Case

Marla Isackson & Heart of Gold US, LLC
Directions For This Journey Called "Life"

Introduction

Marla stared at the computer and asked herself, 'what's next?' After spending 24+ years in the corporate world, she felt completely depleted and 'fried'. Marla was so tired of working 10 hour days, dealing with office politics and unrealistic corporate financial targets. It was so difficult trying to balance work, her kids and husband. She thought-'I hate that word balance-it is a myth propagated by human resource consultants'. Coming to the conclusion that she couldn't do 'this whole corporate executive thing' anymore; Marla was grappling with the essential question- 'what do I want to be when I grow up?'

 

Background

After graduating from a small east coast liberal arts college, Marla knew that she wanted a successful career but was uncertain as to how to proceed. Deciding to get some work experience, Marla's first job was spent two years in a department store retail management training program and became a department manager at one of the branch stores. Although she enjoyed the fashion industry, after two years, her salary was still very low, requiring her to live at home during this period - a very difficult adjustment after being on her own in college. Additionally, she realized that she wanted to focus her career on marketing and general management rather than the fashion world.

 

After an intense job search, she was able to land a very good position with a large national bank and was able to move into her first apartment. Marla had a successful career at the bank, taking on a range of interesting marketing assignments and earning several large promotions. Marla was very driven and goal oriented, working long hours. During this period, she decided it was time to move on with her personal life and find a husband. "I leveraged my marketing skill set and developed a marketing plan-with strategies and tactics to find my husband, and it worked!" said Marla. Marla married an attorney and they worked hard, traveled and "enjoyed life in the city".

 

After seven years at the bank, Marla decided it was time to make a move to a different company, to enhance her experience set. She enjoyed financial services marketing and was able to land a great job at a very large credit card company. Over the course of twelve years there, she earned a series of promotions and was able to expand her marketing and general management skill set.

 

During this time, Marla and her husband had two children-a daughter and four years later, a son. "It became increasingly difficult to figure out how to make this all work" said Marla. "I would come home late, every night. I had a huge job, with a large staff and big financial targets-I just had to put in the hours. However, when I opened my front door, I would find my young son sitting by the door, waiting for me. My daughter couldn't wait to tell me about her day at school. The guilt and stress was overwhelming. I felt as though I couldn't please anyone anymore."

 

A year later, after experiencing a series of very difficult corporate 'political plays', Marla left the company. Unwilling to give up the corporate life, Marla worked for 2 other companies-a large internet start-up and a large retail company. "It just wasn't working for me. I realized that I just could not deal with the big corporate environment anymore. I couldn't take the politics, indecisive management and the rigid work schedule," said Marla.

 

During her years at the credit card company, Marla was able to take a series of personal development/creativity workshops. When asked to 'dream about other possibilities', Marla always came back to ideas around kids and teens. Growing up Marla had a happy childhood but faced many of the typical 'teen demons' such as self esteem and body image, relationships with friends and a lack of clarity and focus about the future. Now Marla had 2 great kids of her own, she saw that they and their friends grappled with a lot of these same issues. Additionally, Marla was disgusted by the lack of teen role models and by the media veneration of 'mindless celebrities'.

 

Faced with feelings of ambivalence and great frustration about her professional life, Marla had the 'aha moment' and vowed that she would follow her heart and really focus on achieving her dreams. "I want to do something to help teen girls", she vowed.

 

Professional Challenge

After spending many months, brainstorming and exploring options, Marla decided to launch a lifestyle website targeted to teen girls to help girls recognize and celebrate the unique gifts they bring to the world. Marla named the website Heart of Gold www.heartofgoldgirls.com.

 

Her goal is to help young women:

-build their self esteem and take ownership of their lives

-experience the feeling of 'doing good for yourself while doing good for others'

-know that they are responsible for shaping their lives by the choices they make on a daily basis.

 

"Heart of Gold will provide young women with 'directions for this journey called "life"," said Marla. "I am finding that as I shape and mold this business I am creating and refining the direction for my own life."

 

Heart of Gold is both a content and e-commerce website. The content is focused on entrepreneurship and 'giving back' but also provides information on such topics as health and wellness, college planning, leadership, music, etc. Additionally, the website profiles teen entrepreneurs and role models. Heart of Gold sells reasonably priced jewelry and accessories. 10% of all net profits are donated to organizations helping young people.

 

Marla started the business with a partner, someone with a complementary professional skill set. However, it became apparent that they had a different perspective on how to build the business and had significant creative differences. A few months after the website launched, they parted ways, with Marla taking over the helm.

 

"It took 3 years to pull this website together. Although I had significant marketing experience, creating the website was an enormous undertaking. I was used to having a staff and being able to access technology and service experts in-house. I had to take on these responsibilities myself. I became the CMO, CFO, CTO, etc.—a huge challenge," admitted Marla.

 

Marla received very good feedback and very positive press for Heart of Gold. "I am very encouraged and feel that I am on the right track. Heart of Gold is unique, providing valuable information and lifestyle content with a positive, inspirational message."

 

Marla realizes that she has to grapple with several key challenges to ensure that the website becomes financially successful, including:

-developing a more contemporary look for the website

-enhancing the content to ensure continued relevance

-enhancing the product line

-developing and executing a co-marketing partner strategy

-developing/executing an arsenal of traffic building initiatives

-developing multiple sources of revenue.

 

The big issue that Marla needs to grapple with is figuring out how to create buzz; what should she do to get young women talking about and spreading the word about the website.

 

Marla is very passionate about her business and very committed to make the appropriate changes to the website, but understands the challenges she faces in this extremely difficult economic environment, but says, "Heart of Gold will become THE lifestyle website for young women. Now, more than ever, young women need relevant resources and information. Additionally, they need hope-they need to believe that they can achieve their dreams. Heart of Gold will help them do this and more."

Marla is also expanding the reach of Heart of Gold by leveraging social media such as Facebook and MySpace.

 

Personal Challenges

"Managing my time efficiently is a huge challenge for me now," admitted Marla. "Running the website is a 24/7 commitment. I find myself waking up at all hours of the night, jotting notes to myself. Talk about time consuming! In the middle of a tour of the Acropolis in Athens, I was on my cell phone with my website developer dealing with a systems meltdown."

 

Marla is grappling with the challenges of managing this business on her own. Trying to ease the load, she is working with marketing and web development freelancers to help her make the required enhancements to the website. Additionally, her friends and family have been very supportive, providing suggestions and encouragement. "I could not do this without the love and support of my family."

 

Marla is trying to enjoy the flexibility of her entrepreneurial life. "If I need to spend a few hours dealing with family errands, I can do so without feeling the pressure of a rigid corporate schedule. However, I still have trouble fitting in 'me-time'; time for exercise, seeing friends, etc. It is the 'balance thing', again. Trying to find time to take a step back and enjoy life is still a challenge."