Annette and Victoria Quintana, co-founders of Istonish share their thoughts on what it takes to start and build a sustainable company. And what it’s like to work with your sister for twenty five years.
What was the inspiration to start the company?
Annette: The inspiration began with me unexpectedly being unemployed and having a background in IT staffing. Victoria and I had also both been receiving training from the Mi Casa Women’s Resource Center entrepreneurial training program. We had been building a business plan for starting a new company, which turned out to be very timely.
Victoria: Annette true to form said, “What do you think about doing this?” She already had a relationship with U.S. West, which was a major employer at that time. They said that they’d be one of our first customers. So, that was really an impetus to take the first step.
It’s provided us with an opportunity to work together. We also have very different skill sets. So we’ve been able to create something that provided a different kind of future for us and flexibility with our families as we moved through life.
What were the first years like?
Annette: It was like a roller coaster. The thing that happens when you’ve got a brand new business is every little good thing feels so huge and every little bad thing feels so crushing.
One of the hard things about starting a new business is being able to just keep on track with what it is you want to have happen. It’s important to recognize and celebrate the good things, but not to let that get you distracted or off track. And the same is true when bad things happen because you can really get derailed.
I think it’s not really that different than the things that you experience as you grow a company. There are always good and not so good times in every stage of your business. Just because you’re bigger and been around longer doesn’t mean those cycles don’t impact you.
Victoria: I would answer it this way. It’s great to be young and know what you don’t know. We didn’t have any expectations. We just worked hard and we also played really hard. We would have Wins and have limos come pick everyone up to celebrate. Our small team would go out together. It would be a happy hour that would go ‘til 2 or 3 in the morning. There is a lot to be said about just having the spirit of not knowing and just youthful excitement and anticipation of what it can be.
Victoria, what has it been like working with your sister for the past 25 years?
Victoria: It’s absolutely been a labor of love. I think the business has been a labor of love like children. And it’s also been an incredible opportunity.
Not all marriages work. Not all opportunities to work with family or friends can work, but we’re different enough that overall most of the time it works great. Because we’re so different, there’s definitely tension points about how we would approach things, about how we think things should get done. But over the course of all those years, I would say more often than not we’ve really been able to leverage each other’s strengths and to create a culture that has the drive.
[su_quote cite="Annette Quintana"]Resilience is another word I would use because there’s been lots of transitions and ups and downs with the economy[/su_quote]It takes the best of what Annette brings and also has taken the best of what I’ve been able to bring. I think on our best day in any relationship, that’s the most you can ask and hope for. And so, I feel privileged. And the side benefit is that it was also an opportunity for us to raise our children together. Our kids are more like siblings than they are cousins. And it’s been both challenging and also wonderful.
Annette, what has it been like working with your sister Victoria for the past 25 years?
Annette: Well, she’s been my best friend since we were kids-- and in college. And I think as she said, it’s been an opportunity to share a really important life experience together. We’ve been business partners. But in the context of business, we’ve always been really close friends. It’s been great.
What’s the foundation of having a successful business for 25 years?
Victoria: People. People. People. That work here, that bring lots of heart, that bring lots of talent, that bring lots of dedication and passion. And our customers. We’ve had an opportunity and the privilege of having a company with fantastic customers. Over the years, we’ve figured out how to fire customers that aren’t a good fit. But I would say people for sure are really what make the vision for the company continue.
Resilience is another word I would use because there’s been lots of transitions and ups and downs with the economy. And I think that the smart people and the spirit of the people that come here, and the leadership in particular; I would say Annette being able to maneuver through stormy seas and together being able to handle all that has come our way.
People, resilience, and then I think solid financial and fiscal management to weather the challenges. And to also look at investing to keep the company relevant and innovative. Technologies have changed considerably since we started.
Annette: I’d answer in this way. Being self-employed is not for the faint hearted. It is not an easy road in general. And I think a lot of people look at the others that are in business for themselves and they go, “Oh that must be easy.” And it’s not.
I would say it takes a solid strength of fortitude to really be committed to making it work. That’s one thing.
Second thing is the willingness to pivot when things get difficult. After the 9/11 hit, which was quite some time ago, everything was in meltdown mode. I remember Victoria and I sitting down and saying, “Where’s the money?” It isn’t that there’s no money in the economy. Where is the money?
[su_quote cite="Victoria Quintana"]There is a lot to be said about just having the spirit of not knowing and just youthful excitement and anticipation of what it can be.[/su_quote]
We then pivoted toward healthcare and other sectors of the economy that were receiving a lot more money through federal incentives and that that ended up making a very big difference in the company. So, I have to say fortitude and the ability to be flexible. And somewhat visionary in your ability to see how what you do today connects with where you think the market and the money is going in the future.
Read Part two here.