How One Woman Started a $25 Million Company After Being Let Go
You spent your 20s working toward building your dream career, but now that you’re in your 30s, what do you do when you’ve, well, changed your mind? Or maybe you never quite figured it out, and you’re now ready to commit to something you’re passionate about, whether it’s a job, a city, or just a new way of life. To celebrate the career changes that can come at any age, we’re debuting a new series called Second Life. Each month, we’ll hear from women who got over their doubts and fears and made the biggest changes of their lives.
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward,” says Vicki Fulop, Brooklinen’s fiery co-founder and chief communications officer, quoting Steve Jobs on whether or not she’d go back and change the winding path to her success. The 31-year-old's answer is a firm no, despite graduating Brooklyn Law School but not practicing. (Spoiler alert: It was too dry, she tells us.)
In pursuit of a creative career instead, she landed a PR position at Tory Burch, followed by two more in the beauty industry until she was let go. It wasn’t for any particular reason Vicki says. The loss (we’re using the term loosely) “was good because it pushed me,” she admits. “I don’t think I would have left my job otherwise. I just wouldn’t have been able to let that salary go. It’s really hard to leave something secure.” Fast-forward to this week, Brooklinen (a direct-to-consumer bedding brand) has received $10 million in its first round of VC funding from an investor who was also behind Airbnb.
It’s been a little over two years since she launched Brooklinen with her husband, Rich. (“Funny story,” shares Vicki on their IRL meet-cute. “I met Rich in my apartment.” The couple had not only gone to the same college (NYU) and did not meet there, but they also lived in the same building immediately after college. It wasn’t until a mutual friend invited Rich over when his power was out that they finally met. “He literally just walked into my life,” she beams.) To start their company, she and Rich raised nearly $250K through Kickstarter (FYI, their goal was $50K), and now their revenue’s at $25 million. To jump ahead, Vicki encourages women to go after their dreams. Read what else she has to say.
MYDOMAINE: What prompted you to go to law school?
VICKI FULOP: I was a history major, and I was interested in civil liberties and practice around that area.
MD: Why did you decide to pursue beauty PR instead of law?
VF: Law school, in general, felt dry, and I realized that field was limited. I wanted to be doing something more creative, where I would have more authority. That’s why I went into PR instead of law. I started looking for internships where I could be involved in a more visual and storytelling process. An internship at Tory Burch is what led me down the PR path.
MD: Once you got your JD, did you work at a law firm?
VF: I did not. I had worked in a firm before law school for a year. I started interning at Tory Burch during my third year of law school. I got my JD, but by then I had already been hired and had gotten my first PR job, so I stuck with it because I was able to start a career in a creative field, which, as an immigrant, wasn’t a sure thing.
I came from an immigrant family where my parents wanted me to have a very secure profession—you could be a doctor or you could be a lawyer. Growing up, they didn’t have a lot of awareness of other fields that one could work in, so I think they tried to steer me in a more structured direction… Fortunately, I was able to carve my own path.
MD: You’ve said being let go was the best thing that could have happened to you. Is that how you felt at the time too or was it not as obvious then?
VF: No, I didn’t think it was then. It was a scary moment. At that time, we were working on Brooklinen on the side and just about to launch a Kickstarter. We believed in it, but my husband was in school, and I was the only person pulling a salary. That was a scary adult moment because it was like, Okay, well, I don’t have health insurance.
MD: How long before Brooklinen was successful?
VF: I got let go in March, and our Kickstarter was in April. It was that moment of push. Do you follow your dream and take that big risk? If it doesn’t work out, you have to live with your parents and find a new job. It all really depended on that Kickstarter. At the end of April 2014, we launched a Kickstarter that ran for 30 days through the end of May. We raised $237K. We treated it as a presale. Everyone who gave got a sheet set.
MD: If you were to go back, would you choose not to go to law school or do anything differently?
VF: No, I wouldn’t. My favorite quote that I have ever heard was from Steve Jobs. I don’t know if he was the original person—I think someone else may have said this to him. The line was, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward.” So every step that I’ve taken has certainly given me experience and knowledge that I needed to start our company.
MD: What advice would you give a woman who’s unhappy with her job but may be scared to start a business or change her career path?
VF: To believe in herself and to go for it—that’s it. It sounds so basic, but to just go for it. Assess the risk, know what the worst case scenario is, and if you’re comfortable with it, go ahead and go do it because it’s definitely worthwhile and fulfilling to work at what you love. We only have one life. Have faith in yourself that you can do it.
MD: What’s the most challenging part of owning your own business?
VF: The most challenging part is balancing time and responsibilities. At the end of the day, you are answerable to yourself. I’d also add figuring out solutions to problems you haven’t dealt with before.
MD: What’s the most rewarding?
VF: For me, it’s being able to execute my creative vision and to connect with people and customers through direct lines of communication.
MD: What’s up next for you personally or professionally?
VF: What’s next for me personally and professionally is intertwined. I think continuing to grow our brand from this little baby kernel that we had into a true household brand that everyone knows and loves.
MD: What’s one thing you do every day that you attribute to your success?
VF: I try to start every day with a positive attitude—with a can-do attitude—whatever it is we’re going to figure it out and make it happen. Believing that anything is possible.
MD: What’s something you’re working on to improve?
VF: On a personal level, I want to exercise more. I also am trying to meditate for 10 minutes at least once a week.
MD: Would you ever start another company? If so, what would it be?
VF: I would for sure. Right now I am focused on Brooklinen, but I would say, “Never say never.” I don’t know what it would be, but my other passion is beauty. I am a beauty junkie. It would be something in the beauty and/or design areas.
What is the creative career change you've been dreaming of? Who would you like to hear about next?