As I get older, I gain more of an appreciation for quality and see the benefit of investing a little more to get a lot more when it comes to products for the home. This philosophy for beautiful, good quality design is what drives Analisse Taft-Gersten. After spending a lot of time traveling the globe and immersing herself in the many cultures and colorful lifestyles she came across, she found beauty in the spirit and traditions behind how certain products were crafted by local makers. Upon returning from her travels with an increased appreciation for quality design and a fire in her belly to work hard, she moved from her hometown of Los Angeles, CA to New York City to challenge herself. She spent a decade gaining experience in retail, wholesale, and the luxury brand market, and in 2008, Taft-Gersten took a bold leap and launched ALT for Living, a line of fabrics, furniture, carpets and home accessories. Since then, ALT for Living has worked with some of the most prestigious firms in the design business on projects ranging from high-end residences and corporations to hotels and yachts. Today, Analisse is opening up about her business, the value of staying as small as you can for as long as you can, the importance of ignoring fear, and more. —Sabrina
Why did you decide to start your own business?
Ever since I was a little girl I have always been VERY interested in having chores, side jobs, multiple jobs and I was very good at being bossy! My parents never had to ask me to find a job; I used to beg for them to let me take a job (or two). In fact, I dropped out of school just so I could start working! After working in many, many different fields and working for many, many different people, I decided I really want to be my own boss. It was very apparent that I needed to start my own business. The job I had at the time was similar to being an independent contractor, so I felt I had the right platform to take the leap. Shortly after, the world shut down financially, so I figured you can’t fall far down from here and took it as an opportunity to build a business from the ground up!
When you first decided to start your own business, how did you define what your business would be?
I had been working in the interior design industry for a long time and in many different ways. I knew I wanted to remain in this area of expertise because it is truly what I live and breathe. But I wanted my business to be special and different and, of course, successful. After a tremendous amount of thought and a little travel, it then dawned on me that I not only needed to start a business, but I needed create an actual experience. I truly felt that this particular business model was almost nonexistent and so needed for the design community. To have a showroom that has all the elements of design: texture, sight, aroma, taste and sound. These are the very senses that trigger great design and inspire a balanced lifestyle.
What was the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting off?
A very close friend told me a long time ago to “stick to what you know, truly know” that has resonated in me over the years and I believe that wholeheartedly. I see so many businesses that are started by people that have no idea about their industry or consumers. This can be a recipe for disaster. Sticking to what you know in your heart of hearts will never fail you; It’s the very core of your business. I am not saying not to try different things — that’s a must! — but sticking to what you truly know is how you really can succeed. For instance, I didn’t know anything about running a coffee bar, BUT I knew the hospitality business and what it takes to run a service-based business that makes clients happy. I stuck to what I knew, just changed the surface. Now I own a successful coffee bar!
What was the most difficult part of starting your business?
Believing it! FEAR is the worst enemy for a successful business. I was always battling the little devil on my shoulder when I first decided to start my own business. I also had a handful of negative people who fed on fear and kept telling me I was crazy! I really had to focus on the inspirations in my life and continuing the faith in myself that I could do this no matter what. To this day, I still struggle with that little devil, but my faith and belief is what really gets me over the hurdles.
Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned in running a business?
Yes, NEVER overextend yourself. It’s not always the size of the company that matters, but the profit of it. When I first started my business I literally worked out of a suitcase! Then, when I could barely shut it, I took a very small temporary office. Then, when I could barely open the door, I took a small showroom. Then, when I ran out of desks and shelves, I got a larger showroom. My mom always told me, “don’t bite off more than you can chew,” and boy was she right. I was able to build my business up over time by starting very small without overextending myself, taking loans or selling out!
Can you name a moment of failure in your business experiences?
Not really, I don’t see anything I have done as a “failure;” I have learned hard lessons, but they have made me into what I am today. The only thing I regret is not starting my own business earlier!
What has been the biggest sacrifice you’ve made in starting your business?
Owning your own business is literally like having a child. When the “baby” is born you don’t sleep for months! You feed, nurture and teach 24-7. Then when the baby is two years old, it starts to talk back, misbehave and get a little out of control! After five years it gets smoother but still every conversation is about business, every dinner is with a client and every night before you go to bed there is an email to answer or a fire to put out. Owning a business is VERY time consuming and a real commitment. I have actually made a lot of very serious personal sacrifices to owning my business that are life-changing. But, just like children, when grown-up these sacrifices are truly blessings.
Can you name your greatest success in your business experiences?
My greatest success is not monetary, but rather how I feel and see myself as a woman. My confidence in life has grown tremendously with owning my own business and I feel more secure and sure of myself than ever. That, for me, is the greatest success for a person to experience. However, getting a page in Architectural Digest about my business was pretty high on my Richter scale, too!
What business books/resources (if any) would you recommend to someone starting a creative business of their own?
I’m actually not a big book reader. Starting and running a business, in my opinion, cannot be learned from a book. The best resource for me was actually just working. I sometimes had three jobs at a time, I just wanted to learn everything I possibly could about business in general by actually working in all sorts of fields. Really, I feel the best job that can give you the BEST overall skills is to work as a server at a restaurant. It teaches you everything and you basically run your own business within the business!
In your opinion, what are the top three things someone should consider before starting their own business?
1. Do you know your business industry inside and out?
2. Do you have a five-year projection business plan and an exit plan if it does not succeed?
3. Are you prepared to give up your social, travel and personal life for at least two years?