The Juliette story and how its founder became a Tory Burch fellow

Sharing the journey and lessons of Juliette. ‘There are no shortcuts.’

By Rechelle Balanzat  

My story starts back in 2013 when I had the idea of developing an app that would take care of laundry and dry cleaning.  It took just over a year of developing different prototypes, creating business models, and drafting business plans

It wasn’t until September 2014 that I had a working version that I could go to market with, also known as a minimum viable product.  I launched a pilot service in three buildings in Murray Hill.  It was an immediate success!  From Sept 2014 to Dec 2014 I grew my sales from $300 to $1,700.  Small potatoes, but that’s 467 percent growth!  Clearly customers liked what I had to offer.  

I was feeling happy and positive.  I had a proven model, a working business, and cash flow.  I was ready to grow my business with an investment.  Right?… Wrong!

There are so many things that go into fundraising.  This is why it’s a dedicated profession for so many people.  It’s also why it’s very common for companies to have more than one founder.  Typically, one founder focuses on the company and the growth, while the other founder focuses on operations and investments.  One person handles all the direction and creative, while the other crunches the numbers. 

VCs and Angels break you down.  It’s their job.  They want to understand not only your business, but also you.  Having a sound business model is only half the battle.  You still have to prove to the investor that you possess the intellect and creativity to successfully execute. 

I don’t have a co-founder.  I don’t have a COO, a CTO, a CFO.  I don’t even have an intern.  I only have me.  Needless to say, I struggled juggling a new business with fundraising.  Every night I was in the laundromat doing laundry.  I had one employee at the time.  She and I would walk around the neighborhood picking up laundry, washing and folding it, then returned it again.  I promised laundry would be delivered before 6 AM.  The quick turnaround time was what helped attract the initial customer base.   

Back in the day when Juliette was a one-person operation. ‘Torn and tired.’

I was torn.  I was tired.  I knew I had what it takes to build a successful company, but my pitches and investor meetings were falling flat.  I just couldn’t do it.  I couldn’t run the business at night and be sharp for meetings during the day.  I started to break down.

Fundraising is difficult enough on its own.  Now add sexual harassment to the list. 

My mother worried about me.  But I just couldn’t give up.  I refused to give up. I refused to back down.  I never went on those dates.  I just never called back, never followed up.  I think investors can smell desperation.  And they knew I was desperate. 

So instead of selling out, I lived on Saltines.  And then eventually, I had to move back in with my mother.  But throughout it all, I never stopped the service.  Juliette continued to operate regardless of where I was mentally, emotionally, or financially. I continued to pick up laundry and dry cleaning, cleaning it, and returning it.  Even if I was the only one doing it.  Even if it was only for a handful of customers.  My friends thought I was crazy.  They tried to convince me to stop the service.  It didn’t make sense to stay in business for just a few people.  

I don’t have the words for it.  I don’t know how to describe it.  I just know that I couldn’t quit. And then I really hit rock bottom.  It was February 2017 and the factory where I was doing all of the cleaning kicked me out.  I had nowhere to clean clothes.  This could’ve easily been the end of Juliette. 

But I persisted.  I called around looking for a new factory to clean clothes.  Then a miracle happened.  A family friend opened his doors to me and said I could run my business out of his store.  This was the break I’ve been waiting for. 

One of the most powerful women in the world, fashion designer Tory Burch, in a huddle with fellows, as Rechelle awaits her turn.  
With the 2019 Tory Burch Foundation fellows.

After a few months of negotiations.  The owner sold his store to me in April 2017.  There were no investors involved.  No large sums, no large capital.  He and his wife were good friends with my mother and truly wanted to help me.  They had also been running their business for over 30 years and wanted to retire. 

It’s been my biggest blessing to date. It took four long years to call a place my own; but I always believed.  I never stopped believing in my vision.  I never stopped believing in myself.  And while cash is important to start a company.  It’s persistence, perseverance, and patience that will sustain a company.

Now we’re almost midway through 2018.  And my life is very different.  My company is growing at a healthy rate.  I no longer work crazy hours and for the first time, I’m experiencing stability.  I have a wonderful staff that supports me and the company.  It’s a wonderful feeling.  I now have enough clarity that I can focus on building towards the future instead of living day to day.  

It’s been a slow, long, and arduous process.  But it’s kept the most valuable pieces in place: my dignity; my self-respect; truth to my vision; truth to myself. 

Rechelle Balanzat has been chosen a Tory Burch Foundation fellow for 2019. Each year, the foundation selects 50 female entrepreneurs from across the country to participate in the fellowship and provide them with a community of support to help connect, learn, and grow their businesses.  The program, which started on June 2nd, kicked off with four days of workshops and networking with the founders and business experts at the Tory Burch offices.  Each fellow received a $5,000 grant to advance their business education

(C) The FilAm 2019

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