My “Start-Up” Story… How I Became a Blogger and Designer
My start-up story… Something I’ve never thought to fully share and quite honestly never thought would even be .01% interesting. However, it’s something that I’ve been asked a lot over the years throughout all of my crazy ins and outs of business ventures and life paths. I must admit that for me, it is something I always find myself wondering about other entrepreneurs. Particularly when it’s either a career so random or unique or something that aligns really closely with “what I want to be when I grow up”. How exactly did they get started doing THAT?!?
My personal story can pretty much be summed up as an impossible weaving of failures and successes woven alongside a never ending feeling of… am I there yet? That feeling I find most closely woven among those in the creative field. That feeling that for us enneagram type 4’s is never directly tied to money which is the standard by which most success is measured. Perhaps. So what is success for us? Perhaps that’s what’s always led me from A to Z to K back to A again. That need to feel a passion and a connection to a 9 to 5.
Quite the impossibility. Certainly something that’s difficult if not impossible to create overnight. A creative career that speaks to our soul and rarely leaves us feeling exhausted after the daily recreation of the creative wheel day in and day out. A career that fulfills my own personal desire to be home with my kids yet to also travel the world. Oh and let’s not forget it has to ya know… pay the bills.
My love for art started at a very young age. I never played sports. Never a cheerleader. Never kicked a ball. Never hit a ball. Never threw a ball… I wanted to be a fashion designer. Because to me, if you were creative but couldn’t quite paint like Monet, fashion design was the next best thing. As the daughter of an accountant, I didn’t grow up visiting home stores or helping pick out paint colors. It just wasn’t her thing. So for me, fashion it was. As a freshman at the University of Georgia, I started out with a major in international business. Makes total sense right!?! Yeah, not so much. Without a fashion program I was kind of lost. So my sophomore year I transferred to American Intercontinental University in Atlanta where they specialized in fashion design. Although I liked it, I didn’t love it. But I remember this day like it was yesterday. I was walking through the halls and came across a hallway filled with elevations and renderings done by the interior design students at AIU. I was mesmerized. I can still remember exactly what those renderings looked like. I remember telling my mom that very day that I was transferring back to the University of Georgia and changing my major to interior design. In that moment it clicked. My love for art, my love for design, my love for color, my love for fabric, my love for prints… it all came together in one Kairos moment. The following year I doubled up on art classes to build my portfolio for UGA’s design program and was one of 24 students accepted for the program that following year. And I can honestly say I loved every single minute.
Now comes the weaving of the thread in the very opposite direction. Somewhere along the way during those latter years in design school, my now ex and I started a company. A kitchen and bath company. Sooooo very random I know. We were simply two “kids” with zero desire to spend our college days partying the night away and a larger than life dream to own our very own company. What that company would actually be and when that would actually happen was always the question. We were 21 at the time… juniors in college, newlyweds, first time homeowners working full-time jobs at a local restaurant all while being full-time students at the University of Georgia having to maintain a 3.0 GPA to keep the Hope scholarship and be able to afford completing our degrees. Two 21 year olds with zero free time about to take an opportunity and run with it.
We both grew up very similarly financially. Wonderful families and blessed homes but not a lot of extra income. Super hardworking moms that instilled a will in us both to succeed and provide and work really really hard. I started working at 14 and never looked back. It just never really seemed like an option. So when my uncle called and mentioned the word granite, we instead heard opportunity. He was renovating his own home at the time and as a builder, he was always trying his hand at something. This time it was a slab of granite and a diamond blade saw. That was all he had but he was determined that with a little help, he was going to make it work.
I still remember the date of our very first granite slab order. March 2003. I was a junior in college and that day of assisting my uncle with his countertops had turned into a side hobby for a little extra cash. I handled the logistics and he handled the labor. From doing each of my parent’s countertops to then more family and friends, our new “company” was growing by the week. I had handwritten spreadsheets of costs and pricing and my brain was always turning trying to think of new ways to advertise. My uncle’s backyard had turned into our “fabrication facility” and the computer in my CAD classroom at UGA had become “our company office”. I fielded calls and e-mails and he fabricated the stone.
About a year and a half in, our company started growing large mega fast. I found every free advertising channel available from eBay to Craigslist and blew them up in between classes. I answered client calls on breaks and about one year in, we rented our first shop. By senior year of college, we were both still trying to finish up school while also now running a small mega company. By my senior year in college, we were finally able to quit our restaurant job and hired our first shop employees. It was a dream and a nightmare all rolled into one. We had no clue what we were doing but pretended we did and I guess people believed us. Because our company took off. By the time he graduated in December 2004 and I graduated the following May, we were installing several kitchens a day and had close to 14 employees. It was a blessing and a stress that I cannot even put into words. Those two 21 year olds had somehow started a company and were about to embark on the most stressful ride of their lives.
Fast forward quite a few years later and we had a baby. A baby girl we named Addison. She was my little everything and I used the opportunity of having helped create a company big enough that I could now step back from to stay home with my baby girl. A blessing not even remotely lost on me. And although I was fulfilled in most ways, I still had this raging passion for something creative. My first tiptoe into working as a new mom was to become a trunk keeper for a new clothing company way back in 2008 called Matilda Jane. It was the perfect fit for me. I could get out and meet people while also have the opportunity to be around beautiful colors and fabrics and get free clothes all while mostly still staying home with my little girl. Dream job for sure!
And then came 2010. My almost two year old blue eyed blondie had decided that crib life was overrated and swiftly climbed head first over the side of her crib almost landing head first onto the floor. I rushed into her room and decided that day to start designing her big girl room. I put together a queen sized bed we had from our previous home that evening and I starting searching the internet for bedding and curtains and accessories to put together my dream daughter’s room. Yet I found nothing. Absolutely nothing that I loved. As crazy as that sounds, I think I had just envisioned a “future daughter’s room” so much over the last decade of my life as an interior designer that what I had invented in my head just didn’t exist. Over the course of the next several weeks, I switched my searches from bedding to fabric, pulled my sewing machine out of the closet that I’d learned how to use in college and got to work making her bedding. And her curtains. And her cornice. And everything in between. It was the creative release I had needed so badly since becoming a stay at home mom in December 2007. And I was hooked…
Fast forward to that Winter of 2010 and I literally had a dream. It was the day the bedding I had created, the fun I had had doing so and all of the women who’d visited my home for Matilda Jane trunk shows asking me where I purchased it… all collided. Collided into an idea to make my love for designing and creating Addison’s bedroom into a company. A company I soon named Addison’s Wonderland.
I wish I could say that journey was easy but I guess nothing really ever is. The recession had gotten hold of our kitchen/bath company and money was tight. To say the least. We almost lost our company and lots more. I started working more and more selling clothing through trunk shows and slowly started putting money aside while also drawing up and sewing more samples of bedding. I had no clue if it was ever actually going to pan out financially or logistically but I wanted it and I wanted it bad. I set a date, carted a suitcase full of samples around to different workrooms all over Georgia and eventually launched Addison’s Wonderland in July 2011. That little “summary” makes it all sound easy-ish but I can assure you it was not. I’ll spare you all of the “gory” entrepreneurial details 😉
With zero extra money after already pouring my little bit of savings into the company, I decided that the “new social media frenzy” was the cheapest and easiest way to start spreading the word. And the images. And somewhat quickly the bedding images started going “mildly viral”. From Facebook to Pinterest, more and more moms started seeing my work and the orders started to roll in. By March 2012, my sales had hit $80k from social media alone and I decided to give my biggest crazy entrepreneurial dream a try… I applied for Shark Tank.
Thirteen days later I heard back. And I cannot even TELL YOU how excited I was after that reply! I honestly never even dreamed they would give me a second thought so from about that point forward, I became an overly excited nervous mess. For the next four months. At some point along the initial Shark Tank interview process, I decided that I wanted a partner. I was two months pregnant, juggling mommy life with our then four year old daughter Addison AND I was running Addison’s Wonderland solo. From customer service to designer to packer and shipper, I was doing it ALL. My best friend Brooke joined me that March and we started down this Shark Tank path together.
As most of you may know my story from there, I appeared on Shark Tank for Addison’s Wonderland in February 2013. A company born from this drive, this passion and this love I have for design. I truly felt that God had set everything in place for that business. That company. And it would all work out like a fairytale. And it started to I guess. For the most part. Business was growing, I loved designing and then came Shark Tank. Being on national television promoting my company was a complete dream come true. But I’m not going to lie. Not getting a deal seemed like a huge crushing blow at the time. The publicity was amazing and to be honest, they were super wonderful to us given that they didn’t invest. It wasn’t the end of the world but it seemed like the start. And then soon thereafter our marriage and personal life was hit like a wrecking ball. It was all just too much. And in that moment, my fairytale was over.
Once again, I will carefully craft my story and leave out lots of details but let’s just say that the shocking marital blow came not even two full weeks after our episode aired killing every single positive thing that did come my way post-airing… publicity, outside deals/offers and everything in between. Having not only been dealt that blow but then also simaltaneouely believing that it was all my fault. That my drive and my focus and my passion for AW “didn’t fit into our lives”. Couldn’t fit into an already hugely entrepreneurial family life. My focus split as an entrepreneur and as a wife/mom was too much. I couldn’t possibly be both. So I gave it up. I chose to let my dreams go. I chose to walk away. As unfair as it seemed at the time and kind of honestly to this day, I truly have peace in knowing that it was not meant to be. Took me a LONG time to get there but I am peacefully there today. Addison’s Wonderland gave me the courage, the confidence and the platform to get my career going and for that I am forever thankful. Sometimes God’s path for our lives is vastly different than our own and although it has taken me quite some time to truly realize that, I am grateful for the way that my experience on Shark Tank played out.
Although sales hit over $500k and I was literally days away from securing an investor, I “dissolved” my bedding company in July 2013. Not the easiest of decisions but I decided to choose my marriage. By that Fall, we were knee deep in renovating our new home but I was still in need of a creative career outlet. We had moved homes to start over from what had happened and were on a new path. By the Fall of 2014 I finally felt refreshed enough, brave enough and inspired enough to start sharing our home on social media. I had this platform on the web and on social media… Addison’s Wonderland… and I had this amazing group of people cheering me on. I just hadn’t known what to do with it all just yet. So from bedding to my personal home renovations, the shift happened and I started sharing.
The rest is “history”. You guys complimented and encouraged me to the point that I started a blog. That platform that was burning a hole “in my pocket” now just made sense as a blog. All of the people who’d followed me for color and pattern and creative inspiration would still be getting just that. And the questions that had started pouring in about my personal home design decisions and selections was now getting a place to post answers. And tutorials. And everything in between.
There aren’t enough “thank you’s” in the world for the incredible support from those of you who have followed me since those late bedding and early blog days. This quote right here quickly became my motto and something I will forever live by…
For me, blogging really started just as simple as that. Encouragement, love and support from all of you when I needed it most. And a platform for me to try and eventually return that encouragement, love and support back to all of you. I always say that as crazy as it sounds, my blog healed me. Those ombré stairs that got so many of y’all hooked on AW were born from a place of the most intense pain turned mega creative outlet. As if my craziest of designs were born from the darkest of places. It was the biggest blessing in my life at that time in my life. I now share all of my struggles and successes and failures in hopes of inspiring other women like me to get out and give it a try. Who cares if you fly or if you fail? Sometimes the worst life situations and the biggest failures lead to the best paths. I cannot imagine a bigger place to “fail” than on national television and then to have my marriage fail than in the “public eye” but it has made me the person that I am today and for that I am forever thankful.
As most of you know, in April of 2019 I filed for divorce. The most difficult yet also the easiest decision of my life. After years and years and years of the same, I finally chose ME and chose to walk away. I finally had the confidence, the courage and the support to say enough is enough. And I set myself free. Free falling into a brand new world that felt nothing less than TERRIFYING but nothing short of DESERVING.
My story certainly doesn’t end there. Although a whole lot of words precede this sentence, in some ways I feel like my career had just begun…
In August 2019, just two months after my divorce was finalized, I opened a brick and mortar store in my cute little town aptly named “Addison’s Wonderland.” It was another blessing and mega stressor all rolled into one. Had I known that what would transpire just a few months prior would take place, I would have NEVER EVER EVER signed that lease. Yet He knew that I needed to leap over that cliff and take that plunge. And that I wouldn’t have done it any other way but blind. My brick and mortar is in fact two spaces. Two 1,500 square foot spaces connected by an opening we created in the renovation of the space. The right side a boutique and the left side a “stressor”. LOL. That left side that was originally meant to be a wine/dessert bar created by the two of us, was now mine alone to figure out. I say that to say that once again, what felt like a life blow and a life failure now feels more like a blessing than a curse.
In August 2019, after months and months of hard work and tears, my labor of love opened it’s doors to the most wonderful grand opening EVER. Abigail and I had quite literally poured months of blood, sweat and tears into the space completing it all on our own making the grand opening that much sweeter. I have truly never felt more proud of myself and that amazing girl than on that day. I had gone from cursing the incomplete, barely renovated space back in April to saying “WE FREAKING DID IT” by August.
And then there’s that left side… I made the decision at some point along the way to finish it out as the basics of what I would want as a wine/dessert bar and to then rent it simply as an event space. Without wanting to invest the funds needed to make it pass inspections and all as a “restaurant” yet also still wanting to possibly try and fulfill that dream one day, it just made the most sense. An AW style event space. So in December 2019, I did just that. Began renting out the “left side” as the Addison’s Wonderland event space without a clue in the WORLD how it would do!
And then came Covid. Quite literally RIGHT when everything had fallen so perfectly into place with two completed commercial spaces both doing really well and my head seemingly back in place enough to tackle blogging and everything in between sanely once again, Covid hit. And we closed. Of course just like everyone else did. As the months slowly passed and Covid started to seem like it was here to stay, I hit a point of trying to mentally start reworking it all. Super conscious of finances as a newly single mom, I decided to take a risk and purchase a cabin fixer upper with the idea of renting it out.
Back story… another thing I am asked often relating to business ventures yet also something I really never share is… finances. I think my financial situation can be summed up as a LOT of hard work, a LOT of risky chances that paid off, a LOT of blessings that panned out and a LOT of failures that I tried to make the best of. It isn’t lost on me that I have been blessed but I can also say that I worked my freaking booty off to be blessed. And it is never lost on me that it took two of us to get to where I found myself financially and in business two years ago now when I started this new chapter solo. In summary, I guess what I am trying to say is that I know everyone’s risks and chances and ventures don’t always end up quite like mine but I can also say that had I not tried my hand at a little of everything along the way, I certainly wouldn’t have the opportunities I have today. I feel that the thread that binds any entrepreneurs story is equal parts drive and belief in yourself. As I always tell those who message and ask me if I think you NEED a design degree to be successful in design… a degree means NOTHING without elbow grease and the determination to succeed. It means NOTHING without passion, drive, risk taking and blind leaps. All topped with a belief in yourself that you may need to pull from the farthest depths of your soul.
It is not lost on me that I have been blessed to go for my dreams and make investments and further my career time and time again. We grew our company soooooooo slow and carefully financially and I learned so so much from that that I will forever and ever carry with me. We had no money and no one to fall back on so it was a constant sink or swim feeling. With the blessing of a backyard and the borrowing of a $3,000 saw from my uncle, we started a company that gave me the foundation for what I am able to go for today. Sometimes the path from A to Z is the scribbles of a two year old. That feeling that you just want to dive into what you love but you realize that you have to climb mountains to even get to cliff to take that leap.
In August of 2019, I became completely debt free. I paid off every single thing I own or owed including my home. A blessing never ever ever lost on me. I share this for reasons twofold… For one, to answer questions I am asked quite often about the why and the how I am able to do such “big things” financially in terms of investments and business ventures. I have always considered myself on the waaaaaaay fiscally conservative side of entrepreneurship. Always wanting and needing to feel super stable in most ways to take a leaps in others. And with that, I have ALWAYS had this dream of using every dime we could to pay things off. Although not always viewed as “the best decision” financially to pay off a mortgage and such, it was a life goal of mine and something I wanted and needed to work for in order to be a little riskier in business. The second reason I share this is to say that your financial dreams are possible. Although not trying whatsoever to shine any bit of light on my personal situation, just putting it out there that it’s possible to achieve whatever your financial dreams may be while starting at the ground floor. I am 19 years into this entrepreneurial thing and it has taken every single bit of that almost two decades to feel that things started to “add up” in a way that matched how much I’ve felt we’d put into it all. And of course not ever downplaying the hand my ex had in running and building that company beyond what I was able to do after becoming a mother as well. Once again, a blessing never ever lost on me. I will keep the details of my divorce to myself, but I will say that during that impossible time I fought hard for myself and for my financial life as a single mom raising my girls. Fought for my part in that life I walked away from. And now I manage every single penny I have to further my life and my career in every way I know how. I’ve learned a lot about myself this last year and a half. I have learned I am a saver. Not taking a single cent for a splurge purchase or hasty decision. I’ve learned that unless it is either gifted from my blog platform, is relatively cheap (I live for Walmart, Amazon and stuff from my store!) or is a good investment, I don’t want it and I don’t need it!
In April 2020, I took another leap and purchased a cabin. My first huge solo purchase ever. I was terrified. I’d read somewhere that the best way to invest extra cash in real estate is to put down 30-50% (not to pay in full if you’re able to do so) to have good equity in the home but to also keep cash in hand and have interest write-offs and such. So in purchasing that property, I put down about 40% on that home. As far as renovations, I pay cash for what we cannot do ourselves and then of course we bust out anything and everything we can with our own two hands (or four with Ab and then six with John HEHE)! I am once again blessed with the ability to use my blog to get supplies and products for renovations through collaborations. Forever and ever thankful for that!
Once the cabin was completed in August 2020 and we saw that Covid was here to stay-ish, Ab and I decided to take another plunge… DESIGN! With my brick and mortar slow (but open THANKFULLY) and blog life slow as well in terms of collaborations, we decided to take my dream of doing interior design full-time-ish and hit fast forward on it a bit! In October 2020, we launched AW Design and it has taken off. Once again, a blessing not lost on me. It was a culmination of a degree in and passion for design along with years of experience in the construction industry alongside an AW following that is now a sea of potential clients. The perfect storm to do what I love most. And the perfect storm to shift my focus in a direction I see financially best for myself and for AW moving forward.
As you can see, my story is a complicated one but also one that I am proud of and one that is far from over. Not even a day of it has been easy and I could easily say I have a million and one regrets, but at the end of the day I am doing what I love and that feels like success to me. I look forward to working everyday and I look forward to growing this company I love so much. This company that has put on a hundred different hats over the years and may eventually put on a hundred more.
The next big thing for Addison’s Wonderland is finally finding a true purpose for “that left space” of my brick and mortar that left me feeling so resentful for so long. It is about to be home to AW Design AND a wine/dessert bar. It is going to be BOTH and I could not possibly be more excited about it. As I will share over the coming weeks, we are going to be outfitting the space to serve double duty as a design studio during the week and a fun, quirky wine bar nights and weekends in our perfectly imperfect planned out way. We have halted all events from booking past July of this year so that the wine/dessert bar can hopefully open by the Fall. Fingers crossed! A new hat for AW that I am impossibly pumped for to say the least! So cheers to new adventures and scary leaps and impossible decisions and new beginnings. And thank y’all for reading my forever long novel today! 😉