How To Turn Bankruptcy Into The Ultimate Lifestyle With Tracy Matthews | #037
Entrepreneurs have unique challenges. It can be hard for some while harder for others. Starting out her business journey feeling alone, Tracy Matthews shares how she took her company against the challenges – from bankruptcy to the expert’s curse – and came through it all. She is a jewelry designer, mentor to creative visionaries, and host of the top-rated Thrive By Design podcast. Talking about the lessons she learned along the way, she gives great insights and inspiration on how you can monetize your expertise and passion. Everybody has their own pivot points and that is why it is necessary to grab those opportunities and become a visionary. Find hope in Tracy’s resilience and determination and never take for granted the people who can give you a second set of eyes to point out what you need to work on.
How To Turn Bankruptcy Into The Ultimate Lifestyle With Tracy Matthews
You’re in for an amazing interview. I have with me the very talented and very special, Tracy Matthews. We talked about all things entrepreneurship. Me and Tracy were like two peas in a pod. We have not had a conversation before this interview, but as soon as we hopped on the call, I knew that we were basically two completely identical people. She is a natural born visionary. She ran her first company for eleven years and it went bankrupt during the crash of 2008. We talked about that and the lessons that she learned from that too. She then transformed what she thought was the only way to monetize her passion, to monetize her expertise and came back from that and turned the most profitable business she has ever run within eighteen months of that bankruptcy.
This was an incredible episode of resilience, determination and ultimately figuring out where the opportunity lies. We talked about the expert’s curse as well. She calls it something different. It’s very important to have somebody, to have a second set of eyes look at your situation. Tracy is a jewelry designer and mentor to creative visionaries and the host of the top-rated Thrive By Design Podcast. As a jewelry industry veteran, she’s been featured in InStyle, Elle, US Weekly and Real Simple and on the Today Show, Entrepreneur On Fire and CreativeLive. As the Chief Visionary Officer of Flourish & Thrive Academy, she’s passionate about helping other highly creative types launch, grow and scale profitable jewelry and fashion brands. She lives in New York City. She loves to travel and she secretly wants to be the lead singer in a band.
Tracy Matthews from Flourish & Thrive Academy is our guest and we’re going to be talking about some very amazing things that you’re going to be absolutely stunned and you’re going to love. She is the Chief Visionary Officer of Flourish & Thrive Academy. Tracy, welcome to the show.
Joel, thank you so much for having me. I’m excited to be here.
We talked about what your passion is. You talked about what you love doing. You call yourself the Chief Visionary Officer and I’m probably very similar to you. I didn’t tell you that beforehand. You like to start things, but you have a hard time completing them. Give our audience an introduction to who is Tracy. What is your superpower? What are you working on right now that gets you out of bed each morning?
I started my career in the jewelry industry. I learned to make jewelry when I was in college back in the ‘90s. It was never a matter of if I was going to start my own business, it was just a matter of when. I come from a long line of entrepreneurs in my family. The idea of working for someone else to be a designer never even crossed my mind. I was like, “I’m going to do this for myself.” That journey led me to build a business. It started in the late ‘90s all the way through the early 2000s. Having a lot of frustrations on the way and having a lot of successes, it ultimately resulted in me closing my business. It’s a huge business failure that landed in bankruptcy.
I don’t only look at it as a failure now because it led me to where I am now. It was one of the biggest business lessons I’ve ever had. There was a time when I considered it that way. I launched a new company quickly. I realized through that course of that eleven years that I had my first business, Tracy Matthews Designs, was that I was good at coming up with ideas and creating things and designing collections, but the things that bog me down were having to follow through on getting the final projects done or the little minute details that you had to do to manage a business or manage a team. All those things sucked my creative energy. I found that as I was building that business, my time was pulled away from the things that were the most important things that I had to be doing to be building the business, which was business development, coming up with strategic ideas for growing the business and marketing and getting ourselves out there. I was really stuck in the business. It was basically sucking the life out of me. It wasn’t until I could step away for a moment that I realized that was what happened.
There were also some things that I did. I’m not a systems person and I probably could have set my business up for success a little bit better in the beginning. I learned a lot from that. Having that hindsight and understanding, I realized what I loved to do was work with clients, come up with ideas and sell. Not in a salesy way but by providing values to people. When I started my new jewelry company, I realized that those were the things that I wanted to focus on the most. I immediately found a way to set the company up where I could outsource the parts of the pieces of the business that I didn’t want to work on and get a little bit of support, because I only had someone for five hours a week doing the things that I was challenged with. Things that seemed so silly, but it’s hard for me, like uploading a blog post or figuring out how to automate emails and stuff like that, that’s not something that I’m good at. I was able to grow and scale that business quickly. Within eighteen months, I had the most profitable month in my entire career. Even though my sales were much less than my previous business, we were doing close to $1 million in revenue in that business.
I saw that when you set a business out in a way that fits in alignment with what you value and what’s important to you and in alignment with who you are as a human being and you don’t fight against that, so much can open up and so much can expand. Over the years, I’ve been approached by other jewelry designers and makers who wanted advice on how to grow their business. I had a pretty big following. I was in about 350 stores around the world and a ton of press. For a while, I was very well-known.
Is this your new company?
This was in my first company.
The one you’re working up for eleven years.
We had designers who were following me just like I follow designers when I was starting. I admire people. I was a fangirl of some people and they want to consult. They wanted help in getting their business going. I would offer them a consulting package and they say, “It’s too much of an investment right now. I’m just starting up.” I was thinking to myself. I was in a jazz club with my friend, Robin Kramer, who was also in the industry. We’re talking and I’m like, “Robin, I have this idea. I want to start an academy where we teach jewelry designers and makers specifically how to run a successful business based on everything that I know and everything that you know about growing the Dogeared business,” because she was in the industry too from a sales perspective. We’ll help them cut the learning curve in half because one of the things that I always regretted and felt was missing in the early years of entrepreneurship for myself was that sense of community and feeling very alone.
I didn’t have anyone who understood my plight because I had a lot of people around me who were entrepreneurs or who own their own businesses but they didn’t understand the unique challenges of a jewelry company. It’s very different than having a service-based business or investing in real estate or building a restaurant chain. It’s very different than having a jewelry company with a lot of inventory and stuff like that. It’s very unique challenges. In 2012, we launched Flourish & Thrive Academy and we support thousands of jewelry designers and makers and helped them run successful businesses and focus on what they are good at, expand and continue to get their brand and their voice out into the world, which is super fun.
That’s an awesome story by the way and I love the timeline. One of the things that I picked up on was you said that you set up a company to outsource the parts that you hated with and within eighteen months you had the most profitable month ever. Was this another jewelry business or was this part of your consulting? What business was that?
It was another jewelry business. I had a jewelry business still. I design engagement rings and wedding bands and a lot of heirloom redesign. I love it. It’s a passion of mine. It’s awesome because it’s set up in a way that I make a full-time income working very part-time and now my executive assistant helps me on that. It’s fun.
It’s still running.
It’s still there. I am very selective with who I take on as clients now because I only want to work with people who are aligned with the design that I do and the budget that I have. I think for the type of jewelry that I deliver, it’s very reasonable but you get all types. People come in who want an engagement ring for $500 and that’s not what I do. It’s just working with people that are in aligned with the process that I do and what I offer.
You launched Flourish & Thrive Academy in 2012. Tell me about that and talk about what you’re doing with that now.
My first idea, this was at the beginning, I had taken an online course. I came from a traditional business model because I was selling to stores. Online selling was a brand-new thing at the time. We would get some sales on our website like 2007, 2008 and 2009, but it wasn’t a huge part of our business. This idea of using your website as a tool to build a business was a new concept for me. We needed it but most of my business was done by doing trade shows and selling to stores and building traditional sales relationships with people where we would go show our product. I took an online course about building a business using your website basically as a tool. That opened up my eyes into this whole new online world. I was like, “That’s a thing?” It’s so crazy because I talk to my friends who are still buyers for stores and no one understands what I do, even though we understand it because that’s what we do. I had this idea but they can’t afford the one-on-one consulting. That’s not even my preferred jam because I’m a one-to-many person. Maybe I could design these courses where people could come and take the course. We’d offer some live feedback so if they’re stuck, we can answer questions for them and help them get to the next step. That was how the company was founded.
We had a signature course called Laying the Foundation. The course that I wanted to launch when we first started was called Multiply Your Profits, which is about the visionary stuff I was talking about, learning how to set your business up in the right way. Putting the back-end systems, the production systems and the hiring systems in place so that you can do what you’re good at. That’s not a sexy thing. We’re like, “We’ll sell branding and collection development first and see what happens.” That’s still our number one course. It was a good call. Now we have several courses running the gamut but our main focus right now is our membership community, the Diamond Insiders, and our high-level coaching program called the SOS accelerator. These programs are built around community over competition and creating a platform for designers to come in and not only learn but get support. It’s not enough to learn, you have to take action in order for anything to work in your business.
What I found in my industry in particular is that a lot of the people that I mentor don’t believe that they are good enough. They operate a lot in what I call maker mindset where they’re like, “Making, making, making, doing, doing, doing,” instead of, “Selling, selling, selling, vision, vision, vision.” They keep themselves small because of fear. They think that they can’t put themselves out there or they are afraid. A lot of my work is helping them with this community aspect to overcome those mindset issues that hold them back from success. I was in a class called The Class by Taryn Toomey. It’s a combination of physical activities and a lot of mindsets and spiritual stuff. One of the things that I was thinking as I was reflecting on coming out of that class was I grew so much in the last ten years or eight years than I ever did in the first eleven years that I was in business. The reason being is that I’m focused on the inside more than the outside like strengthening that tool to overcome and become resilient. Especially for highly visionary types or creative types who have great ideas and are driven and have a passion to move their business forward. We can easily get caught up in beliefs that aren’t true about ourselves that hold us back. If I look back and reflect, the thing that’s helped me and many of the designers that I mentor grow quickly is the inner work as opposed to just doing stuff because that’s all great. You always fall back into the same patterns if you don’t change what’s on the inside.
Out of curiosity, you mentioned something when you’re talking about your academy. You said, “Community over competition.” What does that mean? Talk about that.
There are many communities that are using that tagline. I hadn’t heard of it before we were using it but then other people started using it so I’m not claiming that I was the first. When I was an emerging designer and starting out, I had a friend and we had the same sales rep for a while. We would go to dinner and I asked her questions like, “Where did you get those hang tags?” We’re looking for new better hang tags. Hang tags are the little things that you stick on the back of a necklace or a piece of jewelry that would identify your brand. It has a logo stamp or something on it. They’re inexpensive. You buy them for $0.50 or something like that. I don’t know what they cost anymore. They are things that you buy in bulk and they’re not unique because they’re not things that have a unique design and multiple vendors have them. I was looking for a new one. She wouldn’t share that with me. I thought it was weird because what they had wasn’t anything super special. It was what a lot of other people were having, I was trying to source a new vendor. It got me to thinking that someone I’m such good friends with, because we would go to these dinners and trade shows all the time, wouldn’t help me with a vendor. What’s the point of having these friendships?
That goes back to that old mindset like if I give up my intellectual property, what I’m doing on the inside, then I’m going to lose my competitive edge. I don’t believe in that. No one can be you. No one can design like you. No one has your same message or story or whatever it is. That wasn’t the first time something like that happened. I noticed later in the year, she got this huge order from Anthropologie and she noticed that we were using the same stones and she had run out. She called me up and she’s like, “Do you have any more of those?” That was one of the first time where I think we have a strand and I’m like, “We have one strand. Do you want it?” She’s like, “I deal a lot more than that.” That’s the beginning of the breakdown of that.
What I wanted to create was an opportunity for people to come together and not be afraid that if they shared information and shared how to do things that it was going to jeopardize their business anyway because it won’t. No one can be you. No one is your brand. You’re not even your brand in some cases. What is it that’s different? Everyone ultimately sources from the same types of vendors anyway. Why not share the wealth and help everyone rise higher? You’ve probably seen this too in the groups that you’re in is that when people lift each other up and people are each other’s biggest cheerleaders, they’re excited about people and sharing and everyone wins. Their businesses get better. Whoever they’re helping with their businesses get better. It’s those people who continue to move forward and take action that has success ultimately so what’s the point of not sharing things or trying to be closed off?
I think the term is, “The rising tide floats all boats,” or something like that.
My cofounder, Robin, would say things a lot like, “Good givers are good getters. The more you give, the more you get.” It’s probably a quote attributed to someone but she says that a lot. That’s the basis of why we have a community. It’s awesome because it’s solid, it’s strong and I love helping people. It’s fun.
You said it before is you have to find the right people who are aligned with that mindset because from my experience, you can draw a line between people in a room, of asking that question like, “Do you believe in sharing versus conquering the world?”
I also think that probably in certain cases, with technology and stuff, you have to preserve certain intellectual property. There are business concepts that can be shared. There are certain things that probably I wouldn’t reveal the information behind something you’re trying to get patented.
You do have to be selective but for something that’s common knowledge, it’s not your IP. You figured out how to solve a common pain point that lots of other people are going through. It will come back to you in good karma for sure. You have a lot of fascinating things in your story that you’ve already talked about. I want to rewind it because what we focus on in this podcast is an opportunity. We are entrepreneurs at heart. We are visionaries and I want to show people how to spot and create opportunities through your experience, your professional life. You’ve got a bunch of very interesting things. Your first company went bankrupt, you launched a new one very quickly. You talked about how you hated being stuck in minute details. It would suck your creative energy and I totally relate with that. You also said that you set up your company to outsource the parts that you hated. I want to talk about that. For somebody who’s a visionary, and this is something that I’m working on in my business currently, that’s easier said than done especially for somebody who doesn’t like finishing. When you’re talking about setting up systems and processes, you had your highest profit month within eighteen months of setting this up. How did you start with the end in mind? How did you start with those processes? Just take me through that.
I’m using bookkeeping as an example. Most bookkeepers know what to do but for many years I had an office assistant who would come in and do stuff. I needed to give them the step-by-step. I think what became really important for me is having the step-by-step for production and expectations of how things need to be completed and also creating systems for follow up with my customers because that shorten my amount of time. What I’ve done is documenting what I’m doing as I’m doing it and then swiping it into a file because I’m still not very good at documenting systems. It’s not revolutionary but it is something that has helped me cut down the amount of time I’m spending on something. As far as outsourcing goes, I’m making jewelry. I found a team of people that could do it all here in New York. Before with my previous business, we had a hybrid where we outsourced part of it to manufacturers or piece workers as we called them because they’re people who would take some jewelry and bring it home and bring it back. People who worked in my office and they are more like employees.
There are different ways to look at outsourcing. Sometimes I use the term outsourcing as just meeting anyone who’s going to do something for you and get it off your plate quickly. Even though I had no money to do this, I figured out if I could pay $100 a week to this guy to do some of the tech stuff because that was hard for me, I even understand how to do it. What I would have him do is document what he was doing so in case of emergency, I could go and fix something if I needed to. I offered him five hours a week. He’s a college student. He ended up working for me full-time. We worked together for about five or six years all in. He started five hours a week. He’s a college student who wants to make some extra cash and it grew into this much bigger relationship where he ended up becoming my director of marketing for a while. What that allowed me to do was to potentially take what took him five hours was fifteen hours of my time. I was able to bring in a lot more money. That was how that shift happened.
In the beginning, it was taking a leap of faith. I had some backup things in place like teaching yoga because I knew I wasn’t going to be able to feed myself or anything like that at the time. It was like taking this leap, I’ll spend $100 a week to have someone take some stuff off my plate and how is that going to free up my time so I can get more clients. Immediately, I got offered this amazing opportunity to design collections for a $400 million company. Now, they’re probably much bigger than that. That brought in another $5,000 in cash every single month. Those kinds of things that people think like, “I can’t afford it,” but can you really not afford it in the right way? If those hours were freed, how could you spend that time doing the stuff that you’re better at that’s going to bring money into your business?
I spent a lot of money building systems or hiring somebody to help build system for our webinar agency. I don’t want to say it’s a failure. I hired somebody who was brilliant. Her name was Taran. She lived in New Jersey. She was super intelligent. I failed at it because we didn’t even have our own system. I’m like, “I’ll pay you to build something that we haven’t created yet.” I like talking about that because I have a hard time finishing. I expected somebody to finish something for me. It was a mess.
I have a good story about this. Year six or seven in business, I was in San Francisco. I live in New York City now and I have moved my company in 2006 to New York. Maybe this was 2005 or 2006. My business was growing crazy. We were getting into some big stores and that was part of the reason why I moved to New York. I asked my bookkeeper at the time, “You need some systems in place. You’re winging it all over the place.” I didn’t understand that that was an important thing because I’m one of those people that are like, “Here’s the idea. Let’s go with it. Let’s figure it out,” but I wasn’t documenting necessarily how to do that. I said, “Can you create the systems for us?” She said, “I’ve done that before, Tracy, but let me tell you it doesn’t work and here’s the reason why. I’ll create all the systems in a way that I would do it but that doesn’t mean that you will use them and then you’ll spend all this money. It’s a waste of my time and it’s a waste of your money.” If it’s not something that you’re actually doing, then it’s a waste of time and money. There was no one out there teaching how simple it is to document what you’re doing, which can be as simple as recording your screen or talking into a recorder or shooting a quick video that can be later transcribed. We didn’t have as many tools back then and it seemed so daunting to sit down and have to spend the time to write out a system when no one talks about documenting it as you go, which makes it so much simpler.
It’s its own art. It sounds so simple. It’s like, “You need to document your process.” I’m like, “It sounds simple.”
You’re talking into a recorder while you’re doing it and have it transcribed. That’s what I do. All my systems, I’m like, “I’ll be here, figure it out. Make it into something.”
I want to talk about the bankruptcy. You had a company for eleven years and it went belly up. What caused the bankruptcy and what did you learn from it?
I learned a lot from it. I started my company in ‘98 by myself. I was trying to figure things out, hustling and getting things done. I’m highly visionary. I feel that sometimes I’m throwing spaghetti against the wall to see what sticks and then if it sticks I’m like, “Let’s go in that direction.” I’m really good at making stuff happen. I’m good at generating revenue and making sales. I hate it when people think of sales as a negative thing. It’s always been for me about providing value and giving people what they want, which in some case is beautiful jewelry now, to run a better business or whatever it is. Back then, I was going, going and going.
If you know about the Kolbe, I’m a ten on Quick Start and I’m a two or three on everything else. I’m all Quick Start, all moving forward. I leave a trail of stuff behind me that was never cleaned up. What ended up happening is over time, I started hiring a team and I didn’t train them properly. A lot of my time was spent talking to them and trying to help them figure out what their job was. That was the first clue that it was wrong. This is where I was talking about how I was managing team most of the time, instead of letting them thrive in their roles. Then financial stuff starts to come up. We’re getting these bigger opportunities. We would get $100,000 orders from Anthropologie and those need to be financed somehow. We would work with factor at the time. A factor is basically a company that would finance your receivables so when you get a big order like that, you can have some cash coming in the door right away so that you can continue your cashflow.
They’re not paying you a check for $100,000 right out?
No, it takes them anywhere from 30 to 90 days. You’re paying for the stuff 60 days before or sometimes 90 days before. It’s six months without the money but you’re also trying to produce other orders and pay your team and keep your business going. There were times when it’s becoming a cashflow issue to take these bigger orders. The real thing that caused the bankruptcy was 2008. We were highly leveraged in the first place. I am taking a risk. I’ve done a bunch of trade shows because the ones that I was doing is expanding and my business was growing so much that I was like, “Do another trade show. Sure.” I say yes to going on QVC and taking these slim margins. I was saying yes to everything. I’m spending a lot of money way in advance and I didn’t see the return coming right away. I’m like, “I’ll figure it out.” I was just so working in my business. I wasn’t seeing what was happening around me.
Later in the year, sales started to dip over the previous year and I thought at the beginning like, “It’s me and my collection. I’ve got to adapt and change.” The trends in the industry were changing a little bit to more of a fast fashion is what they call it. People are wanting cheap things that they could buy and it was expensive. I always have designed very personal collectible jewelry that is not cheap. At that time, I wasn’t designing extremely expensive jewelry but it wasn’t cheap. I think it was a variety of those factors so that when we took a bunch of orders in the summer months for holiday and then the market crash in September or October that year, no one bought in October. October was always our busiest month. All of the orders were getting canceled, we weren’t getting paid for the orders that we had shipped. Three of my key accounts that we had big open orders with and they had the jewelry filed for bankruptcy and we had no cash. Several months before, I started working with this consultant.
Just to give you an idea, the year before, I shipped $150,000 in product. In October of 2008, I shipped ten. That’s huge. That’s devastating to a business. We had to immediately layoff people that we had just hired to replace positions. It was a devastating time for me and for a lot of people. I had hired this consultant and we were regrouping and figuring out what to do. I’m like, “How would I even do payroll?” We had to talk about restructuring what we’re doing and what do we do with the debt? You can’t pay it off anyway. Is it worth it to pay any of it off at this point until you figure out what you’re doing? This is happening to a lot of companies. They had to negotiate with their creditors. Our lines of credit were getting closed because of what happened with other people and so then our cashflow stopped. I had to take this hard look, “Do I want to fight for this company and try to figure out this? I was already so miserable anyway. Do I want to start over?” It wasn’t an easy decision. It took me probably about six months to make that decision.
In the meantime, my sister was working with me. We tried to figure out what can we do at the moment to keep things going until we decide. Six months later in the spring, we decided to close the company. Our final month in business was in August of 2009. I spent the rest of the year winding down and getting rid of inventory and then two years later, we had to file for bankruptcy. There’s a waiting period and stuff, I don’t know why. This stuff takes time. It was one of the hardest things ever. One of the best things that I ever did was hire this consultant. I was in my own crap. I was caught in the middle of this crap show basically that I was so proud of what I created, and then I was so ashamed of what I had created at the same time. I was very conflicted and confused because I did use a lot of things right. I built an amazing brand and had the attention of many celebrities and magazine editors and all that stuff I was doing a lot right. The sales were there to back it. There were gaps in the way the business was set up and it was wreaking havoc on my joy for the business, like feeling alive. I wanted to feel alive again and I wasn’t. That’s what a visionary should do. They should always feel alive and excited about what they’re doing.
When you came out and you pivoted, what do you tell yourself like, “This is what I’m going to do differently?” What was that thing? Did you have multiple things that you said you want to do differently?
There were a lot of things that I wanted to do differently. The first thing that I wanted to do was to decide what it was that I wanted my life to look like. What I missed in my first business is one of the reasons why I wanted to start a business. It’s because I was slaving away at retail and I was always working over the Holidays and on weekends. That’s when you make most of your money. I knew after I taken this jewelry class when in college that I was going to start a business. I was afraid to take the leap though. The pain got so great that I finally started a business. I didn’t want to work on weekends and the Holidays and I was still doing that even when I was an entrepreneur. I wasn’t very clear on what mattered the most to me.
What matters the most to me then was freedom and independence and to be able to do my own thing and to build a big brand that everyone knew about and be recognized as a jewelry star in the world. Now, what’s more important, it wasn’t so much that I claim or validation of having people knowing who I was. It was about having a profitable successful business that was making enough to be able to support my New York lifestyle, my love of travel, my love of wanting to go spend two weeks in California with my family or whatever and still be able to work. Something that was going to be easy that I wasn’t stressed out all the time or feeling I couldn’t do things like finding a partner or something. All my time was spent working. I got clear on what it is that I wanted. When I was working with my consultant, he helped me see. He kept asking me these questions like, “What do you love?” When I got clearer on that, which was working with the customers, designing and being a part of this, design pieces that people feel were meant for them and that they’re collecting and cherishing for the rest of their lives, that became the most important thing and all the other stuff fell away. How can I build a business that figures that out? It’s having the structure on the backend and a business model that is profitable and I can make money.
I’m assuming that had to be the big piece, changing the business model.
It’s huge. I stopped doing wholesale. I still think that wholesale is an amazing business model. In order to make the income that I wanted to make, you have to work four times harder than what I do now.
Can you give me a description of when you say wholesale, for the ones who might not be in retail, what was it? What was the pain that caused it so you couldn’t build this lifestyle?
You have to sell a lot of volume in order to make money. Nowadays, things are changing and a lot of stores are taking products on consignment. They’re not actually buying your product. You’re basically becoming a bank for stores. It’s different and the margins are much smaller because I would sell the product for the same price if I were selling it from my own website as this store would be selling it. They have to make money so you’re selling it to them for 50% off which is a normal wholesale margin or less than that. It’s a lot more work because the number of units that you have to produce is more to scale. I could make $1 million on a wholesale business doing bridge price point jewelry, which was $50 to $300 at retail and ship thousands of units a month in order to do that. Or I could work in fine jewelry with custom clients, meeting people out in the world that I end up working with and starting sales conversations with them by helping them out. I make five pieces a month and make less money, maybe a couple hundred thousand a year but make way more profit and have a better life. It wasn’t hard, it was easy.
It sounds like you’ve identified the leverage points that you didn’t have in the previous business and you knew you needed. Is this what your consultants helped you uncover? You gave that consultant a lot of credit. You said one of the greatest things that you could have done was work with that consultant. Did he help you see this or pivot to this?
He did. He was asking what I love. This is where this new business model came out of. It wasn’t something that we were working on but he could see that I hated what I was doing. He knew that I needed to do something else. I was so attached to keeping the old business open for a long time. He’s like, “I don’t think this is for you anymore and that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with that.” This was one of the first moments that it’s okay to change your mind and do something different. It doesn’t mean that what you did before was wrong. It means that what you want now is something different. I will try to pivot again. I’m thinking about launching a ready to wear collection that I saw on my site and maybe do wholesale again. It will be done in a very different way and very selective and controlled.
Did you even know that that new opportunity existed?
I didn’t think of it. The only way that I ever thought about selling jewelry was to stores. That was the only way you could do about then. The internet has changed everything. Now as people who are selling amazing products, we have opportunities to reach so many more people using our website as a tool. This is what my whole coaching program is about. I work with people in Australia, New Zealand and all over Europe as clients for my jewelry and then of course the US and Canada. We have this amazing opportunity to reach people everywhere who like what we do and it’s awesome. I work with a lot of people in New York, but I wouldn’t say that most of my clients are in York City. A lot of them are in San Francisco or LA or somewhere else. It’s fun to be able to do that.
When you say work with product lines, does it mean you’re working with individuals? You’re creating custom jewelry for a specific individual, not like a business.
I’ve done freelance stuff before where I design for other people. It’s not something I advertise, it’s only through referral. It is a lot of work to do that because there are a lot of specificities that people have. I’m focused on working with individuals. Sometimes they bring me a stone. Sometimes I’m sourcing the stone. A lot of what I do is repurposing heirloom gems and turning that into engagement rings or everyday pieces of jewelry that people want to wear. It’s all individuals and it’s awesome because it’s easy.
I’m sure you probably don’t want to finance anything.
Everything is paid upfront. They have to put 65% deposit down and the only risk I have is the 35% at the end to make sure they pay. Any big stones are paid for upfront so it’s low risk. I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone not pay me for an entire project.
That’s got to be one of the biggest pivot points that you made, was eliminating that risk. You mentioned it yourself and I talk about this all the time. I called it the experts curse. You were so buried in your own crap. You couldn’t see anything. You only saw one way. You had a consultant and he maybe didn’t show you this new way but he showed you there is more than one way for you to survive.
He didn’t show it to me but he pulled it out of me. This is why it’s so important for us to have mentors and people who can tell us the things that we don’t always want to hear. He can spy conversations for us to think outside of our own prison or our pain sometimes or get us to thinking in a different way because there are so many ways to be successful. A lot of people think, “It’s this one way.” For many years, Etsy has been this huge platform for makers to sell their products and everything’s changing with that. All these businesses are going out of business because Etsy’s algorithm changed. I’m like, “Let’s rethink this and regroup because there is another way. Let’s focus on that.” There’s always another way. That’s the one thing that I know. If what you’re doing isn’t working, focus on something else and make it happen.
That’s a very common story and it’s a very common theme that I hear when I talk to experts and entrepreneurs, particularly with people who are still employed and they were latching onto their business degree or whatever their degree is in college like, “This is the only thing I can do.” They view that degree as the only way. You have to open your eyes completely. This whole world of online education gives you the ability to learn a valuable skill in two weeks. You go on Udemy. There’s Lynda.com. I could have an entire podcast on how to launch a new career in two weeks. I might even create a course on that.
You should. I have a question. What’s your degree in?
Mechanical Engineering Technology.
My degree is in European Studies. I don’t know what I was thinking I was going to use that for in the real world. I studied a lot of art but I would like to travel to Europe.
I spent five years getting my Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering. In that five years, one year was an internship. By the time I graduated, I lasted eight months before I’m like, “I’m not going to be an engineer. It’s not going to happen.” Five years of study for eight months of using it, I’ve documented my entire journey. I call it timeline marketing and that’s why I like this rewind period. I’d like to see, “What were those pivot points?” I went from being a design engineer to a sales engineer to growing a territory of $2 million a year and then ultimately discovering the path of entrepreneurship. Everybody has that story of pivot points. It’s the whole purpose of why we talk about opportunities because you said it, there’s more than one way. If you think there’s only one way, you live in a box and you need somebody to take a step outside and open the doors, uncover that box or open up the walls and say, “This is a big world that we live in. There are a lot of opportunities. Let’s take a step back. Let’s talk about what you want to do and figure it out.”
I had the idea to start Flourish & Thrive and it was sparked. I was at a conference and my friend said to me, “You should do something like this for jewelry designers.” I was like, “I’ve been thinking about it but thank you for saying it out loud because it’s giving me permission right now.” There are a lot of people who do online courses and all the stuff now. The thing that I feel has been really important not only in what I do in the jewelry industry as a designer and what I mentor and teach designers to do. What I’m doing in the online space as a mentor and educating people, is that the only thing that is ever going to keep you ahead and keep your business growing is innovation. You always have to be coming up with the next thing.
The market can get saturated at any given moment and is saturated with stuff. I feel grateful that I have chosen this niche because there are not a lot of people who are my competitors really. I do have competitors I’m sure, but I don’t know who they are. There’s no one who’s doing something that is so niched like this. It’s interesting to see how when I see something maybe backsliding a little bit, how I immediately move into action to think of, “Where else can we go with this to create the best experience for our customers and also help them with their businesses even more that’s going to be the most helpful and get the results?” I’m not sitting on what works when I started my business because that’s not working anymore and it’s always an evolution.
There are so many opportunities out there and especially with technology now. You have to be innovating faster than you ever thought before. Heaven forbid that your software is selling, you’re opening it up for the entire world to improve upon it and make it better and it will be obsolete faster than you can even blink. It may take you a long time to launch and hopefully, it does very well but technology has accelerated the rate of globalization. If you’ve never read the book, Zero to One, by Peter Thiel, it’s a great business book and he’s a brilliant mind, but globalization is happening faster and faster.
Tracy, it’s been great. It’s been absolutely incredible. We’ve talked about a ton of stuff with your life. We went through the journey of you launched your first business, ran that for eleven years then it went bankrupt. What that did was open the eyes of new opportunity. You’ve got to think outside of the box. I’m sure it was a very difficult time to go through bankruptcy but it allowed you to see, “What do I really want my business to be?” We briefly talked about how you need to figure out what your superpower is and you know you’re a visionary. You know that when you get bogged down in the details, it sucks your creative energy out. We talked about the importance of building systems so you can hand it off to somebody else. When you do that, it opens up new opportunities. You talk about that as soon as you hired that guy for $100 a week, you landed a $5,000-month gig. It opened up that opportunity and now you’ve got Flourish & Thrive Academy after you obviously launch your consulting and your private client jewelry design business, which is way different than wholesaling. Is there anything that we left out?
It’s all good. We’ve got a lot out of there. I don’t know if there’s anything I left out but this has been a blast. I love talking about this stuff. Thank you so much for having me.
Where can people connect to you, Tracy?
You can head on over to my personal brand website, TracyMatthews.com and feel free to shoot me a little message there. You can find me on Instagram @TracyMatthewsNY. I have a podcast, Thrive By Design. It’s so fun. I love bringing this podcast to my community every single week. While the conversation is technically for jewelry designers, I think there’s business advice for about any entrepreneur or visionary type especially if you have a product-based business because we talk about a lot of the unique challenges that we have in selling a product. I’d like to have you head on over there. It’s available wherever podcasts are featured.
Tracy, it’s been an absolute blast. This has been an incredible interview. Thank you so much for taking time, sharing your expertise and sharing your knowledge. We’re two peas in a pod. We have very similar minds in terms of visionaries. I’m not a finisher. I’m great at running fast.
I used to be embarrassed when I do that, but it’s the truth. I’m not going to lie. I’m not going to hide behind trying to not be a visionary anymore.
Thank you again, Tracy. Please go reach out to Tracy. Follow her podcast. We will see you in the next episode.
Thank you so much for having me, Joel.
- Tracy Matthews
- Thrive By Design Podcast
- Flourish & Thrive Academy
- Robin Kramer
- Laying the Foundation
- Multiply Your Profits
- Diamond Insiders
- SOS accelerator
- Zero to One
- @TracyMatthewsNY on Instagram
About Tracy Matthews
Tracy Matthews is a Jewelry Designer, Mentor to Creative Visionaries and the Host of the Top-Rated, Thrive By Design Podcast. As a jewelry industry veteran, she’s been featured in InStyle, Elle, Us Weekly and Real Simple and on the Today Show, EOFire and Creative Live. As the Chief Visionary Officer of Flourish & Thrive Academy, she passionate about helping other highly creative types launch, grow and scale profitable jewelry and fashion brands. She lives in NYC, loves to travel and secretly wants to be the lead singer in a band.