This week in our ongoing Meet the Maker series, we’re getting to know the lovely Melissa Camilleri of Compliment. In addition to being an amazing maker, Melissa knows her stuff when it comes to Instagram, and I had the honor of hosting her in an Expert Interview for my Brick House Branding Course. Welcome, Melissa!
LBC: What inspired you to take your leap as an entrepreneur?
Melissa: It was kind of a perfect storm. I had launched my business while I was still teaching high school full-time. I thought it would be a good fundraiser for student scholarships, but I didn’t really have a gigantic desire to be an entrepreneur. I thought I’d teach forever.
But between May and November of 2012, my personal life was really rocked. I got divorced, moved schools, moved homes, and then three people in my family passed away unexpectedly. I was dealing with so much grief and change in such a short amount of time, I took a leave of absence from the classroom to re-establish a new life. During that time, I immersed myself into my business, learning all I could about e-commerce and trying to make Compliment grow.
Within about 5 months, I was forced to decide whether or not I’d return to the classroom, and I just didn’t feel ready. I didn’t have a great plan. I didn’t have a year’s worth of savings to back me up. It probably wasn’t the most responsible choice I’ve ever made, but it was necessary and really strengthened my faith and my persistence. The fear of NOT following this new dream was greater than the fear of failing. So I just leapt and trusted that I’d figure it out on the way down. That was three years ago and I’ve been hustling to make it all work ever since.
LBC: When you first got started, how did you envision your business would be defined?
Melissa: I envisioned Compliment to be defined as a jewelry brand that was about so much more than the jewelry. When I first started, I didn’t know any other jewelry brands that were including compliments or mantras or words of any kind along with their jewelry. I was writing notes to my students who had purchased the first batches of the jewelry I was making, letting them know how proud of them I was. I’m a natural encourager, and this brand was just an extension of me. It was intuitive, but not yet intentional.
So in the beginning I thought Compliment would be defined as jewelry with meaning. I think it continues to fit that definition, but now that space is crowded and I’ve gotten a little more specific with my branding as Compliment has evolved to include other gifts beside just jewelry.
LBC: How would you describe what you create?
Melissa: I create “gifts to uplift.”
LBC: Where can we find your products?
Melissa: At www.shopcompliment.com and in independent retailers throughout North America.
LBC: Walk us through your typical work day.
Melissa: I wake up around 6:30 and often while still in bed, I’ll quickly scroll through my emails and social medias to see if there are any pressing issues I need to give my attention to. I get to my studio/office around 8-8:30 am, make myself a cup of tea, and sit at my computer and begin answering emails.
When my team arrives at 9, we will usually have a quick meeting about what’s happening or on the horizon, and then they go into the production room to make and ship any orders that need fulfillment. I head back to the computer and work on business development. Depending on the week, it might be writing newsletters, designing new products, online meetings with clients or contractors or collaborators, or emailing. I feel like so much of my day is spent emailing now.
Some days we all eat at the office and take a little lunch break together. Other days, I take my team out to lunch. I employ high school and college students + college grads who were former students whenever possible and company culture is very important to me, so taking a break and eating together is one way I can foster a tight-knit team. This together time is sacred to me.
After lunch, we get back to our work stations and finish up projects. I check up on social medias, get updates on how shipping is going, and help trouble shoot any end of the day tasks, which often falls under inventory issues. We are still working out a better system for restocking materials!
LBC: What are 3 things makers should think through when they initially decide to start a business?
Melissa: 1. Do you love what you’re doing so much that you are willing to stick with it – not just when the orders are rolling in, but when they slow down too?
2. How do you view failure? Do you avoid it at all costs? Do you even believe it exists? Are you afraid of it? What is your risk-tolerance?
3. Honestly assessing yourself, do you have a growth or fixed mindset? If you’re someone who is always learning and implementing, vulnerable enough to ask for help when you need it, and confident enough to not attach your self worth to how well your business is doing at any given second, then you’ve probably got what it takes. Starting a business is not for the faint-hearted. It takes a ton of courage to create and stick with it.
LBC: When you’re overwhelmed, what brings you back to focus?
Melissa: Meditation. Always. Then, talking things out with my husband. I’m very lucky. He’s my #1 supporter, and I’m so blessed to be able to bounce ideas off him.
LBC: Tell us about a few of the best business decisions you’ve made to date.
Melissa: 1. Listening to my gut since the beginning. I have a very strong intuition and have let that guide me, even when it may have seemed to an outsider that I was doing things in a way that isn’t status quo. I’m proud of my navigation skills into the unknown.
2. Choosing to host my site on Shopify early on. I was an early adopter in December of 2012. I compared a bunch of e-commerce platforms and just happened to like Shopify the best. Now, 4 years later, they have built a much more robust interface with so many more apps to help customize a store. I’m a huge fan.
I’m also a huge fan of my shipping program– Shipping Easy. I can’t say enough about their customer service. For 2 years, I was typing out each address on Avery labels, trekking to the post office each day, and mailing each package individually from the kiosk! Talk about time and money waster! Shipping Easy, paired with Shopify literally transformed SO MUCH for our internal systems.
3. Not following the crowd. I don’t follow a bunch of gurus or care to watch how other gift businesses are doing things, not because I don’t think I can learn from them, but because I know if I spend my time looking at others, rather than forging my own path, I’ll get caught in comparisonitis-mode which halts every creative urge I have. So I made an intentional decision 3 years ago to put on my blinders, and just keep doing what feels good in my own business.
4. Diversifying and bringing more “me” into the Compliment brand. I started off as a teacher but for the first 2 years of my business, I rarely talked about it. I realized that I was leading two separate lives – one as an entrepreneur and one as an educator at heart. In 2015, I had a spark of inspiration and decided to write a short e-course on building an engaged community on Instagram. I was able to now be a teacher in the business world– something that comes really naturally to me. By adding an informational product to my shop, I welcomed a whole new audience to my work, and quadrupled my income in a year. It taught me a lot about how I can combine my own special set of gifts and talents and be fully an educator and fully an entrepreneur at the same time.
LBC: Please share one mistake or obstacle from your business experience. How did you bounce back/overcome it?
Melissa: I don’t really believe in mistakes – just learning experiences. But one obstacle I’ve faced recently was choosing to do something “for exposure” rather than for the compensation I deserved. I put my trust in someone who didn’t earn it and I went against what I suspected to be true about this individual.
This experience taught me exactly how I DON’T want to be in my business. It showed me that business with integrity is everything and that if I’m not aligned in my purpose, and something feels forced, it’s not for me. This is a value I’ve always had. But this experience made me really get clear on who I will and will not work with. It’s ok to say no and the fear of missing out should not ever be a reason to do something. I’m ok with slow and steady growth if it means that my actions are always aligned with my values.
LBC: Is there a cause or organization that you contribute to that you’re particularly passionate about?
Melissa: YES! The Compliment Scholarship Program! It’s the heartbeat of Compliment and the reason why we even exist. We set aside 5% of our proceeds every single day to support educational equity for first generation college students. The opportunity gap in the United States is real and it’s not just about race, but about the haves and the have nots. My mission is to close that gap, first in my own community, and then nationally. My entire career has been devoted to this cause, as I myself am a first generation college grad. I firmly believe that education changes people– and helps them break free from the circumstances they’re born into.
LBC: What are 3 essential resources in your business toolbox that you can’t do without?
Melissa: 1. Gusto for payroll. It’s so easy to use and way less expensive than traditional payroll systems.
2. Shipping Easy (see above!)
3. The workbook I wrote called “In Her Head.” It’s a 30-page workbook I developed based on the exercised my team and I do together before launching any new product, to really figure out who we are selling to.
LBC: Suppose we had a time machine. If you blasted ourselves forward a few years, where would we see your company?
Melissa: In a few years, Compliment, Inc. will be a full fledged lifestyle company with two arms – products at www.shopcompliment.com, and education at melissacamilleri.com (which is currently in development). Our products will be found more and more frequently on the pages of national publications. Our educational curriculum will be implemented globally and serve hundreds of thousands of learners.
Our scholarship program will be an official non-profit foundation and have multiple companies donating to educational causes nationally. Our scholarship will be renewable for 4 years and cover the full tuition for at least 10 students. We will have a mentorship program established to guide these students with resources and community to support them through their undergrad careers.
LBC: Your musical playlist is full of…
Melissa: Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon, Janet Jackson, Prince, and Justin Timberlake.
LBC: Share one of your guiltiest pleasures.
Melissa: Naps. Long ones. If I could, I would nap every afternoon for a solid 2-3 hours.
LBC: If you could hire someone to do just one thing that you sort of loath doing, what would it be?
Melissa: To follow behind me in the morning and re-hang up all the clothes I pull out of the closet when trying to find something cute to wear.
Thank you, Melissa, for sharing your talent with us! We absolutely love what you’re doing with Shop Compliment, and we look forward to all the wonderful things ahead for you and your company. We’re cheering you on!
Want to see your brand featured in our continuing “Meet the Maker” series? Drop us a line: hello AT luckybreakconsulting.com. Please use “MEET THE MAKER” as the subject line and be certain to include your web address. We look forward to hearing from you!