How to decide when to turn down investor money with Work Wife authors Erica Cerulo and Claire Mazur

Work Wives Instagram

The bosses behind design website "Of a Kind", the podcast “A Few Things” and the new book “Work Wife” share their experience finally being offered the investor funding they fought for-  and then walking away from the deal. Plus a preview of their new book “Work Wives".

In Erica and Claire's money story you will learn:

  • They started trying to raise money when they started their retail business in 2010

  • Their business, Of A Kind, is an e-commerce site that is focused primarily fashion and design

  • How they were finally able to get some money In 2013 for their business

  • Why Claire and Erica didn't like the terms of the agreement.

  • How they finally decided that the money wasn't what they wanted after all

In Erica and Claire’s money lesson you will learn:

  • Why it's so important to listen to your gut. If it's something you thought you wanted but then decided it wasn't, it's okay to change your mind and walk away

  • Why what they thought they wanted would only bring new and different problems


In Erica and Claire's everyday money tip you will learn:

  • Why Erica feels strongly about having multiple accounts that have money automatically being put into each account

  • When Claire and her husband combined finances they both started taking the same percentage of their paychecks to contribute to shared account.


In My Take you will learn:

  • How the benefits of friendships in business can also be platonic relationships between the opposite sex

  • Why it's important to read all the paperwork like Erica and Claire did

Episode Links:

Erica and Claire's book Work Wife

Check out Erica and Claire's website -

www.OfAKinda.com


Follow Erica and Claire!


Transcription

Claire Mazur:
For so long we had just been trying to get anybody to say that yes, they would give us money, and I don't think we'd really considered that we might not want to take it when somebody finally offered it to us.

Erica Cerulo:
We didn't want all of the strings that came with this money. They wanted too much of the company, they wanted to be very involved in the day to day. One of the investors wanted to be in the office I think up to two full days a week.

Bobbi Rebell:
You're listening to Financial Grownup with me, certified financial planner Bobbi Rebell, author of How to Be a Financial Grownup. But you know what? Being a grownup is really hard especially when it comes to money, but it's okay, we're gonna get there together. I'm gonna bring you one money story from a financial grown up, one lesson, and then my take on how you can make it your own. We got this.

Bobbi Rebell:
Hey friends. So when someone offers you the money, maybe for a business you've been building, that you've been asking for, begging for, searching for, for so long, and you finally get that offer. Well, it's a pretty good bet you'll say, "Thank you." And cash that check. But what if you have a bad gut feeling? What if there are things in the terms that you didn't really think would bother you, but then they really do? Nothing's ever free, and an investor money always comes with some strings. It's just a question of how tied up you're willing to be in those strings. And like many big life decisions, we often don't know until we are there.

Bobbi Rebell:
Welcome everyone. New listeners, thank you for checking out the podcast. We bring you high achievers who share money stories that had big impacts on their lives, along with the lessons that they have learned, so we all get to benefit from their experiences. Today we are doing something extra special. We have two guests, Erica Cerulo and Claire Mazur. You may already know their design website Of a Kind and their podcast A Few Things, and most recently their best selling, newly released book Work Wife, appropriately titled because these best friends are just that. And that friendship proved priceless when they had to make a key decision for their business in its startup time in search of cash. Here are Erica Cerulo and Claire Mazur.

Bobbi Rebell:
Hey Erica Cerulo and Claire Mazur. You guys are financial grownups. Welcome to the podcasts.

Claire Mazur:
Thank you so much.

Erica Cerulo:
Thank you so much.

Bobbi Rebell:
I love that. Said in unison.

Erica Cerulo:
Exactly.

Bobbi Rebell:
Perfect.

Erica Cerulo:
That's very us.

Bobbi Rebell:
Very you. You guys are work wives. I'm gonna ask you to each say hi and say your names so everybody knows which voice is which of you.

Claire Mazur:
This is Claire Mazur, and I hope that this introduction helps people distinguish us because we're told all the time that our voices sound exactly alike.

Erica Cerulo:
At least on a podcast. This is Erica Cerulo.

Bobbi Rebell:
Awesome. You guys are on in part to talk about, we have a great money story and all those good things, but congratulations on your latest together project appropriately titled Work Wife, and I should tell everyone this comes after other things which include a business called Of A Kind, which you still control, we can talk about how that's become a bigger venture, a podcast called A Few Things which I am a new and very dedicated fan of, and a newsletter called 10 things. So there's a lot going on guys.

Claire Mazur:
Yeah. We have been at this not for over nine years, and the business has been around for eight years and some change, and we just keep adding on new projects.

Bobbi Rebell:
You guys met in college, I should said?

Erica Cerulo:
Yes. It was when I was 19 and Claire was 18. So still teenagers.

Bobbi Rebell:
You guys have a long history together, and that helps you deal with what we're gonna talk about as your money story, which was kind of a tough situation as young business women. Tell us your money story.

Claire Mazur:
We were a couple of years into the business, we had been trying to raise money, kind of the entire life of the business at that point. We started the business in 2010, which was a time of very frothy VC funding. It seemed like left, right and center, everybody was raising a million dollars or more very easily, and we had been struggling to do that, I think in part because we had a more traditional retail business than a lot of the [crosstalk 00:04:12].

Bobbi Rebell:
Explain what Of A Kind is actually for people that don't know.

Claire Mazur:
Yeah, absolutely. So Of A Kind is an e-commerce site. We are primarily fashion and design, so we sell clothes, accessories, jewelry, also personal care and paper goods from emerging designers, primarily in the United States. So it's really based on discovery and Erica and my love of discovering new designers and new makers, and telling the story behind the pieces. So we have a very party content arm to the business and we have since day one always told the story of all of the makers whose pieces are on the site.

Bobbi Rebell:
Okay. So you guys go to raise money and the good news is there is a lot of money out there.

Claire Mazur:
Yeah.

Erica Cerulo:
And the bad news is we were really bad at raising it.

Claire Mazur:
Exactly.

Bobbi Rebell:
But you did have opportunity to get funded.

Erica Cerulo:
We did. In about 2012 or 2013 we had gone out to investors and had conversations with a few angel investors who were very enthusiastic about our business and made us an, put a deal sheet in front of us, a term sheet in front of us, and what we were aiming for this whole time, right? To raise funding, to be able to grow the business more aggressively, and to pursue marketing and other growth opportunities that we hadn't been able to pursue to date because we were really scrappy and cash strapped.

Erica Cerulo:
In looking at their term sheet and in thinking about what this would mean for the business, we came to this realization that we didn't want the terms. We didn't want all of the strings that came with this money. They wanted too much of the company, they wanted to be very involved in the day to day. One of the investors wanted to be in the office at least one full day a week, I think up to two full days a week, and while we valued their input, we didn't want them to be involved in the business in that capacity.

Erica Cerulo:
So we were sort of in this place where we were like, well what do we do here? This is what we thought we wanted, but here we are and it's not what we want.

Claire Mazur:
It took a minute for us to really get there because for so long we had just been trying to get anybody to say that yes, they would give us money. And I don't think we'd really considered that we might not want to take it when somebody finally offered it to us. And really, the options at that point were to walk away, to try to find money from somebody else, or to take the leap and say, okay, we're gonna take the money and hope it goes well. And what we realized, and what we were really fortunate to be able to do at that point was we had just started to be cash flow positive. So we were able to say no to them because we realized, okay, if we were cash flow positive last month we know we can do it again next month, and we know we can continue to just sort of put money back into the business. And we were able to pull together a little bit of friends and family funding to close the delta, because obviously we weren't making as much money as these investors were offering us. But it felt like absolutely the right decision at the time.

Claire Mazur:
It was a while ago, but I can't even remember how much discussion went into it. I think we really knew at the end of the day, especially when we got that report from our accountants that showed us how much money we were making we were like, okay, this is the right decision.

Erica Cerulo:
I also, I remember having the conversation, we were in South by Southwest, we were sitting in the Airbnb that we were renting, and basically coming to the realization that this wasn't money that we wanted, and that we would find another way, and that the thing that would impact the business at that point most, more than having those significantly bigger marketing budget or more than having the other things that we really wanted to be able to spend this money on was another head count and being able to at higher, I think at this point it woulda been our second employee so it woulda been Claire and I, we had a third employee, and this would be our sort of fourth person on the team. And that, that would allow Claire and I to be able to focus more on some of the bigger picture things that we weren't really able to think about at that point. And that, that could be the difference in the future of the company maybe more than the money would.

Bobbi Rebell:
And what was the conversation like? Did you just say, we're not gonna do this and walk away? Or was there an attempt to negotiate?

Erica Cerulo:
We had definitely attempted to negotiate with them for sure. And those were all sort of conversations leading up to this point. But this was just sort of where they had firmly come down and said, no, this is what it would need to be for us to be involved. And so it was sort of like the final offering that we were walking away from.

Bobbi Rebell:
How did you guys feel? What was your private conversation like at this point?

Claire Mazur:
I think we felt really triumphant in a way. It was honestly one of the best feelings we'd had about the business up to that point because it wasn't just that we had done what we knew was the right thing and was frankly kind of the hard thing, but we were able to do it because we had some success in the business. And that empowerment was really thrilling for us.

Bobbi Rebell:
So what is the lesson for our listeners from that story?

Claire Mazur:
There are several, but I think the one for me is to listen to your gut. And to know that just because something is something you thought you wanted, if it doesn't feel right it's probably not right.

Erica Cerulo:
It demonstrated to us that with money there come trade offs. We thought this was the answer to our questions and the answer to our problems and we realized that actually this would introduce new and different problems.

Bobbi Rebell:
Interesting. It is complicated. And people think that something, that's kind of a metaphor for bigger statement that people do think that money is going to be the answer to so many things in life. And it's really not. It sometimes just leads to different challenges.

Erica Cerulo:
Exactly.

Bobbi Rebell:
Speaking of challenges, let's give everyone solutions. Let's talk about everyday money tips.

Erica Cerulo:
Well, basically my money solution is that feel strongly about having multiple different accounts that I'm automatically putting a percentage of each paycheck into. So I know that one account is for savings, and I don't touch it. And a percentage of my income just gets dropped there. Another account is for day to day necessities like rent and groceries and those things that are sort of fixed costs and that I can budget toward. And the third is sort of a slush fund and that's where dinners out and shoes or whatever else come from. And I think it's nice for me to know that, that particular account is just sort of a play fund. It is for me to do with what I do. And so I don't set a firm budget around dining out or entertainment or any of those things, but I know that I have this fixed amount of money to play with for all of those things combined.

Bobbi Rebell:
So broader categories. And Claire, sticking to the theme of bank accounts, you also have an everyday money tip.

Claire Mazur:
Yeah. So when it came time for my husband and I to combine finances we used something that I know I learned from somebody else, and I think it might have been from Suze Orman, but we basically, no matter how much either of us is making, and obviously that number changes and has changed over the years, we both take the same percentage of our paycheck and contribute it to a shared amount. And then whatever's remaining we each have in our individual accounts. And we both have really different spending habits and that has made our lives so much easier when it comes to dealing with shared expenses and not shared expenses. So I never worry about if he's going to judge me for buying clothes or expensive tickets somewhere or whatever or a fancy gift for a friend of mine whose not his friend, he doesn't have to worry about it, he knows it's coming from my private account.

Claire Mazur:
And when it comes to our shared account it's so much easier to have these conversations about how and what we're spending on because we know that these are shared expenses and we're making those decisions together. And I never have to worry about if he's spending his money in a way that I approve of or don't approve of. And I think that has eliminated so much potential tension from our lives.

Bobbi Rebell:
Yeah, it's about communicating when you need to and also giving yourselves permission not to communicate on some things because you don't need to and that can be a relief as well. You guys communicate pretty well as work wives so much so that you've written a book. And this is becoming a whole buzz word in the community these days. I don't think we realize how many big companies have been led by these female power house teams. Tell us a little bit more.

Claire Mazur:
Erica and I had been business partners for nine years now and friends for 17 years?

Erica Cerulo:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Claire Mazur:
And had always known that we were very proud of our partnership and had always taken that really seriously. In fact, when we were fundraising we would often hear from investors, they would say, I think I'm gonna pass, it's not right for me, but I gotta tell you, I'm really impressed by your partnership. And I remember that really sticking with us and being like, oh, I think what we have here is unique. And it is unique, but what we realized in looking around was that there are a ton of other women doing this. And there are a ton of women who are really benefiting from this sort of basic tenants of female friendship like emotional intimacy and vulnerability and transparency in a business environment. So what we did for the book is we interviewed 14 other duos and trios of women about what their partnerships look like and what the friendships underneath those partnerships look like.

Claire Mazur:
And what we came with was this really strong belief in the power of female friendship to drive successful businesses and this understanding that when you value female friendship in the workplace you start to see other characteristics contributing to corporate culture that weren't there before. So these ideas of vulnerability in the workplace become a much bigger facet, and that can really change corporate culture ultimately.

Bobbi Rebell:
And I think it's important to understand a lot of these relationships did not start on day one. Some did, but most did not start on day one with, let's just meet as strangers and start a business. There's usually a history and a bond before that. And a lot of work that goes into preparing to go into business together. I mean, one of the tips that you give that I think makes so much sense is to do something like take a trip together and see how you react when something doesn't go as planned. Because these are complicated relationships. 'Cause they're real friendships but they're real businesses.

Erica Cerulo:
That's exactly right. That's exactly right. And that's a piece of advice that Haley [Barna 00:13:54] who is one of the founders of BirchBox and is now a venture capitalist gave for potential business partners or potential work wives who don't have that previous experience of working together, who maybe were friends first and haven't been in an office together and aren't 100% sure of how the other interacts in super stressful situations in a work environment.

Bobbi Rebell:
I'm gonna give you the last word Claire.

Claire Mazur:
We are so excited about the book and we hope that it spreads the idea of friendship in the workplace, not just for women but for men too. We think it's really important to think about the way that personal and the professional mesh with each other in that way.

Bobbi Rebell:
Let's wrap it up with you can just tell us where we can out more about you guys, your book Work Wife, your business Of a Kind, your podcast A Few Things, your newsletter Ten Things, and everything else. I feel like you guys have a lot more in your back pocket that we're gonna be hearing from you soon.

Erica Cerulo:
You can find it on our website ofakind.com where you can also buy the book Work Wife or you can buy it any place books are sold. You can find us on Instagram, @ofakind, and the book, @workwifehq and yeah.

Bobbi Rebell:
Erica Cerulo, Claire Mazur, thank you so much. This was amazing.

Claire Mazur:
Thank you so much.

Erica Cerulo:
Thank you so much Bobbi, have a great day.

Bobbi Rebell:
Hey everyone. Let's talk about work besties. Financial Grownup tip number one, Erica and Claire's book is focused on female friendship and business partnership and has a lot of specifics that are unique to women, combining business and friendship that both women and men can learn a lot from. But I also wanna add that while the relationships are absolutely different there can also be a lot of value in work husbands or work wife relationships of opposite sexes. And just to confirm, we are talking platonic here. That can also be really supportive at work. Add to that what I would call your work squad which can mean a group of work friends that can be supportive and be true friends, business partners, and industry allies.

Bobbi Rebell:
Financial Grownup tip number two, read all that paperwork. It's boring but you have to do it. Erica and Claire did it. They thought they had the deal they really wanted. But then, when they took the time, and thankfully they did, to read all the terms, not just how much money they were getting, read past the headline my friends, they made an unexpected decision. Make sure you pay attention and consider all the information, not just the ones with the dollar signs in front of them. And this goes of course for any binding contract.

Bobbi Rebell:
Do you have a work wife? A work bestie? Have you ever turned down something that you thought you wanted and really fought for? I wanna talk about, I wanna hear about your experiences. Follow me and DM me on all the socials, Instagram, bobbirebell1, Twitter, bobbirebell, or drop us an email at hello@financialgrownup.com, and tell me what you thought about this episode. And tell me about your experiences. And please, if you're not already subscribed, do so, we have some incredible guests lined up for spring, and I can't wait to share them with all of you.

Bobbi Rebell:
Definitely pick up Work Wife, it will not disappoint, and check out Of a Kind. So much cool stuff there. Big thanks to Erica and Claire for helping us all get one step closer to being Financial Grownups.

Bobbi Rebell:
Financial Grownup with Bobbi Rebell is edited and produced by Steve Stewart and is a BRK Media production.