I love what I do, but that’s not the whole story of what makes me me. So let’s take it from the top.
From my early years of running lemonade stands with my siblings to launching an eBay shop in high school, I’ve always been an entrepreneur at heart. However, it all really popped off in third grade when I started my very own friendship bracelet company. And by “friendship bracelet company,” what I really mean is that I enslaved recruited my classmates at recess to make my merchandise so I could sell it back to them. Unfortunately, my business became a major, school-wide calamity when suddenly all the other kids became obsessed with making bracelets, too. (What can I say? I’m a trendsetter.) Long story short, I got called into the principal’s and the friendship bracelet market completely collapsed.
I was fortunate enough to attend an all girls private school where I learned first hand how wonderful it can be to be supported by a powerful community of womxn. I know what you are thinking: “Uniforms and no boys? No thanks.” But, for me, it was absolutely awesome; I cherished my time at Notre Dame Academy and all the wonderful classmates that today remain dear friends. And wearing uniforms? It was actually one of the greatest gifts of that experience—who wants to spend 20 minutes a day planning an outfit?
Having a near death experience isn’t what most people dream about when they picture their first year of college, but that’s exactly what happened to me. During my freshman year at USC while I was coming home from class I was struck by a car at 40mph. I almost died. I saw the light and had a complete out of body experience—the kind you read about—the whole deal. At one point, the doctors told my family that I was going to have serious brain damage due to all the brain swelling. I was unconscious and unresponsive for three and a half days, and when I finally woke up, I had a fractured skull as well as a broken nose, ankle, and wrist. Oh and I was completely blind.
Over the next few months, I endured multiple surgeries, quickly regained my sight, and spent three months in a wheelchair. I ended up making a full recovery and earning a 3.8 GPA that semester. Learning to reject fear—knowing that everything I am could be taken away in an instant—is a lesson that I will always carry with me. I graduated in 2006 from USC Marshall School of Business with a degree in entrepreneurial studies. I was fired up to venture into the world and start building businesses, but I soon realized I needed money to do that...
So I got a “real adult” job in finance, helping small business owners access capital for their businesses. I started on the floor, dialing for dollars making over 400+ phone calls a day. Not to sound like your parents, but back in my day we used online white pages to cold call random business owners. I quickly developed the gift of gab, earning the ears and trust of small business owners nationwide. All in all, I spent 2.5 years learning from entrepreneurs and operators by studying their tax returns, cash flow statements, and ultimately assessing their risk.
This experience fueled my entrepreneurial spirit, giving me a front row seat into the intimate books of business owners. I learned the true power of capital, importance of data analytics, and how to leverage those two strengths to drive strategic growth. Following the money, I soon learned which businesses had lasting potential and which were just passing crazes. (This was a major upgrade from my bracelet hocking days.)
After 2.5 years in finance, I decided to switch careers and focus more on harnessing my creativity. I joined my older sister, Leila Lewis (then Khalil), to help her grow her then-fledgling lifestyle PR firm, Be inspired PR. While working side by side with my sister she got engaged, and we began planning her wedding together, too! (More on that later...) During that time I developed my love for storytelling and learned the importance of shaping narratives to captivate audiences and build lasting brands. In 2010, after my sister’s wedding, I moved to New York to expand Be Inspired PR out east, but soon my entrepreneurial inclination took over, and I branched out on my own.
After struggling through planning my sister’s wedding, I knew there had to be a better way. So I launched Loverly in 2012 to help modern couples plan their dream weddings online. Loverly was a breakout in the NY tech community and became one of the fastest-growing digital destinations for nearlyweds to get inspired and organized, while planning their wedding. In 2015, I even published a wedding planning book that is still being sold on Amazon and over 300+ Barnes & Nobles nationwide. I thought for sure this business was a slam dunk, and I’d be retiring at 30 years old with my millions in the bank. But things don’t always go according to plan.
Running a business at 25 years old is hard, and while I was able to successfully raise capital from early stage investors, $7M in total over 6 years from over 87 investors was never enough to compete with industry incumbents. I was underfunded, under resourced, and over exposed. In my naivety, I made a lot of mistakes with hiring, spending capital, and leveraging myself personally. This all culminated in a catastrophic event when in 2017 Loverly’s acquisition by a multi-billion dollar retailer went up in smoke. It left me devastated, employees and investors angry, and me in almost a million of dollars of debt at 33 years old. To say it was a challenging time is a gross understatement. I had to lay off my staff, shut down my office, and move home to California.
My early days at Loverly taught me a lot about myself, my strengths, and (most importantly) my weaknesses. I spent so much of those years in fear of what people thought, wondering how to keep everyone happy and ignoring my intuition when I saw red flags. After my company meltdown and my move home, I decided to regroup, re-align, and reemerge with a new mission and vision—to be different and build differently. I was going to live authentically and vulnerably while focusing on what fueled me, creatively, and professionally. To this day, I remain incredibly grateful for all those early employees and investors who put their trust in a young first-time founder fumbling to navigate her way through the male-dominated tech world. I also appreciate the not-so-nice people (shout out to the haters) who put me through some of my most trying times of my life. Without them, I would never have emerged stronger and more determined than ever before.
I truly believe in divine timing and only thirty days after moving back into my childhood bedroom, I got a call from my first boss (yup the founder of the finance company). He was looking to build a creative and brand agency to service some of his investments. I jumped at the opportunity to help lead that team and dove in head first. His agency became my new creative outlet to help other founders and entrepreneurs launch, build, and grow their brands. During those 3 years working at the agency, I used my spare time and any additional funds to re-invest in Loverly. I worked tirelessly to rebuild the platform in a new and more sustainable way—with all these life lessons guiding my journey. I have expanded my vision of what’s possible with the platform as I’ve continued to grow professionally while reaching new milestones in my life—I got engaged and bought a home! Now, I’m planning what's next for Loverly in a very big way.