Friday, March 28, 2008

TheSushiGirl.Com Success Story

Throwing a party isn’t what it used to be and, in the process, it’s even been spiced up, thanks to Nikki Gilbert. She throws sushi-making parties and provides catering for corporate and private functions.

Although Nikki Gilbert’s ethnic background is Greek-German-Polish-Jewish, she has loved Asian food since the age of 6 and waited tables at a Japanese restaurant while in high school. During college Nikki worked at a sushi bar, where she used to ask the sushi chefs for lessons. “I’d go home and bring in what I made, and they would laugh at me,” she says. With her dream of becoming an entrepreneur and the idea that anyone can enjoy making sushi for themselves, Sushi Girl was born in 1998.

What gives your business an edge?
GILBERT: I like to think of myself as the perfect bridge between the two cultures. Because I am an American/westerner I feel that I have a better understanding of what westerners want to experience in a sushi class and/or party. And because I lived in Japan for many years (and for many years before that worked in authentic Japanese restaurants), I bring authenticity to my clients’ sushi experiences. Furthermore, I really love Japan, its food, its culture and its aesthetic style. With every event, I am sharing the things that I love and the experiences from my life in Japan. Because of that, there is real legitimacy to what I do, and I believe that comes through to my clients.

Describe your transition from employee to business owner?
GILBERT: I stayed with my last full-time job and ran my business as long as humanly possible before I called it quits. Not only did the job give me secure income, it also gave me structure. When I was first on my own not only was I no longer answering to a time clock, I was also without a regular routine. My routine had been to start working on my business anytime I wasn’t at my job or sleeping. Now, with nothing structured, I needed a plan for organizing my new workday. I made the decision that every morning I would get to the gym by 5:30 a.m. to start my day. I would then be in my office by 8 a.m. and ready to work. That really helped me find the structure I needed before it just became a regular and natural routine. I can’t say that I am still getting to the gym every morning, but I am getting to the office.

Who are your role models?
GILBERT: Jackie Robinson, Marcia Israel-Curley and John Wooden.

What is your personal mantra?
GILBERT: Be grateful for what you do have.

What is your business mantra?
GILBERT: Pay attention to the voice in your head and the feeling in your gut.

What tips can you give others who want to embrace their dream, but don’t feel they have the confidence to move forward?
GILBERT: First, make sure you really understand what your dream is. Some people think their dream is to have their own business when actually they dream of not having to be tied down by a job. I am living my dream but, make no mistake, I am still tied down.

Second, take baby steps. Make sure you are comfortable with generating income out of thin air before you give up that paycheck.

Third (and probably the most important), envision the worst-case scenario and determine that if that were to occur, would you still be glad you took your shot?

Have you always felt that you could do anything you put your mind to?
GILBERT: My mind doesn’t really work that way. It isn’t a matter of knowing I can do something but rather knowing that there is something that I want to do, and so I try. I don’t ever really know what the first step is, but I take one anyway. I then take another step and another and so on. Eventually you take enough steps that you can’t help but make progress and figure something out.

How long did it take before your business became profitable?
GILBERT: It was profitable almost immediately because I started out so slowly. Of course the profits were small, but they were profits.

Were there any challenges that you experienced along the way that you had to overcome?
GILBERT: The hardest thing was getting to a point where I actually felt like I had a legitimate business. As a child while some girls played house or had pretend weddings, I played “business owner.” When I first started it took a while (a long while) before I could say–without laughing to myself–that I “owned my own business” to those who asked what I did for a living. You don’t get a diploma or title that is sanctioned by some governing body that tells you that you are a legitimate business owner, so you feel like you are faking it or playing grownup for a while. At least, I felt that way and for a long time.

Another thing that was challenging was not getting a paycheck from someone else. I started working when I was 13, and I come from very financially stable parents who have always taken great comfort in knowing that they got a paycheck every month and plenty of benefits. The day I resigned from my last regular job and knew the only money I would make would have to be created from nothing, I knew I would have some sleepless nights.

What resources were most helpful to you when you were starting your business?
GILBERT: The internet and the 24-hour Kinkos near my home. I can say with utter certainty that I would not have a business if it were not for the internet. Most of what I do comes from hours and hours of research that I do on the internet. As for Kinkos, when I first started out I was constantly there at all hours of the day. When I got hired for my first really important job, I was there at 2 a.m. getting a poster printed. I didn’t have a good printer, but I could design my own poster and take my laptop to Kinkos, where I could hook it up to their top-of-the-line printer. Kinkos allowed me to present my business as professionally as possible without having to go bankrupt. I don’t think people realize how important the internet and print houses likes Kinkos are. They let you compete with the big guys in a way that was not possible 10 years ago.

What’s next?
GILBERT: My DVD. I put everything I know about sushi and Japan together with all the experience I have had teaching thousands of people how to make it for themselves into this DVD. If you want to make sushi for yourself, this is hands-down the best way to learn how to do so. I can say with all certainty that there isn’t a better way to learn how to make sushi.

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