There is hope for small businesses and startups — when you follow your passions and do good for your community, customers and employees, you’re destined for success.
Every day is a new learning experience and a blessing. Make the most of it.
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Many of us now have new challenges that come with working from home, homeschooling, and sheltering in place.
As a part of our series about how busy women leaders are addressing these new needs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Monica Fullerton.
Monica is the founder of Spouse-ly, an online marketplace to shop and support military spouse and veteran businesses. Recently named a Trailblazer in Tech by Military Spouse magazine, Monica is an ambitious entrepreneur, twin mom, and proud Air Force spouse.
Audio from our conversation can be heard here:
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
Anyone who knows me well will tell you that I had big dreams of becoming a news anchor as a child. I’ll even admit that I aspired to be the next Oprah Winfrey. Having grown up in a small town in Ohio, I always knew that my path would lead me to explore spaces and places outside of my hometown and surely outside of my comfort zone, especially if I wanted to break into broadcast journalism. Shortly after earning my MBA from Lynn University in South Florida. I married my high school sweetheart who had decided to pursue a career by serving in our US Air Force upon graduating college. Like many career-minded military spouses, marrying into the military can mean your individual professional priorities take a backseat to those of your spouse. And this is when my dreams of becoming the next Savannah Guthrie or Kelly Ripa began to fade.
Since marrying my husband in 2015 and welcoming fraternal twins in 2016, I’ve also climbed the corporate ladder, which is certainly not the path I expected, but it is one I’m grateful for. I have been extremely fortunate to be able to work remotely for companies that value my work and understand the challenges military spouses face, but many members of my community are not so lucky.
Military spouse unemployment has remained at a staggering 24% for nearly a decade while the national average for unemployment is roughly 4% (both statistics represent pre-COVID-19 data). As you might assume, military families are quite transient, which makes maintaining meaningful employment for military spouses very difficult when relocating every two to three years. This harsh reality encouraged me to reflect on my skills and strengths that might provide a small solution to a big problem. Even though I envisioned myself delivering breaking news and interviewing global leaders, I also knew that I had an entrepreneurial spirit that came quite naturally to me.
How could I make a positive impact within a community that deserves the opportunity to sustain meaningful employment and provide for their families?
I knew firsthand how many entrepreneurial, talented individuals existed in the military community, many of whom are made up of military spouses and veterans. I also knew that I have a passion for bringing people together and a commitment to supporting those who serve.
In January 2020, I took a leap of faith and launched Spouse-ly, an online marketplace featuring products and services created by military spouses and veterans. This online business serves as a platform for the creators, entrepreneurs, service providers and small business owners of the military community to host and market their products and services no matter where the military takes them. But like everything else in 2020, nothing has gone as expected.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started at your company?
Spoiler alert: I never expected a global health pandemic would occur the very moment I launched my business that sought to make a positive impact for thousands of military families.
My story is no different from many working parents during COVID-19. Our world was completely upended by the virus, however we have been blessed to have good health and stable jobs when so many have not been as fortunate.
In the blink of an eye, I became a full-time stay-at-home mother to four-year-old twins since their school closed with a full time corporate job when I had just launched a business with zero family within driving distance to help out. Additionally, that business I poured my heart and checkbook into became partly responsible for the livelihood of nearly 200 military spouses and veteran businesses all while I was attempting to be a supportive spouse to my own service member husband.
But that’s entrepreneurship in a nutshell: expecting the unexpected and digging deep to find the little wins as they come along.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I’d like to think that I’ve gotten really good at creating unique science experiments and fun crafts for my twins during this time, however I should probably leave that to the experts.
When you own your own business, there is never a shortage of tasks on your to do list and projects that need executing. While the juggling act rarely slows down, I’m most excited about adapting to the shifts in consumer spending culture as we continue to grow Spouse-ly and serve our incredibly loyal vendors. We learned a lot of lessons during the heart of the pandemic earlier in 2020 that prompted us to make website improvements, consider launching an app and continue refining the customer experience.
While these projects are sometimes costly and surely a labor of love, it’s also an indication that the value we bring to our military community and potential customers is being noticed and appreciated. Therefore, we are ALWAYS happy to tackle the workload to continue doing good work for them, primarily because our mission aims to provide a deeper connection between our civilian community and military families.
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?
Whether I knew it at the time as a young child or not, my mother was committed to helping me build a foundation that would allow me to be successful regardless of where my path led me. She was a single mother who knew the value of a strong work ethic and instilled the same principles in me.
Now that I am a mother to twins, I better understand the importance of building this strong foundation of perseverance and hard work within our children. I’ve taken a page from my mother’s book to help show my children that:
- If you want something, you MUST work for it. Life doesn’t often give you what you want, and if it does, you’ve gotten lucky.
- Anything is possible. Don’t limit yourself or your opportunities.
- Success comes in many forms. Regardless of where my career or entrepreneurship takes me, my greatest success will be my children.
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Can you articulate to our readers what are the biggest family related challenges you are facing as a woman business leader during this pandemic? Can you share the biggest work related challenges you are facing as a woman in business during this pandemic?
If the information I’ve seen over the past couple of months is true, this pandemic is greatly affecting women in their roles at home and at work. I’ve experienced significant stressors in both of those worlds which, for me, are interrelated and heightened with the additional “title” as military spouse. You see, many military families relocate every couple of years and oftentimes are not near family members or a network of support. And whether we like to admit it or not, military spouses’ careers and personal priorities can take a back seat when it comes to supporting their service member spouse who is serving our country.
I didn’t have much help at home with the twins due to the nature of my husband’s job. There have been days where I needed to prioritize efforts to grow my business and there have also been times when I needed a break for myself but neither of those things could be fulfilled due to my responsibility as a mother. I’d considered making a cross country trip to get some much needed support from our families, however military families were not permitted to travel between March and June due to the pandemic, therefore I continued to bear responsibility for childcare, my corporate career and my startup with little to no support.
The emotional toll continued to build especially when I learned that my father had been hospitalized with COVID-19. As much as I would have loved a helping hand from loved ones with my twins, I was devastated to know that my father would be alone in his battle against the virus.
For me, the biggest lesson I’ve learned during this time is that stressful challenges oftentimes impact BOTH home life and work life for female business leaders who are also mothers. When stress mounts in one area of life, it often seeps into other areas whether we like it or not.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Well, a lot of coffee was consumed… but honestly, I’m not sure what I would have done without my community of military spouses who lent their ear and hearts to support me during this time. I truly leaned on them during especially hard times to bring positivity and perspective. This helped provide peace & comfort in both my home life and my business.
I also learned to prioritize balance… Balance between spending quality time with my children and making meaningful advancements in my business while being immensely grateful for the good health of my family.
While the pandemic caused a great deal of turbulence within and around Spouse-ly, we committed to doing everything possible to reassure our vendors and buyers that our mission to support the military community would not falter.
In order to continue growing our vendor base and providing them a space to market their products and services, we:
- Allowed free trials for vendors for 6 months rather than the original 3-month commitment
- Permitted delayed payments for those vendors who needed to place those funds elsewhere
- Waived fees for certain financial situations
I found that regardless of my struggles on the home front or in my business, I received the most support and empathy when I was simply upfront about the issues facing my business and the needs of my growing family. This allowed us to tackle these struggles together and provide a safe place for a continued dialogue within the Spouse-ly community.
Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?
I’ve been fortunate to have been working remotely for the better part of the last 7 years, which made any transition to our “new normal” almost unnoticeable to my workload. If anything I’ve become a trusted example to follow for my peers. The wildcard in this situation that many working parents have been dealt is that schools and daycares were forced to close, therefore we are remote employees who are also responsible for the nourishment, mental and physical stimulation of our children.
The most valuable advice I’ve shared with my peers that has translated into improved outcomes has been:
- Empathy first: understand that whether you’ve experienced the situation your colleague is facing or not, be understanding that this reality is not an easy one to endure.
- Be upfront about your responsibilities at home. This could help your team understand why you might not be able to join non-essential business activities frequently.
- Give yourself grace. What we’re experiencing now is unlike anything we’ve encountered in our lifetime and it didn’t come with a manual.
- Attempt to reduce stress. If that means rescheduling a call with your colleague who is obviously juggling responsibilities, be open to that and make that suggestion.
Can you share your strategies about how to stay sane and serene while sheltering in place, or simply staying inside, for long periods with your family?
With four-year-old twins running around, you learn pretty quickly that screen time isn’t the best babysitter. We made the switch from technology to more tactile, hands-on learning. This came in the form of making more educational arts and crafts, cooking new meals and generally just keeping mundane tasks fun. We sought reprieve in our re envisioned backyard oasis and made the most of the little moments together.
For me personally, I realized that I needed to take a step back to look at the big picture to realize how blessed we are to have our health, job security and support network. This brought me serenity which positively impacted my children’s outlook as well.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
- There is hope for small businesses and startups — when you follow your passions and do good for your community, customers and employees, you’re destined for success.
- While we’re all facing unique, individual challenges we are united in our shared desire to improve our quality of life moving forward.
- Every day is a new learning experience and a blessing. Make the most of it.
- Even though the pandemic has caused us to separate ourselves physically, we have the opportunity to find purpose and meaningful connections, even virtually.
- Remote employment is becoming mainstream, which is a huge benefit for military spouses who aren’t always able to maintain employment in a specific geography.
From your experience, what are a few ideas that one can use to effectively offer support to their family and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
- Force yourself to slow down and enjoy the small things. Sometimes we get so busy in life that we lose sight of what truly matters and why we work so hard in the first place.
- You are not alone — we’re all in this together. Many of us are feeling alone and anxious. There is a lot going on, and it’s been hard to find a way to unwind. Try to communicate via phone more with loved ones and those who might enjoy catching up with a friend.
- Re-prioritize what’s important. For me, I push myself to be the best I can be every day so my kids grow up to view me as a role model. I try to remember that “just being mom” is the most important job of it all.-
- Surround yourself with what makes you happy and brings you joy.
- Take advantage of technology! We have so many resources literally at the tip of our fingers. (Facetime, wellness apps and social media communities)
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“When you want to succeed as bad as you want to breathe then you’ll be successful.” — Eric Thomas
From the moment I heard this quote, I knew I needed to commit to chase my dreams. For my entire life, I have dreamed of becoming a successful entrepreneur and I have never been able to relate more to a quote than this one. I have kept this quote closer to the chest and referenced it throughout my journey with Spouse-ly. This quote not only motivates, it inspires action, which keeps me pushing forward even when times can get tough.
How can our readers follow you online?
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!
About The Interviewer: Karina Michel Feld is the Owner and Executive Producer of Tallulah Films. Karina has 20+ years of experience in TV, film, and print and is a respected member of The Producers Guild of America. The mission of Tallulah Films is to bring together directors, entrepreneurs, film investors, and screenwriters to produce award-winning TV and film projects. Tallulah Films continues to be drawn towards films that are meaningful, influential, and uplifting. Karina is also Co-Owner and CFO of Fresh Patch LLC (as seen on ABC’s “Shark Tank”).