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Podcast: What Can a Doll Teach Us About Black Business?

Artistic rendering of Yelitsa Jean-Charles with Healthy Roots Dolls

When Yelitsa Jean-Charles was a young girl, she didn’t see any dolls that looked like her. In fact, when her parents tried to give her a non-white doll, she cried because it wasn’t “the pretty one.”

She didn’t know it yet, but in that moment, a business was born.

Today Yelitsa is the founder of Healthy Roots Dolls, a toy company that creates dolls and storybooks to empower young girls and showcase the beauty of our diversity. In this episode of Longitudes Radio, part two in a three-part series on the Black business landscape, she shares her entrepreneurial journey and how those feelings of childhood disappointment ultimately paved the path for her future success.

“I grew up and started to feel less like a princess and more like a pumpkin because I didn't see people celebrated for having hair that looked like my own,” she remembers. “I saw an opportunity … with our Zoe doll and her powerful hair full of curl power.”

Like many aspiring entrepreneurs, at first, Yelitsa struggled. And she encountered skepticism about her ideas and her ability to translate that vision into a profitable company.

But she kept grinding, learning new skills, figuring out what worked — and what didn’t work. She aligned herself with mentors who believed in her business and supported products more representative of the people who ultimately purchase them.

Despite her successes, Yelitsa still has doubts, grappling with her place in a system that has long denied business opportunities to people of color.

“Even with all the accolades, even with all the traction, I still often question the validity of my business and the opportunities that I can pursue,” she admits.

Yelitsa remains hopeful that her story will inspire other women of color to pursue their business dreams.  

“My goal in life, my purpose in life, is the liberation and economic freedom of Black women through education and financial literacy,” she says, goals she’s now achieving one doll at a time.

Ultimately, however, the long hours, lack of sleep, self-doubt and yes, triumphs, all bring Yelitsa back to her early days … without a doll that looked like her.

“What they're playing with,” Yelitsa says of children today “should represent the world and the people that they're going to interact with so that they can learn about others.”

If you missed it, check out part one in our podcast series on Black business, a conversation with former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx.

Podcast: What Can a Doll Teach Us About Black Business?

 

Show Open [00:00:00] Show Open

 

Brian Hughes [00:00:42] Today is part two of our series devoted to Black business. We're lucky to have Janet Stovall, a nationally renowned expert on diversity and inclusion, sitting in for James Rowe again today. Welcome back, Janet.

 

Janet Stovall [00:00:53] Thanks for having me back. And I am really looking forward to our conversation today because it's about something that is near and dear to my heart: hair. You see in the Black community, hair means a lot. It's symbolic. If you think of back to the 1960s, one of the first and most visible signs of revolution was the return of the afro. Well, here today, in the social unrest and change that we're seeing, you know, we're back to hair again in the Black community. And what you're seeing is that Black people, especially women, are embracing their natural hair and all of its curly, coyly and kinky beauty. But if you're a child and everything you see on the screen in advertising projects a different definition of beauty, well, it's not always easy to see yourself as beautiful.

 

Brian Hughes [00:01:42] And our guest today actually lived that story. Her name is Yelitsa Jean-Charles. She's the founder of Healthy Roots Dolls, a toy company that creates dolls and storybooks to empower young girls and showcase the beauty of our diversity. Yelitsa talks about how when she was a young girl, she didn't see any dolls that looked like her and it made her really sad. So she was actually able to see a problem and do something about it. And what's so great about Yelitsa's story is she speaks to how she was able to get access to resources that helped her grow her business to what it is today.

 

Janet Stovall [00:02:21] You know, among writers there's sort of the saying that you should write what you know. So, as a business owner, you built a business from your lived experience. Talk to me a little bit about that, and talk about Zoe. Tell me how Zoe came to life.

 

Yelitsa Jean-Charles [00:02:37] Yes. So Zoe is my dolly. She is the super-cute character that I designed based on, like you mentioned, my lived experiences, primarily being that I never really had a doll that looked like me growing up. It was kind of sad. The one time my parents tried to give me a doll that was brown skin, I cried, and I said this isn't the pretty one, because to me, as I had been seeing on television and the commercials and all the magazines, they have the blond-haired, light-skinned Barbie. And it wasn't until I got a little bit older that I started to unpack that experience. And then the other lived experiences that shaped me creating Zoe was my mom washing and, you know, braiding my hair. And she'd always make me feel like this beautiful little princess. But then I grew up and started to feel less like a princess and more like a pumpkin because I didn't see people celebrated for having hair that looked like my own. And so recognizing as a children's illustrator the importance of children's media in early childhood development, I saw an opportunity to not to not just paint it all brown, but to create an educational play expanse with our Zoe Doll and her powerful hair full of curl power.

 

Janet Stovall [00:03:46] Wonderful. So you said you started off as an illustrator and …

 

Yelitsa Jean-Charles [00:03:49] Yeah.

 

Janet Stovall [00:03:50] You got assigned to illustrate Rapunzel, is that right?

 

Yelitsa Jean-Charles [00:03:52] So I was in this class called 3D Illustration while studying illustration at the Rhode Island School of Design, and we had to create physical products. And so for this fairy tale assignment, we had to create physical representations of fairy tale characters. And so I decided to do like a doll sculpted out of clay. And I turned Rapunzel into a little brown girl with kinky, curly hair so that I could show brown girls that we can be princesses, too.

 

Janet Stovall [00:04:18] And so and so Rapunzel's hair, I'm sure, was kinky and curly when you redid her.

 

Yelitsa Jean-Charles [00:04:23] No, I actually did two looks. So I did you know, the big fro, and then I did these really beautiful Havana twist to show off one of the natural hairstyles that I had recently learned how to do. And that I didn't always see when I was growing up and that I have seen a lot of women doing it to celebrate their curls.

 

Janet Stovall [00:04:40] Let's talk now a little bit about how Zoe got to be Zoe. So how do you move from this model that you did in school to actually building a prototype, getting it funded and now out there selling out? As I understand, you completely sold out of these. So talk to me a little bit about that process. How did you do it?

 

Yelitsa Jean-Charles [00:04:59] Yeah. So it all starts with an idea. And I think the one thing I often talk about with people is making sure that your problem solving a problem that people actually have and that you're creating a solution that people actually want. And so for me, it started with conversations. So going to Facebook and having shared my class project and then people going, oh, my God, this looks like a doll. Have you thought about making a doll and then talking people like, what kind of dolls do you guys have growing up? How did you feel about your hair growing up? How do you feel about toys for children and then seeing the same commentary about, oh, you know, I never really have does it look like me or never really had dolls with hair like me or I never really knew how to do my hair. And then seeing the common problem that was shared among my audience and then coming up with a solution and testing that solution by applying for programs to get the opportunity to validate it. So I took my, I took this concept of a toy company that creates multicultural children's products that teach girls to love themselves just the way they are, starting with a doll that has hair that is unique fiber that can be washed and styled. And then I got into the Brown University Social Innovation Fellowship, where they gave me $4,000 to work on the product during the summer and build the company. And then through that program, develop the skills and expertise to further advance the company and get into an accelerated program called the Mass Challenge Accelerator Program, where I then gained more expertise and launched a Kickstarter campaign generating $50,000 in presales to bring the products to market.

 

Janet Stovall [00:06:21] So tell me how the business is now. Tell me what it's like.

 

Yelitsa Jean-Charles [00:06:24] We sold out right before we also went viral. Just some organic content that I share that really resonated with people right now, in part because I feel because of the tension in our country and people always looking for positive moments. And so I spent two years building the company and focusing on building up the company, our business model, generating sales, while also doing pitch competitions and applying for grants. And in total, raising nearly half a million dollars to bring the product to market and grow the business. And most recently, winning $125,000 from the Quicken Loans Detroit Demo Day here in Detroit. And now we're working on lots of other new things.

 

Brian Hughes [00:07:00] As you look back, I imagine that two years was pretty crazy, right? If this is all new to you, you're learning things. You're figuring out what you know, you don't know. If you had to look back, what were the biggest speed bumps you had to get past?

 

Yelitsa Jean-Charles [00:07:15] I think the biggest challenge that a lot of founders face is capital and how they finance their companies. And for me, that meant literally keeping my head down and minding my business, literally. So, I struggled with pitching to investors and applying for funding and realizing that these people were not going to give me capital because they wanted to see more work. And so I did the work. I went to an accelerated program in Durham, North Carolina, in 2018, called the Start Up Stampede program where they showed me this is how you build your custom audiences, and this is how you run ads on Facebook. This is how you build your marketing strategy. How you refine your website for conversion. And so I just spent those two years really networking and learning how to run the business and defining my marketing and defining my audience and really focusing on finding that product market fit by selling to people and refining that experience for them. And so I think people struggle with, you know, how do I make money? And you can't ask people for money without showing that you are money first.

 

Janet Stovall [00:08:15] Tell me what didn't work, and tell me what surprised you the most about this process?

 

Yelitsa Jean-Charles [00:08:19] I would say there were the challenges that we have are logistical. And so, you know, oh, I'm talking to shipping people, oh I forgot. Yeah, shipping is hard, you guys. Like I for the first round of production we did in 2018, I was like, yeah, send it to my apartment, because there was a couple hundred units that were remaining from the warehouse. I was like, I can, it's fine just send them. This truck pulls up and it was a bit bigger than I thought it was gonna be. And then this guy is like what do you what do you what do you have anything to unload the pallets. And I was like, what are pallets? And then he opens the back of a truck and I'm looking at like, oh, all right. So I call like a couple of my guy friends, I was like, can you guys help me, there's a lot of boxes I don't know what to do, and so they come over, we unwrap the boxes and then we basically have an assembly line of funneling boxes from the first floor to my second floor unit. And then my roommate comes home and she's like, there's boxes in the living room. Yeah. So this is gonna be Santa's workshop for a little bit. And we're gonna have to ship some stuff out of my apartment for one holiday season. So I would say, those are the challenges of you know, learning, learning on the go and learning quickly.

 

Janet Stovall [00:09:33] Well, then you talked a moment ago about the fact that in this moment, people are looking for positive images. What does it feel like to do what you're doing in this moment?

 

Yelitsa Jean-Charles [00:09:42] It has been interesting watching how other brands have approached talking about things. Now, all these brands are doing like everybody does a black square on their social media account, or they make this public statement. And I'm sitting there and like talking to my team, like, we don't really have to do any of that because we live it. Our brand has always been about equality. It's always been about talking about these issues. And my statement was, I don't have a statement because when you do the work on a daily basis, it speaks for itself. And so that's how I view the brand and how we present to our audience is we are a company that creates multicultural children's products. And we make it very clear every day that we understand how important it is to create diversity, to diversify children's play, because what they're playing with should represent the world and the people that they're going to interact with so that they can learn about others. And so I think one thing that I really enjoyed about the conversations that are now being had is people recognizing, oh, my child does not have to be Brown in order to have Brown toys because they're going to have Brown friends and Brown coworkers and all that. And they should have, you know, experiences learning about different people's cultures through their play.

 

Janet Stovall [00:10:52] What do you think are some of the unique experiences that Black businesses face?

 

Yelitsa Jean-Charles [00:10:56] I think one thing that's interesting for me is despite how much traction the business has, whenever people are talking to me about financing options and then they'll always suggest like, oh, well, if you get a P.O., you can just go to the bank. I'm just like, can I go to the bank? Just like regardless of how much money we have in the account and revenue we're generating month over month, I still feel like because I am this young girl and because I'm Black, that they're going to be like, oh, not sure. So even with all the accolades, even with all the traction, I still often question the validity of my business and the opportunities that I can pursue. And so I had to refine the opportunities that I did go after and recognizing that not every opportunity is for you and you should. I tell people all the time, you shouldn't have to chase money because if somebody wants to invest in you, they'll make it very clear. So now, being in that position people are coming to us and saying, we wanna learn more about your company.

 

Brian Hughes [00:11:51] We were doing an interview with Tony Foxx, who was President Obama's transportation secretary, and you're telling your story there. And he spoke about how when he was growing up, there was this mantra that he almost felt like he had to work twice as hard just to be on a level playing field with other people. Hearing your story, it sounds like that's something you have run into as well.

 

Yelitsa Jean-Charles [00:12:14] So my parents are Haitian and they immigrated here when I was, you know a baby. And I remember in kindergarten, first day of kindergarten, my dad gets down on my level. He said, you have to look nicer, be smarter and like all these other things because they don't expect you to be any of those things. So my dad really gave great advice and he's always prepared me to just generally work hard because it can be true. There are going to be times where you interact with people and despite you understanding the value of your work and your expertise, there are people who are going to question it because of their own biases. And so that's why I spent two years focusing on building the business, because if you were telling me that you didn't want to fund me or give me an opportunity because I didn't have X, Y and Z, and then I went and did X, Y and Z, and you're still telling me the same thing, then we know what the problem is here.

 

Brian Hughes [00:13:06] I love your backstory. I love all the work you put into it and where you are today. I'm curious, how do you envision the next few years?

 

Yelitsa Jean-Charles [00:13:15] For me, my long-term mission is ultimately to bring diversity to the toy that represents the beauty of our reality. And so for me, that means creating multiple play experiences with different products and being able to reach as many children as possible because I'll know that my work has been done when you know there are people who are like, you need to get your kid Healthy Roots dolls or, you know, little girls who have grown up come to me and say, when I was little, I had a Zoe Doll and she made me feel beautiful.

 

Janet Stovall [00:13:38] If you weren't doing this, what do you think you would be doing?

 

Yelitsa Jean-Charles [00:13:42] When people ask questions like that, my answer is always: My goal in life, my purpose in life, is the liberation and economic freedom of Black women through education and financial literacy. And I just so happen to be making toys, which somehow aligns with that by empowering young girls. So whatever I do, it just so happens that my social justice work brought me in to creating content and products for children. But whatever I do is going to align with my mission and goals in life in order to liberate women. I don't know what that is, but any of it it's, it'll be good.

 

Janet Stovall [00:14:19] What's it like doing this in the middle of a pandemic?

 

Yelitsa Jean-Charles [00:14:22] You know, I think there's like a groove in my couch with the shape of my butt in it. Just every day I sit here. Sometimes I go for walks. We've been able to, like, double down on our customer interaction. So really talking to them more regularly, engaging with them, so upping our customer support. It's been really fun getting to work on strategies for new campaigns that we're working on. I honestly can say that working during this pandemic hasn't been much different for me than my regular day to day before it, because I'm kind of like a workaholic. I work pretty much throughout the day. Ideas will come to me and I start drafting it up and creating files in Illustrator or sending emails or Googling things. But I do think I've had more time to like, pause and I've had more active conversations with people in the DTC space and strategizing. I've been having a lot of great conversations with people where we get to just brainstorm things. And so that's been really fun. Having more time to talk to people.

 

Brian Hughes [00:15:18] How many people are working under you? And I only ask because I would imagine one of the more difficult things,  I don't have a business on my own, but it's kind of developing your leadership style. Right. And how you speak with your people and the culture you want to build. I wonder if you might take us behind the scenes a little bit about maybe the evolution of that.

 

Yelitsa Jean-Charles [00:15:37] The behind the scenes is that we are currently hiring for a bunch of full time positions and we've primarily worked with contractors and part-time employees. And it's been interesting because it's you know, most of the roles we've worked that we've worked with people that have been remote. And so it's like trying to communicate without being in person, especially during COVID. And so recognizing people's Zoom communication styles, really tapping into the leadership skills I developed as a residential assistant and president of the student alliance during college. The few roles that I had before exploring entrepreneurship. And so for me, I've really focused on how to communicate my vision because when you do bring people into, you know, your baby, your company, they don't understand it the way that you understand it. And in order for them to perform best in their roles, you have to give the most detailed picture possible. And also allowing them the space to thrive. Because I think one thing that frustrates me is when people hire people to do the work and because of their expertise, but they don't let them flex their expertise. Like, I'm not going to hire a Marketing Manager and then tell them how to do their job. We're here to collaborate and to think creatively together to solve this problem.

 

Brian Hughes [00:16:45] And it's interesting, you talked about relationships, but I guess it's kind of twofold. It's both with the customers and with the people you're trying to develop. How do you just get a level of personalization when we're all separated right now?

 

Yelitsa Jean-Charles [00:17:04] I think it starts with telling your story. People are always like, how did you do this and how it is like you've got to tell people. People like you can't sell your product, you can't make people aware of your existence or your world or your mission or what you're doing ff you're not telling them about it. And so I didn't seek out, you know, creating a viral tweet. I was just showing people what I do. Here is my face. Here is my product. This is what I do. And people like that. People like authenticity. People like knowing that there's a real person behind things. And hearing your story helps them connect with you even more.

 

Brian Hughes [00:17:38] I'm glad you brought up the social aspect. How critical is social media to what you're doing, and how much of it is business, and how much of it is you? Or is that just one in the same? Do you see what I mean?

 

Yelitsa Jean-Charles [00:17:54] Are you asking if I run the social.

 

Brian Hughes [00:17:57] I wasn't, but now I am kind of curious.

 

Yelitsa Jean-Charles [00:17:59] So I am definitely the strategist and the creative director behind the socials. And social media, I think is as valuable as you want it to be for your business. So for helping yourselves, it's incredibly valuable. We've always been on social. I have Kickstarter campaign, and my ability to build that Kickstarter campaign started because of my active my activity on social media. That Kickstarter campaign was run with no market, like we didn't spend any money on marketing; it was just all people organically sharing it and getting like organic press coverage. And so social media is how we organically spread brand awareness and create relationships with our customers and our audience. So social is as valuable as you allow it to be. And if you're telling your story and if you're engaging with people and talking about the things that they want to hear, it will be awesome.

 

Brian Hughes [00:18:43] We like to talk to business owners all the time, but I'm almost always fascinated by how entrepreneurs react to success than just failure. You know, everyone's like, oh, how do you get past failure? But I'm wondering now that, you know, what happens after you sell out. Like what does, what does the next day look like? How do you kind of proceed from there? I would imagine it's a good problem to have, but it can still be a challenge.

 

Yelitsa Jean-Charles [00:19:10] So if you meet demand and then you figure out what the demand is so that you can appropriately scale to meet that as well because I don't know if you guys have ever met angry moms or grandmas during holiday season, but it's not fun. So it's like we don't want any why are you sold out and why isn't this available? It's like, you know what, let's figure out what we need to do to meet the demand here and make everyone happy.

 

Janet Stovall [00:19:31] And you do have the holidays coming up, too.

 

Yelitsa Jean-Charles [00:19:33] Yes. Oh, I know. It's been a holiday season in my head since January. We got to get ready for this Christmas - it's Janu yeah, I know we have to get ready for this Christmas.

 

Brian Hughes [00:19:43] If there is just any message that, you know, because some of these people are gonna be hearing you for the first time, what would you want to get out there?

 

Yelitsa Jean-Charles [00:19:51] Alright, I'm going to go to my safe response …

 

Brian Hughes [00:19:53] Don't go with your safe response!

 

Yelitsa Jean-Charles [00:19:55] But this is the best advice. This is the, but, well, I'll get into it. So the way that I started Healthy Roots Dolls was inspired by my best friend in college who gave me this advice. And she said: There's only three steps to doing anything. One, figure out what you want to do, two figure out how to do it. And then three, do it. And it's number three that kills people. People spend so much time thinking about something and then they never execute and then they see somebody else doing it and like I thought of that. You should have did something about it then.

 

Brian Hughes [00:20:29] Do you kind of remember when you at the just-do-it moment? What was it like? Was it scary? Were you hesitant or were you just able to kind of plow through and go I have confidence in this and let's just knock it out?

 

Yelitsa Jean-Charles [00:20:43] No, because I don't do anything unless I have a valid reason for doing it. And so for me, I had to have validation to continue doing the work. I didn't necessarily have, like, blind faith that it would work out. I had passion, but I also needed to see results. And so that's another thing that I think happens to people. I don't think it makes sense to spend 20 years doing something if it's not working. When I was starting the company, I had like I used completely different language to talk about the product. And I wasn't winning pitch competitions, and I wasn't getting the grants. I was like all right, let me rework this. And I changed it, and I was like okay, I'm getting third place. People are taking the conversations. People are making more introductions on it. Let me refine it. So seeing what people are responding to, so it's I think is difficult 'cause people are like, my idea is going to work. It's like, no, your idea needs to be influenced by what people want. And so, you know, we developed that first product, and then we redesigned it to make changes based on what people, the feedback we're getting. And so that's the thing that I think is really important, that people lose when it comes to like, you know, you can't just have passion. You also need to be seeing results and being able to measure whether or not something is working.

 

Brian Hughes [00:21:46] What are your best metrics for determining that? Because I think I and a lot of folks go, gee, I think I'm doing all right. I'm getting good feedback verbally, but I don't know if I can prove it.

 

Yelitsa Jean-Charles [00:21:57] Yeah. So for me, when I when I talk to people who have physical products, they're like, how do I make money? Yeah. I'm like sell it. Sell your product. If you can't sell your product, you need to figure out why you can't sell it and then try something else and then see. But that's my advice to people, it's like sell your product, sell your business. What will people give you money for? Then, that's what that's how, you know, something is working.

 

Brian Hughes [00:22:26] What about pricing? Because it's so tricky, I would imagine. How did you crack that conundrum?

 

Yelitsa Jean-Charles [00:22:33] Yes. So pricing is going to come down to your costs of producing something. Your costs of doing business. And then the cost the customer is willing to pay.

 

Brian Hughes [00:22:45] And for the listeners you can't see that she's doing a Venn diagram right now, which is super helpful.

 

Yelitsa Jean-Charles [00:22:52] And so then you figure out, aha, this is how much it costs to produce. So you have to cover your costs of producing the item and your cost of doing business and doing business is, you know, the fulfillment costs, you're paying people, the materials related to shipping and things, your marketing. And then it's the costs, which means, the profit is left over. That's enough for you to profit to continue doing that work.

 

Brian Hughes [00:23:17] Do you just have to learn all this by doing? Like how much of this came from the classroom versus just rolling up your sleeves and doing the work?

 

Yelitsa Jean-Charles [00:23:27] So I learned from looking for people who had been successful in what I wanted to do and then talking to them about it. My Kickstarter was based off the GoldieBlox Kickstarter, which is this engineering toy for girls from Debbie Sterling. And she's now one of our mentors. I discovered what I didn't know and then went and found people that knew those things so that I could go to them and have very specific questions. Because it's not enough to just be like, tell me everything you know. No, I would go to someone and say, hey, I'm working on this product. I'm trying to figure out my costs. Here's what I know. Can you help me with X?

 

Brian Hughes [00:23:56] So what you're saying is, if you're an aspiring entrepreneur, "how did you do it?" is a bad question as opposed to really lasering in on certain specifics- that need to be addressed.

 

Yelitsa Jean-Charles [00:24:06] Yeah, and the only way to figure out what those issues are is by starting to do the work.

 

Brian Hughes [00:24:10] It's a natural segue, you talked about some of your mentors, I wonder if you might be able to expand on perhaps some of your role models and what it is that you look to in terms of trying to emulate certain parts of your business and then putting your own unique spin on that.

 

Yelitsa Jean-Charles [00:24:26] Yeah, so a lot of the mentors that we currently have are people who have backgrounds in building startups, having expertise with finances, operations and are people who have also built really big toy brands, and so they understand the ins and outs of logistics, of marketing and etc. And so these are people that I connect with on a regular basis and present my pain points, present my goals and we, those two years of developing the next product was spent with those people, talking about our milestones and helping us figure out how to get there. And so I think that's the other thing that's really important is finding mentors, finding experts that are willing to personally invest in you to help get you where you need to be.

 

Brian Hughes [00:25:01] There's obviously way more dialogue right now, given everything that's going on in this country. It's long overdue dialogue about social unrest and just really basic equality. Are you confident that this is actually a breakthrough moment as opposed to just more talk? And if this appears to be a moment where we can achieve actual tangible change for business owners in particular?

 

Yelitsa Jean-Charles [00:25:24] I think that money talks. Money, wait is it money talks or money walks?

 

Brian Hughes [00:25:28] Both.

 

Yelitsa Jean-Charles [00:25:28] I don't remember the …

 

Brian Hughes [00:25:32] It walks and talks.

 

Yelitsa Jean-Charles [00:25:33] I was on a panel for a digital conference recently where I said that if we really wanted to create economic equality and create opportunity, give black people ownership, like give us equity in your companies. Give the black community equity in these giant businesses, which is a radical thing. And I'm not exactly sure how you do it, but it'd be cool to see if we could figure that out. But yeah. So that's my response to that. I do feel like it's different now that more people are having these conversations. More people are actually recognizing the problem. However, I haven't seen enough action to back the feeling.

 

Brian Hughes [00:26:05] And you talked about funding and ownership. Are there certain specific actions that stand out, like, are there certain things that you're looking for?

 

Yelitsa Jean-Charles [00:26:15] To me, you know, offering mentorship and one-on-one conversations with, you know, minority owned businesses or women owned businesses is nice, but actually doing the work to help them build is better. Cause, you know, if I have a conversation with you, I still have to go back and do the work. But if you set me up for success by helping me build it, that's completely different. So invest by actually helping these businesses do the work, help them build their websites, help them run their marketing strategy. Don't just talk, don't just talk about how to do it because then they still have to go back and do the work, and they may not have the same time or the expertise to do those things. And so that's what I want to see, is I actually want to see people using their skills to help people.

 

Brian Hughes [00:26:59] So here's, I hope, a fun one. What is a day in the life of for you? Is it just every day is crazy, crazy, different? What does it look like?

 

Yelitsa Jean-Charles [00:27:12] Every day is me trying to block out time on my calendar to do work, and then everybody filling it up with meetings. That's my, that's my every day.

 

Brian Hughes [00:27:23] That sounds like my day too.

 

Yelitsa Jean-Charles [00:27:24] Somehow getting the documents done that people are requesting me for, requesting from me. So in the mornings, I start with social media and marketing. So that's my mornings; I check metrics and analytics and how campaigns are doing and the content that's being produced. And then next is operations and logistics or checking in with production and our Ops, our COO, and like are we on time for production or what samples do I need to approve, here is some products I'm thinking about creating? Can we source for this X, Y and Z. And the rest of the day is like lawyers, taxes, meetings, whatever. And somewhere I eat in between some of those things.

 

Brian Hughes [00:28:00] Yeah, you eat and allegedly sleep at night.

 

Yelitsa Jean-Charles [00:28:03] Yeah.

 

Brian Hughes [00:28:04] How do you prioritize, though? 'Cause like you said, it's you know, you always have those plans and then they disappear about five minutes into the day. Do you kind of have a framework for this is something I can do now versus putting it off?

 

Yelitsa Jean-Charles [00:28:17] The way that I prioritize is by the milestones, and that's how you determine what's most important. So our key milestones right now are Christmas 2020. And so I'm going to put first anything related to production. Anything related to production. Anything related to marketing for then. And anything else can get responded to after I email the factories. So that's how I do it.

 

Brian Hughes [00:28:44] Striving entrepreneurs who have an idea, but they just haven't been able to translate it or haven't been able to get the funding are one of many, many issues that could arise. Have you seen a lot of that, or are you seeing people who are finding similar success to you?

 

Yelitsa Jean-Charles [00:29:03] I had a set of circumstances that made it very ideal for me to be where I am. You know, I had the parents that I had. I had the education that I had. I went to, you know, the institution that I went to that's like this private school and like really expensive, where all these rich kids went and X, Y and Z. I was able to build relationships there. So I will say that my circumstances presented me with the right opportunities. But you also had to take those opportunities. So I will say it is not easy, and not everyone has the same access, but you can still make it happen. So my journey is unique to me. My school basically funnels people into Hasbro, so I was able to connect with people in the toy industry and learn more. The fact that my school provided stipends to go to Toy Fair and so I could go see the events and like as a low-income student, like that was very great for my development, like working on this company. So I'm not going to say that it's impossible, but I will say, depending on where you're coming from and what opportunities you have, you will have difficult challenges. Your challenges will be different. And so then it's up to you to figure out: How do I solve these problems. Figuring out what you don't know, figuring out what you do know and finding those people and seeking those opportunities.

 

Brian Hughes [00:30:13] And I think that's a great answer and a great way to close out this conversation. I am curious. So on a lighter note, are you yourself still a consumer of toys?

 

Yelitsa Jean-Charles [00:30:24] Ooh, so I don't buy, like, the LOL Surprise or the little things like to play with. But I do, I'm starting to collect dolls for my office.

 

Brian Hughes [00:30:33] That's very fitting.

 

Yelitsa Jean-Charles [00:30:35] So, like the most recent one that I purchased was the Barbie version of Basquiat, who's this famous Haitian artist, and it's a beautiful doll and I just had to get it. But sometimes, like, you know, it's  getting hard because I buy doll accessories for like, we're building the doll, we're building a doll house with it for our products. And so now I'm like buying all these miniatures and all these little outfits. And I'm like, oh, my God, I'm turning into a little girl. It gets addictive.

 

Brian Hughes [00:31:00] To be fair, you can just call it market research, right?

 

Yelitsa Jean-Charles [00:31:03] Yeah, it's market research, I guess, but it's also really fun. I go down this whole rabbit hole, and then my cart ends up being like a thousand dollars and I'm like, all right.

 

Brian Hughes [00:31:11] Yes, there you go. That's certainly dangerous. Well, Yelitsa we really do appreciate your time; I think this has been an outstanding conversation, and we wish you the best of luck.

 

Yelitsa Jean-Charles [00:31:20] Thank you so much for having me.

 

Brian Hughes [00:31:24] You just heard part two in a three-part series, looking at the state of Black business today. If you missed part one, go ahead and check out our conversation with former U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. Next week, we're going to wrap up the series by going back to the beginning. And by the beginning, I mean the founding of the United States. We're going to examine why some of those founding ideals have only applied to some people and not all people. And if you liked what you heard today, make sure to leave us a review on iTunes, Spotify or Stitcher. Or you can always find us directly at UPS.com.

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Longitudes explores and navigates the trends reshaping the global economy and the way we’ll live in the world of tomorrow: logistics, technology, e-commerce, trade and sustainability. Which path will you take?

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