After years of working in the corporate food service industry, Brooklyn based Ashley Rouse knew she was destined for more. Her Brooklyn, NY-based low-sugar, vegan artisanal jam company Trade St. Jam Co., which she started in a tiny apartment when living in North Carolina was steadily growing in sales and wholesaling opportunities.
However, Ashley knew that time is what she needed in order to grow the company into the vision she had. In early October 2018, she decided to quit her corporate job to venture into the world of full-time entrepreneurship. I sat down with Ashley to chat with her about her road to full-time entrepreneurship and how the decision to choose faith over fear is leading her on this new journey. Ashley shares the steps she took and advice for others who are looking to take the leap and pursue their dreams full-time.
1. Build the dream before you quit.
Every big idea starts small. In the early days of Trade St. Jam Co., Ashley cooked jams in small batches and sold and shipped locally. Over time interest and demand grew. She later expanded to selling in local New York City craft fairs and markets.
Learning the industry and market before you penetrate full-time is also important. Ashley spent her early days building and connecting with other local businesses and #blackowned companies. Ashley took the time to invest in brand basics such as branding, customer profiles, product offerings, sourcing, inventory management, and production – which all allowed her to scale later on.
2. Be open to the signs that it’s time & commit to the decision.
Full-time entrepreneurship was always on Ashley's "to-do" list, but she thought she was being "smart" by holding off. "I always knew [I could] make more money doing this is if I wasn't at work all the time. But, when I thought about the idea of quitting, it was so daunting." In retrospect, Ashley realized that she was actually afraid that things wouldn't work out.
Ashley's "catalyst moment" came two months prior to quitting when she was invited to participate on a panel discussion on entrepreneurship. She originally didn't want to do it – but ended up obliging. During a Q&A with the audience, an attendee's comment changed her entrepreneurial trajectory:
"He said, 'I'm sorry to interrupt but something higher is telling me that I have to say this right now...when you step out on purpose, you won't be afraid because that's what God has for you. You need to be open to that and understand that and pray that you hear that when He speaks to you.'"
During the ride home, she told her husband, "Maybe we need to look at the numbers again and see if I can do this."
This time, Ashley's apprehension was gone. "I know it sounds crazy but every time I talked about it before, I had been so fearful. For whatever reason this time, I felt strongly about it...I wasn't afraid."
3. Make a plan.
After Ashley's transformative experience – she decided to keep momentum moving. "The next night we put a bunch of numbers in the spreadsheet and ran it three times. We talked about it [and I told my husband], 'I think I'm going to do this.'"
Three days later, Ashley put in her notice at work.
Though the decision to quit came suddenly, Ashley took the time to create a plan but left room for her to "work through it as it comes."
To her surprise, after she quit, opportunities and sales began rolling in. A Bon Appetit feature led to 200 jam orders. Bigger brands such as Squarespace, Facebook, and The Gap began to reach out for wholesaling and brand partnerships. Who knew quitting would lead to this?
4. Enlist a support team.
Ashley credits having the support of her mom and husband as being critical to her success. Ashley's mother was one of her first culinary and career inspirations and encouraged her to pursue her love for food via a culinary career. "She was always realistic. [She told me], 'If you do it and you don't like it, then you can do something else.'"
When Ashley decided to quit her corporate position, her mother was also on board. "She was excited to see me say this is what I want to do and told me to go for it."
Ashley's husband is also another crucial team member. "My husband is everything. He's calm, patient, God-fearing, encouraging… he fills in all the little holes I have and helps a ton with the business."
When she initially talked quitting, he agreed and urged her to do it. Though her husband still works full-time, Ashley notes him as being Trade St.'s "analytical side" and he urged her to analyze key metrics, such as business margins early on in the growth process.
5. Prioritize faith & self-care.
It can be daunting to quit your 9-5 to pursue your dreams and many often doubt their decision in the first few months. Ashley mentions, "I spent this whole year strengthening my relationship with God."
Ashley's faith was important to providing her the strength to keep going and is a key pillar in her everyday approach to entrepreneurship. "Recently, I started tithing, which is something I never [had] done before. [Tithing] has shown me that I am making money and how much I'm making. When I finally said I'm going to give 10% of my income...I realized I was giving a lot but it's also because I'm getting a lot."
No matter what your belief system is, having faith that your dream is worth the work you're putting in is a major factor for growth.
"You have to make a decision. I'm going to do this or I'm not going to [do] this. If I am, I'm going to do it all the way. I'm going to be faithful and push through so when I have those days and I feel like I can't do it, I have to be self-aware and tell my[self]...that [I made] this pact to myself."
Throughout the journey, it will be important to celebrate the small wins. Recently, Ashley surprised her mom with a fully-paid trip to Paris and Amsterdam – something she had never been able to do before. She and her husband also went to Jamaica for a wedding – where they were able to destress and relax – something that any full-time entrepreneur needs to schedule into their calendar.
You never know where your journey will lead you once you decide to invest in your passion full-time. Make sure you aren't the one getting in your own way and blocking future blessings. "On December 12th, I went back to Conde Nast and did a Chef's Table. It's full circle because I used to run the Chef's Table program at Conde Nast...and now I'm being featured."
What's next for Ashley and Trade St. Jam Co.? The company recently launched a new IGTV show "You Can't Jam With Us" and Ashley will be featured in an upcoming Vice docu-series "Hustle" airing in February 2019.
To learn more about Ashley's journey, click below or listen to her story on episode 174 of the Dreams In Drive podcast.
Rana Campbell is a Princeton University graduate, storyteller, content marketing strategist, and the founder and host ofDreams In Drive- a weekly podcast that teaches you how to take your dreams from PARK to DRIVE. She loves teaching others how to use their life stories to inspire action within oneself and others. Connect with her on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Soundcloud, Instagram @rainshineluv or @dreamsindrive.
Featured image via Ashley Rouse
Rana Campbell is a Princeton University graduate, storyteller, content marketing strategist, and the founder and host of Dreams In Drive - a weekly podcast that teaches you how to take your dreams from PARK to DRIVE. She loves teaching others how to use their life stories to inspire action within oneself and others. Connect with her on Instagram @rainshineluv or @dreamsindrive.
Chief Mom Officer: 23 Quotes From Working Moms Finding Their Balance
The truth is, Black moms create magic every single day. Whether we're juggling motherhood with a busy 9-5, a thriving business, or staying at home to run a household, no day is short of amazing when you're managing life as a mommy. This Mother's Day, xoNecole is giving flowers to CMOs (Chief Mom Officers) in business who exemplify the strength it takes to balance work with motherhood.
We've commissioned these ladies, who are pillars in their respective industries, for tidbits of advice to get you through the best and worst days of mothering. Here, they share their "secret sauce" and advice for other moms trying to find their rhythm.
Emmelie De La Cruz, Chief Strategist at One Day CMO
"My mom friends and I all laugh and agree: Motherhood is the ghettoest thing you will ever do. It's beautiful and hard all at the same time, but one day you will wake up and feel like 'I got this' and you will get the hang of it. After 4 months, I finally felt like I found my footing to keep my kid and myself alive, but it took vulnerability to take off the cape and be honest about the areas that I didn't have it all together. The healing (physically and emotionally) truly does happen in community - whatever and whoever that looks like for you."
Alizè V. Garcia, Director Of Social & Community Impact at Nike
"I would tell a new mom or a prospective mother that they must give themselves grace, understand and remember there is no right way to do this thing and have fun! When I had my daughter three and a half years ago, I was petrified! I truly had no clue about what to do and how I was going to do it. But with time, my confidence grew and I realized quickly that I have all the tools I need to be the mother I want to be."
Nikki Osei-Barrett, Publicist + Co-Founder of The Momference
"There's no balance. I'm dropping sh*t everywhere! However, my secret sauce is pursuing interests and hobbies outside of what's required of me and finding time to workout. Stronger body equals = stronger mind."
Lauren Grove, Chief Experience Architect, The Grant Access, LLC
"I try to give myself grace. That’s my mantra for this phase of motherhood…grace. I won’t be able to get everything done. To have a spotless house. To not lose my cool after an exhausting day. Those things can’t happen all of the time. But I can take a deep breath and know tomorrow is another day and my blessings are more plentiful than my pitfalls."
Rachel Nicks, Founder & CEO of Birth Queen
"You have the answers within you. Don’t compare yourself to others. Curate your life to work for you. Ask for help."
Tanisha Colon-Bibb, Founder + CEO Rebelle Agency + Rebelle Management
"I know love doesn't pay bills but when I am overwhelmed with work or client demands I take a moment to play with my baby and be reminded of the love, energy, science, and Godliness that went into his birth. I am brightened by his smile and laugh. I remember I am someone's parent and not just a work horse. That at the end of the day everything will work out for the good of my sanity and the love within my life."
Christina Brown, Founder of LoveBrownSugar & BabyBrownSugar
"Learning your rhythm as a mom takes time and can be uncomfortable when you’re in a season of overwhelm. Constantly check in with yourself and assess what’s working and what’s not. Get the help you need without feeling guilty or ashamed of needing it."
Mecca Tartt, Executive Director of Startup Runway Foundation
"I want to be the best for myself, my husband, children and company. However, the reality is you can have it all but not at the same time. My secret sauce is outsourcing and realizing that it’s okay to have help in order for me to perform at the highest level."
Jen Hayes Lee, Head Of Marketing at The Bump (The Knot Worldwide)
"My secret sauce is being direct and honest with everyone around me about what I need to be successful in all of my various "jobs". Setting boundaries is one thing, but if you're the only one who knows they exist, your partners at home and on the job can't help you maintain them. I also talk to my kids like adults and let them know why mommy needs to go to this conference or get this massage...they need to build an appreciation for my needs too!"
Whitney Gayle-Benta, Chief Music Officer JKBX
"What helps me push through each day is the motivation to continue by thinking about my son. All my efforts, though exhausting, are to create a wonderful life for him."
Ezinne Okoro, Global Chief Inclusion, Equity, & Diversity Officer at Wunderman Thompson,
"The advice I received that I’ll pass on is, you will continue to figure it out and find your rhythm as your child grows into new stages. Trust your nurturing intuition, parent on your terms, and listen to your child."
Jovian Zayne, CEO of The OnPurpose Movement
"I live by the personal mantra: 'You can’t be your best self by yourself.' My life feels more balanced when I offer the help I can give and ask for the help I need. This might mean outsourcing housecleaning for my home, or hiring additional project management support for my business."
Simona Noce Wright, Co-Founder of District Motherhued and The Momference
"Each season of motherhood (depending on age, grade, workload) requires a different rhythm. With that said, be open to learning, to change, and understand that what worked for one season may not work the other...and that's okay."
Janaye Ingram, Director of Community Partner Programs and Engagement at Airbnb
"My daughter's smile and sweet spirit help me to feel gratitude when I'm overwhelmed. I want her to see a woman who doesn't quit when things get hard."
Codie Elaine Oliver, CEO & Founder of Black Love
"I try to listen to my body and simply take a break. With 3 kids and a business with 10+ team members, I often feel overwhelmed. I remind myself that I deserve grace for everything I'm juggling, I take a walk or have a snack or even head home to see my kids, and then I get back to whatever I need to get done."
Jewel Burks Solomon, Managing Partner at Collab Capital
"Get comfortable with the word ‘no’. Be very clear about your non-negotiables and communicate them to those around you."
Bridget Bogee, Marketing Lead At Meta
"Ask for help and always prioritize making time for you."
Julee Wilson, Executive Director at BeautyUnited and Beauty Editor-at-Large at Cosmopolitan
"Understand you can’t do it alone — and that’s ok. Relinquish the need to control everything. Create a village and lean on them."
Salwa Benyaich, Director Of Pricing and Planning at Premion
"Most days I really try to shut my computer off by 6 pm; there are always exceptions of course when it comes to big deals or larger projects but having this as a baseline allows me to be much more present with my kids. I love the fact that I can either help with homework or be the designated driver to at least one afterschool activity. Work can be draining but there is nothing more emotionally draining than when you feel as though you are missing out on moments with your kids."
Brooke Ellis, Head of Global Marketing & Product Launches at Amazon Music
My calendar, prayer, pilates class at Forma, a good playlist, and oatmilk lattes all help get me through any day.
Courtney Beauzile, Global Director of Client and Business Development at Shearman & Sterling
My husband is a partner who steps in when I just can’t. My mom and my MIL come through whenever and however I need. My kids have many uncles and aunts and they will lend an ear, go over homework, teach life lessons, be a presence or a prayer warrior depending on the day.
Robin Snipes, Chief of Staff at Meta
"Enjoy the time you have to yourself because once kids come those times will be few and far between."
Monique Bivens, CEO & Founder at Brazilian Babes LLC.
"For new moms, it is very important that you get back into a habit or routine of something you use to do before you were pregnant. Consider the actives and things that give you the most joy and make the time to do them."
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Featured image by Westend61/Getty Images
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Tracee Ellis Ross On Why She Declined The Idea Of Someone Else Running Her Hair Company
Actress and entrepreneur Tracee Ellis Ross recently revealed the driving force behind her desire to become the owner of her haircare brand, Pattern.
According to its site, Pattern is a haircare company that provides a wide range of products, from shampoos, conditioners, oils, creams, and many more to individuals with curls, coils, and tight hair textures. Although Pattern would launch in 2019, the idea for the company first came to Ross a decade before --in 2008, when her hit show Girlfriends wrapped-- following a brief encounter at a beauty supply store and many wanting to recreate her past looks.
At the time, those individuals couldn't achieve the exact results because limited natural hair products were offered to the public. That instance became a pivotal moment in the star's life because she spent eleven years experimenting with professionals to create products that best suit those within the natural hair community.
In a May conference with Fortune's MPW Next Gen, Ross opened up about the struggles she faced early on as an entrepreneur trying to get Pattern off the ground and why she declined the offer to have the company be run by someone else.
Tracee On Past Struggles And Why She Chose To Run Her Company
During the discussion, the 50-year-old revealed that she is Pattern's "majority owner" because the company's overall mission to cater to those in the natural hair community was built from her "experiential knowledge."
"I'm a majority owner of my company. [Other celebrities with brands] aren't the founders of the company. Often, they join a company that exists," she said. "The mission [at Pattern] is born out of my experience. It's born out of my own experiential knowledge."
Further in the interview, Ross would add that she avoided partnering with an expert for Pattern because she felt she had gained enough knowledge experimenting with products in her bathroom.
"I didn't want to partner with an expert or a 'professional' because I felt—like so many—I had become my own best expert in my bathroom because the beauty industry was not catering to us," she stated.
Despite refusing to have a partner within her company, Ross found creative ways to build it. It includes paying a chemist with her own money to bring her visions of various products to life, and sending those samples to retail stores, ultimately leading to partnerships.
The final piece that helped Ross during her journey was receiving advice from business partners on ways to improve the brand, one of which came from Ulta Beauty CEO and Footlocker CEO Mary Dillon.
The black-ish star claimed that Dillon helped her realize how she could use her celebrity status and journey to promote Pattern, which she did. Because of that, Patten has now become a favorable haircare brand among many.
Tracee On How She Plans To Use Her Company To Create Opportunities For Others
Toward the end of the discussion, Ross disclosed how she plans to use the power of being Pattern's CEO to help others.
The High Note star explained that being an owner of a company has given her access to be around other CEOs interested in what appears to be becoming more profitable, and with that, she wants to expand that access to other people.
"I know that I have access to sit at a table with a CEO in a way that perhaps another founder doesn't. And when I do that, I make sure that those conversations are not only centered around Pattern," she said. "They're centered around creating and expanding the access for all of us."
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