Making Something From Nothing: Desiree Almodovar of The Inlay On How To Go From Idea To Launch
Prepare to be bigger than you think. This will help you put the right pieces in place early so that you don’t have to completely rework your organization’s infrastructure as you scale. You should also have a plan in place for how to both address rising demand and manage a larger team.
As a part of our series called “Making Something From Nothing”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Desiree Almodovar.
Desiree Almodovar is an angel-investor and strategic growth leader known for building award-winning experiences for some of the world’s most influential brands, including Google, Soho House and Viacom.
Currently, she runs The Inlay, an NYC brand strategy studio working at the intersection of growth strategy and technology to build future shaping brands. Here, she has driven brand positioning and go-to-market strategies for over 37 emerging consumer brands.
Concurrently, her love of music has allowed her to curate sounds for numerous hospitality brands, such as Soho House, Edition hotels, and Soho Grand, where she’s opened for James Murphy, Haim, Phantogram and more.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
I was born in Puerto Rico, where vcf my father worked as an advertising executive and my mother worked for PRMA, a non-profit that advocates for Puerto Rican industries. We moved to the mainland when I was only one year old because my father, who had attended boarding school in the U.S. at Moses Brown in Rhode Island, thought my sister and I would have broader educational opportunities in the States. As I noted above, my father had a background in advertising, and he introduced me to the concept of branding and marketing at a young age. I quickly realized that leveraging these concepts is incredibly powerful when you’re trying to connect people to causes you’re deeply passionate about. I began my journey into entrepreneurship at the age of 12 when my mom not only became a single parent but also my family’s primary breadwinner after my father developed serious health complications that stopped him from working. I began to make artwork featuring endangered species to sell to family and friends in order to help pay for, well, the many things a 12 year old needs. It was here that I began to combine my mother’s drive for advocacy with my father’s advertising skills. I discovered my love for building businesses, and figured out how to get people interested in them.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
The industrial engineer Allen Morgenstern famously said, “work smarter… not harder.” I’ve enthusiastically embraced this as my work mantra. It may seem counterintuitive — or even irresponsible — to celebrate a piece of advice that encourages people not to work hard. But when you truly understand the nuances of this phrase, you realize that it can be quite liberating. Many of us get caught up in the day-to-day grind of emails and meetings, which means we often end up working 12+ hour days. But if you instead take a step back and evaluate what key tasks really need to get done in order to move a project forward, you’ll see massive improvements in your time management skills, the quality of your work, and, even more importantly, the quality of your life.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
I’m quite obsessed with everything Wes Anderson. The perfect symmetry, the soundtracks, the offbeat outsider characters, the extravagant yet intimate themes — his fanciful films leave me feeling inspired every time. These opportunities to find inspiration outside of all of the “business talk” media are key to approaching challenges with a completely fresh perspective.
Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. There is no shortage of good ideas out there. Many people have good ideas all the time. But people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. Can you share a few ideas from your experience about how to overcome this challenge?
The challenges involved in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business are often rooted in self-doubt — and that doubt is frequently created by our society. I’ve faced skepticism head-on and found ways to overcome it and build something that brings me great pride. In a world where female-founded startups still only raise about 2% of VC funds, it’s clear that there’s a lot of work to do to overcome biases about who makes a good entrepreneur, or even a good investor. I hope to challenge these assumptions while helping others who don’t “fit the mold” do the same.
Often when people think of a new idea, they dismiss it saying someone else must have thought of it before. How would you recommend that someone go about researching whether or not their idea has already been created?
I love this question because my team at The Inlay has helped so many of our entrepreneurial partners work through this exact challenge. Our clients and partners that have prioritized this step, like The Muse and Veracity skincare, have gone on to find huge success.
We highlight three key steps in the early research-and-strategy phase of starting a business. First, define your goals and the problem your product or service plans to solve. Once you’ve done that, study your audience. This can mean interviewing as many relevant people in your network as you can, researching consumer behavior within your space, and even conducting surveys. Lastly, scope out your competition. Do extensive research on others businesses that are trying to accomplish something similar with their products, and analyze where they are succeeding or failing. It’s at this point that you can fully identify your opportunities. These opportunities may be vastly different than what you thought when you started on your journey. This often leads our clients to start businesses that are very different from what they initially dreamed up.
For the benefit of our readers, can you outline the steps one has to go through, from when they think of the idea, until it finally lands in a customer’s hands? In particular, we’d love to hear about how to file a patent, how to source a good manufacturer, and how to find a retailer to distribute it.
As you can imagine, there is no one-size-fits-all path for bringing a business to market. That being said, there certainly are various foundational steps that every entrepreneur should take on their journey to launch.
So you’ve done all of your market research and developed a strong strategy. Now it’s time to build a minimum viable product (MVP) version of your concept. This allows you to test your idea and begin to build awareness so that you’re well positioned to raise meaningful funding down the line. Companies today must prove that they have a path to profitability earlier than ever before. The first step in creating your MVP version will be building your brand identity. This is the foundation of the entire customer experience. It captures your vision and unique value, guides all of your customer interactions, and will inspire your marketing efforts. Your identity will influence everything: what you say to your customers and what channels you use to say it, where you advertise, what your packaging looks like, even how you treat and train your employees. Try to find a studio with which you’d like to build a long-term relationship — one that is willing to work with you on a smaller MVP version of your identity with the understanding that, once you raise more funds, you will partner with them to build on their work.
Next, you’ll want to build capacity. Startups and other fast-growing companies are often led by generalists or people very passionate about a cause. But specialists are required when you execute a launch. For some companies, this means adding some key full-time roles such as an in-house Head of Product or a CMO. However, in the early stages of a company, bringing on part-time hires or consultants, such as a fractional Creative Director or fractional CFO, can offer more bang for your buck, as you’ll only pay a fraction of the cost.
Once the right pieces are in place, you need to operationalize the company. This means building out the most important customer touchpoints. At The Inlay, we collaborate with our clients to map out their desired customer journey for each audience type. This allows us to find gaps in the journey as well as the most important moments. This helps us prioritize what needs to be built, such as websites, applications, product design, email templates, social media content, videos, etc. This step is also key in setting an appropriate launch date.
As you operationalize the business, you should also be developing your marketing strategy. You can build the most incredible product and materials, but if you have not figured out how to connect with your audience and get them interested in what you’re doing, then there is literally no point in building your company.
Following this process is the surest path to success and a seamless brand launch.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Started Leading My Company” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
1 . Mistakes happen regularly, because if you’re doing things right and growing, you’re always encountering new challenges that require completely new solutions.
2 . Try to hire senior people part-time, even if you have to bring them on as consultants. Junior talent requires a lot more hand-holding (which takes time that you don’t have as the founder of a start-up) and could cost you a lot more money in the long run.
3 . Prioritize the tasks where you can make the most impact while effectively delegating to others. Lean into the strengths of the people you hired so that you can better serve your team and customers.
4 . Find and lean on your mentors regularly. Mentors can help you grow your business and your network while also helping you avoid costly mistakes. Try to craft a team of mentors with a variety of backgrounds so that you’re always acquiring diverse perspectives that can help you find the best path forward.
5 . Prepare to be bigger than you think. This will help you put the right pieces in place early so that you don’t have to completely rework the infrastructure of your organization as you scale. You should also have a plan in place for how to both address rising demand and manage a larger team.
Let’s imagine that a reader reading this interview has an idea for a product that they would like to invent. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?
I would echo my prior comments that market research and competitive analysis are the most important first steps when you’re trying to understand how your product would fit into the current market, how to differentiate yourself, and how to connect with your target audience.
There are many invention development consultants. Would you recommend that a person with a new idea hire such a consultant, or should they try to strike out on their own?
I’m a huge proponent of both recognizing your strengths and leaning on specialists who can compensate for your weaknesses by providing their expertise in those areas. Of course, these experts can come with price tags too large for a startup. With that in mind, I’d encourage people to find partners that are excited about your vision and then offer them a small amount of equity in exchange for a discounted rate. When interviewing these potential partners, don’t be easily swayed by fancy talk and big promises — many people out there will talk a good talk without having anything to back it up. See if they’d be willing to workshop something with you for a few hours for a set fee. This is a revealing exercise where you’ll get a taste for their working style and approach before signing on to a long term commitment. And of course, check references.
What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?
Bootstrapping is a solid way to get your MVP version to market. Start with friends and family, and remember that a lot of small amounts can add up to a large sum. If you have success at this stage, your conversations with VCs will be much more fruitful, as you’ll have provided more evidence of your path to profitability, which is key when trying to appeal to VCs.
Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I’ve long been focused on mentoring young women and helping female founders build transformational businesses from concept to IPO. You and I know that companies can increase their level of innovation, enhance collaboration, and improve staff retention by focusing on gender diversity across their organizations, particularly at the top. But even though tons of data supports this, it’s still true that only 10% of fortune 500 companies are led by women and only 2% of VC funding goes to female-founded companies. A range of forces contributes to this, and battling unconscious bias is a mammoth task. So I believe we should prioritize consistency above all, because the small things we do on a day-to-day basis can make as much of an impact long term as the largest initiatives.
You are an inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
My answer doesn’t have much to do with building a business, but it is a topic I’m deeply passionate about. It’s beyond time that our society does more for children and young families. I’m currently focused on how we can build a movement to revolutionize childcare and pre/postnatal support.
A significant federal investment is needed to make high-quality, educational childcare more affordable for all families, while also ensuring caretakers are paid an appropriate wage. Many parents are forced to either leave the workforce to care for children or work long hours as they struggle to afford high-quality care. The problem doesn’t end there.
The U.S. is among the lowest-ranked rich countries in regards to national paid parental leave. Additionally, the U.S. typically ranks last in maternal outcomes and the availability of postpartum care when compared to other wealthy nations. It’s a disgrace and a problem that must be addressed.
Hopefully there are some nuggets of inspiration in there that will trigger an amazing new business idea!
We are very blessed that some of the biggest 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, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Kirsten Green. I’m extremely impressed with both how she’s expanded the definition of consumer investing and also her ability to identify innovative brands early.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.
About the Interviewer: Douglas E. Noll, JD, MA was born nearly blind, crippled with club feet, partially deaf, and left-handed. He overcame all of these obstacles to become a successful civil trial lawyer. In 2000, he abandoned his law practice to become a peacemaker. His calling is to serve humanity, and he executes his calling at many levels. He is an award-winning author, teacher, and trainer. He is a highly experienced mediator. Doug’s work carries him from international work to helping people resolve deep interpersonal and ideological conflicts. Doug teaches his innovative de-escalation skill that calms any angry person in 90 seconds or less. With Laurel Kaufer, Doug founded Prison of Peace in 2009. The Prison of Peace project trains life and long terms incarcerated people to be powerful peacemakers and mediators. He has been deeply moved by inmates who have learned and applied deep, empathic listening skills, leadership skills, and problem-solving skills to reduce violence in their prison communities. Their dedication to learning, improving, and serving their communities motivates him to expand the principles of Prison of Peace so that every human wanting to learn the skills of peace may do so. Doug’s awards include California Lawyer Magazine Lawyer of the Year, Best Lawyers in America Lawyer of the Year, Purpose Prize Fellow, International Academy of Mediators Syd Leezak Award of Excellence, National Academy of Distinguished Neutrals Neutral of the Year. His four books have won a number of awards and commendations. Doug’s podcast, Listen With Leaders, is now accepting guests. Click on this link to learn more and apply.