Female Entrepreneurship: A Q&A With Our Co-Founder
Did you know that in the past year, more women started businesses than men? Of the 20,000 companies that SCORE surveyed, 47% of them were founded by women compared to the 44% started by men.
We took the time to interview one of our co-founders (and head of Business Development) Emily Nhaissi to find out more about her background, how she started Craft & Root, and what she foresees for the future of the agency.
Through passion, commitment, and a fearless attitude, Emily exposes her truths and shows us what it’s like to start something from nothing.
Q. When you were younger, what did you think you’d “be when you grow up”?
A. When I was younger, there were really two things I wanted to do:
1. I wanted to be an olympic swimmer (wildly unrealistic due to height, and let’s be honest, my ability)
2. I wanted to be a photographer for National Geographic
I didn’t know it at the time, but I actually showed signs of entrepreneurial acumen when I was about 8 years old. When I was in second grade, my school had just installed a vending machine in the cafeteria. My sister and I would both get $1 to purchase whatever we wanted. However, I noticed that other children would consistently ask others to borrow money. I decided I would lend them money, but required they pay me a commission. I kept track of who I lent money to and added interest for when they’d pay me back.
Apparently, when one of my “customers” asked his mother for extra money to pay me back, his mother was infuriated and spoke to the school’s principal. My notebook was confiscated and my business was closed. However, when my mother was brought in to speak with the principal, she said she laughed at them and said she could not have been more proud.
Q. What industries did you work in before starting Craft & Root?
A. I’ve almost exclusively worked in the fine arts and design industries. Just before starting C&R, I worked a sales position in the commercial textiles industry. While it was a very technical role, I also got a chance to be creative with my presentations and always tailored them to my clients’ needs.
Q. What were some of the reasons you wanted to start your own agency?
A. I graduated from college in 2011, in the midst of the global financial crisis that started in 2008. No one was hiring. So many of my friends, although brilliant, were unemployed. We were underemployed at best, and struggled to figure out how we could make our way through life, financially, without having to rely on an employer for a paycheck. That was my introduction to the world of financial self-sufficiency. After years of applying for jobs and being ignored, being told no, or being hung out to dry for months, I realized maybe working for other people isn’t for me.
Eventually I got a job, but even in my last interview with the employer I had immediately before I started C&R, he said, “You don’t seem like you should be in sales; you’re multi-disciplined. You seem like you should have your own cool startup or something.”
So, for these reasons and my desire to feel passionately about what I did every day, I decided to cut out the middleman. I was ready and able to work, and my ideal scenario was just to go do it – not to ask permission from anyone else.
Q. What was the biggest turning point in starting your business?
A. I think the biggest turning point was when I had to chase down people who I sold textiles to in order to get the commission I deserved. I didn’t like that I had to spend precious time proving I had done my job, rather than doing my job. It started to feel thankless both from an emotional and financial perspective and that really made me feel like: Why am I doing this?
Q. Who were your first clients, and how did you find them?
A. Through family and friends! Our very first client was California Closets – we made an internal marketing video for them.
Q. What was your biggest fear when starting out?
A. Not having enough work, and therefore, not having enough money to pay our employees and keep the doors open.
Over time, you realize patterns emerge and even work like design can be seasonal. At the end of the day, we are producing a luxury product; during the summer, things are slower because people with the financials to hire us are on vacation.
It’s hard though as a small company to grow responsibly and not too quickly.
Q. How did you logistically create an agency? Who was your first hire? When did you move into WeWork, etc.?
A. The first thing we did was open an Instagram account; we wanted to create a following so we had a client base to appeal to, and then we created a website. But, before launching it, we went to our accountant, started the LLC., opened a bank account, and started on our way! Our first hire was an extremely talented graphic designer in Tel Aviv. She worked with us part-time at first, then became full-time.
I moved into WeWork first (before our Tel Aviv office did) – it was really a glass closet with a chair and table, but it was totally magical to see our company logo on any sort of office door. It’s been about two years since that day.
Q. What was your first and most memorable milestone that proved you were really doing it?
A. Every new milestone feels like the most important one. First, it was going to the accountant to open the business, then it was getting that first office, and moving the Tel Aviv team into a WeWork. Then, it was the first hire, the first fire, tax season – seeing how impressed our accountant was with our numbers, seeing our first big project through to completion; and now, it’s every time I see the team of nine people working hard to create beautiful work full of passion and love. I feel like we’re really doing it!
Q. What do you envision for the future of Craft & Root?
A. A big team (50+), but still able to maintain that boutique feeling by always focusing on client care, communication, and thoughtful design. I also want to be able to take everyone on vacation as a group!
Q. If you were to give yourself (or someone in the same position who is just getting started with their own business) one piece of advice, what would it be?
A. Try your best not to freak out in moments of difficulty. Everyone messes up sometimes, but don’t lose sleep over it. Think about it, reflect on it, and understand how to do it better next time. That way, you won’t make the same mistakes, and you won’t have to freak out again! If a client is unhappy, it can feel gut-wrenching. It is really easy to slip into black and white thinking and feel like a true failure. Remember, it’s not. Everyone is human, and you can always repair things – and even make them stronger for next time around.