BASED IN: NEW YORK
We co-founded a branding agency called Sunbird Creative. The company specializes in strategy, design, and content marketing for solopreneurs and women-owned businesses. In other words, we help small businesses carve out their niche!
As best friends, neighbors, and fellow freelancers, we started Sunbird for two reasons. First: to help the businesses in our neighborhood survive the rapid pace of change. Second: to support solo entrepreneurs like us as their personal creative team. Our ambition is to strengthen small business brands worldwide through access to down-to-earth content and innovative services.
Who/What inspires you?
MARA: The stories of countless refugees who become athletes, doctors, scientists, helpful neighbors… inspire me. When I read about the perseverance and forgiving nature of people who have been displaced, then repeatedly rejected and tossed around, I get a surge of energy to make my life count as well. If they can face the horrors they have and emerge bold and victorious, I can face my demons and emerge victorious too.
How has being an entrepreneur affected your life? How did it change the way you think about life?
MARA: Being an entrepreneur has made me more appreciative of all different fields of work. Through networking events and partnering with the loveliest clients, I get to hear about the joys and pains of working in various industries, and frankly, I’m amazed at the resilience of the ladies I meet.
BIANCA: Until I hit my 20s, I thought starting businesses was only for rich people and daredevils. Looking back, that assumption reflected a tendency to feel powerless in life! Now I realize that entrepreneurship is, at its core, just a form of problem-solving. With enough faith, humility and perseverance, can’t any problem be solved? This new perspective has helped me see personal, social, even political issues as challenges to be overcome, not troubles to be overwhelmed by.
Do you believe that there is one specific formula for success? What does it mean to be a successful business owner?
MARA: No, absolutely not, because I don’t believe there is one definition of success. For some, success is making a lot of money. For some, success is having a peace of mind. For some, success is improving other people’s quality of life.
As for me, being a successful business owner is having my passion and skills meet the needs of my clients again and again, and again and again. To me, the image of success is my clients approaching their businesses with greater clarity and confidence. I imagine if I could fill a wall with snapshots of smiling entrepreneurs who have been helped by my partner and my agency, I’ll feel pretty darn successful.
BIANCA: I believe there are as many paths to success as there are goals to achieve. Success is fulfilling what you set out to do, whatever that is. Ideally, though, business owners aim for more than just profit! I’m a big fan of the triple-bottom-line paradigm (which measures a business’ social, environmental, and financial value).
What does it mean to have competition/competitors? Do you compete/collaborate or just observe? What is the best practice to approach your competition?
BIANCA: No two businesses are really alike; each has something unique to offer. From that perspective, collaboration is totally natural. When we meet competitors, we try to understand their unique value and find ways to partner if possible. We have a mutual relationship of sharing ideas and feedback with one of our competitors. And we just signed a subcontracting partnership agreement with another! Whether for competition or collaboration, understanding competitors and their unique value is important to any business’ survival.
Do you have hobbies? What are they? Is it important to take “time off” and focus on other things such as friends, family, hobbies etc.?
BIANCA: I’ve heard that Einstein, when stuck on a mathematical problem, would play the violin until the answer suddenly popped into his mind. Our brains are literally the most complex things in the world. They don’t do well without variety. My favorite hobbies are martial arts and painting. I think my word-clogged mind needs the cleansing of totally visual and physical worlds!
What is the scariest thing that happened to you while being an entrepreneur (that you can share)? How did you overcome it? What did you learn?
BIANCA: Our very first client was a formidable woman. In our efforts to please her and prove what we could do, we over-promised and under-charged. Things got so messy we came close to canceling the contract. Instead we got a crash course in the importance of setting boundaries and managing expectations.
Is there one “rookie mistake” that new entrepreneurs keep on making? What is it? Did it happen to you?
MARA: A common mistake I see is when entrepreneurs think that because they have a wonderful idea, their business is bound to succeed. They launch a product, service, or website, then expect folks to magically find them and fall in love with whatever they’re offering.
Starting and growing a business is a challenge, and if you don’t approach it as a challenge that requires a game plan, I believe that in most cases, grave disappointment is inevitable. I experienced this myself as a musician launching an album the year after I graduated from college. It was painful, but I learned an unforgettable lesson to plan, plan, plan.
BIANCA: Not validating their business by testing the market. Entrepreneurs tend to get so wrapped up in their idea for a product or service they forget to make sure someone will buy it! There’s a big difference between making something great and making something that people will pay for (and pay enough to cover all your bills). I still fall into this mistake in small decisions, but thankfully my co-founder and I were mentally prepared to do lots of pivoting and market research early on.
What is one thing you find to be true that most people would disagree with?
BIANCA: I believe any type of person can become an entrepreneur. Not everyone wants or is ready to be one, of course! But the idea that only certain personalities are suited to starting businesses has a mythical quality. I believe anyone can start a successful business if they’re willing to ask for help, be honest with themselves, and put in the time.