Ali Elman is a mother to a 3-year-old daughter (with another
on the way) and the co-founder of Base Coat, a nail salon founded on the
nail industry’s need for safer environments for clients and fair living wages
and working conditions for technicians. “My business partner was inspired to
found Base Coat when she was pregnant and couldn’t find any place to get her
nails done that wasn’t toxic and didn’t make her feel sick,” Elman says. “I loved
the idea of what a company like this could stand for and wanted to help be a
part of taking it to the next level and growing this incredible brand.”
Co-founding Base Coat would not be Elman’s first time
starting a business. With years of experience as a market researcher and estate
manager under her belt, Elman has a keen sense and love for finding promising
retail and restaurant spaces. She started her first business, Black Eye
Coffee, in Denver in 2012. The community-centric coffee shop was an instant
hit, and just a few years later Elman opened a second location in Capitol Hill,
which Zagat recently dubbed as one of America’s “10 most Instagrammable coffee shops.”
Base Coat has had similar success; Elman and her co-founders Tran Wills and Sarah Simon have opened three locations (DTLA, Denver, and Aurora) with a fourth location opening soon in Fairfax. Elman and her co-founders strive to prove that their business
model works—that a nail salon can be profitable for both the business and its
employees, and that their work doesn’t have to compromise their health. “It’s
incredibly rewarding to have a company that supports other women,” Elman says.
Elman discusses how she manages running two businesses as
well as raising her daughter.
a mother as well as the founder of two successful companies—Black Eye Coffee
and Base Coat—how do you make it all work?
You have to
allocate your time very deliberately and learn how to trust your people to help
you execute your vision. I have been blessed with fantastic partners and
employees who all care deeply about these businesses. The key is to know that
what you bring to the table is vital and what everyone else brings to the table
is just as important. There are times I am stretched too thin and some things
slip by me. It can be frustrating, but it’s part of the deal when you take on
this kind of work and is a reminder that I can’t do it alone.
did you first feel successful?
days I still don't feel successful. I think it depends on how you measure
success. I have about 60 employees between the Black Eye and Base Coat
locations. Sometimes I feel successful when we have a day where everything runs
smoothly, although that is rarely the case in the service industry. I truly
want all of my employees and customers to be happy in our spaces, and when they
are that feels like a success to me.
a successful female entrepreneur, what are some ways that you want to teach
your daughters about "girl power”?
I was lucky
enough to be raised in a family where I was never made aware of the possibility
that because I was a girl, I couldn’t do “boy things.” It was a non-issue. I had
three brothers, no sisters, and I just thought I could do anything they did—so
that’s what I did. We went dirt biking, camping and fishing. One of my brothers
did karate, so I did karate. I want to empower my daughters to not even think
about the restrictions that she may have as a girl. I just want her to own her
there been anything about creating Base Coat that surprised you or inspired you
in a way you didn't expect?
learned how important it is to have supportive women around you. That lesson
has been my saving grace. It sounds cliché but without the love, commitment and
support of my business partner and my loyal employees, Base Coat would not be
where it is. I tend to think I can do everything myself, but realize now that I
don't have to and there are actually others that truly want to help. I have
learned that it is OK to lean on others.
made you go from the restaurant business to the salon industry? What was the biggest adjustment for you
between the two?
is hospitality. I love making people feel good through service and a well-designed
space. Base Coat was an easy transition because it is just an extension of this
philosophy and had even greater potential than a restaurant. With servicesm you
can truly turn someone’s day around and focus on making them feel taken care of
for the time they are in the salon. The biggest adjustment was understanding
the protocols of a salon and how to run scheduling.
your advice for moms who are looking to start their own business?
Really hard. There is great risk and you are choosing a less predictable path
with no safety net. That means no 401(k), no health insurance, no set salary or
bonuses. All of this has to be worth it for you and needs to
be thought out clearly. I don't think it’s fair to just say “follow your
dreams” or “just go for it” because it isn't as simple as that, especially when
you have a child or children to support. I think we have started to idealize
what it is to be a business owner, and the truth is that being a full-time working
mother is a huge feat. That
said, it is hugely rewarding to watch a concept grow and flourish and know that
it’s yours. I absolutely love what I do, and it’s so exciting that each day
brings new challenges and small victories.
you could have lunch with any business person/mogul/entrepreneur living or
dead, who would it be and why?
so many I would love to meet. One person that would be incredible to have lunch
with is Warren Buffet. He is such a unique individual, and his mind doesn't work
like almost anyone else’s. It would be such an honor to pick his brain. Plus,
he has donated so much to charity. I think he is an all-around wonderful human
there any new initiatives or products on the horizon for Base Coat?
We now have
a complete product line that not only includes our polishes but the lotions,
scrubs, oils and soaks that are used in our services. Our goal is to start
pushing these out into the market for both retail and professional use.