Monica Fullerton of Spouse-ly on building an innovative marketplace featuring products and services created by military spouses and veterans
Describe your business in a few words?
Spouse-ly is a new online marketplace where you can shop a wide variety of handmade gifts, personalized products and various services created by military spouses and veterans. If you can imagine a platform that combines Etsy and Angies List for consumers to shop small while making a big impact for America’s most deserving heroes, that is Spouse-ly!
What made you take the leap to start your own business?
Honestly, entrepreneurship comes quite naturally to me and is something that I’ve always been excited about. So many military spouses and veterans struggle with employment due to the chaos of the military lifestyle and therefore resort to creating their own businesses that are portable as they relocate. The talent and creativity in our community is unmatched, but there was no central location to support military-connected creators, makers and entrepreneurs even though so many people want to shop these small businesses. Spouse-ly has become the solution to this problem and we couldn’t be more honored!
What was your background prior to starting your own business?
With many years of experience in corporate America, I am an experienced leader in customer management and sales, primarily in the logistics industry. I was very lucky to have a corporate career that would move around with our lifestyle, but something was missing and that was passion.
Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
YES! I just didn’t know how it would unfold or where I would dive in. I can remember asking my childhood friends’ parent about their entrepreneurial journeys and how I could grow up to be just like them…which ultimately meant I would sometimes spend more time talking to the adults than I did having fun with my friends!
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?
We launched a little over a year ago, and I created a social media group before launching to help spread awareness of what the vision was for Spouse-ly and how it was going to work. This allowed me to get incredibly insightful feedback, connect with new people, and start marketing before launching. It went really well and allowed us to foster a mission-driven community while meeting the needs of our vendors.
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?
Action brings clarity, right? And perfection can be the enemy of progress. I was so concerned with making the brand and website look perfect from the start that it actually ended up making it harder to grow. Once I realized that people enjoyed watching the company grow from the ground up, we were able to keep pushing forward with everyone’s support and word of mouth became our greatest marketing strategy. Perfection is not the key to success, it’s about the climb and learning as you go.
What is the accomplishment you are the most proud of to date?
I’m most proud of the fact that we’ve built a community that is equally invested in the success of our platform as they are their own businesses. Our community is one that has already sacrificed so much, therefore any success we can bring them is always worth the late nights, stressful days and questioning how we will push through on certain challenges. We couldn’t do it without our amazing vendors, and growing a company from the ground up takes time but they have been there every step of the way!
When hiring for your team, what is your go-to interview question? Please share any hiring tips you can share from your experience?
“Tell us more about how you integrate passion with profession?” I love this question because while yes, filling a position in the company is important, we are primarily looking for a teammate with just as much passion in our mission as they are about their role in the company.
Finding out what people are passionate about both in work and life is deeply important to us. This can really tell a lot about a person and making sure they are a great fit for the team. Making it a more personable experience will allow that person to really shine and feel comfortable going through the interview process while building a long-term relationship.
How has your business or industry been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?
The pandemic has impacted every person and every business in many ways. We launched in February 2020, days before the quarantine began to take place. While this impacted our early sales and made us impact the viability of our business (and passion), we quickly learned that consumers WANT to shop small and they WANT to make their spending dollars have a broader impact, which is exactly what Spouse-ly was created to do.
What’s next for your business? What can we expect to see over the next few years?
The evolution and improvement never stops. Our primary goal for the future is to make Spouse-ly a household name in honor of our incredible community filled with military spouse & veteran-owned businesses. We will be expanding to first responders and their families in the coming months as well. We continue to make tech upgrades and investments in improving the customer journey on the platform, which are exciting to witness!
What is the biggest lesson you have learned in 2020?
You cannot do it all and you should not do it alone. This was such a difficult lesson because our mission is one worth fulfilling, but growing a business to the level in which it deserves has required asking for help and leaning on supporters. I’m so thankful to have had the very best people to rely upon and continue growing in the midst of very challenging times.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were first starting your business?
I wish I would have looked into more funding options when launching. There are so many great resources out there and it’s easier to explore them before you are in the heat of actually running the business. Take the time to put the legwork in early on.
How have you managed to stay grounded this year?
I have surrounded myself with great people, maybe not in person but virtually. Together we uplift one another, make each other stronger, and continue pushing forward through the good and the bad. And when life gets tough in the business, I turn to my family who brings such joy and perspective. As a mom to 4 year old twins and as an Air Force spouse, our life can be chaotic at times, but there is no other group of people who can put a smile on my face faster than them.
Do you believe in work/life balance? What are some of your best tips?
Like many entrepreneurs and working parents, I am guilty of not having the right balance since Spouse-ly is growing so quickly. It’s hard to turn off your work especially at home, but I do have a routine that I prioritize with my family in the morning and evenings making sure we spend that quality time together in the morning and at night. I’ve acknowledged the seasons and chapters of my life that represent a big picture perspective of balance rather than looking at it on a daily or weekly basis. It takes time and persistence to strike the right balance, but we pivot when we need to.
What’s something our audience would be surprised to learn about you?
I somehow manifested that I would be a mom to boy/girl twins and assured everyone growing up that this would happen for me as an adult. Shockingly, I am a twin mom to Mason and Maddie who are the absolute lights of my life.
What are your top 3 tips to stay productive each day?
My day does not start without a good cup of coffee. It totally sets the tone, mood and direction for my day that I never skip that part of my routine. I’ve also found that blocking off time to map out the direction and priorities of your day is a critical piece to maintaining focus for how your day and week will go. Third, make it a priority to have a good conversation with someone who inspires you, it will drive you to push harder.
What does being an Entreprenista mean to you?
Being an Entreprenista means building a life for yourself that brings success in every aspect of what is important to you: business, family, motherhood and wellness. I’m so proud of the challenges I’ve overcome to build the life that my family deserves while also doing what fulfills me as a professional AND makes a big impact for my military community. We each control our destiny if we’re willing to go out and fight for it.