my B.O.B. - Articulate You

This myBOB story re-introduces you to Founder and Creator of myblackbox co, Brittinee Phillips. Funny story: former Co-Founder, Jacqueline Carrington, of the discountined subscription box conducted the interview! You can listen to the full interview with Brittinee, as well as read the abridged version below.

You may have noticed Articulate You featured on our Instagram. If you’re interested in being featured in the #myBOBstory, reach out via email. This series brings awareness to Black businesses from the owner's perspective. At myblackbox co it's important to know the vision and purpose behind a business.

Brittinee has always loved marketing and consumer behavior. Over the years, working for corporations and venture-backed startups Brittinee realized she could support Black businesses with the skills and knowledge she’d gained at those organizations. As a woman of color, Brittinee’s intent is to enable the creation of more businesses owned and operated by women of color while also facilitating measurable growth and profit for those business owners.

Can you give a brief overview of what Articulate You is and how it came to be?

Articulate You is a marketing consulting business that also does some creative work. I started it out of a repeated experience when I would go to my beautician, or get my makeup done, or shop at a small boutique. I would hear these stories from women—especially Black women, about their struggles with marketing and how to find new customers, engage with them, and then even how to run their business operations. We'd have discussions, because I'm a marketer for the past 10 years, and I felt good helping them with the ideas I'd been using at large corporations. I felt compelled to start my own consulting business to be able to do that with other small and medium sized businesses owned by women of color.

Oh, excellent! Primarily what was the motivation behind focusing on your services to women of color owned businesses? Is anything more you wanted to add to that?

I was always very intrigued in how small businesses contribute to the US economy. And then looking further into that doing my own research and finding articles and stats about Black women as the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs; consistently it's been that way for the past four to five years. I felt that that was an audience that deserved and needed my specialty, my professional experience and knowledge, and skills because they oftentimes are running their own businesses alone or with very limited support from another individual.

Do you feel that you can relate better to your customer or how do you feel? Do you feel if people of non color were interested in your service that they would be off-put that you say that you primarily focus on businesses with women of color?

I don't think that they would be off-put. I think that they would understand that my primary audience and client base are women of color owned businesses; then women owned businesses. In our society, in the US, women are oftentimes encouraged not to be leaders; not to be entrepreneurs; not to be financially independent; and to always depend on another, especially a male or man. It's really important that any client who's considering me—whether they're women of color or a woman, or not—that they understand that my principles are to encourage women to be empowered, especially women of color. If they can understand that, then they can also understand where my services could also benefit them with their potential customer base as well. For women of color, I think that it's helpful for them to know that another woman of color actually understands what they go through as a small business owner and entrepreneur. At the end of the day, I am still an entrepreneur of color and a small business owner. I go through the same trials and tribulations that they do.

And what would you say then sets Articulate You a part from other marketing services?

What sets me apart is my experience. I've worked with large corporations as well as idolized and followed startups, where on the outside looking in I imagine folks things think that those organizations are well-run and well organized, and they have so much money and they have such a large team. But being on the inside I know how unorganized those organizations can be; how they maybe do something last minute and it may be luck that it's successful; as well as knowing how when you actually put a strategy and plan together how much more impactful that is for your bottom line, for your return on investment and the type of like impact you were expecting to have with your customer base.

The other thing is that I am extremely creative. I've come up with several ideas that garnered millions of dollars in sales and revenue for other businesses when I was employed by doing things that some might even consider very basic, simple idea or approach and taking out the complexity of how to reach an audience and continuing the conversation with them as people. I think that's one of the biggest things that separates me as well is my my focus on personalizing your communication with your customer. It should be two people talking to each other.

I certainly agree with that. I noticed that you said that 'when you were employed.' So it seems like you took a brief hiatus from your consulting business.  What prompted it and what was your inspiration to get back to business?

I think what prompted me going back into full time employment was 1) finances, I think every small business can relate to that. 2) The autonomy that you can sometimes get to run an entire business unit or business product, and be very proud of what you are able to achieve with that—I enjoy that; that was one thing that returned me to full time employment in the past. 3) When I love a brand I want to do a lot for them. If I have a great idea for a business I want to work with them so I can see that idea come to fruition and benefit them. And then the last, which I think will change as more clients learn of my services and obviously work with me, is that I value my experience, my knowledge, my skillset, my creativity—everything that makes me a strong marketer. Sometimes you can find potential clients who are not willing to pay for your services and want a discount. Discounting yourself is pretty disrespectful to yourself. You know what you're going to bring to the table. If you can't get out of that trajectory, where you're getting more potential clients who are only interested in discounted services then it can be a little bit discouraging.

What was your plan or series of events that kind of pushed you to walk away from the 6-figure salary and all these brands that you were working with—and say OK I'm going to do this again? I'm going to work for myself. I'm going to do my consulting full time.

Well I realized that while I enjoy a six figure salary, titles like Director of Marketing, and knowing that I am impacting millions of people with my marketing efforts—I have to be true to myself. If I'm not happy as a human being in the workplace that I am in then I don't need to be there. And they also don't deserve what I'm bringing to the table. They don't deserve my talents. They don't deserve my skills. And if I'm not willing to give those away to an organization anymore then I should be doing it for myself. By myself as a consultant and running my businesses where I can be hired by clients who do value what I bring; who will appreciate me and who won't make me feel like I'm not welcomed or worthy. I think that's important for Black women, especially who have worked in corporations or large organizations, to feel whole. With my consulting business I get to be my authentic self and I get to be whole. That's really important to me before anything, worldly or tangible like money and possessions.

Well that's a very good point and I can relate to that as well. What do you say are your short term goals for Articulate You?

Short term goals are 1) to continue networking with those who have small businesses that I have identified would benefit from my services. Networking with friends and other professionals that I've met throughout my marketing career; to share more about my consulting business and learn about new opportunities. Networking really is key. Most of your clients will come through referrals or through your network. 2) To revamp my knowledge base. I've been in this space for 10 years; I have multiple degrees, one which is in marketing, but you can never stop learning. So I've signed myself up for a few classes around Facebook advertising, social media marketing, as well as content marketing, just to refresh my brain—as well as confirm where I know at [my] level of expertise or where I need to improve because I want to be 100 percent for my clients.

Have you thought about longer term goals? Like maybe in three to five years for your business?

[Laughs]. Yes. In three years I would hope—well I'm not going to say hope I'm going to speak it into being—in three years my marketing consulting business Articulate You will be profitable, number one. Two, I will be at a place where I retain at least 10 clients every month, if not every quarter—at the standard rate not at discount rates.

I want to backtrack for one moment because most entrepreneurs and people would like to quit your job to pursue their ideas and passions. I'm sure they want to know, how did you prepare to walk away from your job to engage in a full activity for your business?

Well I will say this, it definitely helps that every job that I've had in the last four years has been six figures and I've always been a strong advocate of negotiating when you get a [job offer]. I would say 9 out of 10 I always get what I asked for when I negotiate a salary. I was able to save. I learned about saving through the Budgetnista. I joined her Dreamcatchers Facebook group six years ago and I have learned so much from the women in that group who shared their financial journey and struggles as well as her helpful tips, Tiffany the Budgetnist. It became natural for me to want to save and always pay myself first when I would get paid. Moving forward, properly managing those savings and knowing what I can do to grow my business because it costs money for me to grow my business too.

Apart from the financial, which obviously is very important—it's scary to not have a steady source of income—how did you overcome the mental fear or challenge with walking into your own?

For me I was tired of getting mentally beat up going into work at these organizations every day. I'm very committed to delivering when I'm hired for work or I have a responsibility with a job title and function. I wasn't horsing around at work. I was focused. I didn't join in in inappropriate conversations at work. I didn't allow people to disrespect me with their ignorance and racism. I kept moving at work, but still would get beat up. I had to personally say what's worse? Continuing this where you basically are someone's pooping ground and punching bag, mentally and professionally, because they're bothered that you're there as a Black woman. Or, try to take a risk on your own and pursue your own business; see how you fair doing things yourself for your business and working with clients that you actually want to work—who you believe will actually value what you contribute to their business? It will not definitely come with a consistent paycheck but you will have better peace of mind. So which is worse?

The best person to bet on and invest in is always yourself. If you don't try, then you'll never know if you'll actually succeed. If not, then life is a bunch of roller coasters anyway. You can always, almost get a job. But it's how you pick yourself up and try again for yourself that matters most. In closing I have one more question. What marketing tips could share with small businesses pertaining to social media?

OK, well one tip that I can offer pertaining to social media is to be consistent. I think that a lot of small businesses will post here and there, post whatever comes to mind, or haphazardly put a picture with a post, and they forget consistency is important. Take for example XONecole or even The Shade Room could be an example. There's consistency. There's a consistency to when they post; there's consistency to how many posts they actually post a day or week. There's a consistency in the content themes that they share, whether that's across video or carousel images or Instagram Stories— if it's on Instagram. And then there's a consistency in the tone of voice and brand personality that they're sharing as well as the way they engage with people who respond in comments to those posts. In the case of XONecole, you can see the color scheme, the illustrations, and the design elements that are consistent across their posts. Consistency is what I would definitely suggest as a tip—and that can be hard, that's why I'm available as a consultant. It can be very time consuming and difficult to be creative enough to find that consistent thread across those areas.

That's good to know! So that's something your service can provide with regard to sitting down with a client and going over their ideas for their brand, and also implementing your vision as well?

Yes. I offer brand strategy, social media—where I manage as well as come up with a strategy for social for clients—content marketing, and then the last primary area I offer is email marketing. I do offer a few other services, but those are the primary services.

All definitely beneficial for small brands, medium and larger brands as well. What advice would you share with others who may be following in those footsteps? It could be someone who is starting maybe a marketing business themself or it could just be someone who's stepping out into their own to have their own business.

My suggestion would be, be true yourself. Whatever you actually believe is going to work, and by work I mean you're going to put the effort behind it and you're going to not be discouraged if it doesn't work the first day or the first month or heck even the first year. Number two would be if you don't have any support that you'll be able to receive from any external person be mindful with your finances. Don't put yourself in a mental state of worry about your finances while you are trying to grow and launch your business. If you have support, like family or partner, be prepared to have conversations with them about what is the cutoff time before they will find your venture damaging to the relationship you have with them. You can't expect from family, friends, or your partner to be this endless bank and also take on the burden of financial responsibility in your family. If you are going to go on this venture it has to be a partnership and you both have to agree on what a cutoff is before it puts a strain on the relationship. The last thing, if you are going to present something to market make sure the quality is something that you would buy. Don't half ass what you do. That's not going to make you stand out in a world where there are millions of products and services available. You have to make sure the quality of what you're bringing is something you would pay for yourself.

Those are certainly great tips and a great way to round off the conversation. Thank you so much. Is there anything that you'd like to add or how can we reach you?

You can find me on my website, and you can also find me on Instagram and Facebook, @articulateyou. Lastly, if you're in need of marketing services and you want to try something different for the summer, now is the time to schedule a free consultation with me for whichever marketing service you're in need of.

Perfect. Well thank you so much for your time. I hope you have a good rest of your day.

Brittinee shows that if you’re committed to something and you do see the long term value in what you commit to you, the reward of helping others can carry you.

Hueful stories for you.

my B.O.B. - Taupe Coat

The latest #myBOBstory is one that balances wanting to be a profitable small business while also directly giving back to your community. This myBOB story introduces you to Founder and Owner of Taupe Coat, Bethany Peak. You can listen to the full interview with Bethany, as well as read the abridged version below.

You may have noticed that Taupe Coat was featured on our Instagram profile. If you’re interested in being featured in the #myBOBstory, reach out via email. This series brings awareness to Black businesses from the owner's perspective. At myblackbox co it's important to know the vision and purpose behind a business.

Bethany was inspired to begin her business due to the day-to-day struggles of being a Black woman in a White male dominated space: law. What sprung from her creativity and passion is a growing nail polish brand that gives a portion of its proceeds back to charity programs each quarter.

Why did you start your business?

When I think back, I realized it was out of self-care, but I don't think at the time that I really realized that. For my day job, I'm a practicing attorney. And several years ago, early in my practice I already started getting disillusioned and very grouchy about my job. I realized that I needed a hobby. I needed something to do after work that I liked so that I can decompressed from my day because my attitude is getting real stank and all my friends are probably about to cut me off. I've always really been into nail polish and so I learned that there were these indie brands that were making their own nail polish. I figured oh, if those ladies can do it then I probably can too, cause I'm smart. I started buying a bunch of products and just making my own nail polish at home after work; something fun to do. And I did that for a couple of years and then started sharing my polish with my mom and with some other people. And then one day it clicked for me, I was like, you should just sell your nail polish that you've been making at home. I came up with the name, Taupe Coat and 'Taupe' is spelled like the color Taupe. I love plays on words and so I was like, that's it. I kind of just, you know, decided that I was going to launch into entrepreneurship. I've never ran a business before, so it was weird and scary for me. But that's why I started doing it—I really needed something to keep myself sane from my day-to-day.

How have you found managing your time between your day-to-day job and then your small business?

What I found is that I have to be very proactive about scheduling my time that I'm going to work on my business. One of the things that I did [is] now I wake up every day at 5:00 am and I pretty much start my day then. I try to give myself 30 minutes just to me when I wake up. I do jumping jacks and drink some tea or coffee or whatever, then I give myself at least one hour before work to do Taupe Coat. That's usually when I'm reading my emails; deciding] what kind of stuff do I need to tackle? I create my to-do list and then I go through my workday. When I come home in the evening, I have "my office hours" and I block them out because some days I like to do fun things with my friends. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday night are office hours and that's when I dedicate those blocks, Taupe Coat. I've found that that really helps me especially with all the social media... hustle porn gets you that you're always supposed to be working on your business and if you're not, you're not committed! 'How dare you watch Game of Thrones!' I don't feel bad because I know these are the times that I decided to do my life or work on my business, and as long as I do that then I know I'm pursuing my goals. I don't have to feel guilty when I do want to hang out with my friends and watch the Bachelorette or whatever.

I think that ability to give yourself permission to still live your life even though you are an entrepreneur is something important to keep in mind because as you said, hustle porn is really prevalent and it makes people think that if they're not spending every waking hour on their business, then they're a failure. And that's not true. On that note, I'd really like to hear from you what drives you or fuels your entrepreneurial journey as you continue with it?

One of the things I'm really trying to do is break the cycle of generational poverty in my family. I feel we come from these families where our family worked super hard, they were trying to make ends meet; they're just trying to survive in America and we're kind of raised that you get your job, you work your 9 to 5, and you don't cause any problems and just be happy. But then that doesn't really create any wealth for us. We're not creating anything extra for our families to be able to live off of in the future. Sometimes with my business, I'll get discouraged because things aren't going as well as I want them to and I have all these lofty ideas that sometimes I'm like, 'You're not even qualified for that. Do you even know how to do that Bethany?' I have to remind myself that what I'm doing is not just for me. I'm not a mother yet, but I plan to be at some point. I am doing all of this, laying the groundwork so that me and my kids and my family in the future can be able to create some wealth so that maybe they don't have to work a 9 to 5 that they dislike. They have some flexibility or maybe if they want to be able to, have the freedom to try different things in their life, they'll be able to do that because we as a family have created wealth. I'll talk to my friends that are like, 'Oh my gosh, you starting Taupe Coat inspired me! Now I'm gonna pursue my dreams.' And knowing that I'm creating and helping to funnel this community of other women that are starting businesses gives me so much life.

I think that's very powerful, especially in Black families where sometimes the main goal is simply finding a job to be able to survive and life really shouldn't be felt as this thing that you're surviving. You should be able to live it and do amazing things while you are on this planet. My next question, as we talk about your journey and the inspiration that you've sparked for your friends to try something new or start a business, is who do you consider a great example of Black entrepreneurship?

The people that I consider great entrepreneurs are actually people that I consider within my tribe. I've started to meet a whole bunch of other Black women that are running businesses and they inspire me on a day-to-day basis. I have a friend she has a stylist company in Atlanta. She like you, had a day job, left that, and now she pursues her stylist company full time. She's amazing at it! She just had an app that launched. I have someone else, Ivy with a company called Ivy's Tea and she's a hip-hop herbalist. So all of her teas are based in the hip hop culture, and watching them do their thing and grow their businesses that's how I learn. When I see someone has a really great email listserv then I'm going to adopt that and use that in Taupe Coat emails. If I see somebody doing great programming then I'll figure out how I can adopt that into my own business. I look at the entrepreneurs around me that are still doing their thing, creating really great businesses and I use them as my example. It's a little bit more relatable to me than an amazing entrepreneur like Beyoncé. Beyoncé is great, but I'm not on Beyoncé’s level.

This relatability is something that I think can either deter a potential entrepreneur or if they can find relatable entrepreneurs actually spearhead them. In research they're referred to as these Black elites who have done these amazing things, been the first in their areas or just started these businesses that have grown. And it's this question for the everyday person where it's well, I'm not Beyoncé. I'm not Oprah. How can I possibly do it? And knowing these relatable entrepreneurs who started small, similar to you, who may or may not be in the same space as your business, it's still an opportunity to grow and learn from each other; and not feel you have to compete with one another and hold close your tips and tricks of how you succeeded. There's plenty of opportunity for all of us to be a success. My next question, as we dive more into your business, why should consumers purchase from Taupe Coat—what's the value that they're going to get out of purchasing from your business?

There are a lot of really amazing nail polish brands that create a similar product to me. All of my polishes, it's what they call 10 free, that means it doesn't have a lot of the harmful chemicals that are usually a nail polish. It's also vegan and cruelty free, which one point on that—cause my mother, you know how especially black mothers can be sometimes like ‘How is a polish vegan?'—but people don't know that a lot of the effects in some nail polish products are made from animal byproducts and that's why it's not a buzzword all the time. But anyway, I said there are a lot of great companies that are creating [polishes], and you were just saying there's more than enough space for all of us to thrive. Nobody owns one single brand of nail polish. I've never said I make the greatest nail polish in the world, but one of the things that I really pride myself on with Taupe Coat is that I'm trying to use nail polish to make a positive impact in my community. The way that we do that is through our Taupe charity program. Every quarter I pick a different charity and I donate a portion of our sales to that nonprofit. This year what I've done is try to have a more tangible impact. Our last quarter's Taupe charity was this group called Bright Girl LA and they put on workshops and programming for high school and middle school girls to help them develop their creative writing. We definitely need more women in the world telling our stories. Taupe Coat sponsored the snack table because [the program] likes to provide snacks for ladies that way they can keep their brains energized and flowing. One of the reasons that I think that people should really purchase from Taupe Coat, if not for anything else because we make great colors, is that I do use a lot of the money to reinvest into the community. Next, we're partnering with a women's prison book project. They raise money and collect books to send to women and transgender persons that are incarcerated. It's an entirely 100% volunteer—these are all people that volunteered their time. I'm planning on hosting a couple of book drives over the summer, but also all the money that I set aside from Taupe charity is going to go to their wish lists and buy as many books as we can so we can send them to these womxn in prison.

I love that you actually do have very clear defined goals of what you're trying to achieve with the portion of what you do—giving back to your community and selecting these different organizations to contribute to on a quarterly basis. Most companies will pick one charity organization to support once a year and that's it. To kind of touch a little bit on what you are sharing about your products and, and why consumers should want to purchase with Taupe Coat, I'd love to know of all of your polishes in the colors that you have, which is your most favorite and why?

This is such a hard question because every time I feel like 75% of the shades I make, I'm like, 'Oh this is my favorite! This is it. I love it! I should just stop here!' I have a shade called Be Uncommon. It's this really bright electric blue. When I first started playing around with nail polish, I used to have a color similar when I was younger in high school and I loved it. I missed that color. I worked so hard trying to recreate it and it took me forever to try to create Be Uncommon. I had the mental picture of it from when I was 16 and so I finally got it and it was perfect. It continues to be one of my best sellers. I think that is my favorite shade because this is my childhood being manifested into my entrepreneurial journey; also knowing that other people love it and appreciate it. One day this lady walks by and she had Be Uncommon on and she's like, 'This is my favorite color!' and I swear I wanted to cry.

When you actually see that people love what you're doing and love one of your most favorite things about your business, it does bring a really strong sense of joy, pride, and also wholeness. For readers, make sure you check out [Be Uncommon] because it's very popular! My next question, to dive a little bit more into society and the way that Black women try to move within society, I would like to learn what advice you have for Black girls and women who struggle finding their place in society?

I feel this an ongoing journey that I am on myself, especially being in the legal practice. It's no shock that it is definitely a White male dominated business and especially in the area that I practice—pretty much everybody is a White man. It's really weird being in that space and a lot of times not only are you the only woman, you're the only person of color; you're the only person under 40. This is something that I struggle with on a daily basis. I found that one of the things for me was that having my group of people that I knew I can go back to and just fully be myself really impacts my mental well-being. I have my best friends, four of us, and we talk pretty regularly, but recently we got on the Marco Polo app. It's done a lot for my mental well-being because having this group of women that can jump on [and share] like let me tell you about something crazy today; let me tell you why I'm feeling discouraged, or am I being crazy? Having that group, knowing that I can always go to them, they're going to understand me, they're going to give me honest feedback sometimes that I maybe don't want to hear, but nonetheless I need here, that has really helped me. It reminds me that it's OK me being me, I'm not the only person that feels this way. When I go back into my day job and in moments where I'm feeling I'm being shoved into a box, I know that that's not my only reality. There are other experiences that I have in my life that can keep me on track and help me feel more like myself. I can't single-handedly change the legal profession overnight and if I try to, or think I'm going, then I'm going to drive myself crazy.

The encouragement that you're suggesting of having a group of friends or individuals that you can actually connect with outside of these spaces, that connect to your authenticity, to who you are, is something I don't think is explained very well in the arena of how we talk about this nowadays—especially across social media and all these conferences of empowering women and Black women together. My next question, because everyone loves to talk about finances, how did you financially start your business?

When I decided I was going to start my business, I was like, I'm just gonna start it. I literally came up with the name for Taupe Coat, sitting in my bed. I text my brother, 'Isn't this a cool name?' He's like, 'Yeah.' It was not really advanced planning. I had the benefit of my day job, that is one of the only reasons I continue to practice law today is the financial benefits. I can take that money and literally fund it or funnel that into Taupe Coat. I used my extra money from my salary. Now Taupe Coat brings in money, so I'm able to use that. But in the beginning, I went to my budget and I cut out a section. This is what I'm going to devote to Taupe Coat every month. I'll also plug in a very great organization, Buy From a Black Woman. They give out a small business grant. I think they do it quarterly. When I first started Taupe Coat, I only bought a couple bottles; it was a very small investment. I started getting a really good response, so I was like, alright, I need more bottles. It cost way more money than I had on hand and I applied for the Buy From a Black Woman grant and I used that money to be able to buy the new bottles I have that I love and are really great quality. It [was] a combo of me financing my own company but also getting support from my community of Black women.

I think it's very common that a lot of Black women are so beholden to this stereotype that we have to be strong and do it all ourselves, and are too afraid to ask for help. You applying for this grant with Buy From a Black Woman helped you get better quality bottles and it only helped you continue to deliver the service that you want to, and the products that you want to, to your customer base. I appreciate you sharing both avenues of it being self-funded as well as taking the chance on opportunities that you think might be beneficial based on who is actually presenting those financial opportunities with our readers. What advice would you give to someone like you who has an idea but is afraid to take the first step to launch anything?

Honestly, I think the first thing you have to do is just do it. You know, a lot of times we get these ideas and sometimes you have to get out of your own way. I am the queen of that also. When I decided that I wanted to start making nail polish as a hobby, I started buying things right then. A lot of times...people get caught up to where it's like, I have this idea and you're like you need a business plan. Some people will spend 18 years writing a business plan and never actually get to the business part of the plan! You have got to start somewhere, just start doing anything, pick one thing that you know, that you need to do for the business and just do it. I was really insecure about it because being an attorney I have a good job and I was so worried that people were going to be like, 'What are you doing trying to slang nail polish? Go back to your office, bill more hours, and do your law thing and stop trying to nail polish cause that's ridiculous!' For a while I didn't tell anybody. I was fully manufacturing nail polish. I was signing up for markets and stuff, but I wasn't telling people around me. In retrospect, I should've been out, happy, and do what I wanted to do. Don't let yourself hold yourself back. Because really you are the only barrier between you and dreams that you have.

Most of the time these corporations, especially startups that I've worked for, they get lucky. They don't perfect anything. They just get lucky. So, luck will probably be on your side and if not, you will learn from trying it that way and then you can go and put a little bit of perfection into it. But just start somewhere. What can the myblackbox co audience expect from Taupe Coat with the rest of 2019—what's coming?

One of the things I've been wanting to do for the last couple of years is find more ways to get out and have events where I can interact with customers and more people. This is also a request for help from your audience. If anyone has a nail salon or knows of event spaces and would love to partner with Taupe Coat, I'm looking for a space where I can come in, bring some manicurists, have Taupe Coat polish, have wine, champagne, beer, whatever. We get together for an evening of fellowship and fun. I'm really working on trying to get some of those out around end of summer and the fall before things get crazy for the holidays. I love opportunities to create community. I always meet a new business owner that I identify with. I did a show with Project Beauty Expo, which is for Black woman owned beauty brands. I met a bunch of the other vendors and one of them reached out because she wants to do a Christmas box. I'm going to collaborate with her. I share that to say I always have a great time whenever I'm out fellowshipping with other women. I'm trying to find new ways for Taupe Coat to get out there. If anybody has any ideas, you have a business, you want to partner, feel free to reach out to me.

If you're in the Greater Los Angeles area and you have a venue or space where you can partner together to bring fellowship, exchanging knowledge, ideas, innovation, that's the birthing of new ideas can come from joining with others who are committed to seeing growth happen. I wanted to say that most businesses who think, or potential entrepreneurs who think, that a market is too saturated don't think that you cannot enter the nail polish space. That's why there's multiple options so that you can have multiple colors to select from and brands to select from. You will find your audience that will fall in love with your unique offering, your unique position, which I love yours, Bethany. Thank you so much for your time! Plug in where we can find you on social and your website as well.

I really enjoyed this Brittinee. I appreciate the opportunity. Our website is We're on all social media is @taupecoat; Instagram, Facebook, we have Twitter but I'm a bad tweeter!

Awesome! Well, thank you again and I look forward to making a purchase soon myself.

Awesome, thanks Brittinee!

Bethany’s story showcases how you can be committed to supporting underrepresented groups, building community and sisterhood, and still use creativity to deliver products that sale.

Hueful stories for you.

my B.O.B. - Reflections by Zana

The latest #myBOBstory is one that will have you think about what is most important in life. This myBOB story introduces you to Founder and Owner of Reflections by Zana, Aneesha Smith. You can listen to the full interview with Aneesha, as well as read the abridged version below.

You may have noticed that Reflections by Zana was featured on our Instagram. If you’re interested in being featured in the #myBOBstory, reach out via email. This series brings awareness to Black businesses from the owner's perspective. At myblackbox co it's important to know the vision and purpose behind a business.

Aneesha cares 100 percent about the representation her daughters have of their Blackness in their clothing, accessories, and society. It’s what fueled her to ensure her little girls along with many other Black girls and women had something they could call their own.

Where does the name Zana come from?

The Zana originated with my daughters’ names, I have two daughters. Their names are Zarya and Aniya. And so, I took a couple of letters from each and I combined their names.

That's really beautiful. Do they know that the business was a combination of their names? 

They ask me, “why [do] people call you Zana?” I told them that there's a ZA in Zarya, and an NA in Aniya. I wanted to keep it simple. I wanted to keep it unique, and of course, my daughters' names are simple and unique. So they, were like 'Ah' —they're young, they're 12 and 14 but when we started the business they were two and a half years younger.

Why did you start Reflections by Zana? 

I started Reflections by Zana because I saw that my daughters loved art. I'm an art lover, I'm a real creative person. I'm not necessarily a grand illustrator, if you will, but I love to be creative and design things, put things together, put different elements together and they kind of took that piece up as they started growing up. I saw when they would bring me pictures they drew…none of the faces on the pictures looked like them. It's natural in a sense, because you're emulating what you see, but what do you see? You see it everywhere. Nobody really looks like you. I started Reflections by Zana to highlight the fact that they could start to become comfortable coloring in those lines and given in some color to their own creations by showing them that it's possible and it's doable. And that little girls, especially, could be comfortable in their own skin, or changing up the game and making those characters that they admire look more like them. We started with representation and painting at the very beginning. I wanted them to see the afro puff and I wanted them to see the skin tones were all different but it was OK. The hair didn't have to be long, it didn't have to flow across your face and down your back, and that's what I was seeing in their work.

I think that your reason for starting your business is something that will definitely resonate with a lot of the myblackbox audience because our future, especially if we're parents, really starts with our children. Would you say that along with your daughters, there is another inspiration that fuels your entrepreneurial journey? 

I've always given myself a reason to have a side business. I've owned several businesses; I've been an editor, I mean my husband wrote books. I've done Mary Kay at one point early when I first became a nurse. When I was little and I had a typewriter and I would type up sales pages for dance classes that I was doing for neighborhood children. Mind you, I'm a neighborhood kid myself. But, the expression piece has always been there. I could probably point to very few years in my adult life where I was not a part of a business or trying to start a business or getting to run a business. Reflections by Zana was the business that stuck. It stuck because of technology changes; it stuck because of the rising era of women who wanted to be represented in more than just magazines and television. They wanted to wear things, they wanted to make statements every day. The drive [has] always been an entrepreneurial drive.  I have brothers that have companies and I think it's just been in us. For me personally, I'm always looking for [a] way to be able to express that and get products to people in certain markets that I enjoy.

As you say, there's a larger amount of Black women who are pursuing entrepreneurial goals and starting businesses whether that be in retail, food and beverage, beauty [and] hair, or apparel. I think it's more acceptable in society for younger generations to venture out and try new ideas instead of just go with a given traditional route.  I would love to know who you consider a great example of Black entrepreneurship? 

I'm going to give you a couple of names that probably are brands that your audience may be familiar with; they're also part of a community that I'm a part of called Traffic, Sales, and Profit. These are everyday women that built up products and services that serve woman. The first one is Sassy Jones Boutique with Charis Jones. She does jewelry, unique jewelry as a subscription box service and it's just classy, uplifting products that her entire community is very grateful for the access to that and a place for that. Then the second is [inaudible]. She has another large community, she does exactly the kind of same messaging that I do, with confidence in who you are, confidence in being Black.

I'm glad that you shared other Black women entrepreneurs, because there’s sometimes a believe that woman can't support other woman; or they're afraid that there's not enough room at whatever table they found themselves at, so they won't invite others to it or help others get to it.

It's doable. The reason I didn't give you a household name was because these woman are household names in their own communities.  They're not corporate or they haven't been bought and sold and watered down. It's kind of like on the journey you meet people that are as passionate as you, and so, I did. It’s an amazing process to see behind that, to meet them, and then see them in action and mentoring others and setting a great example.

[On] that accord, I'd love to know why should consumers purchase with Reflections by Zana?

You should buy with me because of the standards. I have high standards of excellence. We work hard to provide products, especially with our art‑based products, a lot of illustrations are beautiful, classy illustrations that we really hope make those statements that you want to make when you go to work.  Make statements when you are on vacation, when you're just out shopping and you want to be seen and you want to turn heads. I find a lot of our pieces are conversational when I carry things around. And then to speak to my smaller items that I actually do hand‑make—I make badges and one of my customers had a professional photoshoot in her badge that she got from me. It's a three‑inch wooden badge and I stain it, and I paint it, and I adorn it and then I put the degree letters or the professional letters that you have earned in the hair. Before I even started offering illustrated items, I sold something as simple as a work badge. I've made almost 10,000 badges since I started doing it and I'm the only person that makes them. I will always be selling those. They will always be bought and the representation, the need for representation is real.

You bring up a good segue because I would love to know of [the] collections of your products, which is your most favorite and why? 

The illustration that gets me, brings me in the most, I would say is probably my Loc’d Goddess. She is forward facing, her hair is loc‑d, I've had a ton of customers request a locs illustration from me because I've done the afropuffs and the locs are in. She's got an African choker on and she's very lively and exuberant. Every time I'm out vending and I open something with her on it or bring something with her on it, locs or not, people stop. They stop and they turn around and they come back. So, I'm going to say my favorite so far is her. I do have another one that I'm going to be releasing—I kind of started the collection, I haven't finished getting it on my site—but Queen Zara, she's a head wrap. She's another absolutely gorgeous Black woman—full lips, nose, earrings…absolutely classy, animated, exuberant and she's going to be up hopefully [late June].

Things that represents us as we come into our own as Black women is pretty telling, especially in the options that you present with Reflections By Zana. My next question is what advice do you have for Black girls and women who struggle finding their place in society? 

Well, I will say there's a lot of hurt in the Black community. I'm a dark‑skinned woman and I got teased growing up. I got teased about being dark skin and chocolate this, and tar that. These are my school mates and people in the streets. I had my parents who really instilled a value of self‑worth. I know that everyone doesn't have somebody that's close to them that can constantly remind them that the world is a bit crazy when it comes to these matters. I feel like hopefully we can encourage women to seek inside and seek visuals. My daughters, they have Instagram accounts and I monitor them. I tag them in all the Black art I can find. I let them know it is OK to find space and to be comfortable in those spaces, and to draw, to create characters of color. Period. My 12 year old draws for me, and she's got two designs and I'm very excited to release for kids. They're just so fun and uplifting. My advice would be to find communities and it's OK if you don't want to be called Blerds or Black nerds. I'm telling you since I started this business my daughters bring me art that is colored in now. They bring me afropuffs; they bring me headbands and cute fuzzy bangs and dark skin characters. I think it's  deeper conversation, but I would say my biggest tip would be to find safe spaces and to find people who like the things that you like—and they may not be what a “typical black girl” likes or what a “typical Black woman” is interested in or should be interested in. 

I don't want to end on this topic…because we can go on forever but I do have three remaining questions to ask you about your business. The one that I'm sure everyone will want to know—especially since you are in a clothing and apparel space—how did you financially start your business? 

I was a nurse…I bootstrapped it. I can tell you that my badges paid for a whole lot of retention. Believe it or not, that badge costs $20; shipped to your house for $20.  We had to increase the price when we realized how much work it was. But that money, we [a] hundred percent invested right back. We just grew and grew and grew that bank account until we could afford to step out and explore other product options. So, you go to my Etsy shop and get to see how diverse our offers are, from compression socks to stethoscopes—I had 100 stethoscopes made, limited edition with our logo on it. It was a hundred percent reinvestment and just very careful research as to what we could afford to roll out next and keep our community interested in what we were doing. I originally started with nursing, just RNs ,and then people started requesting BSN; and then people started requesting MSN and DNP; and then social workers were like well what about social workers. And [then] doctors were like, well wait a minute I'm an AKA, but I'm also a physician, can you make that work, can you put my [Greek] letters, could it be in the hair and with rhinestones, and in I want everything! We let our customers talk to us about what they wanted to see and how they wanted to display everything they had accomplished.

That's a fantastic example of sowing a seed and watching it grow and then taking the harvest from that seed that grew into this beautiful plant, that delivered bountiful fruit and replanting seeds from the fruit that you gained. Then it blossoming from there to different professional levels and to different Greek letter organizations to other spaces of their identity because no one's one‑dimensional—I can be an attorney, and be an AKA, and be a mom.

When I tell you my repeat customers…they're so unique. I've had people attempt to offer what I'm offering and they don't last very long because it really is a labor of love— to get something so intricate and so meaningful to one individual knowing it won't last forever but the time [it] that you have is just so much about you.

I think that's why your customer base continues to purchase with you again is because of the value you bring and the sentiment that it connects with them. I think it's hard for a lot of businesses to figure that out. I would love to know from you what advice you would give to someone like you who has an idea but is afraid to take the first step to launch.

Do your research first, get a really good idea on answering a few questions as to if this is going to be a hobby for you; is this something you want to get out in the world and see where it goes? Are you prepared for popularity? Are you prepared for failure? Are you financially prepared to take the jump, does it make sense? These are questions that…as a person that's excited about an idea, you skip these questions. Because of course, it's an idea that I love and of course people will love it too because they will and you haven't really done the research into the why people may or may not be sold. I have about 7,200 sales on Etsy and about maybe 900 reviews. It's like a five star experience. That experience is something you must prepare from day one to deliver to your customers. You got to hit the ground running, and make sure that you can deliver on an entire experience with them, talk to them.

I think most people, I'll say, are very excited about their idea and the success that they can have but the work that they have to put into it, they're not very honest with themselves about that work. My last question is what can we expect from Reflections by Zana in 2019? 

Me and my husband, we go to conferences where we feel will be important and help us see what the next steps will be. For me, I feel like it's time to grow community around Reflections by Zana, so I'm going to be starting a Facebook group, that will celebrate individuality, professionalism, and allow people to show off what they purchased from us. I don't really talk to my audience directly very much and I'm going to start doing that too. I want to kind of make sure we have our collections and there's something fresh and exciting coming up. For anyone that's in the Atlanta area, we'll be at the Second Annual WeBuyBlack convention on August 23 to 25. For the rest of the year it's just kind of going to be about doing some of the fine tuning—our messages, letting our customers see us more, and starting to build a community.

Well the myblackbox community definitely should go and check you out at the WeBuyBlack Second Annual Conference in August. They can also head over to your site and go through the beautiful collections available and if they are Greek, the Greek‑lettered offerings you have. It's quite exciting to see the different variations of things that you offer on the site. I do hope that our audience supports you and of course thank you again for your time!

The alignment was amazing! Thank you so much. Thank you.

Aneesha’s mindfulness and care for her daughters’ self-image based on representation in the media clearly sparked the journey for a successful clothing and accessories brand. How inspired are you after learning about her journey?

Hueful stories for you.

my B.O.B - HourxHour

The latest #myBOBstory is one that will have you think about what is most important in life. This myBOB story introduces you to Founder and Creator of HourxHour, Alexis Avery. You can listen to the full interview with Alexis, as well as read the abridged version below.

You may have noticed that HourxHour was featured on our Instagram. If you’re interested in being featured in the #myBOBstory, reach out via email. This series brings awareness to Black businesses from the owner's perspective. At myblackbox co it's important to know the vision and purpose behind a business.

Alexis has been managing a medical condition, a growing bath and body business for the chronically ill, and life for the past 8 years with one mantra driving her forward: “My purpose is to help somebody else get through their day with their condition.”

Can you share with me why you started your business?

Actually, Hour by Hour morphed from an older business I had called Control Butter, which I made body butters. When I got sick it derailed me for two years. I completely shut down that business and I was bedridden and house bound for two years while we were trying to figure out what I had and what was going on. I remember sitting in my car one day and I had a breakdown. And an epiphany, I could do it. I had come home from work, I had left work for a doctor's appointment. They didn't have any answers for me. It broke me down. And I sat in my car and I cried. I cried for a good 30 minutes because I didn't know how I was going to get through finding out what was wrong. I told myself, if you could get through a minute, Alexis, you'll be okay. If you get through an hour, you'll be great. You're strong enough to get through an hour and at the time I wanted to redo my business and I couldn't figure out a name. And I was like, Hour by Hour, that's what I'm going to call it! I'm going to make it for people like me, people who are fighting to get through the day when they don't think they can. They can't take it day by day because that's too much. They don't know what the day is going to entail but if they take it hour by hour or sometimes even minute by minute. That's how it came to be.

I think that, one, thank you for sharing the background of how you started. I'm always fascinated by Black entrepreneurs who started business out of a need or a necessity or because it was on their heart or on their spirit to start because it was something that they lived through. So, thank you for sharing that. With that, I'd love to know what inspiration do you use today and now to fuel your entrepreneurial journey with Hour by Hour?

There's every day struggles that people with invisible chronic and mental illnesses go through. A lot of us have a lot of pain and doubt from co-workers and friends and family, things like that. We don't have a lot of support. So, every one of my products actually has a story and that story stems from a real-life experience. One of my bath salts, soaking bath salts, it is a salt that's main use is to soak in a tub. There's no fragrance, it's not going to irritate you. Soak for hours without the water bothering your skin, without getting itchy. Sometimes you need that when you have a flare, when you don't feel good but you could barely walk, or when you've been at work all day and people are accusing you of faking. A lot of people DM me, a lot of people talk to me on Instagram and social media and things like that and they tell me what they go through and it's what I go through and, I could 110 percent relate. I always try to make my products and my brand accommodate that or speak to that or reflect that and that's what fuels it, 110 percent. It's always going to fuel it because at this point it's not a passion, it's a purpose. My purpose is to help somebody else get through their day with their condition. My purpose is to help you relax. My purpose is to help you find some type of relief even if it's not going to last. I need you to have a bit of relief away from the pain and doubt and suffering that you're in.

When you think about the products that you have, of them, which is your most favorite and why? If you can, share a testimonial from a customer who’s reached out and thanked you for creating something that's been helping to soothe or assist them with exactly what you intended with Hour by Hour. 

That would definitely be my body butter. It's the product that started it all. That was my very first thing I made eight years ago, a mango body butter. Although the recipe has morphed and changed and advanced some, it's pretty much still the same staple product. Everyone who buys this butter has raved about it so far! I'm very fortunate for that. I haven't received a bad review on this product yet in the eight years that I've been making it, selling it, giving it away, gifting it. They say they love the way it makes them smell, their husbands take more interest in them, they like the way it melts into their skin, it stops the itching, stops the chafing. When they have conditions where they take medication, it makes their skin really dry and they get some relief from it. They said it's moisturizing enough to wear; it alleviates that irritation from that symptom and that's so heartwarming for me to hear. I know what it's like to be on different types of medications when you have different symptoms and you don't know where to go or what to do, how to get any type of relief. For them to say hey I need something that you made, and for a couple hours the itch went away, I was so happy, it makes me tear up. It's overwhelming. I still can't believe that I'm able to help someone like that and I don't take it for granted at all.

I'm sure that it's a very like reciprocated experience for both parties. Do you know of any other products out there that actually do focus on people who are going through mental or physical, or some other medical issue where they need similar products that Hour by Hour provides?

I would have to say I haven't found one yet, and I do search. And this isn't to downplay any other companies and their mission because a lot of the companies that are in my field have beautiful missions. You have people who want to take out all the toxic chemicals in their products and make all natural, organic products, you have people who are interested in saving the palm trees that some of our parks come from, you have people with all these other wonderful missions but I haven't come across a brand yet that solely focuses on chronic, mental, and invisible illnesses. And I think the reason behind that may be invisible illnesses they can't be seen. So, people really don’t take them seriously and people don't acknowledge them or the people that suffer with them. And mental illness is not cute. It's not sexy, it's not fun, it's not hip, it's not trendy. It's real and it's scary and it's unpredictable and sometimes it's dangerous. Now, do I make products that don't do anything different than other bath and body companies? No, I don't. I have a body butter. I can say I have very high quality and sometimes a lot of ingredients, but at the end of the day it's still a cream you rub on your body. There's a million others out there. But, is there a cream out there that you can rub on your body that was made with you in mind that it's so light when you rub it on your herniated joints you don't have to massage hard onto your skin that's already painful. Can you find a cream that's not overly loaded with fragrance that is going to make you sick because you're in chemo, but you still want a cream that has a little bit of scent, because you want to feel like a woman although you've been in a hospital bed for 27 days straight. Unless a company has a founder that's in the same situation, I don't think that they're going to be able to do it.

Pain doesn't necessarily sell unless it's the pain of an under represented group that is actually preyed upon by a majority group for pleasure. Sickness doesn't sell unless it's the sickness of a group in a country. And mental health is not sexy, no one really wants to talk about it, but we want to talk about it when it's too late because someone's killed themselves or someone has harmed someone else or someone has done something that is not revocable. I appreciate that you were speaking as a human being to these people, to women, and I'm sure men buy your products too; but to women who have felt unseen and unheard on top of going through something medically or health-wise that's probably debilitating and doesn't make them feel whole.

So what you don't have a mental illness? So what you don't struggle with depression? So what you don't struggle with anxiety, but your day was as hard? If you made it through, hour by hour you made it through, and you want to relax in a bathtub, by all means, you deserve it. You earned it. And I really want people to understand that you don't have to be sick to deserve compassion for your struggle throughout that day.

Self-care is universal. There's no qualifications needed for self-care and your products are definitely in the realm of what any woman or any person could consider as a relaxing way to unwind from their day or from a problem. Which leads me to a really great question for you: Why should consumers purchase from Hour by Hour?

If you want a bath and body brand that really was formulated for your needs as a person who's struggling through the day, come to me. From the ingredients to the scents to the actual product that I make, they're all designed to help you get through the day, hour by hour. The scents of my candles, I have a very limited selection of scents in all of my products but each scent has a story behind it, each scent and most of my candles were made with the intention to give you something to [enjoy] that's going to relax you; that's going to calm you; that’s going to bring back a good memory. Every product has a purpose. Every product has a reason behind it. People love bath bomb cupcakes, and I do them for special events and people custom order them for party favors, but you won't find them in my line because what does a bath bomb cupcake have to do with helping you get through the day hour by hour? It's cute, but it serves no purpose for what you're going through.

I love that you talk about your products having a purpose first. I wonder if you feel that you have an example of someone or another entity you think could be considered a great example of Black entrepreneurship?

I'm going to give you two people off of Instagram that I follow for motivation and information. I like Cici from the Six Figure Chicks, who makes digital products, informational digital products. She teaches you how to build an e-mail list, she teaches you how to market, she teaches you a little bit about branding and she's really good at what she does, she's very informative. But she's very authentic. When I first came across her page, the first motto that I saw was, 'I'm friendly, not free.' I was like well that's blunt, that's kind of rude, don't you think. In her caption, she said, 'I'm not for everybody, down from the way I speak to the products I make. I am not for everybody and I'm okay with that.' And that blew my mind because at the time I was like you have to cater to everybody, you have to give everybody something and she was like no, I don't. Another lady that I love is Renelle Stewart also known as Supa Cent of the Crayon Case on Instagram. I use her for drive and motivation. I've been following her since the beginning from zero to a million, literally. She started her brand for amateur makeup artists. She was on Instagram not knowing how to do her makeup and she taught herself and that's what her brand is about. When it comes to hustle and being authentic to yourself and being profitable with that, those are the two women I look up to on Instagram right now.

I recently was added to the Six Figure Army Facebook group and there's so many amazing women talking about their businesses. I don't think I've ever been exposed to such a level of consistency of Black women doing and achieving and sharing knowledge willingly. And then with Supa Cent, I was talking to a colleague recently about how while I don't really wear a lot of bright or exuberant colors, I appreciate her grind and how when she does a sale, it's millions in sales within an hour, within minutes. It's pretty amazing and she doesn't have to be in a Sephora or a Mac or a JC Penney or any of these other retailers. She's doing it out of her own space and with her own team. You can't deny that level of ingenuity that Black women bring to the table when they put their mind to it so thank you for those examples. I think this is a really great place to discuss how have you or how did you financially start your business?

In 2008 I found a local program called the Savings Match Program and what they did was up to $2,000 you could save, they would match the $2,000 for a total of $5,000. I did the program, I got accepted, I graduated and I got my money. With the exception of the money I spent on my well materials and containers, I got ripped off of everything else. I bought my computer…and I bought my containers so maybe for a total of $2,500 I got all my materials and stuff and I lost everything else with being ripped off. So, fast forward throughout the years, I'm starting, I'm stopping, I'm starting, I'm stopping because I'm so sick and because I couldn't keep the cash flow going. Instead of paying myself first I pay my business first. I make those sales, I put it back into my business. Now I'm finally at a place where I have more consistency, I have more sales coming in, and so I'm able to have a cycle of money and purchasing going to where I don’t have that gap of not being able to move product because I can't make product. I got a really big gift from the program and I didn't manage it correctly and lost it all and then I funded it through selling product and my job.

You took that risk because some people are too afraid to do that. And then you learned from the experience that you had after reaping the benefits of that program and starting over, stopping, starting over, stopping, but then still picking yourself back up and coming to a place where you could actually figure out what's going to work best for you to keep Hour by Hour moving forward to the goals that you have.

I actually read this quote that says 'It's not your fault if you're born poor. It is your fault if you die the same.' And ever since I read that it resonated with me. So, quitting to me isn't an option. Hour by Hour is going to be one of the most successful bath and body brands out there eventually. I know it's going to come to pass and I'm expectant of everything that's going to happen, good and bad.

The quote that you shared, that's a powerful message right there. That quote could probably sum up any good advice, but what advice do you have for Black girls and women who are struggling to find their place in society?

Do not wait for society to give you a place. You take your place and you tell society, this is where it's at, because society is going to place you in a place that's not beneficial to you. Society is going to place you in a place that you're not happy in. Society is going to place you in a place where you're going to suffer and let you wither away. You don't wait for society to give you permission to do anything. You make your own lane. You make a space where you feel protected, where you can be yourself, where you can flourish, because society isn't going to let you flourish. It's not. They're not going to let you evolve, so you make society bend to what you want. It's your space, you make the rules, you run the show, and that's how it is.

There's so many women who need that message and I hope that they hear it and receive it 100 percent. What advice would you give to someone like you who has an idea but is afraid to take the first step to launch?

When you say someone like me, I hear you saying a young woman who looks healthy but is not. What I would tell that woman is medically get yourself together because you won't be able to do it without that consistency. You can't get that consistency if you're always sick. Since 2008 to 2019 I failed. I'm resilient, nothing can keep me down. Train yourself to be resilient because you're going to fail, people aren't going to help you up, people aren't going to want to see you win, and sometimes you're only going to have yourself to rely on. It's lonely and it's sad but once you get your momentum and once you get going, then people will start to believe in you and help you. Make that website that looks like you made it. Make that first sample. Go to that first event, whether your 110 percent prepared or not. Build your confidence because, oh honey, you're going to need it. You need to find something that's going to anchor you down. Write what you want your business to be in five years, ten years. Write it down, put it on a door, every door of your house so you never miss it.

Wow! I don't even want to have to ask my last question because what you gave, I nearly have tears in my eyes and I was sitting here like at church, getting a good word! Last question, what can we expect from Hour by Hour in 2019?

For the remainder of 2019 going to 2020, we are planning a This is Us campaign, which is going to take a look at what does invisible illness really look like. We're working on a subscription box, that's been a big request and we're working on a kid's line because the funniest thing I've ever heard is asking a kid what stresses you out. I'm so excited to do a children's line of products catered to children because apparently sharing crayons in preschool is a stressful situation! I'm all about consistency, professionalism and presentation so I'm working on that as well.

It all sounds fantastic. I'm excited to see this kid's line too. I feel that children they're incredibly impressionable, one, and two, there's often a lot of placement of what an adult wants a child to think, believe, and feel and not enough of understanding what children are actually thinking and feeling because they're incredibly smart and they communicate well when they are given the space to do so. Where can people find you and your products?

You can find me on Instagram, @hourxhour. You can find me on my website at

Wonderful. Well, thank you Alexis for joining me, thank you so much for your time and telling the audience about Hour by Hour, your experience, as well as understanding there are so many people out there with invisible illnesses, chronic illnesses and even those dealing with mental health illness that we need to be a bit more compassionate towards; as well as being compassionate to ourselves when we need self-care.

Yes, 100 percent. Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.

Alexis’ triumphant story should light a fire under your you-know-what! How can you not find the spirit to make your goals a reality with your business now?

Hueful stories for you.

my B.O.B - Aramark Farm

The latest #myBOBstory is one that will have you think about what is most important in life. This myBOB story introduces you to Founder and Owner of Vassell Foods (product line: Arawak Farm), Lloyd Vassell. You can listen to the full interview with Lloyd, as well as read the abridged version below.

You may have noticed that Vassell Foods was featured on our Instagram. If you’re interested in being featured in the #myBOBstory, reach out via email. This series brings awareness to Black businesses from the owner's perspective. At myblackbox co it's important to know the vision and purpose behind a business.

Lloyd has been an entrepreneur for over 30 years, but first began his professional career in Corporate America. With his West Indian background, strong familial ties, and an appreciation for alternative food options for sensitive stomachs.

Why did you start your business?

Couple of reasons; one I've been an entrepreneur since 1999. I left Corporate America because I am the proverbial nail in the wood. When a nail sticks out the first thing you want to do hammer it back in. I'm not really a conformist. I like my own destiny; I like creating my own destiny. Two, in my lifetime I've been in the media, I've been in consumer goods, I've been in high tech. But my passion has always been food. My dad was a chef. I'm a chef and it's something that I've always come back to. When the opportunity presented itself, I jumped in with both feet and started this business.

I'd love to learn a little bit more about the experience you had in corporate that helped you find that you did not want to be in that environment, in that type of work structure, since a lot of people are either working at a corporate office or they work at the front lines of a corporation and aren't always able to get out of that.

Well, getting out of it is probably the hardest thing that you're probably going to do. I was in upper management, senior management in my corporate experience. But I was never in charge of my own destiny. I had to report to somebody. It's funny how you report to somebody who's either younger, less educated, or some of the other adjectives I won't use. Let's just say that I'm just not the kind of person who's going to sit behind a desk for 8 hours and be completely productive. I was productive obviously because I was in management. It was always that inkling of I could do more. In Corporate America you really don't get the opportunity to do more, until they're ready, until they tell you it's time to do more. Secondarily, I had a little bit of a push out the door in the sense of that my youngest son had sickle cell anemia and he had a bone marrow transplant coming up. In my last corporate position I was Director of Corporate Branding and Global Sponsorship for Sun Microsystems. I was constantly traveling and I had to make a decision do I continue to travel or be by his side for the next six months as he gets the bone marrow transplant and then recuperates—it wasn't a really hard decision.

I've worked for several corporations and startups as well and I've found that what you're saying in regards to them not letting you do more until you're ready to do just don't get to be your authentic self completely. When you have life moments that arise they're dismissed and you're seen as like not 100% committed to the company, but human beings are supposed to be 100% committed to their life and those who are their loved ones in it. Not a business or some entity.

Some of the listeners might have heard Steve Harvey talk about this experience called jump. In life you have to jump when it's right. God has a way of protecting all of us even though we don't fully believe or not, you're protected. There were times in our lives when we have to drop off the cliff and an opportunity might face you and you look at it and go well I'm not ready. You're never ready. You're never ready to start, but you have to believe in yourself, and you have to jump.

What inspiration do you use to fuel your entrepreneurial journey?

My family inspires me because they are the reasons why I'm out here. Starting your own business is not an easy thing to do. I want to give the impression that out of the [businesses] that I've started, they've all gone on to be a glorious success. No they haven't, but you have to realize that it's not for everybody. Entrepreneurial life is not for everybody. There are some people who need a check every two weeks to come in the mail or go to your bank account to feel secure. And there are some people like me who look at though I might not get paid every two weeks I determine my direction, I determine my lifestyle. When I do get paid it's considerably more than what I would have made every two weeks. I think family inspires you; friends can inspire you. If you don't inspire yourself to make it happen, then you'll fall to the whims of your friends and family.

You have to maintain that value that you know your business product or service is bringing, what you put into it, and say no friend I can't give it to you for free. I think my next question plays into how value strengthens brand love, your business love, and repeat business hopefully. Who do you consider a great example of Black entrepreneurship?

I go back to Reginald Lewis and people will go, "Who?" Growing up he was a Black man that bought [what is now known as] Tropicana and you have to understand that back then a Black man buying Tropicana was completely unheard of. Tropicana is huge. He bought it and took it private. This is back in probably the 80s too. To me it's like, "How did he do that? How did he pull that off?" To me Reginald Lewis was a true inspiration that I can buy Tropicana...and to me, that set me on the path to be an entrepreneur. If he could do it, I could do it.

Those are strong examples because for Millennials or Gen Z-ers they're not always that astute on historical figures in Black communities that have done these amazing things that were never supposed to be done by a Black person or when it was first achieved it was the first time a Black person had made such a large accomplishment. We have so many amazing examples to refer to from our past, which helped pave the way for these ones today who are becoming the first XYZ. [This] leads me to my next question for you, why should consumers purchase from your business? What is it that makes your business so unique?

I'm West Indian by heritage and [we're] known for eating spicy food. I don't like incredibly hot food, but I do like spicy foods. When I looked at starting a business, I looked at my heritage and I'm a descendent of Arawak Indian. They are the indigenous people of the West Indies. Our products are vegan, gluten free, low sodium, and low sugar. I was vegan before vegan was cool. I was gluten free before gluten free was cool. People who buy my products care what goes into their bodies. They have a quality of life that is expressed in their palate. My consumer, my customer, has an expanded palate and with any product, not every product is for every person. I'm not trying to be all things to everybody; that's not my goal. My goal is to provide products that are of the highest quality, are of unique flavor profiles, and good value. We have three lines: we have pepper sauces, we have spicy food spreads, and we have dry rub spice blends. We're working with the American Heart Association to get a [claim] on our packaging because it's so low in sugar that even pre-diabetics buy from me. Most dry rubs on the market...the sodium content [is] 25%, or 28%. If I'm going to sell you salt, I'm going to sell you salt. I'm not going to sell you a product laid down with salt so I can make another quarter.

Of the product lines and offerings that you have, which is your most favorite and why?

Well that's like saying which one of my kids are pretty?! All my kids are pretty! On a serious note, the jerk would be my favorite because that's most reflective of my heritage. All these recipes are my recipes. I have to admit that the jerk is my grandmother's recipe, well my great grandmother's recipe. This is the way my family has always made it. If you look at some of these jerk recipes online and in stores they'll have 12 to 15 ingredients. Jerk has 9 ingredients, period; 10 if you add seasoning. No preservatives, no thickeners. Nothing. I'm not going to sell you something that I can't eat. I have a very sensitive system and so if I can't eat it, I'm not going to serve it to you.

How did you financially start your business considering all of what you knew you were going to be intentional with your spices?

I didn't have to reinvent the wheel. Our pepper sauces, I'd been making these years. But I’d just been putting them in jars and giving them to friends, and they come back and say "Can I have some more please?" And everybody tells you, "You should bottle this and sell it!" When I left Corporate America, I left with a pocketful of stock and I had a few dollars stashed away. But also my wife has a good job. I couldn't do any of this without her support. You know every stool should have at least three legs because [with] two legs and you know what happens to the stool. I also have investors and I'm glad to say that they're all minority investors. It wasn't like I had to twist arms to get people to invest with me. People who invested with me knew me and they knew me well enough that if I'm getting in food, I know what I'm doing. I had a chance to be Famous Amos and he said people come up to him and say, "You're such an overnight success!" And he told me, "Look, Lloyd, I've been in business 10 years. It took me 10 years to be an overnight success."

Could you share any advice that you have for Black boys and men who are struggling or struggle with finding their place in society? With your business, you've carved out your space and I'm sure probably in your personal life too. But for those who are trying to have that personal development first, I'd love to have your advice to Black boys and men who are struggling to find their place in society.

Education, you've got to stay in school. Go back to school. Don't leave school. Doesn't mean you have to go to college, but you have to know how to read and write. You can't keep money if you don't know how to add money. You have to believe in yourself. Imagine if Avis listened to their competitors and said don't compete against Hertz because it doesn't work being number two. Avis has been around for a really long time as number two. You don't have to be the best. Don't let perfect stop you from being good. We spend months and months and months of writing a business plan, and all we've done so far is write a business plan. You've got to jump! You've got to find something that you're passionate about because when you're told no more than you’re told yes, you got to be able to wake up that next morning, go dust yourself off and keep going. As young Black men we're told no way more than we're told yes. Find a mentor. A friend of mine once told me you can't make a $1 million by following people who are broke. If you want to make a $1 million find somebody who's made a $1 million and ask them how they did it. And don't take no for an answer, because sometimes that no is out of jealousy.

I've got one last question for you before we wrap up our conversation and that's for the myblackbox audience to learn what we can expect from Arawak Farm in 2019, the rest of 2019, what do you have in store?

Well if I told ya, I'd have to kill you [laughs]. Not everything that you plan goes your way. At this point retail is now one of the third on my list of things to do. Food service and private label are where we're making our mark There are some companies that we're negotiating with that are allowing us to create spices [and] custom blends for them. There are companies who are taking some of our seasonings as they are and getting exclusive rights to them so they can put them in their jar, with their company's labels on them. There are large restaurant chains who are coming to us and asking us to sell them our products in bulk. For us in 2019, is to keep pushing with the food service and private label. Yes we're still doing retail. Yes, you can still buy our products online.

There is that saying of moving in silence but I'm excited for your private labeling opportunities and also that I could still buy your sauces and spices online at, correct? or

Thank you Lloyd for joining and all the best for the rest of 2019.

Thank you for the opportunity.

Lloyd’s story hopefully inspires you be passionate about what you’re doing and don’t allow a no or requests for freebies to deter you from launching your business.

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