This week’s featured founder has a remarkable story and provides powerful inspiration for other entrepreneurs. Today I welcome Darbie Angell, creator/designer/founder of “Darbie Angell,” a brand icon and maker of bold and fashionable dinnerware. Darbie started her company without a single contact in the industry. While she was working at one of the largest law firms in the country she went into labor with her daughter when she was five months pregnant. It was then that Darbie was put on bed rest for four months, and while on bed rest, she decided that she wanted to start a company by combining her passion to impact the world with her knowledge in design. The real startup story of Darbie Angell is that Darbie wanted to show her soon-to-be daughter how to dare to dream big!
This week’s featured founder has a remarkable story and provides powerful inspiration for other entrepreneurs. Today I welcome Darbie Angell, creator/designer/founder of Darbie Angell, a brand icon and maker of bold and fashionable dinnerware.
Darbie started her company without a single contact in the industry. While she was working at one of the largest law firms in the country she went into labor with her daughter when she was five months pregnant. It was then that Darbie was put on bed rest for four months, and while on bed rest, she decided that she wanted to start a company by combining her passion to impact the world with her knowledge in design. The real startup story of Darbie Angell is that Darbie wanted to show her soon-to-be daughter how to dare to dream big!
Darbie’s company was started under very unusual circumstances - on bed rest, without the support of her ex-husband, with no business mentoring, and with no initial capital to fund her business. However, her passion and her purpose - her “why” - fueled her, and she refused to let fear hold her back. As she says, “You have to be willing to face your fear and find your way through it.” That’s exactly what she did. This is Darbie Angell’s captivating startup story.
Connect with Darbie on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/darbie-angell-33667729/
Darbie Angell on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/darbieangell
Darbie Angell website: https://darbieangell.com/
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Special Guest: Darbie Angell.
The Startup Story - Darbie Angell
Darbie Angell: Hi, I'm Darbie Angell. I'm the CEO, designer, and founder of Darbie Angell, and this is MY startup story.
James McKinney: 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.
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James McKinney: Before we jump into our episode this week, I want to share a review that was posted on iTunes by Matt C, who gave The Startup Story a five star rating and wrote, "James is truly an inspired interviewer with a unique skill of drawing out much more in the story than most people. He connects very well with all his guests in a professional, entertaining, and informative way. The Startup Story has a huge range of skillful entrepreneurs with very different backgrounds and goals. I currently work for Destiny Rescue, an anti- trafficking organization that is committed to ending sex slavery around the world, and I for one am more motivated and encouraged each time I listen to this podcast to continue to fight and grow the entrepreneurial side of Destiny Rescue. Keep up the great work. I look forward to hearing what's next." Wow, thank you Matt C for an incredible review. In fact, your review prompted me to Google Destiny Rescue, and then visited Destinyrescue.org. I just want to say, you inspire me. Your mission is one that I, and really everyone should be passionate about. So to all my listeners, please visit destinyrescue.org and see how you can get involved to help end sex slavery around the world.
It is humbling to hear how The Startup Story can have an impact on social entrepreneurs. I truly do want the amazing stories of our founders to inspire the masses, so please keep sharing the podcast with your friends, family, and LinkedIn network. Just a reminder, if you have found any value in any of The Startup Story episodes, please leave a review. I will continue to read one each week, so plug your brand in the review just like Matt did with Destiny Rescue. Giving your business a plug is the least I can do if you take the time out of your day to write a review.
Now, let's jump into this week's episode. Our guest today is Darbie Angell, creator, designer and founder of Darbie Angell, a brand icon and maker of old and fashionable dinnerware. Darbie started her company without a single contact in the industry. While she was working at one of the largest law firms in the country, she went into labor with her daughter when she was five months pregnant. It was then that Darbie was put on bed rest for four months, and while on bed rest she decided she wanted to start a company by combining her passion to impact the world with her knowledge in design. The real startup story of Darbie Angell is that Darbie wanted to show her soon to be daughter how to dare to dream big. In this episode, you will hear how important it is to block out the naysayers in your life and focus on your dreams. You will learn how Darbie funded her startup while on bed rest with no financial support from her ex husband or those around her. You will discover how easy it can be to quit on your dreams if you forget what your passion and purpose are, because it is those key elements that will carry you through the incredibly challenging times.
As we jump into Darbie's startup story, I just want to set the stage for the circumstances in which Darbie started her company. She was placed on full bed rest for the remaining four months of her pregnancy. She had zero business mentoring. She had no capital whatsoever to fund her startup. And her ex- husband was completely unsupportive of her goals and ambition. As you let those challenges sink in for a moment, I want you to ask yourself would you have moved forward like Darbie did? My assumption is that many of us would say no, but the reality is that Darbie was incapable of saying no. Facing those challenges head on was part of her very being.
Darbie Angell: So I think it's definitely in my DNA. My grandpa invested in… he's the one that founded Chili's restaurant.
James McKinney: Oh really? That's awesome.
Darbie Angell: Yeah. He brought that to life. It was just a hole in the wall that he literally served chili, and so it is in my DNA. Before that was intelligence. One of the first in that and would go up and decode crazy stuff. My dad's an attorney and so I learned my work ethic from him, what it truly looked like to grind every day. It isn't given for free. So it was in my DNA and then I learned work ethic. I also learned how to celebrate life. My family was amazing at that, at saying, "We've worked hard, but we press pause and we enjoy life at the same time."
James McKinney: That's awesome.
Darbie Angell: It was just an amazing upbringing. My parents put me into so many different things from I raised lambs, showed horses, judged cattle. I played piano from when I was three through high school. I ran cross country, power lifting. There wasn't anything that I wasn't involved in, all different aspects of life. So it was just a great upbringing.
James McKinney: If you were to think through, obviously every family's different, was your grandfather heavily involved in your life or were you just from geography you're too far apart family wise, or was he in your life regularly?
Darbie Angell: He lived in Indiana. I was in Dallas, Texas, but we had such a strong bond. When I got into high school, it became apparent that we shared just this strong connection. I would stay with him and he would just open up to me and tell me things that he had not told other people about his past. This is why I am like I am.
James McKinney: That's awesome.
Darbie Angell: I understand him. I had worked so hard… I'm kind of jumping ahead, but I had worked so hard. My grandpa had gotten dementia and I had flown up. We were having a root beer float. That was his favorite thing. He did not remember me at this point. But he loved root beer floats. So we were having a root beer float on the porch and I said, "Grandpa, I finally made it into Macy's," and wanted to take him there. There was one that we had gotten into 30 minutes away. I know that he didn't know who I was, but he was thrilled. He was thrilled with this girl telling him my startup story. He resonated with that drive. He had that in him still, so it was just such a special moment knowing that my grandpa operated on the opposite end of finding people like me, and understanding what it took. Then there was a girl on the other side saying, "We did this."
James McKinney: That is awesome. Oh my goodness, I love that. So growing up, let's jump to your high school years. What did you want to be? Junior and senior years, career days, people are talking about what are you doing for college. What did you want to do in junior and senior year?
Darbie Angell: Okay. So I grew up in the country. I grew up in a city. All of my friends really had to work to support their families. We're talking the kids in high school were also responsible for helping to make their electric bill just to keep their lights on. So the way my life looked and the way a lot of their lives looked were two different. I grew up having a great appreciation for everything that I had. I didn't take anything that my parents did for me for granted, because I saw how blessed I truly was. Growing up in high school, I was not a stand out at all. I was just like faded in to everyone else. Grade wise as well as just in general, you would not have looked at our class and said, "That's the girl that's going to make it." But, inside I knew I was different. I had not a dream to start this company, but I knew and I would tell my friends. I don't care what they're doing. I never had this urge to compare myself to other kids in high school. I'm so blessed by that.
James McKinney: Yeah, no kidding.
Darbie Angell: And I would just tell her, "I don't know what I'm going to do, but I'm going to do great things, and I'm going to make an impact on the world." She believed in me. I know you are. And I know the way that she was looking at me, she's like, "I have no doubt."
James McKinney: Let me ask a question about that mindset that you had there. The fact that you were in high school and you never compared yourself to those around you and that you knew that you were going to do something great. You didn't know what it was, but you had the thought process that I am going to do something great. Do you have kids now?
Darbie Angell: I do. I have two daughters.
James McKinney: Awesome. So can you put your finger on whatever that was in your childhood that gave you that ability to have that perspective and that mindset, and if so what is it, and how are you trying to instill that into your daughters now?
Darbie Angell: Right. Okay, so I think it goes back to just being involved in so many different things in my life. I was forced to say go out there, put yourself, raise these lambs, show them in front of all of these people. Go out, play the piano, do recitals in front of a huge crowd. You could fail. That's okay. I was in so many different things in life and it's impossible to be successful at all of those things. However, I think just being involved and getting started into different things showed me it's okay if I fail, I don't really care what I look like if I'm doing it and I don't succeed. So I've done that for my girls as well. Two totally different personalities. Gianna's 11, London's 5. We just came back from Florida. This is a great example. I took them to Fort Lauderdale, and I was like, "Girls, let's go parasailing." An 11 year old and a 5 year old.
James McKinney: That's awesome.
Darbie Angell: I don't even know how far up in the air we are, but it feels like 500 feet. So my five year old is like, "Yes! We're going to kill it, it's going to be amazing!" She's up in the air, five years old, no fear. The boat is like a speck. My 11 year old on the other hand, I mean I used to be like her so I totally understand what it looks like to have to face fear in the eyes at first, but I'm trying to push her. She was like, "Oh my gosh, no you're not going to make me do this." I'm like, "Just come out. Watch London and I and if you see that you like it, then you can go up as well." Well, the guys on the boat were like, "Okay, Gianna, we think it's best if you go up first." And she did it, and she loved it.
James McKinney: That's awesome.
Darbie Angell: Same thing with ice skating. London wanted to ice skate, Gigi didn't over Christmas. Gianna ended up loving it as well. So a lot of people that are around me at the ice skating rink, Gianna was having a panic attack about ice skating, and everyone around me was like, "Darbie, do not force her to do that." I'm like, "No, I know when she gets out there. She has to face this fear. She can't be held back in life because she's scared." So she went out and she's like, "I'm going to be an Olympic skater now." Everybody around me was like, "How did you know to make her do that?" Each child has their barriers, their hard limits and you as their parent will always know what it is, that limit to push them to. Pushing them to experience different things in life. Travel is huge to me as well, so getting them to travel the world with me. They really want to go to the Middle East so I'm looking at taking them for the first time this summer. London wants to find a pink camel, Gianna wants to lay on the beach. So we're going to accomplish two things at once.
James McKinney: That's awesome. That is awesome. Thanks for sharing. It is amazing to me though to go back to Gianna, how brave any of us can be for those moments. Like parasailing, right, she's a few hundred feet in the air, but yet going on ice was terrifying. We just tell ourselves and we forget, not knowing the order in which they accomplished, but we forget the things we have done in life when we're facing an immediate fear now.
Darbie Angell: Exactly. It's like a muscle. I look at facing fears like you are working out, and this applies to entrepreneurship. I'm putting my girls into my world so that if they choose to become an executive in anything, they can feel what that muscle feels like ripping apart right now, so that as they advance in their own lives and in their own careers. Once they feel that tension, they will know, "Hey, all I have to do, I'm going to get through this workout. It's going to hurt right now, but when I get to that other side, I'm going to be so much stronger and I know I'm going to be a better person because of it.
James McKinney: That's awesome. Oh my goodness. I'm excited to have your daughter's on The Startup Story in a decade or so.
Darbie Angell: I know!
James McKinney: So you're in high school. You know you're going to do something great. What was your next step? Did you go to college or did you just go straight into trying to create something?
Darbie Angell: I did. So I went to college and I had a crazy stalker. It became apparent. I was bound and determined to stay. He was breaking into my house. At the end, it ended with him coming over to my house with another guy on the football team. I was like clinging to the doorframe as he had my legs. Another guy, thankfully, drove past my house, saw what was going on, pulled in and was able to stop everything.
James McKinney: Oh my gosh, wow.
Darbie Angell: So I had gone to the school. I went to a Christian school, by the way, which was like they did not handle it well at all for what was going on. But I had finally, that was the line. I was like I can stand my ground as I have, but something… I'm blessed that guy drove by because if he hadn't I might not be here. Who knows what they would have done to me? I was short a class. I knew the dean of the college and I went to him and I was like, "I have to, will you allow me to continue just this last class away from here?" and they refused.
James McKinney: What?
Darbie Angell: He looked me in the eyes and he told me, not to build me up, but he told me, "Just to let you know, statistics show that since you're leaving here you won't become anything."
James McKinney: Oh my goodness.
Darbie Angell: And I looked back at him, and I was like, "Just watch me." So I left. My dad being an attorney, I had been raised being his paralegal basically since I was like five. I moved to Austin, Texas. Started here, worked my way up. Every law firm I went to, I was like I want to be the best. I want to go higher. During that time in my life, it was crazy. I had one attorney, he made me do tests with my pencil lead to make sure the staple… I was like okay, this is, I'm like wasting my life here. So I called a head hunter. I was like, "Girl, get me the best job in Austin, Texas. I don't care if I'm not qualified. I will work my booty off and I will get it done. I'm not playing with this kind of thing anymore." So she did. I was at the top of my game there. I wasn't happy, though. I was great at what I did, but I wasn't happy. I was sitting in a cubicle, just passing papers is what I felt like. It meant nothing to me.
James McKinney: Yeah. Now let me pause on that real quick. So did it mean nothing to you because of the tasks itself, or did it mean nothing to you because you just knew inherently there was something more? Why did it mean nothing to you?
Darbie Angell: I knew that I was meant for so much more in my life. Not that if you're a paralegal that isn't-
James McKinney: No, of course.
Darbie Angell: … enough. Maybe that is your calling, but I know inside of myself, it wasn't what I was meant to do. And I was going down this journey, this path, and I was succeeding at it but it was not my path. It wasn't my dream. I had just been falling in line because that's what made it easier for everyone else in my life. Everyone around me was saying no, you're a southern girl, just fall in line. Please make it easier for us. Can you please stop speaking up? I was 20 weeks pregnant with my daughter Gianna at the time, and everything in me, I would have discussions with my ex-husband. I know I'm supposed to do this. I don't want my daughter growing up knowing that her mother wasn't who she should have been, and I want my daughter more than that to be everything that she is supposed to be. So how can she become who she's supposed to be if her mother is not who she is? Everybody at that time was like, "Just wait until she's 18 and then you can show her." I'm like that's not how it works.
James McKinney: That is not how it works.
Darbie Angell: No, no. So I went into labor at work. This is how unconfident I was at that time, and my only driver was my unborn daughter. So went into labor and I told the girl sitting next to me, I was like, "I think my water just broke," and she was like, "You have to go to the hospital." I was like, "But I have like, this much stuff still to do."
James McKinney: Oh my goodness.
Darbie Angell: It's ridiculous. That's how like un in control of my life I was. So go to the hospital, get put on bed rest for 20 weeks.
James McKinney: So your water broke 20 weeks early, is that what you're saying?
Darbie Angell: Yep.
James McKinney: Wow.
Darbie Angell: So went into the hospital. I stayed there for a few days. They put me on medication, were able to stop everything. They were like, "You can only get up," if you don't know what bed rest is, you can get up to pee and get back in bed. You can't even take a shower every day. They want you just like laying there. For a type A that's like sudden death. I dusted my nightstand next to me like multiple times throughout that first day on bed rest. I'm like I don't watch TV, so I'm going to waste my life away watching the Food Network, HGTV? That's not me. So I had told my ex-husband, "I'm going to start my own company and make it into Macy's."
James McKinney: While on bed rest?
Darbie Angell: Yeah. Okay. You're hormonal, you're going back to your real job after the baby is born. I'm like, "No, I'm on bed rest for 20 weeks. You can't do anything to me." He's like, "Well fine. I'm not giving you any money." Well, that could have stopped everything, but I said, "Nope. There's a partner at the law firm that has four diamonds." She had this like grand idea she was going to become a diamond broker on the side of being an attorney, but she couldn't get rid of the stones so I told her, "Cindy, give me the stones. Whatever you want, tell me and whatever I get on top, I get to keep." So she was like, "Take them, I can't get rid of them."
So I flipped them in bed, because my ex-husband did not want to be involved, so my brother drove his booty down from Dallas, Texas to Austin, Texas, four hour drive, picked up the diamonds from me, and we FedEx'd them to my semi adopted brother in China. He sold them for me, because my brother here and in China were like, "You are meant for so much more. You've got this." Wow. I just made so much money on these diamonds, I need more diamonds. So I started Googling until I get this guy, I want to be like at the diamond mine is what I want. Because I found people, but then I'm like my gross profit margin isn't high enough. I want more money if I'm going to flip these stones.
James McKinney: Pause real quick Darbie, just because you've covered a lot of ground and there's so much good stuff there. First off, I hope all of my male listeners have heard all the things her ex-husband said and made a note of the things to not repeat, so let's just put that out there real quick.
Darbie Angell: Right.
James McKinney: Secondly, you're on bed rest. You're contemplating a new business. Your ex-husband, at the time was your husband, was not supportive of the idea. What were you thinking in that space, because you are physically limited because you're stuck in bed. Obviously we have laptops, we have the ability to do things. What was your mindset when you're in that space? You probably had some concern for your unborn child at that time, like got to make sure I keep things stable, have a healthy labor later, being 20 weeks. But what was your mindset in pursuing this, being that you had no support?
Darbie Angell: Oh, yeah I had no support and I had no knowledge in what I was doing either. I fully believed in myself only for my daughter. I will show her that this is not her life, and in my mind while I was willing to put up with, live with the things that were surrounding me, in my own mind I was like if a man ever did this to my daughter, I'll go kick his ass. She will not know a life like this.
James McKinney: That's going to be one of my quote images for Instagram, just for the record. Just letting you know right now.
Darbie Angell: And that is like what is so important to me. I'm like even today, things that happen to me, I'm like it all goes back to my girls. If my girls ever go through something like this, it's going to blow up.
James McKinney: So with the diamond opportunity, because again you're bed bound, you've acquired these four diamonds from a co-worker attorney, and you found a means to broker them through your adopted brother in China you said.
Darbie Angell: Yes.
James McKinney: So let's talk about, because you use the diamond brokering to fund what becomes your venture. So what kind of, these four diamonds, what did that net you financially?
Darbie Angell: I made like $5,000 off of those, and I knew what she had made off of her cut, and so I was like if I can make all of that for myself, the women in China were for the first time just starting to be able to afford diamonds. The middle class, there was not a middle class there. So the people were like, "Get us more stones. These are like peanuts. We can sell them like peanuts." I'm like, "peanuts," that is what they said. That word will forever live in my mind. I'm like I can get you tons of diamonds, just let me figure it out.
That's what I did and I got this guy, I Googled and got closer and closer to the diamond source. I got this guy in Israel, so I call him. His name is Humi, and I said, "Humi, I'm Darbie Angell. I want to buy some diamonds from you," and he was like, "Ugh, you're a little American girl, I don't have time for this." I was like, "No, we're going to be best friends by the end of this phone call." He was like, "Fine." I wired this guy money from bed that I'd never met, and I was like crap, I'm never going to see my diamonds. I'm never going to get my money back. No one knew what I had done. Thankfully, the diamonds came just a few days later. They were what they were supposed to be, and I continued to just bootstrap my whole company on flipping diamonds up until two years ago.
James McKinney: Up until two years ago?
Darbie Angell: Yep.
James McKinney: And Gianna is 11 you said.
Darbie Angell: Yep. And so Humi and I have this most amazing relationship. It was my first lesson on a few things. How to deal with different cultures in business, being a woman also in business, and Humi was the only one. He wanted to be in control, so he owned his company and he had other people work for him. But Humi and I had such a strong relationship that if I needed stones, Humi would always come in whereas that's not normal for him. So Humi had gone to an event and somebody else sent me stones. Well, one stone was not what I had purchased out of the bulk.
So I called. "Nope, I'm not playing this game, give me my diamond that I bought." Humi and I got into a huge argument and it was the first time in my life where I had to stand up as a woman. I'd always been taught as a southern woman like listen to the man, do not speak up. This is going against everything that has been engrained in me from a child up. I was like, "No, everything is banking. I'm not losing money on this. This stone is worthless." He started laughing. "This was our first dance, I just stepped on your toes, and I'm really sorry, and I have so much respect for you for standing up for yourself. I'll send you the correct stone tomorrow."
James McKinney: Wow.
Darbie Angell: Now looking back after that, I'm skipping over some stuff but there were men in my factory. I started in China, moved to a Muslim country, and the Muslim men refused to speak to me. It was like every move I made, everything that I had been taught, I was going against everything in my life but with each thing that I pushed through, I became stronger. For the first time I was building my confidence inside myself.
James McKinney: There's a couple things I want to unpack there. One, I think there's some interesting tactical things for entrepreneurs on the diamond fundraising mechanism to how you grew your business, but let's get to that in a second. The first thing I want to talk about is the journey as a female entrepreneur. Episode number 12 or 13, we had Tiffany Sorya, the founder of Novel Education Group, and we talked a little bit about the challenge of female entrepreneurs. The fact that I have to even say female entrepreneur in front of entrepreneur tells us about the state that we're in. When you hear venture capital dollars to the point of 3-7% of venture capital funded startups are female founded companies. When I hear stories of a cofounding team going in to pitch VC's and all the hard challenges being directed towards the men, and the soft pitch ones towards the female.
When you hear these things, you know that there is a real challenge that female founders have to face, and you shared some of your journey in dealing with Humi and the Muslim workers in your factory. But really, your challenges started at home on bed rest with your ex-husband. So let's talk about what are your thoughts on the challenges and opportunities faced by female founders versus male counterparts. What's your thoughts on the challenges that female founders face?
Darbie Angell: There are challenges but I will tell you they're also blessings as well. I feel like I should start with my blessings first because I don't want to start out by saying, "Oh, poor me." No. I am so blessed to be surrounded by so many strong women. Kendra Scott stood beside me and she's like, "Darbie, what are you doing with these diamonds? Let's stop playing this game. You're moving on to real." So she had introduced me to Steve Hicks. It was her first investor, the first person that believed in her. I met Steve. Steve is the most amazing man I could have ever met. He looked at me and he said, "Because you are a woman, I want to invest in you. You have so much drive. Because you're a woman, you're more loyal than a man as well. You're open to listening to me, too." Those were all qualities that he saw in me, being a woman, that he wanted to do that.
I now have another gentleman, Robert. It's Steve, Robert, and Kendra that are my partners. And Robert, the same way. Our hearts all align as well. They are so driven to make an impact in the world. They wouldn't be happy with me if I wasn't. You have to choose your circle. Yes, I will tell you about my struggles as a woman entrepreneur as well in a second, but no, because you're a woman does not mean you have to allow yourself just to know those strains. There are people out there that will see you as being an asset because you're a woman.
The struggles that I had being a woman entrepreneur, first with my Muslim factory. I started out in China. They ripped me off. So I moved to Bangladesh without knowing a single person. It was shortly after 9/11. My brother and I got on a flight. I'm a white girl. I'd never been out of the country before. This is my first trip out of the country.
James McKinney: Oh my gosh.
Darbie Angell: To a third world country, yeah. Once I finally got to the factory, the men refused to speak to me. I looked at a guy named Fayez, and I said, "Fayez, what's your capacity?" Nothing. I turned and I looked at my brother, and I was like, "Hm." This is a conference room of like 14 men and me. I was like, "Have you done any audits?" Nothing. I was like, "Aaron, can you ask Fayez, ask him the questions?" and he did, immediate answer. What the crap? So I had two things that I could have done. I could have been like, "That name on that check is Darbie Angell. Talk to me or I'm out of here." But I didn't.
I had seen sites on the way to the factory. I had seen death on dirt roads, and I knew I was being called to be there for some reason. I felt this sense of… I'm religious. I felt God saying, "Darbie, patience. You are supposed to be here." For that first year, I said, "Nope. They will only learn my heart and know I am here to help them in whatever I can help them." So in that first year, each of my men lost children due to unclean water, infections, and at the end of that year, they each came to me and said, "I don't know why. You are just a good person." Our beliefs are two totally different things. They're all Muslim faith, they're Christian, but they all came to me and said, "Darbie, we just want to be with you. What can we do for you? You always take care of me, what can I do for you now?" I said, "Give me more women." So we start out with 50 women, now we have 3,000.
James McKinney: Oh my gosh.
Darbie Angell: Yeah. And for Valentine's Day two years ago, we always meet in February together, and so for my Valentine's Day present they got me my first woman doctor. So this woman saw everyone for free. You could bring your children to the factory and they will be seen for free and taken care of. So now we have four women doctors at the factory. One has started her own hospital, so your whole family can come and be seen for free. It started out that we gave them three hot meals a day. So if you come to work, you will be fed. And in a third world country where you have to wait in line for rice, that is a huge deal to them. We take that for granted here. You have clean bathrooms, clean water. And we also have now put in this past year free childcare. So if you're a mother and you have a toddler, you have an infant, you can bring that baby to work. We will watch the baby for you while you go to work, bring in an income for your family, and then also free transportation. So we go out into villages, two hours out, and bring the women in. So you have every-
James McKinney: That's amazing.
Darbie Angell: … opportunity to become an artisan with us and to become part of the family. I'm so passionate because in that culture, only 3% of women get to work. Now we have 3,000 and they live in families of like 20. So now we're being able to impact 60,000 lives by these women getting the opportunity to do this.
James McKinney: That is unbelievable. There's a couple things I want to state clearly just blow me away about those last few minutes we spent together talking about your blessings and opportunities as a female founder, that first one being that you choose who you surround yourself with. Steve and Robert are your partners, and you choose them. There are people out there that don't give the credibility or respect to female founders, but you've chosen I'm not part of that circle, and so therefore that is not part of my world. I love that and I hope that many of the female founders that are listening can start having that perspective for themselves as well. I also hope too that for the male listeners, if that is something that has crossed their mind, that they shift their perspective on female founders. You said Steve invested in you because of the loyalty that a female founder will have, and the creativity and the work ethic. So I think that is something… a great learning for everyone.
The second thing that just blew me away is how you handled that factory scenario. The pride of an individual can well up and say, "Well, I'm going to go and control this whole situation. I'm going to move and basically screw you, I'm taking my business elsewhere." But you said, "No, I'm called to be here. I'm called to serve here," and this is probably an embarrassing moment when that first situation happened, but you knew what your purpose was and you stayed true to it. It's because of your power and influence as a female founder, you're able to change these lives that are in your factory right now. That is such an amazing story and I love that you shared that, so thank you for sharing that.
Darbie Angell: I would encourage women and men, if you have something that is a struggle. In my personal life, I was facing men telling me, "You can't," by my ex-husband. But I turned that around. I saw other women having the same issue and I lifted them up. You have the ability to do that. It drives you harder, too.
James McKinney: Yeah. So now, the other thing I wanted to talk about as you were talking about your starting of Darbie Angell, after this I definitely want to jump into Darbie Angell and how you actually got into Macy's from being on bed rest. So the diamond business that you had, and Kendra Scott talked to you and said, "Okay, it's time to stop playing with that. Let's get some partner investors." One of the things that is interesting in the entrepreneurial space is that because the tech startup has created so much visibility and noise in entrepreneurship, it's also brought visibility to venture capital and other forms of finance where I think people get landlocked on how you can fund a business. One of the things I thought was interesting about your story was these four diamonds became the bedrock for how you were funding your business, and you were doing so for 11 years, correct?
Darbie Angell: Correct.
James McKinney: So because of that business, did that help you… obviously your valuation when it came time to getting partners was higher. There's a lot of upside by delaying and having this we'll call it a side hustle, this side hustle to fund it. What other advantages did you see in creating this side hustle to help fund your ultimate dream of Darbie Angell?
Darbie Angell: There were pros and cons to that. The pros were I was able to hold 100% of the company. It allowed me to set those first meetings. It allowed me to bring in my first inventory to prove myself. After I got to that point, the cons were and my downfall was I listened to voices. I had never taken a business class. A lot of people around me had. They didn't have an entrepreneurial drive though, so that was my downfall. I listened to them and they had said… there were two individuals, but they said, "No, you need to prove that you can handle the company on your own. So be your CFO, show that you can do that. Be the sales, do your factory. I bought into this concept that I needed to prove I could do it all. I'm not built to do it all. No one is.
James McKinney: No one is, yeah.
Darbie Angell: Thankfully, when Kendra came in, she was like, "Girl, you are the brand. You are design. You are the heart and the soul. You have that passion to make the impact. Go. Let the others be strong around you." So I kept the company back because I didn't have that investment. I had gone against them and that really was a huge turning point in my life is when I decided. I was given ultimatums in my personal life and I said, "Nope, this is who I am. This is who I want my daughters to know that I am." And to move forward.
James McKinney: You are Wonder Woman. This is a-
Darbie Angell: No, not really.
James McKinney: It's an amazing story.
Darbie Angell: I'm just a normal girl.
James McKinney: So now I want to talk about Darbie Angell and we've talked a lot of different foundational pieces to Darbie Angell, but I don't want it to be overlooked that while you were on bed rest, Darbie Angell was founded. Let's talk about the actual starting and growth of Darbie Angell. How did you source the manufacturing? How did you come to create for it? In fact, let's even start with a wrap up for those that are listening, that don't know what Darbie Angell is. What is Darbie Angell, besides you?
Darbie Angell: Yeah. So I did not take a design course, anything like that, but I was so driven. I have an eye for design. I can tell you that looks good, that doesn't look good. It should be paired with this, don't do that. These will be new colors that will stick, those colors won't stick. I've always had that ability inside ahead of others, and I grew up loving to entertain. So my parents would throw these parties for the community to come in, and I loved cooking anything from like Greek food. We would have octopus and prepare it from beginning to end. It was just an amazing things. So I thought okay, I would really like to do fashion, however I was so naive at the time when I started. I wanted to be a stay at home mom. You look at me now, and you're like, "Yeah, that's not who you are." But, I was so naive. I thought okay, well I love to entertain. I love to host. I'll design some dinnerware, put it on the wall at Macy's, and then I can stay at home with my daughter.
That's not what this looks like. However, that was my original dream. I started in bed. All I had was a PC computer. I didn't have a design program and I needed sourcing, as you said. I also only had 20 weeks, keep in mind, or else I had to go back to my real job. So in that 20 weeks I started out. Skype just started out at that time, and so I got on Skype and I found this guy in China, and he had chosen the American name Forest. Forest just wanted to work for an American girl, so he would work for me for free. I said, "Forest, go out into China and find me a factory, but tell them we're going to make it into Macy's, but they have to work for free. All samples must be done for free." I didn't know how it really worked, but I just knew how I needed to get it done. So Forest goes out into China and after a week, he finds me Ralph Lauren's factory. I'm like great. If Ralph Lauren is safe in this factory, surely he's done everything that's like up to standard, so surely I'll be safe. So we partner with that factory.
Now I need designs. So all I have on my computer is Word and PowerPoint. I got in PowerPoint and I would create these shapes, a circle and then a small circle inside that. Then I would do my designs in there. So the five first designs I had were extremely simple, with the exception of the Athena, which was the scroll design. It's like a modern take on a scroll. I created only a quarter of that design and then I told the factory to reproduce it all over the plate. Typically, samples are sent back and forth. You can spend thousands of dollars just looking at samples. So at night time, Forest would hold my plate up over Skype, and I would be like, "Okay, see that dot? No Forest, wrong dot. Put your hand over to the right. Yep, that dot. Just move it like just the lead of a pencil over to the right." And then Forest would go back the next day to the factory and show them, and be like, "She wants that dot moved like what this figure. This much over there." So then we would redo it. That's how I saved money that way.
But at the same time as that, I needed to get the contact for Macy's. This is before LinkedIn existed. Buyers hide from people like me. They don't want to talk to people like me. I found the head of Macy's corporate office was in a place called Bryant Park in New York. I had never been to New York before, so I find this 212-674-4000 number listed. So I call and I'm like, "I'm Darbie Angell and I have some dinnerware, and I would love to…" and it goes click. I'm like ugh, that didn't go how I thought it would at all. I thought I would make the call, have a meeting, get picked up and then life is onto the next. Well, okay. So I pull out my little yellow legal pad that every paralegal person has. I have it in bed and for two weeks, I changed up those last four digits, 212-674-4001, 4002, until I reached the head of my department. She had heard that I was searching for her and so all I had to do when I picked up the phone was, "Hi, this is Darbie," and she was like, "You found me." She was like, "Meet me in New York on this date." So thankfully, it was a month after Gianna, my daughter, was supposed to be born so I didn't have to be like, "So that date's not going to work because I'm stuck on bed rest."
Now, two things. She had heard about my persistence, and so that's why she met me. But knowing what their schedule is now, that is not normal. It took her hearing about my persistence to even give me that meeting. They don't have time. They don't have time to meet with Ralph Lauren. This does not happen. So for her to have given me that is an amazing gift, and I tell her every time I see her how blessed I am. She will bawl and I will bawl. So when I met her, I used all my money from the diamonds just to fly us up to New York. I rented a penthouse suite that overlooked Madison Avenue. It looked like a wedding. There were roses, flower arrangements. I had my first five designs, that's all I had, on the table in this conference room. Talk about being a mom.
So my mom flew up with me. My brother was there as well. I breastfed Gianna as I'm setting up, like walking around the room setting up for us feeding her. My mom took her down and I mean this is 20 weeks plus that month is what I had. On the way into the elevator was my first true breath to go get these 14 Macy's executives to bring them up. I realized I was faced for the first time of wait, are you still that southern girl that isn't capable of having her own voice, or are you Darbie Angell? And I flipped out. I had my first panic attack in my life and I looked at my brother. "Aaron, I just realized, I don't know who I am. You've got to own this meeting. Whatever questions she asks, I'm telling you, I'm not going to answer. You have to answer these." He looked at me and he basically slapped me hard in the face and he's like, "Pull yourself together right now. This is the life that you fought for. You own it." I made the decision in that moment. I didn't know what the crap that I was doing. I had never been in front of executives. I had actually Googled, "What do people on the Apprentice wear?" because I didn't even know what to wear to the meeting. What does a woman wear? Men wear suits, but what does a fashionable woman wear?
So I took my seat at the head of the table for the first time and just owned the meeting. She said, "You know what? I believe in you so much I'm going to pull Ralph Lauren and Vera Wang and test you in their place." All the people that had been around me that said, "Darbie," and they would call me weekly. So this was no joyride, this journey. I was called weekly and told, "Darbie, you are no one. There's no way that anyone would pull a designer off the shelf to put you in their place. Give up. Stop. Be a good mother." I heard everything in that timeframe. I pushed forward and we made it. Now, looking back on it, Diane Narwood, the head of Macy's, could have lost her job if I didn't perform. But the funny thing was, so she said, "I'm pulling her off Lauren because his factory isn't shipping his goods." I was like, "Oh, that's terrible." I'm in the same factory as Ralph Lauren and so I could have been killed before I even got on the floor if I had told her what the issues were. But I faced it as I don't know what I'm doing, but I will figure this out and I will deliver on time to show her I can be a good partner in this relationship for her.
That's when my brother and I flew to Bangladesh. It's crazy. So normally for a mold to be created, a decal and design to be created, it'll take you six months to get a finished piece done. For me, we got it done and all product shipped to Macy's in 30 days. It's unheard of. And I didn't tell her that until two years ago. We got it on video camera. "So Diane, everything's fine. We produce, we ship, we're doing great together. But just so you know, I was in the same factory as Ralph, and we got everything done and shipped to you in 30 days," and she flipped out. She's like, "Oh my gosh, no!" I'm like, "It's fine. That was eight years ago."
James McKinney: That's awesome.
Darbie Angell: Yeah.
James McKinney: That is so good.
Darbie Angell: It's persistence.
James McKinney: So now Darbie Angell being that we'll benchmark it with your first daughter's birth 11 years ago, now that the company is 11 years, what has been some of the greatest learnings for you in this journey? Because now you're significantly successful. You're in Macy's. Where else can your product be found?
Darbie Angell: So Macy's, Bloomies, Dillards. We're on QVC regularly. We partnered with Kendra Scott so we collaborate and design some of her table for her in Home Goods. Wayfair, Amazon, Zola. Yeah, we're so blessed.
James McKinney: You're everywhere. You're everywhere. So what has been some of the greatest learnings for you during this journey, up to this point?
Darbie Angell: Trust your gut. I ask everyone when they're going through something hard in their business or personal life, "Tell me. Just pause for a second. What is your gut telling you?" and some people haven't learned how to hone into that. I would tell you it's just like building a muscle. You have that hair that stands up on the back of your neck when you feel like, "Is this something safe? Should I be here? Should I not be here?" It's honing into that. Every time that I have not listened to my gut is when I've gotten burned. So it's such a strong thing that I've built inside myself now. I live every day on my gut, which sounds crazy to a lot of people that are like very analytical and would like to review everything. I'm like, "Nope, just let's feel it first."
James McKinney: That's awesome.
Darbie Angell: I'd say that was a huge thing, and then just learning how to face fear. There have been hard days. I've resuscitated myself and done CPR on myself like eight times to revive the company. I've had a girl, Rebekah, that's been with me for six years in this company. There were days where I just, we held hands when we were about to make a call. Other companies would have folded, and I'm like, "Nope, we're jumping out of the helicopter right now. Get your parachute ready. I promise you it's going to open and here we go." It works out, but you have to be willing to learn how to face that fear. Just jump and find your way down.
James McKinney: Those moments where you had to resuscitate and bring the company back from the brink if you will. Being 11 years into it, there are people that are listening that have their own company, and they've had those moments time and time and time again. For some, that's a point of discouragement. That's a point of frustration. They sometimes want to just throw in the towel because they're tired of it. What keeps you coming back from those moments?
Darbie Angell: If you're having those moments and you're losing sight, it's because you've forgotten what your passion is, and you need to reconnect and say, "Why am I here? Why did I start this?" For me, my driver is I will be a voice for women that need a voice. I will help them rise up and be their legs until they're strong enough to find their own legs. So my driver never stops. I would encourage people that when you're starting your journey as an entrepreneur, find a reason. I have multiple reasons, but my drivers never stop. My daughters and the women will always be there. I don't have a choice to lay down. There were times where growth almost killed us, multiple times, and I would face those nights, closing my eyes, knowing if you don't wake up tomorrow and hit it just as hard as you did when it was going great, all those women will have nothing. They will go back to the life that they were being suppressed and beaten. Will your daughters know as well. I will rise each morning and I'm so excited even the hard days, like I'll figure it out.
James McKinney: Unbelievable. I feel like we could go a whole other hour, but as we come to the end of our time together, Darbie, there's two questions I ask every founder. The first one being about gratitude, because I believe that if we forget the people that helped us to get where we are from the early days until now, or to maybe the people that contributed just last week, that if we forget those people we'll begin to think we can do this all on our own, and that will inevitably lead to our failure. So when you look back on your journey, who are those people that you just have such an incredible amount of gratitude for because of what they showed you, how they cared for you, how they provided for you during your journey?
Darbie Angell: I built a culture that's a family. There have been people that have come into my life and encouraged me to start this, and have stood beside me. I'll tell you about them, but what I also want to tell you about being an entrepreneur, that's not their dream. They're going to fade away and it's okay. They came into your life, they picked you up, they stood beside you, but don't think that if they walk away that you have to stop. You can continue. So that being said, both of my brother's, Aaron my real brother, Bill my semi adopted brother, both stood beside me in the beginning.
Diane Narwood, the head of Macy's. Had she not come on, had she not given a no name girl a chance, none of these women's lives would have been impacted, and so she is the reason why so many lives have been touched. Orphanages now being built because she took a chance. She could have lost her job. So many lives. I've been blessed as well with Rebekah, my wing woman in the company. She stood beside me. She didn't take a salary for a full year when she first started. She believed in who I was. We literally walked through mud. There were days that we had to go out and run the warehouse and ship goods out to Macy's until 1 in the morning, black from just boxes. I know it sounds crazy, but it is not glamorous, that part. So she was amazing in that. I was so blessed, the chairman of Bloomingdales. He was the chairman for 40 years, Lester Gribetz. I have modeled myself after him. He's pure magic as a CEO and leader. I model myself after him and I stalked him. Found him, went to breakfast with him. He believed in me so much he quit his job and came to work for me.
James McKinney: Oh my goodness.
Darbie Angell: Because of him, he made so many strategic calls and taught me how to be stronger too as an executive. So blessed to have him. Chief of Fashion for Macy's, Steven Cardenio, came to work for me as well and has taught me so much to look over the brand and how to stay on brand. Kendra Scott, such a strong woman. I'm so blessed by her in my business and my personal life. She sees me as a woman. She knows some of the struggles. I can be extremely open to her and know she's holding that, and it's nothing that she's going to judge me on. Don't worry, got you back, here you go, move on. Also my business life with her, she has put me in my place. I'm extremely open to her and she'll tell me like it is. She's like, "Nope, you're in the wrong, do it this way instead," and I'll be like, "Thank you so much."
James McKinney: That's awesome.
Darbie Angell: I mean so many strategic people.
James McKinney: That's incredible. What a roster of support. That's why I ask that question so that people do not lose sight. It's so easy to just get your head down and just become part of the grind that you forget to reach out for those to support you, so that's why I love that question, so thank you for that incredible display of support.
Darbie Angell: And you shouldn't ever be ashamed at looking for someone stronger than what you are. It's when you realize that you need to look to someone stronger that you actually become stronger. So you can either stay in that place, or you can make that step.
James McKinney: That's so powerful. I love that. So last question as your time comes to an end, imagine we're just having coffee. Just you and one of my listeners, whoever that may be. Whatever their situation may be, whether they're the frustrated entrepreneur, or they're someone who's working a 9 to 5 and has a book of dreams and a little bit of fear to go forward, or whether or not they've been kicked in the gut a bunch of times and now they just are second guessing everything. Whoever that person is, you're having coffee with them. What is that bit of encouragement that you want to extend to them as we wrap up?
Darbie Angell: I would tell them what I tell myself every time. I just repeat it over and over again, anything scary that I'm going into. If I do fail, I tell myself all the time, "You've got this." Get your booty up, smile, and push through. No excuses. Don't feel pity for myself. Get up and figure it out. We can sit here and talk about how painful it is and it isn't always glamorous. If it's just glamour that you're looking for, this is the wrong path for you. I have the highest highs, though. I can't deny that. We go to parties at Martha Stewart's. It's amazing. It's an amazing life. But there are low lows as well. But you've got it. You have to love it. Find your passion again.
James McKinney: Those high highs and those low lows, those are The Startup Story and that's why we tell this, so thank you for sharing your startup story with us.
Darbie Angell: Oh, well thank you for having me.
James McKinney: One of the greatest parts about hosting The Startup Story is that I get to hear the founders story a few times prior to it being released. The first time is when we record it, and then again when we polish it up a bit before editing and mastering. See, the part of Darbie's story that has stood out to me from the very first time I heard it was her deep seeded desire to be an example for her daughters of what a bold and courageous woman looks like. She really understood her purpose. It was that purpose that drove her to ignore all the doubters in her life and move forward while on bed rest to start her company. It is that purpose that stayed her true north when she saw her opportunity to serve the women in Bangladesh. And it is that purpose that enables her to walk into any setting with a real boldness and the ability to set aside any fear or trepidation.
The entrepreneurial journey is one that can easily begin with an idea and a healthy dose of excitement, but if all you have fueling your journey is an emotion, then you will eventually burn out. An emotion is simply a response to a circumstance, mood, or event. If that is all you have going into your startup, then it will not take long before you hit a wall. I truly believe that is one significant reason that most startups and businesses don't make it. Yet founders that fully understand their purpose are the ones that can endure the trials that always occur along the entrepreneurial journey. Remember, emotions are dependent on an external event, yet your purpose originates from within you and is independent of anything you encounter. Your purpose is the fuel that will keep you going when things get incredibly challenging, and they will get challenging. Darbie knows very clearly what her purpose is. Do you?
I hope you found some real encouragement in Darbie's startup story. There are two things that I would like you to do to show Darbie some appreciation for being so transparent with us. The first, follow Darbie Angell on Instagram. That's @darbieangell. Right, that's easy enough. Follow Darbie Angell on Instagram. The second, pick a post on her Instagram and comment with one way her startup story impacted you. In fact, if you mention TheStartupStory.co in that comment, I'll be able to see it, and as a thank you for showing our guest some Insta love, I'll add a post about your business or brand on our account. I always preach that entrepreneurs help other entrepreneurs, so let's live it out this week and show Darbie some Insta love.
Now, for my personal ask. The Startup Story community has been so incredible with sharing our podcast with others, but we have more stories to tell and more people to reach. We are a startup and the most powerful way you can support The Startup Story podcast is to leave a review on Apple Podcast or wherever you get your podcast. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram @TheStartupStory.co. Share The Startup Story on your social media, either with a link or a screenshot. Make sure you tag or mention us @TheStartupStory.co so we can see your help and say thank you for it.
Lastly, share the podcast on your LinkedIn profile. The Startup Story is for entrepreneurs, so please do not underestimate the power of sharing The Startup Story on your LinkedIn profile so other entrepreneurs can discover us. In fact, most people struggle to share good content on LinkedIn anyways, so if you want to support The Startup Story then search for The Startup Story company page, follow us, and share our posts to help encourage other founders and spread the word about the podcast. Every single founder has a story, and the startup stories we bring you every week can encourage and inspire another founder. It might just be what they needed to hear to keep moving forward on their dreams. I look forward to sharing these stories every Tuesday with hopes to inspire you to start YOUR story.