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Walk A Mile in Her Shoes: Nicole Rodrigues

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StilettoGals,

One of the components to being a StilettoGal is confidence.  Nicole Rodrigues Owns who she is and has built an award-winning PR agency from the ground up. She redefines what it is to be a confident woman in an industry that has so much stigmatism.  Her story below is not only inspiring but it makes me want to reach even higher than I ever have before.

 

StilettoGal:   Who or what inspired you to become an entrepreneur and start your own business?

 

 Nicole Rodrigues:  I’m the oldest of nine children so being a leader has always come naturally to me. For some reason, in college, I knew the way to really make an impact on the public relations industry was to start my own firm. I didn’t know when it would happen and I wasn’t sure how, I just knew it was a long term goal I eventually wanted to meet. From day one, I worked every day to be the best possible PR pro I could be. I wanted to master every level of the profession so when it came time to hire I would know the types of skills and personality someone would have to have to be successful. Now, 16 years into my professional career I can smile and know that the 19-year-old dreamer in college was RIGHT. I feel strong and capable to run my own team. I can identify great talent and I know how to train them to make them even better. I’m on an entirely new journey as a business owner and it’s exciting to see the growth and momentum so far.

SG:   Do you believe mentors are an intricate part of starting a business and why?

NR:  I know firsthand that mentors are an intricate part of starting a business because without mine I wouldn’t be where I am now. I’m blessed to have multiple mentors on the PR side of my career. In this stage of my career, Ken Rutkowski, entrepreneur, thought leader, networker, and co-founder/host of Business Rockstars Radio, is one of my best friends and a mentor I am blessed to have on my side. I think any great entrepreneur knows his/her limits and therefore should be open to guidance and advice from people who’ve successfully built businesses.

SG:   What are three tips you can give to women who want to start their own PR or marketing firm?

NR:

Tip 1) It’s not as easy as it looks. If you want to build a solid company, you need to be solid in your PR skills and your ability to lead and teach. In order to grow, you need to be able to attract and retain talent. If you’re not good at what you do, how can you hold your team members to a high caliber?

 

Tip 2) Don’t send away great new business ops just because they don’t have huge budgets. My first pieces of business had zero to no budget and I worked hard anyway, just to have them as resume builders for the agency. Thank God for that, the great work done on those accounts helped attract bigger business ops and eventually led us to win ‘Best New Agency of the Year’ in Bulldog Reporter’s Stars of PR award competition. Now that’s helping impress others who want to give us new business.

 

Tip 3) Know and love social media tools. If you’re trying to make it in PR and build an agency that will be around in the future, recognize that without the knowledge of social media and digital marketing tools, you’re going to be lost like the other agencies that only understand and deliver traditional media relations.

SG:   How do you define success?

NR:  Success is setting goals, no matter how big or small, and reaching them. Period. In every level of my career I’ve set small and large goals for myself, knowing that if I accomplished those, over time, I’d be successful in my career.

SG:   What do you want your legacy to be?

NR:   When aspiring PR pros learn about, read about, and aspire to be like the game-changers and leaders in the field, I want to be one of the people who stand out. I didn’t get into PR just to do a “job.” I got into it because I love it and am passionate about everything our profession stands for. I know it often gets a bad rap because of others who don’t take what we do as seriously. I take my job as seriously as a doctor would take his job. I may not be saving lives at a hospital but often times I’m saving ENTIRE COMPANIES through strategy and hard work. I have brought companies to life as well. That’s the beauty of being able to work with startups. I love strategic public relations and want to be an inspiration to anyone else who loves or will love the profession just as much.

SG:   What challenges have you faced and how did you overcome them?

NR:   I was a mom two weeks after graduating college. Imagine: 22, just out of college, married, with an infant, fighting to be recognized amongst all the other junior people in my career who had no hangups, big bills, or children at home. I had to work harder than anyone else to show my bosses and co-workers that I could do just as good of a job, even with huge responsibilities at home. My daughter is 14 now and I thank God she motivated me to be the best from day one. I had no other choice if I was going to provide the bright future I knew she deserved.

SG:   What kind of shoe are you and why?

NR:   The Christian Louboutin ‘So Kate’ heel. Depending on my mood, I can be multiple colors. Mostly black, because it’s classic and elegant, yet powerful. My ‘So Kate’ heels are my signature event and red carpet shoes. I feel the most ‘me’ in them!

 

Walk A Mile in Her Shoes: Marisa Hamamoto

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Happy Thursday StilettoGals, 

I am so excited to introduce you to a woman who is making major strides for those in need.  I had the pleasure of meeting her at a Los Angeles Business Journal event last year where she was a keynote speaker.  She took one small challenge in her life and turned it into several businesses.  She is the epitome of confidence, poise and grace.

StilettoGal: Tell us about yourself and your company?

 Marisa Hamamoto:

I am a professional ballroom & salsa dancer and dancepreneur and currently run 3 businesses

  1. Sexy Salsa Ballroom (www.SexySalsaBallroom.com): Quality dance instruction & dance entertainment, founded in 2012.
  2. Infinite Flow – A Wheelchair Dance Company (www.InfiniteFlowDance.org): A non-profit 501(c)3 and America’s first professional wheelchair ballroom dance company, founded in 2015.
  3. Marisa Hamamoto (www.MarisaHamamoto.com): me myself as dancer, actress, speaker, and … hopefully author in the near future.

SG:  What was the inspiration behind launching your company?

MH:  Dancing has been a passion of mine since I was 6 years old.  It made me feel powerful, beautiful, and free from a young age, and during my teens I pursued a professional ballet career seriously.  I wasn’t made for classical ballet and after rejection after rejection, I gave up on the ballerina career.  However, I continued to dance during my college years and secretly hoped to build a career as a contemporary dancer.

In July 2006 while a Senior at Keio University in Tokyo, in the midst of a contemporary dance class after school, I felt some tingling in my elbows, and momentarily collapsed onto the ground.  I couldn’t move my legs or my arms and I lost sensation from the neck down.  The next day I was diagnosed with a rare neurological disease called Spinal Cord Infarction and was told I may never walk again.  I was devastated because not being able to walk meant not being able to dance, and dancing was everything to me.

Some dark days continued, but there was still a voice inside of me that said “DANCE” and I was determined to find a way to dance no matter what, and continued to imagine myself dancing and incorporated my dance knowledge into all aspects of rehabilitation.  2 months later, I miraculously walked out of the hospital.

While my physical recovery happened faster than anyone had imagined walking out of the hospital after 2 months, I suffered PTSD for several years fearing that the paralysis could return anytime, and distanced myself from dancing as well as a social life altogether. However, once a dancer, always a dancer, even at the darkest of times I continued to believe that I would find myself dancing again at the end of the tunnel.

In Jan 2010, I discovered salsa and ballroom dancing and fell in love with it immediately.  Partner dancing was not only a great way to continually rehabilitate my mobility, but through ballroom and salsa, I was also making new friends, challenging myself artistically, and my spirits were being uplifted.  Thanks to the new dancing, I was able to pull myself out of fear and PTSD.

I soon earned my certification as a ballroom dance instructor, returned to the states, worked for a year in Orange County for a ballroom dance studio, and when I moved to Los Angeles in 2012 to pursue an entertainment career, it was by survival I started my own dance instruction business, next to performing and acting.  Sexy Salsa Ballroom started with one class per week with 6 adult students.  I put my heart and soul into creating programs that were financially and socially “accessible”, and today I count close to 1500 students who have walked into my classroom doors with a relatively high retention rate.  The results have been amazing: Just like ballroom and salsa dancing gave me back my life, I am happy to so many adults not only becoming good at a new hobby but also building lifelong friendships, including some who have found their significant other.

In March 2014, I discovered wheelchair dancing at the LA Abilities Expo, and having been paralyzed from the neck down myself, I couldn’t help but feel compassion, and felt like there was something there for me.  One thing led to the next, including instructing a wheelchair wedding couple for their First Dance and finding a wheelchair dance partner to experiment with (Adelfo), and discovering how underdeveloped wheelchair dancing was along the way, in January 2015, as a way of giving back my love and passion for dance to those who continue to live with paralysis, I founded Infinite Flow – A Wheelchair Dance Company.

Infinite Flow officially became a nonprofit 501(c)3 in March 2015, and with ballroom dancing and other commercial dance forms as its base, Infinite Flow has the mission to break barriers artistically and socially through excellence and innovation in wheelchair dance performance. In the last year, we have accomplished much to get the organization up and running and we are moving forward in strides, week by week.  I look up to productions such as Deaf West Theater’s Spring Awakening, closing its run on Broadway shortly am driven to build Infinite Flow to become the American Ballet Theatre of wheelchair dancing.

SG:  What has been your biggest challenges thus far in starting a business?

MH:  I would say my biggest challenge has been learning to delegate.  I have always been a strong independent minded person, and asking others for help has been a challenge.  This has changed slowly over the last year as Infinite Flow – A Wheelchair Dance Company took shape one project at a time, and seeing the potential of the impact and difference the company can make globally, I realized it was for the better for the society to ask for help and recruit the right talent and team.

 SG:  What are three tips you could give to young entrepreneurs about launching a business?

MH: 

1.  Pursue Passion & Purpose

Starting your own business is like marriage or bringing up a child.  Even if you are not at your desk, on the phone, networking, or delivering the service or product, your business is part of you 24/7, and maybe in the beginning 25/8, so you’ve got to like the business you pursue and find enjoyment and fulfillment in the work.  Passion is not enough, however. Both passion and purpose have to work together.   Your purpose, I think lies in an innate talent you have, or a unique ability you have.  What do you love to do?  What do you care about?  And what are you good at?  Be honest, and keep seeking if you haven’t figured it out yet.  If you are someone who has multiple passions, start with one passion and you can always expand later.  All 3 of my businesses are based on my passion for dance and purpose to share the power of dance, whether performing, teaching, choreographing, speaking, producing, or writing.

2.     Find the Missing Link

Go back to the scientific method:  Ask a question, do background research, construct a hypothesis, test it out…  What problem are you trying to solve in your business?  What is missing in your market?  It doesn’t have to be a global or national issue, your new business may be fulfilling a local need.  If there is a need, and you have a means to fulfill the needs, there may be a business opportunity there for you.

3.     Just Do It

It’s very easy to daydream and talk.  Training, education, and study is useful, but ultimately you got to just do it.  Take action, even if it is small.  Put a deadline to a project and go for it.  You don’t have to have a full business plan written up to get started, you can write it up along the way.  Hands on experience will give you the answers to what is next.

 

SG:  What do you want your legacy to be?

MH:  Borrowing Martin Luther King’s words, “I have a dream that one day all the little wheelchair girls and wheelchair boys can join hands with all the little ambulatory girls and ambulatory boys like brothers and sisters.”

Alvin Ailey created a professional contemporary dance company of minority black dancers in 1958, and Arthur Mitchell created Dance Theatre of Harlem (a ballet company) in 1969.  Both dance visionaries created the companies so African American dancers had a place to train, grow, showcase their talents in an accepting environment, and make a living as dancers during an era in which black dancers were not yet quite seen as contemporary or classical dancers.  Both dance companies became companies that young black dancers around the nation looked up to the dancers in the two companies, and today they are both mainstream and high quality professional dance ensembles as well as respected educational institutions, and African American dancers are seen performing in dance companies across the nation.  Infinite Flow can do the same with dancers with disabilities.  Just because you are black doesn’t mean you can’t be a classical ballerina, and just because you have a disability doesn’t mean that you can’t be an extraordinary dancer and dance professionally.

That’s one of my legacies.

SG:  What kind of shoe are you and why?

MH:  Dance Boot: Danceable, Sexy, Adventurous, Unique

 

Walk A Mile in Her Shoes: Jenny Q. Ta

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StilettoGals,

Yesterday we introduced you to Shinta Dhanuwardoyo, co-founder of VCNetwork and Bubu.  Today, you will meet an equally successful StilettoGal, Jenny Q Ta.  Jenny Q. Ta is the co-founder of VCNetwork and the founder of Sqeeqee,  a leading social commerce network platform for digital marketing. It provides centralized social commerce platform with live streaming.  She, alongside Shinta are revolutionizing women in technology and funding.

 

StilettoGal:  What or who inspired you to start your company?

 

Jenny Ta:  I’ve started a number of successful companies by being inspired by a number of amazing people who have crossed my path either successfully or being stuck in a certain unresolved problem. I launch companies based upon such problems with a goal to find the solution. Specifically with VCNetwork, I was inspired by the very problems that I have personally witnessed with many startups and entrepreneurs within the Venture Capital world. One of those major problems is that more and more entrepreneurs find it difficult to be connected with the right Venture Capitalist on a global scale. In today’s world, entrepreneurs and startups need to look beyond staying local in order to be competitive. I believe if startups don’t think about going global from the get-go, then it will be a major disadvantage. My vision would not have been fulfilled if I did not meet my now partner and co-founder, Shinta Dhanuwardoyo.  Shinta is not only a successful entrepreneur and a technology trailblazer, but she is a true leader and she ultimately put the final pieces together for VCNetwork.

 

SG: How has the transition been from VC to startup entrepreneur?

 

JT:  I believe the two are interchangeable, meaning most successful entrepreneurs ultimately become Venture Capitalists, and most Venture Capitalists continue to innovate and become founders of their own startups. So, the transition in essence is minimal.

 

SG:  What are 2-3 life lessons that you have learned that have helped you in business?

 

JT:  Always, always trust your gut instincts when comes to making all kinds of decisions. I don’t believe in a 100% perfection of anything, because without failures, one wouldn’t know what true perfection is…although having that gut feeling can get you pretty close to making that perfect decision! In addition to that, other life lessons when running a business are to manage money very well, and choose your partners wisely. These two key areas can either make or break a company. When it comes to a partnership, trust is always key; without trust, one has nothing.

 

SG: What are some of the major challenges that you experienced and how did you overcome them?

 

JT:  Everything in life, from your personal relationships to business ventures and entrepreneurships will have challenges. I was and have always been a trailblazer in male-dominated industries such as Wall Street, technology and now Venture Capital aiming to set a path in making a difference. While such challenges may discourage other women entrepreneurs from diving into these very sectors, I strive to take these challenges head-on. While challenges are inevitable, what I believe is most important for entrepreneurs to overcome these challenges is to never stop. I believe when one stops, one loses because then it’s game over. You do what needs to be done to cut losses or whatever challenges that are holding you back, but keep on moving forward. It doesn’t matter if those challenges are financial, personal relationships, professional partnerships, etc. Cut whatever it is out and immediately learn from it.  Pick yourself up and move forward much stronger and better than you ever were before.

 

SG: How do you define success?

 

JT:  Personally, I believe success isn’t just about wealth, power or what one achieves in life, but it is about what one leaves behind to inspire others to reach for his or her own dreams.

 

SG: What do you want your legacy to be?

 

JT:  I believe what I have already contributed to society through my work and those I have helped and inspired over the last 20+ years have been my personal legacy. However, my ultimate legacy that I would hope and wish to leave behind is still undone, as I’m still working at it. It is a dream and a goal of mine to shift and change a country’s vision and encourage action, especially in developing and emerging countries. This includes urging them to aggressively invest and expand its citizen’s knowledge and expertise when comes to technology and financial advancements globally.

 

SG:  What kind of shoe are you and why?

 

JT:  I’m known to run fast and make quick decisions of all kinds in life because I have always believed that life is so short that if I don’t run to get there first, someone else will! While I would look stunning in Stuart Weitzman “Cinderella Slippers,” I for sure wouldn’t be able to run fast with them.J So, as a modern-day CEO in a fast-paced world, who runs with the boys in competitive male-dominated industries, I would probably stick to the Christian Louboutin ankle boots. They are not only sturdy, but also hard enough to kick a few butts whenever needed!! J

 

Walk A Mile in Her Shoes: Shinta Dhanuwardoyo

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StilettoGals,

As each year passes, I am more and more inspired by women in technology and the amazing inventions and services they found.  This week, Walk A Mile in Her Shoes will be spread out over two days and you will meet two amazing women who are trailblazers in both technology and investing.   Shinta Dhanuwardoyo and Jenny Q. Ta are each successful in their own right, but decided to partner and create VCNetwork, a solid venture capitalist network to bridge the gap between modern entrepreneurs and the forward-thinking VCs who have the means to fund them.

Our first StilettoGal, Shinta Dhanuwardoyo, founded one of the first internet companies in Indonesia called Bubu.com.  Shinta’s inspiring story featured below.

 

StilettoGal: What or who inspired you to start your company?

 

Shinta Dhanuwardoyo:  I suppose it all started when I discovered the Internet in its early days, and it has been my passion ever since. After working at the computer lab when I was doing my MBA, I taught myself how to code through the Internet and learned more and more about technology. I continue to believe how impactful it will be in our lives and that became my reason for building my first company Bubu.com. This company also happens to be one of the first Internet companies in Indonesia and has now grown into a leading digital agency in the country. With my 19-year tenure in the technology industry, I want to continue to contribute to its development, which is why I also delve into investing. I truly want to help build the tech startups ecosystem of the country and hopefully we will see more ‘unicorns’ coming from Indonesia.

 

SG:   How has the transition been from VC to startup entrepreneur?

 

SD:  Well, I was actually a startup entrepreneur from the start, and I do call myself a serial tech entrepreneur. Now, I do a bit of angel investing and initiated one of the first angel networks in the country called, Angel eQ Network.  However, I do also agree with Jenny that the two are interchangeable roles, and equally important to the tech ecosystem. I have previously started a VC in Indonesia myself, but we started too early. So, yes, I’m looking forward to VCNetwork and what we can do.

 

SG: What are 2-3 life lessons that you have learned that have helped you in business?

 

SD:  One of the main things I learned is obviously that failure is the best lesson for an entrepreneur. Outside of my company Bubu, I have started and failed many other startups, but I cherish those failures as invaluable life lessons. I also believe that as entrepreneurs we always have to think big, even though compared to others we are still small. By thinking big, and aiming to be the best, we will be able to achieve success.

 

SG:  What are some of the major challenges that you experienced and how did you overcome them?

 

SD:  I tend to start things way too early. For instance, I built Bubu.com - a web design agency- back in 1996 when Indonesians barely had access to the Internet, let alone understand its importance. And as I’ve mentioned earlier, I started many other ventures which failed. But, I persevered, and analyzed where I went wrong, so that in the future I won’t make the same mistakes again. Now all these failures have become my valuable lessons learned and that’s what makes me a trailblazer in the tech industry both in Indonesia and the region.

 

SG:   How do you define success?

 

SD:  Success to me is something that should be a humbling experience. To me, success is when you make an impact and contribution to your community. Most of all I would consider myself successful when I can balance work, family, social and spiritual in my life….so far it is a constant learning curve for me. :)

 

SG: What do you want your legacy to be?

 

SD:  My legacy would be to contribute to the development of the tech industry ecosystem in my country and the region (read: emerging countries).  Indonesia is known to be one of the biggest Social Media “ users” globally. I am not really proud of that claim, since it is my personal goal and mission to see that Indonesians act as “ producers” instead of just “users”. So I am all about supporting and encouraging Indonesian tech startups to create world class companies that can become major global players just like tech giants Facebook, Uber and Google.

 

SG: What kind of shoe are you and why?

 

SD:  I am definitely a Valentino Rockstuds heels kind of CEO…They are indeed killer heels…I always feel powerful and edgy yet still embody that feminine touch.  When rocking the pairs, I always feel that I am ready to dominate the world….LOL ;) )

To learn more go to http://vcnetwork.co/

 

Walk A Mile in Her Shoes: Katherine Daou

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Happy New Year StilettoGals!

We had an incredible 2015 and look forward to inspiring you with more amazing women this year.  I am excited to introduce you to Katherine Daou of Daou Denim.  This powerhouse boss lady has been featured in publications such as Vogue UK, Locale Magazine, Fine Magazine, L’Orient du Jour and many others.  She is changing the face of denim and I cannot wait for you to hear her story.

 

StilettoGal: Tell us more about your background.

Katherine Daou:  My background my whole life has been fashion. I started working in a retail store at 15 years old and continued to work in contemporary retail until my early 20s. I was also a personal assistant and fashion show coordinator for a designer in San Francisco, where I attended FIDM and received a degree in merchandise and marketing. I had the opportunity to travel a lot as a kid which had a huge influence on the way I viewed fashion. Before I was 16, I went to Argentina, Mexico, Lebanon, France, and London. All these things in my life led up to where I am today, owner and designer of daou denim co.!

 

SG:  What or who was your inspiration to start your business?

 

 KD:  My whole vision for my business started at a young age but what really happened to help jump-start the birth of daou denim was back in 2013. I was working for a high-end department store and pretty unhappy with the corporate ladder. Little things started happening to me that just brought me to a moment where I remember realizing, “this is not what I wanted for myself. I can’t settle for anything less than what I would expect myself to do”. My dad is not only my idol but he is also an incredible mentor. So, I sat down with him and talked about the ways that I could see myself being successful and it all led up to the idea of daou denim. I quit my job and spent a lot of time soul searching and really trying to figure out what exactly what I wanted to do with not just myself but with my idea of success.

 

SG: If you could give us 3 tips that you have learned in life that have shaped who you are as a business woman today, what would they be?

 

KD:

1. Awareness is always my NUMBER ONE tool that has gotten me thus far. I firmly believe in being open to one’s own mistakes and successes. Mistakes are not easy to face and they may take a while to set in, but without awareness you can’t grow and change.

2. Authenticity, of course. This is something I strive for in both my personal life but I tried to adopt that same mentality to my business as well. We love authentic women who feel good about who they are and lets be honest, that’s not 100% of the time for many of us. But I think authenticity is really being honest with yourself about who you are and what you want out of life. We support those kinds of women who struggle but still persevere!

3. My third tip is to remember that nothing is perfect. Everything has room to improve and grow. Design and art can be a scary thing because you’re putting your heart into something that started from nothing and you want people to love it just as much as you do. Regardless, nothing will ever be perfect and you all always look back and say you could’ve done something better. The key is to appreciate where you are and how far you’ve come since day 1.

 

SG:  What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?

 

KD:  I think my biggest challenge so far has been the vulnerability factor of starting a business. To be honest, Downtown LA and the fabric/production industry isn’t an easy place for a 24 year old female and even the fashion industry alone with so many different types of people.  I found myself in meetings a lot with people who laughed in my face, pushed me to the side, or just wanted to know me to get free stuff and never talk to me again. Also, the fact that you’re putting your heart and soul into a product (or a few products) that are really a representation of your vision. It can be very scary to put 1 foot in front of the other at times. But even when I didn’t want to do something, I still tried. And if it seemed like I couldn’t do it all and it was too much, I would try starting and see how I felt. Most of the time, I would be even more successful than I thought I would be with whatever I was having an issue with. I also started to talk to other business owners and talk to them about their struggles and successes and at the end of the day, you know, we’re all trying to do the same thing and you can find a lot of support in talking to others, being vulnerable!

 

SG:  What do you want as your legacy?

 

KD:  I don’t know if legacy is the right word, I just want people to be around me and feel good about themselves and love life. I want to be the type of woman that doesn’t need the outside to define her inside. I want people to recall me and say, “Katherine was a passionate person”. Which I am, and finding new ways to be passionate all the time. It might sound odd but at the end of the day, happiness and love to me are all that really matter. When I go to bed at night, I want to feel happy and loved. Isn’t that what we all want? Diane von Furstenburg said it perfectly, “I didn’t know what I wanted to dobut I always knew the woman I wanted to be.”

 

SG:   What kind of shoe are you and why?

 

KD:  I am very big on classics!!! I love a beautiful black pump with a little bit of something unique. I bought these Valentino pumps last year on my birthday and I swear they are the best shoe’s I’ve ever invested in. That stud on the back is just enough of something to make me feel like it’s more than just a plain black pump. Plus, it’s Valentino, to die for.

To learn more about Daou Denim and Katherine, check out their social media below.

Instagram: @daoudenim
Twitter: @daoudenim

 

 
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