Inspiration from a Start-Up Junkie (sponsored contribution)
Jo Parfitt tells the remarkable story of Melody Biringer, an inspirational woman who is a writer, entreprenuer and opportunist always seeking the next accomplishment.
September was a good month for the Netherlands, for this was the month that American self-styled Start-Up Junkie, Melody Biringer, sped into town, launched her gazillionth book and her twenty something business and zoomed on out again, leaving the lowlands scattered with some rather beautiful orange and pink books.
If you have missed the launch of Crave Amsterdam and you call yourself a female entrepreneur, then you must have been either out of town or asleep to miss the whirlwind that is Melody Biringer.
It was less than a year ago, at the I am Not a Tourist fair in Amsterdam, that I first met Biringer. She rather modestly showed me a battered copy of a fat orange paperback book, with the words Crave Seattle on the front, and told me just a little about the Crave events, parties and books that she was busy launching all over the US, and was just kind of wondering about bringing to Amsterdam.
Subtitling the guide ‘The Urban Girl’s Manifesto’, the book is a showcase of some of the most remarkable women in town. Created in collaboration with a range of multi-cultural, multi-talented urban girls, it’s a beautifully illustrated directory of female-owned businesses, among them some of the most innovative and creative talents around.
And then, last month, Crave Amsterdam was indeed launched and 300 people attended the event. A week later Biringer was in the Hague to speak to the members of the Women’s Business Initiative, an innovative business led by another creative American woman – Suzy Ogé. The room was buzzing as we all waited to hear what this woman who acquires more businesses than handbags had to say.
“A year ago I knew one person,” began Biringer, “and now look!” she raised her arms expansively. “And it’s all because of Twitter.” Thousands of people now know this publishing powerhouse and respect her for her dynamism and her ability to take an idea and run with it. Yet, after hearing her story, we respected her for her honesty, humility and authenticity too.
Biringer grew up in the country on a strawberry farm. As a child, she began picking fruit but soon tired of such back-breaking work and decided that what the workers needed was refreshment. Even at the young age of eight she had an eye for a business and proved herself to be amazingly savvy.
“So I started a lemonade stand,” she paused. “And then a week later I persuaded my cousins to run it for me!”
From the lemonade stand she moved on as an 18-year-old to start eight pick-your-own roadside Berry Barns, still popular today. Then it was a wicker furniture store and that too was very successful.
“But I wanted to live in a city, on a top floor. I wanted to be a multi-billion-trillionaire. So I went to Seattle.” There she started a retail and wholesale business that employed more than 70 people. It was successful, of course, but Biringer was not happy. She did not like managing people. “I’d rather people saw what needed to be done and then do it than wait to be told what to do,” she said.
So that business ended and Biringer decided she wanted to be in the fitness game. Only she realised too late and after investing lots of money that she had picked the wrong location. This was one of the 20 or so businesses she has chalked up so far. Biringer is the first to admit that much of her initially brilliant ideas change into something completely different after a few months.
“They have all morphed or been sold or failed,” she explained. But while busy starting businesses, she realised she was working too hard and had no time to see her girlfriends. Then she discovered that many of her girlfriends felt exactly the same way. And this was when she hit on the idea of the spa party, and the Crave Party was born. The concept was that these lavish events, complete with food, drink and spa treatments for all, provided everything a woman craved.
“Our first party was a pyjama party. So that got us a lot of press,” she remembered. The idea was an instant phenomenon. “I believe that if an idea hits a nerve right away, then we need to pay attention to that,” she said.
The Crave parties were a resounding success. Some, like the one in Vancouver, B.C., had 800 people at its launch party. Over time they were started in 20 cities and the model continued for several years.
But, despite their success, the parties were an enormous amount of work. Biringer found she needed her phone with her at all times, and she was always on call. She was ready for a new business, a new idea, one that would be the best of all the things she had ever done before. And that meant no leases, no employees and that she could work from anywhere in the world from her laptop. Biringer wondered if she could produce a Crave book that featured all of the entrepreneurs who attended the parties. So she interviewed and photographed them secretly and published the book as a surprise, printing an amazing 10,000 copies.
“But this is where I went wrong,” Biringer raised her eyebrows. “I did the book first and then I asked the people if they would like to buy some. Amazingly, fifty percent of the people agreed.” Biringer realised she need to fine tune the business model. Next time she would invite people to be included in the book and ask them to agree to purchase copies in advance. Six years later and the model has been polished to perfection. Today she launches in a new city, not with a pyjama party but with a book. The party comes later, if at all.
“Now, I prefer to hold monthly Crave business meetings that are hosted by an expert in a certain area,” she explained.
Once Biringer had honed the business model for something that, as she’d planned, had no leases, no employees and set her free to travel, the first place she wanted to go was Amsterdam. The rest, as they say, is history.
But the success of Crave does not mean that Biringer is now resting on her laurels. No, she continues to create new businesses, watch them morph or fail or get sold. One of her most recent is called Tech Mavens and has been created because she believes that women in technology need a voice. When she has an idea she acts fast, hitting the ground running and testing the water as quickly as she can.
“I start with a Facebook page, then a logo, then a Twitter name and a launch!” she laughs, as if aware of the danger involved in such a brazen attitude. But when asked for her top tip, she replied, “Fail fast and get it out of your system!” Proving her point beautifully. “Of course, I sort of have a plan at first but I know that everything will change in six months anyway!” she said. “Oh, and by the way, do you think anyone in the Hague might be interested in doing a book?”
Jo Parfitt has published 27 non-fiction books, is a journalist, teacher, editor and publisher and mentors others to write and publish their books. She has lived in Dubai, Oman, Norway and is now based in The Hague, the Netherlands. She specializes in inspiring and empowering people to write about what they know as memoir, articles or books. Jo travels extensively, running workshops and speaking at international conferences and in 2010 was honoured as a Trailblazer for her work with expat spouses at the Families in Global Transition conference. She is perhaps best known for her books: Career in Your Suitcase, Expat Entrepreneurs, Release the Book Within and Find Your Passion. Jo runs Summertime Publishing, her motto is 'sharing what I know to help others to grow’ and she loves teaching and nurturing new talent above all.
Find out more at www.joparfitt.com and pick up a free report on How to Write Your Life Story – the Inside Secrets