Starting a company can definitely be a daunting task, and I have gotten a lot of questions about how I started Intoxicated, especially from people who want to start their own something. Because I get asked all the time how I started, I have essentially mastered boiling it down to a super diluted and quick version of the real story. However, I feel like during these crazy times its super important to share, learn, and connect, and so I have decided to write down how it really all started. Here it goes:
Back in 2013, I had just moved to NYC with my then boyfriend for his job, and was working for my family’s business in advertising, covering New York, Connecticut, and Boston. About a month before moving there (a city that I basically knew no one in except for a few friends from high school), my family and I found out that my father had stage 4 cancer. Moving to a new city during a time that you really need to be around people that love you was tough, especially since that city was New York. Needless to say, I was incredibly stressed out, depressed, and felt super alone.
My then boyfriend was working long and late hours (we’ll get to that part), and every time I went into my family’s office, people would ask me about my father, cry, or give me looks of pity. My father was loved by his employees and everyone was definitely rattled by his illness. He was 58, an active member in the community, and had a lot of friends – many of whom worked for him, some of them for 30+ years. Regardless, it became more and more difficult for me to go into the office, and I even started to avoid it because I couldn’t deal with talking about it anymore to anyone else. I started to hate my job and it was hitting too close to home.
One day in early October of 2013, I went to visit my father at Sloan Kettering where he was being treated. I remember this day in particular because his doctor came into his room and asked me if she could talk to me alone. I knew what she was going to say. I can’t for the life of me remember exactly what she said, but the gist was that my father was not going to make it.
I didn’t cry. I didn’t do anything. I walked all the way home that day from 91st street to 14th in silence. I was scared. When I finally got home I started to research alternative methods of treatment for cancer and eventually stumbled upon bee venom. Bee venom contains one of the only naturally occurring chemical compounds known to man that is able to break into disease wall barriers such as HIV and cancer. It doesn’t necessarily cure these diseases, but it intrigued me. Bee venom can also be injected as a method of treatment for people with MS, it contained antimicrobial properties, etc ... There were just so many things it could do.
But of course, nothing really came from my research, and a few short weeks later my father passed away. While I was preoccupied with my father being sick and then his death, I didn’t realize that all the while my then boyfriend was cheating on me. Although I should have left him immediately, I was a train wreck, and begged for him to stop so that we could fix it. But he made it easy for me, and a short four months after my father died, he kicked me out of our apartment so he could do as he pleased. Sweet, I know.
So I packed up my bags and moved to Gramercy Park in a building that one of my friends lived in. I was incredibly stressed out and I looked terrible. When I finally mustered the energy to unpack my belongings and do something about my appearance, I decided to go to Sephora for some retail therapy. I mean after all, I looked like I had aged 8 years in 8 months. When I asked the associate there for the best anti-aging serum that they had, saying that I didn’t care how much it cost but that it had to actually work, she responded with one word- “Botox”.
Well fuck you I thought. I may have even actually said it. I was feeling prettttty edgy back then. How is that possible. I’m only 24, I’m not getting Botox - that is ridiculous. How are there no serums that work?
When I got home that day, I remembered some of my findings on bee venom and I got out the notes I made months ago in regards to alternative methods of cancer treatment. I had written down that bee venom contains a ton of antimicrobial properties which are amazing for treating acne and it even slightly mimics the effects of Botox by inhibiting muscle contractions and reproducing collagen and elastin in your skin.
I sort of got down this rabbit hole of research and being the product junkie I have always been, I was interested. And so it got me thinking… If this is just bee venom, what other venoms are out there? Can they also be applicable to skin care? Something just drew me to this idea. Honestly looking back at it now it seems like I was just meant to be interested in this. Sometimes I laugh about it because I feel like I blacked out and now I’m here. It’s so strange. But I felt it in my stomach – “I have something here” I thought.
So, I spent hours and hours, even days, teaching myself about chemical compounds, peptides, reading through lab analysis. Things that I hadn’t heard since chemistry class in high school (I struggled to get a B-). I thought seriously about going back to school. What am I going to do? Get a chemistry degree? It didn’t seem feasible. But then eventually things started to click. I started to be able to talk about compounds. I started to understand ingredients and why certain chemicals reacted with others and why. I started writing things down and connecting the dots.
A few months later , I left my job at my family’s business - one of the most secure, logical, and obvious things that I could do with my career, knowing I most likely would not be offered that opportunity again and knowing that I respected it enough not to toy with it or bite the hand that fed me my whole life. I was intimidated that maybe I would never be as successful as I could be with the opportunities that I had there. Coming from multiple family businesses, I watched the people that came before me and what it took to get to where my family had gotten. Generations worth of effort and hard work. But I wanted a seat at the table. My own seat.
So, I moved back to Boston. Took time to go back to school to become an aesthetician to understand skin care even further. Got licensed. Graduated. Applied for a job at a medical spa. Worked there for 3 years, and in 3 years got promoted 3 times. Renamed my company like 40 times. Day dreamed. Wrote down content for things that I knew one day I would need. Created a business plan. Found mentors. Hundreds of pages of notes. Asked a lot of questions. Sacrificed relationships that I knew no longer served me or weren’t in line with who I wanted to be or where I wanted to go. And then I had a moment. It was time. “I’m going to do this”.
And so I did. I wrote out my business plan, made timelines and set goals. You should have seen my apartment – it looked like an absolutely crazy person lived there. I think I might have gone a little crazy at that time to be honest. There were sticky notes and inspiration photos all over the walls, pages of research on the floor, books everywhere, multiple computers going, you name it.
I was so determined but obviously had no fucking idea what I was doing – and I think that honestly having a little bit of ignorance is bliss. I heard a quote once that said “When you want to climb a mountain, do not look at the top. You will want to quit. Instead, look at the footing in front of you, and before you know it, you will be there”. I love this quote because it is so applicable. The fake it till you make it mentality definitely works – I made a big list and just started to chip away at it. Before I knew it I had an EIN, I had a lab, I had formulas, I had packaging, a marketing concept, etc. It took me about a year and a half from the time that I officially started until I had completed products in my hands.
With that being said, the past 7 years has taught me a lot about myself. I took my lemons and I made lemonade. To anyone who is considering starting their own “something”, it is a long and tough road but it is so so so worth it in the end. I truly believe that out of darkness comes light, and if I never went through what I did, I would never have found my passion, started my company, moved back to my favorite city, or have met my fiancé.
I hope that anyone who feels down in the dumps or feels like their lives or careers have taken a negative spin can read my story and see that even when everything is going wrong (ahem Corona Virus), there is always a light at the end of the tunnel; there is always a way to make lemonade.
Sending all the love and good vibes