Female Founders: Carlye Morgan Of Chalonne On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder
An Interview With Candice Georgiadis
Be very clear in your mission and vision. I knew the company and culture that I wanted to create but I didn’t actually put it to paper until a couple of years into the process. Having a clear vision and mission statement can act as a touchstone for everything you do. When in doubt, ask yourself if it meets one of those objectives, and if it’s not consistent with those values, don’t do it.
As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Carlye Morgan.
Chalonne, founder and designer Carlye Morgan is a seasoned marketing and advertising executive with two decades of experience working on ubiquitous brands like L’Oreal, Frito Lay and Sony. As a mom and Los Angeles native, Carlye’s unique blend of elegant style and practical function are evident in each band she designs. Carlye founded Chalonne with the ethos of empowering women and giving back built into its DNA.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
For my entire life, I’ve always had an artistic mind and a passion for design. I loved expressing myself through drawing and painting and studied art history at the University of Pennsylvania. While I loved the arts, I ultimately decided to pursue advertising — where I could marry my creative side to the reliability of a business career. Although this granted me a breadth of invaluable marketing and strategic business experiences, I always had an inkling I would return to my artistic roots. The moment presented itself when I was taking a respite from corporate life and identified a business opportunity and white space to design luxury Apple Watch bands.
Each design is a metaphor of my personal experiences through travel. Evoking pristine beaches, the scent of dried grass, Venetian architecture or the relentless desert sun, all our designs are imbued with a sense of time and place. Designs are dreamed up in Los Angeles, CA and manufactured by artisan craftsman in a small town in Pelousey, France. Specific moments in my travels, throughout my life, have such a visceral quality to them that my designs simply become an expression of those experiences.
Today, I’m very proud that Chalonne is delivering the finest Apple Watch bands on the market. Our bands offer a luxurious way to express individuality and style every day. Every single band is meticulously crafted with the finest, ethically sourced materials available including diamonds, freshwater pearls, lustrous 14k gold and rich leathers.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I often travel from Los Angeles to New York for business meetings, etc. and I usually like to use the time to work. But on one occasion, I sat next to someone who struck up a conversation with me before I could get out my laptop. I learned that they were an artist so I immediately perked up given my life-long interest in art. They shared their sketchbook with me and I was awestruck. We discovered that we had many of the same interests and we spoke the rest of the flight about art, fashion, LA, food, Italy and so much more. I had wanted to partner with an artist on a design so I just threw it out there and they were receptive. We continued the conversation when we returned to LA and that evolved into a larger business relationship and Ricky Amadour has become a trusted member of my team acting as Creative Director. It was a chance encounter that became an incredibly meaningful business relationship.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I’m not sure that I have a funny mistake, but the funniest story happened when I was visiting my manufacturer, Jean Rousseau, in France. My husband came along on the trip so we could tack on a much-needed vacation, so we took a road trip across the France, from Paris to Pelousey. My husband dropped me off at the manufacturing facility where I spent the day meeting the amazing artisans, learning about the tannery, seeing their new materials and discussing my business plan with the CEO. At the end of the day, at the appointed pick-up time, I went outside to meet him. The CEO offered to wait with me in the freezing cold…but no husband. I didn’t want to waste his time and asked him to please go back inside, because I was sure my husband would be there any moment. After a very long delay, my husband finally appeared. Apparently, he crashed the rental car in a parking lot just an hour before he was supposed to pick me up. Given his perfect driving record, I was shocked, but luckily no one was hurt and we had a good laugh at how it happened…until we received the bill a few months later! Lesson leaned…take an Uber next time!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
The biggest challenge to starting my own business was having the courage to take the leap and leave the corporate world. My husband was integral in supporting the decision to pursue my passion and start my own business. He encouraged me to step down from corporate life, focus on being a mom while setting aside time for myself to reset and find the balance that was badly lacking from my life. And it turned out to be exactly what I needed. I was able to hit the reset button, and without the daily pressure, I had the space to be creative. It was during that time that I developed the initial concept that evolved into Chalonne.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?
Women need other female roles models they can look up to and respect and I believe that starts at home. Parents can be the most powerful role model a young person is exposed to. I think that’s the reason why so many of my friends decided to pursue the exact same profession as their parents. The more, strong, women entrepreneurs and leaders we have as roles models, the more young women can imagine themselves in that role or job and may be more likely to consider it as a career path. There also seems to be a disparity when it comes to funding. New businesses are incredibly expensive and with a financial sector is still dominated by men, they are more likely to fund founder who look like themselves. In addition, men may not intuitively understand the potential of a fantastic new product that is designed for female consumers, which may be why female founded businesses are much less likely to secure angel or VC funding than their male counterparts.
Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?
The media has a definite role to play. External role models can be just as powerful as homegrown ones but they need to be seen and heard. Look at the entrepreneurs that are talked about every day? It’s mostly men making headlines. The media could absolutely make more of a conscious effort to balance the share of voice by seeking out stories about successful women entrepreneurs who are making a meaningful difference.
This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?
If you have a great idea, something that is unique or that disrupts, go for it. Creating something from nothing is one of the most rewarding things one can do in business. It’s a constant challenge, forcing you out of your comfort zone on a daily basis. Women can be very creative thinkers and so good at multi-tasking which is essential for founders. And as I mentioned earlier, we need more female role models to inspire the next generation.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?
I’m honestly not sure what the “myths” are, but founding a business seemed like a very daunting task at first. You need to be scrappy, creative and very organized. You need to believe in your idea and give it enough runway to allow it to grow. It can be slow-going at first but it’s all about perseverance. You need to lean into what is working and pivot when something is obviously not — Be ok with ‘taking a hit’. You’ll make many mistakes but those mistakes have value and will help you do it right the next time. You also need to have a healthy relationship with rejection, which just comes with the territory, so you can’t let it knock you down. I heard the word “no” more times than I can count, but you need to just keep on persisting until you get a “yes”. Because they will come. You just need to keep working and be patient.
Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?
Founders require grit. If you have an idea that you believe it, you need to have the resiliency to stick with it. You have to be in it for the long haul and have a 5–10 year outlook, so I try to avoid situations with arbitrary deadlines. Founders understand that ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’ and you need to make a huge investment of time and money in order to create something from nothing. ‘If you build it they will come’ only works in the movies. You have to invest in marketing to achieve brand awareness which takes time and consistency.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Be very clear in your mission and vision. I knew the company and culture that I wanted to create but I didn’t actually put it to paper until a couple of years into the process. Having a clear vision and mission statement can act as a touchstone for everything you do. When in doubt, ask yourself if it meets one of those objectives, and if it’s not consistent with those values, don’t do it.
- Know Thyself. Take an inventory of your strengths and weaknesses so you can use both to your advantage. Not everyone is good at everything, but as a Founder you have to do everything. So it’s a good idea to come up with an alternative plan for the tasks that are outside your comfort zone and lean into the tasks that are in your wheelhouse. You need to learn how to let go, so why not start by letting go of the tasks that someone else can do better.
- Work/Life balance will still be a challenge. I somehow thought that when I had my own company that having a work/life balance would be “easier” to achieve and I’d have more time to spend with my daughter. It’s true that I have more flexibility with my time, but there’s even more pressure to perform and succeed especially when it’s your company. You’ll still have to figure out how to do it all.
- Be decisive. Don’t dwell on decisions, it will save you a ton of time. Certainly, you must be thoughtful, but trust your gut — your first thought is usually the right one. In the event that it doesn’t go your way, have the flexibility to acknowledge a mistake and pivot. Again, don’t dwell, just switch gears and move on.
- Trust your Intuition. ‘Women’s intuition’ is a thing for a reason — because there’s truth to it. There have been so many times when I had a ‘gut’ feeling and didn’t trust it. In hindsight I have found that my intuition tends to be correct. It taught me to trust my instincts and lean into them.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
Having worked in the corporate world for many years, I spent a lot of time thinking about Chalonne’s culture and I decided to make female empowerment an integral part of Chalonne’s DNA. My ideal is for Chalonne to help empower women and support them in ways that truly make a difference in their lives. From personal experiences, I knew that I wanted to start with Breast Cancer research. A friend of mine connected me with the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, who agreed to a partnership very early on, even before I had product, so I was thrilled that they said ‘yes’. Chalonne donates 4% of all retail sales on Chalonne.com to BCRF. Every donation is one step closer to finding the cure to the disease that affects hundreds of thousands of women in the United States each year and we are proud to help that cause. The ultimate goal is for Chalonne to be successful enough to extend our mission of empowering women, by supporting other organizations who champion physical health, economic and educational opportunities and inner strength of women everywhere.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I would love to create a mentoring program for young women where they not only get the guidance they need to become young entrepreneurs, but where they can teach others the skills that they have learned from the process. I think the hardest thing when trying to create a movement is sustaining the momentum and inspiring people to “pay it forward”. We need to create sticky bonds that encourage mentees to be generous with their new-found knowledge and later become mentors themselves. Only after being a mentor does it become clear how valuable that experience is for both parties involved. I truly believe that we have so much to learn from others, regardless of age, experience, or any other perceived differences. I firmly believe that women need to support each other and lift each other up. If we expect to inspire the next generations, we need to start doing it now.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
I would love to meet Oprah Winfrey. I have so much respect for her as a woman. She pursued her passions, capitalized on her talent, listened to her intuition to become a highly respected and successful entrepreneur. And as a bonus, she wears her Apple Watch all the time and I just know that she would love my product if she tried it.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.
Female Founders: Carlye Morgan Of Chalonne On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.