You have everything it takes at this very moment and if you aren’t running the business you envision, it’s up to you and only you to make the difference to make the change.
As a part of our series about entrepreneurs who transformed something they did for fun into a full-time career, I had the pleasure of interviewing Violette de Ayala. Violette is a Cuban-American serial and social Entrepreneur, Founder of FemCity®, and virtual mentor to over 20,000 women. Violette has been quoted in Success, Entrepreneur,CNBC, Yahoo Small Business, Business Insider News as a small business expert and in MarieClaire. Violette has also been seen in featured campaigns in People, InStyle, Real Simple magazines. She served as part of The White House: Women Environmental Leaders Program and was a commissioned Keynote speaker for Accenture’s International Women’s Month Event, the SBA Regional Women’s Conference, and Luxury Brand Partners. FemCity has been seen in Gilt, Vogue, AP, Mashable and Fast Company and has over 100 locations in the US, Canada and the Islands.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
I am a first generation American and my parents arrived from Cuba in 1961. I grew up hearing about money, loss of money, politics and the American dream. The one story that always resonated with me was that of my great grandfather. He worked his way up in the railroad company in Cuba and rose the ranks to President of Ferrocarriles Consolidados de Cuba. He became an entrepreneur as well owning a Fiat and Alfa Romeo dealership, a hotel and a few other businesses. I actually own a Fiat and Alfa as an homage to him and his Entrepreneurial spirit that have always inspired my business dreams.
What was the catalyst from transforming your hobby or something you love into a business? Can you share the story of your “ah ha” moment with us?
I was searching for a small gathering of business women that was community-based. I attended hundreds of events over 2–3 years and grew frustrated that I wasn’t able to find a small networking group. I finally invited a few friends for lunch and shared with them my idea. I had the intention of having monthly gatherings for only 12 or so friends. I envisioned us gathering monthly, supporting each other in business and helping one another grow their business. I had the first gathering and it was missing a few components. The second time we had a gathering, over 60 women had registered. That was my biggest “ah ha” moment. I looked around the room and it was the first time I felt that what I had been searching for all those years, I had finally created. Months later, women started to ask for a chapter in their community. With no website and no business model, I started to launch FemCity communities and they started to pop up all up and down the east coast.
There are no shortage of good ideas out there, but people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How did you overcome this challenge?
I started my first business at the age of 21 and learned the journey by making a lot of mistakes. I think I made every bad mistake a person can make in business. The one thing that kept me going was the repeated personal mantra of “keep your eye on the prize”. I never lost sight of the bigger prize and the impact I could have on others by forming communities.
What advice would you give someone who has a hobby or pastime that they absolutely love but is reluctant to do it for a living?
Figure out a way to make your hobby or pastime scalable. If you don’t even know how to start with that concept, ask yourself “how can I make a positive impact with my hobby to help over one million people”. Your mind will start to think of ways to help others in a bigger scale and you will be on your way to a thriving business.
It’s said that the quickest way to take the fun out of doing something is to do it for a living. How do you keep from changing something you love into something you dread? How do you keep it fresh and enjoyable?
We all have “superhero” or specialized skills or talents in which we can help others. Delegate the aspects that don’t fall under your “superhero” talent and only work on the action steps that align with what you are best at. At the start of every business, you most likely will have to be an expert in most areas. But as the revenue starts to grow, you are able to hire people and delegate the tasks in which require superhero talents. Delegating will give you the deep connection to the things in which first interested you and got you to your place in your business. Always keep learning and expanding on the latest trends, how to be more productive and efficient while staying connected to what still inspires you to build and up-level your business.
What is it that you enjoy most about running your own business? What are the downsides of running your own business? Can you share what you did to overcome these drawbacks?
I personally love creating communities. I have always been a natural connector and extrovert and I still can’t believe I create communities as my role in life. The downside of it is of course there are always challenges in growth, keeping up with the latest trends so you can be your best for those that you serve. It’s exhausting sometimes to always be in this constant state of higher evolution. It seems that every day we are teaching a new class on a new platform and that at times can be draining. When I face a drawback, I work through it diligently and have the best experts around to assist so that I can move back to the work I do best, that is developing our growth and outreach around the world.
Can you share what was the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
I thought launching communities around the world would be easier. I didn’t realize how tough and time consuming it would be. All of the other businesses I created had one location and perhaps a few satellite locations. The scale of where FemCity is and the time it’s taken, I didn’t expect it to be so challenging. But it’s been worth it.
Has there ever been a moment when you thought to yourself “I can’t take it anymore; I’m going to get a “real” job? If so, how did you overcome it?
I had this thought at least a million times. I even had job offers with amazing salaries and perks and people thought I was crazy to reject opportunities. I just knew this was the path I needed to take and that I could create something very powerful for communities. Each time, I went to quit, I would receive a random email from a member that shared how much we have helped her with launching her business and finding support through our local community. That moment happened hundreds of times and it always brought me back to giving more into the work we were doing and not giving up. It served as external confirmation that the pain in building the organization would be worth it in the end.
Who has inspired or continues to inspire you to be a great leader? Why?
I have a few amazing mentors. Joan Barnes, the Founder of Gymboree continues to inspire me. She was a rock for me with her friendship and mentorship in times of business evolution. Renee Frigo, the Co-Founder of Lucini Oil also has been instrumental to what I was able to envision and create. I also look at Oprah Winfrey as a great example on how to lead with passion, integrity and soul. I have not met her, but she inspires me often. They all inspire me to no end because of the greatness of their vision, the impact they wanted to make, and they never gave up.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
My intention is to share what I know to anyone that will benefit from the tales of the journey and the wisdom I acquired as a result. I teach weekly so that I can help more women launch and grow business and create the life they envision for themselves and their families. We incorporate a lot of personal development, gratitude and love of community and those aspects continue to change the lives of thousands of women each and every day.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Just get started even if its’ not perfect and you don’t know what the next step will be.
- You will need a mentor and you may outgrow that mentor and need another one.
- You will fail when you least expect it and sometimes when you have done the most to prepare for success.
- Not everyone has the grit and determination to see your vision. That’s their story, not yours.
- You have everything it takes at this very moment and if you aren’t running the business you envision, it’s up to you and only you to make the difference to make the change.
What person wouldn’t want to work doing something they absolutely love. You are an incredible inspiration to a great many people. 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 love to have our communities grow and expand on the west coast, Europe and Latin America. I have goals of having thousands of communities around the world bringing people together locally in complete support and gratitude for one another.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“You have everything it takes at this very moment to make the change needed in your life”. Each time I thought that I couldn’t take on a goal, I would think of this quote and then push forward. Once I got to that next level, I would have the same fears and again read this quote and push forward. Eventually it became part of my process and it helped me every inch of the way.
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.
Oprah Winfrey. I was a latch key kid and grew up without a traditional mother. The Oprah Winfrey show was on television every day when I arrived from school. I always tell friends, Oprah raised me and was there for me everyday after school. She is a guiding force with the way my life shifted and to where I am today.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.