although I was retired, time was limited because I make my grandchildren a priority. I have spent most days caring for two young grandchildren; thus, the name “Grandmapreneur.” I have had no investors, so money has to be spent cautiously. I am not great with accounting, so I hired an accountant who is aware of my skills (or lack of them). As for becoming a successful business person, I have to say “Yes.” Success means I am happy and accomplishing my goals.
I had no idea how to make my invention work from paper to actual product. Luckily, my former husband is brilliant with math and engineering and transformed my idea for Tip ‘n Split from paper into a working product! So, although conceiving algorithms is not my skillset, I was able to use his!
I knew nothing about the whole process of inventing, so I joined Facebook groups, e.g. Instapreneur Mastermind, and learned all the nuts and bolts of the inventing journey.
How are things going with this new initiative? We would love to hear some specific examples or stories.
Tip ‘n Split was featured on various news outlets, so I wrote a book, “How I Got My Product on QVC, The Today Show, The View, and More…In Retirement.” The book sells on Amazon, but I often give it away to other inventors.
Write Your Selfie was featured in Woman’s World Magazine and Brand Ambassador Select and on numerous podcasts.
I am now an advocate for retirees. I wrote articles for Thrive Global, Authority Magazine, Fem Founders, and Entrepreneur Magazine. All my articles focus on helping other retirees to find their passion.
I also became a speaker and podcast presenter on more than 15 venues.
My new project is also for seniors. During the pandemic, I decided to write my life story to pass down to my three children and six grandchildren. I am now helping others to write their life own stories in as little as one month. My new passion project is called “Write Your Selfie.”
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 met Shelly Berman-Rubera at a local networking event. I had never had a coach, but Shelly was highly recommended. I am now working with her, and her guidance is helping me get to where I want to be.
Here’s the story: I had just written an article for Entrepreneur Magazine about coaching. It was interesting to do the research for that article. Right after I wrote the article, I met Shelly, and she fit all of the qualifications my research told me I needed!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?
Many people contact me about writing their own legacy to pass down to their future generations. One woman recently contacted me because her husband was 78, a cancer survivor, and with heart disease. She told me that writing his life story was the answer to their prayers. That’s nice to hear.
Did you ever struggle with believing in yourself? If so, how did you overcome that limiting belief about yourself? Can you share a story or example?
I have always believed in myself. Although I’m getting older, I believe “Passion has no expiration date!” The only time I have doubts is when I listen to others who wonder why I don’t just retire.
When I first auditioned to have my product on QVC, I presented my product with NO prototype because my manufacturer was too slow in sending it to me. I believed in my product and myself, so with nothing to show except pictures, I presented my Tip ‘n Split. The judged loved my passion and my product and told me to come back when I had the product. I went back the next year and presented with a standing ovation! I also won the Gold Medal for “Best New Gadget” that year.
In my own work I usually encourage my clients to ask for support before they embark on something new. How did you create your support system before you moved to your new chapter?
My friends have always supported me. I wasn’t sure how to run a business, but some of them had run companies, and they offered advice. My patent attorney was and is a friend and ally. My three grown children have helped me through technical challenges.
I learned from them how to adapt and embrace change.
Starting a new chapter usually means getting out of your comfort zone, how did you do that? Can you share a story or example of that?
I have actually never had a “comfort zone.” My life was always challenging since I was raised by a single mother with six children. I worked all through high school and had three jobs at a time in college. The good thing is I learned how to balance work, studies, and life. Now, in my Second Chapter, very little daunts me. My comfort zone does not include technology, but I am capable of learning.
My comfort zone was in teaching, but as I learned about running a small business, I discovered the wonderful resources on the internet, the SBA (Small Business Administration), and SCORE (the nation’s largest network of volunteer, expert business mentors)
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. 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.
1.) Keep learning skills to enhance your knowledge and credibility as an expert in your field.
I knew very little about technology, so I hired some to create a WordPress website for me. Even though he is maintaining it, I am learning about WordPress so I am not totally dependent on someone else.
2.) Make sure to network. Networking is essential to build your contacts. Networking is especially important with so many virtual networking events. I try to go to at least one virtual networking event every day.
3.) Hire a business coach. There’s no substitute for the accountability, support and expertise a great coach brings to the table. I found my coach at a networking meeting.
4.) Trust, value and cherish your intuition. With age, we gain wisdom and wisdom enhances our intuition.
5.) Don’t dwell on failures. Failures are stepping stones to success. A “NO” is just a way of saying “How can I do better”? How many of us have had failures! Learn from those failures.
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?
I have been an advocate for seniors and retirees since I started my Second Chapter and have embraced reinvention. My goal is to change people’s perception of the mature population and to inspire people over 50 to follow their dreams…even in retirement.
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. 🙂
I would like to meet with Richard Branson to share my vision and learn from him.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!