We’ve all heard that “hindsight is 20/20.” When I look back on my career thus far, I see that I’ve learned some valuable lessons, but in many ways I’m still waiting for the world to catch up. I’ve encountered quite a bit of doubt surrounding the success of my business. It seems that some people cannot accept that a woman’s success should be attributed to her own skill. This year I faced a particularly intense version of this kind of prejudice. I decided it was time to become officially certified as a woman-owned business. As part of the process, I had to endure a two-hour interrogation from a male representative of the Office of Women and Minority Business Enterprises. During this interview I had to reiterate to the rep again and again that I run my business myself (he seemed to think my husband runs it from behind a curtain!). I told him some of my story, including the fact that I self-funded the business in the beginning, because my 730 credit score wasn’t good enough for the banks. The bank manager asked if my Dad would be willing to co-sign a business loan. I told him if he could locate my father, he could ask him himself.
When I started my business Coolperx, I didn’t pay myself a salary for more than 8 months. While it’s true that many founders make this choice because they don’t want to accept outside help, or because they receive early-stage funds from a spouse or a family member, I didn’t have those options. I shouldered my own burden and turned my company into a dynamo. I increased our sales by 300% in the first year alone. And you can bet I make a good salary, now.
I’m not mainstream. I’m gritty, fearless, and curious about everything. I’m a second generation, multi-racial, child of divorce, and a 4th generation soldier. I learned to hold myself accountable to my own standards, and to self-motivate so I could meet them. These are the same values I bring to my business. They’re my biggest asset for my clients. I dig deeper and provide them with the truth about the promotional products they claim to want. It would have been incredibly easy to turn coolperx into yet another cheap SWAG provider. After all, SWAG is a growing $30 billion dollar industry! But it’s also an industry that has run unchecked for decades, and is now a major polluter of planet Earth. Branded merchandise and gifts work to create brand loyalty, and they remain vital to a company's long-term success. But I saw the writing on the wall years ago, and I created coolperx out of a desire to disrupt the damaging SWAG industry profile, and offer something better to clients and the environment. I hold coolperx to a high standard of ethics and environmental sustainability. In fact, I hold these values so strongly that we actually just became the world’s first carbon neutral Social Purpose marketing and merchandise agency.
2020 is racing by. So much in our world remains uncertain, and it’s hard to see what next month will look like, let alone the next decade. But I have a vision that I believe in. Going forward, I want enterprise companies to put their money where their mouth is to make meaningful changes and be responsible for reducing the harm of environmentally detrimental products. I want them to recognize that racial equity and global sustainability are linked. I also want women to be fully recognized for all of our efforts and successes in the business world.
Recently I’ve started reaching out to some manufacturers, designers and retailers with missions and values similar to mine, in an effort to create a Council for a Sustainable and Ethical Marketplace. Hopefully this project will bloom and grow into a legacy that I can be proud of, one that my daughter and her children can benefit from. There is so much more work to do. I’m ready to do it, are you?