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No Gifts. All Cash! – Interview with Dana Ostomel, Founder of Deposit A Gift

Posted Under: Entrepreneurship, Our Heroes

Dana Ostomel, the lady behind ‘Deposit A Gift’ is our guest today under the “Our Heroes” series. Dana, now an entrepreneur, used to be a marketing and branding expert with nearly a decade of experience in the industry with brands ranging from Snapple and CENTURY 21 to The Home Depot, DIRECTV and MasterCard. Like many other successful entrepreneurs, she is just after solving a long due problem and making our lives a bit easier. Let’s find out what she is doing and how…

DD: Who are you and what kind of corporate job were you at?

DO: The opportunity to pursue my dream came at a crossroads when I had been recently laid off, newly married and needed to decide on the next step for my career. My husband and I talked it over and realized this was a “now or never” moment. Since we didn’t have kids or any other ties, we felt that it was an opportune time to take a risk. We call this my ‘Hands-On MBA’ and view this as an investment in both my career and our family. At worst we knew I’d learn a lot, and at best it would develop into a real job.

DD: When did you realize that you wanted to be an entrepreneur & why?

DO: Sometimes our greatest dreams and achievements don’t necessarily take that shape from the beginning. That’s what happened to me. In November of 2009 I launched my first business, Deposit a Gift (an online cash gift registry service), after 18 months of development. I can honestly say that I have achieved one of my biggest dreams and that this is the pinnacle of my career. It feels like I have been in training for this my entire life and I took advantage of the perfect opportunity to bring all of my skills together. But back when I conceived of the idea, 4 years ago, it was just a thought, as I was sitting in my tiny apartment in New York with my boyfriend (now husband) and wondering where we would ever put so many gifts if we got married. Over 2 years later, and after going through the wedding process myself, I thought it would be great to simplify it for everyone involved. Thus began my journey to create and launch, a registry website where people register for money, rather than gifts. Here’s a video of how it works!

DD: What did you do to break the corporate jail? How did you prepare yourself for the employee to entrepreneur transition?

DO: The beginning is always the hardest part, mostly because there is so much to do and because it is difficult to envision that the idea will become a reality; it just feels so intangible and far away. It reminds me of when someone is the first in their family to go to college: if you don’t have a role model, then it’s hard to believe that it will really happen or that you will actually graduate. In my case, I hadn’t yet role-modeled for myself that it was possible to build an idea in my head into something real, but now that I’ve done it I don’t think it will be as hard the next time around.

The first months developing Deposit a Gift were definitely the hardest until I started to build a routine, create structure and a find a team of people to communicate with. Each step is a challenge, especially when you’re doing something where you can’t do everything yourself, which is a ‘wish’ that I think many entrepreneurs have. I am not a technical person; I am a business person with a strong marketing and advertising background. So certain things come naturally to me, but the technical parts of design and programming do not, so it was important for me to find good people to help achieve my vision. Though there have been a few stumbling blocks along the way, for the most part I feel that I found the right people for the job. Besides, many of those ‘stumble’ moments are when I learned the most, so though mentally and emotionally trying, they were worth it. Every experience has been a necessary part of my process, both professionally and personally.

Integral to achieving this dream has been my ability to stick with it. As my husband likes to say, I have been playing a game of chicken with time. He feels like most people would have given up or lost steam at some point during the development; 18 months is a LONG time to endure without knowing that it will really materialize. And I guess that’s when it comes down to my DNA of endurance and tenacity. It takes a lot for me to give up on something.

At first working for myself was really difficult. I am a pretty motivated person to begin with, but starting from scratch in a new industry, presented an entirely different challenge. But once I figured out the basics of establishing a business and fine-tuned my goals, I was on the road to finding the right resources to help me with development, which is key when building an Internet-based business. I also found that one of my most important keys to being successful and productive was to find a way to create structure in my day. That is different for everyone, but for me I found it by anchoring my day in a lunchtime gym class. It might sound silly to say that everything revolves around my workout, but it has been one of the best things I’ve done for myself: It provides me with a structured work environment and a healthy mind and body. I have really grown to love working for myself, especially the flexibility of my day. I probably work more than I ever did, but the reward is greater because it’s an investment in something I personally believe in and benefit from, and that makes it all worth it.
One of the greatest things I’ve learned is that throughout the years I have been unwittingly sculpting myself into the entrepreneur that I am today. And I have proven to myself time and again that with enough tenacity, creativity, strategic thinking and discipline, I really can bring my ideas to life, even if it means making mistakes along the way. Working this way and never giving up is key to being an entrepreneur, and it’s what has helped me get where I am now.

DD: What are your suggestions for aspiring entrepreneurs?

DO: 1) Create structure for your day and stick to it. One of the hardest parts about being an entrepreneur is finding meaning in your day and not feeling all over the place. So the first goal, especially when you work alone from home as I do, is to find a way to create structure in your day. My mid-afternoon workout routine provides a ‘before’ and ‘after’ to my day, and also makes sure that I actually leave the house, see other people and get some exercise.

2) Create a mood board to drive the development of a strong Brand ID. Unless you have design skills, you are going to have to hire someone to help create your Brand ID. I think one of the greatest advertising tricks is to create a mood board, which is like a collage of images that, together, communicate a feeling of what you are trying to achieve. It is something visual that you can share with your designer (along with the creative brief) to provide direction. Sometimes visuals are better communicators than words, because they elicit feeling. And what’s nice is that as the designer provides you with different options, you can hold them up against the mood board as a filter to help identify the right one. I actually created one for my wedding design too, which you can see in this blog post.

3) Listen to your gut and be ready to be flexible. I always considered myself a very gut-oriented person, even before I started Deposit a Gift. In fact, I considered it one of my key personal features. So it actually amazed me how I was even sometimes derailed from listening to myself because of external things like a deadline I had created. That is not to say that it isn’t important to develop, and stick to, deadlines for oneself, but sometimes you need to be flexible and not let a self-imposed deadline push you into a decision that you know on a gut level may not be the right thing to do.

DD: How are you now? Are you still in same business, and how do you feel?

DO: Today, Deposit a Gift has been in business for 5 months and already we have users with registries that are in full swing leading them on the road to everything from a new home down payment to their ideal honeymoon to anything and everything for baby! We’ve also received some really positive press coverage. It’s a very exciting time and we’re just getting started!

DD: Wow Dana! Thank you so much for sharing your story with me. Congratulations on the press coverage and on such a successful entrepreneurial experience!

DO: Devesh, thank you for your interest in my experience and for having faith in others like me who have a dream and just need that little push to make it all come true. I wish you the best of luck in your endeavors.

DD: So there you have it ladies and gentlemen, Dana Ostomel who came up with her successful business idea while casually brainstorming with her boyfriend (now husband). Remember to NEVER GIVE UP, strong words of advice from Dana who strived for success and obtained it, after a lot of hard work.

As Dana says, “Its easy being green. No gift wrap. No shipping. No returns. Just the green you want for what you’ll need down the road.”  Simply sign-up at Deposit A Gift

Success to all!!

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