From side hustle to multi-million dollar business in 4 years. Hear how Megan Tellez of Glass Ladder & Co. took her frustration for her corporate job and lack of fashionable accessories for the modern stylish woman and turned it into her dream business.
A former client and badass business woman, Megan has such an inspiring story and journey that proves with a strategy, a willingness to learn and a little bit of grit you too can break the glass ceiling and build a business you love and that supports the life you want to create for yourself.
Megan is the CEO + Designer behind Glass Ladder & Co. She and her co-founder husband, Daniel, worked together to bring her dream of designing unique organization tools for the busy girl boss to life.
Megan and I have previously worked together on some email stuff and the more I got to learn about the story of Glass Ladder and what a badass business woman she is, the more excited I was to have her on the show.
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What made you decide to go on this crazy rollercoaster of being an entrepreneur, and how did you create your business?
I actually always knew that I wanted to do something somewhat entrepreneurial, at least that I wanted to have control over my day-to-day schedule, and wanted to have control over my finances. And that really hit home for me when I started working in the corporate world, where the harder you work does not equal more dollars earned—and that didn’t fly for me. If I’m working my tail off, I want to make more money.
When my manager left and I had to take over his role, I was basically doing two people’s jobs. I asked for a pay rise—nothing crazy considering I was doing two positions and my manager was making easily a six-figure salary. My boss said no. He said that maybe he would consider giving me $1 a year and after about 10 years, that could be a decent salary for someone like me.
That was the nail in the coffin. I knew I had to at least try to do my own thing—be my own boss and control my own finances.
What made you decide to design handbags?
Originally, we launched with one item: a portfolio clutch. From there, we evolved to create more portfolios, and then we moved towards handbags.
The initial concept came from working in the corporate world, where I was deeply frustrated with the accessories available for women. There wasn’t anything on the market that was both professional and stylish and allowed women to express their femininity in a professional way.
Everything felt either geared towards school girls with bright rainbow colors and sequins and were not professional, or extremely masculine and not stylish.
What challenges did you face at the beginning of your journey?
I brought the idea up to my then-boyfriend, who is now my husband, expecting him to be like good luck, crazy lady. Instead, he said, let’s do this—I’m on board! So I married him.
We actually had to change our business model a couple times. We spent about six months in the planning phase, building it together. Originally, we thought it would be a subscription box model, but we did the numbers and realized that would not work for us financially. We could not turn out the finances for new inventory four times a year, so we went with the eCommerce model.
We worked off a very, very small selection of one portfolio, a pin set and a business card holder. That was it. You could buy all three of our items in a box, which was our way of trying to incorporate that subscription box thing, and it just continued to evolve. No doubt we will continue to evolve in the future.
When people are creating a product based business, they feel like they have to create all the things and have this big huge line, but you don’t. Just start small, prove product market fit first and then expand. What’s really great about doing it that way is you’ve got customers now who have spent money with you giving you feedback, and you can expand the line based on what they want, instead of trying to guess all the time.
Did you have experience in the accessory space when you started?
Yes and no. I’ve had no design experience. I did not go to school for design, and I did not work in the design industry. But working at Michael Kors selling handbags during college gave me some experience with fashion and accessories.
Learning the ins and outs of their brand and their bags was like a bootcamp. I had to learn the name of every single piece, every single material, how they make it, how they make the colors, ect.
When I graduated from college, I worked for a PR company that specialized in beauty, fashion and accessories. I handled some accounts doing their PR but I realized I really didn’t enjoy working in the fashion industry. I loved wearing whatever I wanted and I felt empowered as a woman, but my experience was so toxic. It was Devil Wears Prada bad. There was inappropriate, unprofessional and absolutely illegal employee abuse and misconduct happening, so I left.
I moved over to marketing and finance, which was a super male dominated industry and boy, was I taken aback. I didn’t realize how good I had it in the fashion industry. There were all kinds of things like sexism and sexual harassment that I—in my cloud nine version of reality—thought women didn’t deal with anymore.
It was like a massive shell shock for me. I felt like Dorothy, in some alternative reality 1950s television show. It was 2016 and this is how it was for women in the corporate world? It was something I was determined to speak out about, educate about, and hopefully change. A lot of young women going into the corporate world unprepared for what they’re walking into—not that they should have to be. It needs to be fixed. That experience is why so much of our branding focuses on female empowerment in the professional space.
If you’re reading this and you have your business as a side hustle right now, and you’re dealing with that crap at work, you can get out, you are on your way, and you are not alone.
What advice do you give to someone just starting out?
- Comparison is really the thief of joy
When you’re starting out, it’s easy to see other people and thing, I’m never going to get there. I totally suck. Look at that girl, she’s got it all together.
One of the most important things that, even to this day, I have to remind myself is that we’re all evolving and we’re all growing—that’s never going to end. You can always, at any point, look up to someone else and think, wow, I’ll never get to where they are.
Then you get to the next level and you look up and think, wow, they’re doing great up there, I will never get to that level. Except you can always get to that next level. Believe in yourself.
- Don’t get attached to your plan
Not having a clear strategy in place is important. This sounds contradictory, but there’s two parts to it:
- Just start because you can get caught up in the plan phase forever and never be ready to start. If you wait until you’re ready, you’ll be waiting for the rest of your life.
- Never show up without a plan. And then they say a woman without a plan is a woman destined to fail?
These sound contradictory, but they’re not. You just need a working outline of your plan and then as you grow and change, so does your plan. It adapts with you. Check in on it periodically to make sure your plan still aligned with where you want to be and what you’re doing?
Sometimes you can have a plan but the market tells you something different, and that’s okay. You just adjust and adapt.
3. People aren’t paying as much attention as you think they are
We’ve had three logos in four years and I guarantee people that have been with us from day one are probably scratching their head and saying, you have two other logos when? Or when did you change your branding colors, I didn’t even notice?
It’s kind of like the Mandela effect. When it changes over time, you don’t even notice. Always work on improving, always reassess and revisit your plan and make sure that it’s going to get you to where you want to go and it’s aligned with what you’re doing.
You built an Instagram following six months before product launch, was your audience warm and did that work?
It worked, and it was incredible and so validating. Order after order came through while we were at our launch party with a group of friends and family, and they celebrated with us.
It is definitely important to warm your audience. Even to this day, we start a pre-launch campaign for a new collection three weeks in advance. We’ve recently tested launching to a warm audience versus cold audience and hands down launching to a warm audience produces a tenfold return.
During pre-launch we tease on social media, send out emails, show up live to show everyone the product. Showing up live is kind of like the home shopping network because you can describe how it would feel to them and they can see how it looks when you put it on your arm.
How long does it take to plan out a launch?
Every launch is different. Our spring collection launches two weeks and I’m taking notes for myself for the next collection about what I need to do differently next time. I’m always bootstrapping it, rolling with the punches and doing the best I can.
Next time we launch, I’ll look at my notes and say I want to give myself two extra weeks or I want to do this first before anything else, or I want to hire an illustrator to do this graphic instead of doing it myself, ect. It continues to change.
Even though we do mostly the same thing for our holiday campaign, I also keep a note to myself throughout the holiday marketing season of things that we need to do differently or do better or start earlier the next year. As long as you’re always growing and changing and adapting, then you’re bound to succeed.
How much impact do you think you being the face of the brand has contributed to the success of your brand?
I’ll tell you a secret. No one wants to be the face of the brand. No one. We all resist it. Nobody wants to get up and be “The Face”. Once I finally put my face on the brand, business increased. My audience loves it.
We used to dedicate one tile a month to introducing ourselves and now I show up live when launching a new line of products, create Reels on Instagram, do IGTV’s and show up in the product photos.
Do you feel like showing up is easier now than when you first started?
Absolutely, it continues to get easier. This is my second podcast interview I’ve ever done. The first one I was shaking in my boots, but this one I feel better. It’s the same with going live. I thought I was going to have a heart attack during the first one. Actually, I had an allergic reaction, and I had to show up with swollen eyes, but afterwards it felt like it went great even though I was swollen and tired from Benadryl!
If you’re afraid to do live video, your audience is going to be so forgiving of you. If you fumble your words, or you stop to scroll through the comments to catch up, they don’t care.
You’re all over Instagram Reels, did you set a Reels challenge for yourself?
Yeah, I did. When we first started doing Reels I tried to do at least five a week for three to four weeks. As you do, I learned a ton by doing it over and over and over and there are absolutely Reels that never saw the light of day.
Did you see the return on the Reels like everyone says they do?
They were getting so much traction and a lot of visibility for the brand. Even just reaching your existing audience on Instagram is incredibly hard these days.
We all want to go viral and have a million views, but through Reels, Instagram is essentially Essentially, Instagram is giving you a microphone to reach more of your existing audience. After all, these are the who people who have already said yes, I want to hear more from this brand and yes, I like what this brand sells, but only 1% of people are seeing your stuff. Easiest way to get more exposure is start making reels.
How do you come up with ideas for reels? Do you follow the trends?
No, I actually don’t really follow the trends. Maybe I should, but I don’t. Our strategy up to this point with Reels has been making mini-commercials for our products for our audience.
After doing some analysis and looking at our data and content, we noticed that we typically speak to people that already know who we are so we will not end up on the Explore page because someone who doesn’t know who we are will not understand our content.
Moving forward it will really about making the content for the people we people who find us on Explore page. The big thing is identifying who you want to reach. That’s such an important distinction when you’re creating any type of content, whether it’s an email or social content. The messaging that you give to those people is going to be so different because they are at a different place in the buyer’s journey with you.
What would you say is your biggest failure in your business?
Looking for answers in the wrong places. For example, we waited too long to develop an email strategy with the 1000s of people that gave us their email and consent and said, yes, I want to hear from you. Instead, we said, hmm, let’s throw a lot of money into Facebook ads, and spin the wheel and see what happens.
It’s likely you have hundreds or thousands of people that have said that they want to hear from you, whether it’s on Instagram, or email, or text, or Facebook. Are you connecting with those people enough? Or are you just worried about exposure and additional reach and bringing in new people?
So many entrepreneurs do the same thing. Facebook ads aren’t inherently bad, but they can feel like a quick fix band aid for your business.
What has been your biggest success in your business so far?
I’m going to keep it real and say our biggest success was fulfilling our dream of was not wanting to work for someone else. We pictured a life for ourselves where we were our own bosses and we controlled our hours, our business, how much we make, how hard we work. We knew that when we had children, we could bend our schedule and do whatever we wanted to spend as much time with them as possible.
Now that we have a one-year-old and we work for ourselves, we can run our business and still spend as much time as we want with our baby. We don’t have to take her to daycare and we don’t have to miss any of her special events in her life. It’s all that we could ever ask for. The other stuff is just an amazing cherry on top.
If you could give my audience one thing to take away from this episode, something that they should 100% implement in their business, what would that be?
Just start. Don’t forget to revisit that plan and reassess. You’re always going to change and so should your plan. You’re going to grow, you’re going to adapt, you just gotta make sure that what you’re doing is on brand. Don’t just decide to post Reels or follow trends that have nothing to do with your business or your end goal. Always connect your content and everything you talk about back to that. If it doesn’t relate then you probably showed up without a plan or you need to revise your plan.
If you knew then when you were starting your business what you know now, is there anything you would have done differently?
Everything! No, no, perhaps getting started with email earlier. We had plenty of people who wanted to hear from us, but we didn’t speak to them soon enough.
In the beginning we were bootstrapping and doing EVERYTHING. You want to wear all the hats because you either want to save money, or you don’t think people can do it how you do it.
You don’t you don’t need to do everything. Hire help sooner than you want to because if you wait until you’re really ready, you probably waited too long.