Lisa Perrone Cirelli of Stylyze: “Solve for the future”

Women have a unique perspective and story to tell through the way they solve problems and creatively build products and companies. It is an intrinsic part of our genetic makeup that is different from a man’s that allows us to relate to a challenge presented differently, so ultimately we will come up with a different […]

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Women have a unique perspective and story to tell through the way they solve problems and creatively build products and companies. It is an intrinsic part of our genetic makeup that is different from a man’s that allows us to relate to a challenge presented differently, so ultimately we will come up with a different solution and plan of action. We all can acknowledge many great minds together are more powerful than one, but many minds that also challenge each other’s natural outlook and approach will come up with a far better solution than the former.

As a part of our series about strong women leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lisa Perrone Cirelli.

Lisa Perrone Cirelli is Chief Creative Officer and Co-Founder. She is an award-winning interior designer who graduated Magna Cum Laude with a degree in interior architecture. As a co-founder of Stylyze, Lisa’s focus is to drive the brand identity through an omnichannel approach that delivers rich digital experiences.

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?

As an interior designer and creative person, the fact that I have made my career in tech comes as a bit of a surprise to others and myself too. It wasn’t something that I had planned, but I couldn’t be happier that this career path, in a way, chose me. I was ready to scale my skills as a designer and look for opportunities to do so with a completely open mind, and when it comes to scale and reach, technology is the path forward.

I graduated Magna Cum Laude with a bachelor’s of science from Arizona State’s well-recognized interior architecture program where my enthusiasm to dive full time into my hospitality firm was quickly met with an economic downturn that crippled the construction industry. I decided to leave the Phoenix area to pursue a career in a bigger economic market, a leap of faith that brought me to Seattle. Seattle’s commercial and hospitality design business was better at the time than Phoenix, but firms were not looking to hire and rather were trying to hold on to the employees they had and avoid layoffs. I was ultimately offered an opportunity to work at a high-end residential furniture showroom, solely on commission, where I needed to sell furniture and accessories that many times were in catalogs that my client’s could not tangibly experience. I fell back on what I knew, designing through storytelling, and focused on that rather than up-selling my clients on our most expensive leather sectional. Most clients were already frustrated by the difficulty to find what they liked online. They couldn’t shop in a contextual way that showed them what pieces coordinated and which would work well for them. My approach was different from a typical sales associate. I used Photoshop and slide decks on my personal laptop to put together whole design concepts that were heavily influenced by my client’s lifestyle, color, and style preferences. I called these Styleboards. I wasn’t selling a product but rather a whole vision, a complete story that a family could imagine bringing into their home. I quickly became a top-earning associate month after month. My question now was, why wasn’t there a better way to shop online, contextually through design stories like these to find home decor items?

Meeting my business partner, Kristen Miller, changed how I would try to solve this problem and it was an approach that her background in design, as well as entrepreneurship, would serve us in building a SaaS platform that allows consumers to discover products through digital merchandising experiences. By scaling the design process, building a platform for merchandising, and creating omnichannel shopping experiences, I am now able to bring beautiful design into the homes and closets of hundreds of thousands of consumers rather than just on a one-to-one basis through a studio or firm.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

Something that always sticks out in my mind when looking back on building this business was putting together a list of target companies we would want to partner with. The gold standard, the dream partners. Since we are a B2B business our partnerships are not only the way our business model is structured and works but also the consumer-facing brands and identities that carry out our digital design and styling experiences. I remember thinking about major businesses like Target, Walmart, Home Depot, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom to name a few, and what it would be like to work with them and style their products for their millions of customers. It seemed like a distant goal at the time for a little technology company with office space in a brewery warehouse, but not impossible. We were up for the challenge. It was up to us to sell these brands that the way people were shopping for stylish goods was changing and they needed to adapt if they wanted to be ahead of the curve and capture this customer.

When we did get some of those first logos as partners and our Styleboards went live to 50K monthly visitors, my brain could barely get around the impact those first Styleboards would have on the consumer’s purchase decisions and my drive to keep pushing this company forward could barely be contained. It was one of those “pinch me” type of moments that you never forget as an entrepreneur. It was our first “win”.

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?

One of the funniest mistakes Kristen and I made when we first started, and thankfully quickly learned from, was about where and when to debrief after a meeting. After one of our partnership meetings, she and I went into the bathroom and while washing our hands started talking about how we thought the meeting went. Luckily, we were excited about the outcome and had good things to share about the executive’s feedback in the meeting because then we heard the toilet flush and one of those executives came out to join us in washing her hands. She smiled at us, but I have never wanted to run out of a bathroom faster. We no longer debrief in bathrooms and rather wait until the car ride home to talk about the next steps.

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 was very fortunate to have extremely supportive parents who never let “fear” be a reason not to do something. However, it was meeting my design mentor in my junior year of college that inspired me to pursue the venture of bridging the industries of design and technology together. Upon moving to Seattle I was disappointed by the fact that none of the hospitality interior design firms in the city were hiring. I had just made a big move and was eager to get my career going, I didn’t know how to keep pursuing my passion if I couldn’t get a job. I thought about going back to school to get an MBA or changing to a broader field, but I just didn’t know where to turn. I called my mentor, Jeanne Crandall, a veteran in the interior design industry as well as a brilliant mind whose perspective on life always exceeded the horizon line. I said to her I wanted to be a hospitality interior designer, I could hear the smile in her voice as well as the conviction that “design” wasn’t limited to the definition as I learned it in school, but rather design was a bigger term that I needed to understand. She told me I would be designing my life and to keep an eye out for an opportunity to design that wasn’t so limited. It was because of her advice I put a new definition around design and shortly after that I met Kristen and we began Stylyze.

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?

I think fear is something that holds most people back, whether that be a man or a woman, from founding a company. For women, it could be in part due to gender bias in the startup community that stimulates their fear or the fact that it is much more difficult for women founders to be funded by institutional capital. And while ultimately, I think the evaluation of a business’s validity and the chance of success should be decoupled from the gender of its founders, it is a place where the low numbers need a closer look. While the path to success may be longer or more difficult for a woman founder, technically nothing should hold them back from trying, after all, women are known for their resilience and fortitude.

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?

Having the conversation to bring the awareness of gender bias to the forefront of people’s minds and make them aware of the depressingly low numbers of women founders and women founders who are funded is a great place to start. As we have seen this past year, a movement, a voice to bring attention to a cause, can be a powerful way to get information to the masses. I think it is also the responsibility of women VCs, women CEO’s and women founders currently out there living and breathing their businesses to take a moment to reach out to the next round of upcoming women founders and leaders and extend their help and resources. If we can’t pause and give back, our legacy will only go as far as we choose to take it. If we positively affect the lives of other future great women we extend our reach tenfold and our legacy also lives on within them and who they impact 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?

Women have a unique perspective and story to tell through the way they solve problems and creatively build products and companies. It is an intrinsic part of our genetic makeup that is different from a man’s that allows us to relate to a challenge presented differently, so ultimately we will come up with a different solution and plan of action. We all can acknowledge many great minds together are more powerful than one, but many minds that also challenge each other’s natural outlook and approach will come up with a far better solution than the former.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder. Can you explain what you mean?

Myth 1: Being a founder lets you work so much less and vacation whenever you want. I think any founder will tell you this is quite the opposite, if anything we work more. In fact, it is hard to ever turn off, and something that usually needs conscious attention. This is especially true during the early years of starting your company, you live and breathe for it and there are never enough hours in the day to get everything done. While being a founder might mean you have the flexibility to take lunch whenever you want, which commonly gets closer and closer to 3 pm rather than 12pm, it doesn’t mean that you work less or that the work is easier. It is easier, however, to do something you love for 10 hours a day than to do work you dislike for half that time.

Myth 2: Being a founder means you don’t have time to be an involved parent. When I became a mother my daily calendar shifted, and I could no longer work on my computer to all hours of the night, but it didn’t impact my ability to be fully committed to the success of my business and to the precious quality time I get to share every day with my son. Working remotely has made this dynamic of being a founder and mother a bit more challenging, but I actually think it is for the better. I get to spend the morning with my son before diving into work and then give him a hug while I am on my way to the kitchen to grab lunch and finally be able to spend the evening hours playing with him until dinner instead of commuting for an hour in the car. You can do both, and you can do both well. My secret is using organizational tools like Notion and Microsoft OneNote to help keep me balanced and on track both personally and professionally.

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?

I do not think everyone is cut out to be a founder, if they were we would have a lot more entrepreneurs. Many people have great ideas, but so few have the tools and the desire to execute those ideas. Founders are by nature hypothesis-driven risk-takers. They have qualities like a scientist in the fact that they do research, come up with prototypes and demos and then test and iterate until they have solid, repeatable results. They are like gamblers and are willing to “bet on themselves” which in my opinion is the most solid bet you can make. And they have a passion and drive to make something happen when there is no other option for them other than to have success in their business. If you aren’t willing to embrace the dedicated work, immeasurable risk, and drive until success is the only acceptable result, there is absolutely nothing wrong with getting a “regular job” that is filled with benefits, security, more stable compensation, and a more formulated, ladder approach to progressing in your field.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

1. It’s going to take longer than you think. When we hear about companies like AirB&B, Uber, Pinterest, and Instagram we think of them appearing overnight with a working product and a huge user base, and it just doesn’t happen that way in the startup world. I knew it would take a while to establish our company, but I didn’t know just how long it would be until we could say “we made it”. Thankfully surrounding ourselves with a fantastic team, great investors, and advisors who had lived this path before kept us grounded and focused on what we could control that was in front of us each day. Small steps forward, add up to a lot of covered ground.

2. Failures are inevitable, it’s how you recover. There are going to be failures throughout this process, some as small as a bad meeting and some so large you may have to pivot your business, but none of those misses are as important as what you learn and the ability to come back stronger each time.

3. Solve for the future. Build a product and team that will bring you early wins, but never forget that what you have today is the foundation for what you will have 5 years from now. Every product design, architecture decision, and employee hire should be a decision that is made based on where you want to go and grow.

4. If it doesn’t bring you joy, don’t do it. If I wasn’t extremely passionate about what I set out to do as a founder, I would have never lasted on the rollercoaster. The truth is, this work and this mission bring me joy, and it’s something I am proud of every day, even on the bad days.

5. Set an example for the next generation of founders. I love hearing about young girls interested in STEM and being able to have an impact on them. I didn’t know about all the opportunities available to me when it came to this field, and luckily I was guided along and am still guided by some amazing women living and carrying out their own missions. One of the best examples you can set is just by going out there and doing it, and sharing your knowledge with someone else. We never know the impact one small moment can have on someone’s trajectory.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

I’d like to think the success I have had has encouraged more girls that they are capable, they are smart and they are needed. If I impacted just one person in this way, I think I have made the world a better place. We need more women to believe in themselves, get beyond their fears, and pursue their ideas with relentless persistence to make it happen. The world can benefit from people like that.

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.

For me, the movement would be based around gratitude and paying it forward. I am filled with such immense gratitude for the people who have helped me even in the smallest way, the opportunity to live my mission, the curiosity to keep learning and exploring and the simplest gesture from a stranger that changed my outlook on a day that wasn’t going so well. Gratitude keeps us grounded and is a reminder that most of us have more than we will ever truly need. Let it be the day you decide to pay it forward, to take a moment to do a gesture of kindness for someone else.

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.

As an entrepreneur and perpetual student, I would love to sit down with Marc Lore. His ability to build extraordinary businesses, while never losing sight of his foundation, values, and his “why” has always been impressive to me. He shares his real-life experiences authentically and with a voice that is relatable. In addition, his mission to help other founders, especially his mentorship to female founders just shows his dedication to giving back and bettering this community that I find extremely commendable for a man of his level of success.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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