Crushed by my Vision

Ivelisse Morales is our guest today. Her company is “Bombilla” which means lightbulb in Puerto Rican Spanish, and this company shines bright with its all women-of-color staff and is fueled by a national network of diverse co-conspiring creatives on their mission to make the world brighter. In less than five years, this small & mighty team has served over 60 clients in the Bay Area and across the US with brand strategy, visual identity and graphic design.

Ivi is a recognized speaker, poet and writer and an award-winning entrepreneur who brings a decade of experience in using marketing as a force for good—for brands of all sizes. From inside major creative agencies like IDEO and Ogilvy and beyond, Ivi has sharpened her creative skillset in public relations, media, design, marketing and communications all in the service of positive change.

When you listen to her, she comes across super chill, bright, and thoughtful, but don’t let her seemingly casual demeanor fool you, she’s a high-achieving dynamo that has recently learned the hard way that even a beautiful vision can crush you.

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Show Notes

 

Bombilla Team

Bombilla band shot

 

Transcript 

Ivelisse 

Well, around this time last year I was juggling a lot. And we had just celebrated our 4th birthday, had a strong roster of clients closed off on a successful year meeting our revenue goals. 5 employees. You know a lot of inbound organic. That word of mouth, the traffic for new work. So from the outside looking in and perhaps maybe on the inside looking out, it looked like things were thriving and going well. But ultimately, I'm really good at masking pain and stress, which you know has its ties in childhood trauma, which I have learned and and because, you know, this is my business, this is my idea. Uh, ultimately, I feel like I'm the host of this party, right? So I have to make sure that the guests feel comfortable that the food is, you know, flowing drinks are flowing, that there's paper, you know, paper towels and toilet. Paper all the things but. 

Jalen 

All that, yes. 

Ivelisse 

If you. You know when you. Host a party. Sometimes you don't even get to eat or relax or actually enjoy the party, and that's ultimately what was happening with me. As the founder and CEO and you know, they say that most businesses don't survive the first year and the three to five year maturity mark really tests a company. And I felt that test personally as well because. Even though we were scaling and going from contractors to employees, we were bringing in revenue. But ultimately, we weren't making enough net income. And last February, I remember a day vividly where I spent about 7 hours talking to both accountants. So my CPA was helping me analyze my numbers from last year. Compared to other years and how I'm tracking. And then my bookkeeper and day-to-day CPA accountant was flagging to me that the last six months. You know, we were experiencing the cash flow scaries and. Miraculously, there was always money right when payroll hit, but. It was, you know. A little bit of a scary dance and. 

Jalen 

It'll tight, yeah. 

Ivelisse 

You know, and caring for my business and knowing our numbers intimately. She was just flagging to me what's ahead and what measures I have available to me to stop the bleeding, essentially. And so so I'm carrying all of this information. I'm already spread thin because I'm. You know and then. The entire C-Suite, I have five employees that I'm managing who are helping other sides of the business function and ultimately it was running me to the ground. So, and I'm sure a lot of us can relate to this where you know once you enter zoom. Land you don't leave. So it makes bio breaks hard eating hard. It wasn't eating well, you know, off schedule. Uber eats was like the main. Transaction on my card. For a little while. Barely seeing friend. And and I just felt like. These are sacrifices I had to make because this is my. Company. Right, like. Who am I to blame? It's me. 

Jalen 

Who else is gonna? Who else is gonna do it right? 

Ivelisse 

And that too, yeah, so. I was just like sucking it up. And it I I feel like. My team was noticing. How stressed I was, I wasn't really able to provide my best work either and and I remember just really sitting in doubt that thinking like maybe this isn't maybe I'm not cut out to be a CEO. So you know, this is I've been doing it for so long. It's like rinse and repeat. If this is the stress. For the rest of my years, you. Know I don't know if I. I want to stay in this because professional services is. One of the most. Complicated business models, I would say to keep profitable, you need multiple revenue streams outside of creative human hours. And so I went to one of my mentors because I'm a planner. I like to think things out, pros and cons lists and all that. I went to my mentor with like. 12 different options of. What I could do, because I really felt like this was all going downhill and I don't have the capital to hire help. My team is already maxed out. And so, you know, there were extremes. One of them was run the company to the ground until we lose money, all the money. We have and I could claim bankruptcy. 

Speaker 

That sounds like. 

Jalen 

A great idea and. 

Ivelisse 

Then the other option. Was dissolve everything. Take out my 401K and just take time off and travel. And my mentor who is a business owner herself and actually teaches business. Education to small business owners was. Like. No, no, no, no. There are other options and ultimately you know this is your vision, your company, and it can look like whatever you want it to look like right now. It's an agency, but tomorrow if you wanted to turn. It into a bakery you can. Right. So they gave me some. Relief and spaciousness. Because it's easy. To fall into, like black and white thinking when you're very. 

Jalen 

Especially when you're so stressed, yeah. 

Ivelisse 

And this and we're talking money stress too, right? It's I'm not fully responsible for five other folks, but they're relying on me for some income. And and I'm I'm the main person responsible for sales so clearly. Other changes we had to make is how the team is structured, what's on my plate, what new additional help I would need to just not have everything on mine and so. So yeah, with all that said, it's like the the vision that I have. It's alive and well. But it's still. I'm still carrying it. I feel like there's the day-to-day, you know, to does that always have to get done? There's the curveballs that always come in business and in client services that you have to be ready for. And and then like, you know, a key element is. I can't forget about myself. I have. To be the. CEO of my body and well-being. So if I'm choosing to be in zooman all day, no one's going. To you know. Yell at me or tell me don't do that. It would be great to have some more project management to be honest, but I've also have learned that. Because of visionary and I like to dream and do. I forget that sometimes. What I'm trying to accomplish is a 10 year vision and I have to remind myself that for where we are at this point, five years old, we've grown every year over year. I'm excited to share with you increased our net. Income considerably compared to last year, so I got smarter with our finances. That also involves taking a class on financial freedom so. I can take a step back and think about what life I'm trying to build for myself and how the business can support that lifestyle and that monetary need. I also in that time had to seek mental health support and I highly encourage all entrepreneurs to seek therapy. For a coach, I use both, so a coach helps me with limiting beliefs that are hindering my progress forward, and then my therapist helps me unpack my past, which is. The root of. So this combo and ultimately I took many breaks also last year. So I, you know maximized my flexibility and working wherever there's Wi-Fi so. On top of taking time off, I also just switched up my environment, which really gave my mental health a little bit of fresh air, some renewed inspiration and motivation, and realizing like I don't have to accomplish everything all at once. That there are more options than extremes and that it's very easy to. Feel crushed by your big ideas and vision and get upset and mad at yourself when you're not moving fast enough or not accomplishing as much. But you know it takes. More than nine months to incubate a human baby right like. 

Jalen 

I gotta have some patience, right? 

Ivelisse 

I have patience and. 

Jalen 

Yeah, sort of already sort of moved into some of the things that you've done once you had hit that. Point or I? Don't know if it's rock bottom or it's like the reckoning. But I'm wondering. If you could bring us to that point of reckoning, just bring us back to that point of reckoning. And then what? What it was like and what what that experience was? 

Ivelisse 

Yeah, I would say. The moment of reckoning was realizing that I wasn't being kind and healthy to myself and. My well-being was on the decline, so because I wasn't moving my body, I wasn't meditating, leaving my house, socializing, eating well. Plus stress, I mean, you can only imagine the contents of my mind, the negative self talk. Feeling really isolated and insular? And that's when I knew like I this needs to change because I don't want to. Harm myself anymore than I already AM. 

Jalen 

Was there a was there like a point, like an evening where you just sort of like looked in the mirror or something said, oh God, what am I doing? This is got to stop. 

Ivelisse 

Yeah, it was. That day, when I talked to the accountants. When they when they painted. The picture of the track record against the forecast. 

Jalen 

OK. That was it. 

Ivelisse 

They were like this, this this is looking good. Baby girl, you know, so. It's like, oh, no. So it's like I I I proved to myself that this company can scale, but it can't scale at my detriment, which is why, you know, I need for example to add another senior leadership team member. You can carry some of the load, but to have one person. Be the the neck, the the nucleus for, you know, a growing company and even structurally it's. It's not strong. That's not a strong foundation. And so I think. You know the money stress. The the outlook, the stress of the outlook, the changes I had to make to turn the ship around. On top of me not feeling well mentally, physically, emotionally and not really feeling supported. If you know I was feeling like quicksand and that's why. I had to take a break and so this year I'm now plugging in my brakes so that I don't reach those breaking points. I've learned that the times I've wanted to quit where at times I just needed time off. Because you know, I I'm not one to overwork. I like to pack in a lot in a short amount of time. So you won't necessarily find me, you know, staying up late. I might wake up really, really early, but that's just my cycle. But I don't have to go so hard. And if I'm going, you know. 1,000,000 miles a minute then. When will I have time to rest? Was just feeding into like the capitalist cycle that burned me out in the first place. In the corporate world and. Then I was trying. To avoid. 

Jalen 

Into your own version of it. 

Ivelisse 

That's why it's like there's no one. To blame but me? You know I'm not going. To get a Gold Star. You know, I think great. 

Jalen 

Get a war wound. So you hit. You hit this point where it's like, so clear that what you were doing wasn't going to work, and that did not just personally, well, financially. And then you're like you. Then you recognize personally, right? Look what I've been doing. To myself here. And then you've made started making these changes right and then? Plugging, you know, creating more space for yourself and you're also creating more space for everyone, right? 

Ivelisse 

So other changes that we made last year was moving to. A four day work week. And so in that sense. We're all being gifted 3 days of rest. And I'm trying my hardest to keep that day. With no business. And then, well, we were virtual to start, so everyone has the has flexibility to work from anywhere. A lot of us. Work from home. Some of us are parents, so that flexibility really works out for their schedules. 2 * a year we have a week off called Wellness Week, so it's a company wide holiday to also give everyone respite and they're timed. At the end of busy seasons, because it's so easy to, you know, Sprint. And then join another race without resting. I mean, even athletes take breaks. And they're off. Season. So it's like like? 

Jalen 

Yeah, totally. 

Ivelisse 

Hey, you know. And, you know, I really urge my team to stay realistic with their workloads, to be honest, to over communicate, and even with our clients. Sometimes it's easy to. Absorb their anxiety and urgency. We like to talk clients through. You know, what do you need? When do you need it by and how can we help you get there? Understanding that. There are bite sized ways to accomplish what you're trying to get to. And so. And so in in having that style as a creative agency, every once in a while, we bump up against the client who hasn't. Adopted that way of thinking. 

Speaker 

Still has a tight. 

Jalen 

Tight grip in their own anxiety, yeah. 

Ivelisse 

And I mean, there are agencies that. That, you know, will produce a whole campaign for you overnight, but that's not the type of agency that. We have and so I'm really trying to the experiment is how do we make a living make a difference and have fun? Because ultimately this is creative work and we're passionate about what we do. Our clients are passionate about what they do and when those forces. There's a lot of magic that happens. And so with the money piece, you know, realizing like you can grow. Grow, grow, grow, grow, grow, grow, grow, grow. But to what? There's there's consequences. Either people the planet. Something's getting harmed to get there. So even like the concept of. You know, growing really big. I think to myself, like for what you know, at least not at this size. I don't recommend it. I would, you know, hire a full C-Suite to carry on a a vision like that, because it would be cool to create jobs. But to pursue growth. For money. I mean, just look at what it where it's gotten, you know, just take. 

Speaker 

A look at. When we're in the. 

Ivelisse 

That's what happens when you scale without thinking about what's getting harmed in the process. 

Jalen 

Yeah, no kidding. And especially, you know. If you're a. Big Core piece of your vision is about making positive change in the world and that's got to happen inside. Otherwise you can't make it outside. 

Ivelisse 

Hmm. Yeah, exactly so. Yeah, we're a little. Little train that could. 

Jalen 

It's great. So if you look and looking back, I'm wondering if there's anything that might have helped you catch things sooner like maybe like do less damage or take less downtime or get to this point of greater realization sooner? 

Ivelisse 

Yeah, that's a really great question. I think. I think my challenge and we might share this challenge is that are you, are you? Do you have siblings? 

Jalen 

Not really sort of. I have half half siblings, yeah. 

Speaker 

OK. 

Ivelisse 

I'm an older sister and even as a kid I was always like a student group leader. You know, whether appointed or self appointed. And you know, when I see something that can be done better or that needs organization, I just naturally step in to help so. I have a big I'm a high performer. I have a lot of capacity and that's why I thrived at the corporate agency level because it moves fast. There's always new projects, new clients, new skills to learn, but even that variety can burn you out because you're always learning and never just repeating. And so. I think it's a mindset thing, but I have to remind myself that if I if I go from 120 to 100%, it's still good and even if I go from 100% to 80%, it's still pretty good. Because my parent is someone 100% and so I guess there's a level of perfectionism because I'm not a perfectionist in the sense that, like, things have to be flawless. 

Jalen 

Right. 

Ivelisse 

It's more like ohh I can. Get everything on this list done today. And then when I don't, I'm like. How is this possible? But it's like, well, this is a. Three month project. 

Speaker 

What is? 

Ivelisse 

Like a year, right? Like I had a mentor tell me once he was like, you're worrying about things I didn't get to until year 10 in my business. Like, who cares that you don't have IT policies? And protocols, you know so. 

Speaker 

I think having. 

Ivelisse 

Another person kinda, you know, every visionary needs that person. Who just. Like brings them down. 

Jalen 

The end of the end of the Yang. 

Ivelisse 

Exactly, yeah, because if. It's just me and me. I'm going to be like. 

Jalen 

So part of what you're saying is that you're just like as a result of going through it. You what you did, you come to realize that bring a part of you and focus around realizing that there's part of you that just that just wants to do things that's going to overstretch you. And now you're having to find ways to compensate for that. 

Ivelisse 

And so yeah, it's like learning to succeed slowly. The walk the best walk you've ever walked than. To try to. Run a marathon and break your toe. Cause you should have walked. And when you think about it, when you see like artists or companies that have that overnight success, I mean, they've really been at it for at least 10 years. And with the business, if you. Reach the five year. Mark that signals that you have a product or service that's in demand. You have found market fit. You have returning clients or happy clients that are referring you. And so now the. Next five years, it's like, how do you keep up with competition? You know, break into markets? Enter new markets are deep in where you're at already and create new revenue streams. And so even with the way I staff the team I'm trying to catch bigger fish that sustain us for longer than to find a lot of little projects that will piece together the money but then create brain stress because we're spread thin. Over a lot of different things. And so that's my. Revenue strategy right now and that requires like partnering with larger agencies to go after bigger bids. Applying for business certification that opens up that pipeline and putting the, you know Batman signal out there for clients who have the budgets and understand the value and investment of branding. 

Jalen 

So it's like you're you're looking to refine your formula so that your the income and the quality of the clients. Matches what will be sustainable in the longer term. 

Ivelisse 

Yeah, inconsistent consistency is the strategy. So in this last year, we've also invested a lot in our process, our systems and tools. And so it's rinse and repeat, refining it as well as we go. And you know, that does require that. I I stay close. To help train the. Team as well. And so yeah, being the boss is. Not easy because. There's just so many, you know, burners that are on or. Yeah, you know, it's like my mind's in the future. I have to use the past to inform the future. And then there's the present. So I got to be in all three places. Like a shape shifter. 

Jalen 

Absolutely, yeah, yeah. Part of what I'd like to bring with these episodes is see if there's some way that people can prevent or inoculate themselves from stepping into the hole you stepped into and. But also like I'm I'm really getting the distinct sense that this has been a process of self discovery, you know and I'm I just really wonder if. If it would be possible to come to the awareness that you have now without, you know, getting. A few bruises. 

Ivelisse 

What I've learned is the lessons are in the business. 

Jalen 

Well, fortunately, you're also have been had the benefit of using those bruises as lessons and not evidence of your inadequacy or that, and the fact that it's that you know what you're doing isn't viable or what have you. That's super important. 

Ivelisse 

Yeah, that's a really good point I am. Very self reflect. The I do journal every day, which is part of my self-care. I've been trying to do it at night to offload my brain. I've been told that's a. Really good habit, but yeah. Running a business growing a business is definitely personal and professional development with wine and. What also? Was becoming really heavy for me. Is in having employees. You're now in the realm of HR and people management, and that's emotional labor and care that no one flagged to me. Or at least I underestimated that. You know, you have different individuals with different lives. Different contexts you know, different lived experiences. You have to meet them all in the middle. You have to make sure that they're collaborating well, that. They have everything they need. Over communicate with them, you know, hold them accountable to their goals and areas of growth. And that's me pouring into everybody. And then I, you know, get empty but. 

Jalen 

Yeah, I was gonna say. That's a lot lot of you to. Go around. 

Ivelisse 

And that's and that's why you know, that's why I've learned that like this, I can certainly grow. This team and company, but not if it's just me by myself. I don't. I wouldn't recommend it. And when you look at a lot at a lot of successful startups, they have Co founders and it makes sense, you know, cause you need someone with the strategy, someone with the numbers, someone who handles the people, someone who handles the. Business and I'm doing it all and have been for five years, so that's what I mean. Like I can do a lot, but I don't know if I I don't want to do this for the next five years. With this structure and so I would say also that last year's wake up call to recenter myself in business pay myself more because I also wasn't paying myself a lot. Essentially like living paycheck to paycheck cause with payroll, it's almost like I'm scared to pay myself first. Cause what if we need money for others? And starting to think about what the. Exit strategy could look like. What does succession look like? Because that is an option, and ultimately, you know, as founders, we have a choice. It it does feel. Really scary to close down shop if that's what's in your heart. But I've been seeing more founders do that gracefully and proudly cause it's not failure. 

Speaker 

You know it's. 

Ivelisse 

Like an experiment? Well, there's. 

Jalen 

Always the option too of getting the business to be able to run itself and then plug someone in. That can do. That for you. 

Ivelisse 

Yeah, that's what I would like to do. Yeah, cause I definitely have learned from myself that I'm a I'm a a starter. And so I think what also was draining. Was I was stuck in the world of spreadsheets, processes, cash flow analysis, sales data and worried about the day-to-day. And so then that was silencing my desires and natural proclivity to be creative and spontaneous. Big pic. That's also why I've been questioning my role as CEO and I think it's because I'm unsupported. If I had a CEO, for example, I can actually do more strategy, visionary things. But if on the operation side, I'm like I. Could do it, but this is boring. 

Jalen 

Yeah, totally. Yeah. 

Ivelisse 

Light up my soul but. I've been interviewing for a new project manager and I came across someone who lives for spreadsheets and I'm like see, there are people out there who love doing this. 

Jalen 

It's so critical. I mean it's like Michael Gerber, you know the E-Myth. Talks about there's. You know you can work IN the business, but if you if you want to have a business, you got to be working ON the business. So it's so embedded in the day-to-day that you can't make use of the benefit of the vision and the opportunities that you might be able to find or think of if you're, yeah. 

Ivelisse 

Yeah, and that was a key book that I read last year. The Enid and Prophet first, so profit first. I I don't know how to pronounce his last name. Mike Michalowicz. And so both of these books were recommended to me by. Business owners who definitely resonated with my struggles. And with profit first, it's a an accounting philosophy that makes sure you get paid first as the owner, the recommendation is to start off with 1%. So 1% of all incoming revenue goes to you and then at the end of each quarter, you take out 50%. As a gift to spend. To yourself, however you want. And and so right now I'm at 4%. He thinks he can get up to 50. And I'm like, I don't know how. 

Speaker 

I going. 

Ivelisse 

That's gonna happen, but. 

Speaker 

Thank you. 

Jalen 

It sounds like it sounds like a like a principle that's offsetting a proclivity as you're saying to do the opposite. 

Ivelisse 

Yeah, exactly. 

Jalen 

Right. 

Ivelisse 

And also, you know, in mikes accounting philosophy, if you're paying yourself first. Setting aside what you need for expenses, kind of like how you manage your personal books. Then you know if you don't have enough leftover, that means you got to cut back expenses, so you should never be in a situation where you have higher expenses than than revenue. And that's where I was. We were growing in revenue when we expenses were just as. And then with the EMIF, that's when I realized the the the path I was on, I went from being a technical maker to an entrepreneur. I don't want to be a manager, I want to be an entrepreneur and I do miss being technical. But you know, there are other ways to do that. That's why I came out with like a self. Published poetry book. Last year, cause I was like, I gotta have some. Fun around here. So like. 

Jalen 

Yeah, that's it's super important because that's where that's where the juice comes from, right? 

Ivelisse 

Yeah, yeah, exactly. So it's like I. Created this company so I could work at it. Now I'm stuck running it. 

Speaker 

It just won't. 

Ivelisse 

Like they're trying to warn us. 

Jalen 

Totally. Well, yeah, exactly. I mean, I mean this may sound a bit self-serving but I know a book that would is a remedy to that. It's called SYSTEMology. 

Ivelisse 

OK. 

Jalen 

By David Jenyns. and it's my Bible. It's what I use and what I deliver. But it's all about allowing the business owner to not be the bottleneck, allowing the business to be able to run like a well-oiled machine. Typically, it's the thing that's required to scale, except you've done it by force. 

Ivelisse 

Yeah, interesting. I'm a bottleneck. 

Jalen 

This has been a lot. And you've packed it in, that's. Like which it sounds like that's just who you are. And so I want to thank you for all that you've shared and it's been I think I'm going to listen to this episode a few times and bring it all in. It's just been so generous of you to share. 

Thank you.  

Ivelisse 

Welcome. 

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