Entrepreneurship Done Right: Q&A with Home Designer Robin Wilson
A trailblazer within the design world, Robin Wilson is the founder and CEO of Robin Wilson Home, a firm focused on providing eco-friendly design for residential and commercial projects. While you can find her pillow and comforter line at Bed, Bath & Beyond, she has also serviced private clients like the Harlem Office of President Bill Clinton, the White House Fellows Office. She is also the first woman with a branded line of custom kitchen & bath cabinetry and only the second African American to have a textile line at Bed, Bath & Beyond (behind B. Smith).
An entrepreneur, CEO, Ambassador for Asthma & Allergy Foundation of America and newly named brand ambassador for Panasonic home products, Wilson is definitely a lady who wears many hats. It was a pleasure interviewing her and picking her brain on her industry as well as entrepreneurship. Check it out.
TNJ.com: How did you get into home design?
Robin Wilson: Looking at and creating beautiful spaces has always been an interest of mine – from my early subscriptions as a teen to design magazines to my preschool moment with paint color selection with my grandfather for the trim colors on his rental properties. Some people read the sports or business pages, but as a young person, my selection was the STYLE section of our local newspaper.
After graduating from NYU with a Masters’ in Real Estate Finance, I thought I wanted to be a real estate developer, but was dissuaded from that goal by an inspiring professor, who indicated that he felt that my skill set would be better served in the project management role – to help busy consumers finish their homes around the world. At the time, I had no idea if he was right, but being on that side of the business taught me the fundamentals of design, construction, legal issues, the needs of high-net worth clientele, and a proactive mindset of “right now” in my client relationships.
TNJ.com: What inspired you to focus on eco-friendly products?
R.W.: I have suffered from allergies and asthma during my lifetime and I recognize that so many people need hypoallergenic products that are affordable. My goal has been to create a brand that consumers can identify with and has quality products with non-toxic and durable construction. When you know the statistics that 60 million Americans suffer from allergies or asthma – that is one in five people – then you realize it is an epidemic that could be impacted by the indoor air quality, and products we use in our homes.
TNJ.com: Did you always envision being an entrepreneur?
R.W.: My great grandfather and grandfather were entrepreneurs, and I made a “bucket list” goal to be an entrepreneur by the time I reached 30 years old. Fortunately, that goal was reached and it is amazing to see that my firm is about to reach its 15th anniversary.
TNJ.com: What is one thing that owning your own business has taught you about yourself?
R.W.: Being an entrepreneur makes you recognize that you have to know all sectors of the business – from how to service the copy machine to making bank deposits and handling personnel issues – and there will be times when you pay everyone else and cannot pay yourself. You have to have the faith and tenacity to stick to your goals and focus on the strategic issues that will make your company a success.
TNJ.com: How do you find people to bring into your company that truly care about the company the way you do?
R.W.: No one will care about your “dream” in the same way that you do, but you can build a team that is focused on a specific area of expertise – and help them care passionately about that area, which will positively impact your goals. Personnel is the hardest issue for any company, and there have been employees who have had a negative impact on the firm and others who have performed exceptionally and we were sad to see them return to school, or relocate from New York. It is always a joy to work with a relatively unseasoned employee and to watch them grow, but I have recently had to cut back on that type of hire, as there is little time to teach. The key to good personnel is to “hire slow, fire fast.”
TNJ.com: What advice would you offer to others pursuing entrepreneurship?
R.W.: The A-B-C rules are most important: have a great attorney, bookkeeper and regular cashflow! And remember that you will work harder than you ever have in order to realize your dream, but seek a great advisory board and map out your strategy.
For a previous post on Robin Wilson, click here.