July 7

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Female CEO and Founder of Careste Discusses Partnerships

By Mimi MacLean

July 7, 2020


Celeste Markey Image
Careste co-founder and CEO Celeste Markey

Celeste Markey, Co-founder and CEO Of Careste

Female CEO Celeste found that it is vital to find a partner with a similar work ethic. Otherwise, that could lead to unbalanced workloads and frustration. Celeste and Elizabeth both love working. They could work 15 hour days, every day of the week, and be completely fulfilled. I also enjoy working, so it doesn’t phase me to work long days. However, everyone has different working styles. In her experience, Celeste believes it is essential to set work expectations with your partner from the beginning to prevent future conflicts.

It’s also crucial that you and your partner take time to reset away from work. Think about a family road trip…if you are always close to the same person or tired, little things might start to annoy you. Celeste’s tips for staying inspired and motivated include: using the calm app for a 10-minute meditation every day, squeezing in a quick 20-minute workout from her sweat app, and setting aside designated family time.

Find Celeste Markey and Careste

Episode Contents

  • Female CEO Celeste On Her Journey
  • Finding The Right Business Partner
  • The Rought Patches of Being A Female CEO
  • Stay Away From your Inbox For Better Productivity
  • What’s Next For Careste?  Curated Collections and Selling On Demand

Female CEO Celeste On Her Journey

Mimi:

Celeste, thank you so much for coming on today. I really, really appreciate your time. So let’s just dive right in. I would love to begin talking about your entrepreneurial journey. Like what made you decide to start your own company and is this your first company, or have you done other things like this?

Celeste:

It’s not my first company. And whenever I talk about entrepreneurship with folks who are not entrepreneurs, I always say they always ask, like, when did you start, why did you start? Because I found that people are very curious about how to get in. And I think that I was fortunate in that I was, um, I always tell people that I was young enough and dumb enough to do it. I started when I was probably 26 when I was in New York and this was before the big 2008 crash. But I had been working in-house doing public relations and marketing, and then I worked agency doing public relations and marketing. And I would look around at the founders of the agency and I knew what I was making and I knew what they were pocketing and ha you know, they, they were very successful and I thought, wait a second, I’m doing all the work. Like, they’re not really managing me. And this is the like, you know, youthful naivete of, I can do anything. Why don’t I just do this for myself and I’ll keep the money. So, and I’ll make the relationships and they’ll be mine. And we can really like carve this out and make this our own. So, um, yes, as a, as a youthful optimistic, 26 year old, I dove in head first with a business partner and we opened our own PR agency at the time. This was before all of the big social and eCommerce businesses were, um, popular. So we had a PR agency and showroom on Park Avenue South, and we had great clients. And then the 2008 crash happened, which, you know, it was so painful at that time, but it is ultimately what has led me here with this inventory list model is that we witnessed our clients dropping like flies because all of the big box retailers were bouncing their boxes sending back inventory. And so everybody is in a panic about what do we do now? How do we sell, what do we do? We have, we’ve spent money to produce all of this, and now it’s just sitting here.

Mimi:

Yeah, the inventory is expensive.

Celeste:

It’s very expensive. And it’s very, very, very wasteful and consumers like new. They don’t like the old stuff. So, you’re then sitting with something that becomes old and then just trickles down, you know, over the fence, as they say to the outlets, which, you know, we’re happy they have a purpose, but we’d like to not be producing that much to begin with.

Mimi:

Right. Right. Now, how did you go from your PR firm to Careste?

Celeste:

So the PR agency, um, when the market crashed, I very begrudgingly moved back to the Bay area and said, I’m never going to work for myself again. And then after about, after about three months of interviewing, I thought I’m never going to work in house again. So I did it again. I started another consultancy here in the Bay area, doing a lot of PR and marketing for a variety of companies. Of course, the Bay area, you know, it’s primarily concentrated with outdoor companies. There are some great tech companies out here. So at that time I jumped on the athleisure train and did a lot of yoga pants PR and worked with influencers and did a lot of, you know, the early days of what is now such an explosive movement of influencer marketing and digital marketing. So I went from there to start my own e-commerce marketplace with inventory list rather. Um, but still the same concept of how do we solve this problem? How do we sell without, you know, producing more inventory? I think it happens for a lot of women. The change for me was, um, after I had my son, I thought long and hard about what I wanted to really be spending my time on who I want to surround myself with. And at that time I thought I wanted to provide something of meaning to working moms. So we launched a marketplace for working moms that had a lot of great curated content, curated product, specifically for moms who are very time strapped and have a different taste level. We rode that road that wave, fundraised for, uh, it was called thirtytwo seven. And ultimately the cost of running a marketplace was more than we wanted to invest for the return in the margins. So if you, if we combine those two, like early, you know, and very impactful experiences, like the crash of, of the market with all of this excess inventory, and then the cost and the margins with trying to move that inventory around, we, we created this new business, which was high margin and inventory lists, which is Careste. So we were solving both of those two problems with making clothes on demand. I mean, this is like 15 years in the making this journey is not an overnight journey. So, um, all of that said, we, we feel really confident about where we’re headed, especially in this COVID world that we live in, where the same thing is happening again. We’re like, Oh my God, have you have we learned our lesson yet? Like we’re still pre mass producing. We’re optimistic now with the state of the world that people will finally start to jump on. This less is more, I mean, of course I’m in the business of selling clothes, but I’m in the business of selling clothes that are, um, produced sustainably are, you know, using natural fabrics that are better for your body, better for the environment. And we only make what you need. So it, it feels like we solve a lot of those issues.

Mimi:

And you’re about like quality, not quantity. You know, you have a beautiful…

Celeste:

Absolutely quality over quantity. Any fashion, fast fashion is like the bane of my existence.

Mimi:

So how long ago did you start Careste?

Celeste:

We started Careste… We launched in fall of 2018 and we spent 2019, um, somewhat in beta tinkering with our go to market strategy, whether it was going to be popups, which were so wildly popular at the time or digital. And we were finessing and working through the popups. And we, um, we were about to roll out a three store test in Bloomingdale’s, um, that happened to coincide with the timing of the COVID lockdowns. So we were like, okay, back to square one. The great thing about popups is we were able to acquire really meaningful customers, very inexpensively versus digital. At that time, we were acquiring acquiring lots of data and lots of customers, but they weren’t converting and they weren’t repeating it at the rate that our popup customers were. And plus for us, it’s about relationships. If you can find one client who repeats over and over and over again, I mean, that’s gold. And then you just, you know, really focus and cater everything to them. But all of that said, we have gone back to the drawing board again, which is one thing that is really, I think, critical about being an entrepreneur is you have to be flexible and you have to understand that my God, the problems they’re just going to hit you day in and day out. Elizabeth and I, my business partner, spent two months of COVID that we would have been selling in Bloomingdale’s we stopped everything. We’re like, you know what, maybe there’s a silver lining in this, like, let’s stop and think about what we really want. What’s really important to us. And we have this little golden window of, you know, not being busy, cause we’re not on the floor selling, we’re not staffing a team. And we restrategized, we met new people, we put our heads down and we tweaked our messaging, you know, sustainability has always been in our brand promise. But we found that during this time that it has become even more important to consumers. So we pulled that to the front. We were finally able to shoot the collection that we’d been sitting on since pre COVID, um, everybody wearing masks. So it was pretty interesting. And we just are, we’re going out with that next week. So it’s exciting. It’s exciting. We’re really, we’re really happy about it. I mean, the first year of business is always a little tricky. I mean, you want to make some money and you want to make people happy, but there’s a million things that happen along the road to customer.

Finding The Right Business Partner

 

Mimi:

Now I find partnerships very hard. Right? So how did you find Elizabeth and is there any advice that you would give to anybody like deciding if they wanted to go into business with a partner?

Celeste:

Partnerships. Yes, they’re very hard. Elizabeth and I are very fortunate. We were introduced by a mutual colleague, You know, somebody that we know in business. Um, you know, w we talked earlier about my first business in New York, that partnership did not end well, you know, most, I think I hear more business partner horror stories, and I hear good stories.

Mimi:

Well, that’s why I was asking. And I know Elizabeth, I knew Elizabeth first before you, and she’s wonderful. So that’s why I’m bringing it up because I know it’s a good partnership, but I was just curious.

Celeste:

She’s, I mean, we could not be more perfectly suited for one another. And I think that a key ingredient in finding a business partner is finding a business partner who has been an entrepreneur before, whether or not they were in a successful business is completely irrelevant because I find that if you have failed, you actually learn more than if you were successful, but finding somebody who knows that it’s not just, you’re not just gonna have fun and launch and then, you know, put your feet up on your desk and be done with it. But that is a long grind. And that person has to be optimistic enough to know that you’re going to see it through. For us, it’s a, it’s a long game. We’re in this for the long game. We’re not in this for immediate financial benefit. And they’re there. The majority of people are there. They are like, I need to get paid. I have this much experience. And therefore I need X salary. Well, when you’re starting a business, like even if you’re really well funded, the money is to fuel the business, not to pay the founders out of the gate. Like we want a successful business. The only way you can do that is to spend money to acquire and to build.

Mimi:

No, it’s totally true. I agree with you. Um, especially when, like, I like to look at it, like investing in companies, I want to know that the founders have skin in the game as well, financially, and that I’m not putting money in just to pay the founder.

Celeste:

Oh, totally. That’s one thing that you, you find out very quickly, people are what their currency is, so to speak.

Mimi:

Yeah. Yeah. Because it’s like, if you want to get paid, then just go back to work, you know.

Celeste:

Totally! Or get assigned something. Because you may or may not get paid this, this route.

The Hardships of Being A Female CEO

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Mimi:

Yeah. Now, um, now being a CEO, has it been harder than you thought would be?

Celeste:

Yes and no. I think because I’m a mom, I’m a bit more Bulletproof because you’re used to, when you’re a mom, you’re used to a lot of demands and a lot of just strange things kind of hitting you at all times of day and night. But, um, the yes is that I’ve found it to be more emotionally challenging than I expected. Just being able to sit with yourself and sit through the bad times, and, you know, pull yourself up by your bootstraps. Cause you know, it’s a lonely world when you’re a founder and when you’re a CEO, there are very few people who really understand what you’re going through. And this also goes back to your business partner. Hopefully you have a business partner who is, you know, has experienced it and can kind of help pull you through. But, uh, there are days when you do not want to be bright and cheery and you put on a bright and cheery face for your team or your business partner or your, or your clients and customers and you just, you know, to have to do your best to plow forward. So it’s tough.

Mimi:

Now, what characteristics would you tell somebody that you need to be in order to be a successful CEO or entrepreneur?

Celeste:

I would say that you need to be optimistic and you need to be somewhat stubborn in the sense that like the not giving up part of it. And that you need to be strong. Like you need to be emotionally strong. I mean, it’s, it is hard. It’s hard. I mean, I personally, I love to work and Elizabeth is the same. Like we could work 15 hour days every day of the week and be so completely fulfilled and not tired and just love what we’re doing. But you know, that’s the fun stuff for us. It’s the hard stuff that’s the, okay, well this is going wrong. Well, this came up, you know, double the price.

Mimi:

COVID came up!!

Celeste:

Yeah! How about a pandemic? You can’t leave your house.

Mimi:

You can’t plan everything.

Celeste:

Oh my goodness. So, you know, that’s where Elizabeth and I are really a great founding team in that. Like not many people I think would sit down and say, okay, this is an opportunity that most people would be like, okay, we’re closing up shop. Like we’re done. I don’t want it. I don’t want to deal, but brace yourself, founders!

Mimi:

And on the days that are like, you’re like, why am I doing this? I want to throw the towel in. Is there someone, a podcast, a book, a person like something that inspires you, or you turn to for inspiration to kind of like put your bootstraps back on and get out of bed and go back to the grind.

Celeste:

Yes. There are two tools that I have found very helpful for myself, especially in this pandemic. And one of them is the Calm app, the meditation app, which I’ve used, probably for years now, not as much as I should use it. It’s one of those things, self care can feel so painful sometimes. And then you do your little self care and you’re like, why did I take so long to try that? Um, and then the other one is the sweat app. It’s a workout app. And, you know, before COVID, I was definitely a get out and go to a class if you could go exercise in some way. But the sweat app it’s, um, you know, all workouts that you could do at home with weights. And they’re like 20 minutes long. And I’m like, if I can’t take out 20 minutes for myself, like there’s a real problem. So I told my husband to please hold me accountable for doing that app, at least five days a week. And it makes a huge difference for me and having the two together of like 10 minutes of meditation, if I can do that every day and then, you know, a little bit of a workout.

Stay Away From your Inbox For Better Productivity

Mimi:

Right. That’s great. I’ve tried the calm. I haven’t tried the sweat app, so I’m gonna try that. Okay. So being a busy mom, a working mom, um, productivity is where it’s at. So is there anything that you would suggest that, or that you use that makes you super productive with this, an app or a system in place or any suggestions?

Celeste:

That’s a good question. I don’t have an app. I probably could be better on using apps for balancing time, but my, the one thing that I have tried to do that helps me significantly with productivity is to map out the three big things that I want to accomplish in the day. Whether it’s like looking at the financial model or, you know, doing something with a digital marketing. But that helps keep me focused in a way from all of the little things in my inbox. And, I think that, like, I’d say like the fourth thing on that list is like, stay away from your inbox, even though it’s very, very important. It can be the biggest time suck that you’re like, “Oh, I need to reply to this person. Oh, I need to reply to that person.” And then there goes an hour that you could have been like actually doing something to move the needle.

Mimi:

Right. No, it’s true. So you’re like me where I actually enjoy working. Um, so what do you do to make, maintain your work life balance? Um, you know, you mentioned like the sweat app and the calm app, but is there anything or rules that you kind of live by that to make sure that you’re not, obviously you can’t work fifteen hours with your family?

Celeste:

Um, so we have, we try to have family dinner together every night without fail. And our rule at family dinner is that there are no devices allowed to dinner that it’s like our 30 minutes to an hour of just plain togetherness, no interruptions. And what I love about our dinner table is that we all talk about, we go around and we talk about what our favorite part of the day was. And, my kids are six and three, so it gets a little entertaining, especially with the three year old. Her favorite part of her day was, but it helps lighten everything. And it does give us that like little, little break of just being together and then on Saturdays, it’s also kind of a safer day for us. Usually my husband wakes up, the big picture is we carve out days that are sacred family time. But my, my husband will make breakfast. And then we kind of just we’ll either go for a hike or we’ll go, my brother has a pool. We’ll go swimming at his place. But those are days that, you know, we can’t, we have at least five hours on a Saturday where it’s untouched family time.

Expect The Unexpected and Bootstrap If You Can

Mimi:

Right. That’s great. Now, is there anything you wish you knew before you either started Careste or any of your other companies?

Celeste:

Oh my goodness. That pandemics are possible.

Mimi:

Expect the unexpected.

Celeste:

Expect the unexpected for sure. And that one thing that I have been living by lately is that worst case scenario is often very possible and to believe a little bit more in worst case scenario, like map out in your modeling and in your plans for ABCD but you know, focus your numbers on the D worst case. And then you’ll always be surprised and delighted when you are somewhere in between. Right?

Mimi:

No, totally. I always say it’s always takes twice as much money and twice as much time as you think it’s going to.

Celeste:

Oh, forsure. We have bootstrapped crest 100%. I mean, like founders haven’t been paid. I mean, I can’t even tell you how many months, but that’s okay. Like we expected that, like we would rather fuel the business, but it’s just one of those things where it’s like you, right. That’s what you sign up for.

Investing in Businesses and Female CEO s

Mimi:

I always tell people when you start a company, if it’s even a mom and pop shop or whatever it is, like, you can’t expect to get paid for two to five years. Right. I mean, because even if you do super well, like you’re putting that money back in, you’re either hiring people to help you or inventory or website development, whatever it is like advertising, like you’re always putting money back in.

Celeste:

I haven’t quit this. This makes me think of an interesting question for you on the angel investing side. Because when you, when you, as an entrepreneur and a founder, think about a business in that way, and that like fueling the business is really like the best thing for the long run that there’s such a high barrier of entry for folks. If they’re not able to withstand, you know, X months without a salary, for whatever reason, whether it’s they want to be able to take the trip or they’ve maybe whatever your rationale is. Is there anything that you do on the angel investing side for folks that are not able to withstand that? Whether they’re lower-income entrepreneurs who are just like really out there on a wish and a dream or a community, or in a group that you ally with?

Mimi:

To be honest, I personally don’t, like my husband and I don’t invest in companies that we’re funding their salary. We just really, we found that people who feel comfortable and they don’t feel, they don’t feel the pain as much as we feel pain. If it doesn’t go well, right.

Celeste:

Pain causes change. Pain is like the greatest motivator.

Mimi:

Totally! And so like, if they’re getting their salary, that’s paying their mortgage every month. They don’t have that, like that need to succeed. It’s not there for them. It’s a job for them at that point. And so they’re comfortable. Like you need to have them know that there’s pain. If it doesn’t succeed, just as much as it’s my pain, if we lose our money, totally. This goes back to my stubbornness where it’s like, you have to be stubborn enough to like stick in it, to get out of that pain.

Mimi:

Right. So I don’t know. I don’t know what the answer is. I think I would tell somebody who can’t do it, then stay working and do on the side. Yeah. Right. Until it’s a proven, like, until you get to a point where you’re breaking even enough, like your sales are enough, that’s covering your costs and then you’re also doing it on the side or something to that effect. Right? That’s like where that it’s, that balance is, which is kind of, which is kind of hard. So is there any words of wisdom that you would give somebody like kind of in line to what we’re talking about? Like if they’re debating, like, do I leave my job? Do I not leave my job? Do I start this? Do I invest my life savings into a company? Like, what would you tell them?

Celeste:

I would tell them don’t, don’t do it unless you’re okay one losing all your money or two, not being paid because of losing all your money, if you, if you are okay with that and you can sit with that, then go for it. A lot of people will say, well, Oh, I have small children. Like, Oh, well you have a lot of money. And it’s like, well, you actually don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes and someone’s family. Right? Like I think they have a lot of, a lot of money, but maybe they’re actually just scraping by so that they can make this work. And that’s an active choice they’ve made. But the advice I would give is unless you’re ready to give your absolute all, in terms of time, to be emotionally exhausted to the extent that you don’t really recognize yourself anymore. And also maybe lose some friends because they’re not your, you really see, it’s so interesting when we start a business, you really see who is supporting you for who you are versus just kind of there for the ride. It’s enlightening, like your whole world view changes. So unless you’re ready for that, don’t do it. I mean, I love it. I think it’s opened up an enormous amount of contacts and wisdom that I never would have had otherwise.

What’s Next For Careste?  Curated Collections and Selling On Demand

Mimi:

You definitely grow, you definitely grow a thicker skin. Right. I mean, it’s like, yeah. It’s hard. Um, yeah. So yeah, it’s, it’s definitely hard. So anything else, like what’s next for you and Careste? Like where, where, where are you taking the company at this point.

Celeste:

Right now? Of course we just did our soft launch this week with friends and family online. And the next week we have a big push to, you know, like the broader press and consumers in general, but so, you know, making on demand and delighting our current customers is paramount. However, in the Fall we were looking at strategic partners for drop ship relationships, whether it’s the matches or Neta forte, where we do curated collections with them and then sell on demand. So that’s, that’s where we are. That’s where we’ll start to really see the big volume.

Mimi:

That’s great. Well, you know what I say to people like you might have a great idea, but you better, it’s so much harder to attain clients and customers than people think like so much harder.

Celeste:

It is really hard. It is so to acquire customers. And I remember like sitting in investment meetings, you know, for the marketplace and talking about customer acquisition strategy. I mean, at that time with that business, because it was a new business for me coming out of PR, I definitely underestimated the, you know, just how hard it was going to be to acquire customers.

Mimi:

Because you came out of PR, so you’re probably thinking, Oh, you know, I already know how to do this. I don’t have to pay a lot of money for a PR agency because it’s expensive to hire a PR agency so I gotta do this. I’m just going to like do my PR thing and I’m going to get customers. Right. And I’ve had that happen to me. Like I’ve had friends start and I’m like, I just know, I know you think you have a great product and you’re going to go the beautiful website, but they don’t come running. Like you don’t just launch a website and they come running. Like you have to be willing to stick it in for the long haul. And it’s super expensive to acquire these customers. And so, especially if you’re saying that coming from the PR world, right?

Celeste:

Where I think I can sell anybody on anything.

Mimi:

Right. Right. So I guess one thing I look at when we invest in companies, I’m like, okay, who’s actually starting it. I don’t really even care about the idea. It’s like, who is the person who is selling whatever they’re selling, because I need to know they have in like, is it, you know, they’re a celebrity and they have millions of followers? Is it whatever it is? Like, I need to know that, that, like, as soon as you turn the switch on, there’s not like skipping a beat of like, where are these customers coming from? Right. Because it’s super expensive.

Celeste:

It’s super expensive. And you know, this also goes back to kind of like the team and everything. We, we recently folded a woman onto our team. She’s the former, uh, PR director of Ferragamo. She’s also the former founder of luxury rental platform. Armariam I don’t know if you heard about it, but at her fingertips has the most incredible network and it’s not just an incredible network. It’s an incredible network of people who do things that they are passionate about. Sustainability is definitely at the forefront of everybody’s minds right now. And our give back has been very compelling to them and we’ve had grateful signon to endorse for free. I mean, it is possible, but you have to know to your point, you have to know the right people to be able to pull that lever.

Stay Strong as a Female CEO and Founder

Mimi:

Okay. This has been awesome. Any other last comments, tips that you would think that we haven’t covered?

Celeste:

I mean, like, I love doing this. I can sit here and talk for hours with you. It’s been really, really fun, but I don’t know. Maybe my advice would be, I don’t know. It stays, it stays strong founders.

Mimi:

Right, right. No, it’s true. I mean, it’s a great if it works, because right now, like being an entrepreneur is so sexy. Right. You see all these entrepreneurs on the cover of every magazine and you think it’s so easy, right. You think, okay, I want to be that person because they look at shark tank. Like those people boop it’s must be, you don’t see the blood, sweat, and tears that went into them getting on cover of a magazine or shark tank or knowing that, or I don’t even know what the percentage is, 9 out of 10 fail or something like that. Right. So you don’t see all the heartache, you just see all the glamour. So you just want to make sure that people know what they’re getting themselves into, but it’s, if it works, it’s being your own boss is the best.

Celeste:

It is one thing that I love is that I’m able to, we live in mill Valley and we, we, we live in the house that we live in because my son’s elementary school is literally a walk down the street. And so I’m able to leave my desk and walk to pick him up and bring him back. I mean, we’re fortunate. We have an opare. She lives downstairs, but that’s important to me to be able to like have those little moments where I can like be with him throughout his day. And I would not be able to do that if I did not work for myself. So can’t put a price on that.

Mimi:

Exactly. You can’t! I feel the same way. But this has been awesome. I really appreciate it. Thank you so much for coming on. And, anyone who’s listening who wants to check it out, just go to careste.com and you can check out her beautiful clothing and do your virtual try-on and she will fit you. And I have a couple of your shirts and I absolutely love them. They’re so comfortable. And the best patterns, but your new stuff that launched as much more neutral.

Celeste:

Yeah. Yeah. This is, this is all kind of, COVID inspired that it is easier to be at home and, and just kind of easier, easier to be around in because everybody’s, I’ve been stuck at home. Everything’s becoming much more casual, which is great. All that is to say that we have a lot, a lot coming with our collection in the fall, so.

Mimi:

Oh, that’s great. Well, good luck to you and thank you so much. Thank you. I appreciate it.

Where To Find Celeste and More About Her Businesses

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Top 10 Tips For Every Entrepreneur

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