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.
I walk into a room full of men and I know exactly what they're thinking: "What does she know about whisky?"
I know this because many men have asked me that same question from the moment I started my career in spirits a decade ago.
In a male-dominated industry, I realized early on that I would always have to work harder than my male counterparts to prove my credibility, ability and knowledge in order to earn the trust of leadership stakeholders, coworkers, vendors and even consumers of our products. I am no stranger to hard work and appreciate that everyone needs to prove their worth when starting any career or role. What struck me however, was how the recognition and opportunities seemed to differ between genders. Women usually had to prove themselves before they were accepted and promoted ("do the work first and earn it"), whereas men often were more easily accepted and promoted on future potential. It seemed like their credibility was automatically and immediately assumed. Regardless of the challenges and adversity I faced, my focus was on proving my worth within the industry, and I know many other women were doing the same.
Thankfully, the industry has advanced in the last few years since those first uncomfortable meetings. The rooms I walk into are no longer filled with just men, and perceptions are starting to change significantly. There are more women than ever before making, educating, selling, marketing and conceptualizing whiskies and spirits of all kinds. Times are changing for the better and it's benefitting the industry overall, which is exciting to see.
For me, starting a career in the spirits business was a happy accident. Before spirits, I had worked in the hospitality industry and on the creative agency side. That background just happened to be what a spirits company was looking for at the time and thus began my journey in the industry. I was lucky that my gender did not play a deciding role in the hiring process, as I know that might not have been the case for everyone at that time.
Now, ten plus years later, I am fortunate to work for and lead one of the most renowned and prestigious Whisky brands in the world.. What was once an accident now feels like my destiny. The talent and skill that goes into the whisky-making process is what inspired me to come back and live and breathe those brands as if they were my own. It gave me a deep understanding and appreciation of an industry that although quite large, still has an incredible amount of handmade qualities and a specific and meticulous craft I have not seen in any other industry before. Of course, my journey has not been without challenges, but those obstacles have only continued to light my passion for the industry.
The good news is, we're on the right track. When you look at how many females hold roles in the spirits industry today compared to what it looked like 15 years ago, there has been a significant increase in both the number of women working and the types of roles women are hired for. From whisky makers and distillers to brand ambassadors and brand marketers, we're seeing more women in positions of influence and more spirits companies willing to stand up and provide a platform for women to make an impact. Many would likely be surprised to learn that one of our team's Whisky Makers is a woman. They might even be more surprised to learn that women, with a heightened sense of smell compared to our male counterparts, might actually be a better fit for the role! We're nowhere near equality, but the numbers are certainly improving.
It was recently reported by the Distilled Spirits Council that women today represent a large percentage of whisky drinkers and that has helped drive U.S. sales of distilled spirits to a record high in 2017. Today, women represent about 37% of the whisky drinkers in the United States, which is a large increase compared to the 1990s when a mere 15% of whisky drinkers were women. As for what's causing this change? I believe it's a mix of the acceptance of women to hold roles within the spirits industry partnered with thoughtful programs and initiatives to engage with female consumers.
While whisky was previously known for being a man's drink, reserved for after-dinner cigars behind closed doors, it is now out in the open and accessible for women to learn about and enjoy too.
What was once subculture is now becoming the norm and women are really breaking through and grabbing coveted roles in the spirits business. That said, it's up to the industry as a whole to continue to push it forward. When you work for a company that values diversity, you're afforded the opportunity to be who you are and let that benefit your business. Working under the model that the best brand initiatives come from passionate groups of people with diverse backgrounds, we are able to offer different points of view and challenge our full team to bring their best work forward, which in turn creates better experiences for our audience. We must continue to diversify the industry and break against the status quo if we really want to continue evolving.
While we've made great strides as an industry, there is still a lot of work to be done. To make a change and finally achieve gender equality in the workplace, both men and women need to stand behind the cause as we are better collectively as a balanced industry. We have proved that we have the ability to not only meet the bar, but to also raise it - now we just need everyone else to catch up.