Eliza Blank's childhood was rooted in gardening, but when she traded in her Subaru for a metro card and moved to NYC, she quickly realized greenery was the missing element. The solution? Opening up her shop, The Sill, which provides easy-to-carry houseplants nationwide.
What was your "entrepreneur moment"?
My older brother was always an inspiration and a natural entrepreneur, which meant I followed him to New York City and into the design business. Except moving to New York presented different challenges to me. As a young college student, I wanted to make my 200-square-foot apartment feel more like home. Having grown up surrounded by plants, it seemed like an obvious element that was missing. Except like everything else, New York City made buying indoor plants more difficult than it had to be. Instead of a picking up potting soil in a Subaru, there was the subway and six flights of stairs. The idea for The Sill stayed with me through the start of my career as a brand strategist and later on as a brand manager. I was lucky enough to land a job at a beauty start-up called Living Proof in Boston where I gained operational experience. It was after my departure from Living Proof and second time moving to New York that I knew it was time to launch The Sill. It was even less fun hauling potting soil on the subway as an adult.
How do you define success?
Success is a moving target. My idea of success has evolved with the business. I don't think success is something you achieve but rather something you always set your sights on. For instance, whenever we come close to reaching a sales goal, we simply increase it.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started?
So many things. The biggest surprise to me was that nothing turns out the way you plan.
Do you have a great piece of equipment (a smartphone camera app, any tech tool like a credit card scanner, a great home printer) that you couldn't live without?
My MacBook Air, sneakers, and backpack! The average day has me hopping across the Hudson River and all over Manhattan. So my office is sometimes wherever there's an open seat and a wall outlet. And when the Wi-Fi is weak, using my iPhone as a wireless hotspot saves me every time.
What was your biggest surprise when you started your business (good or bad)?
The biggest surprise was how all-consuming it became. I don't know if that's good or bad. My first real lesson was as simple as this: If I didn't do it, no one else would. Of course, I have a business partner, team, and resources today -- but I can still find myself playing CEO, accountant, and janitor all in the same day. However the orders on our website just do not stop, but the customer notes do get more interesting after midnight. Not to mention our store in Chinatown is open seven days a week.
Do you have a mentor? If so, who?
My close network of friends, family, and entrepreneurial peers are always there for help -- be it business or personal advice. I prefer having a big sounding board as opposed to a single person with a biased view.
Who is your entrepreneur "hero"?
Outside of my older brother, it seems like there's no shortage of other people my age making it happen right now in New York City. Currently I'm really excited to follow Dan Teran, who I was able to meet prior to him founding Managed by Q. Now he's building an incredible office cleaning and service business that is already in multiple markets. Plus they pay a real living wage with benefits to their workforce. Dan is not cutting corners, just cleaning them.
What's the hardest part about being an entrepreneur?
Always operating out of your comfort zone. For instance, as a New York-based business, we signed our largest commercial real estate lease last year in New Jersey. But they call it the "Garden State" for a reason.
Do you miss anything from your preentrepreneur life?
From time to time I miss having a boss. There was always some comfort in having a respected leader set your agenda. But now I can rely on my business partner and growing team to contribute to how the company is run.
What's the first you do in the morning?
E-mail, Instagram, and eggs -- in that order.
A single tip for success?
Be resilient. There are always going to be setbacks and surprises, not to mention traffic jams.
How did you fund your business when you first started? Did you have a business plan? Blood, sweat, and tears -- plus a little help from a Kickstarter campaign. Nearly four years later, the company continues to be bootstrapped. There was a business plan, there is a business plan, and there were certainly a few in between.