Ward chats with Violette De Ayala, founder of FemCity about the benefits and difficulties of scaling a business sustainably, finding a price point that works for all people, and building an online community through social media.
- Company of One – Paul Jarvis
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Ward: [00:00:00] Hi Violet. Thanks for joining me today.
Violette: [00:00:02] Thank you Ward thanks for inviting me.
Ward: [00:00:04] Yeah, so as always let’s start off with you giving us a quick overview of your business and what you do.
Violette: [00:00:10] Sure, I am the founder and CEO of FemCity and we actually do online classes for women entrepreneurs. We help women either launch a business or grow business and that is really our sole purpose is just to help as many women around the world finally launched their business that they’ve always dreamed about.
Ward: [00:00:27] Cool. So is it fair to say it’s sort of like online business coaching?
Violette: [00:00:31] It’s actually combination. So we have about a hundred twenty five locations in the US and Canada. We launched and kind of grow 2-3 new cities every month. We are looking at launching also in Europe and some of the islands and we supplement that with online classes. We have a master class series. We do also have a course now as a 20-week course on the baby steps of how to launch a business. We realized that there are a lot of people in our community a lot of women our community that have always dreamt of launching a business but really didn’t know how to start and so now we have a 20-week course that really just walks them through it so that they don’t feel lost or they don’t feel scared that they really have the resources and the tools to go after their dreams.
Ward: [00:01:12] Very cool. So it just don’t understand you correctly. There was the online classes in the resources and there’s also the physical locations you have?
Violette: [00:01:19] Correct yeah. So we realize that there is great value and when we meet together face-to-face, so we have monthly Gatherings and some of our communities our little bit larger so like Philadelphia, Des Moines Chicago River and Valley those have about you know, a couple thousand women in those communities and then we have some smaller ones that are located in backyards, you know, kind of like the suburb little neighborhoods across the United States and Canada and they meet once a month they are capped at about 25 people per Gathering so makes it so that’s always very intimate and very private. It doesn’t feel a little overwhelming for some that are new to the whole networking scene and they all do the same curriculum. It’s an 80-minute format and includes a lot of gratitude. About other women in the world also includes educational piece and it gradually shut up for themselves who realize that you know, we go through life kind of like not realizing how great we are and kind of getting ourselves a shout out. So there is that piece included in our format that gives the opportunity for women to kind of give a shout out for themselves and they’ve accomplished that month or goal that they’ve attained and it gives the opportunity to applaud all their successes.
Ward: [00:02:27] Cool. Yeah, that sounds real positive. I like the theme of that. So just so we can kind of take a step back. So that’s where you’re at right now. Where along the lines did this become a membership business and what were you what were you before that?
Violette: [00:02:43] Yeah, so at the very beginning we actually started in Miami and the idea was just to have 20 women come together once a month in Miami and it was selfishly, I really needed this in my life. So I started it and never envisioned it to be more than just the 20 women. So at the beginning it wasn’t really even a membership was just kind of like a friendly get-together inviting some of the women that were in business for themselves looking to launch and grow looking for support kind of like a focus group also. After the first Gathering that we had it continued to lie. It just kind of continued to grow. So the second time we had like 60 women. I added some more components in the event, you know, add a speaker component a little opportunity for everyone to kind of give a shout out for their business and it grew and grew and by the end of that year I’m talking about 2009. By the end of that year we had women that were asking for from City location in their backyard and I had no idea what they were talking about because clearly we’re just getting together for lunch. So there was no there’s no thought of having it be a business model or a membership base or a club or any kind of brand that could grow around the world. I already had my own business. I was doing a PR head of PR marketing agency working on environmental and political initiatives here in South Florida. So this was really not even on my radar something that I would be doing full time in the future and it really wasn’t until I heard it so many times that I thought there’s got to be something more to this because they’re asking for it. I don’t really quite understand why they’re asking for it. There’s got to be something more profound than what I’m seeing. And that’s really where it started to Pivot Into kind of a traditional Chamber of Commerce format. So what you know, I really didn’t know anything else that was out there. But we did know the Chamber of Commerce kind of format where you had to join the chamber and then you are a member of the chamber. So we kind of copied that model at the beginning and we became a networking organization. We had about 10 locations and it created 20 locations and then we actually got approached by Google. We had one of our members works for Google the time and the Google Hangout platform was new and they really wanted to kind of share the knowledge and information to entrepreneurs small business owners. And so they volunteer they said hey, can we teach this these classes to your members? We thought that’s great. And after that series was done, by the way It was a great partnership with Google. When that was done the women in our community really started to say, you know what I really need more of this because social media had become now a growing Trend in marketing. A lot of our demographics are a lot of the women in our community or were over the age of 40 or 50 and believe weren’t feeling comfortable being tech-savvy with some of these new like Instagram and Facebook and Pinterest and Etsy and so we started to really develop our courses to be there of service to the women in our community. And so that kind of in change the entire model or the vision that we have for FemCity and I love sharing that part because so many times we start a business and we think it’s going to be one way and then it changes and we could have set or like disappointed but I think it’s important to recognize that there’s an evolution just there is for ourselves personally. There’s an evolution in many of the businesses as they become more and more of a resource of service to those that they serve.
Ward: [00:06:07] Yeah, I think that’s a good point. And it’s also something that that’s inevitable if a business is going to continue and grow and thrive in a healthy way because by definition if it’s around longer therefore, you’ve met and interacted with more of your customers, you’ve heard what they like what they don’t like. And so inevitably you’re going to make changes to your business. If you’re if you’re a smart business owner, obviously. And that it’s good to kind of stay open-minded right because you don’t really know exactly which way it’s going to go. It’s going to be based on what your customers want.
Violette: [00:06:37] Absolutey and I think of like big Brands like Netflix, right? So when Netflix came on the market, you know, maybe some of your listeners don’t remember but Netflix at the beginning was a DVD mailing system, right? So you would order your DVD and you would receive it and it came this very thin envelope and you have so much time to return it and it was a little bit cumbersome, right? It wasn’t it wasn’t so tech-savvy it wasn’t so revolutionary because it was better than Blockbusters because that made your life convenient, but it wasn’t as convenient as it could possibly be and that’s a brand that I love to watch because it kind of changed into like this other platform, right? So then it’s all digital. Like repurpose content and then they started creating their own content. And now look at the brand that they’ve created. So even brands that we love everyday they’ve gone through tremendous amount of revolutionary or evolutionary processes in their development as well where they look to see okay, how can we serve a million people? How do we make this easier? How do we make our lives better? How do we price it? So that everyone can afford a Netflix subscription. So I think that that’s those are some of the samples that were night when I talk about this theme, I love mentioning because that’s one that it took it took down Blockbuster, right Blockbuster was so big and here comes this, you know this other brand new with a new idea. And it just kind of morphed into what it is today, which is enormous.
Ward: [00:08:03] Right so to go back to where we were at you so you started with just a small get-together with with local women in the community to talk about entrepreneurship in Miami, right and that it kind of naturally blossomed from there and expand into other locations based purely on demand. At that time you were working in like a Consulting and PR role and then it sounds like some point along that timeline you transition to doing this full-time. But what were you actually like, when did you actually begin charging? And what was the business model?
Violette: [00:08:35] Yeah. So the beginning of from City, we only charged for the lunch and so we did make a little bit of money from the cost of the lunch and then of course what we charge for the lunch there was a little bit and I actually use that money to pay for our first website and we started charging the membership. Once the website was up and running there was no way it was just too too difficult to have people mail in checks, and we tried that for a while people mail in a check. You know an application and we mail them back, you know documentation that they’ve been approved as a member and so it was really something that started to grow or that we actually launched and verbalized once we had the website could actually take the order online. So that was a pretty big jump for us. And and then once we launch the membership it was kind of like, okay. So now we have this membership and you can get to the events but when we had the classes and the courses then that was a hole in. Other intentional pause, you know, we pause throughout our development because we could see where we were going and we needed to be able to structure ourselves with humans and also with technology to get us into that Arena. And so we threw out our last 10 years. We’ve definitely paused in our growth if we didn’t ask more locations until we were ready to that makes it next jump. And then we didn’t add, you know more membership benefits until we had the technology to go ahead and have it so that we have membership pages so that the rose more value obviously in the in joining the membership base and it was definitely a process along the way and I think the best thing that I can share with that is that it’s just like listening kind of seeing like forecasting where we were going to be how we were going to serve more people. How do we help more people? You know, we’re all in business to help others. So how do we get it to that we can help millions of people around the world with what we have right? We didn’t have billions of dollars in funding like many people. How do we do it organically? How do we do a Grassroots effort?
Ward: [00:10:40] Yeah, I think there’s a really important nugget in there about how you paused growth at one point to focus on how to basically set up the business to scale in a sustainable way, which I think that it sounds that sounds nice, but when you’re in the thick of it and you’re actually pausing growth. That’s easier said than done and I think it’s a little counterintuitive right because especially especially in America. Most people would consider you’re supposed to consider growing indefinitely. Right? And that is that’s kind of absurd if you think about right, no business can literally grow forever that some points will be going to have to going to have to give and by the way, are you familiar with the book Company of One by Paul Jarvis?
Violette: [00:11:21] No, I’m not.
Ward: [00:11:22] It’d probably bre right up your alley really talks kind of about this theme of staying small and only growing when it’s necessary like not, don’t grow for growth’s sake grow because it will benefit your man your membership your community in some way not just so you make more money. So I think it’s really really really smart of you that you were thinking through that. So just if you don’t mind would you mind sharing some of the numbers as far as what you actually were charging when you first launched the membership?
Violette: [00:11:47] Sure. So at first by the way, I love all that you’ve shared right there because I it when we did share intensely pausing like having to tell people we’re not going to launch any more communities for a couple months. That’s not really well perceived. Right people were like I what that’s crazy. Like you should be watching because I want this in my backyard, but we had to set it up so that it always felt like family. We never wanted it to be like this huge brands that doesn’t care about the humans like the individual human so some so glad you brought that up because there’s definitely pain along the way. So when we first started our membership base, we were actually priced pretty high. We were priced at 250 and we did sell some memberships. But I remember one day, you know being in business for yourselves a suit involving has a like a lot of aha moments and one day I was looking at the traffic and I was looking to see how many people were clicking on the membership page and then where they were going after. And I thought this is really crazy. We have so many people clicking on this membership page. But yet we’re not getting that much more Revenue. Like there’s a whole bunch. That’s like, you know, why don’t they joining what’s going on? And so we tweaked the words that we used we added obviously more benefit and at the end of the day, you know, we talked about serving others and how do you make a difference how to make a movement across the world? You price things so that everyone can afford. And so now it’s $9.99 a month and I had that idea and then I spoke to Renee from Lucini olive oil who’s one of my mentors. She reached out to her to ask her about the price point and I said, you know if I lower the price and everyone can afford it and it’s no longer a luxury, right? We had created as luxury brand and we were partnering up Ali Neiman Marcus or partnering up with Mercedes-Benz and if we if we lowered it we wouldn’t be this luxury brand anymore. You know would Saks Fifth Avenue still partner with us and. She said to me by let it’s very funny that you ask that because she went through the same thing with her brand. So lucini olive oil is US delicious. Like I think the best olive oil that that we have and the grocery store and she said that she was thinking the same thing that you know Walmart know it was Costco Costco had reached out to her. I don’t know. It’s either Walmart or Costco. Can’t remember. They had reached out to her to say. Hey, we want to carry your product here and she had that same thought like oh my gosh, you know my olive oil is like, you know the most beautiful and it’s like the olive oil and all the top chefs use my olive oil. I’m not going to put it in, you know Walmart or Costco, but then her Mentor said to her, you know, who do you think you are? Like, how dare you think that way your product should be there for All Humans, you know, why can it only be for certain people that make a certain amount? So when she shared that with me was a really big aha moment for me because she’s absolutely right if I really want to serve the world if I truly want to make a difference if I want to impact millions of women, you know that they can go ahead and move forward and create that business and grow. Make money then I then $9.99 is a great price point. And so we looked at that and that was a huge movement for us, you know to kind of lower our prices and be of service to more women and we’ve definitely seen a we saw growths in that and but that was a really tough moment. I think a lot of us kind of owe our value is so high and we have so much and we don’t even have competition but at the end of the day, what’s your goal? You know, what do you want out of life? How do you want your brand to help others and then think about that and then there’s always a sweet spot there where you have the value and what you’re giving and how you can go ahead and really scale your business for that price point.
Ward: [00:15:21] Right so just so I understand correctly you said initially it was to 250. So $250. Is that per year? Was that per month?
Violette: [00:15:29] Per year.
Ward: [00:15:30] Okay, and then you lowered it to $9.99 per month. So the initial price was was essentially almost 21 dollars a month and that and then it was lowered to $9.99 a month. So that’s a that’s a real significant change, you know, basically in half, so, you know, one thing we’ve talked about other people and just in general. Pricing is tricky. But you do need to charge enough to be a sustainable business in the sense that you don’t burn out. You can serve your customers and your in your clients. You can afford to hire help when needed like for example for support so that you don’t you’re not the one doing everything and if you don’t charge enough you really have to do the math on it, right? If you how many how many hundreds or thousands of customers if you were to get them at a certain price point. Does that math work out for you for all those things still be true for you to make enough money to live to pay support to not burn out and if it is so $9.99 I would argue is a little on the lower side. So I’d be curious. How do you handle things like support? Because I assume you’re getting a lot of members at that price point.
Violette: [00:16:40] Sure, so and that’s part of the intentional pausing. So we did an intentional pause last year and we found that we could be more efficient with our process so we could be more efficient in our onboarding of new leaders. We can be more efficient and sharing the information once someone does join. You know, what do they receive how can we make all of the steps in the running of FemCity more efficient and less time consuming so we can be more productive with our hours. And that I’m not working 14-hour days, you know everyday exhausted burning out. But that was part of that growth is like revamping the website revamping the processes creating a lot of tools that made things automatic. So now that when someone joins they receive everything that they need they receive videos, they receive step by steps. They receive the groups that they need to join so that that took a lot of time for us to create in order to get to this point. And that’s where that intentional pausing came through is okay, if we want to go ahead and be in 400 cities now by the end of 2020 and if we want to be in Europe as well, what are those things that we need to do, you know creating a website that’s easy to scale in other languages and creating it so that you know, there’s not that many people emailing for questions. You know let’s create an FAQ. Let’s go ahead and have an online chat as well. So there are ways that you can go ahead and say okay. This is where we want to go. And this is where the price point needs to be. How do we go ahead and create that same service or even better or service which I think is what we’ve done by utilizing what we have given and making things more efficient and there’s just so many tools out there that you know weren’t there two years ago that make life a lot easier and so we were able to incorporate all that structurally and in the process of pretty much everything we were doing so that it’s now really easy every single component within from cities very very easy to do.
Ward: [00:18:44] Yeah it all that all makes sense, right? So focusing on automation. Self-help, essentially from from the customers perspective making the flow of everything easier and more intuitive and I think that that all makes total sense to me, but for people listening, I think an important Nuance here to pay attention to is that you started at a higher price and went lower and automated things after you had gotten real customers and gotten real feedback and learned right learned what needs to be automated where the pain points are and it would be close to impossible to know that until you have actually launched and done this. So I think for people listening the takeaway should be you need to charge enough to be sustainable in the beginning because a lot of things aren’t going to be automated and there’s going to be a lot of support issues just because the nature of a new business launching your things you’re going to do things wrong things aren’t going to be. And so you need a price at a certain amount to be sustainable. And then I think your goal of serving more people at an affordable rate is great. You know, that’s admirable but I think is starting at a low price is a tricky place to begin. I think I might be a place to evolve to overtime potentially.
Violette: [00:19:51] Absolutely. Absolutely and also, you know, I want to add that sometimes you have to launch In order to see where the like you mentioned I’m just going to kind of add exclamation points on that is that you have to launch, move forward and then kind of watch and listen to see where those hiccups are and then start doing those hiccups. I don’t like doing hiccups all the same time like fixing the hiccups all the same time, but you know document to see like where are the volumes of the most hiccups coming from and then addressing those as you continue to focus on the growth, but I’m very grateful that you know, I found myself sometimes getting upset like oh my gosh, we should be in 600 cities by now, you know, we should be all over the world. But I find myself being very grateful that I was able to have a Clarity to fix some of the issues that we were having in order to be there in a stronger place to launch because I like I just we just change coding on our events as an example. We realize there’s a better way of doing our events. There’s a better system. So we changed some of the coding need to go back to it. We had like 400 events on the calendar had to go back and change the coding on that. And so that’s time consuming that’s stressful that’s lot of anxiety. But thank the heavens were only in a hundred twenty five locations. Imagine if I had been in 500 already, you know, so I feel like the growth like now we’re ready for the next batch of gr. And I think sometimes entrepreneurs struggle with like launching forward because they’re scared of like all these mistakes and all these hiccups and all these things you have to edit but it’s part of the process like just move forward and then watch and listen and just like do one at a time and eventually you will have them fixed. All those other issues. You’ll grow to another level. And there are going to be other issues that you have to kind of repair or make better and then you go to the next one. So I think if you look at it like that, it’s not so overwhelming versus like fixing everything or thinking like I can’t launch anythin because I really had a hiccup, you know, that’s part of the whole process like to embrace it.
Ward: [00:21:49] Yeah. So how when you were first kind of I guess expanding from that initial group in Miami, how did you build your audience? Because obviously you’re getting these 1-1’s and your meeting with people in that Community is getting larger. But where you also doing like email marketing or email list the same time like what were you doing to get people to know about FemCity?
Violette: [00:22:11] So I think the biggest thing that we, the biggest thing that sold FemCity from the beginning were the pictures that we posted on social media. And I think what made us so unique and different at the time at least it’s what people have told us is that the pictures reflected a unique quality what was captured in a local way. Members of the women that were coming to our events from the beginning was a very diverse group. It was every age bracket every color skin every height weight and the industries of these women like some more yoga instructors, some were lawyers, some were doctors. It was very very diverse and I think that was refreshing for a lot of people so I think the grassroot effort. Was really important for our initial growth and that was based on just the images that we were sharing on Facebook. So we had no website but it was just a pictures that were conveying a story and that’s what people were actually feeling but they want to be a part of you know, something in that picture made them feel like that was the home that they wanted to to go to be with, you know, that that’s like finally I found their place and sometimes we would have women that would come to us and. Some would say that you know, I finally found a place because we always Incorporated gratitude. We always Incorporated the spirit of community what that was like, you know to serve others, so we were different and unique and we stepped out in a kind of like a very edgy and different way mean now nowadays people talk more about spirituality and you’ve got you know, Oprah Winfrey’s got her show and there’s like a lot of more of that seemed out there, but we were one of the first kind of networking groups to break out and our slogan was you know business for your soul like really talking about that human connectivity that helps us. That was I think the beginning and then as we started growing it was it still really organic, its people that come to us or hear about us or see a picture of us learn a little bit more then they launched a location and their backyard or maybe they know someone who works for us launching a location. So it’s still kind of connected to the spirit of the organization that makes it so different and unique. And I think that really helped Propel, of course, they’ll have affiliate programs and referral programs and we have the ability for women to launch it in their backyard. So they can take that movement. You know, they use it as a platform for themselves. So they’re getting more marketing for their own business. They’re getting into PR and Publications and you know being keynote speakers. So there’s a win-win for everyone that’s involved with FemCity and that has helped us too. Do not have to have that billion dollar funding, you know to make it so that it’s truly grassroot and everyone that’s connected is connected because of someone else they knew that went so, you know, it’s their pros and cons obviously would be better if we had billions of dollars we would have gone faster, but I love it. It’s just has that feeling every event that I go to I fly in quite a bit to our locations in the US and Canada. I don’t show up with a name tag on. I you know, I’m just like everybody else there. No one really knows who I am and it always feels really special. And unique and that’s really important to me that it always has that that I guess that’s the community base of serving others. You know, that that’s just always the way it feels and that’s a huge thing also. How do you capture that across the world?
Ward: [00:25:26] I think the authenticity is important to maintain. So real quick when we dive into what what have you done that hasn’t worked come out like a marketing perspective.
Violette: [00:25:36] Well we talked about the price point. That’s it. One I think what also has hurt that has hurt us in that past is so we had a free membership and we gave a lot of content away and we did that for a couple of years because we felt like it was important to give free content was important to to be of service and so we gave away a lot and I think that actually hurt us in the long run because sometimes people you know, they enjoy getting free stuff all over the place and they don’t ever invest in the membership. Right? So that hurt us and we have like things like 13,000 14,000 that you know, that would come through our website go to our events and never really support the organization or support those members nearby because they weren’t a member. You know, they were just coming in. It was a free event. And so I think that that’s one thing that you read about a lot that so cheer free content free shot and we know we have a YouTube channel. We do a podcast we do have four content, but I think there’s a really very careful spot where you don’t give away so much. Because you do need to have people support your organization and you need to have people that invest in themselves and invest in others and I think there’s a wealth mindset also when people join networking groups or a subscription base, you know, they’re investing not only in that brand but they’re also investing themselves. Right what resources am I going to use from that organization to help my business grow? And then since they’re investing in themselves are gonna start investing other people around them, you know, they’ve got the kind of like wealth mindset going on where they. Is that if they invest in others by sharing referrals by you know sharing contacts or events or whatever it is that it’s going to come back to them. And that’s one thing that I think took us a little bit longer to recognize that we were just you know, making it too easy for people not to join. Why join if I’m getting all this stuff for free. Why join and I think that did hurt us and I have yet to read an article that says, you know, Share share as much as you can but be very cautious, you know to make sure that you you make it very attractive for them to finally join and that was a really challenging place for us to be in.
Ward: [00:27:52] Yeah, there’s definitely a line somewhere there. So if you don’t mind sharing as we’re wrapping up here, are there any membership resources paid or free that you might want to shout out that would be of help to other people?
Violette: [00:28:05] Sure I mean I’ve been in business for myself since the age of 22 and I wish I had had someone tell me exactly what I need to know. Right? So like just get to it just give you the bullet points and so because of that we have a monthly Master Class series that’s free for a members about five to seven classes. That’s the first Thursday of every month. I love that series. We also have a free course that’s 20 week course on how to launch and grow your business where we kind of walk through every single step. Even the legal parts of it creating a website. Of course how to do your social media. What all that means. So I think that really all the classes that we have are really spectacular because they’ve been requested by our members. And so when a request comes in we look at our team and we say like who’s the best to teach this class and we bring it to them. And I think that’s the most beautiful thing that we offer in addition to obviously that local homegrown feel, you know to connect with people in your backyard through our Collective format. But I think our classes and of course they’re you know, we have a 30 day free trial. So now we give the opportunity for women to you know, take a look and see how these are classes that are going to help them grow their business. They really want even launched a business. Maybe it’s not even for them. Maybe I’ve been dreaming about launching a business, but they realize you know what I don’t really want to launch a business, you know, like I don’t need to so I think those are my favorite parts of what we do and I love seeing businesses grow, you know launch and grow and flourish there. I think that’s like one of the most beautiful things you can see is the success of others because you had a little part in their in their path.
Ward: [00:29:35] Great, that sound good. Violette will end up there. I appreciate you taking some time to talk with us.
Violette: [00:29:39] Thank you Ward it was wonderful thanks.