HOW TO START YOUR OWN BUSINESS
co-owner of Miami store MIMO Market
WHY LEILANI IS OUR GIRL
I met Leilani back in 2009 while interning at MORE Magazine in NYC. She was my direct manager and I loved her spirit and her fashion sense (duh!). She was vibrant and had the best energy plus she took us interns as seriously as the editor in chief. Today she co-owns her own fashion boutique MIMO Market. We thought, it’s about time to catch up. Because we want to know how she did.
Leilani worked at MORE Magazine in NYC and at Chico’s FAS in Fort Myers, FL before realizing her dream to open a boutique in Miami. If you are ever in Miami, stop by: MIMO Market 2619 NW 2nd Ave, Miami
You are the owner of MIMO Market, a boutique, in Miami. When did you first know you wanted to open a store one day?
I knew since high school that I wanted some kind of career in fashion. I walked by a boutique one day after school and I remember feeling like, wow I would love to do that one-day. Since that moment I did what I could to steer my career towards the fashion industry.
What did you do after High School?
I attended Florida International University and began studying business there. After two years I transferred to Florida State University where there was Fashion Merchandising program. I loved the program and was finally learning things that really interested me. I joined every fashion club and helped to start a magazine on campus called Clutch Magazine. That's when I decided I wanted to pursue a career in fashion magazines.
What was your next move?
I interned, a lot! I interned for various magazines in New York City working in the fashion closet, running many errands, and hustling. One of my internships lead me to a job opportunity. My first job was a Fashion Assistant at MORE Magazine. It wasn’t exactly Vogue, but I worked just as hard.
How did MIMO Market come to life?
In college I met my now business partner Lisa. My job at the time had me flying to NYC often and I would meet with Lisa to catch up. We would both talk about how we were grateful for our jobs but both of us weren’t so crazy about corporate life. We would joke about opening our own business but didn’t really do anything further. Then after some time we both had talked about moving back home to Miami. Then the idea of opening a business came back to the surface and we started taking it more seriously.
How did you get started?
We started building our business plan via Skype, which helped us to really understand what kind of business we were going to open and figure out who we are and what do we need. This process took over a year.
What came next?
Once back in Miami it then took about another year and a half to get the store up and running. We had to find a location, then find an interior designer to help us engineer the space planning and what the store was going to look like. We had to hire contractors, get permits, visit trade-shows and buy merchandise. There was endless researching to find a POS system and figure out how we were going to manage our inventory.
What’s the hardest part of sharing a business with a friend, what’s the best part?
When we first started talking about going into business together there were hesitations from the both of us because we are friends. We didn’t want to jump into something that could potentially hurt our friendship. We had been friends for a while and knew another’s work ethic was very similar. We are both go-getters and super goal driven. We’re not lazy and we both are hard workers. It’s hard to find that in someone.
What was the first year like with you and your business partner Lisa?
The first year we had a lot of ups and downs. Even though we were friends, working together was very different. We had to learn about each other’s strengths and weaknesses. We had to figure out who was good at what so we could divide responsibilities to ensure a smooth work environment. When you start a business, especially a partnership you learn a lot about yourself. I had personality flaws that needed to change to that we could grow and succeed. I had to face them and make an active effort to change them. I think that was the hardest for me, but in the end the best thing for me as a person.
What was vital for the two of you to make it work?
We had to learn how to communicate. Much like being in a relationship! The best part about having a partner is having a team member to count on.
Give us the unglamorous backstory: What was the hardest part?
There is no glamour whatsoever. You have to be willing to make a lot of sacrifices and live uncomfortably for a little while. I left my corporate job, moved back in with my parents and lived off the money I had saved. What I didn’t plan on was our building being delayed. We had counted on our building being ready by a certain time but it was delayed for over a year! I did not save enough to sustain a year, so I had to pick up a part-time job, which was not easy.
How did you manage?
Looking back I don’t know how I managed. But I did it. My friends were traveling and going out – I stayed home and worked. When we finally were able to move into our building and open our doors, it just got harder. We couldn’t afford employees right away and we worked at the store ourselves, EVERYDAY for the entire year. It was exhausting, and I missed many birthdays and special events because of it. But I always had to keep in mind the ending goal, it was worth the sacrifice in the end.
When was the moment when you thought “yeah, we made it”?
When we hired our first employee, I thought “WE MADE IT!!.” Hiring help meant more to me than anything. It gave us back time, which was more valuable to me. We could finally have a little more of a life.
What would you do differently now?
If I could do something differently it would have been to save more money before leaping into starting a business. My dad had actually told me to do this but I didn’t listen. I felt ready and wanted to get started right away. But in hindsight I wasn’t prepared for the worst. And the worst had happened. I think had I saved at least a year’s worth of salary while I was at my corporate job it would have saved me some hardships that I experienced.
How do you motivate yourself?
I am very spiritual and actively seek out the universe to help me and guide me in my journey. On days that I’m not feeling my best I pray and listen to motivational speeches on YouTube to get me going. I get up early and I work out. I remember hearing Michelle Obama say she gets up at 4am to start working out to get her motivated.
Did you have any mentor, a woman you look up to or inspired you?
My grandmother inspired me. She was a business owner too; she had a small grocery mart in Puerto Rico. She was a single mom with six kids and figured out a way to start a business and take care of herself. I go to her often for advice.
Would you do it all over again?
Starting a business has been the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. But I don’t regret doing it one bit. I have learned SO much about myself and what I am capable of. I have been challenged in so many ways and to see where we are at now it’s been the most rewarding experience I’ve ever had. I went for my dream that I had since high school. I went in with no fear, just leaped. I knew that if I didn’t I would regret it my entire life. I never wanted to live with “what if.” I had a calling that was strong, and no matter what I go through I am proud of myself for listening to this calling and acting on it.