March 10, 2019
Only three years after starting her now highly successful blog, Ambitious Kitchen, Monique Volz was leaving her full-time corporate job to focus solely on her booming online business. This past fall, she expanded her ambitiousbusiness model, introducing Ambitious Home: an online shop focused on sourcing beautiful, one-of-a-kind rugs from around the world,
Since her shift to entrepreneurial badassery, this multi-passionate and multi-talented woman continues to make waves as a thought leader in industries spanning across health and fitness to beauty and interior design.
Monique and I connected ‘face to face from afar’ earlier this week (thanks, bluejeans), sharing our morning coffee as I learned more about her background, passions, inspirations and vision for the future of her businesses!
TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOUR EARLY CAREER. HOW DID YOU GET STARTED?
I was in college when I first had the idea to start Ambitious kitchen - this was 7 1/2 years ago. I just always had this obsession with food. This really huge passion for it; a love for it. It got to the point where I was always cooking and baking things for my roommates, for people I knew, bringing things into my internship. I always knew I wanted to work in the food industry, I just didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do.
WHAT DID YOU STUDY IN COLLEGE?
I studied marketing management and business communications. I mean, I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. I went into college and was like, “I’m pre-law,” because I really thought I wanted to be a lawyer my entire life. Then I took a couple marketing classes and I was like, “this is my jam!” I loved it. It made me feel so creative, and then when I started spending time when people who were doing those types of creative things - like, I worked at a magazine in Minnesota and I was doing the editorial - and it was just a different experience and I felt so invigorated every time I was challenged in a creative way...I knew I had to do that.
WHEN DID AMBITIOUS KITCHEN COME TO BE?
So I started my blog, and I did a lot of research beforehand because the resources available now, weren’t necessarily available to me 7 years ago - in terms of hopping online and googling “how to start a blog,” that just wasn’t a thing. It took me like 6 months and eventually I had this website and I was posting every once and a while and in the meantime I had a corporate job, doing social media management and digital media for a couple big brands at General Mills.
HOW WAS WORKING FOR GENERAL MILLS? WHEN DID YOU KNOW IT WAS TIME TO PURSUE YOUR SIDE HUSTLE FULL-TIME?
[Working for General Mills] was a great experience for me, in terms of learning the back end of working with influencers and what that was developing to be. Influencer marketing was little bit of a thing then, but it wasn’t at all what it is now.
So then, flash forward a couple years and it was 2014 and I had gotten to this place where I felt like I was kind of at a breaking point with General Mills just in terms of I couldn’t move up with how the company was structured - it’s corporate, so you have to do your time at a certain position and I knew I was ready for something else, so I decided I was going to quit and do ambitious kitchen full-time. I knew a couple bloggers that were doing it full time, and at that point I mean, I was financially stable so I knew I could do it, I think I was just scared for a long time to actually make the leap.
So, I moved to Chicago and started working on Ambitious Kitchen and have been full-time since then! It’s just really grown. It’s been such an amazing experience - I have a team! - and recently I launched Ambitious Home in 2018!
WHAT IS AMBITIOUS HOME?
Ambitious Home is a vintage rug shop for now, but we are turning it into a brick and mortar (hopefully!) sometime this year. My vision for Ambitious Home came from a love of all things vintage. I was collecting rugs on the side, I had this obsession, and it was getting a little bit out of hand and then I took a trip to Israel in 2016 and it kind of put it all in perspective for me. I was like okay, I really need to do this. I just didn’t know how. I told myself I am just going to build a website. There were a couple other people already selling vintage rugs online, but I thought that the type of Persian rugs specifically that I was interested in were a little more different. So, my husband quit his job and we started it in August of 2018 and it’s been going amazing! We absolutely love it and are hoping to evolve it into a shop this year!
HOW IS IT TECHNICALLY RUNNING TWO BUSINESSES NOW? ARE YOU HAPPY YOU MADE THE LEAP?
It’s crazy busy work. Juggling two businesses is not easy, by any means, but I’m learning. The sales side is so different for me, but you never know until you try, and it’s fun! It’s fun to learn something new and challenge yourself.
[In the corporate world] you don’t have the ability to be as creative, so that’s why I am so thankful to have the job that I do, because I think at the end of the day being creative is so important to my soul.
I will say that when I was working at General Mills I didn’t realize all that I was learning, and all the tools that I use now that are so helpful for me. I use Google Analytics everyday for example...where are people coming from? How can we get them more from Pinterest? It’s very helpful. I’m not obsessed with numbers...as long as my business model is working, at the end of the day I don’t really care how many people visit my site every single month. I don’t get caught up; I obviously want it to grow but I’m not like, analyzing it every single day or every week or anything. I like to know which recipes did well, again, how can I create more content because that really resonated with my audience. Or should I be creating a video on this because it’s a really popular recipe and I think I could drive more traffic. So that kind of thing!
WHAT WAS YOUR FINAL PUSH TO LEAVE YOUR CORPORATE GIG?
When my income matched my salary at General Mills. I kind of took a pay cut, but because I was able to free up my time, I was able to get more creative, I could set a content schedule for myself, and it just allowed me to be independent. I could also go to conferences and talk other business owners and other bloggers and make connections, versus I wasn’t really able to do that when I was working in my corporate job as much.
It’s not the be all end all, also. If it doesn’t work out, it’s not like you don’t have all the experience that you’ve worked for in your career. You can always go back or do something else, or shift your passions if something doesn’t work out. But again, you don’t know until you jump. Which is super exciting!
YOU RECENTLY CLOSED UP SHOP ON A PREVIOUS COMPANY YOU'D CO-FOUNDED. WHAT'S THE STORY THERE?
I did! In January 2016 I co-founded a business with a fellow blogger - Lee with Fit Foodie Finds - and we sold fitness plans and meal plans. It was just something we both saw an opportunity for. Unfortunately, I think we both just realized that we were so busy with our own personal websites and then also I really wanted to do Ambitious Home and she was growing, and so we just really slacked. We saw it was really helping women and we were super excited, but it was just another element of work and at the end of the day, keeping up with it was exhausting. We even had someone full time that was doing the bulk of the sales for us, but still it was just challenging.
DO YOU THINK TRADEMARKING IS WORTH THE EFFORT (AND THE COST)?
I do, just because for Ambitious Kitchen my lawyer pretty much took care of it for me. And it was just nice to have. There is someone online that has sort of the same name as Ambitious Kitchen but I’ve had mine for so much longer...so, to me, if she were to come out with a cookbook or something like that, that would not be chill. So, it’s just nice knowing that I can protect something that I’ve worked for, because you just never know…
I think the whole thing to is that a lot of people are competitive, so the mindset is instead of collaboration over competition, it’s sort of the opposite a lot of times. Which sucks. You want to work with people and we should move past that.
YOU'RE IN BUSINESS WITH YOUR HUSBAND, TONY! HOW IS THAT?
It’s good! Honestly, we have a space and he is there more than I am. I’m never really at our Ambitious Home space, it’s just where all of our rugs are...he cleans them and stores them and does all the inventory stuff. We have a second bedroom in our condo and so his office is in there and I don’t really see him a lot during the day. We talk a lot over Gchat and that’s so much better, because working with your s/o there is a challenging element of shifting your mindset. You have to realize that they are an employee, but they’re also your person. So, it can be really complicated and for sure it’s hard to not argue over something because you’re in a relationship together and you both have your own ideas of what may be right fo the business. But it’s been interesting and it’s really good. We really enjoy it. We’re building something together!
DID YOU ALWAYS KNOW YOU'D WORK TOGETHER?
No! He was a mortgage broker before and it just wasn’t his thing. When I had the idea for Ambitious Home I had started the process of designing the website but I really had no idea what I was in store for, in terms of creating the inventory, measuring the rugs, weighing the rugs, shipping the rugs. Looking back I don’t know how I thought I could do that all personally, so I am so thankful that he’s that person because he’s so good a that. It’s nice because it’s important to outsource the things you’re not that great at. I am glad I can be the oversight and creative vision and he’s the executor.
CAN YOU ELABORATE ON HOW IMPORTANT IT IS TO FIND THAT BALANCE BETWEEN WHAT YOU KNOW, DON'T KNOW, CAN LEARN, AND NEED HELP WITH, ESPECIALLY WHEN STARTING OUT?
It’s really important to outsource things you don’t like, or just really aren’t good at. When I was getting started, it was just me, and it was such a grind. I had a full-time job, and I was working on Ambitious Kitchen on the time. It took up most of my time. There were times I didn’t go out with friends, or just have relationships I probably should have had in my 20s because I was working on something that I was incredibly passionate about. And so, in those moments yeah, I had to do the stuff I really didn’t want to do but at the end of the day I was grateful that I taught myself how to do those things because now it’s led me to become more of a manager because I understand them; I get it. And I am able to recognize “oh, I’m not very effective at this task.”
WHAT HAVE YOU FOUND IS NOT YOUR STRONG SUIT?
I like photography, but for me food photography is so time consuming and I get really frustrated. My bread and butter is creating the recipes versus the artistic part of photographing that so if I have the ability I would rather outsource my photography, because I’m then able to work on other creative things and grow my business. So it’s just kind of recognizing the skills that you excel at - and everybody is different. Sometimes I get caught up in comparing myself to other bloggers that are doing the same thing I am, and they may really like photography and so I’m like oh my gosh I should be doing this, but at the end of the day everybody’s goals are different. We’re all on our unique career path, even if we’re doing sort of the same thing, so I just try to be like my own individual person.
HAVE YOU EXPERIENCED GUILT AROUND PRIORITIZING YOUR BUSINESS ABOVE OTHER SOCIAL OBLIGATIONS LIKE WEDDINGS, BIRTHDAYS, FAMILY TRIPS, ETC.?
It’s a struggle to stay balanced as an entrepreneur because when it comes to that, it’s like your love, right? It comes before anything. How I recognize it is that I need to be able to do what I love in order to function as a human. I just get that work is always going to be number one for me and think that’s true with a lot of entrepreneurs. Yes, we value our relationships but it doesn’t have to be the only thing happening. So starting to recognize that I need to fuel my soul before I give to other people has been huge. I do try to do catch-ups with girlfriends, schedule times to talk, etc. but it’s really hard though! In general, being an adult, we all get busy and caught up in whatever we’re doing. The older we get the harder it is to keep up with relationships, no matter what.
WHAT'S BEEN YOUR PROUDEST MOMENT AND ALSO MOST CHALLENGING MOMENT IN BUILDING YOUR BUSINESS?
I think quitting my job would probably answer both of those. I was like, “oh my god, what the hell am I doing? What did I just do?” For a moment when I quit, when they offered to pay me a higher salary, I thought, “okay, maybe I shouldn’t quit! I can maybe grind this out a little longer.” But at the end of the day I was caught up in wanting to just do what I loved, and so that was my ‘what the hell’ moment, but it was also a moment I was really proud of myself for following through. I think a lot of people have these dreams or things they want to do, but they just don’t know how to get there.
At the end of the day it’s just about taking a risk and taking that leap. You’re never going to know if you don’t follow through.