For businesses, there are many questions up in the air right now. In the words of our own Chiller-in-Chief, Cyndi Ramirez-Fulton, even we had to “Pivot!!” our direction to keep up with the times. To spread the positivity and help to others, Cyndi partnered with Dell and the Dell Women’s Entrepreneurship Network (DWEN) to support five small, female-lead businesses in the form of mentorship and even a Dell #XPS 13 inch laptop from Dell, because we’re #inthistogether.
Below, read our interview with the final winner, Marie Castiglione of Spaghetti & Meatballs. This millennial facing greeting card brand is here to remind you that greeting cards will never go out of style, and that everyone can use a personal touch when celebrating. Whether it’s putting a smile on someone’s face, having mom help with the workload, or battling chronic back pain, Marie never stops – read more about what makes Spaghetti & Meatballs so special below.
Caffeine of choice? Ice Coffee with extra ice. All. Day. Long.
Dream job as a kid? Artist
One thing you NEED in the morning? 10 back up alarms and a large ice coffee
One thing you NEED to fall asleep? 1 hour bath and mindlessly scrolling. Humidifier on, face-washed and a good read!
Favorite way to kill time in quarantine? Go for long walks down River Road in my hometown and it overlooks the Niagara River 🙂 And rewatching all seasons of Insecure
Go-to snack? Ice coffee and home-made bread
One thing you wish you told your younger self? Stop over-thinking. RELAX!!! Enjoy the ride, its usually the best part! Oh, and art school will pay off!
What gap in the market do you find yourself filling?
I think Spaghetti & Meatballs helps fill in the gap for the need to connect with people. In this generation, we are lost on our phones, constantly scrolling into rabbit holes and sometimes forgetting to come up for air and breathe and most importantly to connect with people. Birthdays and milestones in life used to be such a big deal when I was growing up, and now we’ve all fallen in the hole of just shooting a text to someone in my family to say happy birthday, maybe throwing in an emoji or gif if I really like them! And I’m not okay with that!! I remember growing up as a little girl and making home-made cards for my mom or dad and spending all day drawing and making it just right. Those cards are still in my mom’s “treasure drawer” next to her bed. I think cards are a way of slowing down and capturing the moment. It’s like a real life journal page that you can open in years to come and bring you right back to a certain moment and a certain emotion.
I also think people need to be reminded that they are a badass. We are constantly comparing ourselves and we can be our own harshest critic! Sometimes we need to be reminded that no matter what is going on, we are perfect, and someone recognizes that! And my cards provide the vehicle to do that. Even if it’s just a little note, a little pick me up, a little “Hey I see you”. I think people long to be recognized and feel celebrated and I’m hoping my cards bring back some of that childhood nostalgia but in a cool kinda chic way!
What support did you or did you not get from loved ones? What did that teach you?
Well, I started my company when I was still living in NYC, in a small one bedroom apartment and still working for corporate America. So the rise and grind was getting the best of me. I would work a full day at Bloomingdale’s as an art director then head home to my tiny apartment in Astoria and stuff cards while eating tacos I bought at the corner and watching reruns of The View. So after a 10-12 hour day at work, I would then put in another 4-5 hours making cards and fulfilling orders. It was a lot for one person. My body was really starting to feel the toll of sitting on a computer all day long. And juggling it all myself, well I was always on the verge of a mental breakdown or a good cry! Haha!! So last summer, I decided to pack up and leave NYC after 13 years of that big city life, and head back to a small town outside Buffalo, NY to be closer to my family and see where I could take Spaghetti & Meatballs with the support of my family. And I didn’t know it at the time because I was so torn up about leaving the city I basically grew up in as an adult, but it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. I’ve been home now since July so about 10 months and have been able to grow my company so much more than I would have been still in NYC with limited resources and the stress of the high rent demands. But to finally answer your question!!! The support I got from my family was incredible. I couldn’t ask for a better team. It’s hard for me to ask for help. I’m the type of personality to take on a lot and never ask for help. I could be drowning and still won’t want to bother people. But I’m slowly starting to learn the importance that to be able to grow, part of being an entrepreneur is learning when to ask for help and learning how to delegate.
I come from a big Italian family with 4 other siblings and so coming home was so much free labor!! I always say home is where the free labor is at. We have basically turned my parents house into The Meatball Factory with multiple rooms being inventory rooms now and the garage has turned into the shipment/fulfillment center! (I’m waiting for the day they kick me and my cards out to the curb!) But I can’t express to you how great it is to be surrounded by people who want to help after being alone for so many years and trying to juggle it all. I’ve always struggled with delegating in my corporate career, so it’s alittle easier with family for some reason. Learning how to use people’s talents and delegate work based on their strengths. I have a bomb sister who will do anything for me. If I need 1000 cards stuffed and boxed and shipped in 24 hours, she never fails to disappoint. If I’m struggling with some copywriting for new card designs, I’ll text her over my thoughts, and within minutes she can craft something witty and funnier than my original idea. My parents are the best. They let me take over their house and never complain. My Dad has become my business manager, calls me at lunch time from his job to check in and see how the meatball world is going! Then at night we joke that he comes home and clocks into his second job of stuffing cards. My Mom is also a creative genius. She helps me package orders and make them look adorable before leaving the hour. She’s also my number one fan and travels with me to tradeshows and some of my first markets ever and helps me set up and takes my abuse and stress! Sometimes we have the whole family over on a Saturday night for pasta, sauce and meatballs and when it’s over, clean down the table and bring out the cards and have a stuffing party assembly line! The support is incredible.
What has been your biggest challenge so far?
One of my biggest challenges so far is wearing all the different hats of a young entrepreneur when you first start out- from copywriting, to designing, to managing projects and deadlines, accounting and invoicing, researching new ideas! There’s so many things to do that it can be overwhelming. I feel like being a creative is one full-time job and being a boss is another full-time job. So finding the balance between the two, and treating them as equals, has been the most challenging for me. Being a designer and artist by nature, it’s very easy for me to get lost in the creative side of things, but owning your own business you have to schedule in time to do business priorities as well. So I’m still learning to find the balance between the two, but it’s keeping my left brain and right brain flexed:)
But probably the biggest challenge I face on a day to day basis is dealing with physical chronic back pain. This has been something I have dealt with for the past 4 years, and by far is my biggest struggle with owning my own business and probably life in general! About 4 years ago when I was working in corporate America and spending hours and hours behind a computer desk job, designing ads for a big retailer in NYC, one day my back just snapped. I remember it clear as day. It’s like my right arm and back just gave up. I have been to countless doctors and different types of therapies about this mystery pain over the course of 4 years, but the consensus is that it was a build up of working on the computer for 15 years and working in a high stress environment. Everyday, I wake up, and I have about 30 mins in the morning until the pain starts to set in and then it’s there for the entire day until I lay down at night. And then I wake up, and the cycle starts all over again. It starts at my neck and goes down my right shoulder, down my right arm, down my right hip and down the right leg. My right arm is my drawing arm so it makes designing and illustrating some days impossible. It kinda feels like the right side of my body is constantly in a microwave. Some days are bearable but most days are not. And trying to stay positive, continue my exercises and therapies, while managing my own company and pushing it forward but also trying to manage my daily stress and computer time, is probably my biggest challenge that I face. But Spaghetti & Meatballs has probably been my biggest therapy in everything I have tried! It keeps my mind active, it keeps me thinking about others, it helps me make light of pain and more serious subjects, and keeps me creating. So although the pain is one of my biggest hardships, it’s also one of my biggest motivations.
What’s your favorite part of working for yourself?
Oh there are so many! Not having to work in corporate America with corporate meetings and corporate culture is probably my most favorite! Picking my own work schedule is a close number two! I’m a night owl, and feel the most creative at night when the world seems to be still and emails stop rolling in. So being able to work around the hours I feel most productive is a huge perk for working for yourself. I also love that my daily routine is so flexible. If I want to get some work done on the computer, I can go sit at a coffee shop or restaurant for the day and just change up my view. I also enjoy working really hard for a period of time and then having the flexibility to take a month off to recharge and refuel. Before this pandemic hit, I was planning on taking the month of May off. I had really not taken a break or vacation in about a year and was going to go and travel to the west coast for a few weeks. Visit California (my secret favorite state), and check out some new cities like Seattle, Vancouver and then finish in Banff. Although the trip got canceled because of the pandemic, and my rest period came in a different form (quarantining with my parents!) it is something I’m going to set in my yearly goals. I think there’s a real sweet spot with working hard for a period of time and then taking time off to reflect, research and re-inspire. In corporate America, this was impossible. You work so hard and the 3 weeks a year you have for vacation are just not enough to refuel creative minds. And can lead to burn out, which almost happened to me. So I know take my mental and physical health just as important as progressing my career and company goals:)
What do greeting cards mean to you? Why is it important to create greeting cards people actually want to give to others?
That’s a great question. Greeting cards to me, are a vehicle for people to stop, reflect, and write a message to their loved one. In a world where all we do is text, email and scroll, the art of writing letters is lost. I found myself just as guilty. Just sending a text and maybe throwing in an emoji or gif to someone I really liked and just saying “happy birthday!” No call. No card. No real acknowledgement. And I feel like people really need that. We want to be seen and recognized. We want to be remembered. We need words of affirmation. We crave human connection. So I think my cards are a bit of a cross between the nostalgia of writing letters crossed between millennials jokes and language. Which makes it feel fresh again. Using clean designs and fun pastel colors make it feel like you are sending a cool meme to your friend! But now they get to keep it forever, instead of reading a text and forgetting. And in years to come, when they open up that card again, a rush of memories, emotions and all the feels kick back in!
What serves as inspiration for your constant creation?
Ohhhh this is a good one! I get inspiration from everywhere! I always say no one in my life is safe or off limits! Sometimes it’s a late night text from an ex, sometimes it’s a tipsy conversation out with my girls, sometimes it’s a new Beyonce song, sometimes it’s a really funny meme, sometimes it’s from reading guy’s online dating profiles (this is some of my favorite material!). Sometimes (a lot of times) it’s from heart ache, from friendships ending, and just growing pains. Going into my 30s was a big inspiring transition for me. I shed a lot of my 20 year old habits along with some toxic friends and bad relationships, and wanted to go into my 30s with less drama and more intention. Sometimes it’s from my anxiety and inner worry wart. But I’m starting to realize a lot of my inspiration comes from pain. They start with something challenging I’m going through in real life. And once I’m able to laugh about it or see the silver lining, I’ll make a card about it. It’s almost therapeutic for me. I realized that has become my little niche when the quarantine hit. It was a very devastating time for me, other small businesses and just people in general. When the quarantine was announced, I sat around for about a week very upset about the canceled orders and devastation my company was going through. People kept reaching out and asking “where are your corona cards,” but I wasn’t ready yet. I couldn’t find the humor in such a painful situation. But eventually, I wrapped my brain around this lockdown, and started concentrating on the positives of spending more time with my family and resting. Finally I sat down to design some social distancing light hearted cards and that’s when I started to realize that pain is one of my biggest inspirations. Being able to come out the other end and find the silver lining and laugh about it, makes us all stronger. Life is tough. I’ll be the first to admit that, but laughter is life’s best (and cheapest) medicine!!!