Welcome to our second #LikeABoss feature, celebrating those who go after their "why" and win! Every month, Rowan Coaching features the story of someone brave enough to ditch the shoulds and carve their own path to success. Today, we're particularly excited to introduce you to Rowan Coaching client Gaby Abrams, founder (and lead designer) of Casa Confetti Design Studio. Gaby is a lawyer-turned-mompreneur, and she knows how to #WomxnUp like a boss!
Hi Gaby! Let’s start with the basics. Can you tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do?
Hi! I’m Gaby, and I’m the designer behind and owner of Casa Confetti Design Studio, a fun little shop filled with super adorable invitations, wall art, mugs, and totes. I live in Miami, FL, with my husband, Jake, my 2-year-old son, Levi, and our Yorkie. I am passionate about living authentically and with purpose, and I love laughing and being happy. I have a pretty short list of things that make me deliriously happy, and they’re my family, my best friends, a good Bravo show, and Sauvignon Blanc.
What inspired you to open a stationery and gift store?
Opening up my own store was a dream of mine for as long as I can remember. I have always loved paper and celebrations and making people feel HAPPY, so a stationery and gift shop was a perfect fit. It was always something that I envisioned myself doing “eventually,” so I’m still a little bit in shock that this is my life right now!
I graduated law school in 2012 and moved to NYC with my now-husband, Jake. I was working as an immigration lawyer when I got pregnant with Levi, and after becoming a mom, I got this inexplicable surge of determination and decided that it was time to carve out the life that I really wanted. I needed flexibility, and I needed joy and creativity.
Designing invitations and event stationery had been something I had really enjoyed doing for my wedding and baby shower, and I figured that selling digital designs on Etsy was a great place to start. There was no investment required and no risk. I did not necessarily go into this expecting a full-fledged business, but sales started to trickle in, and I began to see that a viable business was blossoming. That was exciting. The more sales I got, the more motivated I became; the more motivated I became, the more my business grew.
I’m so happy right now, and I can’t believe that this is my life. I love that I have the flexibility to enjoy my family without having to sacrifice my ambition. It’s such a gift to do what you really love. Every day I wake up and get to be 100% me, which I never felt before, so I feel very lucky.
I know you started your professional career as a lawyer, working for both a law firm and a recruiting agency. What would you say are the major differences between working for a company and being an entrepreneur?
By far the hardest part of being an entrepreneur is how exhausting it is. When you work for someone else and you have a slow day, it’s easy to justify sitting at your desk and online shopping all day (not that I ever did that, former bosses). When you have your own business, there is ALWAYS something that you can and should be doing. It’s hard to shake that feeling and relax.
Then, of course, there are also major perks to being an entrepreneur. The flexibility that it affords me is invaluable, but my favorite part is that I’m not dependent on anyone else for my success. There is no office hierarchy to play into, and if I want to make more money, I know I can hustle my butt off for it instead of having to ask my boss for a raise. I love that.
Starting a business can be like navigating an obstacle course. Can you give us a few examples of the challenges you’ve faced as your studio has developed over the past two years, and how you overcame them?
So many! Being an entrepreneur is not for the faint of heart, and if I wasn’t doing what I love more than anything in this world, I can’t imagine how I’d be able to do it. At the beginning, I would always tell my husband how grateful I was that I hadn’t started my own law firm instead, because starting your own business is so overwhelming and exhausting, and I can’t imagine working 20-hour days for something I didn’t love!
At first I felt like I was doing everything wrong. I had never worked in design or printing before, so it was a steep learning curve. I had to research printers, teach myself design, and figure out the logistics of running a business. I made a lot of mistakes. I refunded a lot of orders. I stayed up until 2 am almost every night. It was hard! I was a full-time mom, too, so I was exhausted, but little by little it started coming together.
As an entrepreneur, you wear a lot of hats. You have to give yourself a little grace and realize that even if you’re not great at every aspect of running a business, that’s ok.
It can also be a heck of a lot of fun! What is your favorite part of running Casa Confetti Design Studio?
SO much fun! I love, love, love the creative aspect of what I do. I have always been forced to confine my creativity to little side projects, so this is an amazing new world for me. I also love how ambitious it has made me. There’s just something about doing what you have always wanted to really motivate you to do your best.
My favorite thing is how authentic this feels. Every single day I wake up and feel 100% like myself, which is such a gift.
At the beginning of this year, you grew your business 300% in three short months. To what do you attribute your success?
At the end of last year, I had kind of fallen into a slump. We had moved to Miami from NYC, so I was adjusting to that, and after a year in business, the novelty of starting a business was starting to wear off. My victories were starting to feel smaller and less fulfilling, and I was having trouble seeing how I would ever get where I wanted to go. I had heard of your services before, and I knew it was time to reach out. I can’t even imagine what I would have done otherwise!
I had been so myopic and task-focused before coaching, and working with you really forced me to take a step back and examine the big picture of my business. We started with goal-setting, and I didn’t even know what my goals were (or rather, I knew what they were in my heart, but they were buried under so much fear that voicing them that first time felt RIDICULOUS). It’s crazy because, somehow, after only a few weeks of coaching, they stopped feeling scary, and after a year of coaching, I’m so far on my way to being the person that I dreamed of being that I can’t even imagine NOT being that person. Magic, I tell you.
Once I figured out where I wanted to go, it was easy to take the steps necessary to get there. We were able to break big goals into discrete steps and focus on checking those off little by little. Through coaching, I got over the fear of being the badass businesswoman I wanted to be, and I realized my self-worth. This encouraged me to make some small changes that got me major returns, like increasing my prices, cutting printing costs, and revamping my SEO (it was almost like I was SCARED to have customers find me before?!).
What have you learned about being a female entrepreneur that you wish someone had shared with you at the beginning?
I wish that when I was a child, someone had told me that it would be possible to build an insanely successful business as a female entrepreneur selling fun, feminine products to a female demographic, but to be honest, I don’t think anyone knew that at the time, and I’m not even sure that was possible then. Women have come a long way in the last 20 years. I know a lot of people disagree, and they certainly have valid arguments, but I wholeheartedly believe that it is an incredible time to be a woman. Women before us put up with a LOT to make sure that we have the opportunities that we have today, and I am grateful for that.
Women are made to feel that we are both not enough and too much all at once, when really you’re perfect exactly the way you are. I wish that I had always had the courage to be true to exactly who I was instead of worrying about what other people thought of me.
You’re not just a business owner - you’re a full-time mom (to the cutest kid around!). That’s basically having two full-time jobs. How do you make it work?
Thank you! He is pretty cute, which makes it a lot easier, but it’s still hard. I think I struggled most with how to identify myself at first, and you know this because that’s where a lot of our early work together was focused. Was I a stay-at-home mom who worked? Was I an entrepreneur who was a mom? I was home with Levi full-time for the first 18 months of his life, so a lot of people assumed that I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom and that my business was a hobby, or that it was something I was doing to pass the time until Levi was older and I was ready to be a lawyer again; in reality, running this business was what I had always wanted to do.
I think once I started being honest with myself and with everyone around me and made peace with the fact that I could be both a good mom and a super ambitious entrepreneur, life became much easier. I enrolled Levi in school when he was 18 months, and it’s been great. I work from 8:30 am to 2 pm, and then it’s time to pick up Levi from school. Unless I’m totally inundated with orders, I try to keep my afternoons work-free so that I relax with him-- I’ll answer emails or play on Pinterest to get my creative juices flowing, but I keep my focus-heavy tasks for my Levi-free hours.
Some days it feels like I’m working in the margins, and other times I feel like a horrible mom because Levi is watching Moana for the hundredth time while I crank out orders. I try not to feel guilty about any of it. I know that I’m setting an amazing example for Levi by succeeding at what I truly love, and that makes me so happy.
I know people come to you all the time for advice about creating a thriving Etsy store. What are your top three tips?
Just start! Even if you feel like you can only work in the margins of your current life, even if you don't have the money for an amazing website or branding package-- just start! You can figure it out as you go, but trust me when I say that there will never be a "perfect moment" to start. Focus on delivering a quality product and figure out the rest later, and don't invite self-doubt into your heart by comparing yourself to others.
I’m a researcher by nature, and that’s been a big asset for me. Figure out what’s selling and how people are selling it. What keywords are they using? What do their product photos look like? What are their store policies? SEO is key, so work on mastering that. There are loads of great resources out there that focus on Etsy SEO. Make good use of them.
Know your worth. Then add tax. It’s ok to want to make money. It’s ok to MAKE money. I felt guilty at first taking money from anyone, but now I know that my service and products are worth it.
And a fourth because I’m a rule breaker: if you treat your store like a hobby, you’ll make hobby money. If you want to eventually make big girl money from it, treat it like a business from the get-go.
How do you see the Casa Confetti brand evolving in the next 5 years? What’s next?
I love invitations, but I was really missing out on connecting with my customers in their day-to-day lives. Because of that, I started offering mugs, totes, bags, and other items designed to make everyday life a little more special! I love being able to connect with my customers in that way, and I hope to go much deeper.
My passion is empowering women, so I hope that Casa Confetti will be a way for me to do that. Guilt and fear often keep us from achieving our full potential, and I think we as women need to work together to overcome those feelings. My goal for 2018 is to host a conference for female creative entrepreneurs to connect in Miami, so that’s the next big step for me.
Over time, I’d like for Casa Confetti to become more of a lifestyle brand focused on helping women and just making women feel good about themselves. I believe knowledge is the key to change, so starting a philanthropy focused on female education would be my long-term goal. I’m excited to see what the future holds!
Where can we shop your store, and stay up on the latest from Casa Confetti?
Thank you! <3