As part of her Thrive Global series about young entrepreneurs who are making a difference, author Penny Bauder interviews Alexis (Lexi) Taub. A graduate of WashU’s Olin Business School, Taub is the founder of Alexis Jae, a jewelry retailer that donates a portion of its profits to breast cancer research.
Here is the interview (edited for length and clarity):
Thank you so much for joining us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
I grew up in a very close-knit entrepreneurial family. My mother joined her father in the jewelry business 40+ years ago and worked hard to pivot and grow the business. When she wasn’t working in the jewelry company, she worked on other businesses. Whether reselling books or creating a line of designer scarfs, she never sat still. My father is also an entrepreneur. He quit his job in corporate law to open a trophy store. Our dinner conversations revolved around growing businesses. It’s not a surprise to anyone that I eventually started my own.
Is there a particular book or organization that made a significant impact on you growing up? Can you explain why it resonated with you?
In 1998, my mom co-founded an organization called A Cure In Our Lifetime after her friend passed away from breast cancer. The group’s mission was to fund innovative breast cancer research and promote breast health through education and outreach. At four, I set up lemonade stands to raise money for breast cancer research. At six, I sold candy bars at my brother’s baseball games for breast cancer research. At eight, I went around to local stores asking them to donate something to my fundraising raffle and then sat at the local fields selling raffle tickets. At nine, I sold note pads. At thirteen, I created my first piece of jewelry to sell to raise money for breast cancer research. [A Cure in our Lifetime] allowed me to use my entrepreneurial spirit to raise funds for an important cause. As the years went on, I could see the group’s impact on advancing breast cancer research. I was always proud to be part of that.
How do you define “making a difference?”
The ultimate “making a difference” for me would be to find a cure for breast cancer. However, we’ve been making a difference [toward preventing and curing] breast cancer since the beginning. We’ve spread awareness to encourage women to detect breast cancer earlier. We’ve contributed to top researchers who have made tremendous strides in advancing the treatment and detection of breast cancer.
You currently run a business that aims to make a social impact. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your business are trying to change in our world today?
A large part of our mission is to “find a cure in our lifetime.” We are doing that by donating a portion of our profits to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. We’re doing it by shaking up the jewelry industry. Our family has been manufacturing jewelry for over 75 years. Historically, this meant manufacturing jewelry for designers, who would sell to stores, who would sell to customers. But that means by the time it gets to the customers, it’s massively marked-up. Our family and friends have always asked us to make jewelry for them because it was so much more affordable than retail and could be made exactly how they wanted. As more people asked, we thought: why don’t we make this available to everyone? Now, we do. Our customers can customize any piece and save around 50% off traditional retail pricing. And they can feel good while doing it because all our gems are ethically sourced, our gold is recycled, and a portion of the profits goes toward breast cancer research.
Can you tell us what originally inspired your passion for this cause?
My mom and a close friend of hers had daughters (one being me) born two days apart. We lived three doors down from each other. When her daughters were two and five, the friend passed away from breast cancer. Her daughters are truly my family and I’ve seen the impact breast cancer has had on their life. A couple of years later, my aunt was diagnosed with breast cancer and eventually passed away. Through A Cure In Our Lifetime, I saw countless more lives impacted by breast cancer. When I was heading off to college, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. Because of enormous advances in breast cancer research and care, ten years later my mom is cancer-free.
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions but never manifest them. We don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “A-ha” moment that made you decide to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?
I wanted to start a business and it wasn’t a question that a percent of the profits would go to breast cancer research. But I needed an idea. My a-ha moment came when my boyfriend wanted to give me jewelry as a gift. He found a pair of earrings online that retailed for $1600 and since my mom is in the business, he asked her to make something similar. She charged him $165. After he gave them to me, he said, “I have to be honest — I feel really uncomfortable. I think your mom undercharged me …” and my idea was born! Designer jewelry at wholesale prices that could be made exactly how the customer wanted.
Many young people don’t know the steps to take to start a new enterprise. But you did. What are some of the steps you took to get your project started?
I read a quote that has stuck with me — “One day or Day one. You decide.” I had the idea — I just needed to start. My mom had made a lot of jewelry for family and friends: I asked to borrow it all back so I could have it photographed. I created a website and began selling. Fast forward 2+ years — I’ve quit my job in finance to work on Alexis Jae full time.
Can you share the most interesting story that has happened to you since leading your company?
I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I love looking at who has purchased [Alexis Jae pieces]. I can’t believe some of the high-profile customers (from songwriters to models to artists) who’ve come across our website and decided to buy a piece of jewelry.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or takeaway you learned from it?
Trusting my mom to ship packages out to customers. Let’s just say it was a complete mess with items going everywhere except to their destination. I learned to stick with everyone’s strengths — hers is sales; mine is operations.
None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?
If it isn’t obvious already, my mom is my biggest mentor and cheerleader. I grew up watching her be superwoman. Not only was she able to start a successful business and make a big difference on behalf of breast cancer research, but somehow she finds the time to speak to 20 different people a day to help them with whatever they’re going through. I learned from her example. And I always have a logical person to listen to all of my thoughts.
Without giving specific names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
We created a pink string bracelet in honor of my aunt who passed away from breast cancer. One-hundred percent of the profits from this bracelet go toward the BCRF. The money we’ve raised has gone toward researchers who have made huge advancements in the treatment of cancer. I thought that was going to be the most impactful part of it, but I was wrong. I get calls from family members and friends who have just learned their loved one was diagnosed with breast cancer. They feel helpless. I can’t tell you how many times a loved one has said to me: “I’ve scoured the internet for a gift that might make my loved one feel better and this is the only thing I could find” or “this is the only thing since the diagnosis that has made my loved one smile.”
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
I believe that the key to finding a cure is funding the researchers behind it. The more money we can put toward [research], the closer we’ll be.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I started?”
1. Take a leap and do what you’re passionate about. When I graduated from college, I went directly to work at J.P. Morgan. I then worked at a hedge fund and a private equity fund. I learned a ton in those roles and worked with amazing people. However, I was never fulfilled. I wanted to do something where I could make a difference. I took a leap from a stable income to start Alexis Jae, and I couldn’t be happier. I now wake up every day before my alarm, ready to get started.
2. Jewelry doesn’t make the world go round. My mom has reminded me a few too many times just to take a deep breath when a package is delayed, or we have to redo something. It all works out in the end.
3. It’s okay to make mistakes. Just keep trying. I have made countless mistakes trying to get Alexis Jae up and running. However, with each mistake, I learned something new and tried again. When I first started, I just wanted to get everything done quickly and cheaply. I soon learned that investing in the right people to help you will pay dividends in the end.
4. Ask a lot of questions. When you’re starting a business, there are so many aspects involved, and you can’t be an expert on all of them. I’ve learned so much from asking questions and finding experts. Also, everyone will have advice and thoughts and feedback. Take it all in. It can only help inform your opinion but make sure the end decision is yours.
5. It’s never too late to start. If now isn’t the right time to leave your job, then pursue your passion on the side. Build something slowly and thoughtfully and it will work out!
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, what would you tell them?
It feels really good. As soon as you start, you’ll feel like you’re making a difference and that’s a feeling you can’t get any other way.
Is there a person with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this!
Easy question — Mark Cuban. I am obsessed with Shark Tank and would love 15 minutes of Mark’s time to learn how I can make Alexis Jae even better
This interview was reprinted with permission.