Be Your Own Boss

Whether your passion is fashion, food, or farming, starting a business can be daunting. These 10 O.C. entrepreneurs disregarded the naysayers and forged their own paths. They share what they’ve learned along the way, including the best and worst advice they’ve received and the biggest surprises that came with running a business.
Illustration by Andrew Hart
Khloe Thompson of PeachTree Pads. Photograph by Emily J. Davis

Khloe Thompson

A 15-year-old CEO from Yorba Linda and founder of PeachTree Pads

My Business…

We make reusable and eco-friendly menstrual pads. What inspired me to make this specific product was that my mom was getting really sick around her periods. She came to me because I love designing, making, and selling things. She was like, “Can you make me something to help me with my menstrual cycle?” I’m all about everything reusable, eco-friendly, and I was learning that pads are 80 percent plastic. … I thought I need to make something that’s good for your body and also is reusable, because plastics are really affecting our oceans and just our world in general.

Best Advice…

Just keep going. Keep on pushing on. I feel like a lot of times, things get really hard. We had a lot of obstacles that came with making a reusable pad. Whether it was finding a manufacturer that was staying away from using chemicals in the fabrics (or) just constructing the pad was difficult. In the end, it all turned into something really beautiful.

Biggest Surprise…

I think it was seeing the finished pad done and complete. That was crazy to look at. And realizing that I started with this odd-looking pad, but now moved onto this beautiful thing—that was the biggest surprise. It was just seeing how far we came.

 

Lani and James Jones of Goods and Goats Market. Photograph by Emily J. Davis

Lani and James Jones

The owners of San Juan Capistrano’s Goods and Goats Market, which features activities including goat yoga

Our Business …

Lani: This was a retired show horse pasture for my dad. I grew up on the ranch across the street. My father passed away in 1995, and (he and his wife) were just renting this property out to contractors. About 10 years later, James asked my stepmom to sell (this property) to him. It was just dirt with a bunch of junk on it and a fence. James has built every single thing since about 2013. We got our first two goats when (our granddaughter) was a year old, for Christmas.

Our job now entails (being) vets, birthing; we’re like goat doulas, midwives, and lactation specialists. I also buy for my shop and create bath products I make myself. My job is to manage everything. We have a clothing boutique as well as our shop, and we feature a lot of really cool local women entrepreneurs.

James: I build stuff every day and do repairs. I also take the goats on walks every Saturday and Sunday.

What We Had to Learn the Hard Way …

Lani: Herd management. Sometimes when you’re a kid who grows up on a ranch, you think you know everything already and that you can just blow through. We have zero vet possibilities down here. I learned that when you bring in new goats, even though I did the three-week quarantine, sometimes there’s something there you don’t know about. I lost a lot of goats a couple of years ago because of that, and it was beyond tragic. I have to be ultra-diligent because if something happens to my animals, I don’t have a business. They’re not only my children and the loves of my life, but they actually keep us afloat; without them we can’t function.

The Biggest Surprise …

James: That it’s successful. It’s such an odd thing, goat yoga.

Lani: It doesn’t seem like something that would be so crazy good, but you can’t believe the support. We have regular customers who bring people back month after month after month. They book parties, they come shop here, they love the goats, and they are so loyal to us. I didn’t know that a business could bring me so many beautiful friends and so much gratitude in my heart for just the general public. The way they receive us is such an amazing blessing, and it’s just been so incredibly fulfilling.

 

Yajaira and Heri Morales of Pura Tierra Inka Blends. Photograph by Emily J. Davis

Yajaira and Heri Morales

Owners of Garden Grove’s Pura Tierra Inka Blends

Our Business …

Heri: We’re a business that is inspired by my wife’s Peruvian culture and our Latin American culture. We try to find natural organic ingredients from other local or small businesses and create natural products that people can enjoy and get in touch with our indigenous roots. People feel good coming into our spot, and we try to make it more than just a store. We have other things in there such as spiritual crystals and … handmade bags and things that represent my wife’s culture.

What We Had to Learn the Hard Way …

Yajaira: Running the business and trial and error on the products. I have to test the makeup products; if I’m not satisfied, I’m not going to put them out there for the public. I’m a chemist, and I have to figure out the perfect formula for everything to come together.

Heri: We’ll create something … and then pass it on to some close friends and family or even some of our best customers who are hoping to get in on some of the pre-releases. They’ll take it and tell us, “Yeah, this is great. I think I would buy it.” And then we’ll start pushing it up.

The Biggest Surprise …

Yajaira: My biggest surprise is we opened the store (and around 100) people came to support us that day. I’m never going to forget that outpouring of love from our customers and our small business friends.

Heri: We do everything ourselves—the paint on the wall and the crates on the floor that display everything is coming from us. We did everything at that store. We’re really proud of our little shop. When everybody came in, they were very impressed; we take pride in it.

 

Diana Morales and Sarah Vogels of Creative Communal Makers Market. Photograph Courtesy of Creative Communal Makers Market

Diana Morales and Sarah Vogels

Cofounders of Creative Communal Makers Market, which hosts pop-ups in O.C.

Our Business…

Vogels: We got started in 2019, because Diana and I both have our own small businesses and so we found the need to create a unique pop-up market. It’s a curated open-air market that brings local artists and families together. There, you can find all kinds of different kids’ craft, DIY stations, live music, backdrops, photo opportunities, and kids’ entertainment.

What We Had to Learn the Hard Way…

Morales: We had a lot of opportunities when people would reach out to us to host an event, and we would take all of them because we didn’t want to lose a partnership. But we ended up saturating the market in a certain area. So for instance, in Orange County, if we were popping up in Costa Mesa and the following weekend in Anaheim then Huntington Beach, that’d be working against us because we were oversaturating that area rather than dispersing our markets. So we learned to be more selective with our partnerships.

Biggest Surprise…

Vogels: Diana and I have both been very shocked at how well Creative Communal has been received in the community and how many people love this concept. I think the pandemic actually benefitted Creative Communal because people were looking for outdoor activities.

 

Jessica Tran of Studio 94. Photograph by Emily J. Davis

Jessica Tran

The owner of Studio 94 in Huntington Beach

My Business …

It’s an auto detailing business specializing in deep cleaning and enhancing cars. In high school, my basketball coach had a detailing business and would offer us the opportunity to make money washing cars. I loved it and did it every chance I got. When he retired, I launched my own business. It completely tanked. I was 21 years old and didn’t know how to run a business. But three years ago, I fully relaunched, and it’s been going up ever since. I now have five employees.

The Biggest Surprise …

I started a TikTok in May of last year because I noticed there was a lot of confusion about detailing. People thought it was like $3,000 to get a car detailed, when it starts closer to $300. And that’s still expensive for a lot of people, so I wanted to show them how to do it on their own. I started documenting my process and educating people online. And what I learned is when you don’t gatekeep, people trust you more and want to give you their business. I’m at 1.6 million followers now on TikTok and I’m harnessing that to open my own shop soon.

What I Had to Learn the Hard Way …

When the business failed the first time, it was me being young and immature and prioritizing hanging out with friends. I just wanted to clean cars, but I didn’t know that when you’re a business owner, you have to deal with customers, follow up, and answer questions. You have to build and maintain those relationships.

The Worst Advice I Received …

“The customer is always right.” That’s the worst advice. The customer might be misinformed, and it’s our job to help them by having good communication and explaining what we do.

 

Meredith Ambruso of Ambruso Flowers. Photograph by Emily J. Davis

Meredith Ambruso

A florist who grew up in Los Alamitos and owns Ambruso Flowers

My Business …

I’ve been a freelance florist since 2015. I do a lot of flowers for different events and photo shoots, weddings, editorial, and production. I really love it. You get to meet fun people and get these opportunities to make things. In April 2020, I wasn’t doing flowers at all; I felt that no one was going to buy them. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do, and then my friends who own Daydream Surf Shop (in Costa Mesa) asked if I wanted to do flowers for Mother’s Day. At that time, there was a news article out about Ahmaud Arbery. I just realized there’s so much I need to do as a white woman to be a voice and an ally, so I decided that (donating 10 percent of my proceeds to Black Lives Matter) was a way that I could give. I try to support Black-owned businesses as much as I can.

The Worst Advice I Received …

I’ve been told not to stick with flowers, from different people. Their idea of success is a retirement plan, which is successful, and I want to build myself up for success, but I also want to enjoy what I’m doing. The worst advice is someone told me that the only way I’ll make money is by doing weddings. And then I realized that that wasn’t true—especially now, that’s definitely not true. I hardly do weddings, and the weddings I do are in line with my style. I think it’s nice to not say yes because of the money. I try to say yes because I click with the person.

What I Had to Learn the Hard Way …

I had gone to volunteer at an orphanage in Haiti and when I got back, I had a really hard time feeling like what I was doing had purpose. I do these big events and people spend so much money on flowers, but I was just in this country where that is unheard of. But there’s also a lot of beauty in flowers, and they make people feel good. Flowers aren’t always meant for a special day like a wedding. Some people are going through a really hard time or had a loss and are getting flowers for a funeral. During COVID, more than half of my deliveries at that time were for people going through a hard time.

 

Elena Bonvicini of EB Denim. Photograph by Emily J. Davis

Elena Bonvicini

The designer and founder of EB Denim who grew up in Newport Beach

My Business …

It’s a very small team, so we wear many hats—I’m pretty much involved in overseeing the entire business. I definitely look to the past a lot (for design inspiration). Fashion is cyclical, so I’ll see what worked. I’ll go to Pinterest and find old silhouettes that I think are coming back into style. I’ll look to muses like Brigitte Bardot and Jane Birkin. I started EB Denim around 2016. I was selling shorts, which I thrifted and cut, in my high school locker room. Then I learned how to sew, and it kind of just snowballed. I would say it’s been a legitimate company for the past year and a half. It’s crazy how we were able to surface through COVID because our competitors weren’t able to produce goods. But since we were working with vintage Levi’s, we were able to turn around product really quickly. We were using social media, and everyone was just kind of glued to their phone. We were able to flourish. It was crazy how it worked out, and we came out the other end of it stronger than ever.

The Worst Advice I Received …

I think at the beginning, I was told to do wholesale from the jump, and I think it’s bad advice because I was able to use social media as a tool to figure out what works for me. I was able to create a brand without relying on any retailers, and then we were at the point where we had enough of our own identity, and retailers started reaching out to us. We’re at 12 retailers, and they’re all top doors including Revolve, Bergdorf Goodman, Aritzia, FWRD, Fred Segal, and more.

What I Had to Learn the Hard Way …

Figuring out how to hold my ground and negotiate. When I came into producing my own denim as a very young female, I had no idea how to go about negotiation. It took me actually having to make mistakes. I didn’t have any formal background in fashion and production, so I had to learn how things work the hard way.

 

Noor Yaseen of Let’s Date. Photograph by Emily J. Davis

Noor Yaseen

The owner of Irvine’s Let’s Date, a company that sells date-based food products

My Business …

I started the business in June of 2021, with the goal of helping people live a healthier lifestyle. People seemed more willing than ever to embrace healthy alternatives, and they were learning about the side effects of refined sugars. I’ve been working in the date industry for 12 years, on the wholesale side. I wanted to make dates more available to consumers, in different forms that people can use on a daily basis. Here in California, most people know about dates, but not everyone knows that you can use it as a natural sweetener, and that dates are packed with fiber, minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants.

The Best Advice I’ve Received …

Patience, consistency, honesty: Those are the main three things, learned from my dad. Starting this company was really difficult, and I would find myself thinking, “You need to quit this and look for a job.” But I decided to continue, and build the brand, and now it’s available in hundreds of stores. 

What I Had to Learn the Hard Way …

Really, everything is hard. It felt like we were starting the business not from the ground up, but from under the ground—building relationships, getting the right team to work with, and working with a very limited budget. We learned as we grew, and every day I learned something new about all the different parts of the business, from accounting to sales to marketing.

The Biggest Surprise …

The first year was full of surprises, but the main one was that I didn’t expect the company to be growing this fast, considering market dynamics and the global economic issues. It proved to me that anything is possible, if you have the right message, the right product, and the right management. It motivates me to work even harder, invest more of my efforts and energy. It gives me hope.

 

Kasia Michaels. Photograph by Emily J. Davis

Kasia Michaels

A Newport Beach-based fashion stylist and image consultant

My Business …

I work with executives, business owners, and entrepreneurs who are typically 40 and older; people who are already invested in their profession. I start with a closet edit—I come into my client’s closet, and we talk about their wardrobe and their future goals. With all of that information, we edit their closet and get rid of a lot of things. Then we establish their style direction: Who do they want to be? What do they want to present with their image? After that follows the VIP shopping experience … where we do a whole makeover. Then I come back to my client’s home, and I make sure the closet and wardrobe is fully systemized … and I create a look book.

The Best Advice I Received …

Don’t go for the low-hanging fruit. What that means is when we start a business, we tend to go for every client that comes our way, and as good as that might be to learn more about the clients and their needs, it’s not sustainable and we’re going to burn out quickly. We have to really understand who our ideal client is and, most importantly, why we want to serve them. If we start speaking directly to the needs of our client, clients will come. Starting your own business might be frightening because you’re coming out of your comfort zone, but if you really put yourself out there and (aren’t) discouraged by all the failures, you will succeed. I don’t even call them failures; I call them lessons.

What I Had to Learn the Hard Way …

Communication is key, and sometimes you have to communicate things that maybe are not the most pleasant. We always want to be nice, but we have to keep it real or else it will just chase us down. In the beginning, I was afraid to communicate negative news, but in the end, it’s going to work out.

 

Kryssie Tinsay of Kitchen 1726. Photograph by Emily J. Davis

Kryssie Tinsay

Owner of Tustin’s Kitchen 1726, a catering company

My Business …

During the pandemic, I was furloughed from my executive sous chef post at the Hilton in Costa Mesa. I was making baked goods like breads and cookies, and doing a little bit of catering. People started ordering from me because they didn’t want to leave their house. I was all over the place, in L.A., San Bernardino and Riverside counties, and Orange County. Kitchen 1726 is a combination of my birthday and my husband’s birthday. I put up my website, and toward the end of 2020, I was doing dinners. It really took off in 2021. I didn’t think it was going to be as big as it is now, to the point where it’s sustaining me and I don’t need to work for anyone else.

The Best Advice I’ve Received …

My husband said, “Just keep moving forward. You’re doing well; think about all the other restaurants that failed and you thrived. Just keep going.”

What I Had to Learn the Hard Way …

Time management. That’s key. I was a banquet chef at a hotel for many years, but going on my own … it became much more serious. I have to be mindful of my time and set boundaries for myself.

The Biggest Surprise …

The fact that my business and food have been well received. Some of my closest friends say that shouldn’t be a surprise, but to me it still is. It’s a weird feeling to feel successful. I’ve been very fortunate, and I’m grateful. I’m autonomous and own my own time. Not many people can say that. I didn’t realize how important that was until I actually did it.


Orange Coast College Photograph by Hank Schellingerhout

Taking the Leap

Do you think you might be a budding entrepreneur? Here are three tips:

  1. Take a Course: If you’re considering starting a business but don’t know where to start, check out some of the low-cost programs offered through O.C. community colleges. Orange Coast College, for instance, has a six-week online “Start Your Own Small Business” course ($115). ed2go.com/occ
  2. Find a Mentor: SCORE Orange County is a nonprofit offering volunteer mentor-matching, free workshops, and more. orangecountyscore.org
  3. Get Marketing Help: Not every small business can afford an advertising agency. Fortunately, colleges such as Cal State Fullerton offer local businesses the chance to get custom campaigns and projects delivered by a student-run agency. practicaladvantagecomm.org

“Shark Tank” Photograph by Christopher Willard, Courtesy of ABC

Out of the Tank

Sound familiar? These O.C. companies have appeared on TV’s “Shark Tank.”

TrophySmack, Brea
Custom fantasy football trophies

Tandm Surf, San Clemente
Inflatable tandem bodyboards

Dirty Cookie, Irvine
Edible cookie cups

Hamboards, Huntington Beach
Surf-training skateboards

Slyde Handboards, San Clemente
Hand planes for bodysurfing

Locker Board, San Clemente
Skateboards that fit in a locker

PolarPro, Costa Mesa
Camera gear

Shark Wheel, Lake Forest
Skateboard wheels

Guardian Bikes, Irvine
Bicycles with enhanced safety features

Thompson Tee, Anaheim
Sweat-proof undershirts

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