Learn How This Member Figured Out How to Travel the World “on business”.

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Virginia DeDAD,

Owner, Royal Service Travel

Virginia DeDad_220Describe your business in 3 sentences. What is it?
Full Service travel agency, American Express Affiliate Agency offering cruises, all inclusives, Europe, family vacations, honeymoons, destination weddings, multi-gen travel, with the most comprehensive customer service available!

What inspired you to start your business?

My passion for travel, having visited over 84 countries and sailed on 90 cruises and my ability to handle all phases of clients requests.

How do you stand out from the crowd? What distinguishes your business from the competition?

Totally my customer service and knowledge. I hand hold my customers from inception of their travel ideas to welcoming them home and keeping them abreast of travel opportunities in which they may be interested.

What does it mean to you to be “the entrepreneur of your life”? How do you integrate your life and your business, your personal brand and your business brand?

To me, they are all one. If you have integrity, caring and organization in your personal life that automatically carries over to your business. I handle each client with the same enthusiasm and care as if they were my family. It doesn’t matter if their travel is short or extensive, everyone deserves the same amount of attention.

What did it cost to start your business? How did you find the funds? Is your business profitable?

The cost to start my business was 10,000 for the franchise and an additional 12,000 for the office equipment and start up.

How long did it take to get started and what business tools have helped you the most?

The first two years were spent familiarizing myself with the back office and networking to get my name out locally. As I had previous experience in the travel world, the accounting and internal office procedures were new to me.

What is the single biggest thing you would say an entrepreneur has to be armed with in order to succeed?

Faith, a tough skin and good work ethic.

What advice would you give someone just starting out?

Be prepared for the road of hard work, long hours and the ability to overcome downfalls.

Are there any words of advice, books, role models, or mentors that really inspired and changed you?

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey is a book I return to all the time. The wisdom and insight if provides is timeless. Also, Jeffrey Gitomer’s Little Red Book of Selling has several tips and principles for great sales.

What is your ultimate future dream for yourself and / or your business?

My ultimate dream is to have several agents working for me that carry the same enthusiasm for my clients and to continue to grow my reputation as THE agency to go to.

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Meet the Lady Who’s an Expert on Love, Marriage and the Baby Carriage

Carley RONEY

Co-Founder, CCO, The Knot

Carley Roney, Co-Founder The KnotFeatured Lady Carley Roney started The Knot with three partners after recognizing an opportunity to modernize the old-fashioned, white glove wedding industry. Since its launch in 1996, The Knot has become the Internet’s most trafficked one-stop wedding solution with over 3.4 million unique visitors a month and more than 125 million monthly page views. As the country’s best modern wedding and lifestyle expert, Carley helped develop TODAY’s interactive wedding planning series “TODAY Ties The Knot” and appears each year as the series’ expert. She has been on <i>Oprah, The View, LIVE! With Regis & Kelly, The Early Show, E!, CNN, Inside Edition, and The FOX News Report, as well as featured in Vogue, Elle, Glamour, InStyle, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal</i> and <i>USA Today</i>.

Carley was speaking at the Ladies Who Launch Global Conference in New York City on November 8 – 9, 2010.

“The bridal world was outdated, cluttered and chaotic. Bridal magazines hadn’t changed in 20 years and weren’t in touch with modern brides,” Carley says of her decision to start The Knot with her husband, David Lui, and two others. Recalling feelings of frustration when planning her wedding to David in 1993, Carley knew the The Knot’s time had come. “There were no central resources and no etiquette for modern couples. There wasn’t any information on planning a wedding with divorced parents, multicultural weddings, or how to pay for a wedding yourself.”

The Knot launched with funds from strategic partners and seed money – $1.7 million from a venture arm of AOL. “We’ve always been extremely careful about using our money wisely and that’s what made The Knot, Inc. ride through the highs and lows of the economy,” Carley says.

One of those lows occurred in April 2000 when the dot com bubble burst right after The Knot, Inc. went public. “We were losing about $9 million a year and had about $5 million in revenue,” Carley says. “We were close to being profitable, but then delisted.” She admits that financing in the first half of The Knot’s existence was a major challenge. “We had a continuous line of near death experiences, but through persistence we were able to overcome the challenge successfully.”

The Knot earned more recognition when a TODAY producer called Carley to discuss partnering for an interactive wedding series. “I still remember having a brainstorming meeting in the basement of the NBC studios,” Carley says. Eleven years later, TheKnot.com is the cornerstone of “TODAY Ties the Knot” – the number one wedding series on national morning TV.

Carley and David pride themselves on listening to their customers, so when they noticed many of The Knot’s brides coming back to the site to chat as newlyweds, Carley created four message boards dedicated to newly married life. The web traffic exploded. “That’s when we knew we needed to create another brand for life beyond the wedding, and TheNest.com was born in 2005,” she explains. “Now we have The Nest magazine which is distributed four times a year nationwide, and two books, The Nest Newlywed Handbook and The Nest Home Design Handbook.”

Knowing that after love and marriage comes the baby carriage, Carley felt there was a huge market for The Knot to create a site for first-time moms that was down-to-earth, local and ultimately, fun. Inspired by the birth of her daughter, Carley launched a web community called TheBump.com. “Now, we have The Bump in magazine form, a Facebook application called ‘Mommyhood by The Bump,’ Breastfeeding.com, the #1 website for moms looking for breastfeeding advice and local lactation consultants and LilaGuide.com, which has the best local listings as voted by real moms in twenty top cities around the country.” Carley also just published her first-ever baby book called The Baby Bump.

Carley’s ultimate vision for The Knot is to be the world’s best resource for weddings, pregnancy and everything in between. “We also want to be the blueprint for the media company of the twenty-first century. A brand that can live in any medium, that’s multi-platform and multi-revenue,” she explains.

What we learned from Carley: “Don’t be prideful. You will have some humbling moments, but don’t be ‘too good’ for anything when you’re getting started…and even when you’ve made it.”

Give It Up

“Be willing to make sacrifices. It will come in the form of free time, money, your social life and friends. Once you have your feet on solid ground, you can regain some.”

Clear Cut Roles

“Divide and conquer. You must be willing to let go and trust your partner. You can’t do everything, and certainly won’t be efficient or effective if you do.”

Mission Accomplished

“One of our early investors told us, ‘We didn’t invest in you to be number two, we want you to be number one.’ You have to declare victory over something no matter how small it is. This will help you clarify and focus your mission.”

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This Featured Lady was profiled by Megan L. Reese, WORDrobe® Stylist for Her Write Image in West Grove, PA.
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Susan Gregg Koger

Amy Atlas

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Founder, Amy Atlas Events 

In the able hands of event planner Amy Atlas, Necco wafers have never looked so good. Amy elevates these classic, pastel candies along with other equally toothsome delights such as macaroons, fudge, cupcakes, truffles, meringues, cookies, and petit fours to sugary celebrity status in her famously decked out dessert bars, creating super-delicious grand finales more spectacular than anything you’ve ever seen before.

Prior to launching Amy Atlas Events, Amy was an attorney who, in her spare time, was on a mission to give dessert its due. Known for perfectly executed dinner parties culminating in dessert tables to die for, Amy was urged by enthusiastic friends to start a business. She decided to combine her meticulous mind for logistics with her sweet tooth and embark on a second career as an event planner specializing in artful dessert bars and edible eye candy. Amy has grown her company one satisfied client at a time by coaxing mouth-watering moods out of diet-be-darned arrays of treats and carefully chosen accents like linens, platters, ribbons, and balloons. Chic and sugary, Amy’s dessert tables are the talk of the town. As such, Amy happily owns up to the public displays of confection.

What we learned from Amy: Whether your passion is ribbons, ribbon candy, or both, pursue it and pay naysayers no mind. If your heart has identified a direction, take a leap of faith and don’t look back.

Candy Girl

I have always loved to entertain. After I stopped practicing law I had more time to throw great parties that always ended with beautiful, creative dessert bars. People loved them because they were so unique. Typically there isn’t a lot of fanfare around dessert no matter how delicious it is. It just sits on a plate. I had always been interested in event planning so I decided to try it and focus on high-end, artfully arranged dessert bars as a way to set myself apart.

News Spreads Like Butter Cream Icing

I never needed to worry about PR or financing. I ran my business out of my house so I had very low overhead. And because in the beginning all of my clients were also my friends, the word of mouth was incredible. News spread from there.

Bonbons and Business Plans

There was never any question about whether or not I would write a business plan  My husband has an MBA and works in finance and I have a law degree and experience in estate planning, wills and guardianships. Officially recording my plan on paper was not a step to skip. Women entrepreneurs often think they can wing it without one but business plans force you to assess your goals and really scrutinize your thought process.

Sweet Rewards

A lot of people are doing things they don’t love. I know it’s not easy to quit your job  but pursuing your passion is worth it in the long run. I was in a stable career but the creative side of me wasn’t being fulfilled.  I knew desserts were my passion so I went after it! As a lawyer I was helping people with legal issues. I’m still helping people, just in a different way.

Recipe for Success

One of my very best qualities is that I’m resourceful. When I need something – linens, ribbons, a specific kind of candy – I can find it. This is what I’m good at and this is what I focus on. I have a beautiful Web site  which I hired a very talented person to design. The most successful entrepreneurs play to their strengths and partner with good people who can fill in the gaps.

Amy Gets a Taste of Blogging

Long before I started putting together dessert bars for a living, any time I had a dessert I loved I would record what it was and where I got it. I was creating a dessert data base which turned out to be an unbelievably valuable resource when I launched Amy Atlas Events. At the time I didn’t realize it but my mindset was similar to that of a blogger – I saw something I liked and I wrote it down. I’m writing my own blog  now and I love it. It’s a wonderful way to share my passion.

Keeping It Custom

Because everything I do is custom designed, I have had no choice but to grow slowly, which is exactly the way I want it. Spending the extra time getting to know my clients is so important to me and I never want to lose sight of that. By really talking to them I can create an event or a dessert bar that’s a reflection of who they are. That was my plan from the very beginning and I’ve never changed direction.

This Featured Lady was profiled by Susie Lacey, Associate Editor, Ladies Who Launch

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Check out the Winners Named in Cable Industry’s Digital Growth Contest for Women Business Owners.

Julia Hartz

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Co-Founder & President

As gigs go, Julia Hartz had a good one. While the rest of her twenty-something peers were merely watching MTV, Julia was working for the network in series development, producing wildly popular shows such as Jackass, Real World and Sorority Life. After two years there she took a job at FX. Nip Tuck, The Shield, Rescue Me-Julia was right in the thick of the hottest shows on TV.
But in a dramatic move that would make her fictional characters proud, Julia gave it all up for a man. At least it looked that way on the surface. Actually she always knew working in LA would be short-lived so when her long-distance boyfriend Kevin proposed, she headed to San Francisco. And the TV-like saga continued.
Not knowing whether they could live together, let alone work together, Julia and Kevin nonetheless launched Eventbrite, a do-it-yourself online event management and ticketing service, in 2005. Their relationship and their company thrived. Today Julia and Kevin are married, have a ten month old daughter, and can proudly say that though Eventbrite began as a small start-up, it has transacted millions of tickets to date. Talk about happily ever after.

What we learned from Julia: In the start-up environment you’re wearing many hats. But if you want to grow, you’ve got to delegate. Hire good people and trust them to do their jobs. The most successful entrepreneurs are those who can relinquish well.

Learning the Ropes

Landing an internship at MTV was exciting. But being hired full time was even more so. There I was at 22 working on Jackass. It was amazing. When I moved to FX I was the youngest member and the only woman on a five-person executive team working on shows like Nip Tuck and The Shield. It was like a start-up; we all wore different hats. I learned to speak up and go with my gut. I built a foundation of knowledge and confidence that I still rely on today.

Heading Home

I left FX and headed to northern California to be with my fiancé Kevin. What a cliché. But I always knew FX would be short-lived. Yes I loved the creative process and meeting lots of new people but I never intended to stay in LA. I moved to San Francisco in the fall of 2005 to start Eventbrite with Kevin. We laugh about it now but at the time this was a big risk. We went from a long-distance relationship to living and working together. We had no idea how this dynamic would play out. Obviously it worked. We’re married and have a ten-month old.

Born to Bootstrap

I’m a planner. Plans make me happy. But when we started Eventbrite I had to give that up. I learned to take it one month at a time which was a huge growing experience for me. It was just the two of us in a conference room using saw horses and slabs of wood for desks. Boy were we bootstrapping it. All of our income went back into the business. We were our own bosses so we could do that.

Start-Up Central

We were occupying a small section of a much larger space that our land lord told us we could use. We filled it with other start-ups. At one point there were ten start-ups in there. The energy was amazing. This was where we built our company.

Starting Out Strong

We wanted to build a strong foundation from the very beginning so we focused on providing a great product. We figured either we would end up with the eBay of online ticketing or just a great small family business. Either way we weren’t going to skimp. We weren’t taking salaries and we didn’t use outside funding. We were incredibly capital-efficient. Our only hire was a CTO who lived in France. We focused on our product and growing the business during the day in the United States while he slept, and he built the technology while we slept. You can’t get more efficient than that.

The Customer Challenge

Our biggest challenge was customer acquisition because it wasn’t readily obvious how we would market our product. But because we provided world-class customer service, word of mouth was huge. We didn’t find search engine marketing to be very helpful in the beginning because we were too small for it to be effective. It’s kind of a catch-22. We had to grow first before we could use a tool that was supposed to help us grow.

Balancing Business and Baby

As a mother and a business owner I do get anxious now and then because I care so passionately about both roles. But I work from home sometimes so I can be with my daughter. I love to watch her climb out of her crib and make a break for it. We spend our down-time as a family. And Kevin and I have Wednesday date nights. Sometimes we’re practically sleeping in our salads but this time is sacred.

This Featured Lady was profiled by Ladies Who Launch Associate Editor Susie Lacey.

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Debi Lilly

FL -Debbi Lilly                        FL - Debbi Lilly add

Founder and President, A Perfect Event

Debi Lilly will be one of our featured speakers at Ladies Who Launch LIVE in Chicago, taking place on May 10. Click for more info.

While some people are hesitant to admit they’re perfectionists, Debi Lilly sings it from the mountaintops. The Chicago-based event planner is the founder of A Perfect Event, unabashedly revealing her modus operandi in the company name. A Perfect Event is a nationally recognized superpower when it comes to planning weddings, corporate events, and other special parties. Debi’s fingerprints are on every piece of the job, figuratively if not literally. From flowers and invitations to venue selection, catering, music, photography, gifts, transportation, staffing and more, Debi won’t stop until it’s all, you guessed it, perfect.

Her trial by fire involved the most coveted client anyone could have, Madame Oprah. Planning Oprah’s televised 50th birthday party in 2004 was the (sky-)high point of an ongoing relationship with the lifestyle diva. Debi’s client list also includes Brooke Shields, Debra Messing, Cartier, Bvlgari, Wolfgang Puck, and People magazine.

What we learned from Debi: Your passion for your business will shine through in your voice, your eyes, and your whole person. When you pour your heart and soul into your enterprise, you radiate positive, confident energy and the law of attraction works with you, opening doors and creating opportunities.

Child’s Play

“I was a hostess ever since childhood. I’ve always loved celebrations. When my elementary school friends went on vacation, I’d throw them a bon voyage party. When they moved, I’d do a housewarming. As soon as I was old enough, I’d do school parties, dances, and proms.”

Slow and Steady

“I had a day job for the first five years while launching my business on the side. I ran my business out of my home. Clients loved coming to my house.”

Pop the Question

“When I was just getting started, I’d network through organizations and events. I’d meet people and ask them, ‘How can we work together? Let’s do an event. What can we do?’ If you don’t ask for the order, you’re not going to get the order.”

Shameless Self-Promotion

“You can’t be humble. You have to toot your own horn. No one will build your name like you will.”

One-Stop Service

“I love being a resource for everything a perfect event needs. I really love doing as much as possible myself. It sets us apart as a one-stop center. In our boutique, we have a library that showcases venues, caterers, photographers, bands, and more of our preferred partners.”

The Big O

“A few years into my business, I got a call that Oprah wanted to throw a baby shower. Two of her staff had worked for me during the summer and that’s how she found me. I was still working from home then. It was a wonderful alignment of the sun, moon, and stars—some luck and some skill.”

Off to the Races

“Oprah put the baby shower on TV. It was an unimaginable testimonial and association to have. The business built so much faster with her name behind us.”

Everyone’s on the A-List

“We make everyone feel like Oprah. We’re a service business. If you don’t provide great service, you’re nothing.”

Moving Out and Up

“Four years ago, I moved the business out of my house and into a commercial location. It was an important step in building the business.”

PR and Staff Investment …

“In 2006 and 2007, I invested in a lot of PR to build the brand. At the same time, we were becoming established in our location. I also hired new staff and they settled in and hit their stride.”

… Pays Off

“Business has been very good. Revenue doubled from 2006 to 2007. My business is cyclical and I barely made it through many winters. Finally, in the 12th year of business, I had a good winter.”

Studying the Numbers

“I learned that I couldn’t attribute everything to the cyclical factors. I had to keep an eye on revenue and scrutinize the business.”

Pay Yourself

“I’m now taking a salary, finally. I don’t think it was a good choice for me to make in the beginning. You need to reward yourself first. You’re the most important team member.”

Division of Labor

“I’ve also learned that instead of trying to do it all, you have to invest in talented people. For years, I tried to do the accounting, sales, floral design, graphic design, you name it. Eventually, you have enough revenue to hire people or you invest in people from the start.”

In Hindsight

“I started my business on a hope and a prayer. Looking back, I’d recommend that you pay yourself a salary, write a business plan, and get a commercial loan. This will get you started on the right foot from the very beginning.”

Parting Thoughts …

-“My most rewarding moment is … to celebrate special occasions in people’s lives and make them all they can possibly be.”
-“My scariest business moment was … when I did a large wedding at a church that had double-booked another big wedding party. I was not going to have my party kicked out. I succeeded. We stayed.”
-“My biggest coup is … having worked for someone like Oprah for 10 years.”
-“I am happiest when … I’m with my family.”
-“My business would not have happened if … not for the support of my husband.”
-“Every entrepreneur should … follow your heart and do what you love.”

This Featured Lady was profiled by Andrea Adleman, a Los Angeles-based freelance journalist.

Melody Biringer

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Founder, Crave Party

Fondly remember the pajama parties of your youth? Watching music videos (on network TV), raiding the fridge, using mayo and cucumbers for facials and sneaking out of the house…

Ah, those were the nights.

Now you prefer being professionally pampered, browsing for glittery bling-blings, sipping pretty drinks, noshing on hors d’oeuvres, and going out on the town. Which is exactly what you can do – in your pajamas with your closest gal pals – at a Crave Party.

Melody Biringer, a self-described “start-up junkie,” started Crave Parties in Seattle, where they became overnight successes and quickly spread to Portland, San Francisco, Scottsdale and Vancouver (British Columbia). Biringer also turned her background on the family farm into a multifaceted business with $2 million in annual sales. A true addict to entrepreneurship, she has started many other ventures – not all of them wildly successful.

Her latest project: She is Seattle’s Ladies Who Launch Incubator leader. Read on to learn her story and how she has turned her start-up addiction into a business opportunity through spearheading the Ladies Who Launch Incubator in her area.

Building on the Family Business

“I was a farmer’s daughter on the largest strawberry farm in Washington State. When I was 18 years old, I started my own business selling Biringer Farm products from little roadside stands. I had eight locations in a 30-mile-radius between Marysville and Seattle.”

Expanding Her Mini Empire

“Then I also opened up a retail store in the famous Pike Place Market tourist area in Seattle, which was open for 15 years, went into the wholesale business, made cookies and jams and other products for retail stores across the country like Starbucks and sold strawberry shortcake at local festivals. I’m known as the ‘Strawberry Shortcake Queen of Seattle.’ At one point, I had 70 employees.”

Trying Something Different

“After deciding I wanted to do something different, I sold the company, except the strawberry stands and the shortcake business, which I asked my husband to run so I could see if I could make a different business go. I’ve always been fascinated by weight loss and exercise, so I started an express workout fitness business, but found it wasn’t my calling.”

Taking the Fall

“I’m a total risk-taker with no fear of borrowing money. I’ve always been creative, resourceful and able to find money. I borrowed $30,000 for the fitness business. It was a bad business decision – I had to pay the money back plus more, because the idea failed. But I’ve been able to take losses, learn and move on.”

Longing for More Quality Time with Girlfriends

“When I was working with the Biringer business, I found I wasn’t spending enough
time with my girlfriends and like-minded entrepreneurs. I saw my best friend twice in a year. I thought, ‘OK, this is wrong.’ One rainy Sunday afternoon in January, I hosted a PJ party for about 35 friends at a local spa. The sight of all these PJ-clad women walking down the street got written up in the paper. When I left that day, I said, ‘I have to start a business where I get girlfriends together.’ We are so busy with family, work and careers that we crave our girlfriends and quality time.”

Forget the Little Black Dress… Put on Your Cutest Camisole and Sweatpants

“So I decided to host pajama parties (the first Crave Parties) at The Ruins, a private, swanky club in Seattle. The type of place you normally wear black-tie attire before going to the opera. The events sold out within two weeks, three nights in a row. We had entertainment, fashion shows, drag queens performing, shopping, eating and drinking, everyone getting manicures and pedicures in their PJs.”

Parties and Profits

“It was such a fun girls’ night out. Girls want to party, shop, spa and wear their pajamas in a swanky location. The idea was so unique and different that it caught on right away. We make money by selling an entry fee for guests (usually about $35 for the evening) and sponsor and vendor space. There’s been a healthy profit on most parties since day one. We’ve also expanded the concept to include holiday and block shopping parties, and a day-long bus adventure exploring neighborhood boutiques.”

Popularity Puts Crimp on Personal Life

“Since then, I’ve done probably 50 Crave Parties in five cities. I have people calling from all over the country calling me saying, ‘I want Crave in my city.’ But how am I supposed to do this all by myself? I don’t want to do this all by myself. It’s a lot of work. I want to have a balanced life.”

Crave Parties… Coming to a Town Near You?

“I took the problem to a Ladies Who Launch Incubator workshop where I had an opportunity to brainstorm with 12 other people – the majority said I should license Crave. Within two weeks I hired a lawyer and I’ve already sold rights to people in three cities (Houston, D.C., Austin) with three more pending (San Francisco, Los Angeles, Denver).”

Inviting Entrepreneurial Types to Network

“Entrepreneurs are calling me all the time, asking ‘Will you have lunch or dinner with me so I can pick your brain about business?’ and I wasn’t sure what to do with all of the requests. Now that I’m hosting Ladies Who Launch Incubator workshops in Seattle, I’m able to direct them to the workshops and connect them with 12 other smart, enterprising women. We talk about their challenges and ideas for projects and brainstorm. It’s fantastic networking for me and for them.” (To learn more about leading a Ladies Who Launch Incubator in your city, and combining it with other entrepreneurial projects, as Melody has done, click here).

Helping Women Make Tough Changes

“The Seattle Post-Intelligencer recently wrote an article about one of the women who went through the Incubator. She wanted to work on her business (a home-furnishing retail and online store) instead of in the business. She was bogged down in daily business details, but wanted to be working more on the Web site and marketing. She brought this up to the people in the Incubator. It was scary for her to do this, but the other women saw a vision for her and were able to share it with her. People think bigger for other people than they do for themselves.”

Greatest Success

“I’m most proud of my book, CRAVE Seattle: an urban girl’s manifesto. It’s a girl’s guide to Seattle, featuring women entrepreneurs in the retail and service industries. They don’t get enough recognition. I wanted to bring them into the limelight. The book launched in November and is now in 70 boutique stores around town. CRAVE Vancouver B.C. and San Francisco are next.”

Greatest Challenge

“My start-up junkie personality and staying focused. I’m working on it. Hosting the Incubators is satisfying my need to help mentor women. I get so juiced about all their ideas that I want to go into business with them. But my husband insists, ‘You are not going into business with anyone in the Incubators.’ I need to be focused. I’m staying focused.”

Words of Advice

“What I tell people is to create a unique niche and brand it like crazy. Sometimes people get into a too-much-like-everybody-else business. It’s important to pick a segment and go for it instead of trying to be something to everybody.”

Recommended Resource

“I highly recommend The e-Myth (by Michael Gerber), which is all about working on your business instead of in your business. Getting out of making the pies and running the company instead. So many people think they can run the company because they’re doing all the work. But they don’t realize that being an entrepreneur is different from having the technical skills.”

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Jennifer Gilbert

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President and Chief, Visionary Officer

Who Is She?

Jennifer Gilbert, 35, is the president and chief visionary officer for Save the Date , one of Manhattan’s foremost event planning companies, which plans events for a wide variety of clients, including Fortune 500 companies (Microsoft worked with Gilbert for an event to launch Windows 2000; the hot fall line-up parties for the Networks), brides-to-be and celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and Jewel.

Gilbert is turning the traditional event-planning business model upside down. Her company works with approximately 3000 corporate clients and finds locations for their events – for free. Gilbert was named Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year in 1998, the only woman to receive the honor and the youngest in the award’s history, and has appeared in publications like Cosmopolitian, Inc., and BusinessWeek. She lives in New York City and has a house in the Hamptons.

Let’s Get This Party Started:

“I started out planning parties as a teenager – the proceeds from my first party helped to pay for my prom dress, limos and dinner for my friends, and I continued planning events throughout college at the University of Vermont. Early in my career, I worked for an event firm in New York. Within two years, I brought in 100 new accounts and was responsible for half of the company’s revenue, but had no say in the company’s future. So I began my own.”

Creating a Winning Business Model:

“Instead of charging corporate event planners, Save the Date is supported by their thousands of vendors for referring clients to them. We connect planners for free with more than 1000 venues – rooftop terraces, sleek lounges, private clubs, museums, conference centers, yachts, ball parks, theatres, night clubs, restaurants and gardens, to name just a few – primarily in New York City, but also in San Francisco, Washington, D.C. and Chicago. We also provide more extensive event planning services ranging from registration to custom scavenger hunts (for a fee), but our bread and butter is finding the right location.”

Location Is Everything:

“As a rule, corporations don’t have the budget to hire an outside event planning company. On the flip side, all of the spaces are dying for business. So, I began to see this as a business opportunity. I initially became a PR and marketing firm for the locations, sort of like a travel agent. If I didn’t find the correct fit of client and vendor, I didn’t charge them. In the beginning, I was running around banging on doors, and now it’s the reverse – new spaces are calling us. Now we know about new locations in the ‘hard hat’ stage.

I worked out a bonus structure based on the business that I brought to each location. But the most important part is the locations give me wholesale pricing, so that I can pass on the savings to my clients.”

Finding the Funding:

“I started the business 10 years ago as a one-woman operation with nothing but a chair and a telephone. Without help from outside investors, I didn’t take a paycheck for five years. I took what I needed to live, but put everything else back into the business to hire employees, expand office space and install computer systems. Those re-investments into the business probably totaled more than $100,000.”

Realizing the Revenues:

“We now have approximately 14 employees and last year we realized $25 million in revenue from event sales.”

What’s Next?

“Most people have total fear about planning an event – they are paralyzed. As one of the leading experts in this field, I calm them down by helping them plan the best party. How do you find the right space? Ask the right questions? Figure out where to put the coat check? I know it all and I’m in the planning stages of a book and column.”

Getting Personal:

“I got married in New York City one year ago. My husband works for Bear Stearns doing new business development. We met 10 years ago in a summer share and were friends for a long time before falling in love. We had a surprise wedding, invited about 60 people and had a moveable feast. The buses took everyone to different places around the city. We started at the Villard Bar and Lounge at the Palace Hotel and then went to Lutece.

My social life is separate from work. I love to ski, run, read, spend time outdoors and entertain. I have always had big parties. I love bringing people together. Life is about the moment. Event planning helps people enjoy the moment.”

Words of Advice:

“Outsource everything but your soul. People fail when they start to veer from what their true core competency is – stay focused. If you love what you do, the money will come. The passion catches fire. You can tell when people love what they do because they have a lot of energy and it’s contagious – people want to take that ride with you.”

To learn more about Jennifer Gilbert visit Save the Date.

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