What I wish I knew: Ella & Iris Home

About pitching to investors, automating the backend and avoiding burnout.

By Felicia Johnson, Founder of Ella & Iris Home


A big part of entrepreneurship is having the courage to take a chance on an idea. Starting a business means entering the unknown, for better or (and often, and) worse. For many small business owners, wins and losses are both part of the deal. In What I Wish I Knew, founders a few years into their journey reflect on how they might have done things a little differently early on, sharing their experiences with a new generation of would-be entrepreneurs.

Here, Felicia Johnson, founder of Ella & Iris Home, a home fragrance brand inspired by her Caribbean roots, shares some wins, learnings and how she keeps her business and customers secure.


During the pandemic, I had time to reflect on life and think about who I was as a person. I attribute a lot of my values to my grandmothers, Ella and Iris. Growing up, they both lived with us in Atlanta until I was about 12 years old. I saw the ways they took care of the home, the family and made everything feel safe and beautiful.


They were both from Jamaica, but they had very different personalities. What they had in common, though, was using natural ingredients and remedies to clean the home and to take care of us when we were sick (or to prevent us from getting sick).


I created Ella & Iris Home because I wanted to have products that were safe, natural and non-toxic — and reflected some of my family's Caribbean culture. Here’s what I wish I knew back in 2020.


No one goes it alone.

When I used to look at entrepreneurs on the cover of Black Enterprise or Forbes, I would think, "This is just a genius person who figured everything out. They made millions of dollars all by themselves." Now that I'm on my own entrepreneurial journey, I realize that it's teams of people working together, collaborating and partnering. There's nothing wrong with reaching out for help.


Accelerators make an impact.

What has helped me most is going through different business accelerator programs. I’ve been in the Visa and Bridge for Billions’ Small Business Mentorship Program, and some other prestigious accelerators with other well-known global brands. With each one, you learn more, you meet more people, and you just get better at doing what you're doing. I had the vision, but I didn't know how to do a lot of the things that it took to get there. These programs helped me figure that all out and take the right steps.


Never underestimate the power of IRL sales.

I've had opportunities to get free streaming ads and had great success reaching a large audience that way. But what I like most is selling at local pop-up shops. I'm meeting customers face to face. They get to hear about me, hear about my brand, touch the product, smell the product and give me their feedback right there on site.


Automate as much as you can.

As a person who is more naturally concerned with the brand and product, you must also have your standard operating procedures. You have to try to automate things as much as possible. All those things factor into growth and profitability. For example, I’m a solopreneur. I don’t have the time or the expertise to look through my transactions trying to assess fraud. Visa and give me the capability to detect and protect against fraud automatically in real time. I’m not very technically savvy and I was able to get the program up and running myself. It was easy and seamless, and it helps protect both my business and my customers.







Invest in game-changing help.

Hiring a social media manager was a big milestone for me. And what she produces is so beautiful. We were talking about my vision, and it was like she was in my head. Everything she sends me — with just small tweaks sometimes — she nails it.


Be brave.

I was selected to do a pitch competition in front of a couple of celebrities. That was a pretty big deal for me. I had to go to Harlem at the Apollo Theater and stand in front of a crowd. I learned to step outside of my comfort zone because I had been actively avoiding grants with pitch competitions. I did not win, but only three of us were selected. It showed me that I could do it. My advice for pitching to investors: Practice, practice, practice and don't stop. Do it in front of people and push yourself as much as you can.


Avoid burnout.

There are times when it gets overwhelming. Take time for yourself and don't feel bad about it. Baby-step your way back in. It doesn't have to be this all-encompassing, overwhelming thing all the time. A lot of people say they become their businesses, they live and breathe their businesses. But then I wonder, what are you doing it for? For me, I want to live a life. The whole point of this is to have more control and more freedom over my life.


Find more resources for your business at Visa’s Small Business Hub.

Tag: Digital commerce Tag: Payment technology

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