Ep #29 | The Pay It Forward Movement

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Adriana Carrig is the founder and CEO of Little Words Project. She began her company in 2013 after having just graduated with an English Literature degree from The College of New Jersey. During her tenure at TCNJ, Adriana had come up with a version of her brand that she shared with her college sorority. While studying to take the LSAT in preparation for Law School, Adriana came up with the idea to make Little Words Project into a real company. Adriana's vision for the company was to create a kinder world for women wherein collaboration was favored over competition, and its working. The company has doubled year over year since inception and was profitable in its first month of sales. Recently married, Adriana enjoys spending time with her new husband, Bill and they look forward to purchasing their first home together later this month!

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Shantel: Hi, Adriana. Welcome to the Imagine More Podcast.

Adriana: Hi. Thanks for having me.

Shantel: Of course. We're excited to learn more about the Little Words Project. If we want, we can just start right there, and would love to hear how you got ... So you started that company.

| HOW THE JOURNEY BEGAN |

Adriana: Yeah, for sure. Little Words Project is essentially a pay it forward movement in the shape of a friendship bracelet. What we do is we create different inspirational words that are meant to be worn by each of our customers, and then passed on one day to someone who needs that bit of inspiration more. The entire premise is about spreading kindness in girl world, and just making females just a little bit kinder to one another, wherein our first instinct will be to remove something from our person, right? That simple, selfless act of giving your bracelet up to someone else would be the first instinct in interacting with people going through something rather than to question them, or judge them, or dislike them, or whatever the case. That's kind of just the entire concept of the company. I go into that because the whole reason I started it was because I personally dealt a lot with negativity growing up with other girls, so I really wanted to create something that would live out there and be helpful to women of all ages rather than negative. That's kind of the reasoning behind starting it. I started a version of it in my college sorority. We would share bracelets amongst ourselves, pass them on, person to person, and it really worked. I started to see that this sisterhood was being formed amongst this group of 60 plus women. Obviously, the point of a sorority is to be a sisterhood, but it went deeper than that because the girls really, really considered one another. When I graduated I thought, if it worked in this microcosm of women, why couldn't it work on the grander scale. That's kind of what led me to actually launching Little Words Project in the iteration that it is today. Yeah, it's been quite the journey. We've been around for four years. I'm learning every day. Always trying to figure out how to do it better. Yeah.

Shantel: Yeah. I feel like we are all ... I mean, honestly, I think I reflect every day. Like, "Well, shoot, I didn't know that before. Thank gosh that thing happened, and now I know this new thing." Every day. Always learning.

Adriana: Absolutely. Yeah.

Shantel: Were you crafting the bracelets in your sorority, or did you buy bracelets and then just kind of incentivize or encourage people to share them?

Adriana: Yeah, I actually started making them myself. I had made similar bracelets when I was in middle school and high school. Always just walking around with positivity on my wrist was kind of the goal there. I really just wanted to always have something to look down at and be able to give myself inspiration to keep going, or to not let the naysayers get me down, or so on and so forth. There was always a little intuitive in that way. But when I went to college, I sort of saw that the cruelty I'd been experiencing kind of ... I don't want to say followed me, because then it somehow lends itself that ... it being my fault. But I definitely continued to experience it. It started to occur to me that this isn't just a childhood thing that happens. When you hear the term "bully," you think young kids in the playground. But for me, it kind of continued all the way up through college, and then even a little bit after the fact, just in the business world. It's not so much bullies as much as it's just competition and cruelty. You really don't see as much kindness anymore amongst people who are trying to make it. Without the collegiate level for whatever reason, it was this sorority versus that sorority. Just all these petty little things that often led me crying myself to sleep at night. I recalled those bracelets that I used to make for myself when I was a younger girl, and thought, "Why not bring this to the chapter?" Because it was the girls within the chapter itself that for the first time I felt like I really did have a group of females that I could rely on that were kind and loving. We all really genuinely were good friends, which is also something that you don't hear often with sororities, unfortunately. But we really did have something special. I wanted to use that thing I did when I was younger and bring it forth into the chapter so that we could have something special as well. So, I soon started. I made a batch of 20, I think, first. I was the vice president of membership at the time, so it kind of went along with my job description, too, right? To keep the love circulating. Then I started passing them out and girls soon started putting in orders for new ones. I was paying for it all out of my pocket and just kind of doing it for fun. Once I graduated, I saw that they were still doing it. The girls were still passing them on, they were ... This was at the beginning of Instagram. Instagram had just started. I remember emailing them once I had already graduated. Talk about not being able to let go. I was like, "You know, girls, you guys should really take pictures of your bracelets in different places, and hashtag it so that people can see all the places your bracelets have traveled." It was just this idea that I had had prior to Instagram becoming what it is today, which is crazy because it feels like that was not a million years ago. But it's like five years ago and it still feels like what was life without Instagram. But, yeah, so I had told them to do this and they ran with it. I mean, they were posting pictures everywhere. That's really what got me thinking like, "Hold on. If this is something that we can really sink our teeth into and blast out there, it might do a lot of good for a lot of girls, no matter the age."

Shantel: I love that. I would love to talk a little bit about the movement. Is this something that you've seen continue to grow and grow and really catch on, even outside of just that first year?

| WIDENING THE SOCIAL FOOTPRINT |

Adriana: Oh, absolutely. Yeah, that first year obviously I had the support of my sorority who would pass the link or spread the link through Facebook. I got a lot of interest right in the beginning. The company was profitable in our first month, which is ... When I tell people that, they're usually surprised because you think you have to have a million dollars to start a company or you have to know somebody or so on and so forth. I was able to invest about $5,000 into it, which is still a lot of money, but it was basically anything I'd saved up through college. We were able to turn a profit in that first month. It definitely helped that we launched right before Christmas of 2013, but it is ... It just goes to show that when a community builds around something, it really can go far. Yeah. And we've seen that same ... Not that same gross, it's actually doubled. We've doubled year over year throughout this entire process, which has been awesome. I've seen it grow, not just at monetarily, but also the community itself. Our social footprint has widened significantly since first starting. I've seen the registrations that we receive through our website where girls can actually go on and put in their story about why they chose their word or what their word means to them. We've seen those increase significantly since starting, and even just reading those stories. You read one and it tells you that it's a woman who was recently diagnosed with breast cancer, God, unfortunately. She goes ahead and puts in her story and why she chose the word "strength." I mean, as the person who started this, I sit there, sometimes in tears, reading through these stories, because it's like, wow, the goal was met. I wanted to affect more than just my college sorority and I have. But, of course, there's still a long ways to go.

Shantel: I think the impact of just being able to read the stories of where the bracelet has traveled is genius, but also just creates a bigger connection outside of just your sphere of friends and of who you know. You get to kind of understand and have empathy of what other people are going through by sharing those stories.

Adriana: Absolutely, yeah. That's definitely been one of the most inspiring components of owning this company. It's that every day I can ... If I'm feeling down or feeling like I need a little bit of rejuvenation, I can go on and read those stories and remember why it was that I started this. Like you said, it's going well beyond that first group of girls. It's every person who gets one wants to talk about it, because they really feel connected to a community. I think we are in this age of inspiring shopping, right? We like buying things that give back, or they have a mission, or they have a broader concept behind them. Women today, I mean, we're all about girl power, and so it's definitely helping that. We're right on the pulse of what's going on. But it's nice, it's really nice to see.

Shantel: Absolutely. Have any of the women that initially kind of bought into the company, just from the ... motivation or keeping you excited about it... Are any of them still involved to some degree in helping you grow the business?

Adriana: Yeah. Do you mean like people, like our initial customers and how many stuck around?

Shantel: Mm-hmm, like your sorority friends?


| UTILIZE YOUR NETWORK |

Adriana: Oh, absolutely. Yeah, no, for sure. We, I mean, every other day. I, honestly, I'm not like what you would pin as a, quote, "sorority girl," but I am the biggest proponent of utilizing your network. Whatever it might be, if it's sorority, if it's college club, if it's a church group, whatever it is. Never being ashamed to reach out and ask for help. What I had initially done when I started it was I asked the girls if they would be upset by me ... I mean, it really had become our thing at that point. I wanted to make sure they wouldn't be upset if I brought it to them after, then essentially gave other sororities the opportunity to jump in on it, which they've done in multiple numbers. The girls immediately were like, "Absolutely. This is your thing. You got to run with it." They were in full support. Ever since then, if I reach out to a member from my sorority now, the girls there ... And I'm like going on six years out, so it's been a long time, but the girls there still know me. They know Little Words Project. I think it's done more for girls as a whole than it ever would've done just at that college and on that campus within that one sorority. They're all very supportive. Like I said earlier, I really just ... I have no shame in asking for help or seeking advancement in any way, shape, or form. Having that network to be able to tap into has definitely been helpful.

Shantel: Well, now, and I agree with you there. I think you have to be bold when you're starting a new company and not be afraid to hear "no" and/or take those risks, and just throw it out there and see what sticks. I think it's smart that you leverage that network, absolutely.

Adriana: Yeah, absolutely.

Shantel: Have you ... not utilized, but tapped into the influencer, blogger, ambassador network, especially in the sorority space?

Adriana: Yeah, actually. We just had another meeting about that this morning. When I first started it, I really wanted to tap into that and kind of get it out there. But as is the case with ... just in general when you start a business, you don't get to always do all the fun stuff, right? So a lot of the times, my day is consumed with being on the phone with FedEx, or trying to figure out a label machine, or whatever. Whereas it's not always easy to sit down and plan out all those things that I've been wanting to do forever. But the ambassador program is something we've really, really tried to work on and build over the past couple of years. We do have a collegiate ambassador program, which the members do not have to be in sororities to be a part of it. But it's helpful to be a part of a group, right? Whether it's, like I said, a team or a club or whatever. But essentially that ambassador program is a way for us to get the word out there about the brand on college campuses, and just in general spread the knowledge of our mission, and get more girls to wear the product. We talk about who our major influencers are in our space. It really is, at the end of the day, those collegiate students who need a little bit of strength during their test taking, and want a reminder of love on their wrist to get them through whatever they're going through at the time. And also, they're our trendsetters, right? Everyone's kind of looking to that age demographic to see what's hot right now. We definitely want to make sure that those girls feel very supported by what we're doing. But beyond that, as far as influencers and bloggers is concerned, we've absolutely done our best to tap into that market. Like I said, it's a bigger undertaking than I would've initially thought, but we do frequently. We'll send product out and ask that girl to give us a review, and only promote it if they like it kind of thing. We've had a lot of success with that, because we're not necessarily targeting the people with hundreds of thousands of followers, but rather those smaller girls that are just breaking out, but their following is really, really devoted to them, right? Those are the girls that can spread mission-based concepts like ours the best.

Shantel: Nice.

Adriana: Yeah.

Shantel: You touched a little bit on your day and the label makers. What does your day-to-day look like now, and what do you hope to pass off your plate as soon as possible?

Adriana: Yeah. I've been slowly but surely trying to pass things off. And I actually think ... I'm recently married. I got married in October this past year, this past October. Having the wedding, and having to plan for the wedding, and having to be out of the office a little bit more and more, has really prepped my team to kind of take on more responsibility that I may not have ever relinquished, because I have control issues. But when faced with the very real fact that I needed to get to a vendor meeting or make sure that I was able to get this wedding, plan this wedding well, I had to kind of start letting something go. Now, luckily, I get to come in. We start our day at 10:00 here. We're a little later than the average, but we are all night people, so it works out. We start our day at 10:00 AM. We all commute in to the office. We start with the morning meeting, and we kind of go over whatever's on the agenda for that day as far as orders are concerned, but also bigger picture. We're planning already for Q2 of 2018 and making sure that we've got everything as far as marketing, and product launches, and that all stuff figured out as far in advance as possible. But this was not something we were able to do as recent as like four months ago, right? So it's just been a slow-burning process of us being able to bring on more people and me being able to relinquish more duties to each person. My personal day? Yeah, I get in at 10:00, I have that meeting, and then I sit down. I go through all my emails, and I attack whatever it is that I have on my list for that day to attack. Lately I've been really trying to hone in on ... Now, it's almost like now we get to get into the weeds and do the fun stuff, right? So it's not so much FedEx, because now I have a wonderful operations director that manages that for me. Actually, today I focused a lot on the Instagram and seeing how we can fill that out even further than we already have. It's a new thing every day, which is exciting.

Shantel: That is exciting.

Adriana: Yeah.

Shantel: Well, congratulations, first and foremost, about your wedding.

Adriana: Aw, thank you.

Shantel: What an exciting next step. Well, speaking of ... So how do you find balance with your personal and business life, now being married, but also, I mean, probably during that wedding planning time? Was it almost just kind of forced? You had to create that balance, or have you always been really great at having a good balance between work and personal? Would love to dive into that a little bit.

| IT'S OKAY TO BE DIFFERENT |

Adriana: Absolutely. So, I definitely have not always been very good at work and personal balance. I'm a little bit of a workaholic. Up until this past year, I was coming home and continuing to work on my computer at night. My now-husband, he and I had lived together at the time, he would be watching TV and I've got my computer up. I think I've gotten better at that, just because I started to realize that being burned out isn't the same as doing a job well done. Just because you are working your butt off and you're constantly on, if you will, doesn't mean that you're going to do the best job you could possibly do. I really started to try and relax a bit more. I'm, like, not normal and I don't really have any real hobbies. I don't enjoy going to the gym. I don't wake up and do yoga. I don't meditate. All those thing that everyone say you should do, I don't do, besides drink water. I drink plenty of water. But I sometimes worry about that. I feel like when you see all these people that are out there that are super successful, like a Tim Ferriss, if you will. And you see that he wakes up every morning, he starts with 30 minutes of meditation. I think to myself, "Oh my gosh, am I not going to be as successful as he is, because I'm not doing what he's doing?" But I do think there is ... Everyone has their own journey to success, but I digress. Back to the original question, yes, I have gotten much better at it over time, especially since the wedding. Because I, like you said, I was forced to ... I had to plan something else and I needed to kind of figure out how to navigate both things. But yeah, as a newlywed, I luckily have a very supportive husband that will sit and stipple ideas with me at night on our couch about the brand, and he's so excited to do it. So, for me, work isn't really work as much as it is like a puzzle. I can feel like I'm tackling something that I just have to figure out how to fine-tune it just right, and it'll take off. It's really just been kind of a challenge that I enjoy undertaking, which I guess makes me a little strange, but ...

Shantel: No, not strange at all. And I'm so appreciative of your kind of transparency there in saying, "Hey, I'm not the person to meditate or do yoga."

Adriana: Right.

Shantel: I have been having so many wonderful conversations with entrepreneurs, and sometimes it's a ... And I may need one of your bracelets for this very reason, but you kind of get imposter syndrome. Like, "Well, shoot. I'm not doing the exact same thing as this person, this person, this person. Is that bad, or how do I learn to meditate?" Just the overwhelm of, "I've got a million things to be doing, and now I have to add something else to my plate to become successful."

Adriana: Absolutely.

Shantel: I'm glad that you touched on that and painted a picture of, okay, it does not need to be like that to still have a business that's doubling year over year.

Adriana: Exactly. Exactly. Everything is what you make it as a person. If that's your cup of tea, then dive into it. You kind of got to do whatever it is that makes you happy. I do read, obviously. It's not something that I love doing. I was an English major in college, so maybe I fight it a little more than I would if I wasn't. But when I'm reading, I'm reading inspirational books. I'm reading entrepreneurial books. I'm reading things that will help me learn this industry. Because, as I said, I did not study this growing up. Just to touch on that same point of imposter syndrome and looking, I do my best to not look to the left or the right of me. It's so easy to ... I can open up Instagram right now and point out five different brands that started when I did, and they've got 100,000 followers to my 20. I could sit there and I can let it really affect me, and all that's going to do is cripple me. It's going to make me not want to go to work tomorrow. It's going to make me not want to try my hardest. I think the one piece of advice that I always give, and that I always try to remember myself, is to don't look to the left or right, look back and forth, right? So I try to look backwards at who I was two years ago and how far I've come since then. That really helps just remember, no, I'm not an imposter. I'm doing it too. It's my journey, it's not everyone else's, but that's okay. It's okay to take a little longer, to prioritize getting married, or prioritize eventually having children, but you can still have it all, is kind of what I've discovered, which is nice.

Shantel: No, and I'm glad you mentioned that, too. I've been noodling on this thought of success really does look different for every person. If you just kind of line everyone up and look at them like that, that one person may be completely happy, but have less followers, and it's totally okay with them. And really trying to define that for yourself, and understanding what does make you happy, and what are you actually going for.

Adriana: Right, right.

Shantel: It's not always the most important to make the most money and to have the most followers and all of that.

Adriana: Absolutely. But even so, I think, just to recap on that, it's not even so much about whether or not you're happy where you are, but how much more unhappy you would be if you started comparing yourself to others. So, of course, I would love to be at 100,000 followers right now and knocking the roof off of last year's numbers, and tripling or whatever. But I cannot allow myself to ingest what other people are doing, because if you do that and you don't put your blinders on, it'll actually prevent you from advancing, because you'll just see the finish line way further down the line. Whereas if you can at least just look at where you were, you can kind of decide that I'm going to be successful no matter what, because look how far I've come already. I think that's something that is just super important to differentiate between.

Shantel: Speaking of looking back, is there a big lesson or turning point in your business, or mistake or something that you've just completely learned, and you're like, "Thank goodness, looking back, that I had that experience because we've pivoted because of that"?

Adriana: I think the hardest part about starting your own company and building it is finding the right people to work with you and for you. That's been probably my hardest. I don't have one specific moment that I can pinpoint as a pivotal moment. I actually think that, I mean, dare I say, that I think we're in a little bit of a pivotal period right now that I will look back on in hopefully five years and say that was it, that was when it all just ... the stars aligned correctly and that's when we took off. But I do feel like the hardest part of the whole journey has been finding the right people to, as Dave Ramsey refers to it, is finding the right people to sit on the bus with you.

Shantel: In the right seat, yup.

| EMBRACE CHANGE |

Adriana: Yeah, in the right. I've now been in the process of navigating that, and I think there was a point in time where I had some personnel changes, if you will, and it was ... I was so afraid to change the status quo, because I was comfortable in how I was doing things. I mean, I was working out of my apartment and I had one person coming in and helping me every day, and I was like, "Oh, this is fine. This is how we'll grow.” But I think once you stop being afraid of change, you will find that it's easier to grow that way. For me, I think one of the pivotal moments, and every pivotal moment that happened thus far, has been either losing someone on the team, or gaining someone on the team, because it's a distinct change, right? You have to pick up efforts and slack if they left, or you have to find actual work that will satisfy the person that's joining. It's so easy to be like, "Oh, my job is I bead in my parent's basement," which is how I started, "and I watch TV, and I have a pretty sustainable business." But if you want to start bringing on new people, you really have to build something that they feel excited to be a part of. So I'm, for the first time ever, I have four full-time employees, and three part-time employees, and two manufacturing. I mean, we, at any given time, we have ten people in this office. It's given me, it's kind of a new renewed sense of inspiration to go out there and build the brand for them, because I really want them to be working somewhere that they feel proud of. The bigger we grow, the more responsibilities they take over, the more I'm over here like, "Alright, I got a lot of time. I better figure out how to blow this thing out the water." That's kind of probably been the most pivotal moments, for sure.

Shantel: Yeah. And I think just from a standpoint of training and inspiring and sharing a vision with people where everyone learns and retains that information differently, and trying to figure out how each person clicks, at least from our experience in our company, it's, yeah, it's a fun challenge every day.

Adriana: Absolutely. Sometimes not fun.

Shantel: Yeah.

Adriana: Especially, we're a bunch of girls, and we really do our best to practice what we preach here. We're all friends, but as I mentioned earlier, working in close quarters or sometimes just being around in close quarters with girls can be challenging. You really have to know each other's personalities and, first and foremost, live by our mantra, which is being kind and just making sure that we put that other person before our own judgment of them.

Shantel: Yeah. Well, just a couple more questions for you.

Adriana: Yeah.

Shantel: First is, what do you feel is your top strength, and how do you leverage it every day?

Adriana: Oh my gosh, my top strength I would say is my ability to believe in myself. I wasn't always this confident of a person. I actually, as I mentioned, having gone through that negativity growing up, it can really, really take a toll on what you believe yourself to be as a person. Through the years and just through collecting really positive people in my life that have helped me see myself the way they view me, and just kind of starting to really just believe that I can do anything that I set my mind to, that has really been probably my single biggest strength. Because I would say that half the people out there that want to do something that's different, or off the beaten path, or start their own company, or start a club on campus, or whatever the age, whatever the thing, most of the time, they're uninspired to do so or they're crippled from doing so because they're afraid and they don't believe that they can, or they don't believe they have what it takes, or they're lacking that confidence. But I think that my whole life, my mother, my mother is Mexican, and she has drilled into my head, which in Spanish means, "If you want it, you can achieve it." I wrote my college essay with this phrase as the opening sentence, and it's been ... My husband actually just bought me a denim jacket with that saying, and it's so my thing that I've almost convinced myself that I am like the most confident person in the world. It's like The Secret. If you really believe it, then you really will it into existence. It does work. I've been saying the other day ... I just recently came through a breakthrough, so it's actually perfect timing, but I sat down one night after work and I just wrote out my five year plan. I do this every couple of years just to kind of really make sure I'm on track with my goals, what I want to do in the future, and how I'm going to get there. Because if you don't have an end goal, then you really don't know what journey you're on. I was recalling a time that I did it in the past, and it was back when I was in college. I was like 19 years old, and I said that I would be a millionaire by 27, and I was going to marry Bill Carrig, who is now my husband. I mean, I would say it to anybody who would ask, so then they'd hold me accountable, and I'm going to do it, I'm going to do it. Now, I'm not personally ... I don't personally have six figures in my bank account, but our company made a million dollars in this past year. We were able to hit that milestone at my 27th, right around my 27th birthday. So I definitely feel like while I don't have the money in my personal pocket, I own something that ... This is something I created and I made it happen. I toot my own horn, because I really am a believer that if you don't, no one else will. I kind of feel like, wow, if I could accomplish that since setting my last goal, network, why can't I accomplish becoming an author in a couple of years, or beginning to speak, or start my own website? I mean, there's so many things that I want to do to leverage my experiences growing up and how that can not only help women everywhere, but also bolster Little Words Project into being the exact company I've always dreamt it to be. Believing in myself, if you haven't definitely not if you haven't. Certainly not the ability to say things quickly.

Shantel: No, I love that you shared that. I'm extremely excited and proud of you. What a huge accomplishment. If I could give you a virtual hug, that is what's happening right now.

Adriana: Aw.

Shantel: And then last question, how can people get in touch with you if they're interested in learning more about your company, your journey, or have any followup questions?

Adriana: Yeah, they can absolutely contact me via email at adriana@littlewordsproject.com. They can check us out online at littlewordsproject.com and on Instagram, @LittleWordsProject. But if you're interested in just kind of learning more from my experience or from me specifically, I'm Adriana on Little Words Project, and as I briefly touched upon, I am in the process of creating a website that will be a space for females, men, anyone to come and seek business advice and, if anything, just kind of be inspired to believe in themselves, because if you believe in yourself, pretty much anything is possible.

Shantel: Wow, I love that. I so appreciate you being on the show today with us.

Adriana: Thank you so much. I appreciate being here, thanks for having me.