Growing a Business? Build a Support System says Nikki Riojas
Nikki has been an advocate for women-owned businesses her entire life, starting her first company at 22 years old. She knows the challenges and successes of building a small business from the ground up and is passionate about creating a strong support system among women business owners within her community.
As the owner of Thirteen & Market, a home decor and lifestyle brand in Corpus Christi, Texas, she has positioned herself as a leader in the online small business decor community. Her first brick-and -mortar location will be opening in the Summer of 2018. Throughout her career, she has always supported artists, makers, and businesswomen along the way.
Nikki shares that a key to her success has been a strong support system. When she moved to a new community in Texas where there wasn’t a vibrant community of women entrepreneurs, she founded her own, the Women Entrepreneur’s Society of Corpus Christi.
“I think it’s a really great idea to get input from those around you. But I would caution people against letting [others’] feedback lead you down the path that’s too far from your original concept. It’s happened to me, one time in particular, and the businesses never even got off the ground because I got so caught up with all of the feedback that I lost my original vision. I think you need to be able, as an entrepreneur, to filter through that information and choose the pieces that will help propel your idea forward without getting stuck.”
Nikki and I talk about
- why the support of like-minded women is crucial
- how her group quickly became so popular that she outgrow their meeting space
- her mission to provide an educational environment to help entrepreneurs succeed
- the delicate balance of sharing (and oversharing) on social media – and where that line is
- and we each share a personal story that really resonated with our audiences
Connect with Nikki
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Today, I spoke with Nikki Riojas who is in Corpus Christi, Texas. She was fabulous to talk to. She launched her online retail business—it’s a home decor and lifestyle site—13andmarket.com 16 years ago. She’s got some really interesting experience and insight from what it was like launching online retail from back in the day when we didn’t have handy templates and we didn’t have easy to use carts and merchant services—if you can remember online back that far ago, I know I do.
She also moved to Texas four years ago and started asking around about where women entrepreneurs meet, support, and collaborate. The answer was that there really wasn’t anything. So six months ago, she formed officially her nonprofit, and hosts events each month where these women can come together. They’re having the opposite issue that lots of entrepreneurs and founders experience when they’re developing groups. They’re scaling so quickly that they’re having trouble finding space. But really it points to the fact that women entrepreneurs are looking for that sense of community and she is serving her community very, very well. She is fabulous to talk to. I hope you will check out her website for her nonprofit, it’s wescc.org. You can also find it on the blog on this site at brandwithcatalyst.com.
JM: Hi Nikki. How are you?
NR: I’m great. Thank you. How are you?
JM: I’m good. It’s great to talk to you.
NR: You too.
JM: I was so excited when our mutual friend, Mary, introduced us. I really enjoyed talking to you and getting to know you. It’s been interesting, I’m really looking forward to delving more into your story and how you got to where you are because you have really experienced so much success. But like all the bumps along the way that come with it, it’s like it’s all compressed into this kind of experience. I think things that probably a lot of people experience over years, you have just skyrocketed so it’s going to be a fun conversation. Talk a little bit about what you do.
NR: Sure. I started the kind of life with entrepreneurship since I was about 22. I had started a handmade apparel, jewelry, all those types of things at companies. It was online. It was even before Facebook was really out there for online purchases, that type of thing. We were building everything from scratch. I had a business partner and the two of us got really into celebrity gift bag marketing, we were doing big corporate orders, lots of things that were all handmade at that time. We’re learning along the way. We’re learning marketing, design, sales, all those things at a really young age. But it was a really great experience and probably helped propelled me into all of these new endeavors that you were mentioning a bit before.
JM: It’s all kinds of fun things that you start to learn. It was all the things that you don’t even know you’re going to learn when you start a business.
JM: How did you go from that to what you’re currently doing today? You’ve got an online retail market space. What is the URL for that so people can visit that?
NR: Yes. Over the course of the last 16 years, we’ve had a website it’s since changed to 13andmarket.com. It’s a home decor and lifestyle company. We are nationwide, we do some international selling as well. But really, it’s various lines of curated collections that are for the home, for yourself, really very unique individualized types of items that we have exclusively sold online over the last 16 years. We’ve been getting very excited about some of the new things, we’re opening up a brick-and-mortar coming soon. But it’s definitely been a working progress—
JM: That’s really cool. Interestingly, 16 years, like you mentioned before, it was really kind of before the advent of online selling—there are some people that can even remember that time, I remember it well. I remember my dial-up modem in college taking 10 minutes to get online—what have you seen changed over that time? What are some of the things that have surprised you? What are some of the things that you thought, “Oh, my gosh. Finally, this is so much easier?”
NR: Yeah, when we originally started the company, we were building everything in the website, even when there were not a lot of templates; there were not a lot of things that were not user-friendly, so we were learning along the way. With the onset of social media, that just really blew up the business into something much larger than I ever anticipated. Social media has definitely been a big part of searching the market, especially Instagram has been crazy, you post really nice pictures and people buy things right and left. It’s been something that was very, very different than what we started. But we still use a lot of our traditional methods as well, email marketing, some mailing, that type of thing.
JM: I can totally see Instagram being good for you guys. Your website is so beautiful and the collections are really well curated. It’s great stuff, I’m not surprised to hear that at all. How long have you been in Texas?
NR: We’ve been in Texas almost four years. Before that, we were in Louisiana for a couple of years but from Nebraska originally, so that’s where the company started.
JM: Okay got it. What was that like? I know we had spoken previously and you’d touched on what that was like to try to move. Because you had a really nice community of women entrepreneurs where you came from and then you suddenly find yourself in Texas with this business and you don’t have that support system.
NR: Yes. That was definitely a big challenge for me specifically because I worked from home. Because it was an online business, I was doing everything from my computer, whether online, outside, or inside, it was still just myself and of course people that were here that were helping with production. One of the biggest things, the challenges, and the struggles that I found was finding more people like me that I could connect with, that I could collaborate with, in a city that was brand new to me. That was definitely something that I was wanting to do but had gotten not a lot of resources at that point to try to make that happen. Social media was actually one of the best things that started the ball rolling for us.
JM: Thank heavens for social media.
JM: Don’t know what we will do without it. You’ve got a nonprofit that is based on that concept to developing community, how did that start?
NR: Along those lines, as I started doing this research and I was finding people online that have these amazing companies in all industries, I would say, 95% of them were owned by women. I was connecting with them through Instagram and through Facebook. But I started asking them, “Where are we meeting? Where do you guys work together? How do you talk about things?” And they said, “Just online, we don’t do that.” I said, “How about we start it?”
JM: You don’t do that, that’s awesome.
NR: It was one of those things where we started out with about a handful of women. We got together to the coffee shop and introduced ourselves, we started talking a little bit about our businesses, what we did, and what we’d like to see. Some people are from Corpus Christi originally, some people like me are transplants and it wasn’t until we started sitting down and started really talking face-to-face that we started to realize how many more of us there were than we originally thought.
JM: That’s amazing. It’s interesting to me because I think, sometimes, especially, my very early days, I was freelancing and working from home before I had an office and had a team. I think when you are very isolated it’s very easy to think that you’re the only person who is maybe experiencing an issue. It’s funny when you’re the person who says, “Hey, what if we get together? What if we collaborate?” And everybody’s like, “Yeah, I want to do that too.” You have really championed that community of women entrepreneurs in Corpus Christi. I love how successful it has been. How many people did you have at your last meeting? Because you guys meet regularly.
NR: We do, we’ve got different tiers of our membership now, so that’s taken quite a different churn than when we originally set it a year ago. Our last meeting had about 50-55 members that were there for our general meeting. Those happen four times a year. It’s incredible. We still get applications every day from women that are finding us on our website, on social media, of course, and saying, “I want to be a part of this. I want something that can help me gain that community and collaboration opportunities, and really get me out of this shell, get me out of sitting behind this desk and let me come in and talk with people face-to-face,” which has been outstanding.
JM: That is awesome. You have had kind of the opposite problem that a lot of people have when they start a group. You are continually looking for more space. Talk a little bit about some of those challenges. Are you super close to your goal for this year for growing your membership base?
NR: Yes, we are. Yup. Our goal for 2018 was 100 members. When we started out, it was about six. Every month. That doubled by the end this last year. That was just really very informal. At the end of last year, we just literally ran out of space to meet. We were meeting at women shops, at homes, at coffee shops, anywhere we could. Once we hit that 30 number, people were having to bring their own chairs. There was really no place that we could house this. We had just kind of a fun little gift to market for all of our retail members at the end of last year. We’re informal at that time, no one really knew who we were in the community, we started promoting it. My background is in marketing and advertising so we promoted it well. We had women coming up to us right and left, do this thing saying, “Where are you from? What is the secret underground of women’s society we had no idea about? We want to join,” and we couldn’t let them in because we didn’t have any place to push that.
JM: Wow. Is that how it’s grown primarily? It’s just through word of mouth or have you done a lot of promoting of the group?
NR: It has been social media, word of mouth. Once people actually have attended a meeting or we have socials once a month which I think is probably imperative to the girls, this organization because, again, like we were saying, there are so many people that are at home so frequently, they’re working moms, they’re just getting started, and they’re still on school, and they still don’t have really an outlet, a place to go to just kind of relax, but also to meet people. You don’t have to bring your business card if you don’t want to, you don’t talk about work if you don’t want to, just come, just come and hang out.
We pick a locally owned restaurant or venue every month to a different location and we like to support our local venues here in town. But that’s it, you just come and go as you want, you can bring your friends, you can bring your husband if you want, we don’t care, just come out and we’ve had just wild success with each of those. I think, once people start to see that it’s not this kind of stuffy networking, you have to set everything out in front of you and you kind of speed dating, that’s not what it is at all, which is I think is just a little bit different now with a lot of other networking opportunities are with peers, let’s open the door to just get a lot of people out and at least just leave your house. Amazing things can happen when you leave your house.
JM: That’s amazing. We’re finding the same thing. It’s really interesting because I think the whole sort of networking scene has evolved so much. I think back to starting my business 13 years ago, I really built that momentum by getting out and having coffee meet up. I didn’t have an office, I didn’t have any money. It was right before the recession we really didn’t have any money. It wasn’t even lunch, it was like, “Let me take you for a cup of coffee. Let’s get together. I’ll stop by your office.” That networking really worked so well.
I remember my first few times going to networking events and just feeling overwhelmed by people blasting out their business cards and how few people actually followed up with anything meaningful. You might get a LinkedIn connection—which is great. My other business is a social media company, there’s definitely value in LinkedIn when it’s used correctly—but you have those people who are just kind of amassing this base of connections on LinkedIn for what purpose, I have no idea. It was like this overwhelming experience. Then right around that time, that was like 2005, so by the time like 2008, 2009 came it really was about social media, and there was so much of that connection and people are like, “Oh, we don’t have to go out to meet people and talk to people.” Then it was video, and it’s been all these great things, and now I’m really finding in the last couple of years, there’s kind of that digital backlash for people are looking for those meaningful opportunities to come together in person. I love that, that meaningful connection.
I just went to a networking event that hopefully, I’ll be interviewing the woman who held it very soon but we were not allowed to exchange business cards which is really interesting, we had to get very creative about it, it was really cool. It felt like having a hand tied behind my back like I didn’t know what to do. I’m like, “Oh, you’re awesome. I would really like to learn more about your business.” You very nearly confined almost anyone and they did release contact information for the people who allowed it afterward. But it was interesting because rather than having those pushy people throwing business cards in your face, you actually have to talk to people about what you do. I thought that that was really cool. My hats off to you for providing those meaningful opportunities for connection. People are definitely looking for that.
NR: Thank you, it’s been amazing to see their response and to continue to see this response, six months in June of being an official nonprofit.
JM: That’s amazing.
NR: Yeah. Just to see the response and to see it keep building has been, for me that just tells us every day is that this was needed.
JM: You’re on the right track. You need that endorsement from the universe sometimes that you’re on the right path, it definitely sounds like people are looking for it. One of the other things that we talked about though, you have had this tremendous success, you found this niche where something was so needed in your community but you also talk about not being able to please everyone all the time, talk a little bit about your experience there.
NR: I think it’s relevant in every industry, especially, with a group of very strong-minded women entrepreneurs, you are not always going to have people there on the same page, going the same direction, going the same speed. I specifically have to keep reminding myself and others that, “That’s okay, we’re not always going to be going down the same path, at the same time, with the same amount of people.” But what we are doing is giving the people the opportunity to learn, to get resources to collaborate, to really get to a different point in your career and with your business without having to worry necessarily so much about what everybody else thinks or what your competition thinks. We have disagreements, we have people who want to keep it a very closed group, we have people who want to open it up to everyone. Really what have had to go back to me is our mission which is really to develop and nurture relationships with these women business owners in our community and we want to keep people here. We’re going to provide the educational resources, support. But that’s it, if you follow within that category, you are welcome to join. Sometimes, people forget that, and so it’s a challenge to be able to keep with that mission even though you got lots of opinions and thoughts coming at you.
JM: Everybody has an opinion. It’s tough especially, business owners, in general, have this tendency to be very competitive, so that competitive nature comes out and it’s like wanting to hoard their resource or protect their resource. I do understand too about the other issue of worrying about what people think. I see that a lot with social media. A lot of my clients for catalyst, when we talk about their branding, there’s always that fear of putting yourself out there. This uncontrollable environment once you put it out there and you think, “Who is watching what I’m doing? Who’s judging what I’m doing? Is it the right message? Is it the right head shot?” And it is really tough for a lot of women business owners.
NR: It is. I think, being authentic really does change that a bit. At least in my experience, it was Thirteen & Market, one of the things that I had and I’m a big challenge with, as a business owner was how much do I really share on social? I have a decent following, 20,000 some followers and our daughter was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at 7 months old. That is very rare. I had to make a conscious decision, “Do I post this?” We’re very personal about this. I would tell you, if I had not done that, I would not have found one of the women who was our support throughout the entire ordeal, she had a daughter who went through the exact same thing, 12 years before, she too would tell us what to ask people at the hospital, what to say to the doctors, what to do with medication, this is someone that I had no idea about, she actually lived in Arizona. Had it not been for social media and having not shared that vulnerable component of my life with our group, I never would have found that support.
JM: You wouldn’t have had that support, exactly. You know, it is such a double edge sword, so tough. My son had a brain tumor, he hadn’t had his third birthday, I mean he was like too much shy of his third birthday, he’s now a sassy 11-year-old who is an honor student and he thinks he runs the show. I think someday he does run the show here. That is always important for me to mention when we talk about those days.
It was interesting back then, it’s been almost like a decade, it’s crazy that so much time has gone by, knock on wood—and thank God, not just knock on wood. But it’s interesting to look at that time and all the support that we got, and the people that we were connected with. I have become such a big fan of sharing that personal detail. Not every detail. There are people who overshare and it’s like, “Why are you sharing this?” But I do think it’s great when you share those things. You are a shining example of that, not just with your child and getting the support from your community of how do you get through this, what do you ask, what do you deal with, but you created that community in person and those connections for people like getting online and saying, “Hey, where do you guys connect, what do you? Oh, you don’t? Let’s do that.”
It’s funny because I draw the line out when I’m talking to clients about their social media messaging, what they put out there, it’s being really careful because I think the people who are very open about sharing, you always want to caution against politics and religion, they’re my two big ones like, “Don’t do it.” Unless you’re a candidate or a faith organization, don’t do it.
Then the other things that we talked about, I think a lot of times people like to poke fun at clients or client stereotypes which I just think is a huge mistake or it’s so relatable to be like, “Oh, I’m having a crazy day, look at my crazy day,” but I think that there are times that you can overshare the craziness of your day and it kind of creates losing credibility. I think it’s always interesting walking that fine line. But I’m a big fan of sharing what’s authentically actually happening for you because you give other people that strength and the opportunity to support you through it. I love that you shared that. We had amazing support with our son when that was happening that we wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.
Let’s shift gears a little bit, our audience is brilliant women entrepreneurs, what are some of the top tips that you would share with them when it comes to growing their organizations?
NR: I think about this a lot. I’ve gone through a couple of successful businesses and few not so successful businesses as well. One of the things which still sticks with me to this day is as you’re shaping your ideas for whatever it is, whatever concept or business idea you have, I think it’s a really great idea to get input from those around you. A note that you respect, industry professionals, mentors, brand, anyone who you think would have a valid opinion. But I would caution people against letting their feedback lead you down the path that’s too far from your original concept. It’s happened to me one time in particular, and the businesses never even got off the ground because I got so modeled with all of the feedback that I lost my original vision. I think you need to be able, as an entrepreneur, to filter through that information and pull up the pieces that will help propel your idea forward without getting stuck into that, “They said this, I said this, how is it going to work, I don’t know if it’s going to work, maybe it’s not going to work, I guess it’s not going to work.” The more that you can just take the relevant pieces of information and put that towards the goal, the better I think you’ll be.
JM: I completely agree with you. It’s interesting because when you look at your business as a whole as well as your brand, that focus and that clarity on who you are and what you’re doing is paramount, it’s so important. I think it’s fabulous advice.
JM: You got to stay true to yourself and your vision. I loved talking with you. Thank you so much, Nikki. I appreciate your time. I hope you’ll join us again.
NR: Yes, thank you so much. I appreciate being on the show.
JM: Absolutely. 13andmarket.com is your online home and decor and lifestyle website.
JM: What’s the website where people can learn more about your nonprofit group in Corpus Christi?
NR: It’s the Women’s Entrepreneur Society of Corpus Christi, and that’s wescc.org.