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Women in Business – Surviving the First Two Years: “Surround yourself with like-minded people.” Interview with Eliana Bergman

Interview with Eliana Bergman, founder of De Novo, on her experiences being a woman entrepreneur.

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Please tell us a bit about yourself, and describe your company

My name is Eliana Bergman. I was born in Jersey City, New Jersey, but raised in Orlando, FL. I am Colombian-American. My parents came to the USA in the early eighties.

When I was around eighteen months old, my father was in a serious car accident that left him with 30% brain damage and led to several necessary and life-saving surgeries as well as blood transfusions. This all happened in the late eighties, during a time when medical professionals were not pre-screening blood donations for HIV. It was during one of these life-saving blood transfusions that my father was infected with HIV. The accident had weakened his immune system and made his condition really bad. In the end, it was AIDS that led to his death. I tell you this as part of my own story, because even though it happened to him, his death and his struggle to live, were something that affected me profoundly, even as a young child.  

I wish I could tell you that, that was it. But my life has really been a life full of adversity. At the age of nine, I was diagnosed with severe scoliosis. I had an “S” curve, where the top curve was almost ninety degrees and the bottom curve in the mid-fifties. I had a rib deformity that prevented me from being able to sit properly in chairs and caused an immense amount of daily pain. I had to have two corrective surgeries, as the deformity was deemed life-threatening. I had the first surgery at 12, and the second one at 18. I now live with a fused spine, with metal rods fixing my spine in place from my lower back up to my neck. To correct the deformity they removed 3 ribs (maybe it was 4, I can’t remember). 

I started my company recently.  My company is called De Novo, which means anew or afresh. The idea behind it was that De Novo products enable you to start afresh as you go into work, into school, out to a restaurant, wherever life takes you. It’s a way to “freshen up” your look. De Novo started from a desire to be more sustainable. I hate the sticky sheets traditional lint rollers come with. They are not recyclable. You have to buy endless refills, which I never do. Instead, like so many other people, I go and buy an entirely new lint roller. This wasteful behavior of constantly buying and throwing away needs to stop. I want to change the way we see lint rollers and brushes. There is no need to constantly be buying a lint roller or brush all to just have it end up in the trash. Instead, let’s start using lint brushes and rollers that are intended to last.

The company name “De Novo” also has a story to tell. The same day that I thought of the name, I received an email that my son had an unknown genetic mutation. It turns out that De Novo is also a term that’s used to describe a form of genetic mutation. De Novo, therefore, has a highly personal meaning to me and my family as well.

What has been the most challenging thing you have faced in the first two years of operating your business? How did you overcome it?

My business has been around a short time, but in that time we have seen a huge demand and interest for our products, and were recently featured on national TV. On this journey, my own fear has been the most challenging to overcome. I have been afraid to fail, afraid to succeed, and afraid of inaction. If I look within, I know that I will make this business successful, but it’s the day-to-day that is sometimes extremely daunting. As a new business owner, I am continuously put to the test. My abilities to problem solve are constantly being called upon, and it’s my own expectation for perfection that leads to my own fear of failure.  On the flip side, I have also been afraid to succeed. As a new company, I want to be able to grow sustainably. If I can’t strike a balance between my desire to conquer the world and my need to match that with increasing operational capacity and ability to deliver, I risk biting off more than I can chew which can really backfire. This fear of failing and succeeding can easily lend to simple inaction. It’s easier to hide and do nothing than it is to face problems head-on. As a new business owner, I have problems on a daily basis, but I can’t be afraid to act, because inaction is so much worse than trying and failing. I have learned that in order to succeed I have to be fearless and take that plunge. I learned this very powerful, yet simple message from my life coach. It’s been with her guidance and support that I have been able to overcome so much of my own fear.

What are some of the biggest digital marketing challenges you have faced to date? How have you overcome them?

I had a really difficult time setting up successful Facebook ads, and I know I am not alone. In the first two months, I spent over $2,000 on Facebook ads, and I only brought in about $600 from those ads. After working directly with a Facebook marketing manager, I was able to successfully schedule ads that targeted my specific audience and everything started working so much easier once I took that step.

Tell us what led you to the path of entrepreneurship

I have always had this internal motivation to be an entrepreneur. I remember when I was around seven, I convinced my friend to make drawings with me and go around the block and sell them for ten cents apiece. When I was around twelve, I started a successful dog walking business. I had five regular clients who I would help with dog-walking or cat-sitting while they were out of town. I did this for years, and it was an easy way for me to make some extra cash that was slightly different than just babysitting like everyone else. When I was 18, I started a referral company for Orlando timeshare resorts to get leads online by offering free Disney tickets in exchange for timeshare presentations. When I was in my late 20’s I co-founded, The Winery Stop, an online platform that would allow anyone to pre-book a wine tasting adventure in California. Today, I am the owner of an e-commerce business, called De Novo where I sell self-cleaning lint brushes. Some things you are born with – it somehow just finds you in life. 

What are the three most important things every woman entrepreneur should do, when first thinking about starting a business?

Start learning. It can be really overwhelming when you start out. Get yourself some help and take a class. You need to start learning, and the faster and more you learn, the better for you and your business. At the end of the day, as an entrepreneur, you have to figure out how to be the woman of all trades. I highly recommend Fundamentals of Entrepreneurship: Pitching Your Business and Yourself by Barbara Corcoran (who also happens to be my favorite shark on Shark Tank), but there are many other classes and tools out there too. Remember, you’re not the first person to do this so learn from others who have walked the path before you.

Surround yourself with like-minded people. You need to have a network of people who are there to support you. Who will be able to guide you when you are unable to figure out a good solution to a problem. I have found that Facebook groups work well for me. I love getting to know the different female entrepreneurs and it helps to know that I am not alone.  Whether it is Facebook, Reddit, Quora, or some other forum, get out there and find a group that you feel comfortable sharing some of your issues or problems with. Think of it as business therapy. 

Be scrappy. The beginning is messy, and that’s ok. Nothing that is just starting out is ever perfect. Your role is to figure it out. To maneuver through the obstacles thrown your way and come out on top. 

Are there actionable steps a woman in business should take to ensure that her company is successful in two years?

There is no set roadmap that you can take that will ensure you are successful.  However, these are some recommendations.

Get creative with your marketing. Facebook Ads are expensive. Everyone does TikTok videos. It seems like everywhere you turn, the market is saturated with ads. The key to ensuring your business is successful is to think outside of the box. I have worked hard on my SEO and try to build organic traffic. I have donated my product to gift bag conferences for women entrepreneurs and work on getting featured in various subscription boxes. I regularly engage bloggers and Instagrammers, because I have seen more sales come from those channels than anything else I have done. But don’t let yourself get stuck on this, try different things out and get rid of what doesn’t work. It might be you, it might be your product, but it doesn’t really matter. The point is to quickly move on to what does work and take that forward.

Make sure your finances are in order. Starting a business can be really expensive, and you need to figure out how much money you need to get your business off the ground whilst also putting food on the table. It can also be really confusing at the beginning with personal and business costs, but it’s important to try to separate expenses. I use Expensify to help manage my finances. Whatever works for you, it’s crucial that you meticulously keep track of this so that you know how to optimize and make your business grow.

Whatever you do, do not give up. Every day is going to come with its own challenges. Your job as an entrepreneur is to find solutions. Be prepared for things to blow up one day, and the next to be wonderful. Just remember that you are not alone. If you need a break, take a break – But don’t let yourself get knocked down. Get back up and carry on. Remember you only fail, if you give up.

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