Ans: I had been teaching private piano lessons from my home for 25 years. The cost of private lessons can be out of reach for many families, and I knew if I could offer group classes, many more children would be able to start the wonderful journey of learning music.
Q 2. Kindly give us a brief description about yourself (it should include your brief educational or entrepreneurial background and list some of your major achievements).
Ans: I am a mom to 7 children, and I got my Suzuki piano certification so I could teach my own children, as lessons for all of them would be too expensive. I grew up one of 12 children, and my parents couldn’t afford any music lessons or a piano for me. I had to walk down to a school and get permission to practice on an old piano with sticky keys. Music lessons should be in every parents reach. My passion is telling a parent that everybody can get started with $80 month group class. Just choose the instrument, and let the music begin!
When I opened last June, I made history opening our city’s first professional school for the arts. Within 12 months, we have enrolled almost 300 students. I saw a need for a dance school, and opened Irving Ballet School last month. Our first 2 Facebook boosts went city-viral with 600+ likes and 91 shares, because of the great void of a place for music and dance in our city.
Q 3. What three pieces of advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
Ans: First, love the work, not just the idea. Passion for what you are doing is a given, so I won’t say have passion. There is so much mundane work to starting and running a business, I think it is important that you enjoy the little things. I love working with artists. I love talking to parents about how music will change their child’s life. I love that what I do is making a real difference.
Second, lose your ego, and ask for help from people who are smarter than you. I was a blank slate, because I knew I knew nothing and needed to find people to help me. I went to the Chamber of Commerce and utilized the free mentor program called SCORE where retired executives give back by helping other small businesses. Invest in training/mentoring programs in your field. Do whatever it takes to put a team around you who know more than you. Then, actually do what they say, and you will succeed.
Finally, be grateful. Grateful for the mistakes. Grateful for the stress. We are Blessed to be Stressed. Because we live in a country where we can take a crazy dream, throw some money at it and thousands of hours of work, and then wake up to be living the dream.
Q 4. What would you say are the top three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?
Ans: People. Passion. Purpose.
Put people around you, employees and mentors who build you up, challenge you and are smarter than you. I dropped out of music school to go play in a rock band, and every person I hire has music resume better than mine, Fulbright scholars, Julliard Grads, 1st place competition winners. Rather than intimidate me, I see the humour of it. I see my job to serve them, as well as my clients. They can tell that I see myself as a servant, and it makes a huge impact in morale, growth and the foundation of the business.
Your passion for what you do has to be so great that on days, harder than you could ever imagine, your spirit will not be crushed. You will have these days. Expect them. Tell yourself that it is only because you are striving to not accept the ordinary life, that you will be given extra-ordinary challenges.
Passion mixed with humour when you make mistakes is key. I’m an alpha/perfectionist. That perfectionist wouldn’t last one day in my life now. I have had to let go of the perfectionist and allow myself to make mistakes daily, because there is no other way to survive starting a business. Then, I have to be able to laugh at myself, and say “f#%$$ck it”.
Q 5. How many hours do you work a day on average?
Ans: I was working 7 days a week for the first 12 months. I told my husband and kids that it would be like I would be away for a year, and everybody would have to come together to make the home run without me, because many nights I wouldn’t be home until 9pm. My 9 year old learned to wash his own clothes, my 16 year old learned how to cook and my 14 year old learned how to order groceries delivered Amazon Prime. I think them learning to be self-sufficient has been a great gift for them.
Now, going into year 2 I have an office manager 25 hours a week, and can be home some nights for dinner. I am taking all of Sunday off, and being very, very careful what I choose to do on that day to be sure it recharges me, and I won’t allow myself to hang with people on my one off day who won’t help me recharge for the week.
Q 6. To what do you most attribute your success?
Ans: My belief that I am living a calling higher than myself, and fulfilling my purpose. A spiritual foundation built on gratitude. A realization and acceptance that life is short, and today might be my last. I am living today, living my passion and won’t look back with regret saying “if only”.
Q 7. How do you go about marketing your business? What has been your most successful form of marketing?
Ans: I have 3 marketing ponds I started from day one: Google, parent magazine and Facebook. I invested in getting my SEO right so I am on page one for all organic searches, and pay for google ads. The local parent magazines are where my moms go to find anything. I have had great ROI. Finally Facebook. It started off as a beast, that I hated, wasted money doing all things wrong and simply felt terrible about having to even learn how to use it, because I think the platform morally and spiritually is hurting our youth from really connecting in person. But, I knew I needed to figure it out, and accept it as a means to grow my business if I was going to be successful. I invested money in a budget that was already stretched, to learn how to use Facebook to get more clients. It paid off, 50 Ballet students in 2 boosts of $350 each really has paid off.
Q 8. Where did your organizations funding/capital come from and how did you go about getting it? How did you obtain investors for your venture?
Ans: I am blessed that my husband makes a good salary in a separate field, and started the business with knowing that we could live completely off his income. I continued to teach my 35 students through opening the school and this helped us get off the ground. I got a $25k business loan for construction of the practice rooms, then used $25 k in credit cards to finish the build out. I currently have 30 part-time employees, and netting a profit each month.
Q 9. What is the best way to achieve long-term success?
Ans: Gratitude, humour and personal growth. Be grateful. Laugh at yourself when you fail. Read/watch/listen to whatever you can find from mentors who have been where you are and can inspire you to keep going.
Q 10. Where you see yourself and your business in 5 – 10 years?
Ans: I really want to keep listening to my instinct and growing where the need is. I will continually seek advice from my mentors before I take on more financial risk, and I believe if I live today with as much passion as I can, realizing it might be my last, the next 5 years will take care of themselves.
Q 11. Excluding yours, what company or business do you admire the most?
Ans: I look up to Barbara Corcoran from Shark Tank. I relate to her growing up in a large family without anything, and having to create her life from nothing. I also love that she uses her childhood experiences and struggles as lessons in how she leads her teams, and sees her childhood suffering with a learning disability as a powerful tool for strength and leadership. The fact that I had to teach myself how to play piano, note by note on broken sticky keys, fills me with gratitude every time I walk by the 5 grand pianos I have been able to purchase. I take nothing for granted and I’m grateful for today.
Q 12. How important have good employees been to your success?
Ans: My team IS the reason I am successful. Every teacher I hire is incredible. They are passionate and amazing teachers, and are what have made the fast success.
Q 13. How long do you stick with an idea before giving up?
Ans: I live life like I play Scrabble. I will pass 3 turns until I can play my 7 letter word, even if I end up losing the game. I would rather go all in, play big and win, than lay little boring words to win by a few points. If I believe in something, to my core, I won’t give up no matter what. But, I am also able to try new things, find out they are not fun for me, then drop them quickly. As soon as I see the idea as no longer fun, I eliminate it, like the joy I get filling up a huge bag of old toys and dropping them off at Good Will. There needs to be FUN in the work, or it’s gone. Life is too short. Move on. Don’t look back, even if it lost me money. I’m glad I tried it, but I won’t waste another minute of my energy on it.
Q 14. What motivates you?
Ans: I think people would assume it would be proving to my children that if they work hard enough and find their passion, they can do anything. But, if I’m being honest, I would say that wouldn’t be enough for me to really have been able to face the challenges I have had to face this past year. My motivation comes from the painfulness of my childhood, and wanting to prove to the little girl in me that despite me coming from poverty, brokenness and neglect, I can choose to not be a victim, but experience joy from giving to little girls I see myself in. I have given scholarships to foster children, kids with learning disabilities and my favorite student is a 5 year old boy, born with only one hand who wants to play piano. Next week, he will play his first recital with 2 “hands” parallel playing a Twinkle variation. Joy through giving.
Q 15. What are your ideals?
Ans: My ideals are based on my belief in a Higher Power, and being open to living my purpose. Integrity, honesty and character. Business decisions shouldn’t always be about making money, but about doing what is right. The money will come if you are serving, genuine and able to tell people you are sorry when you make a mistake.
Q 16. How do you generate new ideas?
Ans: I like to try things that I think are fun, and then see if they make money. I don’t think “will this make money” as the way to add a new program, I think “I wish I could Salsa. It would be so fun to not have to drive to Dallas. I’ll find a Salsa teacher to teach me, then see if other people want to join”…it turned out a LOT of other people thought it would be fun to learn Salsa with me. The money will come if I think it is fun. Because otherwise I can’t believe in it.
Q 17. How do you define success?
Ans: Success is being able to live a fulfilled life, and has nothing to do with monies in the bank. Do I want to be rich? Yes. There is definitely truth in the statement that money can buy happiness. But money can’t buy the peace and joy you can only have in a life well lived. I am constantly trying to be sure that the business isn’t hurting my personal relationships. It’s not easy. And honestly, trying to put the personal relationships before the business is harder than running the business itself, because I get tremendous satisfaction and pride from the business. My personal relationships take me having to say I’m sorry like I did last night to my oldest daughter. I almost wanted to avoid it, and “run to escape” to the endless busy-ness that the business brings. But, I knew avoiding facing the pain of a trouble relationship would actually hurt my business, because they are all connected.
Who wants to be sitting at the top of an Ivory tower, surrounded by luxuries, and not have anyone to share it with? Every day I have to stay focused on what is truly important, and that is the job of wife and mom. Because when I die, let’s be real. It’s all that really matters in this game of life.
Q 18. What is your favorite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
Ans: Knowing I created something out of nothing. That every part of it came from my passion, energy and imagination. I can’t imagine working for anybody.
Q 19. What do you feel is the major difference between entrepreneurs and those who work for someone else?
Ans: I’ve thought about this a lot, and I think that most successful business people got their drive, work ethic from pain, struggle or failure. The more I read about how low the odds are to succeed, and the people who do, the successful ones had major hurdles to overcome, hit some kind of personal rock bottom and had to succeed because failure was not an option. I think that no matter what you do in life, if you are able to turn your pain, struggles and failure into a drive to win and achieve, that is the secret to success. Your pain is your fire waiting to be lit. Much of my childhood is too dark and painful to disclose in this type of interview. But, I believe that it is because of my pain that my success is built. It is part of me, and has made me more compassionate, grateful and driven than many of the happy childhoods that fill my school for the arts.
Q 20. What kind of culture exists in your organization?
Ans: FUN. Maybe it is because I didn’t have a fun childhood that every day as an adult, I have no fear of taking risks, making a fool of myself and letting my team know how blessed I am to have them. I see the school as a fun little play-ground in a sense, but one where we can change the world.
Q 21. How did you establish this tone and why did you institute this particular type of culture?
Ans: I built a play forte in the parent lobby for the kids to play on in between lessons. I call it the “Piano-FORTe”, a pun for music lovers. I don’t want parents to feel like they are in a mini-Julliard, but can have conservatory level lessons. I think a lot of classical music lessons/teaching/recitals are formal and stuffy and perfectionistic. I want to dispel the myth, and put a sports-like cheering environment in our recitals. I feel it is my mission to educate our Soccer moms that we need to cheer for our music students as loud and raucously as their soccer games. Or they won’t want to practice. Let’s celebrate the journey. Celebrate the teaching. Celebrate the child wanting to learn music. Joy. Fun. Unexpected passion.
Q 22. In one word, characterize your life as an entrepreneur.
Company Name : Irving Ballet School
Address : 3248 Skyway Circle, North Irving, TX 75038
Phone : 214.446.5225