Women's History Month: Chief Everything Officer

I intentionally choose to work with a diverse mix of business owners across the metro Detroit region. Professionally, it’s to improve my problem-solving skills to better serve my clients, but personally, it’s because each client has such a unique story to tell. Many of my clients are women and many experience challenges most male business owners never have to encounter let alone solve in order to move forward. Yet these women overcome these obstacles on a daily basis in order to build their businesses, grow as people, and achieve their dreams. For Women’s History Month, I’m uplifting the many ladies I have the honor to support on their entrepreneurial journey.

Nicole Mangis - Brut Detroit

Photo by Asia Hamilton

Photo by Asia Hamilton

Photo by Asia Hamilton

Photo by Asia Hamilton

When did you have your first business idea? What helped you decide to launch?

Looking back I think I have been entrepreneurial my whole life so I cannot even begin to pinpoint the moment the first idea popped up. But when I had the idea for Brut Detroit I was in a moment of personal growth. I had just left my position at UM-Dearborn to become an entrepreneur full time. At that moment I was consulting and educating non-profits and businesses on how to transition to and sustain a social enterprise. While that was fulfilling I began to fully feel the entrepreneurial life which is very isolating and lonely. I would reminisce on the days when I was a bartender or when I was traveling and how I could always count on amazing conversation, connection, and enrichment over drinks. I had always wanted to open a local bar, someplace where people from all walks of life could go to simply relax and enjoy life. No sooner had I started to form the concept did I get word from a friend that he had just passed his Sommelier exams and was now a certified wine expert. It felt like things were starting to align and so I jumped in. Now, officially 3 years in I have not regretted that decision one bit.

What do you really love about your business?

I love that my business brings people together, from staff to guests/clients. I genuinely enjoy the communal aspect of what Brut represents. When we host events and see guests interacting with new people, to seeing families and friends stop by our bar and spend the afternoon making memories. I fell in love with that very early on. Lately though, as my business has grown my role in it has evolved. I find myself behind the scenes a lot - no longer the employee doing all of the work, I am the boss steering the ship. With that transition I do find myself missing those moments, so I make time once in awhile to work an event and refill the tank. But I am starting to find tremendous joy in helping develop the uniqueness and skill of each member of my team. I see a bit of an entrepreneurial spirit in each of them and so I try to nurture opportunities for them to try something new and help coach them through the process - even adding new product lines to our business to allow them to showcase their skillsets. Another joy that I find in my new role is the ability to strategize and develop new opportunities for growth. I suppose I am a serial entrepreneur in that sense, that despite how many things I have on my plate, I am always looking for new ways to monetize my passion for bringing people together.

What don't you like doing within your business?

Over the years - just like in life - I have identified (usually the hard way) that there are aspects of my personality that need work. Procrastination was a theme for awhile, recently impulsiveness… All of these things are very real and human. When you’re starting, growing, and sustaining a business your personal traits become your biggest ally or biggest foe. Thus, facing my own negatives in order to see the business evolve and grow is definitely not something I enjoy, but have really started to make a priority so that my team or guests or clients never suffers because I procrastinated (for example).

There is also the very real situations (daily) that every entrepreneur goes through. As the CEO - Chief Everything Officer - I do everything from social media, to accounting, to cleaning the toilets, to meeting with potential funders. Not every job you do is glamorous which is why it is important to take time to unpack what your “why” is -- that is the thing that brings you so much joy that you wouldn’t mind not being paid to do it every. single. Day. -- so that you have something to latch on to in moments of crisis or when you’re caught in the tedium of daily tasks.

What can you improve on with your business?

Absolutely everything. There is always room for improvement. The key is prioritizing what things need the most tending to and answering a very important question: how do you know that this needs to be improved on (i.e. what data do you have to support taking the time to focus on this thing vs. that thing) and how do you know that your strategy for improvement is the right move (again, what data do you have). It’s hard to make decisions in the moment so I have really aimed to bake time into decision making for simple reflection. Largely because in business, just as in life everything is an opportunity cost. If you are doing this then you are NOT doing that… if you spend money doing this then you cannot spend money on doing that (in most cases).

What's one of the biggest lessons you've learned since starting your business?

Always take a moment to think something through. Whether you’re on the phone with a prospective client who wants an answer on pricing right now or sitting in front of an investor who wants to cut you a check for the exact amount that you need -- be genuine in your thanks and simply let them know that you need a little bit of time to pull the right quote together or to reflect on the strings attached to that check. NOTHING is that serious that you have to paint yourself into a corner just to get paid. If it turns out their not willing to wait then perhaps you have your answer. But most clients will accept that there should be a turnaround time in producing a quote that appropriately reflects the work they need and I would expect that serious investors would want you to seriously evaluate the situation before jumping impulsively into a deal… So, always pause and reflect, even if just for a few minutes or several days or weeks - take care with your business decisions.

How does being a woman impact your business? What's something people should know about the experience of being a woman business owner?

I’m in love with the idea of being a women in business as something that is so unbelievably empowering and impactful. While I am getting there, it is only recently that I have started to understand what being a woman in business is. Honestly, the first few years of a business’ life are spent in triage mode - we very rarely get a chance to catch our breath let alone be contemplative about our role in the bigger picture - it is definitely a great practice to get into as it relates to self-care but this has been my reality. So, as I have evolved into a more strategic role in my business I have been able to think and act more on how as a woman I am more equipped to do the job I have created for myself. Even as unaware as I was about this very real connection - I was nurturing staff, engaging with clients, building empathy, seeking community all from a place of genuine love. So, I feel that organically as a woman my business took on certain characteristics that are unique to the feminine. And, now that I am more aware of this I fully see the path before me on how to maximize these traits and scale them simply by playing to my personal strengths and the business’ strengths.

In hindsight I have also struggled against a lot of the remnants of the good ol’ boys club and the good ol’ girls club. These paradigm that we operate business in today is still very much rooted in a maximize profit at any expense dogma. I personally don’t feel that is what the world needs or that is the only way we can be successful in business. So, in meetings with funders or “mentors” or clients sometimes, I struggle with having a seemingly unique perspective on how we can and do business. I don’t think this is unique to being a woman in business per se, but I do see a trend that women in business tend to have this perspective more predominantly.

How do you balance your personal and professional life? Your mental/emotional well-being?

I don’t. I struggle with it like everyone and it is VERY important to be real about that - do not buy into the fake it until you make it mentality.

I have learned to be kind and forgiving with myself. Whenever I start to think about what someone else thinks of me/my actions/a situation I make it a point to have an internal dialogue with myself about what I think too. If we only obsess over what people think of us we aren’t even giving ourselves a chance to think independently about a situation, to take a reflective perspective, or make a decision rooted in what is best for us.

As a mom and wife and sister and friend and so much more I realize that every day is a new day to start over so it is OK if on this particular day I didn’t touch but one thing on my todo list or even if I have a week full of days like that. Sometimes the perfect tips of being productive don’t apply to you. But on those days where I am “not productive” in the traditional sense I make sure that I at least acknowledge the things I did do - maybe it was just being in silence with my thoughts or snuggling with my daughter or having a family dinner (even if it was carry out). We HAVE to make space for us to be human or else we will get run down mentally, physically, and spiritually. This is a big lesson for me - one that I have failed at over and over and over again. So it is always a work in progress.

Measure yourself from where you started NOT from yesterday. We have a tendency to get caught in the moment in a bad way. This makes us feel like we aren’t doing “enough” or we aren’t getting any traction -- well, yeah, because everything is relative. So, relative to yesterday you may be correct in the assessment that you haven’t hit your pie in the sky goals, but relative to two years ago when you started you’re probably doing 1,000 times better than you think you are. What helps us ground our reality so we can see this is pausing and reflecting.

What's something about entrepreneurship people don’t understand before they begin?

It is lonely. In the sense that unless you have partners there is no one to make decisions with or fret with or brainstorm with etc. When things go well it’s good but when things go wrong it can be a real struggle. The buck stops with you, no one else to blame.

Any super solid advice?

First, seek out and grow a personal village, there are so many resources and groups out there that there is no excuse. Even if you tap into this village once a year or every day they will be an endless source of VALIDATION. Validation can have a very real and important role in your entrepreneurial journey and your mental well being.

Second, once you start to identify the village ask for help. Advice can be overwhelming and noisy. But at least you’re getting extra eyes on a topic that you aren’t super confident about before you make a decision. From there you can weigh which piece of advice best suits your next move - or if maybe you still need more advice (or data) to help you make an informed decision. The village can help you figure out what question you even need to be asking in the first place… let’s be real, we don’t know what we don’t know - but usually we have an instinct that something needs answering.

Third, invest in yourself by bringing in professionals. My trifecta is an attorney, an accountant, and a relationship with a local banker.

Fourth, mentor/mentee relationships are symbiotic and mutual. You cannot “buy” or manufacture a mentor.

Whom do you seek advice from for your business? Where do you get your support?

Over the years my village has evolved. At the heart of it, I have my close friends and family, then close entrepreneurial friends and peers, then professionals/service providers, then close acquaintances in the entrepreneurial world, then business resources providers, and it keeps going… But the point is, while your close friends and family won’t understand the ins and outs of business they understand you. And, you will need the separation, task them with keeping you filled with love and inspiration while you engage with the other layers of your village to help you validate and navigate the particulars of daily entrepreneurial life. This is how my support network has evolved. And, it hasn’t been without its challenges - but, again, as I reflect on who means and does what in my life certain patterns emerge.

What do you have coming up on the horizon that you're excited about?

I feel like the past year I have been holding my breath, just trying to stay alive and triage. I am excited about exhaling in my business now. To see a lot of the seeds I have sowed be harvested - from my team’s development to certain investments I have made. I am also excited that as I exhale I am able to apply a lot of the hard lessons I have learned over the years to make better decisions and see the evolution of my brand.

Where do you see your business in the next year? In the next five years? The next ten years?

Sustainable and evolving. In just three years my business looks less and less like I had envisioned it initially, on the outside that is. On the inside, our why is as strong as ever and unwavering. We have just learned so much from our clients and guests that our true north has reoriented.

With that said, I see new spin offs in the future, traveling, and franchising opportunities.

Anything else you want to share?

Everyone always says “be yourself” but it is reallllly hard to do that because sometimes we just don’t know who we are. Being a business owner will test you in so many ways, I cannot say it enough to build in time for reflection, because when you do that you will begin to see yourself emerge.