Business 29 November 2017
I pride myself on adapting to cities and cultures; I've lived in several including two international cities. My latest move took me from the center of everything, NYC, to the center of the United States, Omaha, Nebraska. My move spurred by the crashing economy in 2009 and loss of my dream job as the Creative Director of a Turkish fashion-denim brand, I landed smack in the middle of the country.
After losing my job on Fashion Avenue I was going into debt keeping up with rental payments of $2,500 a month for my 350 square foot apartment on the Upper East Side and car payments for a vehicle parked at my grandparents in Queens. Like so many others who couldn’t get work, I too decided I had to leave “my” city. My choices were to move back home with my mother in Charlotte, North Carolina or trek out to Omaha, Nebraska to pursue a budding relationship with someone I went to high school with while growing up in Iowa. I chose love over location and have never regretted it.
I always remark how this city has taken care of me when I really needed the help. It's allowed me to dig myself out of a financial and emotional black hole. Except, I really had to put myself out there in my new city to meet people – doing everything from volunteering in the community to fight child hunger, and joining the board of a national design organization to feeding my design addiction. But for all the years proudly displayed on my resume as a highly recommended design creative, I could not get hired for one of the many full-time jobs I interviewed for. I guess the interviewers could see through my enthusiastic nods and positive attitude to know I wouldn't have been happy working in advertising on agriculture or insurance. I was trying too hard to “fit in”, to conform. It’s something I’m very conscious of no matter where I’ve lived – not to lose myself, but to continue to find new experiences that provide personal and professional growth.
In 2013, before my son was born, I was working 10-12 hours a day as a set designer for a film production company and as a photo stylist for an e-commerce site headquartered in Omaha. I was grateful for the consistent freelance work and loved the flexibility. In the span of my creative career, I have lost three jobs due to company shutdowns or downsizing so I don’t see stability in a full-time corporate job as a career motivator. I’m also one of those who thrives on change and the challenges of the unknown.
After becoming a mom I wanted that same flexibility in my work to be home to raise my son. Having him at the age of 40, this was my one chance to be a mom and I wanted to experience it to the max. At the same time, I didn’t want to lose my professional edge and connections with the design community, so I started applying my skill set to residential interiors.
My projects were successful and I had happy clients. Then one evening after preparing digital design files to email a client I thought, “Maybe I could do this for others across the country?” I could work while my son napped during the day and in the evenings when my husband was home. But left the idea there. While entrepreneurship was in my DNA, with both parents building their own businesses, I saw their failures and I already had one failed business of my own. I was also finally recovered financially since leaving NYC and I was not comfortable putting my family in a position of risk.
A few months later after a trip to San Francisco and a heart-to-heart with a couple of college girlfriends, I felt my hair on fire. These ladies knew me well, my strong work ethic, talents and tenacity. They not only encouraged me to “do my thing,” but kinda gave me permission to apply my creative talents to something exciting of my own creation. By that point, I had been living in Omaha for several years, and it was clear that it was up to me to pave my own professional path in order to have the lifestyle I wanted. My very supportive husband agreed. And that’s when YouthfulNest was born.
Lisa Janvrin. Photo Courtesy of Ashley Wisdom
YouthfulNest is an online virtual interior design experience and the most convenient way for modern parents to design a stylish room for their baby or child. Millions of Millennials are already taking advantage of similar eDesign sites, but there is not one like YouthfulNest, dedicated to native tech-savvy parents. Since the beginning, I have been the sole founder, creator and operator of YouthfulNest. I invested $3,000 of my own savings to start the company. I work from a home studio with direct access to the living room where my son plays most of the time while I’m feverishly working away.
Working from home and being a team of one often feels like I’m working in a bubble. It’s also hard to feel connected when your big idea isn’t in a big city that gets all that entrepreneurial fanfare and attention that it might if it were in say NYC or LA. So I’ve learned to embrace the advantages I do have of starting-up YouthfulNest in Omaha.
Lisa Janvrin and son. Photo Courtesy of Ashley Wisdom
With significantly lower costs of living and business development compared to big cities, I do so much more with less. It affords me the luxury of time, where I’m not freaking out about making money and being profitable this week or month or even year. I’m able to enjoy the process of honing my brand and product without the stressors of profitability. Part of that is having low overhead, working out of a home studio with a monthly mortgage costing about half that of my tiny abode in NYC. My advisors and cohorts living in these big cities are blown away by the rates I get for experts services like technology development and talent. Whenever I talk to someone on the coast and they offer a reference for an amazing expert with low pricing I stop them right there with a, "Thank you, but I can do better with local resources".
Living in a smaller Metropolitan city is not completely advantageous. I pretty much knew from the inception of YouthfulNest that Omaha was not the right product-market fit. With just a cluster of fashion retail and home interior companies here I've had to be nimble and persistent in my pursuit to build relationships all over the country, aligning myself with other trendsetters and visionaries. Fortunately, we've been well received by top-tier brands and trending newbie’s like myself in the baby and interior’s industries who live in those bigger cities. It was also completely intentional that I established a tech company focused on national reach, versus local. Of course, I loved the kind of flexibility that an online company allowed me – working wherever and whenever. More importantly, my brand has proven to appeal more to a target audience who’s constantly surrounded and influenced by design and latest lifestyle trends – the goal is to reach those eating in the Brooklyn Heights or shopping on Abbot Kinney Boulevard. In fact, our analytics confirm that our largest site users live in those two trend conscious cities, NYC and LA.
As a result of my experience living in big cities and small cities, I have built a tech brand that is a combination of both types of places I’ve lived – it is on trend and savvy. Every location has pros and cons, but embracing your location’s strengths and looking beyond it for others is key to the success of any business.
6 Min Read
I live the pain and stress of being black in America every day: I am a black woman, the mother of a black son, sister to black men, and aunt to my black nephews. I remember what it was like as a young girl to be afraid to go to Howard Beach for fear of being chased out. I know what it's like to walk on Liberty Avenue and be called "nigger" and being so young that I didn't understand what the word meant, I had to ask my mother. I know too well that feeling in the pit of your stomach when a police car pulls up behind you and even though you know you haven't done anything wrong you fear that your life may be in danger from what should be a simple encounter. Like all African Americans, I am tired of this burden.
African Americans have a long history of having to fight for our humanity in America. We have had to fight for freedom, we have had to fight for equality, and we have had to fight for our lives. The fight continues to go on. I have often quoted that line from the character Sophia in Alice Walker's The Color Purple, "All my life I had to fight." When I say this to my white counterparts it can sometimes be uncomfortable because it's clear that they just don't get it. They view it as melodramatic. But it's not. It's part of the black experience, and it is the part of the black experience that black people don't want.
I have often quoted that line from the character Sophia in Alice Walker's The Color Purple, "All my life I had to fight."
While I was out yesterday, passing out PPE and talking to people, a woman asked me, "What is it going to take for this to change?" I told her that I think peaceful protesting is a good start. But it's just the start. We can't elect the same people for the past 20-30 years, some in the same positions, and then talk about how nothing has changed in the past 30 years.
This injustice, inequality, and inequity will not spontaneously disappear. It will take bold, outspoken, and fearless leadership to eradicate the systemic racism in our country. We must address the violence at the hands of a police force paid to serve and protect us. We must address the recurring experience of black people being passed over for a promotion and then being asked to train the white person who was hired. We must address the inequities in contract opportunities available to black businesses who are repeatedly deemed to lack the capacity. We must address the disparity in the quality of education provided to black students. We must address the right to a living wage, health care, and sick pay.
While we like to regard the system as broken, I've come to believe the system is working exactly as it was meant to for the people who are benefiting from it. We need a new system. One that works for all of us. I am running to become the mayor of New York City because I can't assume there's another person who has the courage to do the work that needs to be done to create a fair and just city.
We can't elect the same people for the past 20-30 years, some in the same positions, and then talk about how nothing has changed in the past 30 years.
There are some things we may not be able to change in people, but at this moment I think that whether you are black, white, purple, or yellow we all should be looking internally to see what is one thing that you can do to change this dynamic. Here's where we can start:
If we want change, we need a total reform of police departments throughout this country. That is going to require taking a hard look at our requirements to become a police officer, our disciplinary procedures when civilian complaints are filed, and a review of what and how we police. No one deserves to lose their life based upon the accusation of carrying counterfeit cash. We also need to hold police officers accountable for their actions. While it is their duty to protect and serve they should not be above the law. Even at this very moment, police officers are overstepping their boundaries.
If we want change, we have to build a sense of camaraderie between the police and community. A sense of working together and creating positive experiences. We have to be honest about the fact that we haven't allowed that to happen because we have utilized our police department as a revenue-generating entity. We are more concerned with cops writing tickets than protecting and serving. Even during these moments of protest we are witness to the differences made when the police supported the protesters and stood hand in hand with them or took a knee. It resulted in less violence and more peaceful protest. People felt heard; people felt respected; people felt like they mattered.
While we like to regard the system as broken, I've come to believe the system is working exactly as it was meant to for the people who are benefiting from it. We need a new system.
If we want change, we have to be willing to clean house. And that means that some of you are going to have to step up to the plate and take roles of leadership. In my city alone, there are 35 city council seats that are term-limited in 2021. There are some that aren't termed but maybe their term should be up. Step up to the plate and run. If nothing else it will let our elected officials see that they need to stop being comfortable and do more. We don't need you out in the street taking selfies or reporting the problems to us. We need solutions. We need you in a room implementing policies that will ensure that these things don't continue to happen.
If we want change, we need to support grassroots candidates that are not in corporate pockets, who are not taking PAC money, and who really want to make a difference to their community. We need candidates that know first-hand and can relate to the experiences that many of us are going through.
We are at a pivotal moment. It is inspiring to see people from all races and backgrounds in the streets protesting, standing up for justice, and wanting to see change. We must seize this moment, but we must also be mindful that change requires more.
People often ask me why I decided to run for office? I am running for me. I am running for the little girl that was called nigger on Liberty Avenue. For the woman who has been pulled over for no reason. For my nephew who was consistently stopped during the era of stop and frisk. I am running for your son, your brother, and your nephew. I am running so that the next generation will never have to say, "All my life I had to fight." Because although we won't stop until we see justice and changes that address inequality and inequity effectively, this fight is exhausting.