As a child I was painfully shy. All through elementary school it was clear as day that I was an introvert. My teachers would call on me to respond and I would squeak out an answer at times. But once in a while, I would be so caught off guard by being put on the spot that I would just sit in silence, growing redder and redder in hopes she or he would move along to another student and all eyes would be shifted to a new focus.
As I’ve matured, the introverted nature is still a part of me, but I have learned to be more charismatic and prepared to be put on the spot. I’m now working in a field that involves a mix of working quietly on my keyboard at a distance from the world around me, and one of schmoozing at events, interviewing notable figures and overseeing the work of other writers.
We live in a world of the extrovert, always impacted most by those who are happy to shine in the spotlight. It seems that to succeed in the world of business and entrepreneurship, the introvert has to adapt.
What I’ve learned is that personalities can complement each other. People can flourish in any situation when they embrace who they are innately and determine their passions. Spending time alongside others often causes those with opposing personality types to naturally adapt and bring their own strengths to the table. What is now clear to me is that all have value and a bit of extro/intovert in them because of connections they make and through experience. Just as I have been coaxed to be more extroverted, I’m sure extroverts are inspired to observe and step out of the spotlight because of their own personal and professional experiences.
My lovely co-worker and I were both chatting about our innate introverted natures and she shared that there is now a new term for those of us who are forced daily to put on the extroverted appearance. Behold, today I am an ambivert.
Alexa Samuels is the founder of Mercartto.com, a Toronto-based, female-led e-commerce startup that helps connect people with handpicked artwork based on their personality type. With a background in Latin American art and an MBA from Rotman School of Management, Samuels knows what it takes to run a business. Her idea — to offer original art to those who may not know what to look for — sprang from her own personal experience and desire to fuse technology with culture.
Samuels responded to some questions from Women’s Post about how she founded Mercartto.com and what advice she has for young entrepreneurs looking to run a startup:
Question: Your background is in Latin American studies and art – when did you decide to make the jump into business – and what was your interest in Latin America specifically?
Answer: I went to McGill University not having a clue what I wanted to do. When we had to declare a major, the cross-disciplinary nature of the Latin American and Caribbean Studies program intrigued me. I’ve had a long-term inexplicable interest in Latin America since I was young, perhaps stemming from the region’s history/archaeology, art, music, food and languages. As for jumping into business, it just seemed like the thing to do. My grandfather built a successful toy manufacturing business, so perhaps entrepreneurialism is in the blood.
Your career is a bit all over the place – marketing, social media, non-profits – what drove you towards entrepreneurship?
Initially, my career began after completing my Master of Arts degree when I joined Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts. I stayed there for over a decade until taking a Global Executive MBA that stoked my interest in going independent. In 2009 I felt the time was right to make the change.
How did the idea for Mercartto come about?
The idea for Mercartto literally sprouted from an “aha moment” when out with a friend for lunch.
Years ago, shortly after I moved from a tiny home with no wall space to a house with a two-storey front entrance, I knew I wanted a significant piece of art to make a great first impression. But, I didn’t want to spend extensive time searching for art, especially wading through art that was out of my price range or art that just didn’t resonate with me. I had also spent a lot of time (and continue to do so) contemplating my own art decisions: Why am I drawn to certain types of art? What are the common elements? Finally, I wanted to create an experience which surprises and delights the user, but within a selection of art that she is more likely to enjoy. Mercartto’s been evolving ever since that lunchtime epiphany.
In terms of your personality quiz – is there a kind of art that is most popular?
Our data set is still small, so it’s hard to make generalizations this early, but if I had to narrow it down I would say that landscapes have the edge. What’s more interesting to observe is how diverse our users’ tastes are. I can tell you that at current, out of the 31 different personality types, the most popular are the Sensory Collector, the Social Collector, the Visionary Collector and the Closet Daredevil. I’m also happy to observe that so far we have one Nonconformist.
How has the company evolved in the last three years?
The last three years have seen the evolution from idea to a product. The most significant milestones have been:
Narrowing down the Mercartto differentiator and refining the art personality quiz;
Launching the beta as an iOS app in 2016; and
Integrating tester feedback into an updated web version launched end of 2017.
Tell me about the scholarship aspect of Mercartto?
When considering who is going to be drawn to Mercartto, we think of someone who is interested in introducing original art into their space, whether for the first time or to build upon a small collection, but might be unsure about “the whole art thing”. Our mandate is to help people learn more about art, both from general concepts and from things related specifically to Toronto. We want Canadians to learn about themselves, and others to learn about us. Our blog serves as an ongoing repository of this information, and once a month we send our subscribers a curated newsletter summarizing the best content of the month.
What advice would you have for budding entrepreneurs? Did you experience any drawbacks or challenges in the creation of Mercartto?
Ha! There are days (weeks!) when you’re an entrepreneur and everything you do feels like a drawback, challenge or learning experience. It’s especially difficult taking on a technology project when you don’t have the technical skills to build the platform yourself. If I had to narrow down my advice to a few points, I would say:
There will be rough patches. Lots of them. You will make mistakes. Expensive, painful mistakes. If you want stability and predictability, work for someone else. But if you love the challenge of creating something the world has never seen before, you believe in what you’re doing and you accept that the buck stops with you and you alone, entrepreneurship can be very rewarding.
It’s okay to change. Don’t be so rigid with your idea that you’re not willing to change. Really listen to others and not just hear what you want to hear.
Listen to your gut. If something is gnawing at the back of your brain, there’s probably some truth to it. Honour your misgivings.
Be very, very careful with whom you do business. As much as possible, set expectations up front. Deal directly with issues.
Tell me about #artistsneededhere.
#artisneededhere is our inaugural promotion to help build awareness. We’re on a mission to make your walls happy! Until Feb. 28, we’re giving people a chance to enter to win one of two prints by Toronto artist Jane Murdoch Adams’ wonderful Frida Kahlo series. Entry is done by sharing a photo of your sad, bare wall on a public Instagram account with the hashtag #artisneededhere, posting a comment to our #artisneededhere thread in Facebook, or signing up to receive our monthly curated newsletter. More details at http://ArtIsNeededHere.com.
How do you help women?
I knew I wanted to build my business if not directly targeted at women, at least in a way that women would feel like it was made for them, but not at the expense of excluding men. It’s a true “feminist” approach: one that believes in equality for everyone. I am particularly interested in ensuring we have female artists represented on the site – again, not to the exclusion of men, but by at least making an effort to be consciously aware that female artists are being approached on an equal basis to males.
What do you do when you aren’t working?
I don’t understand the question (just kidding.)
If I’m not working, my time is generally spent with my husband, daughter, and extended family. Now that my daughter is getting increasingly independent, I’ve realized that I need to invest in spending time with myself, particularly doing creative pursuits like painting, writing, piano playing. And on Sunday nights you can find me playing hockey at my local rink.
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Do you ever have the desire to put on a pair of classy heels, a great pantsuit and strut down the street feeling great?
How often do you actually do it?
Probably not as much as you would like. It’s hard to dress confidently — people tend to go for either one of two options. The first is to dress for comfort. If your job allows it, jeans and a t-shirt with running shoes may be your style. The second option is to dress for others. Does your boss expect you to wear a skirt or a white blouse?
But, confidence dressing is all about making yourself feel good. Here are some tips for rocking that special look:
A Great Pair of Heels
Many women stray from heels because they can be uncomfortable. That is why when purchasing your new set of pumps, be sure to test them out thoroughly before purchasing. Jump up and down, do a few dance moves, and run on the spot to make sure they will be comfortable. If not, abandon them. You cannot strut if you aren’t at ease. There is also nothing wrong with a short heel. It will still make the satisfying clunk sound women love, but may reduce the number of injuries.
2. Embrace your colour palette
Deciding whether cooler or warmer tones are the best choice for your daily outfit will help set the mood for wherever you are headed. Cooler tones are perfect for more low-key meditative events, such as a blue or silver blouse attending a meeting where you want everything to go smoothly. Alternatively, if you want to grab attention or heat up a room, such as when you are speaking at a presentation, a bold red top is the way to go. Also, pay attention to colours that are fit for your skin tone and hair colour. Blondes really pop in blues and reds, brunettes in purples and burgundies, and reds in greens and browns.
3. Find your flair
Your own unique style is imperative to feeling confident because no matter what, it is important to embrace “you”. Even with a typical business outfit, you should make sure to have a little piece of flair, a colourful pin or bedazzled earrings. It will make you stand out and increases confidence because it will make your wardrobe more personal, rather than looking like one of many.
4. Only wear a style that feels comfortable
If you feel like your pants are too tight, or your top is too low-cut, it will be difficult to feel fully comfortable and proud of how you look. Make sure to feel relaxed in your clothes. Going with free-flowing slacks rather than skin-tight jeans will almost always do the trick. Whether you prefer to dress business casual, sporty, in high-couture, or in vintage styled finesse, make sure you can stretch and break a few dance moves. Your confidence will increase tenfold as a result.
5. Blazers on hand when in doubt
Have a blazer on hand when you want to feel empowered and put together. A blazer is a quick way to make any outfit look smart and sexy at the same time. I recommend having a black and white one as it will go with any outfit and will absolutely give you the confidence boost when you want to look like a kick-ass and powerful woman.
Confidence comes in many forms, but dressing to impress yourself is a way to be proud of you who you are and show the world. There is no better feeling than strutting down the sidewalk in a favourite pair of shoes and a put-together outfit. It makes you feel beautiful and strong — and what better way to embrace your inner-self while demonstrating your outer beauty.
What confidence building fashion tips do you use? Let Women’s Post know in the comments below!