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In 2008 when I was 23 years old, I started a company called 3 Elements. Today I’m going to dive into why I started it, how I started it, and some really great lessons that I think we can all apply, whether you’re starting a business or not.
Let’s dive in::
[01:41] How I got into the social media industry.
[04:38] Let’s take a moment to talk about my love of Kevin Rose from Diggnation. Who may or may not have inspired Crystal Uncorked?
[09:10] The writing was on the wall with my job so I decided it was time to start my own business. With my dad’s support and encouragement, I started to get clients and learned a few things along the way.
[20:52] After a move to San Diego, I was lonely in my business and in a new city so I put out to the universe that I needed a team to work with. And the universe answered in the most unexpected way.
[25:36] These are the lessons I want you to know.
Mentioned in this Episode:
Wine: The Pessimist by Daou
Show: Diggnation with Kevin Rose
Book: Everything is Figureoutable by Marie Forleo
Read the episode transcript
Never did I think about this in a million years. I cannot believe that I’m having this revelation right now. As I’m filming this, I need a moment to process. Let’s have a sip of wine.
Are you ready to open up and talk about all things business? I’m Crystal Vilkaitis, a curious entrepreneur who loves talking about business, especially over a glass of wine. I started Crystal Uncorked to share open and honest conversations about my journey and talk to other entrepreneurs about their experiences.
We pull back the curtain and talk about the highs and the lows. Wine isn’t required, but is recommended. This is Crystal Uncorked.
Hello, and welcome back to Crystal Uncorked. If you’re watching this and you watched episode 87, then you’re like, she looks exactly the same. And that’s because I’m batch recording and I have changed my outfit today four different times for different interviews and videos that I was creating. And I was like, yeah, we’re just going to keep this train rolling for episode 88.
And today I’m going to be talking about starting my first company. When I was 23 years old, I started a company called Three Elements. Those three elements stood for marketing, social media, and PR. And this is back in 2008. So I’m going to dive into why I started it, how I started it, some really great lessons that I think we can all apply, whether you’re starting a business or not.
But before I dive in I have wine. I’m drinking,a red blend, the pessimist by Daou great Paso Robles wine. It’s very bold. For me, I definitely taste a fruitier, a little dry. You know, me, if you’ve watched, CU episodes, I love my bold wine. And this one I love the dark color, the rich. So. Cheers.
Now I am excited to share where I am today got started. A little bit of an origin story, if you will. So it requires me to take a step back and tell you how I got into the social media industry.
I was working for a company called Gen Green and we were a startup technology company. And our goal was to help make sustainability easier for everybody. Help them find sustainable companies, green companies, organic products, farmers markets, shopping local was such a big part of that. And we were building technology and I got hired on to host and create events. Which today would be called activations. That’s the new word in the event world. But I would do events and then I would also travel to trade shows and sell our software and get people signed up. And one day my boss came in Sharice, who I’m still friends with today and still talk to. And, she’s like, or, or no, no, no, her and I were on the airplane going, I think to Seattle, some kind of green fest.
And she gave me the Newsweek magazine. She’s you should read this. There’s some great articles. I’m reading it. And I’m reading about this new company called Twitter. Twitter. com, a micro blogging website. And nobody knew what the hell that meant. And I got it.
I just have always really got social media, like I understand it. It makes sense to me. And so immediately I was just like, Oh, this is really smart. How incredible. And I think something I really loved about Twitter was it connected us. It was a really brilliant way in a quick way and an easy way to connect people and a platform for us to share and have ideas and exchange.
And so, my boss is basically like yeah, you should get us on that. I’m like, okay. So I got us on twitter. com and I’m just like figuring it out. And then StumbleUpon was a tool that I started using. Stumbleupon was like an image saver, basically kind of like Pinterest in a way, honestly.
But you could, you know, stumble, images from a blog post. And so we would have blog posts about sustainability and I’d try to get picked up that way. And then Digg, ugh, you know, I gotta, I gotta just share this quick story.
Digg. com, D I G G. com. Honestly, I don’t even think, I don’t even know if this site’s around anymore. I think it is, but I don’t know. The whole purpose of this, back in the day at least, was you would have a blog post or an online article and people would dig it. It’s like you’re voting to say if this is a good article, kind of like Reddit, you can vote and move things up. And then they would feature top articles and articles that got a lot of digs. And one day one of our articles for Gen Green was on the front page of Digg. And you’re almost guaranteed like a hundred thousand website visitors if you’re on the front page of digg. It’s a pretty big deal.
Here’s the thing with Digg, one of the founders, Kevin Rose. I fell in love with. I can’t even explain it. I loved Kevin Rose deeply. He was so cute and I loved how his brain worked.
They had a show Diggnation or no, like maybe that’s what we were all called, but I feel like the show was called Diggnation and it was just a YouTube show with him and his co founder. I don’t know his name. He didn’t matter to me. Kevin did. Love Kevin. His co founder is fine, but you know. They had a show where they just sat on a couch with their laptops and talked about the top articles on digg. That’s it. I think they drink beer sometimes.
Oh my God. Is Crystal Uncorked inspired by Kevin Rose Diggnation? Never did I think about this in a million years. I cannot believe that I’m having this revelation right now. As I’m filming this, I need a moment to process. Let’s have a sip of wine.
This is very interesting because I would watch, I remember I had my laptop on my couch and I would just watch them on their couch with their laptops talking about articles. And there was one day where I was like, I can’t believe I’m watching this. Like I was surprised by my activity, by how I was spending my time. But what was happening, is I was building a relationship with them. I was liking how they speak. I was liking what they said. It was entertainment and it was like an everyday person who built a website. Who’s got a lot of knowledge about technology and online marketing. And back then this was all very new.
So for me, I have a very like innovative mind. I love fresh ideas. And I think this is where social media, I just got it. And I like loved it because my mind works that way. And I love change so much. So I’m sitting here just like watching the show of these guys talking about articles. And I was like, I just, I loved it.
So I’m totally full circle moment here, hoping maybe that somebody is watching CU with this girl drinking wine, being like, I love it. I get so much value out of it.
I didn’t even necessarily get a lot of value out of the articles that they would talk about. It was entertainment.
Anyways, I’ll move on. Loved Kevin Rose. Sad story.
I was at South by Southwest, which is a big tech and social media marketing conference in Austin, Texas. I think every March or spring. And they had a Diggnation event. And Kevin Rose was there and I had no friends with me. I was by myself and I had a flip phone at this point, I think, it did have a camera on it, and I met Kevin Rose, but my phone was dead. And so I asked this stranger, this guy that I was standing next to, him and his friend, and we were talking and I was swooning over Kevin Rose and they loved him too.
And so he took my picture with Kevin and I’m like, will you text it to me? And then he never did. And so there is no proof that I met Kevin Rose, but I did, and it was one of the best days of my life. So, there’s that. Love you, Kevin.
Also, I tweeted once, All I want for my birthday is for Kevin Rose to wish me a happy birthday, and he did. He tweeted me, and I printed it and put it in my planner that I carried with me every day. So, there’s that. I hope you don’t think any less of me.
Anyways, this is how social started for me.
So it all led, right? Twitter led to Stumble, led to Digg, led to Facebook, got shut down by Facebook a few times. And I’m sitting there one day. And I’m like I just really get this and I see a lot of opportunity for businesses to use this. I was screaming from the rooftops in 2008 social media. Is, I mean, 2007, 2008.
Oh my God, this is going to be game changer. I’m like, we’re going to probably watch TV shows and tweets are going to come up on the screen. And people are like, you’re nuts. That’s never going to happen. What’s a tweet? Are you like what? Crystal has lost it, lost it. My family didn’t understand. I’m like, I just knew it’s just trust me.
So as I started seeing this opportunity, what I also saw is that people didn’t get it like I did. And one day, you know, the, the company struggled. We struggled with, with getting, finances and growing. It’s very hard to create a software. And our pay had to get cut and you the writing was on the wall.
So I was like, I’m going to start my own business. And I called my dad and I was like, I think I’m going to quit my job and start my own business. And he was so supportive. I thought he was gonna be like, trying to talk me out of it. I believe in me, I believe in this industry and I started, I got a logo and I was like, my 3 elements are, you know, the PR, marketing, social media, and I was basically like, you know, I can help you with your social media.
And so how I got my 1st client. Never forget. I was remote. I was working out of my 620 square foot apartment in Fort Collins with my little Chihuahua bruiser. Bruiser Wes Vilkaitis. Yes, named after Legally Blonde. And, there were sites popping up like elance.com and guru.com where it was a matchmaker to independent contractors and businesses.
And I just started searching for what kinds of jobs people needed. And I would apply for them and my first client was the publisher of the Chicken Soup for the Soul books, which is a pretty big deal. Like people know. They know those books and it was more, it wasn’t really about promoting those books. So it was more about getting the brand out for the publisher, like building their name.
So then more people would want to be published by them and just having their own social accounts so they could also promote the books that they do publish and promote their authors. And so, I basically just set them up.
This is, this is serious. I just looked at myself what’s happening with my hair? Are we in focus? I’m very uncorked here. My lips are even purple that’s going to make for great, content for our social content. Very uncorked.
What I did is I would go to twitter.com and hit sign up, and then I would create accounts for this publisher and for other companies that I worked with.
So I would write the bio, upload the logo, create the whole accounts, have the spreadsheet with all their passwords, give them a Facebook page, get them on Stumble for most people. And then start like posting and then at that point, sometimes I would be just like handing everything over. They just didn’t want to open the accounts.
And then I would tweet some stuff and the challenge still to this day when you manage social media for brands. Is getting content. Like I don’t work at that publisher. I’m not in the office. I don’t know their authors. I don’t know what they’re looking for exactly. So you’re like, you’re doing the best you can with website copy. Honestly, imagine this, all that I have is website copy. And I have to tweet multiple times a day, so I would follow the authors, I would use Hootsuite and I would have all my columns of all the conversations that I was monitoring. And then if something was said that like a good quote or somebody plugged the book or whatever, then I could retweet it. So like I had stuff to work with, but nobody was ever, there was no pictures. This is back with social media, like no one’s posting pictures or anything yet. But it worked like they saw the value and here we go.
And so then I took on a few more clients and I started building my business. So I’d have a client or two, my publisher. And then I think the next one was a, it was a female comic book, like comic magazine. I can’t remember the name of it had a a very unique name and I’m not into comics, but it was like cool artwork. And my goal was just to help promote their comics and their artists and it’s a little bit of a blur, but I was like, this is really cool. But I didn’t know their industry at all. Like I’m learning, I’m trying to figure out how can we best communicate this and how can we best brand this and market
But while this is happening, even though I’m in a 620 square foot little apartment, it’s the luxury apartments at Courtney park in Fort Collins, Colorado. I’ve always spent more on where I live. I like nicer things. I like safe areas. I like good quality floors and like appliances and all those things. I like all that stuff. So I spent more in my rent was like $15 – $1,600. And I’m solo. I’m 24 years old at this point. I think maybe I’m 23 still. And yeah, I’m 23.
And, one or two clients is like not paying bills. I would do things for $250 a month, $500 a month. And I only had a couple of clients. So you start getting really nervous, like oh shit, did I make the right decision? I’m not getting this consistent paycheck. I’m just trying to build. And a lot of people won’t hire you because you don’t have clients or testimonials yet or case studies yet, but you’re working and trying to provide those.
And when I’m just like, when I’m in an in brand new industry, it was really hard to build some of that traction or for them to have the right analytics on Google to show that I’m driving traffic or how do you really measure? Like it was so different back then it was so different back then.
So one day I called my dad and I asked him and his wife to go out to dinner with me. We went to the Olive Garden and, nope, nope. Olive Gardens, different story. I’ll take you there in a second. I went over to his house and we sat down at the kitchen table, me, him and his wife, Deb, and I asked for a loan.
I asked for them to essentially invest in my business. I didn’t give them any equity though. I think I said invest, even though I didn’t really know what that meant because invest would mean equity. Ultimately, he gave me a loan and I said, well, you loan me $2,000 and I’ll pay you 10 percent interest.
Pretty good, right? Ten percent interest is great. Most of us would be like, heck yes, I’ll do that. So he gave me $2,000 and I felt some relief. And again, there was this amazing feeling of like my dad believes in what I’m doing for him to write me this check and be like, okay.
And the Olive Garden story is that I started getting some clients and so I wanted to take them out to eat and I’m like, this is on the business and I put down the business credit card and I kept that receipt for a really long time.
But I felt really proud that I built up my client base to where I could take out my dad and his wife and say, thank you for believing in me. And at this point I was paying them back, but not fully yet. And I’ll fast forward quickly.
The business is working and I decide to move to San Diego. I have this remote business so I can go anywhere. I have awesome clients. I had waste management was my client and all I had to do, I mean listen to this, this is nuts.
A sustainability Influencer. a him, three times a week, better if I did five, all I had to do is retweet blog posts that they wrote. I would retweet it and got a thousand dollars. So essentially I was an influencer getting paid to retweet, retweet and have to create any kind of custom content. That was the easiest thousand dollars I’ve ever made.
One day before I moved to San Diego, I moved in with my dad and his wife for five months. Because I actually moved to New York City to sell elephant poo paper. In Bryant Park at the holiday show. So that’s a whole nother story I’ll tell you about. But, because I was moving to the city for two months, they watched my dog. I didn’t want to pay a rent. So I moved in with them, did that for two months, came back, saved up some money for three months, and then I moved to San Diego.
Well, that time that I stayed with my dad and his wife, I would get mail there. So all my clients would send the mail checks there. And then one day. My, all my clients did the mail checks. All my clients would send checks in the mail there and, one day my dad sees the check for waste management and he’s is waste management a client? And I was like, yeah. And he was like, so proud I could tell. It meant the world to me.
There’s just something I’m one of those people. Like when somebody is proud of you, I’m very motivated by that. That’s very, very, very special. I think most people are that way. But it meant the world.
So I also even hired my dad. I had him organize all my receipts and then put them into, like, I don’t know what I had him do, but he’s very organized and my receipts weren’t. This was back in the day when I had to write everything on them and I had to plug them into my spreadsheet. I wasn’t as sophisticated back then.
But the whole point is that I had to figure it out. I had to figure out how I’m tracking the money. I had to figure out how I’m marketing, how I’m getting clients. I had to figure out how I’m going to pay my bills. I had to figure out these new industries that I was marketing on social media and I had to learn about their industry and do research and what is the best angle and I had to figure it all out.
One of my biggest lessons was. You’re not gonna know everything. You just have to show up. You have to believe in yourself. And if I, when I called my dad from the car and was like, I’m going to quit my job and I’m going to start my own business.
If I first, before making the phone call, thought, But you don’t know the numbers. You don’t. How are you going to get clients? What are you even going to offer? What are you even going to charge? How are you going to actually pay your bills? Are you really thinking about the fact that you’re not going to have a consistent paycheck? If I let all those things come in, I would have never made the phone call to my dad and I would have never quit my job. And maybe I would not be here today. Who knows?
So we don’t have any of it figured out people. Nothing. I’m convinced. Nobody has it figured out. Even big companies. Nobody’s fucking figured it out. It’s a shit show. So you just have to be like, I think I could solve a problem. You have to be an honest person and a hard worker and be transparent. If you mess up, you mess it, say it, own it, be, but just be, you be honest and do your best and that will always win.
So going back to paying my dad, I then moved to San Diego. And I had more clients coming in and I was making great money. And I mean, like I was 24 making over a hundred thousand dollars a year. I mean, I felt like that was pretty good for being 24 and it’s my own business.
And I was so lonely. Oh my God. I moved to a new state. I own my own business where I work from home and I had one friend out there and one cousin.
And I met Dustin on my third day. So I did have him, but we didn’t really connect and hang out until about six weeks after moving there. But, I was so lonely. I remember like feeling. So lost. I’m like, am I, do I really, should I really have this business? And what am I doing? And do I enjoy this? And I was just so lonely.
And I feel like I manifested, I put it out there into the universe that I need a team. I need to work with people because that’s when one of my clients Rush Imprint sent me an email. And, it was an email introduction to his mentor, Ted Teal, and Ted Teal was starting a new software company called Snap Retail.
And Ted was integrating social media into his software. And I was doing the social media for Rush Imprint. And he’s I feel like you guys should connect. So Ted checked me out and he said, will you come to Atlanta? There’s this place called America’s Mart and, there’s a show in July, a gift show and we could meet.
And we work with a hundred thousand retailers and I read a hundred thousand retailers. I’m like, I can’t help a hundred thousand people. I can’t go to this thing. I was like, they’re just so much bigger than I am. I was having a lot of doubt. And what’s crazy about the timing of all this is I got that email about two or three hours before Dustin and I went on our first official date.
So in the car on our way to our date, our first official date, I’m telling him about this email that I got. I’m like, I can’t help a hundred thousand people. And he’s you should probably just go just see what he has to say. And I’m like, like I was shutting it down. Like I’m not worthy. There’s a way.
And it’s Oh yeah, I guess I could just go and see what’s the risk. Ted was offering to pay half the travel. So that’s it. And then Dustin watched my dog bruiser. So I went and I sit down with Ted for 30 minutes, tell him about social, my experience. He tells me about what he’s doing. I have some ideas.
I said, totally a lot. He later told me, I love how much you say totally so random, but I was like totally invested. I was so enthusiastic. I mean, imagine this 24 year old girl, like so excited about social media and I know it’s going to change everything. And I loved what they were doing on the spot. He offered me a job.
And, it was like $90,000, you have to quit your company, you know, you have to stop your company. So essentially I was bought out. I was making just over $100K so fucking lonely. And I’m like, here’s an opportunity to make 90K. I have benefits, I have a team and I’m in the like ground level of something.
You know, like that felt really exciting to be in the beginning of something. And, I didn’t say yes on the spot. I need to think about it. Called my dad from the airport. I was so in shock. Oh, because part of it required me moving to Pittsburgh and I just moved to San Diego and I was starting to fall in love with a pretty amazing guy.
And I love the weather in San Diego. And now….and I was only there for three months. And now it’s you have to uproot your life and leave. I just got here. And, so I was at the airport talking to my dad and I walked away from my suitcase. Cause I was just so in a fog, I couldn’t believe what happened that I walked far away from my suitcase and I’m at, and I’m like, well, I’m going to order something.
So I’m going to let you go. And then I looked down to grab my, and I’m like, Oh my God, I left my bag somewhere. And I’m just waiting for them to come over the intercom. Like we have an unidentified or unattended luggage, whatever they say, thankfully no. And it was still there. Nobody reported it.
Nobody took it. But I was just in a maze, like in a fog. And, I, I come home to San Diego, I go to Dustin’s house, I sit down on the couch, he’s laying down and I say, he’s like, how’d it go? And I’m like, good. They offered me a job and it pays really well and it requires, I moved to Pittsburgh and it was just like silent and he’s oh, and he, he didn’t really waver.
He was just supportive. Like he believed in me and, and it wasn’t like we were that serious or exclusive none of those conversations had happened we’re just dating, but I knew there was something, I think he figured it out a little later than I did. I knew pretty immediately, but whatever.
But, . Long story short, I ended up taking that job and, and then, you know, I’ll tell you more stories from there, but because I moved, I left Dustin and, we’ve got some fucking crazy stories actually to tell you about all that. But I wanted to share this story because as I was mapping it out and like I said, I love when people share stories.
I shared this, I think on last week’s episode on podcast. I love the behind the scenes shit. I fucking love it. And so I want to share more of it. And as I was sharing this and mapping it out, there was just so like clear things like you, you’re not going to know all the answers. Do it anyways. Like I said, if I, if I thought about all the things I don’t know, I probably wouldn’t have started three elements.
I just did it anyways. And I really, Marie Forleo has a great book. Everything is figureoutable. I really believe that. You know, I had all these different kinds of industries with waste management, which was so easy. I was really just retweeting. I had, an organic tea company that sold online that I was, helping promote.
I had a speech coach, I had a moving company. I had the comic book. I had the publisher. Oh, oh my God, I had this company where pets that lost their legs, like dogs mostly, dogs that had their legs amputated, like their back legs typically, but sometimes their front legs, they made devices that, I’m going to say this wrong, I can’t remember the right technical way to say this, but that basically were their legs, so you would hook the cute little wiener dog that had two front legs, but didn’t have its back legs and you’d hook it onto this like metal thing with, with wheels. And it allowed it to run and it wasn’t uncomfortable.
And it was so, it was so hard to yeah, heart touching. It was. Emotional. Honestly, I had to promote their YouTube videos and I had to upload their videos to YouTube and I’m crying like they’re giving these dogs legs and freedom. Oh my God, it was just so emotional. And I’m like, how? I don’t even know how that company found me.
I, I don’t even know how I had a company that, my cousin put me in touch with them like surrogate, surrogate where you, you know, you carry people’s babies. I think that’s a surrogate. And it was funny because, they were in California and I just recently moved my business there and they’re like, how old are you?
Do you want to donate an egg? I’m like, no, I’m good.But I will market you on Twitter. I’ll create your Facebook page. I’ll help you with your content plan, but you’re not having any eggs. I don’t think I want to do that. I had so many different industries. That’s my point. Organic bug, a really cute ecomm that sold all organic products.
Like I had so many different clients and, I figured it out. So you just, you have to just start, just get started and just know that nobody has it figured out. And this applies like whether you’ve been in business or not, like we will have ideas if you’ve been in business for a long time, but we have new ideas.
But all the but what if, what if, what if, I don’t know, I don’t know. I think those get louder longer. We’ve been in business for some, not everybody. Some people just go for it. They take the risk, but the what if, and those challenges can really hold us back. So you just have to go for it. You have to follow that pull.
Like I was so pulled. You know, that gut feeling to get into social media. I knew there was something there and I knew I had to quit my job and do it. Like I just had to explore that. And I think that’s easier to do when you’re younger. You have less at risk. I get it. I totally get it. But I think no matter how old you are, if you have that pull to do something, try something new, do it, figure out how you can do it.
The part of this that allowed me to do it is getting my dad’s help. And that’s another part of the moral of this story is that you’ve got to ask for help. I, that gave me the relief. I was like, okay. I, a couple months are paid. I got some time. My dad believes in me and let’s go. You know, I had to ask for help and, and don’t be ashamed to ask for help. We have to ask for help.
And then finally, you have to believe in yourself. I believed in myself. I believed in, and again, maybe I’m was young and naive and there was so much I didn’t know, but I just did it. And I believed that I could and a big part of me believing that I could was that I believed in.
The tool I believed in social media, I saw this amazing opportunity and I knew that I could figure it out and I knew I would show up for my clients and I knew I would work hard and, and I did. And I built a great business, which led me to snap retail, which led me into the retail space, which then led me to crystal media that I’ve had for 11 years.
So there are no coincidences. You, you just have to show up, you have to follow that gut feeling, you have to believe in yourself, you have to ask for help, and you have to realize that you’re not going to have shit figured out. None of us do. Okay?
So next week, I’m going to share a story. We’re going to fast forward, to Crystal Media years, and I believe this story is going to take place in about 2015, 2016, when Drake’s team reached out to me, to work with him on a business that he was launching, it had launched already, but they’re really looking at amplifying it. It’s still out there today. I’m not going to give anything away because you’re just going to have to tune in. It is a kind of a funny story and it’s also a story of perseverance. So I hope you tune in and cheers.