"The night before the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center, my brother, who worked on the 103rd Floor for Cantor Fitzgerald, expressed his desire to do something more entrepreneurial,” Barzvi tells me. “He worked for a wonderful company and was very successful at a young age, but he found himself working a lot of hours and had little work/life balance. He died the next day in the attacks, and his words had an extremely profound impact on me.”
Less than three years after her brother’s death, Barzvi’s father lost his battle with lung cancer. But instead of giving into the despair of losing her father and her brother back to back, Barzvi channeled her grief into a business plan.
I spoke with the entrepreneur and businesswoman about enduring loss, launching a successful online brand, and why she believes failures are essential for any entrepreneur.
Lori Barzvi: I knew that one of the ways I needed to honor my brother who died in the September 11th attacks was to find something to do that I loved, and do something more entrepreneurial myself. However, this is not what ultimately made me venture into the business world. I was somewhat thrown into it.
My father owned a restaurant for many years, and three years after my brother passed away, my father was diagnosed with lung cancer. He was in the process of opening his second restaurant location in Manhattan when this happened. That’s when he told me I had to take over and help open the restaurant. I had been in the restaurant business as a waitress and bartender when I was in college, but was never involved in the actual managing and owning aspect.
Being thrown into owning a business at such a young age with no knowledge of how to run a business, much less the restaurant business, I learned an extremely valuable lesson: When you have no choice and nobody to ask for answers, you can figure out almost anything on your own if you have enough determination. That was my first venture into the business world.
Hossain: In many ways, your passion for dance led to the birth of My Solemate. How did you come up with the idea?
Barzvi: After losing both my brother and father in just three short years, I found the magic of dance. I went to see the movie “Shall We Dance” with Richard Gere and Jennifer Lopez, and signed up for my first dance lesson the very next day.
I was instantly hooked. Dancing is the only thing that made me feel whole again, so I spent the next 10 years dancing at least 5 times a week, sometimes more. But all of the dancing did a number on my feet. My heels were so dry all of the time. I would sit down in the shower and scrub my feet with a pumice stone, always forgetting to grab the soap from my shower caddy that hung over my shower head.
One day, again it happened again but this time, I had a small piece of soap on the ledge of my bathtub and I literally squashed it onto one side of the pumice stone and I found myself holding a two-in-one product in my hand. I immediately knew I was onto something.
Hossain: You have experienced such profound personal loss in your family. How has your background influenced your approach to business?
Barzvi: My father was always an entrepreneur. He migrated to the United States when he was in his early 20’s with just a few dollars in his pocket. He was one of 12 children and one of the youngest, but he was the first to migrate to America.
He and his 12 brothers and sisters grew up on a farm in Jerusalem. His father was a butcher, so all of the children worked on the farm and in the store helping with the family business. This is how my father learned much of his entrepreneurial business skills. It was in his bones.
When he came to America, he was in the jewelry business for more than 25 years. He built up his business from the ground and had a factory on 47th street in Manhattan. His factory was one of the most successful and long-lasting jewelry factories on the block.
I remember growing up and going to the factory all of the time. I was still very young, but I do remember spending a lot of time there and watching my father design jewelry and run his business. His business savvy must have seeped into my brain through the process of osmosis.
I also remember very well how everything changed overnight for my dad when he lost his entire business practically overnight when one of his distributors went bankrupt and defaulted on a huge invoice. That one order put my father out of business and our lives changed overnight.
Thinking back to my father's experience is the single greatest influence on my own business approach. While I looked into taking my product to brick and mortar retail, I still have not fully committed to going down that path. Brick and mortar have changed significantly since the popularity of online shopping increased exponentially and continues to. For an entrepreneur like myself, while it is still always a risk, selling online is much less of a risk than going brick and mortar and having large retail stores not being able to pay invoices.
Hossain: Women are generally labeled as risk averse, but you have reaped huge rewards by taking career risks. What would your advice be to women thinking about joining the startup world?
Barzvi: Cliches are called cliches because they are true. No risk no reward. We are so lucky to be living in the times that we do. Online shopping makes the risk for both women and men so minimal because you don’t have to spend tens of thousands of dollars opening an actual storefront. You can test out your ideas online. You can build websites yourself for very little money. Marketing is practically free these days with social media. There are so many ways to start your own business today with risking not much more than your time and a small investment, depending of course on what kind of venture you want to get into.
Alternately, if a woman has an idea for a startup that would involve a great deal more there are other ways to raise money risk-free. There are great fundraising sites for startups which are very popular that can help a startup get off the ground. In the world we are living in today, there are so many low to no risk ways for women to start their own businesses. It is incredible.
There are even grants that the government will award female owned businesses if they apply for them. And there are programs sponsored by the government to help support and drive business to women-owned businesses. There are just so many resources out there that offer support and guidance to help women-owned businesses succeed.
My advice is for women thinking about joining the startup world is, now is the time. Now is your time. Don’t wait, don’t overthink, just do it. It’s only worth doing when there is risk involved.
Hossain: You managed a restaurant and a dance studio prior to starting My Solemate. What are some of the greatest lessons you learned from managing a successful brand?
Barzvi: The most important lesson I learned is before you decide what kind of business you want to venture into, you must know yourself very well. You must know what your capabilities are.
For example, when I went into the dance studio business I did so because I loved to dance and I wanted to be surrounded by dance all of the time. That was not what was needed to run a successful dance studio. Often times, people start businesses because of their passion, and that is great.
Running a business is so much more than having a passion for your product. You have to know how to market your product and get people to buy it. You cannot just look at your product all day and think about how wonderful it is. If nobody knows about it then it’s not worth much than the value of it that is in your heart. And your heart doesn’t pay the bills. You also need to know your energy levels. Do you like working with others? Do you like managing others? Are you able to delegate responsibility? Are you an introvert?
I found myself working very long hours at the studio and managing employees which is something I was terrible at. I was also not very interested in creating marketing campaigns to get customers in the door. And the hours involved in owning a business of that kind are unbelievable. You live at work. That isn’t a life for me. I didn’t choose to do something entrepreneurial to have no life outside of work. Even if I was working for myself, that doesn’t make sense to me.
After having had those experiences and doing what I am doing now which is working from home or the local coffee shop or Europe, I’m working on my own time and independently. That is what works best for me. But it took me a few failed business ventures to know this about myself, so those experiences were extremely valuable.
Hossain: My Solemate is one of the top-selling products on Amazon. How did you figure out how to effectively use this platform?
Barzvi: Well, the funny thing is when I first started selling on Amazon it wasn’t to sell my product. At the time I had no plans on selling My Solemate as I shelved it years prior after many failed attempts to bring it to market.
I was perusing Facebook one day when I saw a post about someone selling things on Amazon and learned about a few courses that people were giving that teach people how to sell on the platform. And so I started selling on Amazon by reselling clearance items I was finding at stores like TJ Maxx and Marshalls.
Once I started getting the hang of it and gaining a better understanding of how the platform worked, through a lot of trial and error, I thought to myself perhaps with the knowledge I’ve gained from selling on Amazon I could bring my product back to life. It was a miracle that I still had some product that was stored in a warehouse that was actually supposed to be destroyed but never was. I called the warehouse and asked if by any chance they had My Solemates left and they did.
So I bought back my inventory from them and used everything that I had learned about Amazon, through trainings, a whole lot of free information on YouTube, and by joining Amazon seller Facebook groups. I asked a million questions and people were happy to help. The Amazon seller community is fantastic and everyone is happy to help each other. I am so grateful for it. It is because of these people that I learned how to make Amazon work for me and for my product.
Within 3 weeks of putting My Solemate on Amazon, it became a Top 10 Best-Seller and has stayed in the Top 5 to 10 since it’s launch in September of 2014. I even got the coveted Amazon #1 Best Seller badge a few times.
Hossain: What motivates you to do the work that you do?
Barzvi: I love selling product, good product that people love. And especially a product that I have put my heart and soul into. It is so unbelievably rewarding to read reviews from perfect strangers who love the product you created and gush over it. I also love the process of developing products. From finding the right manufacturer to designing the product itself to designing the label of the product. I just really love the whole process. It is so fun for me.
Hossain: What are your plans on expanding the My Solemate brand?
Barzvi: I currently have one other item called The Body Bar which is a two-in-one luffa and body soap which I absolutely love. In the coming months, I will be launching Foot Finish and my Foot Finish Foot Therapy cream. Foot Finish will also be a two-in-one pumice stone and soap, but the soap contains ingredients to combat athlete's foot and psoriasis. It is also unscented.
So many people have all different types of foot ailments and I wanted to create something that not only makes people’s feet smooth and soft, but I wanted to create something that helped those that suffer from actual medical feet problems. Growing up as a kid with chronic eczema, I know what it feels like to be uncomfortable in your own skin. My Foot Finish therapy cream was designed to help heal dry itchy feet.
A little further down the road, I plan on coming out with different scents for My Solemate. It is my hero product and new and different scents are in demand.