A business can be created in the most unlikely of circumstances. For Caitlin Crosby, acting, singing and songwriting were, and are, her forte. She grew up in Los Angeles and naturally mingled in the Hollywood scene thanks to her father’s career managing some of the most iconic actors and entertainers of our time.
Her career took an unusual turn after she designed an old hotel key with the word LOVE engraved on it into a necklace. At the locksmith, she stumbled upon several other unique, discarded keys and asked the locksmith to engrave other encouraging words on the keys, such as: HOPE, STRENGTH, COURAGE, etc. At her next show, she displayed her new key jewelry for sale on the merchandise table next to her CDs. She encouraged the wearers of the necklaces to embrace the message on the key, and when it was time, pass on the necklace to someone else who may need that encouraging message on the key. Soon, from show to show, the key necklaces were selling more than her CDs. Thus, Caitlin knew she had started something special, and The Giving Keys was born.
However, she felt something was missing. She didn’t want the profits to be for her personal gain. And one rainy night in Los Angeles she came across a homeless couple—Rob and Cera—sitting under an umbrella, and holding a sign that read: “Ugly, Broke & Hungry”. She invited the two to join her for a meal and after their long dinner conversation, they became business partners.
Caitlin paid them to make the necklaces. Soon Rob and Cera were able to afford a hotel room, and then an apartment. Since then, The Giving Keys has partnered with Chrysalis, PATH and United Way to employ more than 15 transitioning homeless individuals into permanent housing. The Giving Keys are sold in over 300 stores in the U.S. and abroad.
Womenalia caught up with Caitlin at the OC Business Summit this past March in Lake Forrest, California. It wasn’t an easy beginning for The Giving Keys and Caitlin shares with us some of the challenges she faced:
“The biggest challenge has been not going to business school and learning as I go. In the beginning, for about the first three years of The Giving Keys, I tried to do all of the roles myself. I was the manager, finance analyst, online marketer, customer service rep, director of sales…I tried to do everything, but I couldn’t do it all. I liked the creative side of the project. But spreadsheets…I didn’t want to touch. I suggest hiring people who can do the jobs you are not made to do.”
Womenalia: When was the critical moment for you when you decided to outsource and hire people to help?
Caitlin: “I did a few Huffington Post articles and the first one I did about The Giving Keys and how it started, I got hundreds of emails the day it was published. It was overwhelming. Some of them were emails from stores asking for wholesale prices, and I just didn’t know how to answer them. I didn’t know. I wasn’t ready. So that night I was invited to a dinner party where I met someone who was a buyer for different stores. At the time she was looking for a new job. So I hired her.”
W: What advice do you have for an entrepreneur who wants to start their own business?
C: “If you are creating a product, make sure it is not already out there. And make sure you are passionate about the product. Be ready to talk about your product all day, every day.”
To learn more about The Giving Keys and read stories from their employees and inspired customers, visit their website.
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