Have you ever wondered about how you can push through the hard times in both your personal life and your business? In this episode, Camille Walker welcomes Adrienne Alitowski, entrepreneur and founder of blankyclip and now an author. Her book, CLIPPED, is her memoir about building a business during the Great Recession.
That always feel like such an important thing to not think that we have all the answers. And so, I’m amazed always because people love to share, people love to help and make a difference. And so, I just kept being open to that and, ‘Okay, now what? Now what do I do?
Adrienne shares her journey starting from Broadway, to being an actress in LA, and what drove her to become a full-time mother. She talks about the challenges she faced in launching her product during the 2008 Great Recession and how she was able to push through and overcome difficulties in her business and her family life. She also shares some of her tips on how you can launch a business or product into the market.
I, for myself, find that when I read somebody’s writing and I hear what they’re suffering or their pain, it really just does alleviate some of my own. It just makes me feel like, “Okay. It’s part of the human experience. There’s going to be times like this.
Whether you’re looking to build your own business or looking for ways to overcome your hurdles, tune into this episode to hear about Adrienne’s story and how she was able to overcome her own challenges. You can also purchase her book CLIPPED.
What is the point of not doing it? Just do it. We’re all here for such a short time.
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ADRIENNE ALITOWSKI [0:00]
It's so easy to give up on ourselves and the more fun comes when we don't. And the joy of preserving and the joy of whatever your story will be is just pushing that aside and going, "Okay. Today, I'm going to do one thing that gets me closer to my goal." So, what's the one thing? Is it one phone call? Is it one email? Just take one step and don't be in your own way.
CAMILLE WALKER [0:34]
So, you want to make an impact. You're thinking about starting a business, sharing your voice? How do women do it that handle motherhood, family and still chase after those dreams? We'll listen each week as we dive into the stories of women who know. This is Call Me CEO.
Hello, my friend. Thank you so much for tuning in today. My name is Camille Walker. And today, we're going to be talking about pushing through hard times. My guest is today is Adrienne Alitowski, who was a Broadway performer, turned LA actress, inventor, and now author. And one thing that I love about this episode that we dive into is really digging into how you keep going when things are getting rough.
And I want you to remember that a lot of times when you're feeling stuck, it is a good time to take a step back. Think about what your specific why is, reconnect and brainstorm with what you're doing right now that isn't working and also connecting with your why. That is why on my website, you can have a free 5-day discovery your why and your purpose that will help you to identify your deep core reason for doing what you're doing or pushing forward in whatever it is you're pursuing and connect with that because we all go through that.
And whether it's the pandemic, whether it's a recession, whether it's a new job or just feeling lack of motivation, I want that to be a free resource for you that you can dive into and really take time for yourself. And I think the holidays are that time to recenter and think about what it is that matters most to you. So, you can grab that for free at camillewalker.co and that is five days to discovering your why. And let's dive into our episode with our top-selling author, Adrienne Alitowski.
Welcome back everyone to Call Me CEO. This is Camille Walker. And today, we are going to be talking about becoming an entrepreneur, Broadway, becoming a best-selling author and all the little goodness in between with Adrienne Alitowski. And she is someone who is going to walk us through her story and how she was able to find a clear path to help her find her way. Adrienne, thank you so much for being with us today.
Thank you so much. It's really fun to be here.
I have to say when I was reading your bio and the different paths that you wove through to being in Broadway and becoming an entrepreneur and now an author, I was like, "Man, I cannot wait to speak with you." I was actually just in New York City this last weekend just a few days ago at the New York Marathon, so I was able to go to a couple Broadway shows. And the energy is finally coming back to the city and it's so fun to feel that and to see live performances again.
Did you run in the marathon?
Oh, no. My brother and my sister did. I was there cheering them on and that was awesome. But I'll tell you, the energy there, I was so blown away. It made me want to come back and run it just because the camaraderie and just the vibe of the city was so amazing. It was such a beautiful time to be there.
And it is so much about getting supported. It's like very few people, there are some, who they can just go do it, but most people need a team and support and that cheering. And so, it's a great metaphor for life.
Yeah. It really is. It really was such a display of humanity and also seeing struggle and what I would perceive as unsurmountable limitations as far as running where having a body that can run relatively with ease and seeing people with prosthetic legs or who are blind or just 85 or whatever it is and thinking, "Man, I have no excuses. This is just insane." It was amazing to watch.
I saw they announced who was the last person to come through the line and I thought, "Wow. That's a great thing." To be the last one and know that you did it because how hard was that? You knew you were at the end. I almost got more emotional towards her journey than the winners. It's like, "Wow. To have kept going and know you just keep going." I love that.
That's a huge mind game.
Yeah. It's a good segue.
It is. Let's segue into your story and how you were able to keep going. Tell us where you live, where you're from, your family. We want to hear it all.
Sure. I have a 14-year-old and a 17-year-old and I'm in Los Angeles. And I originally came out here from New York to be in TV and work on shows. And I was getting guest spots and the career was humming along best it could. And then, I suddenly woke up one day and thought, "Oh my god. I'm at the age where I have to really decide about becoming a mother because that window is closing." And I just saw around me other women were struggling and I always thought, "Oh, I'll just have a baby whenever I'm ready, whenever it works for me." And suddenly, I thought, "Oh, that day might be too late and I better get on the bandwagon."
And so, it was a bit of a journey to get pregnant and I was really grateful to get to do that and have my baby. And I thought, "Now, he's joining my party and I'm going to just keep going on my auditions." But of course, what do I do with him? Dropping him off at a friend's and it just got really tricky.
So, I used to push him a lot in the stroller. He really was just the baby that you go, "Wait. What does he require?" You had to be moving. So, if he was just still, if he was just in the crib, he would just scream his head off. But if I put him in the stroller, and I went for a walk and did my errands and just was going up and down the streets, then he would be asleep.
And so, it's LA. It's sunny. You want to cover the baby. I would put the blanket over the stroller and it would fall off. And I would pick it up and it would be dirty. I'd be like, "Oh, goodness" and brush it off and put it back on. And I put things on top of the stroller to try to keep it from falling off, and then the bottom of it would swing in, hit him in the face. I'm like, "No. I need it to clip on both ends. Why isn't there a product that does that?" And then suddenly, I thought, "This could be my next thing. Maybe patent and license this idea and I create this product." And so, that began that journey.
Okay. So, for those of you who are listening and hopefully I've done a good enough job in the introduction because we just jumped right into that. So, Adrienne was actually the inventor of blankyclip, which is a mechanism that helped hold the blanket to the stroller, which I know all of us have been there. The binky and the blanket always fall down and what do you do once it's all over the floor and it's just drug underneath and it becomes a mess? And so, this was in the year 2008. Is that right?
No, he was born in 2003. So, I started selling the product in 2008. And so, from having an idea to actually being at a trade show was five years. And then, patents took three years. Yeah, so you think like, "Tomorrow, I'll be with this product or maybe in a couple of months." The first year of having the baby, it was nothing but baby. So, I could nearly function. And then, by the end of the first year was when I finally went to see a patent attorney and talked to her about my idea and that began that journey.
Now, walk me through that a little bit because you're in the world of Broadway, which if you don't mind me asking, I'm so curious to hear. Because I have been born and raised in Utah and the window of baby starts so much earlier in our culture that in your mind, I was just so curious to hear you say, "I just had this window. It was closing. I needed to have a baby." When was that moment for you? At what time were you like, "We got to get on this. When was that?"
Let's see. He was born when I was 37. So, you figure there's that nine months and it took about a year to get pregnant. So, around 35 is probably when I went, "Oh, these are high numbers in the world" if you start to read the books.
Oh, I know the books where it'll be like, "35+, you're in trouble." You're just like, "Wait. What? How is that an older pregnancy?” I know. It's crazy to me.
And you feel young because it's different this generation and we're pursuing careers. You just don’t maybe have that on your mind and I was out here in LA without family. They're on the East Coast. So, it just didn't seem like that was the right time. Then when we went, "Oh, we better start trying."
And then, I wasn't getting pregnant. And then I was like, "Okay. Time to start taking the tests and figuring out what's going on in my body." And he's getting tested. And suddenly, it becomes this mechanical like, "Oh my god. It's supposed to be joyous and it's like this big just mountain to climb. How will we get pregnant?" And so, it did require a whole bunch of stuff. And I think I had a polyp in my uterus. Different things had to be taken out. I had to go through all those different really uncomfortable tests where they put dye in the fallopian tube. You're just like, "Oh god. No." Yeah, it loses the sexy stage.
It becomes a team because you have to bring a team in to help make this happen. I'm curious about being in Broadway. That's very fast-paced, especially as a woman in that area of expertise. Did you feel like having a baby allowed you still the flexibly to be able to pursue your career and your shows and also becoming an entrepreneur? What did that transition look like for you? What did that feel like?
So, I was out in Los Angeles, and then I had shifted towards TV work. And I remember going on a commercial audition and literally running to a friend and saying, "Can you just watch him for a couple hours?" And she had a baby from my mommy group and I was like, "I'll be right back. I promise." She's just like, "Okay." And I run, and then the callbacks. And I actually booked that one, in particular when I did that with a friend. And so, you feel good about it, but then it just gets really hard to keep asking those favors. And then, I didn't have a nanny. So, it was like, "Okay. Who do I have?" And so that mommy support group was really important. Then I was getting names of babysitters and people that could watch him. It just was really challenging.
The work was changing in LA. It was becoming more about reality TV and just the opportunities suddenly was a guest star became an online co-star. You're just like, "Wait a minute. What am I doing?" And my heart, I just remember I had gotten a job on one episode of Will & Grace and I’m sitting there back in the green room area where you're getting ready and I'm just desperate to show pictures of my baby to the cast. I was like, "This is interesting. It's no longer about me meeting them or trying to get ahead or what can I do for my career?" I was like, "Does anybody want to hear about my baby? I just want to talk about him."
And suddenly, it was like, "Okay. That's really where I really want to be right now and this is not a hard thing to leave him." I'm sure women have different feelings about it, but I just really felt like I wanted to be the person there and just with him at all times. And maybe it's because I was older, I was so grateful when I had him that it was like, "Oh my god. This is truly miraculous. I don't want to lose this baby for a second."
So, that's when becoming this business woman felt more like I could do it. It was on my terms. I could control it versus waiting for the jobs or the auditions or trying to hustle those things. I thought, "Okay. This is something that I'll be able to spend more time with him and work around his needs." So, that was the idea.
Yeah. It really does change your perspective, for sure. In fact, I just watched the Broadway show Waitress and there's a song in that show called in that moment everything changes when you become a mom. It's like your perspective, your instincts for protection, everything, just your perspective, it never goes back to the way it was. It just changes forever.
So, here you are. You have this baby that you adore and has taken years to become part of your family. And you discover this idea of blankyclip and it takes you five years to get it to production. Now, 2008 is the timing of when this blanket clip comes out. How did you manage that with that timing with the recession and everything?
It's funny because when you're in the time and it is 2008 and it's September and you're in Las Vegas in your trade show, there isn't a big sign saying, "Hi. The recession just started. Welcome." And people weren't aware. It was like things were weird and there was all this stuff happening in the banking industry and homes and mortgages. You would hear those things, but it didn't feel like, "Oh, we're about to have this huge thing." It was just like, "Oh, there's this stuff that's making things rather uncomfortable."
But there were less buyers at the trade show and people were commenting like, "Gosh. Where are the buyers?" And it was my first one, so I didn't know. I was like, "Where are they?" I thought this was going to be full of people just swarming and it wasn't that way. And it was like you would see people walking around and they were the actual people there displaying their products just walking around wondering like, "Where is everybody?"
And then, when a buyer would come, it was like, "Oh my god. A buyer's here." Just such frenzy and excitement, which that's the way it's supposed to just normally look. So, it was interesting. And then, you're dealing with stores and buyers and you're trying to get in and they're not buying as much. But I didn't have a reference point. I didn't know, "Oh, they're not taking my product on because their sales are going down." It's just, "Oh my god. It's so tricky to get."
So, each thing is I'm handling it as if this is just the normal way it is and now how do I get past that? And then, as the journey goes and I got into the big store Buy Buy Baby and that was a real big coup and big box chain store and then I'm being told like, "Yeah. You should reduce your price." And I was like, "That's how much it costs." "I don't know if people will pay that." And so, things are starting to shift.
And then, one day, I'm trying to sell back into a boutique and the boutique's gone. It's closed. Wait a minute. I was trying to get into that and I was dealing with all those people and the staff and the buyer and they're gone. I'm trying to get advertising in a magazine, a mommy magazine that was at the time it was called Cookie. And if you remember, it was like the big magazine for moms to find out all things baby. And then, they disappeared. I was like, "Wait a minute. I want to get in there and now they're gone."
Just things were happening, but then you can look back with hindsight and say, "Oh, that's why that happened." But at the time, we didn't know. It was not labelled that until years later and this is the date because of these things have happened in the banks, we're going to say it's September. When I read years later that it began September 2008, I'm like, "Oh my god. There I am really launching my product."
And it's interesting because I feel like the pandemic has been a recession just the same way that 2008 was and so many businesses are reinventing themselves and also having to make adjustments. And it's something where I don't know if we would have labeled it a recession at the time, just like you're saying in 2008. But what are some practices that you learned during that time of getting through that hardship and having to really start it at the ground level to make it work? What are some of those tactical tools or mindset shifts that you were able to put into play that made you successful?
I think I just kept like, "Okay. Where do I turn next?" It was like, "Okay. This avenue isn't going. How about I try countries outside of the United States?" And I started reaching out to people in Mexico and Australia and New Zealand, just opening it up. I would call people whose companies I liked and thought, "Okay" and I talked to the owners and just kept reaching out.
And that always feels like such an important thing to not think that we have all the answers. And so, I'm amazed always because people love to share, people love to help and make a difference. And so, I just kept being open to that and, "Okay, now what? Now what do I do?"
And then, the book tells the journey of how I hit a point where Bank of America called back my line of credit and that was when things really took a turn. And between 2008 and 2010, 200,000 small businesses closed. A lot of small businesses. So, that was when I turned to writing the book about the time and about what it took and about how I went from an idea pushing a stroller to having a product in the store. And that's when I thought, "Okay. I need to write about this to first of all just have a catharsis about what we're all going through, and then, as just a way to really give people an understanding of that time from that lens of a mom, a small business owner, just this way that we really haven't heard that story." We just know about the businesses closing, but we really haven't read, "Okay. What does it do to a family? What does it do to a marriage, the kids? What does that actually look and feel like?" And so, that's what I did in my memoir.
Yeah. That's awesome. So, the book that we're referring to is her latest and newest book. It was just released called CLIPPED where she goes into her story of releasing a product and how she was able to navigate this time. And what are some of the questions that you've received or been able to give answers for of getting through a time like that with your family and your marriage and your friends and being able to keep pushing forward?
Certainly, my friends were really important, the one that I could share, "Oh my god. This is what's going on or I don't know what to do," just that I always find the more that women I have in my life to help lift me up and they would tell me that I wasn't crazy that I was feeling a certain way. Or when my husband was laid off for almost a year, that takes a toll on a marriage and lots of marriages didn't make it.
And so, that's a real victory to go, "Okay. This is hard time we're having and I love you, so what do we need to do?" There would be moments where my husband was available to do things to help me with the children and I would partly not want his help. Partly feel like I wish there was this other thing that you have, but you don't. And so, I want to now welcome you in what you're able to give, but it's a really conflicted time when you're going though something like that and finances are really tight.
And so, we just hung on. We hung on to each other. There were nights we just both were really sad in bed and just going, "God. This wasn't what we thought." And then, I would look at what so many people were going through and know that I wasn't alone and it wasn't his fault and talk and share and unload with my friends. And so, it was day by day figuring it out, for sure. And now, we just had our 25th wedding anniversary.
That's a victory, for sure. Yeah. I was just saying to my husband the other day. We've been married for 17 years and our three hardest years have always centered around starting a new job and it's like a restructuring of your roles, I think. And so, I would imagine that that would be the same where you're navigating a new direction, becoming an entrepreneur, an inventor, ad also going through a recession, which is very similar to what we've all been going through this past year or this past almost two years now is reinvention and realigning roles and taking care of kids at home. Do you feel like this last year, two years has been similar to the time that you had in 2008 or would you say that this time around has been somewhat easier because you've done it before?
Since I was focused on the writing in this time and getting the book out, it was different. I didn't have the same pressures of running the small business. And my husband's not laid off. We're really grateful because I know how hard it was on so many people. But I identified with people, the pain that they were going through, and could feel it. I was like, "Oh, wow. This brings it all back."
And it's a different time and hopefully people will get through this quicker than we did the last one. But it was really a bizarre experience to be writing about this other time and then living through and just going, "This is really interesting." Because if things were flourishing and I was writing this same book, maybe people would hear it differently. I think it's resonating for people because of the timing of it.
But this too shall pass, so we move on. And what's the next and what are we going to do and where do we get support and all of that? And so, if there's anything in my book that maybe helps people go like, "Oh, okay. I'm not alone." I, for myself, find that when I read somebody's writing and I hear what they're suffering or their pain, it really just does alleviate some of my own. It just makes me feel like, "Okay. It's part of the human experience. There's going to be times like this." And now, she's not there, and so I won't be there in that same place. And so, I truly hope I make a difference in that way.
Yeah. I'm sure that you will. We all learn so much from listening to other people's experiences. And I know I get quite a few questions about invention and how to bring something to market. If you had maybe three tips of how to bring a product to market, I know things are a little bit different now than they were in 2008, but what would you say you learned from that experience that you could pass on to those who are listening?
Your research is really important, so I was always doing a lot of research on what is out there, what products are either in stores or online or just really know that there's not something else like yours, so that was really, really important. Getting the patents were really important. So, beginning that process and learning about that, if it's something that's patentable, learning that world.
You want three? And what else? Just not listening to all the reasons why you shouldn't. It's so easy to give up on ourselves and the more fun comes when we don't. And the joy of preserving and the joy of whatever your story will be is just pushing that aside and going, "Okay. Today I'm going to do one thing that gets me closer to my goal." So, what's the one thing? Is it one phone call? Is it one email? Just take one step and don't be in your own way. So, that would be the three
Bam, that was the tip that I had to dig for and you gave it to us. I love that, just do that one thing more. Do that one phone call. I feel like so often because we've become so tech savvy with texting and emailing and all the things that people are very rarely picking up the phone anymore. And I think that there is such a strong connection that comes from one-on-one in person if you can, but next best is picking up the phone.
What is the phone call that you can make today that could move your goal forward in whatever direction that might be? Whether it's opening doors for what's available to you or with creating a product or selling something that you're already doing, so I really appreciate that. I think that's really good advice. What is one thing you can do today? It doesn't have to be all of the things, but just finding that one thing. Yeah, I love that.
When I started out as an actress and there's scary calls you have to make sometimes. There's scary calls you want to make and you don't. And my mantra through that process and becoming a producer and directing and all the different things I've done has been, "In a 100 years, we'll all be dead and so, just do it."
What is the point of not doing it? Just do it. We're all here for such a short time. So, if that call moves my project forward, moves my passion forward, connects me in some way, just do it because we're all ending in the same place. While we're here, it's the time to make that call. So, that has helped me. And I found that in doing this product again and again, that would come up.
And then, in writing a book, again and again. Okay. Who are the people? Who do I need, an editor? And it's so scary to send your work to an editor and what if they say it's terrible? What if they say you can't write and the story's not worth telling? And then, you make that call and you say, "Hey. I have a book." And maybe they'll be the right person and maybe they won't. And maybe the agent, the next one will be. Maybe the publisher won't be. But at some point, there's a yes if you keep going.
That's really powerful. The really good news today for everyone who's listening is we are actually giving away a copy of CLIPPED and we are doing a special keyword. And the keyword is Eli, which is the name of Adrienne's son, who was her inspiration for creating her invention and also pushing forward in her CEO way, which is awesome. So, the way that you can enter to win is DM-ing me on Instagram @camillewalker.co or @callmeceopodcast and give me that keyword, which is Eli and you can be entered to win. And I cannot wait to get my hands on a copy because I know that when you hear the triumphs and also the pitfalls of others who have gone through this that there's so much strength and inspiration that can be gathered. So, thank you so much for your time today. This has been wonderful.
Thank you. I really enjoyed it.
Don't forget if you are wanting the option or the chance to win a copy of CLIPPED, you can listen for the keyword that is coming up, so that you can DM it to me and send it to me on Instagram @callmeceopodcast or @camillewalker.co. Those are both of my handles on Instagram. I would love to see you there. Please say hi. I love it when you reach out and connect with me one-on-one. Tell me what you like about the show and how you might want to hear from or topics you want to hear more about. And thank you so much for listening.
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