I can’t say I saw it coming, but I can’t say it was totally unfair, either. I was sitting in a meeting at my previous job as a beauty publicist, and after some exchange, a supervisor turned to me and declared, “Well, maybe this environment is just too entrepreneurial for you.”
I have found myself on the receiving end of comments like that a lot over the years. When I first came to this country from the Soviet Union, at age 7, the school I entered wanted to hold me back because I didn’t speak English. I ended up being one of their best students. My guidance counselor in high school told me he thought NYU was a reach. I got in early decision.
All of which is to say: I know what it is to be underestimated.
But the criticism stung. Because even though I liked to move fast and be scrappy and creative and push boundaries — in other words, be entrepreneurial — I also had a tendency to be a little shy, because I didn’t want to ruffle any feathers.
I got fired from that job not long after. But here’s the ironic thing: At that time, I was also quietly developing a company with my husband. It was called Brooklinen, and it would offer beautiful bedding at a decent price, direct to consumer. Losing my job lit a fire under my butt and put a chip on my shoulder. I could have just gotten a safe, stable job, but I decided to go all in on Brooklinen and prove that supervisor wrong.
I doubled down on every creative instinct I had and every PR thing I knew, and I came up with a launch strategy for a Kickstarter campaign. It included everything from delivering packages of newly made sheets to bloggers (with handwritten notes asking them to share our story if they liked the sheets), to simply emailing and Facebooking our friends and family and asking them to share our story as well. I also worked on designing packaging, pulling together favors from friends in creative fields to help us with our Kickstarter video and product photo shoot and generally did whatever I could to get the word out.
In 2014, a month after I lost my job, we launched the campaign. It was a runaway success. Our goal was $50,000; we brought in more than $236,000. Growth since has been explosive. Sales were more than $20 million in 2016. For 2017, we are projecting more than double that.
All the while, that supervisor’s judgment has stayed with me, tattooed on my brain. It represents all the nos, the don’ts and the you can’ts I’ve heard along the way. It’s a reminder that people won’t take you seriously if you don’t speak up, and you won’t grow as a person or an entrepreneur. And it serves as inspiration to never be deterred or lose my focus, determination, hunger, vision or voice just because someone doubts me. As the inimitable actress Taraji P. Henson put it, “If you…allow people to project their fears onto you, you won’t live.” You’ve got to use it all as fuel for pursuing your passions.