Female Founder Spotlight: Jess Levin, Founder and CEO, Carats & Cake

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Female founder Jess Levin takes the spotlight to talk about her inspirations and startup advice to entrepreneurs. By The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC)

Jess Levin is the Founder & CEO of Carats & Cake, the premier digital resource for luxury weddings. Follow her @thejesslevin.

Who is your hero?

My father. He taught me not only how to dream big, but more importantly how to turn those dreams into reality.

What’s the single best piece of business advice that helped shape who you are as an entrepreneur today, and why?

A close mentor once told me a story about walking into an office and noticing a yellow mask (the kind you see during the airplane safety demonstrations) sitting on the corner of a desk. When he asked what the mask was for, he was reminded of this lesson: if you don’t save yourself, you can’t save anyone else.

As an entrepreneur, you constantly hear people talk — to the point of bragging — about how burnt out or overworked they are. We proudly sport dark circles under our eyes like badges of honor and expect our team members to follow suit. Even though I know at times it is absolutely essential to push yourself past the breaking point, I’ve learned that the physical and mental health of myself and my team is as important to our success as traditional metrics.

We have made an effort at this early stage to build a culture that promotes balance, even though at times it can be challenging. I know I’m a better person and a better asset to my company when I put my mask on first.

What’s the biggest mistake you ever made in your business, and what did you learn from it that others can learn from too?

One becomes an entrepreneur because they recognize an opportunity when no one else does. The path to success relies heavily on trusting yourself and your instincts. In the beginning this is easy. However, as a company grows it can be all too simple to doubt your instincts.

The single biggest mistake we ever made as a company happened when I decided to listen to the expert in the room at the time, instead of myself. I remember feeling uneasy as the decision was being made, but attributed this to growing as a leader and learning to trust the people I had surrounded myself with. This mistake cost us time and money, two things a growing company doesn’t have.

I learned the hard way that just because someone else may know more about a certain topic, doesn’t necessarily mean they know what is right for your company. I learned to have enough confidence in myself, just as my investors and team do, to know when something doesn’t feel right and to have the strength to work towards finding a solution regardless of what anybody else says.

What do you do during the first hour of your business day and why?

I go through my entire inbox and make a list of “must haves.” These are the things that absolutely must get done that day. I always have a never ending to-do list, but prioritizing things in order of importance helps me and my team stay focused. I also make a wish list so that in the highly unlikely case everything on the must-haves list gets done, I don’t waste any time moving on to what’s next.

What’s your best financial or cash-flow related tip for entrepreneurs just getting started?

It’s never too early to start making money. Even a single paying customer makes a tremendous difference.

Quick: What’s ONE thing you recommend ALL aspiring or current entrepreneurs do right now to take their biz to the next level?

As an entrepreneur I have found one of the biggest challenges is focus, and having the discipline to effectively evaluate your business and know what matters and, more importantly, what doesn’t. Determine the one thing that matters most to your business right now and focus all your energy on ensuring this one element is accomplished.

What’s your definition of success? How will you know when you’ve finally “succeeded” in your business?

I think of success as more of a journey and as a result my personal definition is always evolving. For me it’s about reaching certain milestones, celebrating those wins and using the momentum to set new goals. At the moment I am looking forward to building out our offering for local vendors and really changing the way they do business. It will be a big milestone for us as a company when we accomplish this.

This post originally appeared on Startup Collective.

What's your definition of success?


The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.