Never take no for an answer. Most people in business will say no to everything unless you ask why or why not. 80% of the time when you challenge the “no” you will be guaranteed to walk away with a “yes!”
For my series on strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lisa Ascolese. Lisa, famously known as “The Inventress” is a mentor, entrepreneur, keynote speaker, inventor, independent product agent and consultant. For more than 25 years, The Inventress has successfully invented, marketed and launched products on QVC, HSN, EVINE Live and ShopNBC and continues to bring products to national department stores daily. She is the CEO and founder of Inventing A-to-Z, a product development company used to assist others who have the desire to create and develop their own product(s) from concept to fruition. She is also the founder of The Association of Women Inventors and Entrepreneurs, a non-profit organization geared towards bridging the gap between ambition and success. You may have seen her on major networks such as Bravo TV or ABC, heard her on Sirius XM or read about her in major publications such as Black Enterprise Magazine, Ebony Magazine, Essence Magazine Forbes, and The New York Times.
Thank you so much for joining us Lisa. Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
There have been so many incredible moments that have prepared me to lead my product development company, Inventing A-to-Z. However, there is one in particular that stands out from the rest. Years ago, I was slated to go on-air at QVC Television to showcase and sell my product, “Perfect Pockets,” a solution-oriented product designed to organize your kitchen tools including but not limited to container lids, utensils and so much more. Just as my segment was about to go live, a producer told me that Bob Bowersox, famously known for his QVC segment titled, “Bob’s Kitchen,” loved my product and wanted to display Perfect Pockets in his cabinet on set. This news was music to my ears! At the time, Bob was the lead on-air QVC host in the cooking department and only endorsed grandiose kitchen gadgets typically designed by established brands such as KitchenAid. If Bob endorsed your kitchen gadget, it was sure to be a hit nationwide! And so, I knew this would be a big career moment for me and what would become my company, Inventing A-to-Z. Needless to say, Perfect Pockets went on to sell thousands of dollars in a very short amount of time. I never expected to sell that many units in one airing on QVC. And that, was just the beginning…
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?
Back in the day at QVC, if you had a product on air, you would pretty much be in charge of setting up your own custom props before your segment would air live to viewers nationwide. With that creative freedom, came a lot of responsibility and out-of-the-box thinking. Please keep in mind, there was not much time to set up. The sets were constantly being switched out with new products. And so, every second counted. Within minutes you’d have to re-design a set to reflect your brand’s messaging all while highlighting your product’s strength.
On this particular day, QVC aired my latest product invention titled, “The Wrap and Store Organizer.” The Wrap and Store Organizer is designed to use your time most efficiently when it comes to gift wrapping and organizing your gift wrapping materials.
The Wrap and Store Organizer can be utilized in a variety of different ways. Some customers like to hang their organizer on the back of a door with a hook. Though, the most popular way, is to hang it over the back of a chair while gift wrapping.
On the day of my QVC airing, I thought it would be easiest and most effective to showcase The Wrap and Store Organizer on the back of a chair. That said, I didn’t take into consideration that all chairs are not created equal. You see, the sleeve on the back of my Wrap And Store was much wider than the prop chair I was given and in turn, it kept sliding off of the chair. With seconds to spare (quite literally), I found a giant safety pin and was able to pin the back of the organizer up so that it wouldn’t slide off during my segment.
I prayed my co-host, Judy Crowell wouldn’t spin the chair too hard or make any sudden moves because I knew at any given moment the safety pin could pop off at any time! We got through the segment without a hitch and guess what, she even spun the chair once or twice. After the segment finished, I shared with Judy what had happened and we both still laugh about it today.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Authenticity, transparency, innovation and honesty are words I would use to highlight my company, Inventing A-to-Z in addition to my non-profit organization, The Association of Women Inventors and Entrepreneurs. I’m not just in business to make money and people sense that, I truly love what I do to help others succeed.
Recently, I had a young woman come to me with a napkin idea. She was very reluctant to share her product idea with anyone. I told her I didn’t need to know anything about the product if she didn’t feel comfortable, and of course, I’d be happy to sign a non-disclosure agreement. As soon as I said that, the idea came flooding out of her mouth.
She was very creative, however, she had no confidence in herself or anything she said. She kept dwelling on failure as if success wasn’t an option. I told her I didn’t want to charge her for a consultation on product development. Instead, I wanted to mentor her on how to see the greatness in herself and her invention. She immediately cried when I told her that. She could not believe that I would help her because no one was ever willing to do that for her. It’s important to take a chance on people and do things out of the kindness of your heart. Sometimes you need to look past the dollar signs, and instead, look at the need and desire people have to succeed. I’m happy to work with anyone who is willing to help themselves. But first, they must believe in the power of their greatness.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
The majority of my focus has been put towards writing my book. For years, I have been asked to write a book about how I’ve managed to succeed in such a tough, male-dominated industry. And now, it’s time to make it happen! In my book, I will share all of the great methods
I practice to create and build an invention from concept to fruition on a budget. Most recently, Forbes Magazine spotlighted how I made $6,000 in under six minutes on QVC. I want to teach others how to get to that place of success. There is so much room at the top!
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
Surround yourself with others who can mentor and teach you specific examples on how to lead with purpose. Don’t be afraid to help others and share what you’ve learned through the years. Spread the knowledge. Stand on the shoulders of leaders you admire and allow others to stand on yours. Together, lets “Lift Each Other Up, Two Hands At A Time!” It’s also important to take a moment to reflect. In order to thrive, you need to take time to reflect on who you are and how you got to where you are.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
Put effort towards having a relationship with every single person on your team. Get to know your team members. What are their interests? What are their passions? Always be mindful of keeping all lines of communication open. I work with a large team of awesome men and women. I genuinely enjoy learning more about what sparks their creativity. Show compassion and spread kindness day in and day out. Trust me, you will get more out of your team when you show them love and treat them with respect. It’s simple, you get out what you put in.
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?
There is not just one person, but many. First and foremost, I give God the glory because he gave me the parents I had who in turn, gave me the courage and strength to overcome any obstacles no matter how big they may be.
I give thanks to my dear friend Cindy Russo who introduced me to buyers at QVC over 20 years ago. I met Cindy at a photo shoot when my daughter, Giana, was modeling. Cindy and I have been fabulous friends ever since.
Fortunately, I have a great family support system. I also have a phenomenal team of people I’m grateful to work with everyday because they keep things running smoothly and are constantly innovating!
I am blessed to work with my wonderful publicist and social media strategist, Tara Ackaway, CEO of Social Wise Communications, my daughter, Brittany Ascolese, her fiance, John who is part of our technical support team, my husband, Phil and the list goes on. Each of these incredible folks have my back every step of the way. Teamwork makes the dream work. I believe this with all of my heart. Without my team, Inventing A-to-Z and The Association of Women Inventors and Entrepreneurs would not exist!
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I launched my non-profit organization, The Association of Women Inventors and Entrepreneurs in 2014 because I had a desire to bridge the gap between ambition and success. My intention was to educate, motivate and inspire others who needed assistance with inventing and business building practices.
The Association of Women Inventors and Entrepreneurs hosts musically inspired conferences, workshops and more to empower creatives to take action and bring their ideas to fruition. All of our events incorporate music as it encourages creativity, exploration and fun. Some other components include vendor showcases, an elevator pitch competition, gift giveaways, break out educational seminars, games, and more!
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. Never take no for an answer. Most people in business will say no to everything unless you ask why or why not. 80% of the time when you challenge the “no” you will be guaranteed to walk away with a “yes!”
2. Exude confidence. It’s important to be deliberate in your pitch and delivery when
you are engaging with others. If you don’t believe in what you’re saying, no one else will either.
3. Stand up straight and tall. Always remember to hold your head up when you speak with others. You can tell a lot about someone just by looking at their body language. Stand tall and be proud.
4. Make eye contact. When making direct contact with others you will be perceived as respectful, honest and credible.
5. Give a firm handshake. A soft handshake is a sign of softness and weakness. Always engage a nice, sincere grip.
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? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would like to inspire a kindness movement. Don’t be afraid to give every ounce of yourself to the person who stands before you. Shower others with love, generosity, comfort and support. Small acts of kindness often lead to beautiful destinations. Give without expecting anything in exchange. Most importantly, give because you want to, not because you have to.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“I can, I must and I will” is my favorite life lesson quote. As a child, my grandmother never allowed me to give up on anything, nor did my parents. My grandmother would repeat (in her very heavy Jamaican accent) “I Can, I Must And I Will!”
Growing up, if me or one of my siblings made a mistake, our punishment would be to write out what it is we would never do again… 100 times. Why 100 times? Because that is the magic number my father came up with. It was a practice of reinforcement and something i’ll never forget. As a parent, I now appreciate and understand these life lessons more than ever.
Some of the biggest 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 🙂
There are a few different icons that come to mind. For starters, I would be honored to enjoy a meal with Oprah. Her words and actions are pure magic. I know we’d be great friends. I’d also love the opportunity to connect with Will Smith. I admire his talent and sense of humility. Other empowering women I’d love to surround myself with are Queen Elizabeth, Michelle Obama, Jessica Alba, Robin Roberts and the list goes on.