Nov. 21 2019
Elana Reinholtz is the Founder and CEO of Bird + Stone, the direct-to-consumer brand connecting people with causes they care about—through jewelry. Elana was inspired to start her business after volunteering in Kenya, and decided to use her trip’s fundraising model as her business model (more on that below). Now, this trailblazer’s company is known as an ethical fashion pioneer, manufacturing all of its jewelry in the USA and donating 10% of sales from each purchase to support organizations that combat climate change and poverty, as well as worthy causes that promote women’s health and education among others. To date, Bird + Stone has donated over $100,000 to its impact partners. At just 25 years old, Elana quit her day job. Now, she’s changing the world, through jewelry that gives back. Below, this inspiring entrepreneur tells us about her unique career path and how she built her dream job.
What was your first job out of college? How did you get it? Did you have a connection?
Right out of college I worked in a media planning role at an agency in the city near Penn Station. I’ve always been very systems-oriented, and getting that first job was no different. I built a target list of 10-20 companies and emailed my friends, family, colleagues, and classmates and asked them if they had connections to make a warm introduction. I think I set up 50 coffee dates during my senior year of college.
I was surprised to find that most companies I was looking at, even with warm introductions, wouldn’t look outside their Ivy League recruiting channels. That really impacted me. Now, as we hire more people at Bird + Stone, we really value accomplishments and work ethic in hiring above educational pedigree.
Can you tell us a bit about building your current role? What does your day-to-day look like?
When I started Bird + Stone, I was doing everything – designing the jewelry, planning our marketing, managing our finances, and so much more! As we’ve grown and brought on more team members, my role has changed and my day to day structure tends to fluctuate between focusing on internal operations or external partnerships.
Every day still looks different, but to give an idea – my mornings right now might look like checking in with our fulfillment partner, who manages our shipments, or our product lead to talk about a new product launch. I usually have a few meetings with our core team to get a full view of how things are going across the company, and address any challenges that might have come up. Generally, I try my best to “batch” my work and do my creative work in the afternoon while stacking meetings on certain days. It helps keep us on track and also provides me white space to think about things that are not actually on a “To Do” list!
Right now, I’m really excited about our collection supporting women in politics in partnership with She Should Run. They’re a nonpartisan organization helping get more women to run for office and have helped over 21,000 run so far. We just relaunched the collection featuring our ‘Nevertheless, She Persisted’ cuff, which donates 10% to support their work.
What inspired you to start your company? What were the steps you took?
While I was working that first corporate job, I used my vacation time to volunteer and went to Kenya to teach business & finance skills to a group of widowed women starting small businesses. They were receiving micro-loans ($300) that enabled them to make initial investments in their business and within three loans, many were out of extreme poverty. Seeing the tremendous impact of that investment inspired me – I saw the untapped potential of investing in women and wanted to do something about it.
So, when I returned from Kenya, I committed to continuing to support programs that were creating opportunity. And with that, Bird + Stone was born. I decided to use the same model that had allowed me to fundraise for the trip – selling jewelry – as a way to continue to raise money for the organization that I volunteered with in Kenya. We still support them today with our Poverty Alleviation collection, but have since also expanded into many other causes, including: women’s access to healthcare, supporting refugees, fighting climate change, & more.
What has helped prepare you for this role? Is there anything you had to learn on the job?
As a first-time founder, I’ve learned everything on the job. And while I realize that nothing could have prepared me for this role, it has actually been the life experience I gained through my part-time jobs over the years that has been the most valuable.
For instance, in high school, I worked at an upscale clothing store at the Menlo Park mall in New Jersey. I remember asking questions to clients in the dressing room about what occasions they were buying outfits for, or trying to figure out what they did for a living. Looking back now, I was scraping demographic and purchase intent behavior in real time!
The journey has been one long practice of holding off on assumptions while trusting my instincts, and I think you can learn the ropes of entrepreneurship in non-traditional experiences like learning how to sail a boat or planning a wedding for 200 people. The most important traits are believing in yourself and having the commitment to know that whatever happens – you can handle it.
What was the best/worst piece of advice you ever received?
An investor once said to me, “I don’t like to mix my business and my philanthropy.” Mind you, he was a 60 year old white man working in finance. I couldn’t see the forest for the trees back then and I took what he said to heart. It bothered me for a while.
So, I’m turning it into this advice that I give entrepreneurs today – don’t listen to anyone who hasn’t been where you want to go. Opinions are a dime a dozen when you start a company or do something risky! Don’t listen to people without skin in the game.
Is there any part of your role that our readers would be surprised to know?
Even as we’ve grown, I love directly answering questions from our customers on our Facebook ads – from questions about our business model (why we donate 10% of sales) to how we choose our nonprofit partners. It allows me to keep my ear to the ground, understand our customers better, and be inspired by them! I’ve heard so many incredible stories from our customers who are powerful leaders in their communities – part of local nonprofit boards, active volunteers, running for office, and so much more. We’re building this company for people like them, and for anyone looking for a way to make a difference in the world.