What woman doesn’t love a great pair of shoes? We can’t think of one. That’s why we had to talk to designer and entrepreneur Alejandra G. Since her first collection launched in 2012, the company hasn’t stopped growing. Her shoes have been worn by Kylie Jenner, Tyra Banks, Giuliana Rancic, Adrienne Bailon, Christina Milian and many more. With comfort and style being of equal importance in her designs, women love them. MillionaireMatch had to know how she made her rise to top.
MM: When did you first get inspired to create a shoe line?
Alejandra: I’ve always been in love with fashion. I have a picture of me when I was about three years old, holding a special designer fashion kit. My mom said I always loved drawing, and coloring in coloring books. It would always be really creative with the colors.
I didn’t always know that it would be shoes. I’ve told this story before, and it’s the absolute truth. I was working for a television production company at the time. I was making really good money, and I was saving up. I knew I wanted to start something. One of my friends had started a clothing line. She would take me downtown to all the manufacturers, but I noticed that there were no shoe manufacturers. So, I was playing with the idea of first starting a clothing line.
One night I was having a dream. It was a very vivid, vivid, vivid dream of shoes. They were all candied shoes. One looked like Skittles. They were candy inspired shoes. The next day I went to sketch out what was in my dream. It was so powerful. The dream would not leave me. I felt like it was my calling. I went and told my friend and family. They were like, what are you talking about? I didn’t know a single person in the fashion business.
MM: How can someone who doesn’t have a traditional background in fashion launch a business?
Alejandra: I always recommend going to some type of school to understand what you are getting into. With fashion specifically, it’s only 20% designing and the rest is knowing how to run a company. When I met my mentor who referred me to go to school in Milan, I just jumped in when I came back [to Los Angeles]. Before you decide to jump into running any company, especially fashion, make sure you get some form of education. Do as much research on how much it is going to cost to start a company, how much it will to take to run. The more you educate yourself in business 101, the less money you will lose and mistakes you will make.
MM: Did you have a good support system when you decided to quit your job and go after your dream?
Alejandra: Most people said, “what are you doing?” I didn’t know anyone. It was like, okay, you have a great job. How are you going to support yourself? How are you going to do this or that? Why go backwards if you are already moving forward in the television production career? They supported me, but they were surprised. No one said don’t do it. It was more shock. Then I literally packed up to go to Italy.
MM: Did you have moments of doubt?
Alejandra: Before I was leaving [for Italy], I had a couple of those moments of doubt. I had a boyfriend at the time. I had best friends I would see on the regular, and I was just putting my whole life on hold to go chase a dream. I was excited, but I was scared. I felt like it was a complete new chapter in my life. When I got there, it was a whole lot more difficult than I thought. Not just the school, but it was difficult being away.
MM: You started school in your late 20s. What would you say to someone who is changing careers later in life?
Alejandra: People say, oh my God. I should have it figured out. I’m twenty-five [years old]. You have to play in so many different careers. I was a teacher’s assistant, then I got my real estate license, then I got signed to J Records when I was in a rap group, then I was a television producer. I dabbled in a lot of different things. This is the longest I’ve done something, and I don’t see myself doing anything else. I always tell people it’s never too late to start any of their dreams. You can start in your 40s if you want to. People become successful at all different ages.
MM: How did you gain visibility with your brand?
Alejandra: My mentor referred me to a shoe rep. I didn’t even know I needed a shoe rep. My mentor asked me how I was going to get into stores. I didn’t know. I got these key accounts very quickly like Shopbop. My designs took off. I found out later I need public relations, but I didn’t have the money at the time. Everyone I brought on board were independent contractors. I brought on a PR person, who had been in the business awhile. She fell in love with my brand. She took me to do desk sides with editors, because she’s from New York. So, I met up with all these editors at big magazines, and they fell in love with my brand. We started to get a lot of press in magazines. Then we started to push that I was latina, and Latina Magazine and Cosmo For Latinas gave me press. They were very supportive.
Because I have lived in L.A. all my life, I have a lot of celebrity friends. I was constantly contacting people to get my shoes on people. A lot of celebrities who tag me are my personal contacts. It’s all about who you know too.
MM: What defining setback have you experienced on your entrepreneurial journey?
Alejandra: Spending too much money in the wrong places. I would think do I have to stop for a minute, and get an investor. It’s always been the money. It takes money to make money. If I had an investor right now, I would be further ahead.
MM: What advice would you give to someone who feels stuck or not progressing in their business?
Alejandra: They say most startup companies fail within two to three years. If you can get pass those two to three years, then you are in good shape. It’s the same thing that my dad always tells me. If you have a car and it keeps breaking down, you have to get a new car. You got to figure out how to do something different. It doesn’t mean to stop doing your dream, but it means revamp. I’ve had revamping moments. If I don’t see a lot of sales coming in then I need to revamp the collection I just did. I need to come with a new idea. When you don’t see something moving, you can’t keep doing the same thing. It doesn’t mean to switch into another career. It means you have to take another route on how to get it done. A lot of people want to keep pushing forward on product or even music. If it’s not working you have to figure out a different way to do it. There’s a reason why things are not working.
If you need to upgrade your shoe game, then check out Alejandra G. shoes at www.alejandrag.com.
Hill Harper is best known as an actor, but he recently stepped into launching his own beauty products. The Harvard Law School graduate has been seen in some of your favorite shows including Homeland, CSI: NY, The Sopranos, and Limitless to name a few. Harper also is the host of HLN’s newest primetime series called How It Really Happened with Hill Harper, which takes a closer look at unsolved cases, mysteries and celebrity trials. Though his schedule may be busy, a medical scare gave Harper the idea to create a skincare line that offers more than a pretty package. MillionaireMatch got the scoop on this amazing product.
In 2010, Harper was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. “I was shooting a movie in Atlanta with Tyler Perry, and I woke up one morning and I couldn’t swallow,” Harper recalls. He was lucky enough to know a doctor who was also friend in Atlanta. He made a call, and soon found himself under his care. A week and a few tests later, Harper found out he had cancer. His father had also been diagnosed with the same condition and has since passed away. This pushed Harper to take a closer look at his health. In addition, President Obama had appointed him to be on the President’s Cancer Panel.
“You don’t want to put aluminum on your body,” Harper said. “Everything that we put on our skin gets absorbed into the body. Most of the things that we put on our bodies have aluminum, sulfate, and parabens which are damaging to the liver,” he explained. As he took his health more seriously, he purchased natural products that left all the bad ingredients out. Harper took notice that those products also cost a pretty penny. “I realized there was no affordable all natural products,” he said. The products would cost him $40-$100 an item. He didn’t think that was fair to those who want to prevent toxins, but couldn’t afford to spend that kind of money. “If your liver is weighed down by what you put in it, it can’t detoxify,” he said. As a result, he started a men’s and women’s skincare line: JUA Essentials for women and H2L for men.
JUA Essentials, which means “sun” in Swahili, can be purchased as a subscription box at just $58 to start and $29 every other month for refills. The kit includes Nourishing Body Wash, Smoothing Shampoo, Restoring Conditioner, After-Shower Hydrating Oil, and Invigorating Body Lotion. Just in case you want to try one or two items, you can purchase them individually with the option to receive refills automatically. H2L includes a 2-in-1 Shampoo and Conditioning Cleanse. The products are made with baobab oil, natural oils, plant extracts and are free of any harsh chemicals.
You can find these products at www.bethearchitect.com. “You can control your life,” he said in regards to the name of the website and parent company. Harper added, “Everyone has the capacity to be the architect of their life.” What better time than now to start a new skincare regimen? Head over to their site for more information, and to be part of the movement.
Buying stock has never been as easy as using the app Robinhood. With just a few clicks, you can buy shares right from your phone. Robinhood launched in 2014, and has well over a million users. Created by two Stanford graduates, the app allows customers to trade without paying $7 for each trade. Vladimir Tenev, one of the co-founders of Robinhood, shared how they disrupted the finance industry.
Tenev grew up in Bulgaria and moved to the states at an early age not even knowing how to speak English. He’s the son of an economist who also had an entrepreneurial spirit. His dad owned a tourism business, and managed that on the side. Tenev, who wanted to be a physicist, started to move in the direction of finance after enrolling in a Ph.D program at UCLA in 2008, which was the same time the market crashed. It was also the same time the Occupy Wall Street movement was birthed. “We could tell that a lot of people had lost trust in the financial system. People thought it was rigged against them, especially in our age groups. We saw an opportunity to build a new brand in that space,” he said.
And that is exactly what he did. With most of the users being in their late 20s, buying and selling stock through an app was easy and made sense for this generation. Getting them to trust again after the market crashed was something that didn’t go unnoticed. “If you look at Robinhood and what we stand for and compare to the discount brokerages, which are all sort of variations of the same name, they have trade in the name. There is very little brand loyalty among our generation to those companies. We saw an opportunity to turn it on its head and really build a company that put the consumer first, and provide these tools that use to only be available to the wealthy,” Tenev explained. “Rather than brick and mortar infrastructure, today’s consumers look at things like customer reviews, the design and user experience of the product, whether what we are promising is what we deliver, and the benefit that our customers are a lot younger. The average Robinhood customers are in their late 20s. The stakes are not quite as high for them. A lot of them are first time investors,” he continued. Tenev recalls his first time buying stock. He was just a teen. “It gave me the sense of ownership and connection to the company,” he said.
Robinhood is a free app to use, which now offers a subscription for premium services at just $10 a month. How do free apps make money? Well, for Tenev it’s a simple model. “What a lot of people don’t understand about our space is that the majority of the revenue is the majority of revenue is generated not by commissions but by other sources. Revenue is driven by interest from margin, interest from customer credit balances, stock loan, and a bunch of things that roughly fall into the banking like category,” he said.
Being able to generate revenue is key to landing venture capital. With most startups, it’s not easy to get funding if you can’t prove that your business is profitable. He admits to meeting with dozens of investors. What ultimately worked for him was the fact he had two previous businesses, one being a trading company, and that he knew the financial space well. “Getting investments is like rolling a snowball. It gets somewhat easier when you get a couple of them. You get your first two investors and you ask them if they know any other investors,” he said. “We were lucky. Our first angel investor was someone we knew from New York, who is in the trading industry. They ended up moving to California the same time as us. We reconnected spontaneously and was able to get him involved,” he continued.
Even with a little bit of luck, Tenev learned some valuable lessons from mistakes he made in those early days. “One thing that a lot of people associate with entrepreneurship, if you think about people in your head that are very successful, it’s people that do a lot of things. They have a lot of things going on. I associated being successful with doing a lot of things simultaneously. If I had known that actually it is much more important to do as few things as possible and do them really well, it would have served me much better,” Tenev said. Luckily, he was able to focus on an app that changed the way we trade stock.
For more information on how to easily buy and sell stock, log on to www.robinhood.com.
Communicating with family and friends overseas has never been easier. Not only is it easier, but it’s free. WhatsApp, which was created by Jan Koum and Brian Acton, was the result of recreating a product that could actually solve a problem. Now in its 8th year, WhatsApp boasts 1.2 billion users a month with 50 billion messages being exchanged daily. MillionaireMatch got the scoop on how Koum redesigned WhatsApp to become a favorite tool for mobile users to connect domestically and internationally.
Koum, an immigrant from the Ukraine, moved to Silicon Valley with his mom when he was 16 years old. He later enrolled in San Jose State University, but didn’t complete his studies. Instead, he took a job at Yahoo where he worked for nine years, and where he met his co-founder. After a little hiatus, they both applied for jobs at Facebook and got rejected. But in 2014, Facebook bought WhatsApp for $19 billion. Not a bad deal.
The beginning stages weren’t so glorious or profitable. When Koum first rolled out WhatsApp, it was just a cool idea that he had in his head. “When we launched it and it didn’t take off, I was like why? Turns out people didn’t really need it. We didn’t build a product that ultimately solved a problem for people,” he explained. People began to write in suggestions on how to improve the app. After listening to so many, Koum decided they had nothing to lose. “We built a system that didn’t require usernames, logins or passwords. We wanted to make it really simple,” he said. Additional changes to the software allowed people to communicate across different countries for free, when at a time it was expensive using regular text messaging.
WhatsApp, like many other apps, started off as free. Now, after a year of use, the app charges $1.00. Why the change? “We were trying to balance on one hand, breaking even. We were self funded. We also got angel funding at a later stage, but we were trying to be frugal with the money we had. On one hand we wanted to make sure we had revenue to pay for lights, servers, the basic stuff. On the other hand, we wanted to slow down the growth of our network. We didn’t want to be known as a company that has outages, or can’t provide good customer support. We wanted to have somewhat of an organic growth,” Koum said. He also added the thought, “When they pay for a product they would want to continue using it.”
Koum was one of the lucky ones when it came to getting funding. He and his partner were actually approached by Sequoia Capital, and as a result received $8 million in funding. “We weren’t focused on raising funds. We were focused on building the product,” Koum said. He admits he didn’t even have a pitch deck. “We didn’t really have anything, and they wanted to invest in us,” he said. He did get a bit of advice from a colleague, “You want to raise money when you don’t need money, because when you need money you aren’t going to have the terms you want or leverage. It’s always good to have money in the bank. You can always do something with it,” Koum recalled.
His advice to entrepreneurs,“If you really go all in, you go all in.” He had about three years where he missed out on hanging with friends and family. “Keep trying. If your original idea isn’t working, use what you’ve built to pivot into something else. Keep trying to find a solution to people’s problems,” he said.
How the world communicates changed when gifs disrupted social media. Giphy was founded in 2013 by Alex Chung, who is also CEO. The idea first came about when Chung met up with a friend at a bar, and the conversation led to the discussing the limitations of language. Chung was a Philosophy major and he’s an artist. So, this kind of conversation was normal.
Chung is no stranger to building startups. Before Giphy, he started 12 other companies. After he and his friend agreed that a moving image was better than words, Chung began creating the popular site the world goes to for pulling gifs to express various emotions from excitement to annoyance. Today, the site gets over 150 million unique visitors. The company has also grown to 60 employees. Giphy recently raised $72 million in funding, which in total amounts to $150 million since the start and a valuation of $600 million.
With all the success in such a short amount of time, it’s surprising that Giphy is bringing in revenue. MillionaireMatch got the scoop on what Giphy plans to do.
“All of our funds are into accelerating the growth. We are in a pre-revenue growth phase. Ultimately we are going to make money. We have a revenue plan in place. We have been thinking about it since day one. One of the reasons is getting the license deals,” Chung explained. Giphy has been building relationships to gain those licenses to create gifs for all the major awards, such as the Oscars, VMAs, and the Emmys. If you’ve ever scrolled through social media while an award show was live, you will notice almost immediately gifs of some really captivating moments. That’s all due to Giphy. “We have deals with the Oscars, and most of the major events going on. We have an entire team of editors on the east and west coast that sit, and make these moments official for our partners. Everyday we have events that we are the curators of that event. We are helping all the partners that want gifs for those events,” Chung said. Eighty percent of gifts come from pop culture. “We do pretty much every movie that is out there,” Chung continued.
Giphy is not only a cool site to go to, but it also seems like a great place to work. Chung has incorporated a few things that make the culture at Giphy great. Chung keeps every new hire for at least a year, unless they decide to quit. The staff has a free lunch, and every Friday gets to enjoy some adult beverages at a local spot. He also had an interesting observation about being a CEO. “Being the CEO or founder, is one of the worst things you can do. It’s like...you just want to make things. My first job is to make sure that everyone that works with me is happy, and that they are doing things. You have so much responsibility. There’s parts of me that just want to make things all day. That’s the difference in being an artist and being in business,” Chung said.
We are sure there are some benefits to being CEO, but Chung did want to give advice to the entrepreneur on the grind. “I’ve probably spent a quarter of my life working alone, looking at a screen with a bunch of words in front of me. You can’t like going out doing things all the time, or you wouldn’t make anything. You have this dichotomy of people who like to be alone to create, and the need to go out to meet people and show them your work,” he said.
So, what’s next for Giphy? “In the next few years, you’ll see it become more mass popular,” said Chung. “The giph space is still small. Most of the world still doesn’t know what a gif is. There’s room enough for everyone to be part of the gif space. We always try to do our best to work with anyone in the gif space,” Chung said.
Well, if you are one of those people who have been living under a rock, go to www.giphy.com and find the gif that suits you!