About this episode

Nena & Co. makes unique one-of-a-kind artisan purses, bags, and accessories. This week the founder of Nena & Co., Ali Hynek, unpacks her startup journey for us. While her company may be known for beautiful bags and accessories, the heart of the company is to support individuals and families in Guatemala by helping to create sustainable income opportunities for everyone they work with. They are changing the lives and future for all the individuals and families that serve them to bring these bags to market.

I learned about Nena & Co. from a listener who reached out to me to inform me of the company's HUGE fan base. In fact, the fans call themselves the Nena-verse. Ali and the Nena team release bags for sale every Friday morning and Friday evening. They are sold out within minutes.

So why do they just release products on Fridays? Everything is made by hand in Guatemala, Mexico, and Morocco. When it comes to growth challenges, you’ll hear that Ali will point to manufacturing as the greatest challenge.

Ali’s story is incredible for many reasons. One key thing that makes Ali’s story rise above the rest is just how deep entrepreneurship is rooted in her family. In fact, I might need to invite Ali’s mom on an episode of her own. This is Ali Hynek’s startup story.

In this episode, you’ll hear

  • About her earliest memory of her parents owning a pinata company
  • While her parents were entrepreneurs, the idea of becoming one herself never occurred to her; instead she went to college in Hawaii and took longer than anticipated to finish
  • How she found out travel was one of her passions (traveling to 60 countries has something to do with it!)
  • Her story of trying to figure out what she was passionate about, including people and culture
  • About the time she tried to get a job at Lululemon and they wouldn’t hire her, but Restoration Hardware did
  • The experience and lessons about customer service she learned from her time at Restoration Hardware
  • How her struggle with infertility led her in the direction of Guatemala and the beginnings of Nena & Co.
  • The early days of Nena & Co., arranging to buy bags from Guatemala, setting up a website, and selling and shipping merchandise from her home in Orange Co.
  • Having an intimate knowledge of her buyer persona, how it has affected the growth of Nena & Co., and how she markets the products to her customers
  • There is so much power in asking your personal network to simply help support you
  • Her start on Instagram and the story behind how and why she began to start doing sales on Fridays
  • Having someone believe in you is helpful, but belief in yourself is true empowerment

“As entrepreneurs we do not do a very good job at celebrating the small victories along the way.” – Ali Hynek

Resources from this episode

The Startup Story LIVE! May 7th in Dallas. Tickets on sale now → http://startupstorylive.com

Creedon: Legal partners you want as you build your business and brand. Listeners get a 30-minute brand consultation + $200 discount on a trademark application. Visit http://creedonpllc.com/startupstory

Brex: The credit card specifically for startups. Visit http://www.brex.com.
Listeners, use code StartupStory and get fees waived for life!

Nena & Co.: https://www.nenaandco.com/
Nena & Co. on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/nenaandco/?hl=en
Nena & Co. Society on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/nenaandcomvp/
Ali Hynek on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ali-hynek-62462a132/

The Startup Story on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/thestartupstory/
The Startup Story is now on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/jamesmckinney
The Startup Story on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/thestartupstory/

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Contact him today at https://emeraldcitypro.com/startupstory

Special Guest: Ali Hynek.

Episode transcript

The Startup Story - Ali Hynek

Ali Hynek: Hi. This is Ali Hynek. I'm the founder of Nena & Co, and this is MY startup story.

Every wildfire began with a spark. Every superhero has an origin story. And every single startup has a moment that they point to as their beginning. And every founder has a purpose that drove them in the midst of all obstacles. THAT is The Startup Story.

James McKinney: Before we jump into this week's episode, I have a major announcement to share with you. When I created The Startup Story podcast, it was my goal to tell the real stories of what it takes to start a business. My hope in sharing these authentic stories was to encourage and inspire you to take the lessons from our featured founders and bring them into your own business, regardless of the stage that your business is in. Well, after 61 published episodes and hundreds of hours interviewing, it has become apparent that there are certain threads that always appear, truths that every founder speaks to when it comes to how they've been so successful at growing their business. And one of those key truths is that you cannot go at it alone. Entrepreneurship is too challenging and if you try to travel this road alone, you will reach a point where you'll just want to give up and check out. And if you don't have mentors or a community of highly driven people surrounding you, then there's nobody to help keep you in the game. Look, entrepreneurship is a game of attrition. The last one standing will win.

You need other entrepreneurs to connect with to help keep you standing, and that is why I'm announcing the launch of The Startup Story Live. Our first ever The Startup Story Live event will be held on May 7th in the great city of Dallas at the global headquarters of the Dallas Cowboys. Look, entrepreneurship is a tough game so what better way to lean into this truth than to hold this event on an NFL field. And here's what you can expect at The Startup Story Live. You're going to hear specific tactics from three highly successful founders. Are you interested? Do you want to know who?

Well, the first Luke Fox of White Fox Defense Technologies. Luke developed a drone defense technology that can mitigate drone threats up to 20 miles away with a device no larger than a walkie talkie. He has raised over $25 million in funding and has won numerous government contracts. Luke is winning on all fronts. We'll also be joined by Jamie Schmidt. Jamie founded Schmidt Naturals after she took a local community class to learn how to make her own shampoo. Well, after seven years from that community class she sold to Unilever for hundreds of millions of dollars. Yep, from kitchen to acquisition in just seven years, and we're going to unpack how she did that. Lastly, we're going to be joined by Baron Davis, two time NBA all star, serial entrepreneur and investor. In fact, he was one of the early investors in Vitamin Water, and has since invested in some incredible startups. We're going to discuss what he looks for in companies and how companies can approach him for investment.

This event is much more than just hearing practical tactics from some ridiculously successful founders. It's a way to meet other highly successful founders just like yourself, founders that are determined to win by continuing to grind it out and stay standing. You can visit startupstorylive.com to get all the details and to purchase your tickets today. This could be the very event that changes everything for you and your business.

And now, let's jump into this week's episode. Our guest this week is Ali Hynek, founder of Nena & Co. Nena & Co. makes unique, one of a kind artisan purses, bags, and accessories. The unique thing about Nena & Co. is that the company might be known for their beatuiful bags and accessories, but the heart of the company is to support individuals and families in Guatemala by helping to create sustainable income opportunities for everyone they work with. They are changing the lives and future for all the individuals and families that serve them to bring these bags to market. I'm going to be honest, Nena & Co. and Ali's story would have never become part of my world had a listener not reached out to me to inform me of the huge fan based Nena & Co. have. In fact, the fans call themselves the Nenaverse. Ali and the Nena team release bags for sale every Friday morning and Friday evenings, and they're sold out within minutes. The reason for this sales process of just releasing on Friday's is because like I said earlier, everything is made by hand in Guatemala, Mexico, and Morocco. When it comes to growth challenges, Ali will point to manufacturing as the greatest challenge. And Ali's story is incredible for many reasons, and you're going to discover that within this episode. But one key thing that makes Ali's story rise above the rest is how deep entrepreneurship is rooted in her family. Now I don't have anything scheduled yet, I might just need to get Ali's mom an episode of her own.

Ali Hynek: The earliest I can remember, my parents owned a piñata company. They manufactured piñatas.

James McKinney: Oh wow.

Ali Hynek: In Mexico. It was a story of desperation. They were actually living here in Utah and they needed money. My mom sent us to school - I think this is the story - with a little order form that was like do you want to order a piñata for whatever holiday was happening, and she said that they would send us back home with checks. This scenario just kept happening and she would go to more schools. I don't even think I was in school yet actually, and she started getting all these orders. She sent my dad to Mexico with a truck. She was making them herself at first, then she trained some women to do it at home with her.

James McKinney: In Utah?

Ali Hynek: In Utah, yeah, in Utah. My mom is from Guatemala. She was an engineer. Self made engineer, self made designer, self made graphic designer, incredible story. You should interview her too actually.

James McKinney: yeah, it sounds like it.

Ali Hynek: Her office is down the street. She kind of reached her max and then she sent my dad to Mexico with a truck. She said, "Go find some piñatas and bring them back." They kept doing that. Kept doing it so much that they decided we actually need to uproot, move to San Diego, and start something. They found the people, manufactured themselves. They have a patent in piñata making, believe it or not.

James McKinney: Really?

Ali Hynek: Yeah. That's probably my biggest memory, because they had it up until I was a teenager until they sold, and then it was just one business after another, and they own their own businesses now. They're different ones, but-

James McKinney: That is unbelievable.

Ali Hynek: … yeah. So naturally they are my partners here.

James McKinney: Unbelievable. So when… this is fascinating. I actually kind of do want to have your mom on a Startup Story.

Ali Hynek: Yeah, you really should.

James McKinney: A piñata business, that's unbelievable. So when you think to your childhood though, and again not now, but when you think to your childhood and growing up, you had friends who had parents who had jobs. Did you want to be an entrepreneur like your parents, or did you want something that seemed easier like a 9 to 5 for a company?

Ali Hynek: Right. It didn't occur to me to be an entrepreneur. I think what I asked myself a lot was how can I be happy, and that was always a question for myself, what is it that makes me happy and then the question right after was well what am I passionate about. Those were two questions that I really wanted to know.

James McKinney: Okay.

Ali Hynek: It wasn't like I'm going to run a business, what is it going to be, what could I do to work for myself. It actually wasn't that. I'm pretty low key. I want to take it easy, I want to enjoy life.

James McKinney: So at the end of high school though, we talk about these natural chapters in life and I'm sorry my brain is still spinning on this piñata enterprise.

Ali Hynek: Honestly, yeah.

James McKinney: It is unbelievable.

Ali Hynek: It's amazing.

James McKinney: And to uproot your family from home, Utah, to San Diego because of the growth of this business. Again, to put a timestamp on it their option wasn't like online sales for growing.

Ali Hynek: No, it was all wholesale.

James McKinney: So when you moved from Utah to San Diego I assume you're losing some of your customer base because they're in Utah.

Ali Hynek: Yeah, and especially because it was like the schools. So I'm not sure. You really will have to interview her. I'm not sure when they transitioned to we're going to go to trade shows. Because I also remember them being gone and going to party trade shows. That's what they were, like the party industry. Party City was one of their biggest customers, and their piñatas can still be found on the shelves at those stores.

James McKinney: That's amazing.

Ali Hynek: But they were doing a lot of wholesale I think at that point. Like I said, I remember them going to tradeshows. But it was wholesale. It was not direct to consumer. So actually that's how I thought I was supposed to do this business. So I thought wholesale, wholesale, wholesale. I did a good handful of tradeshows, and that was not my answer.

James McKinney: Okay. Well, we're definitely going to get to that, so let's keep progressing through your childhood. Coming to the end of high school, a natural chapter for us, things are coming to an end, we're graduating with a diploma. What was your natural next step? What do you remember saying well this is obviously what I'm going to do after I graduate. Was it school? Was it travel? What was that next step?

Ali Hynek: I'm honestly just wondering if I should tell you the truth.

James McKinney: Absolutely.

Ali Hynek: It's not exciting. I actually my parents had to push me to go to college. I don't know why, I just was like I'm going to cruise after high school and not do much. I ended up going to BYU Hawaii. Honestly, I think I ended up going to college because I was like awesome, there's a school in Hawaii that I can get into and go to, that would be great.

James McKinney: That's the only place you could go living in San Diego.

Ali Hynek: I know right? Where do you go from there?

James McKinney: Exactly.

Ali Hynek: So I loved the idea of getting out of the house and I started looking towards graphic design. I was interested in that. College took me a long time to finish.

James McKinney: Why?

Ali Hynek: Because I think I was just a daydreamer. I ended up traveling in my twenties to over 60 countries.

James McKinney: Wow.

Ali Hynek: Travel became I found out that was one of my passions. To travel you need money, so I would just end up getting these jobs. I was a server at multiple restaurants. I worked at a kiosk, the Glass Gallery, at a mall. I did so many random… I love talking with people about the jobs we've had growing up because it's just random, and we just did what we needed to do. I did what I needed to do to get money so I could travel, because that was the next thing.

James McKinney: That's what it sounds like to me.

Ali Hynek: Yeah, so it wasn't… I've never been driven by money. I've never been driven by how much money I can make or anything like that.

James McKinney: But in that season, what was driving you was the experience.

Ali Hynek: It was the experience of travelling and I knew I needed money. I would sell my car, I would sell what I had to sell. I would work multiple jobs and I was kind of going to school, so that's why it took me so long. Because I was like, school was not the top priority for me. It was getting out of the country.

James McKinney: What were your parents saying to you in that season? Because I mean it sounded like they busted their tail. Again, not sure how you funded college but I'll assume parents and maybe student loans, what have you but what were they chirping in your ear as you're kind of truly just sailing through college and traveling the world? And maybe legitimately sailing. Maybe you're on a sailboat somewhere.

Ali Hynek: yeah, I think I did that a few times. I can only remember them being super supportive.

James McKinney: Really?

Ali Hynek: Yeah, and they did help me with school but at some point they were like well, this is it, you're on your own with that. So they definitely helped. I definitely took out loans. I definitely at some point qualified for Pell Grants. And I figured things out like I could do my what was it an internship abroad. I got it to, what was it called?

James McKinney: Study abroad.

Ali Hynek: Study abroad. No, no, no. It wasn't a study abroad. It was whatever work experience I had to do, I got it to qualify.

James McKinney: I assume it's an internship. I didn't know it was internship abroad, okay. Internship abroad, there you go.

Ali Hynek: It must be an internship. In Uganda. I setup a project where I raised some money and I was able to go to Uganda for six weeks. I ended up graduating in exercise physiology, so it had something to do with health. We were going out there to help the people out there. I got it to count as credits. I was really creative.

James McKinney: Man, no kidding.

Ali Hynek: I asked them now man, now that I have my own kids… I didn't have a cell phone. I had to go to an internet cafe to email my parents that hey, I made it safe to Fiji or to wherever I was.

James McKinney: Unbelievable.

Ali Hynek: But I have to say that was always my number one priority was we got somewhere and I've got to find the internet. I've got to email my mom and dad.

James McKinney: It's interesting hearing this season, the way you journeyed through college because now knowing what we all know about entrepreneurship you can see how enterprising that was. You wanted a lifestyle of traveling and you were going to do what it took to get there. Now again, you weren't building an organization. You weren't building a team. It was I want this, I'm going to find means in which to get this to accomplish that. So as college comes to an end, I assume that your passion for travelling has not gone away, did not go away. So what was that next transition? Because at some point, life has to get real.

Ali Hynek: Yeah. I can't say that any of my work experience was really impressive, to be honest. I was actually telling one of the women here in my office how, and I was getting emotional, how impressed I am as I go through the interview process trying to hire. And as I've hired and worked with the team here, because all of them are so much more qualified than I ever was at any job I'd ever taken, and how impressed I was that they owned the skill set that they did. And how that still leaves an impression on me now, because I just wasn't sure of what it was I wanted to do, why I was working for a certain company. What kept me there, what drew me, and it really it wasn't the company, it was the underlying story of I want to travel and if they're cool with me taking off every now and then, I can be loyal and commit to being here and doing the best I can.

James McKinney: So what year did you graduate college?

Ali Hynek: I graduated when I was 31 years old.

James McKinney: So you graduated at 31.

Ali Hynek: I don't know what year that was.

James McKinney: So you graduated at 31.

Ali Hynek: And so obviously I took breaks.

James McKinney: Of course. You travelled, right?

Ali Hynek: I traveled and then I ended up working, and then I actually not until I was engaged to my husband at 31, he was like you need to finish school. You have three classes left, that's a lot of work and money you put into something you didn't finish. He is probably the final reason why I put everything aside and I just finished those last three classes.

James McKinney: There you go. But again, depending upon the year, date stamping it a bit, what year was this?

Ali Hynek: I'm 38. I'm going to be 39 this week.

James McKinney: Okay, so eight years ago is when you finished.

Ali Hynek: I can't believe it. Geez.

James McKinney: I'm 42. Want to talk about creeping up on you, it's crazy. Soon as you hit 40 man, things start hurting and you didn't realize they hurt.

Ali Hynek: They already do.

James McKinney: So that is 2011 when you graduate college. Nena is not on the radar at this point in time. No kids, a job is somewhere in that.

Ali Hynek: Barely.

James McKinney: Barely. So what, in 2011, the idea of remote working, you said as long as an employer is willing to let me travel, what was your step once you finally finished it and it was just you and your husband?

Ali Hynek: Well, it wasn't like that. It wasn't like I'm in college. It was I'm just getting that done so I can't say that I have an out of college into the work force, because it was all very like back and forth, back and forth. I was working for something but I wasn't going to school for something either. So mine's not a story of I was focused on getting school done, I k new why, I knew the job I wanted. I really was, and I think it's a common story, trying to figure out what makes me happy, and trying to find what I'm passionate about. It's harder than you think to know what you're passionate about, what is worth your time which was just the most valuable thing that any of us have, where do I want to put my time.

James McKinney: I think you had an advantage in that question though because you travelled quite a bit, so you got to… The reason we can identify our passion is through our experiences, the things we try and we'll never know if we're passionate about something without trying. So you had some tremendous experiences throughout your twenties where a lot of people don't. so I think you had an advantage in trying to figure out what it is you're passionate about, and what are the things you love. So with that in mind, how did you discover your ultimate passion that led you to Nena?

Ali Hynek: I think the biggest thing I got from travelling was how much I loved people. How we can be so different and so far apart, but have something in common. What I realized was I was so passionate about culture, about where someone came from and why, and trying the food and learning how they grew up, and why that was important to them, and why something so simple like a rug affects their whole family. My passion really became people and culture. Appreciating it, experiencing it, and doing something that was different for me.

I think that's something I became really passionate about and addicted to, and that's why I travelled so much. I traveled straight for nine months. I didn't come home, and I went from country to country, and then once I got home, that's why I was more focused on like, that's probably what got me distracted from school is that I knew I was going to be gone, and then once you're gone for a little bit it's really hard to get back into it. So when I got back I had to work because a little bit of debt there. Honestly, it was only $2,000 which I thought was going to kill me. I was like oh my gosh, $2,000 in credit card debt. Wasn't much because I had saved a lot of money and was super cheap on the trip.

Then, I just found jobs where my goal was like I'm going to take two major trips a year, and where is it that I want to go. So that was my focus. I didn't have boyfriends. I had a lot of friends, but my focus was not in a relationship with somebody, trying to get married, trying to further my career. It was very where's my next adventure and who am I going to meet, and a lot of people I'm still friends with. When I go somewhere, I know I can stay at their house.

James McKinney: Going to have to ask just because marriage grounds us a bit. What was happening in your life that you were like okay, I need to slow down the travel, I want to get married? And then did the travel slow down once you got married? What was this transition? Again, ultimately how do you get to Nena?

Ali Hynek: Still haven't gotten there. Marriage is something that I've always wanted. I knew. I've always wanted a family. I grew up very family oriented. I've always wanted kids. I think in the end, it wasn't that I never wanted that, it's just that travel really helps you just get away. I just never had met the right guy. When I met my husband in it must have been 2010, he actually probably did the only thing that could get my attention. He asked if I would like to join him and some friends to do the running of the bulls in Spain, and to go see the Tour de France.

James McKinney: He knew his market.

Ali Hynek: He really did. I was like I don't even know this guy, but I kind of know him, and I made sure there were other women on the trip. We fell in love on that trip. I literally had not gone on a date with him one time. Nothing. And I was so not sure of what the situation was that I had convinced my parents that they really needed to go to Italy at the same time. Although I would be in Spain and France, because I was like man I could just go on their trip and no harm, no foul. It's going to be fine. But our trip I think was two weeks. I met up with parents and my brother and sister-in-law were there, and they asked how was it and I said, "I think I'm in love." And I had never said that before. We dated long distance and I really was just so in love him. I probably had to convince him to marry me, and we got married a year later.

James McKinney: A year later, so 2011 you get married.

Ali Hynek: I think it was… it ended up being 2012.

James McKinney: 2012 you get married. I'm glad you knew that quickly.

Ali Hynek: Well, don't ask me the exact date.

James McKinney: So you get married 2012. Nena starts shortly after.

Ali Hynek: Yes.

James McKinney: How?

Ali Hynek: Yes. So it felt like a fresh start to me because he lived in California. He had a real job and he was just a bit more established. I was renting and I actually was jobless at the time. I finished school while we were dating and I moved out there, and I felt like I could do anything. This is going to sound so stupid. This is why I'm like should I tell the truth. I really just want to get a job at Lululemon. This is going to be so un- impressive to all those hardworking people out there you've interviewed. I could not get hired by Lululemon. All I had was time. He was working. We wanted to start a family. I kind of was like let's just get this easy job. All I wanted to do was work out right now. I'm in super good shape and I want to work at Lululemon. I interviewed at three different retail stores, I could not get… they would not hire me. I'm like I have a degree in exercise physiology, what do youw ant from me? What do you got to do to get a job there? I did not have what it took apparently, but I did get a job at Restoration Hardware. I mean, I have had good work experience. I don't want to make it sound like I haven't. I worked for publicly traded companies in market.

James McKinney: It's funny when you think about the qualifying and hiring process.

Ali Hynek: Yeah. And I like to tell this side of it because I got so much experience from different places, because I really can say I learned a lot from Restoration Hardware retail. Their customer service was phenomenal. Their warranties, the way they take care of the quality, all the stuff. I actually still talk to my old manager. Like last week I was talking to her. The dedication from the employees to the brand was impressive to me.

James McKinney: And the way they curate things, too.

Ali Hynek: Beautiful. I am a Restoration Hardware fan. While I was there though, I was kind of like well what is my life? We weren't getting pregnant. This is really personal information. We had infertility issues. I was already 31. I was like the clock is ticking literally for me. I had time on my hands. The stress of infertility is incredible. What some studies will tell you, it's almost like experiencing the death of a child.

James McKinney: Oh wow.

Ali Hynek: It's overwhelming. I was consumed by that. I needed to not be and in my opinion, one of the best ways to forget yourself is to do service for others as well as travel. I wanted to just connect with more of who I was. I had not been to Guatemala yet. It's just that it was my mom's country, and so I really wanted to go with her. So I told her listen, I'm going with or without you. I'm mixing the story up a little bit, but this happened before I got married. I'm going with or without you. I'd love it if you came. But there's family I need to meet down there. I have to know. I have to know more about. I have to know them. I have to experience it. I have to know where you were when you met my dad down there, where your house was that your aunt made your wedding dress. I need to know these places. I need to know where you were jumping over that trashcan and got burned, all these stories that she was telling about.

We went together. We went as a family and I loved it. Again, I'm going back. This is before my husband and I met. Then fast forwarding to being married, not being able to have the children we thought we were going to be able to have, and then deciding that we needed to be a part of something bigger, to do some service, to do whatever. We went back to Guatemala.

James McKinney: We being you and your mom?

Ali Hynek: Me and my husband, and my mom and dad. I bought some stuff at the markets. I bought some bags at the markets and I took them back. I would get compliments on them. And our trips mostly to Guatemala were visiting family, doing some of the normal touristy stuff but it was also doing family genealogy. The records there are really nonexistent or really not online. So it's very much going to graveyards, going to towns asking around, ,and it was a lot of outreach type of things which was an experience on its own. I brought the bags back and just from friends, girlfriends, would ask me next time you go, get me a bag. Next time you go, get me a bag. Then it was like I bet you could sell these. I was like well, do you think? This is something I love. It's a part of me almost. Do you like it? That was really my response, like do you like it.

My parents were very, for years, encouraging me to do something like my own business. They thought I should be something like photography because I'd travel so much and take photos. You should make books or you should do something with that, what are you going to do. Very encouraging, but I was kind of like eh, I'm not a photographer. But I remember thinking with that encouragement, with me dabbling in graphic design,, I've always dabbled in fashion and stuff like that, and realizing people were interested in what I was doing in my life. I took it and I still talk to this friend, I took it to her house and I brought her three bags and I said, "Would you buy any of these bags? Tell me the truth," because she was like a critic. You know you have that friend that they're like I know they're going to give it to me straight.

James McKinney: Yep.

Ali Hynek: And she said, "Yes, yeah I would buy it." Would you buy it if you weren't my friend? Would you buy it? And she was like, "Yeah, I would totally buy that." That was like the final I mean I did a lot of soul searching like should I could I, and how would I, but that was the last thing that I was like you know what, I'm going to do it.

James McKinney: Look, as a startup we know that legal concerns are necessary but oftentimes we table their importance because attorneys can be a challenge to work with and be so friggin' expensive, especially when it comes to IP work. All of us know that it's important to protect our brand. I mean, past guests we've had on the show even shared about some of their challenges as it relates to brand protection because they didn't prioritize it when they were getting started. In some cases, that misstep cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars.

All that to say, if you are a startup or an international brand, reach out the team at Creedon. They get all the challenges all of us face when we're starting a business from scratch, and that is why they're giving a 30 minute brand consult to all of The Startup Story listeners as well as a $200 discount on a US trademark application. Just visit Creedenpllc.com/startupstory. Now that's Creedonpllc.com/startupstory to schedule your consult today. Again, creedonpllc.com/startupstory. We'll also include a link in our show notes. But don't delay protecting your brand. I'm telling you, they're the ideal legal partners you want as you build your business and brand.

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James McKinney: You consider 2013 to be the beginning of Nena?

Ali Hynek: It was, yeah. It was the beginning. I talked to my mom because she was already doing stuff with some people in Guatemala, some artisans there. She was for another company that she had and sold already, if you're interested in talking to her.

James McKinney: My wheels are spinning. I'm like wow, she has a lot of different wares.

Ali Hynek: Yeah, she does. So she kind of already had a little bit of a network and she called her guy. The instructions were get 25 bags from the market place, no parameters really. It wasn't like make sure it's this leather. I didn't know. Just ship them here, ship them to her address. Then meanwhile I was designing my logo, designing what I wanted it to look like. I built my own website on Square Space. I did my own photography. I didn't have a camera yet so I was using my iPhone.

The website I wish, and I don't know if there's a way to go back and go through the history of your website on Square Space. We don't use it anymore, but it was so just exactly the inspiration behind the brand. I found photos of my mom and dad in the seventies when they live in Guatemala. My mom in traditional woven clothing and my dad there with, I don't know, they're such cool photos. It's like seventies photography which is really cool on its own. But that's who they were, and they were living there, and that was so inspiring me to see them, they were younger than me at that time even. Where they were and who they were, and where I'm from. That was all over the website, and I remember putting like taglines on every page. It wasn't marketing. It was like funny Spanish sayings that I grew up hearing from my mom. Some of them I translated them but some of them I didn't. But it was very almost like a journal to be honest. It was like an inspiration board almost for me. It might not have made sense to most people. It might have just been something they thought was like a creative direction.

James McKinney: Like Spanish poetry, they had no idea what it was.

Ali Hynek: Yeah, or they wouldn't have known it was my mom and dad. I did get a camera setup eventually but it was just very basic. I just asked a friend that did photography if he could come and help me. What lights I should buy because for the product I knew I did need consistency. I do know aesthetics, I do now like what good looks like.

James McKinney: So let me ask this question though. From a zero to one question. Your friend gives you the confidence, your critic friend, gives you the confidence that yes she would buy these bags, and therefore these bags will sell. So your mom goes down. You said your mom went?

Ali Hynek: She had a contact in Guatemala that she just basically said go to the markets, buy these bags.

James McKinney: Got it. So there was a direction to buy 25 bags, 25 bags get to you. 2013 why was the leaning towards even setting up a website to sell versus going on eBay and saying hey, is there truly people that want this? Etsy wasn't around so that's irrelevant, but eBay right? There were platforms on which you could sell. Why was your leaning towards let me create my own website versus let me see if these actually sell?

Ali Hynek: Because I had a sense of brand. I knew the importance of margins. I knew the importance of creating something with value. And I also had nothing to lose. Nothing to lose as in I remember having a conversation with my husband saying like, "How much do you think we could take and put into this?" and we're going to be fine. We decided it was $6,000 which felt like we could do a lot with $6,000 elsewhere, but that's the amount of money I'm going to take and buy a subscription to Square Space. I'm going to buy these bags. Whatever it was that I needed to invest in, boxes, going to buy my shipping materials which I guess was optimistic.

James McKinney: Yeah, I was going to say because already you're thinking again, I want to use your words, you're thinking from a brand perspective.

Ali Hynek: Yeah.

James McKinney: Because again, I think a lot of times if I'm thinking of just I'm going to see if people truly want this, bring them in, I'm going to go down to the postal office and get the priority box that I'm going to leverage. Maybe I'm going to print out a label.

Ali Hynek: Yeah. I will tell you it comes from my mom. My mom is very like what's the experience you're giving your customer, because hers is very… she's walked down that road and she was very like what is your shipping process. I remember her coming to my house, because we did it in our townhome in Orange County. I had it in the garage and I remember her literally standing there with her hands on her hips saying, "Show me how you pack a bag." I was showing her how I did it, and she was kind of like, "You need to think of this in the most efficient way possible, and what is the experience on top of that because when your customer receives the bag, that wow factor is going to be the first thing that they remember you by."

James McKinney: I'm really hoping part of that story is actually her scolding you in Spanish. That's why I'm-

Ali Hynek: It's not.

James McKinney: … I'm really hoping there's an element in there somewhere of that.

Ali Hynek: No. Usually it's like, eh, Nena. Because she calls me Nena.

James McKinney: Oh, that's where it comes from. Oh, got it. Okay.

Ali Hynek: Yeah, and it's what I call my girls. So Nena means like honey, baby girl. So it's like, "Nena, why are you doing this like this?" She's very much been my mentor through a lot of the process and still is. I was talking to her yesterday saying, "What's the name of that thing for the machine of the weaving?" So I was very much thinking branding. Actually, it never occurred to me to even get on eBay because to me, eBay doesn't mean anything. I am my customer. I am 100% in my avatar, and I knew that I was, and I got that advice early on who is your avatar, and I was like well it's me. I am the avatar, that's who I want to sell to because that's who I know is interested in the same things. She's creative, she's motivated, she wants to be happy. She appreciates other people and other cultures, she values the small things.

James McKinney: I want to unpack that a bit, because I think that is something that so many people do not give the appropriate weight of significance that it is, and that's understanding your buyer's persona, your avatar. But before we unpack that a bit, because that is so valuable, when you and your husband were having that conversation of $6,000 what are we going to do, and you start talking about thinking brand, thinking website and the experience. What were you thinking the business was going to be? Did you think it was going to honey, if we can sell 100 units a year that would be amazing? What were you thinking it was going to be at day one?

Ali Hynek: You almost nailed the conversation we had. I was thinking hey, Jeremy, if I could make like an extra $1,000 a month, wouldn't that be so helpful? I mean that would be helpful, right? And he was like yeah, it would totally be helpful, that would be great. I was like yeah. That was-

James McKinney: That's awesome.

Ali Hynek: … that was it. I think the idea behind branding was that I knew it. I knew it because I'd worked for big companies I was involved in the marketing, and I knew the impact a brand had from that perspective but also from my perspective as a customer. I care about brands because of what they stand for, how they make a product, the story. I get so attached to those things that I'm not really a Target shopper anymore. I like it, definitely.

James McKinney: But because there's no story with the stuff.

Ali Hynek: Yeah. I appreciate a good story. Again, honestly, it comes from my mom. Comes from my momma because she's very like, oh this is what I buy you, let me tell you about it.

James McKinney: I love it.

Ali Hynek: Yeah, and I'm like oh my gosh, yes. I'm a lot like my mom.

James McKinney: Let me ask you a question about that real quick. When it comes to your mom being Guatemalan. My wife is Puerto Rican, my mother-in-law is Puerto Rican and until you said it right now, I never correlated the fact that every gift from my mother-in-law has a story.

Ali Hynek: Yeah.

James McKinney: Like even if she went to Target and bought something, there's a story of the trip to Target.

Ali Hynek: Let me tell you, yeah.

James McKinney: Do you think, because you talk about… now we're going to talk about avatar personas, that passion for story, is that cultural or do you actually think within humanity as a whole stories matter?

Ali Hynek: Oh, I think it's probably a little bit of both. I think my mom is a very special person, but if I look at my grandma, her mom, she was the same way. Her favorite stories are us, but she spends four hours looking for the perfect present for her great grand children, and then she'll tell you why, and you're like, "Oh, I thought they were just a pair of sweatpants." Then I think of-

James McKinney: My eyes are watering as you tell that story because I'm just relating, so many different gifts I've received.

Ali Hynek: Yes, yeah. Then going to my abuelita, my mom's mom, before I was like, "Grandma, please don't get me any more stuff." Her budget is so low that the things she's getting me are things that I'm like well, I don't know if I'm going to wear this. To not valuing the things, it's almost going to make me cry, the things that she's putting so much time into, that that's where her value is. It's not in the money, it's in her thought process and why she got it for me. So it went from like that to like thank you so much, grandma. Thank you so much. Thank you for giving me a card every holiday, every birthday that you sign and I'm going to value those signatures so much. See, I'm going to cry.

James McKinney: I love it. Oh, I love it.

Ali Hynek: And, I don't know, it becomes very special. And then her sister is this like legend in my life. She's what drove me, my grandma's sister, drove me to Guatemala because she has her own story of being a hero to her family, and to my mom. We don't have it, we'll make it. We're poor, we can be clean. Those type of things that are just incredible to me. This is a small busy, it can be the best small busy. I'm running it from my garage, we can be organized. It's stuff like that, that I don't think… I think a lot of us have it in our lives and you can totally apply it to being an entrepreneur. But the advice is the same. You want to grow Nena? Where's the infrastructure? Where's your organization chart, let me see it. These are things she's still telling me. They're truth, they're relevant. And it's things that I heard as a kid, like the things of you can be poor and you can be clean, and you can be organized.

James McKinney: Oh my goodness, I love it. So within the persona, you talk about your buyer is you. All the level of detail, you love the details, you love the uniqueness of it, you love the story behind everything. How has that effected just your intimate knowledge of your buyer persona. How has that effected the growth of Nena and how you market your products? The passion behind the tribe that has surrounded you. Do you believe every one of those fans, I mean I feel like fan kind of cuts it short for how passionate your buyers are, but do you believe every one of them is like you?

Ali Hynek: I did. And then I had my first in person event, and I was like oh, we're all different, you know? But I think it's the same lesson that I learned travelling. Of course there's now one just like me. Of course you're different. Of course you have a different political , religious, you know, just family, the way you raise your kids. We're different, but we can find some common ground.

I believe some of the common ground in our community is actually finding a community, and finding one with good values. I really think the people in our community want to be a part of something good, and that's what I want. I want to be a part of something good. That's why we started manufacturing ourselves because we were outsourcing, having a guy make the bags for us. The bags were delayed. They were delayed because it turns out, he wasn't paying his employees on time. I was paying him on time. It was like why are we doing this if not everyone is benefiting? The goal is for everyone to benefit. From the person that weaves that fabric, to the person that is carrying the bag, running the errands with their kids. We want everyone to benefit.

James McKinney: That's awesome. So you get your 25 bags, you put them on Square Space, they sell.

Ali Hynek: Yeah.

James McKinney: At some point, they sell, right?

Ali Hynek: So I think I would go back though. I am an Instagram business, that's how I started. So I started by sharing my story.

James McKinney: in 2013?

Ali Hynek: Mm-hmm.

James McKinney: So you were very early on Instagram.

Ali Hynek: I was, yeah. I wasn't really into Instagram myself, but I didn't really know how to share that I was doing it other than on my personal Instagram account to say hey, this is what I'm doing, I decided to start a business. If you scroll way back on I think my personal feed, you'll see a mannequin I bought that I was going to put the bags on because I was the only one doing it, and I didn't know how to photograph the bags and show proportions, so I bought like a mannequin to hang the bags on. I seat belted her in my car seat. There's a photo of that. So I was really sharing my journey of starting the business. I think that what I did is when I started the Nena & Co. Instagram account I said, "Hey, now you can go see what I'm doing if you want to follow more for what's going on there."

So I really marketed only on Instagram. Then, I started to receive my product and they're all one of a kind. I didn't know how to look like a healthy shop. I didn't, with 25 bags it's okay, now there's 23, now there's 20. This looks like so like… not exciting to me. How do I sell 25 one of a kind bags? Because they're gone. Once they're gone, it looks like I only have 5. So I didn't think I could put up 5 Monday, and then 5 Tuesday. So I just decided I'm going to just do a drop on Friday. There's nothing on the website right now, but I'll have my first drop on Friday at Google what time is the best time people shop online, and I will do a drop on Friday. It didn't sell out. I mean, I told a lot of friends and family about it, and really there's so much power in asking your personal network to hey, I'm doing this, would you mind sharing.

People were way more willing to participate in that way then. Would you mind sharing that I'm starting this shop, would you mind sharing I'm doing a giveaway, would you tell your friends and family. And I'm telling my sisters, I'm texting them, and I'm telling them in person would you share it for me. That's how I started as my marketing, is just asking people to share for me, and asking that same friend that's the critic how do you do a giveaway online, what do you do.

James McKinney: That's awesome.

Ali Hynek: Then I remember the first order that was a name that I didn't know.

James McKinney: Of that drop there was somebody in that drop?

Ali Hynek: I don't remember. I think they were just kind of slowly going. I just remember specifically though. I remember who my first order was, and then I don't remember the name of the person I didn't know, but I remember being like, "Jeremy, do you know this person?" and then to my family, "Hey do you guys know this person? Anybody know this person?"

James McKinney: That is awesome.

Ali Hynek: And it was like no, this is not a friend and this is not a family member. That's like a moment that I'll always remember, because it felt like am I a real business? People aren't just doing me favors, somebody bought it because they like it.

James McKinney: So many consumer product founders have that exact same moment. That moment, it's such a source of validation like okay, I actually have something. Like Stance Socks, almost $1 billion company, and they can remember the first time a non family member ordered, like wait a second, we don't know this name. it's almost as if at that point, now we know we can do something.

Ali Hynek: Yeah. It's a monumental moment. It's fun. It's a great memory to have. But yeah, and I can't remember exactly when those bags all sold out. There's a lot of lulls of no product on the website, and I think that's just when I was having fun with putting pictures on the website, getting creative, taking photos. My husband, totally Instagram husband. I would just model everything myself because there's no budget. $6,000 doesn't go very far. Calling in all the favors, would you take photos for me, would you show me how to do this, whatever. Then it got to a point where it was always order more, order more. But there was inconsistencies. The leather was different. This one has backing on the strap, this one doesn't. this one's hardware is nickel, this one is antique brass. The hardware sucks, the hardware is breaking. Well, why are these repeals so different? These repeals, which are the shirts, the fabrics that are one of a kind. These ones sell much better so how do we get specific on the ones that we want? Customers, they're going to give you the feedback whether you want it or not, and I wanted it.

James McKinney: These were year one challenges you were experiencing.

Ali Hynek: yeah.

James McKinney: So year one challenges, because again you weren't making the product year one.

Ali Hynek: No.

James McKinney: Year one, you're seeing success because you're seeing people buying your product. Do you remember year one, how many units you sold year one?

Ali Hynek: I don't, but I am willing to share some numbers of the first year. The first year we were in business, we did just under $1 million.

James McKinney: Year one, almost $1 million?

Ali Hynek: Yeah. We were about like $750,000 or something like that in year one. I'm more shocked than anybody. I remember working at Restoration Hardware and looking at that ding, ding, ding of when you get sales on Square Space and Shopify, but on Square Space. I remember going to my locker, because you're not supposed to have your phone, and I remember the sales were $2,000 that day and I was like what am I doing here, at this store?

James McKinney: That is amazing. I would not have guessed that for year one number.

Ali Hynek: Yeah.

James McKinney: unbelievable.

Ali Hynek: It's crazy.

James McKinney: So I could see why manufacturing would be an issue, because you're pushing volume at that point.

Ali Hynek: Right away, right away. Right away an issue. Year one, we went really quick from… And we meaning either me and my husband, or me and my parents. I never went by myself, to be honest, to Guatemala. We were going every four to six weeks to Guatemala for 10 to 12 or 15 days. We were really just learning the business. Learning about the fabrics,, learning about weavers, learning about sourcing. We were very I need to know. I need to know from an ethical standpoint too, I need to know where that's coming from. This is a small business.

So my story is different from a lot of founders, that it's the story of desperation or it's do or die. It was the story of passion and of doing something that I thought would be good, and it felt good because it was where my mom was from, and it's a country that needs help. The people need help.

James McKinney: So when did it become that though?

Ali Hynek: Always.

James McKinney: At first it was your friends were commenting on your bag.

Ali Hynek: It was both.

James McKinney: So when did it really become just rooted and foundational that this was about maintaining heritage and bringing the artisanship up to the general public?

Ali Hynek: I think it was in those trips. It always felt like I was connecting. So there was always that heritage side there, but when it became really about the people was instead of just my story of connecting was on those trips. On those sourcing trips. And the sourcing trips are not like a sourcing trip to China or a tradeshow. It's like I love this technique in weaving, where is this from? This one is from Chichicastenago. Oh, can you make those? Talking to a weaver. Oh, no, you're in Antigua, we don't make those here. You have to go to Chichicastenago. You need to go to Lake Tikal for this design. We don't do that.

Now, things have changed a little bit because the weavers we work with, like that duo, the daughter you see, they are business men and they see the opportunity. We're looking for this now, and they're like we can do it, we figured it out, we figured it out. But back then it was very like this is what we do. If you want that, you go there. And most people weren't like we'll try and make that. They were very like that's their tradition, that's their heritage, they know. I don't know how to do that. So a lot of what we were doing was getting to know people and learning stories. There's always a story. Everyone has a story. There's a lot of interesting things that happen when you're doing that, because you have to earn people's trust.

There's a lot of people that come in and the like I'm going to do this, I'm going to do that, and then they're gone. Artisans don't like to make samples. They don't like to make samples, and how can you get a good product without sampling it first? So you have to really put your money where your mouth is. You have to earn their trust. You have to follow up. How do you follow up with somebody that doesn't have the internet, that doesn't have a phone, that doesn't have running water? You have to take care of their basic needs first. That's how it became about the people. I'm kind of like I'm ready to start a business, and they're like oh, you want to use the toilet? There's that hole right there. You're welcome to use it. You go and visit and they're giving you the best hospitality they know how.

What's the big picture here? Is it making money for me? Not really. Is it like meeting all these people and knowing that I come from privileged country, and I've had a wonderful life? We've had our ups and downs as family, financially or whatever, but I always had a better opportunity to go to school, to find a job, to travel, to drink water from the tap. This is not the life that they have. That's where the passion came about. They're so talented, they need help though.

James McKinney: That became truly foundational for you and your business, and I want to kind of piece a few different things together. When you first, when you and Jeremy were talking about starting the business like wouldn't it be great if we had an extra $1,000 a month. Year one, you do about $750,000 so slightly more than the $12,000 you were hoping for. Now it becomes foundational about supporting the people and the artisans in doing this. When that became your core, your mission if you will, did you see an impact in the growth of the business? Because now it wasn't about a bag, it was about a person. Did you see that translate into the growth of the business?

Ali Hynek: Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. I think that what I was really sharing was my experience, and I think that people were growing with me. It was like I said an Instagram business, and they were seeing me when I was in Guatemala, and when I'm meeting these women, carrying their children, doing all the things. A lot of people were experiencing it with me, and I don't know how many… There's a lot of people, I get messages from people that are like, "I bought a bag from you the first year you guys were open. I have Nena vintage." But I was getting more passionate about the brand because I feel like I'm a good person, but I'm still not going to just put my money to something that's not… I'm not going to just give without some motivation if I'm being honest with myself.

James McKinney: Of course.

Ali Hynek: And so although my cause had become greater and I had more of a purpose and I was more driven, I was super driven. I knew that marketing game has to come up, it has to move up. There has to be beauty. There has to be quality. There has to be a phenomenal product that has a good story because we're all going to buy into like the look, and the quality, and the functionality, and what it can do for me. But the foundation of the story should remain strong, and we shouldn't forget who we are, and I shouldn't forget to tell that evergreen content because that's where we get our disciples.

The people that are like diehard in it because they're part of something now. They're a part of Maribel and Lucia's life, and they're a part of Yolanda's life. A lot of them have met some of our weavers because we have in-person events where we bring the weavers here. We did a panel where I was deciding should we have Instagram influencers come, or should we have the weavers that create the bags? I was like why am I asking that question, it's the weavers.

James McKinney: That's awesome.

Ali Hynek: You can ask them the questions yourself. You can ask them how it's changed their lives yourselves. You can ask them if I'm taking advantage of them, because that's always a question.

James McKinney: Oh wow. There's always the skeptics, right?

Ali Hynek: There's the skeptics, but I don't mind it. You have to prove yourself. You have to. I took it really personal at first because I'm in Guatemala, going on these dirt roads, getting sick from like I don't know what, and then I see a comment online that's like oh how much are you really paying? You're paying that person $7 for a bag. I'm like really? I'm literally sick, giving all this stuff and my time, but you're behind your keyboard. Then I would go you know what, I need to share better. Thank you for that comment, I need to share better. If that's how you see my business, then I need to be more open about how I'm doing it and who the people are. Those comment, they're hurtful but they drive me to be better, to be like you know what, you're right. If that's what you see, then thank you for sharing that because I need to share more about the difference that you're making with your purchase.

James McKinney: So that is an obvious challenge that comes with growth, because you have more people involved. The more people you have that obviously the more people you bring to you, they're going to be skeptics, there's going to be fans, evangelists and skeptics, and they're going to be everywhere. But you grew really fast. Ernst & Young recognized you for entrepreneur of the year one year, I forget what year that was, and that's all driven by growth and opportunity. They see something on what you're doing and what can be. So for you as the founder, looking back now what has been the greatest challenge for you in growing at the rate you've been growing?

Ali Hynek: Oh, manufacturing. It's the forecasting. It's slow fashion. It's, like I said, to the T it's slow fashion. Everything that that stands for, it's sustainable, the carbon footprint we're leaving is so minimal. We have a zero waste program. It's just the process of these beautifully made, handmade products is almost painfully slow.

James McKinney: To the point that you can't meet the demand that you have, right?

Ali Hynek: Yeah, and that's created our business model for us that we can't meet the demand, whether I want to or not. It has pushed me to look at other categories. Like we started with vintage, one of a kind because I wanted to give back to the local economy in Guatemala, and my belief in heritage and traditions, stuff like that. We created the artisan line. And then there's just several things. There's a lot of things you can do with sustainability down there. Then I created heritage society, but that's still all in Guatemala, and it's still a lot of… So you have to picture this. We do our own manufacturing, meaning we outsource the textiles but we actually we do our own leather craftsmanship, assemble the bags, the hardware, the designing, we do that all ourselves. So I was listening to what's the guy from LinkedIn.

James McKinney: Oh, Reed Hoffman.

Ali Hynek: Reed Hoffman, yeah. I was listening to one of his podcasts.

James McKinney: Masters of Scale.

Ali Hynek: Master of Scale, I love it. Every company has another company. I was like man, that is so true. What is the other company behind Nena? It's actually manufacturing. I mean now we've been able to completely separate it and I'm a partner of the manufacturing company, but it's its own company. It's its own beast of sure, I'm good at marketing, designing, aesthetics, whatever, but do I know how to manufacture? Do I know how to source the leather? Do I know how to do the quality control? Where do you find the hardware? How do you do the forecasting? It's a lot. It's a whole other business.

James McKinney: As we unpack the complexity in manufacturing and it being its own business, I can see the emotion in your face as we talk about it. So that leaves me with the question in this journey, there may be listeners I suspect this is probably going to reach across your fan base because they're going to be like Ali's talking about her story, and I hope it does because I would love for people to hear the authenticity in this story. But in looking back at the journey, was there ever a point where you thought I just can't do this anymore?

Ali Hynek: Oh, yeah. From the very beginning. From the very beginning when it was just me by myself, I remember staying up every night until 2 in the morning, prepping the website for the drop, doing whatever it was I had to do, and fixing whatever it is. All the things I was doing on my own and I remember crying, and I remember just saying to my mom, "I don't think I'm going to do this." She was like, "Well, you have to have a goal of like I'm going to do it this long, and after this long then I'll reevaluate is this worth. Is it bringing joy, is it bringing value to my life, and then decide." That's great. She goes, "Well what's your goal, what's your timeframe?" and I was like, "At least six weeks."

She had your same reaction like, "Nena, I was talking about like a year." I was like, "I don't know if I can commit to a year." Because I mean everything is so personal. Any upset customer would bring me to tears because I'm exhausted. I'm putting my heart and my soul in it. It feels like a personal failure to have an unhappy customer. Then that doesn't even speak to gosh, these bags came in wrong, they came in damaged, I can't sell that, how much is that going to cost me, that was $25,000. What am I going to do now? That's the money we had for product.

James McKinney: We talk about the moment where you thought you couldn't do it anymore, what was the moment where-

Ali Hynek: I still have those moments.

James McKinney: I'm sure you do. As an entrepreneur, there's always going to be those moments.

Ali Hynek: Yes, never ends.

James McKinney: Where you realize I can't do it. It's one of those things, and it's almost the same thing that hits us over and over and over again, it's like really again I'm dealing with this issue?

Ali Hynek: The problems never stop.

James McKinney: So what was the moment where you really thought yeah, we have something now?

Ali Hynek: So I will say that the growth that first year was completely shocking to me. I don't even think I realized it. I'm not a numbers person. I don't like to focus on the numbers. I didn't even pay myself for at least two years because everything we were putting back into it, because we were growing so fast. We never took a loan, we still haven't. we haven't taken-

James McKinney: That's amazing.

Ali Hynek: … any partners, nothing.

James McKinney: I mean that's so awesome and I love that you're self funded, but it's still amazing to me.

Ali Hynek: And still I'm like I don't know. Luckily, we were blessed to have my husband have the income that we needed and I could just keep giving back into the company, and we could really grow as a brand. I think as entrepreneurs and people probably, we just but especially entrepreneurs, we don't take the time to stop and recognize our wins and successes.

James McKinney: Oh, Amen.

Ali Hynek: Because we're worried about tomorrow. We're worried about next month, we're worried about next quarter, next year. Wow this was a great year, but what are we going to do in January.

James McKinney: Yep, yep.

Ali Hynek: Are we going to be in business? I mean we still have those conversations. Gosh, I don't know if I can pinpoint because I think I still have that problem of looking back and being like what are we going to do tomorrow. But I think that those moments for me don't speak in numbers, they speak in experiences and of wow, we're making a difference, or we've made it. I think with the two communities that I feel a part of, the Nenaverse, our Nena Society, our private groups when we have in person events, and when people just show up. When we have these great moments of connecting with people, and when I can see their passion for it. Those are the moments where I'm like wow. I don't know them.

I think the other moments are when I go to a weavers home and they were able to build the second story on their home that they've had for 20 years just waiting to do. When I came to someone's house that I had used the bathroom that was a dirt floor with a hole in the ground, and they had bought a porcelain toilet.

James McKinney: That's awesome.

Ali Hynek: And they knew I was coming, so they'd lined the floor with palm leaves. Those were the moments that I felt like I had made it.

James McKinney: Oh my goodness. That's awesome. Oh my goodness. I would be remiss if I didn't ask what do you see in the next three to five years for Nena?

Ali Hynek: I think that always changes. I get that question a lot. I think about that a lot. When I'm a part of these mastermind groups. Most people are grow, grow, grow, sell, sell, sell, as in sell out. Not sell out, but sell your brand, you know. I know this isn't the answer that you maybe want to hear or whatever, but it's to find my happy. It's not necessarily to grow, grow, grow but it's to feel comfortable. To be able to provide for the people that have trusted me to work for me, work with me. To be able to find time with my kids and they're still little still, so it's not necessarily to grow and sell, it's to grow sustainably, responsibly, and to feel happy. To find joy in the every day, in my office and at home. And sometimes just growing, growing, growing is not that.

James McKinney: yeah, it can wear on you for sure.

Ali Hynek: Yeah.

James McKinney: Oh man, I love how honest that was. Thank you for that. That was fantastic. Three questions that I ask every founder as we wrap up. Do you believe that anyone can be an entrepreneur? Or do you believe you are born an entrepreneur?

Ali Hynek: I believe I was primed to be an entrepreneur because of the way I grew up, and then once I believed in myself. Having somebody that believes in you really helps, but true empowerment is when you believe in yourself. I still struggle with that, but once I was able to believe in myself, then I stopped bringing people to interviews with me. I could trust my decisions. And I could accept when they were wrong. I think that I was able to watch and learn. At home and also I've had work experience that I've watched successes and failures, and it gave me the courage to do it myself.

James McKinney: That's awesome. I love it. One question that I would never trim from any episode because it's possibly my favorite question, it's about gratitude. I truly believe that successful founders are where they are because of the people that have poured into them. So when you look back on your entire life's journey, who are the people that you point to with such immense gratitude for their contribution to where you are today?

Ali Hynek: I've said their names over and over, but Coney and Dave, my parents. My whole life it's just been yes you can do it, yes you will do it. Sure, try that. And I mean of course my number one cheerleader and fan as he tells me is my husband. I've had actually, I've had meetings with potential investors that come, and they're kind of like you have an interesting situation because normally we would shy away from such a deep family business, but you guys have figured out a way to make this work. Gosh, it's a lot of family.

I do have mentors that they're my go to. I really, really trust them in business and in life, personal decisions. I think that it's important for everyone, whether you're an entrepreneur or not, to seek out mentors. I feel very fortunate to have phenomenal mentors that are willing to give me some time. I can pick up the phone and say gosh, what do I do, what just happened, I'm so stressed out. Part of it, mentors but also your mastermind groups, your comrades, your peers. Find those groups too because they're the ones that you think that the world is ending and collapsing on you, and they're like oh, that just happened to me. To hear that turns your world around because you're like I'm not alone. Being an entrepreneur is very lonely. You need to find your people that you can trust, and you can really be honest, and they can be honest back.

James McKinney: I love that you said that because one of the things that I say all the time is entrepreneurship should not be lonely. You need to surround yourself with people. Part of what I love about The Startup Story is unpacking the stories that tend to not get told, because the listeners are in the mix of that right now. To your point, to hear that they're not alone in that particular trajectory is so encouraging.

On the vein of mentorship, the last question of our time together has to do with the fact that we've been talking to tens of thousands of listeners. Right now, my gift to my listeners is a mentor minute if you will, where we go from the tens of thousands down to the one on one. So if you could just picture yourself having a coffee or tea with one of my listeners, whether it be the frustrated entrepreneur who is just continuing to have cash flow challenges or hiring challenges or manufacturing challenges. Or the want-repreneur who's got a book full of dreams but some narrative as to why they can't pursue it. Maybe they think they're too old, they think they're too invested in their career, marriage, whatever the case may be. There's something as to why they don't pursue it. Or the defeated entrepreneur who's been punched in the gut time and time again, and thinks they don't have what it takes to execute. If you could speak directly to one of my listeners, what words of encouragement would you have for them?

Ali Hynek: I would like to talk to the person that is on the verge of starting their business and you're not sure how to go about it, how to just do one aspect of the business or all of the aspects of the business. I get that question a lot. Whether it's legal, whether it's sourcing, whether it's designing, whatever it is. I wish I had all the time in the world to do a mentoring one on one, but what I'd like to tell them is just go do it. Just go do it. You're not going to succeed the first time. You're going to learn so much. Whether it's sourcing out of the country, go there. Do a ton of research before hand, don't go empty handed. Know locations. Have a good idea that you've done your homework of this is what I learned online. You can learn so much online, and then go and do.

I have another friend that he calls people ask-holes, and he defines it as you ask, you ask, you ask and then you don't do, so you're an ask-hole.

James McKinney: I love that.

Ali Hynek: Don't be an ask-hole. Go and do it. Go and find out. Go and fail and know it's okay, and that you're going to learn so much from that failure. For you, that person that is just on the verge of starting and you keep doing the research, and you're learning, you're learning. Okay, great. You're not going to learn it all. You're not. I'm still learning so much. Just go and do it. Go and start it. Go and launch it. Go and source it. Go and buy it.

James McKinney: Please, hit me up on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Instagram sharing with me what was the most impactful thing you heard from Ali's story. I hope, I really hope you found some incredible value from Ali's The Startup Story episode. If you've been around The Startup Story for any length of time, then you know how much emphasis I put on the idea that entrepreneurs support other entrepreneurs. There are two easy ways we can support Ali as she continues to build Nena & Co. The first is to follow Nena & Co. on Instagram. The Instagram handle is Nenaandco, and also join their private Facebook group, The Nena & Co. Society. Now, like always we're going to include links in our show notes, but I need you to go to those show notes to click through and follow through and support Ali. All right, The Startup Story listeners, let's show up for Ali Hynek and Nena & Co. Elevating a business' awareness is an incredible challenge. Let's move forward and help support Ali in this area. We will include all the important links in our show notes. Remember, entrepreneurs support other entrepreneurs. And now, for my personal ask.

The Startup Story community has been so incredible about sharing our podcast with others, but we have more stories to tell and more people to reach. We too are a startup and word of mouth is everything, so please follow us on Facebook and Instagram @TheStartupStory or on Twitter @StartupStory_. If you're on LinkedIn, please search for The Startup Story and follow our company page. LinkedIn is a really powerful way to raise awareness of the show. But the most impactful way you can help us grow our audience is to leave a review on Apple Podcast. Or if you listen to the show via Spotify, then please simply share the podcast directly from your Spotify app or wherever you listen to the show.

These simple actions can make a huge impact in getting these amazing founder stories out to the masses. And please make sure to tag or mention The Startup Story when you do share so that we can connect with you and say thank you directly. I'm so incredibly appreciative of the fact that you listen to the show each and every week, and I look forward to sharing these amazing stories with you every Tuesday with hopes of encouraging and inspiring you to start your story.

If you like this podcast and are thinking of creating your own, consider talking to my producer Danny Ozment. He helps thought leaders, influencers, executives, and authors create, launch, and produce podcasts that grow their business and make a real impact in this world. You can contact him today at emeraldcitypro.com/startupstory.

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February 25 2020
Ali Hynek, founder of Nena & Co.

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