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?
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!
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?
I am a professional ballroom & salsa dancer and dancepreneur and currently run 3 businesses
- Sexy Salsa Ballroom (www.SexySalsaBallroom.com): Quality dance instruction & dance entertainment, founded in 2012.
- 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.
- 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?
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
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?
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 do, but 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.