Finding Purpose and Profit:
Angela Gargano’s Guide to Meaningful Entrepreneurship
Want your work to have a purpose? You’re not alone, studies show Americans are increasingly expressing a desire for more meaningful careers. To find out how to create a valued aligned business we spoke with Angela Gargano a mission-driven leader and serial entrepreneur with 20+ years of experience in creating brands in the diverse fields of wellness, beauty, wine, and food.
What was your first foray into entrepreneurship?
My father emigrated from Sicily as a young man and he and my mom started a fine-dining Italian restaurant the year I was born. I grew up in the restaurant – we literally had a nursery in the office – and worked every weekend and summer growing up peeling garlic, bussing tables and eventually managing the dining room. So entrepreneurship is part of who I am.
I learned so much about a work ethic, about what it takes to run a business, and about the sacrifices (and joys) of entrepreneurship growing up like this and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Along those lines, my father’s story was a very typical immigrant one. He came to the United States speaking no English and with only $35 in his pocket – he’s always been one of my biggest inspirations for what he achieved with such limited resources.
One of the parts I enjoyed most about growing up in my family’s restaurant was that I could suggest a new special or a new way of doing something and my ideas were taken seriously, even as a child, within the business – which was incredibly empowering. I was allowed to experiment and when I made the inevitable mistakes, I was taught that it was a learning experience, not a failure.
How did you successfully grow your first business?
I started my first business, Bliss Flow Yoga, on a shoestring and while that had its challenges at the time – in retrospect – I realize that it also forced me to be more creative and to draw on my resourcefulness. My dream was to create the kind of studio I wanted to attend classes at – a place where you could meet friends and enjoy a cup of tea after class.
We grew the business by staying focused on hospitality, hiring the best teachers we could find, and creating a calm, clean place to practice – day in and day out. Part of our growth was staying focused on these basics of creating a wonderful, consistent product for our clients. The other piece was using trend forecasting, creating innovative experiences that were different from what other studios were offering at the time. If business was slow, we would experiment and try new class formats or new offerings – cupcakes after class were always a winner – to draw in new clients. In fact, our Yoga & Wine workshops were eventually featured in the New York Times which was a game changer for our business and helped us grow exponentially.
Tell us a little about your latest project Lola Arnao and the issue it’s tackling.
This idea for Lola Arnao came about organically and really grew out of my desire to make the switch to cleaner, more sustainable products in my personal care routine. It was a struggle to find certain items — in particular, I had a difficult time finding a shaving product that didn’t come in plastic and wasn’t chock-full of chemicals like butane. I researched and learned that not only does the skincare industry have a major waste problem, with over 120 million units of plastic packaging produced every single year, but it’s also wreaking havoc on our skin.
With formulations that go largely unregulated by the FDA, it’s no surprise over 60% of women like myself suffer from sensitive skin. After chatting with my mom about this, she decided to go into the kitchen and see if she could whip something up for me to use that was made from natural ingredients and wouldn’t irritate my ultra-sensitive skin. After much trial and error and testing, we came up with a new way to shave — a fragrance-free shave bar filled with good-for-you ingredients like oat oil and mango butter to be used with a shaving brush to create lather (instead of drying chemicals). We tested with friends and family and found there was a real gap in the market and demand for sustainable sensitive skincare products. From there Lola Arnao Beauty was born, our fragrance-free solid lotion bar followed soon after and we have a facial oil for ultra-sensitive skin that we’re releasing soon.
Everyone wants to feel fulfilled at work. How did you create a business that connects to your values?
I think that this has become even more important in our post-pandemic world. For so many of us, we want to feel that our work matters and fits within our value system. For my mom and I, this meant creating a purpose-driven business that reflected our values from day one. We also wanted to create a business that both tried to do less harm to the environment and gave back to help clean up the environment. Part of staying connected to our values is the internal commitment we made to create products that were free of toxic chemicals and came in recyclable packaging that eschews single-use plastic.
From carbon-neutral shipping on every order to completely recyclable packaging to wrapping each bar in organic cotton gauze instead of a plastic wrapper; sustainability is at the heart of what we’re creating. We’re proud members of 1% for the Planet; which means that 1% of our total revenue goes to support organizations that help to clean up plastic from the environment. 1% for the Planet represents a global network of businesses, individuals, and environmental partners tackling our planet’s most pressing environmental issues. In addition, we’re certified cruelty-free through Leaping Bunny!
Are there added challenges there when it comes to work and life balance? How do you create balance for yourself?
Of course! Being an entrepreneur challenges all of your ideas of work-life balance. There are some gifts though – in the sense that you can choose your own priorities in life and work which I find extremely empowering. Over the years I’ve learned a few things that help me create balance. First, I always take Sundays off. Growing up, Sundays were always our family time and that’s something that hasn’t changed for me. It’s my time to catch up with family and friends, turn off my devices and regroup for the week.
Second, one of the keys for me to creating balance has been to learn how to delegate effectively. I think that most entrepreneurs struggle with this as we’re wired to not want to give up control. However, I’ve learned that not only can you not find work-life balance without delegating – but you also can’t grow your business without this crucial skill!
Last but not least, being a part of a mother-daughter business, I always have a business partner that I can rely on and who can rely on me. We know we have each other’s backs and that helps to create balance during challenging or busy times. Choosing to be a part of a supportive work team – whatever that looks like for you – is also part of finding a work-life balance.
What tips would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs wanting to grow their businesses?
First, think of the nagging problems you have that you can’t seem to find the solutions to. All of my businesses have started with that as the seed. There was a problem I couldn’t find the solution to out in the world – so I decided to create the solution. I think that the best business ideas start with this in mind.
Second, make space in your business to experiment. If one thing isn’t working – try something new. For many entrepreneurs, our tendency is to work and work and eventually burn ourselves out in the hopes of growing our business. Don’t burn yourself out to a point where you can’t be creative because creativity and resourcefulness will always help you to grow. Take a few days off. Do something you love that has nothing to do with your business. Get a good night’s sleep and some exercise. When we do these things, the good ideas come. The very best ideas – the ideas that have helped vault my business to the next level have always come to me when I’m relaxed and doing something completely different.
What’s Your Personal Mantra?
My personal mantra is “Fall seven times, get up eight.” As an entrepreneur, you have to get very, very comfortable with failure and you have to learn to get back up after everyone. Life can throw us curve balls and it’s important that we don’t get defeated by them. I try to learn from every mistake and keep persevering, which is not easy at times. Luckily, I have an amazing business partner (and mom) who reminds me that I can get back up — and I’m surrounded by family and friends that I can be vulnerable with on the tough days.
What do you want to achieve next?
I would like to be a part of creating a world where beauty is cleaner and kinder – and for our business to help change the use of single-use plastics in skincare. Every day we strive to find clean ingredients, the most sustainable shipping methods, and packaging that offers the least impact on the environment. We believe that taking care of our skin feels better when we know we’re also doing less harm to our planet. Sustainability is never perfect, but we always aim to make progress and be as transparent as possible. I would be thrilled to see Lola Arnao Beauty grow…while doing good for the planet too!
Melissa Stewart is the founder of SheOwnsIt.com. She is a Purveyor of Possibility, Entrepreneur Advocate and Coffee Addict. She believes that behind every successful woman is her story. What’s your story?