Women in Business Q&A: Elisabeth Vezzani, CEO and Co-Founder, Sugarwish

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Elisabeth Vezzani/Sarah Ford

Elisabeth Vezzani is Co-founder and CEO of Sugarwish.

Previous to co-founding Sugarwish in 2012, Vezzani was VP of Business Development at Razor Technical Staffing based in Denver, CO. Razor Technical Staffing has been named one of the fastest growing Colorado Companies and remains one of the top staffing Companies in Colorado today.

Vezzani noticed a gap in the corporate gift market and created Sugarwish, a startup that brings a revolutionary and sweet approach to gifting.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I was the first person in my family to graduate from college and have always had a strong drive to do what I set my mind to. I've worked in many male dominated industries and often, as the only woman in the room, I've had to adopt a bit more of assertive approach to get my ideas heard. As a result, I would say my that my leadership style is direct and to the point. I definitely won't leave you guessing how I feel since I pretty much always say what's on my mind. If I am unhappy with something ...you'll know it -- and when I love something ....you will know that too!

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Sugarwish?
Most of the jobs I've had have been sales related, so productivity was judged using benchmarks and quotas. Every big success we have with Sugarwish is met in my mind with the question, "How are we going to beat that next month, next season, or next year?" We don't spend a too much time celebrating what we've achieved--we stay pretty busy reaching for next milestone or accomplishment.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Sugarwish?
Our biggest challenge is probably having to choose one project over another when it comes to things we want to do with (and for) our company. We sometimes need to table ideas and plans to be sure we are not taking on too many new items at once--which is one of those necessary but painful parts of trying to be sure that Sugarwish continues to grow in a way that matches our vision for it.

As for highlights, I would say that seeing Sugarwish turn into a booming/thriving company has been pretty great. Getting some pretty great press, including the Today Show in our first few months of business...and then again this past holiday season, wasn't too bad either.

What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?
If you really think entrepreneurship is for you, and you have a great idea that you believe in, you just have to start the ball rolling. Don't wait for the "right time" to start your business. There is never a perfect time or scenario to begin a start-up. If you have an idea that you are truly excited about just get moving on it. No one else is going to push you to make it happen...it's up to you to take the leap.

What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
I think a big lesson for me has been realizing that set-backs are part of the process and sometimes the failures are the best way to make progress in the right direction. We have had great forward momentum throughout this entire journey. But with momentum and quick growth, comes skinned knees. I've had to come to terms with that, and learn to see the set backs and failures as our friends (or at least acquaintances :)). We are breaking new ground and it can be messy...And that's o.k.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
This is definitely one of my biggest challenges. This past year I have established a few "ground rules" for myself to help decide what can be done vs. what needs to be done. Sugarwish issues that come up during family time and affect our customers in any way, get handled. If it doesn't affect customers directly.... I push it off until the next day (or at least until the kids go to bed.)

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
In many industries the biggest challenge is getting into leadership at the same pace as men. While it does seem like the opportunities for women are slowly increasing, it takes a lot more time for many women to "rise to the top". I think it is one of the reasons that so many more women are going the start-up route. The best way to get the lead role is to put yourself there. And it is really interesting, that with all of the work it takes to get a start-up off the ground, it is seen by many women as the preferred path. So while it is not easier, it is infinitely more interesting and fulfilling to execute your own ideas and "work" ...than jump through hoops to prove to others you are qualified to make it the top.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
We have been super lucky to have some great mentors during this process. We've had some mentors that have helped us strictly from a business standpoint-- helping us to see what we should focus on and the best way to get from point A to point B. We have had other mentors that have helped us with the non-business aspects of being an entrepreneur --including the the ever so difficult "work/life balance" and reminding us that we have other goals (that are not Sugarwish related) that deserve a little attention too. It is hard to say which type of mentor has been more valuable to us. Luckily we don't have to!

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
One of our mentors Heidi Ganahl who started Camp Bow Wow (among other things) is a female leader I really admire. She is the epitome of inspiration. She has turned every roadblock or difficult circumstance in her life into an opportunity to take a stand, start a movement or give back. She is one of those people that you meet... and just know she could change the world.

What do you want Sugarwish to accomplish in the next year?
There is a list a mile long of all the things we want to do with Sugarwish! But, this next year, we are really focused on expanding the corporate side of our business. When we started a few years ago we were primarily a consumer site. Over this past year we have been creating a corporate platform that we think will change corporate gifting forever. (No kidding). We are super excited about the hundreds of companies that have already signed up and even more excited to see what this next year will bring.