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Corinne McCormack - How to launch a multi-million dollar business.

July 29, 2019

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This is the first part of an interview with author, entrepreneur, inventor, speaker - Corinne McCormack.

Susan Finch:
Hello, everyone. Susan Finch here, the host for Rooted In Revenue, and also a co-producer at funnelradio.com. My guest today is author, consultant, seasoned executive, and entrepreneur, Corinne McCormack. We are here today to talk about her new book, From Living Room to Boardroom: How I Launched and Sold a Multi-million Dollar Business. I have it and I love this book. Before I wanted to interview her I said, "Hey, I need your book so that I can read through, get a few chapters under my belt, so I don't sound stupid." I couldn't put it down Corinne, I loved it. Welcome.

Corinne McCormack:
Thank you. I'm so glad to be here. It's great.

Susan Finch:
So many of you who have listened to my show before, you heard the show with Susan Finch, Susan E. Finch in New York, the voice and dialect coach extraordinaire, and Corinne is one of her friends. Corinne accidentally emailed me instead of Susan, and here we are.

Corinne McCormack:
I was emailing her about my new book, and then you replied, and I said, "Well, maybe you'd be interested in my new book anyway." And then here we are.

Susan Finch:
Here we are because I was very interested. Your story is very near and dear to my heart, and the essence of the book, folks, is to take you on a step-by-step outline. Let's say, if you want to be a business owner, these are the steps. It includes some of my favorite pages are these black pages, the Seeds of Success pages, and they are dog-eared throughout this book. This whole book is highlighted and dog-eared, and I keep rereading the Seeds of Success. They're so succinct, so evergreen. This is relevant. It was relevant to you back in '93 when you started your business. The tips in there, of course, include new technology, but this is all about her journey.

Corinne McCormack:
I wanted to tell the story for other people to understand what it is to launch your business because I always find when people say, like, if you speak to a very well-known designer, like a Tory Burch, how did you start your business? "Oh, you know, oh, a few friends looked at my shoes and they loved them, and the next thing you know I have a multi-million dollar business."

They always make it sound very effortless and they don't really give you all the behind-the-scenes machinations of what goes into making something happen. And there's also a lot of people who have a lot of background funding that they don't share with you. I remember reading stories about one shoe designer who would talk about how they went from zero to $5 million. Well, you don't go to $5 million without having really five to $10 million in backing.

And so here I was somebody who had recently lost my job. I had less than six months for a severance package to run out, and that was my big opportunity to launch my business. I wanted to tell the story of what I did in that first year that made things happen really fast and really well so that other people could do it too.

Susan Finch:
Well, you did that. So quickly, folks, I want to give you a bit of background. Corinne started her company in 1993. That's actually about the same time I started to get into one of my companies, one of my iterations. She launched a brand of designer eyewear and developed this brand. I'm wearing them, aren't they gorgeous? These are not from her original line, but this is the result of this journey, and it developed into a leader in premium reading glasses. Some of you pups won't remember reading glasses used to be super ugly and you had no options.

Corinne McCormack:
When I started my business, it was so funny. I was 40-years-old, and I didn't need reading glasses, and so I was designing jewelry, and I was designing eyeglass chains, and cases. I hired a stylist, and I said, "Go out and find fabulous sunglasses and reading glasses, and great colors, and here's my colors," blah, blah, blah, blah.

She came back in a couple of days, and she had beautiful sunglasses and nothing in reading glasses. And I'm like, "You know, you brought me one pair of antique brass reading glasses. This is not what I want. I want color, I want fashion." She said they don't exist. And I said, "Oh my God." Because when I needed reading glasses, or I know all the other women that were right behind me turning 40 in referent numbers we're not going to want to wear those old lady grandma looking glasses. That's how I started my road to creating designer reading glasses.

And so that was just a necessity, a future necessity.

Susan Finch:
And you saw a hole. That's the biggest thing. And you leaped on it. But you know, just saying that "Oh, I want to design designer eyeglasses." Like you were saying, that is not the journey. It isn't, "Oh, one day I woke up and decided to do that and here I am."

You had a lot of experiences that led to that. So, I want to jump into that part of it because too often I feel, especially women more than men, typically we think differently. We apply our experiences differently. I think that women especially discount the learning journey including networking and all the relationships along the way. In your book From Living Room to Boardroom you talk about the acquisition of the skills from each position you held and how you pushed to gain more knowledge that was then was presented to you, and here's the job description. You constantly pushed yourself and all of that culminated into the first business that you launched.

Corinne McCormack:
When I launched my book I talk about the eight entrepreneurial essentials. Number one is a passion, and number two is drive. What I did after my journey, as I was writing this book, I said, "What is the essence? What made me an entrepreneur? What makes other people entrepreneurs?" And if you look at my story, I spent 15 years in Corporate America before I launched my own business, I knew I wanted to have my own business, but I didn't have the resources. I didn't have the money. I didn't have the time to do it until I did. But at each part of my career, I assumed a position that I owned the company I was working for, so I never was just an employee. I always treated it as if it was my own business and did things to the best of my ability in the way an owner would want me to.

I really believe that that's important because a lot of younger people today come out of college or business school and they think, "I need to launch your business tomorrow." They don't necessarily get under their belt all the skills and the life's learnings to make them successful, and then they're going to jump around from company to company to company and maybe not really get that knowledge that they need to understand what it is that makes a good business.

Susan Finch:
I agree, and I think I'm very grateful for knowing enough to pay attention to watching CEOs and CMOs that I've worked for forge relationships, solve problems, please clients, make nice with a client when it didn't go well, nurture vendor relationships.

Corinne McCormack:
What it all boils down to, relationships and relating to people. Whether it's your employees - because as I hired employees they were not just employees who were to be dismissed or treated differently than I would treat my family. Actually, I treat my family quite nicely. So I know in some families, it's not quite like that. But I treated my employees with respect, and also treated them as though they were partners in my company. When I worked with my buyers, and the department stores, and wanted them to carry my products, again, it was developing a one-on-one relationship that set us apart from every other company.

And then back to the networking idea, right from the beginning of my career and through my launching my own business, I was constantly building a network of people and individuals that could ultimately not just support me, but also I could give back to them so that I made it when somebody called and needed something answered or had a question whether they were a customer, or a friend, or an employee, I would stop, take the time, and be with them to find out what it was they needed and how I could support them, who I could introduce them to.

And then the same happened for me if I needed something, you know, when I started my eyewear collection I had developed such a great relationship with one of my buyers that I was able to go to her and say, "What are the best factories in the world that I need to talk to so that I can launch a new glass collection?" And she gave me three or four wonderful companies, one of which I continue to use for over 20 years. So it's those sort of special relationships that really make business wonderful.

Susan Finch:
I find that I had an interesting call yesterday, and I had a client start up with me recently too, that I had met 25 years ago when I worked for an ad agency. He was a photographer at that time and just starting with this 360 kind of photo thing, and it was so new then just like little desktop computers were too. But he came back to me because he enjoyed working with me at that agency all that time ago and said, "Hey, I've been following you and I think I need your help." And these are old relationships that I've followed him and stayed in touch with him throughout just to check-in on him and share out anything positive that he shared out. Don't burn your bridges, folks.

Corinne McCormack:
In the optical industry, I belong to the Optical Women's Association. And that was an organization that's very near and dear to my heart and I started attending their seminars. I didn't realize they had only started maybe two years before I joined them. But in that organization, I met so many other women from all different aspects of the optical industry and forged relationships that really helped me to become a better member of the industry, and also to become part of this really great network. And then there's also something called The Vision Council and I devoted a lot of my time, my volunteer time to be in The Vision Council. The Vision Council, again, this was not just women, this was women, and men, and large companies, and small companies altogether, banded together to support consumers, and eyewear, and getting the eyewear message, good eye care out to consumers. But it also was great for networking and meeting people and I just started [crosstalk 00:11:23].

Susan Finch:
Let me chime in for a second. You're hitting on something really important, and what I was talking about was just people that go to work and leave work. You're talking about, this is super important, you're diving into helping others in something related to your industry. This invites you to meet quality people with good hearts, integrity, and a bigger vision and less ego.

Corinne McCormack:
That's very true because the organizations that I was really volunteering my time for other people were volunteering their time for, so you do find other like-minded individuals who are working together for the greater good. For the optical women, it was to build leadership opportunities for women in the optical industry and to raise the visibility of women, and we supported one another. Vision Council is all about getting out there and talking to consumers because people don't really understand until something goes wrong. You're so used to having your eyesight and your vision, although we're both wearing glasses, so we know how important glasses are. But otherwise, people who have good vision they don't even think about their eyes. And then voila, God forbid, one day you wake up, and you've got a problem. So it's getting out there and conveying a message, but by doing that you start working with and learning about a lot of other people and companies, and it opens up your world.

So people really should network. People really should invest their time and find out what they're passionate about, and then go out there, and volunteer, and pursue relationships. I wouldn't say it's a two-way street, I think it's a one-way street. You need to pick up the phone, you need to contact people, you need to talk to them, you need to be open to meeting people. That was something that I developed along the way that I probably did not have before I started my own company. I was more of those, I had a two-year-old son, I went to work, I came home, I took care of my son. But then as I grew into my company and grew into owning a business I began to look for other opportunities and the importance of these relationships.

Susan Finch:
From the start, you were very sure of your own talents, at least everything I read in here you were not a self-doubter. You were passionate, driven, right from the beginning. So I'm wondering what kind of discernment process do you recommend to people wanting to identify their unique talent, or skill, or product they can bring to market? I hear too many stories of self-doubters that they nip it in the bud right then and there. It's like, "I want to have a business, but I can't." And they sabotage themselves.

Corinne McCormack:
Well, I think what I love about the world today is with computers and with the internet whatever your skill set is you can find an opportunity should you want to have your own business to create a business. So what I would say to someone, like for myself based on my background I was in retail, I was in wholesale, and I was product development. So I knew that I loved developing products, I loved finding needs and wants of consumers, and developing something that they didn't have. That was my passion. And I also loved making money. So loved figuring out how much something costs, trying to get it for as little as possible, creating value so that when I sold it to my customers they were satisfied. They felt that they got great value and a good product. That was me. So that's why I knew that I needed to develop something in that world.

But there are people out there that are terribly creative when it comes to art or graphic artists. So could you create your own graphic art company? Of course. But you could also become a freelancer, and there are ways to position yourself and go out there and network, and go online, and use Instagram, and so many other wonderful platforms to get your name out there.

I'm actually working with a couple of teachers right now. These are people who by day they teach math and one of my friends is also a sign language interpreter and works in a school, but they're both terribly creative and we're working now on developing the businesses for them because one of them makes handbags and sells them to friends, and the other one embroiders jeans and sells that to friends, and then she also is an artist. I'm working with them about developing "a business" because they didn't realize with these skills, it could become a business.

Now, and I distinguish the difference between a hobby and a business. A hobby is something you do because you enjoy it. Yes, you might sell it to your friends, but you're not really serious about making it into something bigger than it is. But there are other people who will really enjoy turning it into something that could become bigger and broader. So people just really need to know what their skills are. I mean if somebody is great at accounting they can go off on their own and become an accountant. Computer skills. So many people I know are great with computers. Now you could go in and become a great employee in a company, or you could become a freelancer and find out where the voids are because there are a lot of small companies that need people to come in and develop systems or support them in their computers if they can't afford to hire a full-time computer person. So there are lots of little niche businesses that can be created and developed that people can take advantage of.

Susan Finch: 
I agree. It gets back though to our earlier topic of gaining that experience, and I know a lot, I know enough younger entrepreneurs even in my own family, and they've never worked for anybody else. "Oh, I don't want to do that. I'm just going to do my own thing." But where I see them faltering or slowing down is because they didn't take the time or appreciate, or they weren't willing to pay a few dues to gain some valuable experience that somebody's paying you to gain. This is an education you're getting paid for folks when you work for somebody else for even a while.

Corinne McCormack:
That’s true because in your own career if you have the idea that you want to have your business, I recommend in your career you develop a career so that in each position you take you're taking on positions with more authority, more responsibility, but also creating a well-rounded experience for yourself. And as long as when you're doing that, you're also taking good care of the company you work for they're happy to continue to give you that experience and to have you grow, or you launch from one company in one industry into another company in another industry to learn something else. I think people don't realize the value of working for companies and how great that can be when it comes time should they want to go in and launch their own business. There's a lot that you can learn.

Susan Finch: 
You can take it to different industries and that comes back to that discerning process. It's not only finding out what you want to do, but what's your core? And for me, my core is teaching, inspiring, and advocating, so it doesn't matter whether I'm doing that with podcasting, doing it with graphic design, doing it with web, doing it with copywriting, it's the same core and if I take that with me everywhere and stay true to it, it usually works out pretty well.

Corinne McCormack:
That goes back to the eight entrepreneurial essentials. It's back to passion, and drive, and also inquisitiveness. I said that's one of the important elements of being an entrepreneur is you don't ... As an entrepreneur, I, to this day I'm still learning new things and want to continue to learn new things. It's not as if I created a business, and sold a business, and now I'm sitting back and saying, "Done it all. I'm finished." It's like, "No, there's so much more to learn and do, and the world is changing more rapidly than ever." So it's really imperative that people stay on top of what's going on, and see, and learn as much as they possibly can.

And then the other thing that I say to be a good entrepreneur is you need to have a vision, and vision is this, it's having a vision of if I want to own my own company someday and I'm working for other companies back to that, what are my core skills? What is it that I do that I love? Because there is that old saying, "Do what you love and the money will follow.”  It' really true. If you do what you love you will be successful. And so many times, I think this is where people get caught is when you have a natural talent you tend to think everybody has the same skill. Even just seeing and developing product or design I kind of believed that it wasn't that unusual like anybody could do that, but anybody can't do what we can do. So there are certain innate skills that we've got or ways of looking at the world that we have that other people don't. And if you really start to understand and appreciate what makes you that special person, then what really gets you going, and then find those positions, if you will, or ways to earn money to support that I think you're on the path to success.

You need to know what your skills are and what your talents are, and then find somebody who's got that, if you will, those other talents that round out your talents so that together you can be a great pair.

Susan Finch: 
I think that's a wonderful idea. That's the advice I think so many people when they're starting a business they think they have to do it all. Or they're afraid to let go of certain pieces.

Corinne McCormack: 
You hit on another one of my entrepreneurial essentials, which is self-sufficiency. So you do need to believe you can do it all because especially when my company was first starting, and we had like three employees if an order needed to go out the door and somebody called in sick, well guess what? It had to get out the door. So we had to figure out how to do it. So I really needed to believe, and I think any owner of a company needs to understand exactly what's going on so that everything happens smoothly regardless of what's going on out there.

But self-sufficiency doesn't mean you don't need people. So you need to be self-sufficient, but you also have to need, appreciate and understand the value of partnering with other people and networking with people, so that's really important.

I wanted to say something about my 25 Seeds of Success that are in my book because what I did was I wanted to create my story, and then I also understood that there are people out there who are going to maybe not want to read my entire story, maybe they'll read part of it. But they do need to know those 25 Seeds of Success, those lessons learned, if you will, that apply to any business and anyone. It applies whether you're an employee or an owner. And so as I went through my story I put down the Seeds of Success because there's not just one secret, there's a lot of different things that go into making a person a better executive and making a business a better business. So I'm really glad you enjoyed that.

One of my Seeds of Success is about wellness. That's more towards the end of the book. I think it's seed number 20. I mention wellness because particularly as you are an entrepreneur if you're not careful you can run yourself into the ground and run yourself ragged. That did happen to me at one point along the way where I was 10 years in and I had planned on certain things, and then the economy didn't go the way I planned and 9/11 happened, and then all my plans literally went up in smoke. My business started declining and I didn't know what to do.

Ironically that's when I reached out to take a seminar with a couple, their names are Ariel and Shya Kane.  So by taking their seminars, it's all about living in the moment, but it's not just living in the moment. It's also about learning to live a stress-free, more relaxed life, and to say yes to your life so that instead of fighting with what was going on and being annoyed with what was happening, or being worried about what's coming, or upset about what I had done, created in me the possibility to start just being where I was and appreciating everything that I had at that moment and doing what needed to be done.  

And that's what I love because it's not about sitting back and going, "Oh, the world is great. Let's just sit and relax." It's about relaxing into your possibilities and then moving forward in a way that you could get things done more effortlessly. And it was really cool because that was another opportunity for me to network. That's how I met Susan E. Finch, the voice coach that ultimately is how I connected with you.

So I do believe people need to take good care of themselves. It's not just exercise because yes, I do exercise regularly. But also you need to take good care of your mind and learn how to be patient with yourself. I recommend listening to their podcasts. They have a podcast called Being Here with Ariel and Shya Kane. So if you listen to the podcast that would give you an idea of learning how to live this sort of more effortless, less stressful life.

Susan Finch:
And supporting that point, it isn't just a one-time thing. You need tune-ups. I firmly believe in surrounding yourself, folks, with other people that want to have success. It doesn't have to be a big success, but they are interested in improving their position spiritually, business-wise, personally, and growing, and improving. That's who you want to hang with.

Corinne McCormack:
That's right. That's absolutely true. It's another reason I started a meetup in New York where I want to create a community of people who are looking to succeed and build their own, either build their own business, so take something that they didn't have and build it, or take what they've got and made it greater, but also to be successful. And it's like you said, when you get a group of like-minded people together it's very, very powerful. So definitely, and I love your point about it's not a one-time thing because it's just like if you go to the gym, and you work out really, really hard, you can't go, "Wow, that felt great. I'm done. I've worked out, I feel great." Or even if you want your body to look good, and you work really hard vigorously for three months, and you get your body in great shape, and you can't stop because if you stop, guess what? It's not going to look as good three weeks later. So it really is finding what works for you, and being consistent, and continuing to take care of yourself and those around you.

Susan Finch: 
You'll get the second half of her story in the next installment of this interview, but before we wrap up our first half, I want everybody to know where to find your book. It is on Kindle. It's on Amazon. You can find it everywhere. You just search for, look for this cover. It'll come up in the results From Living Room to Boardroom: by Corinne McCormack.

Also, go to corinnemccormackconsulting.com, and on Instagram @corinneconsults.

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