• Entrepreneurship is the road best traveled.

    I grew up in South Africa during the dark days of apartheid. My upbringing was pretty sheltered. I was surrounded by loads of cousins, aunts and uncles and doting grandparents. As the eldest of 3 daughters my dad had and still has a huge impact on my life. We share a love of European history, family trees and old Jewish recipes but most of all we share a passion for entrepreneurship. An entrepreneur himself, my father built a successful business which provided many opportunities for our family. My dad worked hard and while he missed some family vacations he always exuded a sense of excitement and joy. I see now that that was largely because he had taken ownership of his path forward and that enabled him to create many choices for himself. Looking back, I can see how that sense of accomplishment, creativity and independence inspired me to forge my own path toward entrepreneurship.
    My path was not without detours. In my early 20s I still felt compelled to follow the traditional “safe” career path. As a right -brain, motivated student in the pre-digital age my choices for a career were limited. Like so many like-minded women of my generation law school felt like the best option. Following that route I eventually left South Africa and set myself up as a practicing attorney in Israel. I was not that thrilled with my career choice but I was finally enjoying the benefits of a decent paycheck. My life then took an unexpected turn, I met my future husband and ended up living in New York with very few professional prospects. I felt completely unanchored. I learned that my law degree was pretty useless “as is” and would need to be converted if I wanted to practice law in New York. At this stage I already had an infant and we could not afford the enormous expense of law school. I needed to contribute financially to our family and so I maneuvered my way into a couple of paralegal jobs. But aside from zero fulfillment my paycheck basically went to childcare. I had spent years educating myself and I suddenly found myself in a new country with limited skills and very few job prospects. I was in my early 30s at the time and my dreams of a career had basically collapsed.
    Starting my own business seemed like the only option available to me. I had witnessed my father’s journey growing up and he had always had that “sink or swim” attitude. I believe that that is what pushed me forward. I spent hours researching viable ideas, none of which evolved into much. Like many things, the turning point came very unexpectedly. I ran into an old friend at a local market. We chatted for a while and she complimented me on a necklace I was wearing. When I told her I had made it for myself she asked if I would make one for her. She offered to pay what seemed like an enormous amount of money at the time and I suddenly had a moment of clarity -I realized that I had a product! It felt real and it felt viable. Ironically I had spent months chasing business ideas and all that time I actually had one literally in front of me at my kitchen table. From that moment on I went full steam ahead. My head was buzzing with ideas. I took myself off to a local store, I spent a few hundred dollars on supplies and I simply started making jewelry! I had two young children at the time and I was pregnant with my third. My attic became my studio and I worked around my children’s schedules. My first customers were friends and family. They gave me the confidence and support that I needed. I slowly expanded into the local stores in my neighborhood and within a couple of months I had a few regular accounts. My business was still very small I was making everything myself and selling what I made. My margins were high and my overhead was minimal — An MBAs dream, only I had no MBA! This was a grassroots business.
    My next inflection point came when a buyer from Henri Bendel called me to see some samples. I never found out how she found me but I can only assume it was through word of mouth which is how so many things happen in the world of entrepreneurship. Henri Bendel at the time was one of the best retailers in Manhattan located in a gorgeous landmark building on 5th Ave. That was a light bulb moment; the moment that every entrepreneur lives for. It was a feeling of recognition, of legitimacy. Henri Bendel took me on as a new designer and gave me the platform that I needed. I developed my brand and within a year or two we were sold in most of the major retailers both in the USA and many abroad. I went on to open my own retail stores and we service customers all over the world. As my business grew so did my team, most of whom are still with me. I have met incredible people along the way and it has always felt very personal.
    There were many magical moments as I grew my tiny business into a commercial success. Moments that come to mind are seeing my name in the headlines in the New York Times style section or getting a call from Oprah Winfrey’s team telling me that we had been chosen for Oprah’s favorite things (and then getting that call again! — a year later). Another moment that still feels surreal was getting a call from the White House telling us that the First Lady Mrs. Obama was going to be wearing our earrings to a few White House events.
    These are moments that make the journey not just fulfilling but exciting as well. Running a business is grueling at times as you have many hats to wear. For many years I was creative, marketing, sales and finance all rolled into one. Besides all that I was back office too! — I read routing guides, packed boxes and took inventory. But those moments of wonderment make it all so worthwhile.
    My message is simple: have a dream but make it an attainable one. Keep things simple at first. Grow organically into your business, nurture it and you will grow both as a person and as an entrepreneur. Have a role model to look up to. For me it is my father not just because he was successful but because he always found so much joy in it. Entrepreneurship can be a magical journey, embrace it and it will be the best gift you will ever give to yourself!