INTERVIEW: JESS PUCCINELLI
For our readers who don’t know, give us a little rundown of what you do.
I have the pleasure of running Haute Hope, an online gifting studio where we design beautiful gift boxes featuring carefully curated products that give back to a good cause or positively impact the world. Simply put, our mission is to make it easy for individuals and businesses to give good.
How did the idea of Haute Hope come about?
It came completely out of nowhere! I was talking with a friend about what to get another friend for her birthday. My friend suggested a Giving Key. I’d never heard of them – looked them up and found a reused key, etched with a word on it (like fight, or hope, or faith) and a mission that said, “when you have embodied the word on this key you must give it to someone who needs it more than you do.” Furthermore, they were on trend, and they employed people transitioning out homelessness. My mind was blown, and I said to my friend…”I wish there was a place where I could go and find all of these products that give back – but well curated, and boxed up so I could give them to friends for their birthdays and holidays!” Her response, “Well Jess, when are you going to start?”. Nine months later I was leaving my job in corporate America to launch Haute Hope!
Did you have any previous experience working with socially conscious companies? Or owning a business?
Does the greeting card business I started in the 7th grade count? Didn’t think so! Haute Hope is my first true venture into entrepreneurship. Additionally, it has been my introduction to the socially conscious world.
Once you made the decision to make Haute Hope, what was the first specific action step you took?
I told people. For months I harbored this idea for Haute Hope and deliberately chose not to tell many, if any, people about it. As a matter of fact, even when I did mention it I referred to Haute Hope as my side project. In my head if no one knew about this goal of mine then if it didn’t work out, or if I chickened out, then I could at least fail quietly. So when the time came to really, really do this I made it a point to tell people, because when people know what you’re going after it creates accountability. Accountability for me means there is no backing down.
What were your biggest insecurities in the beginning? How did you overcome them?
I really struggled with feeling prepared enough to do it. How in the world was I supposed to know how to run a business, excel in retail and manage the 100 other things that come along with a start up? I overcame (and still do) by executing and by learning. Every time there is something I’m not sure how to do I figure it out. I ask questions, I take a class, I read a book or as of late I look to bring in someone who knows how to do it better than I can. There is a saying, “Action cures fear.” In entrepreneurship that is absolutely the truth.
Could you touch on the emotional journey of starting and growing your business?
Starting and growing a business has been like hanging out in the ocean. Before you jump in you’re thinking about how cold it’s going to be, debating how deep you should go, and wondering what types of weird creatures are lurking beneath the water. Then you finally get the nerve to go in… it’s freezing, but refreshing, you wade up to your neck and decide that’s about right, and of course things are tickling your feet. Then once you get used to the temperature, you stop caring about what’s underneath and you start to enjoy the whole experience. The sun is beaming down and you’re wondering why it took you so long to do this. Then out of nowhere you get hit by a massive wave. Sometimes you go under, sometimes you panic and swallow a lot of water, sometimes you even end up back at the shore – but every single time, you swim right back out and try it all again because in the end it’s totally worth it.
Can you think back to a particular unexpected setback or mental block you had to overcome when starting out?
There are a lot of elements to gift boxes. Aesthetic is important, it has to make sense to the consumer but most of all the items have to fit. Like physically fit. My first pit in the stomach moment happened when I realized I’d ordered very expensive custom wooden boxes for a client and very expensive product for said client…but never thought to check the dimensions of the items. A lot of stress, prayers and good fortune later, everything fit!
What did you learn from it?
This taught me to slow down and pay attention to every single detail. I created a checklist for all of my large client giftings and have learned to ask a lot of questions before even placing an order for a product. I’m sure my vendors love answering my over the top inquiries – but in order for things to run smoothly it absolutely has to happen.
We chatted about how nerve-wracking it is starting a new venture, and how hard it can be to put yourself out there with confidence in the beginning. Can you talk about how you developed your mentality of “having excitement for yourself and what you’re doing”? And why this is so important?
If you don’t believe in yourself and if you’re not excited about what you’re doing then why should anyone else be? When I began telling folks about Haute Hope people were blown away by my enthusiasm for what I was doing. Little did they know it was taking every ounce of confidence inside of me to utter the words, “I own my business and I make gift boxes.” Over the years I’ve held the title of Account Executive, Marketing Manager, and I can honestly say even Intern was an easier title to introduce myself with. A lot of times we won’t own our ‘entrepreneur title’ until we feel like we’ve earned it. The reality is people don’t know what you have or haven’t earned. So I believe despite how you may feel, you still have to keep your chin up, speak clearly and embrace your title.
You had a pretty game-changing realization that I’m going to call your “white plate moment”. What was this moment and what did it teach you as a business owner?
When I first thought about starting Haute Hope many of the socially conscious marketplaces we see now were launching. Numerous people (with good intention) made it a point to let me know of the competition I would be facing. Instead of inspiring me this actually freaked me out. Then one day I was looking in my cabinet and saw a white plate… it hit me that people have been making plates (white plates for that matter) since forever. If someone can still be in business making white plates I can certainly launch a store in the niche market of socially conscious gifting. The moral is this, there’s room for everyone to succeed. Do it your way, have fun with it and don’t get caught up in the competition. Just make your white plates.
What was your first ah-ha moment, when you knew all your hard work was coming together as a reality?
Definitely my first online sale that wasn’t someone I knew! When it began to go beyond my circle I knew this could be something!
You emphasize the importance of meeting with people face-to-face. Have you sensed a difference with your business/personal relationships since making this effort?
I learned early in my career that if you can get in front of someone and have a real honest-to-goodness interaction with them they won’t forget you. People buy, support, and trust people they’ve seen because you are no longer that voice over the phone, or some words on screen; you’re someone they know. Whenever possible I want to make sure I have that connection with anyone I work with. It’s one of my secret weapons in business and life.
What is one specific resource you can’t live without when running your business?
Evernote. My entire brain is in there. I have it on every device and open it constantly. It allows me to do everything from scan business cards to take notes, make to do lists, email those notes. I tend to get ideas at the most inconvenient times – I can download my thoughts into Evernote and keep it moving.
What does a typical work day look like for you – morning to night?
I’m up early for a 6am boxing sesh, then cook a big breakfast as I catch up on news, social, etc. I do my best to be answering emails and getting to work by 8:45-9am. I usually have a morning call or two and then around noon I’m in the studio assembling any gift boxes that need to go out. Whenever possible, I take a break to make my lunch – it’s a little work-from-home luxury I love to take advantage of. I round out the day with a late afternoon coffee meeting (I can mostly likely be found sneaking in a quick thrift store stop) and then head home to finish up any to-do’s before making dinner for my husband and me around 7:30 or so. Afterwards, I can usually be found curled up on the couch updating the Haute Hope Pinterest account and goofing off with the hubs before we hit the sack around 11pm.
Working for yourself, how do you stay disciplined when it comes to maintaining a schedule?
It’s really, really hard to be on a regimented schedule all of the time. However, my most disciplined days happen when I plan the night before and lay out the day hour by hour on paper. What helps me immensely is to set an alarm and immediately get up and workout or get up and shower. There is something about starting your day with purpose and not just rolling over in bed and answering e-mails that sets the tone. At the end of the day, making a to-do list and deciding early on what it looks like to “win the day” is the difference between a wasted day and a productive one.
Sometimes you’ll put yourself in environments out of your comfort zone just as a reminder of what’s really important to you. Can you tell us about this practice of yours, and why is it necessary?
It’s so easy for me (or any of us, really) to get caught in the pretty parts of the business; networking, social media, events…I try to make a habit of going out and serving the L.A. community or head to different parts of the world with my vendors/artisans to get a first hand understanding of what they do. I never want to forget why I do what I do – nor do I ever want to lose sight of the people I’m doing this for. Often that means getting out of my pretty little bubble and putting myself in the shoes of someone else.
L.A. LADY CULTURE.
Favorite area of L.A.? My own neighborhood of Brentwood/West LA/Sawtelle! It’s quirky and a little undefined but we have built a terrific community here. Friday nights we’re likely to be grabbing sushi on Sawtelle Blvd then picking up a DVD at our local video store Cinefile. I have a bevy of go-to thrift stores I frequent and I love to see what new vintage records have popped up at Touch Vinyl. Alias Books is a quiet oasis with a fantastic selection. My coffee shop Cacao makes one of the best almond milk lattes and our Brentwood Farmers market is just the right size. I could go on and on but we walk the blocks and know the shop owners, get honked at by friends and genuinely feel imbedded in our pocket of the city. A rare thing to have in L.A.
Favorite eatery in L.A.? Any taco truck or fresh fruit stand. They’re both quintessentially Los Angeles and I love it.
Menu item we must order there? Carne Asada Tacos with everything on them. As for the fresh fruit: jicama, pineapple, watermelon, and cantaloupe with all of the Tajin seasoning you can handle.
Favorite happy hour? Sunny Spot in Venice!
Favorite weekend activities in the city? Flea markets, hiking in Topanga Canyon, attending a pop up Bang Bang Brunch, or laying out at our secret beach in Malibu reading.
Audio of choice when sitting in traffic? Anything Rhye or Emily King and the occasional podcast.
Place or thing you want to do most in L.A., but haven’t yet? Hike to the Bridge to Nowhere and bungee jump!
Biggest L.A. guilty pleasure? Spending an exorbitant amount of money on green juices, acai bowls, and lattes.