This interview was made possible by our friends at Guidant Financial:
The leader in alternative startup, franchise and small business financing.
Hannah Fernandez lost half of her team in a massive wave of layoffs at Pfizer in 2009, which opened her eyes to the lack of job security in corporate America and fueled her drive to build a business, live her passion, and be in a greater position to help others. In November 2011, she too got laid off, but out of adversity comes opportunity. The layoff opened the door for her to escape the rat race and step into success, entrepreneurship, and leadership with a greater purpose. Now as cofounder and Managing Director of Marketing at WOW Memories, Hannah continually seizes and fosters her entrepreneurial mindset with the empowerment that comes with the knowing that she is now living her life’s calling, creating her own economy and a lifestyle she loves through business ownership, and building a legacy by giving back to the community.
WOW Memories is a Chicago-based company that transforms images into stunning WOW wall art by using proprietary software created by a former NASA engineer. The firm helps clients brand themselves and their businesses, capture once-in-a-life memories in timeless art, and bring out the artist in anyone.
MO: What’s the transition process been like to go from working at a corporate giant like Pfizer to building your own company from scratch?
Hannah: Some days entrepreneurship can be very exciting and empowering and on other days it can be quite scary and challenging. In the beginning the difficult part of transitioning from a corporate job to building my own company from scratch was giving up a steady 6-figure salary and bonuses, the company car, a hefty budget and a solid target market to drive sales, excellent health benefits, and countless other perks for the freedom of being my own boss and controlling my own time and destiny. I realized early on even while I was still working for Pfizer that these corporate benefits are just an illusion of security and that I was never meant to work for someone for the rest of my life. Failure is definitely not an option for me so at times when I would break into sweat, cry in the privacy of my room, and ask myself, “Oh my God, can I really do this?” I remind myself that this is my opportunity to make things happen and pursue my passion to create a thriving business and the life I love. Starting from scratch with very limited resources, I had to be a lot more resourceful and strategic and I had the chance to see who I am and what I am really made of.
You have to dig deep to discover who you are, take a leap of faith, face your fears, and embrace your path. You venture onto the unknown road of entrepreneurship for the person you become along the journey. With strategic focus and contagious enthusiasm, great coaches, a little synchronicity and a lot of hard work, you can achieve success and build a fantastic business and life of meaning & significance even in today’s difficult market economy.
MO: Where did the idea for WOW come from?
Hannah: My business partner Christopher Moffatt is a former NASA engineer and created the software that transforms images into stunning works of art. He has always enjoyed sharing his creations with those he cares about and so he transformed a picture of me and my sister, cofounder Jasmine Fernandez. He mailed the wall art to my home as a gift. It was a pleasant surprise and I excitedly hung it up on my wall. When I threw a birthday party at my house, little did I know that something exciting was about to happen. So unique and captivating was the masterpiece on the wall that the guests were drawn to it and started asking, “Where did you get that?”, “That looks amazing!”, “Who created it?” Before the party was over and before we even started the company, we had already gotten orders. When family, friends, and coworkers admired the piece and wanted to create one of their own, cofounder Amir Khalil realized that there might be a market for the eye-catching wall art and exclaimed to Chris, “Man, we gotta start a business with this!” Chris reached out to me the next day and told me that he would like to pursue the opportunity. A scientist, he needed help with the marketing and sales. Inspired from then on, Amir, Chris, Jasmine and I incorporated WOW Memories in the belief that we build a business that allows us the opportunity to live our passion, express our creativity, and give back to the community. Through our creative wall art we strive to remind others to appreciate and savor life because any moment can be extraordinary.
MO: Can you talk about your marketing strategy and what’s really worked so far?
Hannah: When we first launched WOW Memories, our marketing strategy consisted of a series of testing and multiple touches with our niche market in order to communicate our brand and key message. We designed marketing campaigns to create consistent brand identity, build viral buzz around our product, generate the leads we need, and connect with clients to drive sales. These include many different media: from attracting traffic through search engines, website optimization, email, social media, and other online marketing; blogs, magazine coverage, press releases, radio, TV, and other media publicity; trade shows, conventions, and events; and networking, strategic alliances, and joint ventures. I cannot stress the importance of knowing your numbers, testing and improving different elements of the campaign, and carefully knowing the results and having detailed ROI metrics. So far the greatest results came from the multiplicative effect of having media coverage for WOW Memories, getting exposure at conventions, radio and TV shows as well as joint venturing with other companies. Along with our valued relationships, our focus, more targeted niche, coaching and strategic planning, quick speed of implementation, and a jolt of enthusiasm put us in strong position for success.
MO: How has WOW Memories evolved since you first launched in 2010?
Hannah: WOW Memories started with just word of mouth advertising, selling to friends, family, and clients through referrals. As soon as we started working with highly successful coaches from the Top One Coaching organization, our success skyrocketed. Having transformational coaches is the turning point of our success. With coaching, we experienced the value of networking with other successful entrepreneurs, created revenue-generating strategies with Mastermind Groups, and learned the importance of branding. To our clients’ eyes, we became known as the company that transforms images into stunning, customized and high quality wall art by using proprietary software created by a former NASA engineer. We learned how to make our business more distinguishable and created a unique selling proposition (USP), which uniquely brands our company in the eyes of our prospects and clients. When clients need to capture once-in-a-lifetime moments into wall art, brand themselves and their businesses by using wall art to transform their business logos and pictures with leaders and celebrities, or simply just want to WOW family, friends, and clients with a unique gift, they come to us and introduce new clients along the way. A USP is crucial to any successful business because there may be other competitors who may offer similar products and services. You want your clients to think of you first and foremost. That’s the power of branding and that’s why every business owner needs a strong USP.
MO: What’s the most challenging or unusual request you’ve had from a client?
Hannah: The most challenging request would be when clients give us an image that is so compressed and has such poor resolution and ask us to create a huge magnificent wall art. Using our proprietary software, we can create art that would actually look good using pixilation. For instance, we’ve created eye-catching wall art of precious moments captured from our clients’ cell phones. Many clients love the circle or square pixels that come together to form their image because most find the resulting wall art unique and different. The important lesson is to listen to customer feedback, continue to be innovative, and make good better and better best so that we are always delivering products and services that provide a wow experience for our clients.
MO: What’ the most exciting thing on the horizon for WOW Memories?
Hannah: Collaboration with other entrepreneurs and forming more and more strategic alliances are the most exciting developments for WOW Memories currently. As a result of increased exposure, credibility & visibility, many individuals & companies are continually reaching out to us to create joint venture partnerships. JVs have provided our company & our partners with many mutual benefits including instant access & market penetration, increased profits, recognition & trust and access to other people’s time, ideas, capital, goodwill, distribution, channels and image. As my business partners and I continue to create systems that are easily duplicable and offer joint venture partnerships that are easily replicated, WOW Memories continues to be positioned for exponential growth and success. In addition we are now able to implement something that is near and dear to our heart–that is, using our business to give back and make a difference in our community by donating a part of our profits to the Storytellers for Good, the nonprofit team of passionate photographers and journalists that aim to tell stories of inspiring individuals and organizations in our community.