It Girl | EMILY WAZLAK
Meet Emily of Shine Registry! I fell in love with the premise of her business pretty much instantly. I love that she is encouraging people to support women starting business with the same enthusiasm that is traditionally given for other life accomplishments. It is so important! Starting a business is HARD but it is nice to feel like you have a community cheering you on. Emily shares the inspiration behind her business and more!
Name: Emily Wazlak
Job Title/Company: Founder/CEO of Shine Registry
Education Background: BA in Politics, War and Society from Mount Holyoke College; MS in Public Policy and Management from Carnegie Mellon University
1. Tell us a little about who you are.
I grew up in Queens, New York and recently started a company in Pittsburgh called Shine Registry.
Shine Registry is a platform for women who are starting companies to ask for what they need in the style of a wedding registry – because if you can ask for a gravy boat when you’re getting married, you can ask for what you need to get your company off the ground too (Office supplies! Pep talks! Network connections!)
Before getting into entrepreneurship I worked in political organizing and advocacy in Washington, D.C.. I was an organizer on President Obama’s reelection campaign in 2012, managed digital advocacy for a fair courts non-profit and worked in a program implementation office for a federal agency.
2. What sparked your interest in starting your business?
A few years ago a friend was getting married and our other friend was starting a business at the same time. We had so many obvious ways of celebrating the friend who was getting married - an engagement party, bridal shower, bachelorette party, wedding and post-wedding brunch. But without traditions to fall back on it was unclear how we could support and celebrate our friend and her new company. Not because we lacked enthusiasm. We didn’t know how to celebrate and there were no obvious ways for her to ask us for support, either.
I had a gut feeling about this idea to create a new kind of tradition and a gift registry for entrepreneurs. The more I thought about it, the more I thought about what it would mean to build a company to bring the idea into reality and the more I thought, why not?
3. Tell us about your full time job and/or any side hustles you might have.
I’m working on Shine Registry full time right now. I was fortunate to get a full scholarship for graduate school at Carnegie Mellon and am using the savings I thought I was going to put towards my master’s degree to create a little personal runway to pursue creating a profitable company.
While I was in grad school Shine Registry was accepted to be a part of the campus incubator program for student and faculty startups. Since then we’ve joined another incubator in Pittsburgh called Ascender and have received some financial support from both.
4. Who are you most influenced by?
My mom. She moved to the U.S. from China in the 80s and built a life here from scratch. It doesn’t get more entrepreneurial than that!
5. What was your first job and how long did you hold that position?
I had a couple of odd jobs in high school but my first real job was working in my school’s gallery. I’m not sure if NYC public schools still do this but I was hired to work at the school part time help the art department run a gallery space. I did that my junior year and thought I was going to build a career working in art galleries and museums.
6. Can you share one of your proudest achievements with us?
Yes! I’ve been involved with a group working on a fellowship in memory of our dear friend, Reese Neader, who passed away in 2016. It’s called the Forge Fellowship and it supports students at community colleges and public universities that are working on local civic infrastructure projects. The Fellowship got kicked off this past summer and I’m so proud of everyone that came together and is doing the ongoing work to continue Reese’s legacy. Reese was hugely influential in my life and it means the world to support young people that share his passion for making a positive impact in the world.
7. What were your initial goals with your work? How have they evolved?
When I graduated from college I had a fairly narrow view of what it would mean to build a career. I was lucky to work for mission driven organizations but didn’t think far beyond “This is what I’m good at and this is what people will pay me for.” I’ve learned to be more intentional since then and to think more critically about what it means to work towards producing something new in the world along with the tradeoffs that come from building something from scratch.
8. What do you think is the most important life skill you learned through your work?
Ask for what you need! I can’t stress enough that so much of what looks like luck is built on being able to articulate what you need or want to a wider audience. This is a core part of what we’re building at Shine Registry.
It’s really important to us that we build our platform in a way that facilitates conversations between individuals and communities that care about them. This starts with knowing what to ask for but what I love about Shine Registry is that communities realize they have more of a capacity to support people they care about because we’re modeling a tradition they are already familiar with.
9. Where do you hope to be in five years?
I hope by then that the gendered gaps in financing new businesses will narrow and Shine Registry can expand beyond women starting businesses - so we can celebrate big promotions, and other milestones. Also, it’s been an absolute thrill to be able to build a small team. I want to keep that growing!
10. What is a typical day like for you?
My time is usually split between talking to the 60+ founders that have profiles on our site, going over new designs we’re working on for the website, managing our social media content, and meetings with potential partners and investors. My cofounder, Ashley, lives in San Francisco so we usually talk over the phone a little later in the day.
11. What was the biggest obstacle you’ve faced so far in the process of pursuing your goals?
I’m often in situations where I’m not sure what the next steps are going to be. This has included finding developers to work with and finding the initial users of our site. But I’ve become a lot more comfortable with navigating unknowns and am continuously so grateful for the support of friends and mentors that have been able to offer guidance, or well-timed pep talks as needed.
12. What is the best piece of advice you have received?
I used to imagine the worst possible outcome when I was feeling anxious. Then someone suggested that I challenge those thoughts with what I could imagine the best possible outcome being. My world has gotten bigger ever since.
13. When do you get your best ideas?
It depends. I like long walks by myself and long talks with close friends. Museum visits are a great setting for either of those activities.
14. Can you share with us one time that you failed and what you learned from that failure?
When I was a White House intern (back when it was cool, this was 2010 and during the Obama administration) I was put in charge of organizing two events at separate locations the same week. When I sent out the invitations I accidentally used the same google maps link in both messages and sent a group of about 30 people over an hour away to the wrong address the day of their event. I was horrified and felt like a complete failure that day. My supervisor encouraged me to apologize quickly, own the mistake and move forward. I learned a lot about paying attention to details.
15. How do you unwind?
I love going on long walks. Being outside, preferably in the sun, helps me clear my head and feel centered.
16. What would you tell someone else who is interested in entering your field?
If you’re thinking of creating a new product or service, find people that have brought ideas into the world. They may be company founders or creators in other aspects of life. They will know how hard it can be and will likely have great advice from personal practice.
And if you’re starting a company, create a Shine Registry profile :)
17. What do you hope people take away from your story?
You don’t need to know everything about everything when you start something new. You can learn as you go.
18. Anything we missed that you would like to share?
The most exciting part of building Shine Registry is getting to meet and learn about the people creating profiles! Here are some highlights!
- I’ve never met Nikita Mitchell but I was already subscribed to her newsletter when she created her Shine Registry profile! Above the Bottom Line is a platform dedicated to keeping you informed of how companies are addressing important social, political and environmental issues. She’s looking for help spreading the word about her work: Cheer Nikita on!
- Sheela Lal started Drunk Shrub after deciding to cut back on her alcohol intake. Now she’s using a preservation technique that dates back to the 1500s to create and building her business in Minnesota. She’s using her Shine Registry profile to ask folks to help build her website directory of shrubs: Support Sheela!
- More Banana is Brooklyn-based media company focused on podcasts and audio storytelling. I connected with one of their cofounders, Caitlyn, after she found @shineregistry on Instagram and created a profile on the site. We got to talking and decided to partner this summer. You can hear Shine Registry promos on some of their awesome podcasts and you can support Caitlyn’s work here: Find out more about Caitlyn!
If you’re a fan of Aspiring Co. you should DEFINITELY look at this registry: Support Danae!
If you’re interested in creating a profile sign up here!
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