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Elizaveta Kopylova-Malone: Five Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A CEO

An Interview With Ben Ari

As a part of our series called ‘Five Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A CEO’ we had the pleasure of interviewing Elizaveta Kopylova-Malone.

Elizaveta Kopylova-Malone was born and raised in Russia. She immigrated to the United States at the age of 17 and in 2017, a day after her own wedding, Elizaveta started her company, EZ Elopements LLC which then became a full time business in 2020 offering micro-weddings and adventure elopements. EZ Elopements LLC is on track to do $750,000 in revenue in 2022 with clients coming from as far away as Thailand and France.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I always thought I’d be a Project Manager full time. I also wanted to get into traveling or language related industry or business because that is what I love — exploring new places and meeting people, learning from them, and hearing different stories and sides of life. I never thought I’d be getting people married or be a photographer full time, let alone plan out all the details for them. Then my (now) husband, Zack Malone, and I found ourselves in a situation where our wedding plan was no longer visible. I did not want a big wedding, nor did I want to go to a courthouse. I did not see us getting married in a “standard” place. I remember asking Zack “can we get married on a boat?”. He simply said “I don’t know. Probably?” Well I could not find such a magical boat that marries people, but I was able to make it happen. I found the perfect wooden boat we could rent for a couple of hours, a budget friendly photographer, a captain that was ordained, and I asked the photographer to bring her boyfriend along and they serve as our official witnesses, required in WA state. When everything came together, and I met the boat’s owner, just to find out that he barely uses his boat, I suggested we put it to good use. Instead of thinking “honeymoon” I came home that night and figured out how to put together a website. We then got our first couple married on that boat a couple of months later, and it was an incredible experience to see them so amazed with how they got to say their “I DOs’’ and celebrate their wedding day with us, that I decided “this is it”.

I did not have a wedding day bouquet, and I did not get a crazy amount of beautiful photos from our wedding day. Thinking back, because I did not know what was possible, I did not consider so many ways we could do it that would have been even more about us and our relationship (such as getting married under water or going off somewhere else). I feel that a wedding day that unites two persons should be about those two people and their relationship as a journey. I want others to have that — someone to hold their hand or simply to show them what’s possible, so they can make a decision based on options, instead of simply going into the traditional wedding planning just because that’s a “norm”. Moreover, I want to be there to take away the stress of trying to figure out how to make something happen, while providing the couples with everything they need to have the perfect experience for them.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

I think the whole journey is the most interesting part. The fact that I am able to relate, time after time, to our couples so vividly is what encourages me and makes it possible to continue providing the most needed and desired services while understanding exactly where the couples are coming from when they find us.

A few years into the business, we bought our 1st house with a property that has an actual forest. This became our number one go to venue for a fun and all inclusive elopement or microwedding right off the bat, where we now have married over 300 couples in less than two years. A pretty interesting and fun fact is that I had our first booking confirmed at this location for the week we moved into the house for the first time before I even knew our offer was accepted!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I double booked two events on the same day and time, by accident, without having the capability to take them both on. The funny part is, it happened again. After trying to reschedule things with clients I realized that instead of putting myself out there as someone incapable of managing things on the backend, aside from, of course, revising the process and adjusting some things to prevent similar mistakes, I also took the necessary steps to ensure that should this occur at my or anyone else’s fault, we have a better approach to resolution. We grew our team & trained new employees, and ensured that we can navigate through similar situations without concern and go through with things as scheduled. I learned to take a mistake and turn it into an advantage: we tripled our bookings as we became capable of taking on several clients for events happening at the same time in different places, as a result.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My husband, Zack Malone. First and foremost, the way we are and our relationship is the only reason we got married the way we did, and I started EZ Elopements, LLC as a result. I could not do it alone because the main niche was that a husband and wife are the officiant and photographer team, the original couple behind EZ Elopements. Even the name of the company is made up of our initials. I could not keep on going without his constant support and help along the way, both emotional and financial. When I made the decision to turn this more into a full time business and quit my full time job, I only felt comfortable doing so because of his employment and stability he was providing. I could not get to where we are today without him making the decision to join me in this venture full time, when he did, in 2020, the moment when we were able to expand, bring in more options and possibilities and help more couples along the way.

Leadership often entails making difficult decisions or hard choices between two apparently good paths. Can you share a story with us about a hard decision or choice you had to make as a leader?

In the beginning of 2019, when I was making a step towards turning this into an actual business, I had to decide how I wanted to approach it. I was on the fence between focusing on (1) boat weddings and possibly investing into a yacht we can use as a venue for a variety of weddings and elopements while providing an easy all inclusive experience for couples, and (2) tailoring towards smaller weddings anywhere in the world, without a set physical location to offer, but instead by working with private owned properties and gardens, small business (ex: hot air balloon and helicopters), and national parks. It was a long decision process, which felt as if I was about to make a life altering choice. I decided to go forward with small and adventurous elopements with a focus on unique non-traditional weddings. A few months later, the pandemic hit. It felt as if I was doing the exact thing the world needed at that time — all couples whose weddings were canceled came to us in search of the perfect alternative.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?

Everything. As a CEO you should be able to envision, plan and execute. Whether you do that yourself or find appropriate specialists to trust with specific tasks, nothing will get done unless a CEO does his or her part.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive? Can you explain what you mean?

“As a CEO or executive you would be doing minimal work and reaping the rewards” — the truth is, as a CEO you are doing all the work. You have flexibility when it comes to schedule and organization, but at the end of the day, if you don’t make specific decisions or take action, no one else will. You get the rewards associated with the work that you do.

What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?

I definitely spend a much larger portion of my day to day work life behind a computer rather than out in the field.

Do you think everyone is cut out to be an executive? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?

An executive should be able to envision the big picture and all of the small steps associated with getting to it. Ambition, Perseverance, Patience, as well as Willingness to learn and adapt and Being able to multitask while being detail-oriented are to me the most important traits of a successful CEO.

A person that is great at one thing rather than good at many different things should specialize in one field doing what they are best at. This does not mean they cannot start a company providing that specific service/specialty, but they should not be the one running it.

I always had a fear of collaboration for a reason of my ideas being taken away and improved on. Overtime, I realized that most people have a specialty they are amazing at — whatever it is — that they bring to the table. They want to focus on what’s driving them, they want to do better and evolve along with the company they work for or with.

What advice would you give to other business leaders to help create a fantastic work culture? Can you share a story or an example?

Taking the time to value and appreciate people and partners you work and collaborate with, while making sure their personal goals align with what your business does and what they do for you, while helping you build your dream as well. For instance, when I hired our first full-time employee who’s taken on a lot of responsibility and tasks I used to do, I realized that they will always do a better job if they have a stake in it. No one can treasure the company and vision I started/came up with the way I do. However, everyone has their own goals and personal needs, which are important to me to know to ensure I provide the environment they are happy with, while helping them get to where they want to be. It is important that the values and vision of those working with you align with that of yours, or else you may suddenly see the business you built heading in a different direction than you envisioned for it. Employee check-ins, company meeting & appreciation events are all fantastic ways to communicate those expectations and goals within a team.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

Educating both other photographers and business owners within the same industry and clients (couples) about the options available to them and alternatives they did not know existed. We are also adhering to a “leave no trace” policy when working with national parks and gardens and prepare our clients accordingly, as well. Finally, a portion of our proceeds goes to support private gardens and national parks.

Fantastic. Here is the primary question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Network — don’t think you need to do it all yourself. There are others that have the ability and want to help. Finding the right people and being in the right circles will only have advantages.
  2. Always keep revising where you are at. Learn to pause and revise where you are at and how everything you do affects everything else. Adjust and to evolve to accommodate these ever-changing needs; not doing so will most likely result in waste of finances and time.
  3. Consider all possibilities & opportunity costs no matter the decision you have to make. There are always other options and other options may drastically change a situation in the future.
  4. Find your why — throw away external factors. Thinking about finances limits creativity.
  5. Educate yourself and others. You must have the most knowledge in what you do to make the right decisions and to help others see the need in it.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I’d want everyone to join the movement “Everything you do, matters”. Get everyone to consider the effects of their choices and actions, as well as their whys behind an idea. As founders especially, putting people first will help the world get to a better place. There are too many things out there that exist for someone to make money, and that’s it. What is really needed? What helps the world and the people to have a better, easier life?

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Where there is a will, there is a way.

I am a firm believer that anything and everything is possible no matter where you are and where you come from. It’s all about the work one is willing to put in in order to achieve the goal. This was instilled in me at a very early age, and has been proven to me over and over by both, my own achievements and those of others. Every time I set my mind on something (and I mean really truly feel the need to accomplish a goal), whether it is a personal, business, or relationship related goal, I do the work to get to it, no matter the difficulty, from learning a completely new to me language and Acing every class taught in another language I did not speak to the business I have built today.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them

If I had the opportunity I would love to sit down with Kevin O’Leary. I believe he is a true entrepreneur, who is able to achieve success no matter the industry, take a small idea of something he is not familiar with and turn it into a prospect, while also being someone who can easily find that positive angle in any situation as well. He has the variety of experiences I would love to learn more about in person. I am eager to hear about any and all failures he’s had, so I can learn from it. He can market things in the right way, and I’d love his input on a few thoughts and ideas I have going forward, as I believe he is the type of person that sees potential when it’s really there and can point out disadvantages straight up as well.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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