Co-Founder at Backdrop
Hometown: Larchmont, NY
Undergraduate School and Major / Degree programme: Denison University, Economics
Fun Fact About Yourself: I’ve been in a mother-daughter book club for the last 19 years. We started in 5th grade and still keep it going today. We even have a 3rd generation of daughters now, although they aren’t up to our reading level yet!
Describe your biggest accomplishment in your life so far: Launching Backdrop has been my biggest accomplishment so far. For me, one of the most unexpected challenges of starting a business has been being at the mercy of other people (like suppliers, vendors, the list goes on). I initially thought that starting a business would give me more control, but so often we’re waiting on external parties that we have little to no control over.
On the other side of that, it has been incredibly rewarding to see the way that customers respond and resonate with our product. Being able to see our idea come to life, and watching real people interact with and enjoy our brand is amazing. A fresh coat of paint is the cheapest, easiest (and most fun) way to transform a space and with the year we’ve been having, I think we can all use a little upgrade to our space.
Was entrepreneurship always your career goal? Not at all. I always thought I was on the traditional finance career path. I would do IB for 2 years and then move into private equity or a hedge fund. It was actually a McIntire classmate of mine that got me to start thinking about entrepreneurship as a viable career path. Some of the rigidity that exists in the finance world doesn’t exist in the entrepreneurship world. Thinking differently is celebrated. It allows you to be more creative even if my day to day is still primarily focused on finance and operations.
What led you to pursue a business Masters at this point in your personal development? I decided to pursue a business Masters immediately after I graduated from undergrad. When I was approaching graduation, I knew I wanted to go into a finance field. Although I loved my liberal arts education, I felt like I needed to develop and possess additional hard skills to get the type of job I wanted.
How did you decide if a Masters was worth the investment? It felt like this degree was the missing piece to my background. The investment seemed worth it to get on the career path I wanted to be on. The name value of a school like McIntire plus the new skills I would gain in just a year seemed like a really great value. The strong and loyal alumni network also played a part in assessing the value of the program.
What was the key factor that led you to choose the MS Commerce at McIntire and why was it so important to you? For me, the main deciding factor in choosing McIntire was the school’s focus on global immersion. Learning about different people and cultures is so important. The world today is shrinking in terms of proximity and overall globalization–it is so easy to travel anywhere (when we’re not in a global pandemic) and business is more and more interconnected around the world. Even if you’re a domestic business, it is highly likely that at least a small part of your supply chain comes from another part of the world. Being able to explore that in the McIntire program was a huge excitement and value add.
What quality best describes your classmates? Curious, smart, hardworking, fun. My classmates are pretty amazing people. At McIntire you are so lucky to be surrounded by an incredible network of students that go out into the world and become really successful in whatever they do. I leaned so heavily on the friends I made through McIntire when we were starting Backdrop and really at every stage of my career so far.
Tell me about your venture: Backdrop is The New Way to Paint. The idea for Backdrop started because my co-founders and I were tired of the old school painting process. It was confusing, expensive, and required multiple trips to the hardware store. It made no sense when we started and has proven to be even more true today, when going to the store can be dangerous or not the best use of your time. We realized there hadn’t been innovation in this category in 100 years. We did a ton of research and hosted focus groups on social media, which made us realize that so many people across all generations shared our same frustrations. It was clearly time for a big disruption to the home paint category and we are motivated to spearhead the change.
At Backdrop we have a direct line to our customers, which allows us to offer the best experience from start to finish at a great value. We’re able to listen and learn from them while improving with quick iterations and adjustments. We are also able to have fun with our customers and give them the opportunity to express themselves through the walls in their space.
We encourage customers not to just paint their walls–but to create their life backdrop. Each name was chosen to evoke an emotional connection and be heroic. We’re inspired by real people, places, things, and moods. We did a lot of crowd testing to make sure the colors matched the spirit of their names. Backdrop encourages users to embrace the process rather than strive for inaccessible aesthetics. We really just want people to have fun with paint and use it as a form of self-expression instead of seeing it as a daunting chore.
When we set out to reimagine the paint industry, we took a comprehensive look at the entire process from start to finish. One of the biggest pain points we identified was the can. Backdrop’s stainless steel can is easy to open and close. It has an ergonomic handle that makes carrying/pouring much more comfortable. It has a wide-mouth opening for a clean pour that won’t make a mess. Plus, it’s really beautiful. It’s a paint can for your bookshelf instead of your basement. We all display our used Backdrop cans in our homes and throughout our office!
How has your business school experience helped you in creating and launching your business? My McIntire education has been so helpful in founding Backdrop. I was on the finance track and was primarily focused on those hard finance skills classes during my time there (and really thought that was where I was getting value). In reality, it was everything else that I’ve taken with me. Exposure to so many facets of business skills has been pivotal–crafting a personal narrative, learning to write emails and memos (as much as I hated it at the time) to touring factories and ports–have all been a tremendous help throughout my career. I remember touring a Fareva factory and learning about quality control, thinking it was cool but not that useful since I was going into finance. Now I work with our factory on a daily basis and see firsthand how important those quality metrics are.
What is the biggest/most important lesson you have learned during your studies?
Confidence is key. What I didn’t realize I learned until after I completed my degree is how much confidence McIntire gave me. It gave me the skills I needed to feel confident when I walked into an interview, a meeting or a work presentation. I practiced presentations so many times as part of our curriculum that the first time I had to get up and give a board presentation at work I was a little less nervous. I learned how to tell my story, not to be afraid to ask questions, and to take risks. I knew I had the skills I needed to help me along the way.
What are the next steps for you / your entrepreneurial venture? We’ve barely scratched the surface. Backdrop launched about 2 years ago, so we still have a long way to go in terms of our goals as a company. We’re building the paint company for the next 100 years–created with the needs of customers at the forefront. We are working to create a fantastic experience through thoughtful branding, use of technology, and making paint better for you and the environment. We’re also shifting the way people think about their walls. Paint is no longer a hardware store purchase, but it’s the most impactful design decision you can make to transform your space for a small amount of money.
Where do you see yourself in five years? I always struggle with these questions, probably because I’ve never stuck to the path I envisioned for myself. Instead, I have taken the path that is exciting and sometimes even a little scary. In five years, I expect to be continuing to grow Backdrop into the paint company of the future. Wherever I am, I expect to be doing something fun, interesting, and a little bit scary.
DON’T MISS: MEET THE MIM ENTREPRENEURS OF 2020