Kelly Kussman on how heartbreak led to her create Cayla Gray, a company driven by helping others honor memories through fragrance

Kelly Kussman_Blog Header

Describe your business in a few words?

Cayla Gray is a luxury collection of clean fragrances.  We make memories tangible through scent.

What made you take the leap to start your own business?

I have always wanted to start my own business but as I moved up the corporate ladder over the last decade, it got harder and harder to leave the steady paycheck. In 2017 I suffered from a ruptured ectopic pregnancy and along with my baby, almost lost my life. Same thing happened again in 2018.  It was after these two moments I realized that every moment we have is precious. I had a second chance to go after my dreams and knew I had to start my dream business. I named the company Cayla Gray because that was going to be the name of our first baby and to not only honor that heartbreak but also create a tangible way to turn moments into memories for others once I realized how incredibly precious they really were.

What was your background prior to starting your own business?

I have been in the retail business for over 17 years leading teams in several different areas like buying, project management, financial planning, sourcing and production.

Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?

I always knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur. I watched my father build a successful business and always knew I was meant to do the same. What I did not realize is that I could make an impact on people’s lives while doing so.

Take us back to when you first launched your business, what was your marketing strategy to get the word out and did it go as planned?

My initial marketing plan was very organic. I spent a ton of time in networking groups and with local small businesses to get the word out about Cayla Gray. I also spent a ton of time in front of actual customers getting feedback. I wanted to be sure that the product that I was putting out into this world was something that people really loved and felt a connection to. Fragrance is so personal; I knew I needed to do it right. After this initial research, I knew that marketing was one area that I did not have a ton of experience in so I read a ton of books, listening to podcasts, taking courses and spent time networking with some professionals in the marketing area. This helped me understand next steps in my marketing journey now that I wanted to grow more than just locally.

We always learn the most from our mistakes, share a time with us that you made a mistake or had a challenging time in business and what you learned from it?

In the beginning of my business, I invested in a lot of people that were “experts” in their areas. I learned quickly to do your research and ask for referrals from current clients before investing in others to carry your vision to life. Not all of these investments paid off and I could have shifted those funds to other areas that would have given me a better return.

What is the accomplishment you are the most proud of to date?

Launching a brand during 2020 with COVID impacts was extremely challenging but I pulled it off and was able to beat my launch sales plan. I think the community was really looking for small businesses to invest in knowing that there were so many struggling to stay open. I had so many supporters. It was a beautiful thing to watch.

When hiring for your team, what is your go-to interview question? Please share any hiring tips you can share from your experience?

My go to interview question is “What is the best advice you have ever been given”?  Based on the answer, I know whether or not we will be a good cultural fit for my company which is extremely important to me. I have worked for a few companies where they did not put a large emphasis on hiring for culture.  Lot of skills can be learned; cultural fit really isn’t one of them. And I ALWAYS ask for examples of work and referrals. 

How has your business or industry been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?

I literally launched my business during COVID-19 so it had many impacts, both positive and negative.  The small business community really banded together to lift and rise each other up. I will never forget those who helped me and will always be looking to pay it forward because of the great experiences I had with mentors and community during 2020. On the negative side, we had a lot of production delays which impacted a few of our product timing for launch but overall, we were actually able to launch earlier than expected!

What’s next for your business? What can we expect to see over the next few years?

We are really focused on growth and visibility right now as we are a newly launched company. In the future, we are working on new product development, seasonal fragrances and luxury gifting offerings!

What is the biggest lesson you have learned in 2020?

Just ask for what you need and want. Ask the dumb question. Ask for help. People are so willing to step up and help new businesses. And if they say no, it’s not the right person or right opportunity for that stage in your career.  And that’s a blessing too.

What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were first starting your business?

I am still fairly new but what I learned pretty quickly was to hire out for the areas in your business that you do not have experience in or tasks that would take you a long time to implement. I knew that marketing was an area that I needed help in. I could spend hours and hours developing email funnels and managing social media but I quickly realized that managing those tasks myself would take so much of the time that I needed to be networking, strategizing and doing the things that really would move my business forward.

How have you managed to stay grounded this year?

Spending time with my family and trying to keep things in perspective as much as possible. Days are long and can get overwhelming but when I take a step back and look at the big picture, I realize how far I have come and what beautiful things I already have in my life. A successful company is just icing on the cake.

Do you believe in work/life balance? What are some of your best tips?

I am someone who loves to work so to me, work and life are one in the same. I try to create balance in my life but it can be a struggle when you are building a business. I implemented what I call “slow down Sundays” to try and give myself a mental break and spend quality time with my family. I also try and take a moment throughout the day to just pause and reflect in the space I am in. We move through life so quickly that we don’t always pause to realize that the moments we are in are really beautiful. For example, just the other day, I took a pause in the middle of a hectic day and heard the sweetest laughter from my husband working in the next room. Like belly laughing. It made me start laughing. I would have missed that moment had I not stopped to just be present in it.

What’s something our audience would be surprised to learn about you?

I have ADD and find it has been really beneficial to me as an entrepreneur.

What are your top 3 tips to stay productive each day?

• Take a walk first thing in the morning to clear your head.

• Write down a list of daily tasks needing to be done.

• Pause a few times a day and just look around you and breathe it all in.

What does being an Entreprenista mean to you?

Being an Entreprenista means I am willing to continually evolve and help other women as they move through their own evolution.

Share it!

Posted in
Tags

Leave a Comment





Melanie Rivera of Breaker28 on making an impact while finding joy in everyday life hiccups and surprises

Describe Breaker28 in a few words? We develop leaders with H.E.A.R.T. – Healthy, Equitable, Antiracist, Real and Trust-Centered. What made you take the leap to start your own business? I have been planning my business for four years – perfecting content, testing out approaches, and I feel that I have a message and a model…

Bex Gold of Brite Hair on combining ethics and fashion to drive innovation into the haircare space

Describe your business in a few words? Brite Hair makes quality ethical, vegan, cruelty free hair color & hair care products that are accessible and fun! What made you take the leap to start your own business? I founded a hair color brand after a long-term relationship ended – I was in my 30s and…

Sonya Tkacs of Recruitlynk on why marketing and selling your business as an owner never stops

Describe your business in a few words? The Recruitlynk mission is to recruit and source top executive and management talent with diverse backgrounds and experiences. We strive to help sustain and nurture inclusive cultures where differences drive innovative solutions and uphold diversity in the workplace. Our goal is to effectively hire leaders who care about…

Isabelle Tierney of The Feel Good Life on helping people lead more fulfilling lives with her ground-breaking methodology

Describe your business in a few words? I help individuals, as well as businesses, relieve stress and choose well-being. What made you take the leap to start your own business? I had a highly successful private practice for more than 20 years as a marriage and family therapist, but my personal life was anything but…

Brittany Whitlock of Big Mood Digital on why the thing you are afraid of is the thing you have to do!

Describe Big Mood Digital in a few words? I train business owners, marketers and teams on how to conquer digital marketing confidently making it approachable and manageable through private sessions and courses. What made you take the leap to start your own business? I love working with passionate people who get excited to learn something…

Courtlyn Jones of The Design Database on being a creative entrepreneur, and how she is helping freelancers create the career of their dreams

Describe your business in a few words? The Design Database is an online platform and community designed to be a support system for Creatives, helping them find jobs. What made you take the leap to start your own business? I was hired as a graphic designer at my “dream company,” 10 years after I set…

Erin Pohan of Upkeeping on overcoming fear, and her three best tips for staying productive

Describe your business in a few words? My goal with UpKeeping is to continually evolve to meet the financial accounting needs of entrepreneurs. We currently offer full-service bookkeeping services, accounting clean-ups and QuickBooks training. What made you take the leap to start your own business? For most of my life, I sat back and watched…

Danielle Elias Las of Bump’n Clothing on growing a business while giving back to the IVF community

Describe Bump’n Clothing in a few words? The ultimate in maternity and postpartum apparel. What made you take the leap to start your own business? The desire to create the perfect maternity pant while giving back to the IVF community. What was your background prior to starting your own business? Attorney; In House Counsel for…

Miriam Airington-Fisher of Airington Law on combining law and entrepreneurship and how she is making an impact

Describe your business in a few words? Airington Law is a women-lead law firm specializing in defending against wrongful convictions and litigating civil rights issues What made you take the leap to start your own business? I initially started my law practice out of necessity. I went through a divorce and became a single mom…

Michele Henry of FACE FOUNDRIÉ on why she leans into her fears, and the importance of dreaming big

Describe FACE FOUNDRIÉ in a few words? Efficient and effective focused facial bar specializing in all things face, facials, lashes, brows, and skincare. What made you take the leap to start your own business? I worked in my parents’ small inground pool business from age 13 all the way through college. Being an entrepreneur is…

Ashley Spriggs of Pivot Media on the power of genuine relationships

Describe your business in a few words? We are a media firm that gets your message the attention it deserves. We offer services in Public Relations and Podcast Management. What made you take the leap to start your own business? It was the right time! I was growing my client list as an independent contractor…

Mary Allard of The Third Place podcast on inviting listeners to explore uncomfortable conversations in a safe space

Describe your business in a few words? The Third Place podcast is a weekly podcast that invites listeners into the hard conversations that we have a tendency to avoid. It is a podcast that “goes there,” within a safe place where curiosity is encouraged, differences are welcomed, and empathy is embraced through healthy dialogue. What…

Kelsea Olivia of East Olivia Creative on creating experiences that spark curiosity, joy, and connection

Describe your business in a few words? East Olivia is a boutique creative agency that specializes in large-scale floral installations. What made you take the leap to start your own business? I have been starting businesses since I was a child, selling my crafts and babysitting. As an adult, I had an innate desire to…

Tiffany Roman of Small Biz Highlight on creating a platform to help small businesses thrive

Describe your business in a few words? Small Biz Highlight is a web show, created to help introduce the people behind a small/local business, their products and services, and discuss how COVID affected them. What made you take the leap to start your own business? Back in April 2020, COVID shutdowns were in full effect…

11 Mamaprenistas share their best productivity tips to manage a business and a family

1) Tierney Larkin, Founder at Larkin Living Spaces: “Be sure to have a designated space to work that is just for you and your business. It can be a makeshift office in the corner of a room, or even a traveling cart that you can take around with you to store all of your supplies…