Entrepreneurs are a unique breed if you haven't figured that out for yourself, and if you are truly one at heart you are a chronic visionary. You're always looking for new ways to solve problems through innovative products and services. Ava Young did just that. She began her adult life as a teenage, single mother of a mentally and physically handicapped child. Ava was literally broke and broken as she tried to raise her daughter on a minimum wage salary, doing whatever it took to survive.
Ava had a passion for facials, so to salvage what little pleasure she had in her life, She created her own DIY facials. Today, she is launching her own business of skin care products with the help of her daughter's special needs work program. Her company, Self Spa Skin, has the tagline, "Great skin has special needs."
Ava is one special woman. Watch the video of her interview on the eWN Podcast Network show, Spotlight on eWomenNetwork, with Host, Phyllis Smith and get ready to get inspired (and maybe shed a tear or two!).
A Difficult Beginning
PHYLLIS SMITH: So, you've created your own skin care product years ago really out of necessity. You were broke, you were a single mother of a mentally and physically handicapped child. So, before we get into the success of your business please tell us about your daughter’s condition and what that experience was like for you as a parent.
AVA YOUNG: Oh, let’s see ... my daughter was born very early. She was 2 pounds 7 ounces, and we're talking, my daughter is very fully grown, so we're talking a long time back when they were just introducing new intensive care units for infants. She was actually the first survivor in the Ventura General Hospital Neonatal Clinic. So yeah, it has just coincidentally been built and opened the week before. So, um ... she was very, very tiny and she had a lot of problems. She came out of the hospital, she finally came home when she was 2 months old and 5 pounds.
So she was very, very tiny, and I was told that there would be problems like with her teeth and with her eyes and although that came to be true there was a whole lot more that they didn't tell me about. Turned out that, um ... as she grew there was developmental delays so she did turn out to be autistic. Very high functioning though. Um ... a touch of Cerebral Palsy and of course all the eye problems that you would encounter, that they used to encounter all the time giving too much oxygen and it distorted the inside of the eyes.
I was barely 18 when I had her. So, although I had been married I found myself a single parent very, very, very, very quickly, and I was just overwhelmed. Yeah, [laughter] it's funny to go back to that time because it's so long ago and there's so many things that happened in the meantime, but remembering that, um ... it's funny. It's funny looking back on that, and if I wanted, if I could ... myself sitting here tell my younger self then, “It’s okay, you'll get through it”. It's gonna be a lot of years, but it'll be fine.
One Step at a Time
PHYLLIS SMITH: What was, uh, wow, it’s still that, it's there. Right, and it's ... (tearful)
AVA YOUNG: Always will be. Yeah. Talk to any mother of a special needs child and I think you're gonna find that.
PHYLLIS SMITH: Yeah ... so, did you have any support at all?
AVA YOUNG: No, no, no, very little. I came from an extremely functional and alcoholic family so my best chance was really to get us both as far away from both her father and my family as I could. So, I did that. It meant going out to work with very little education and of course all the minimum wage jobs back then, but even then, that was the better choice than if I had stayed.
PHYLLIS SMITH: So then, there was something that happened for you that shifted and had you look at your situation in a different way, tell us about that?
AVA YOUNG: I think more than anything else it was a time, and there was so much coming at me so quickly. And I had to learn so much, and I had to, I had to learn ... I had to learn what she needed. Remember this was years ago and I'm sure there's many women out there who will relate to this, but this was a time when you would bring your baby to the doctor and you were all bound up and there's something wrong, many a time the doctor basically patted me on the head and said, "Don't worry about it little mother this is just new to you." [laughter]
And of course, you know, so ... even then I had to find out what was going on. So, I, you know, I put my head down and I did that and by the time she was 3 years old I had her in what was called "Then" I don't what they would be called now, a developmental center. You know, very long days in a program, um ... and then I was able to go out to work and get us what we needed and uh ... you know, one step at a time is what it was.
A Passion for Facials
PHYLLIS SMITH: And, and what were you doing at the time? What kind of work did you have?
AVA YOUNG: Oh, I was in retail sales, ladies clothing stores in a mall in California.
PHYLLIS SMITH: And back then you talk about how your skin, people used to comment about the glow of your skin, tell us about what the magic was for you back then?
AVA YOUNG: We have to take a step back, because ...
PHYLLIS SMITH: Yeah.
AVA YOUNG: ... when I um ... first started working that wasn't happening for me. I would go to work and there'd be all these young women my age and they'd be living with mommy and daddy and they'd be talking about spending their salary on nails and hair and going out and that was so far from my world.
Um ... you know, I was doing things like worrying. My daughter had eye glasses at 9 months old, you know and she needed special shoes and she needed all these programs and that was my world. But you know even then, um ... nature somehow finds a way and even as overwhelmed as I was, I was still so young and I wanted those things and for whatever reason I focused on skin care. I wanted facials, I don't know why, I never grew up with them. God knows my mother never got them.
I wanted facials. So, I knew if it was going to happen I would have to make it happen. So, um ... this being way pre-internet, so what I did is I started researching. I went to bookstores, used bookstores, and I started reading what people were doing and this was when all the natural stuff was coming up. So, I would read and learned basically 3 things ... good skin, great skin needs basically 3 things:
You need to exfoliate
You need to get really, really, really deep down clean, and you need to
Feed your skin.
Well, I read books, and, okay a natural exfoliant is this and then if you get some herbs together you can steam really, well, and um ... then it was all about the Vitamin E. Vitamin E was going to do everything but bring back the dinosaurs. [laughter]
So, um ... I just started experimenting and my first experimentation was a Sesame Seed Oil and Sea Salt, which just burnt my skin ... learned really fast don't do that. [laughter] So I didn't and you have to remember that this was decades ago and every step along the way was learning so the first step, exfoliation, the Sesame Seed Oil and Sea Salt did not work. Over the years I find out what does excellently for exfoliation is Olive Oil and some Baking Soda and you need just the right proportions and it works very, very well.
Well from then comes the steaming, the cleaning, the deep-down cleaning and now my product has a very customized blend of herbs but then I would just use whatever combination I found out in the world and I, you know, hoped that it worked.
PHYLLIS SMITH: Well, let me just stop you there. What I find is so interesting that here you are broke, single mother, you're working your butt off, and the thing that you wanted, you know the guilty [laughter] pleasure is, that you wanted to just have nice skin.
AVA YOUNG: I did. [laughter]
PHYLLIS SMITH: You know; besides I'm sure putting food on the table, and clothes on your back and your daughters back ... that was important to you. You had a passion for it and you just kind of did yourself. I mean I just find that so interesting, you know, it's like, out of nowhere, it's just something that you always did. Where you always the girly type, like makeup and stuff?
AVA YOUNG: Oh yes. Oh very, very much. I remember, you know, sneaking out ... well, not sneaking out, going to school and on the way to school putting on the eyeliner and everything cause that was never allowed. But yeah, I'd always done stuff like that.
A Beggar Changed My Life
PHYLLIS SMITH: You have a story, that you shared with me, about meeting a beggar in the street and that changed your life. So why don't you tell us about that story?
AVA YOUNG: I think what it really did, it directed and solidified me. It was at a point where my daughter was still very, very young, before she was a year old. I was realizing how deep and extreme her problems were and how they would, that they would go on the rest of her life and that was a dawning realization overtime.
So, I'm dealing with this and I'm working my little job selling clothes for minimum wage in a mall store and I'm walking across the parking lot and this young man comes up to me and of course without a sound and he hands me a card and on the card its American sign language alphabet, you know, A, B, and show you how to hold your hands. On it, it basically says, "I am deaf and this is my way to earn money and give what you can." And basically, what it was, it was begging.
Okay, and it was like something just focused me in a very unreasonable way, it was like I was hearing God say to me, "Make a choice, what do you want for your daughter? Do you think this is it? Cause this can be it if you think this is it?" And I remember just being stunned and holding that card and then just, I said to myself one word, I said, "No", and I just handed the card back to him, smiled, and kept walking.
PHYLLIS SMITH: What was the shift for you? What happened at that moment then?
AVA YOUNG: I think I told myself no matter what it takes that's not gonna to her.
PHYLLIS SMITH: What changed for you right after that? How did the shift manifest itself?
AVA YOUNG: I promised myself more than anything, it wouldn't matter what it would take. It wouldn't matter what it would take, she was gonna be the best that she could be. You know how some things are so profound they’re quiet within you?
PHYLLIS SMITH: So, when you got more focused, then what happened?
AVA YOUNG: I'm not sure there's anything big that happened, it's like the Chinese saying, "Before enlightenment: the dishes. After enlightenment: the dishes." It was that moment, so then, I just went on. I just kept putting one foot in front of the other and just somehow found the way every day to make things work a little tiny bit better than the day before.
Message for Struggling Parents of Special Needs Children
PHYLLIS SMITH: Would that be a message you have for people who are struggling people? Like parents who have a special needs, or anything that is in their darkest hour ... just wake up and just try to make the next day, or when you get up make it a little better than the day before. Is that a big lesson for you?
AVA YOUNG: That sometimes is a big lofty goal for, especially parents of special needs kids. Sometimes all you can do is keep breathing right through it, whatever it is because it sometimes may get worse and the path through may get a little longer. Sometimes you just need to keep breathing, eventually, it will get better. In my case it was years, but it did.
Turning a Guilty Pleasure into a Business
PHYLLIS SMITH: I'm with Ava Young and she's been telling us this really heart wrenching story and an inspirational story. Single mother, with a child, raising a child who is mentally and physically disabled and broke, working her butt off. But the one thing that she had was her facials, [laughter] right? So, it was her little guilty pleasure, but the cool thing is that she made all this stuff herself and people would remark to you, right Ava, about how your ... and I look at you now, your skin is breathtaking.
And so, but if we fast forward you were making this stuff and then you got married and then you were able to have that guilty pleasure, professional facials, right? So, tell us how that started and then you, and that really changed things for you as well.
AVA YOUNG: Well, while my daughter was still a baby, like I said, I decided I wanted the facials and I went out and I researched and I found out what it would take. I knew 3 things. It had to be simple. It had to be natural. It had to be effective, and it had to be cheap.
So that's what I focused on, and so through all the chaos with my daughter and all the time that was passing it's like every two weeks I started to do this for my skin. When my daughter went to sleep I would take out some time and I would just do these 3 simple steps for my skin. And this is decades before I thought about turning it into a product. It was just my little system.
I thought of it as my system, and pretty soon at work, in shopping malls, walking across parking lots, women would stop me and they'd say, "What do you do for your skin?" And, you know, at first it was like, "What?" and I didn’t know what to tell 'em and, you know, "Nothing", and I keep walking. Well eventually it occurred to me if that there was a connection, okay. And so many times I would have women stand right in front of me and dig little bits of paper out of their purse and right down what I was telling them I did for my skin.
And after a while I got used to the compliments, you know, how things just become part of your identity. You, you know, somebody may have a beautiful voice or hair and they get used to that, that, well that's what happened to me. Having good skin became part of me.
And what, how things got better in my life, now this may not be a woman's empowerment story, remember we're talking a few years back. I got married, okay, and that made things better. I could stay home with my daughter, there was more money coming in, and eventually a couple of years in, it's not like I married money right away, you know, it’s just things got better over time and eventually I started getting the professional facials that I had lusted after for years and years and years. And I was getting them about every month or so, every 4 weeks cause they were so much more expensive than what I was doing at home, oh my gosh, okay. And then ...
PHYLLIS SMITH: Well to me that sounds a like a lot. I mean, I had one like over the course of my life, so I mean once a month, that’s, that’s pretty good.
AVA YOUNG: It was. And so, what I realized after a couple month’s time is that I wasn't getting any more compliments on my skin. It had been like, weeks and weeks and I'm thinking about this because I'm on, now I'm going on somebody else's schedule, and I'm having hours out of my day, and all that extra money, and all this. And I thought, wow, all that and I'm, my skins going backwards.
So, I decided to do an experiment. I told myself, I was gonna myself do 4 of my at home facials. Which was 2 months because you should have the facial every other week. So, I got out my old spaghetti pot to do the herbal steams. I gave myself a complete at home system facial and the very next day I got a compliment. The very next day! And I was like okay, you know, this is a sign. So, I went back to doing my own and I've been doing them, doing my own ever since.
PHYLLIS SMITH: Okay, so you went back to doing your own and then you decided you know, there might be some money here. [laughter] When did that light bulb click for you?
AVA YOUNG: Yeah, I'm not exactly the sharpest bulb out there, you know ...
PHYLLIS SMITH: [laughter]
On a Prayer and a Credit Card
AVA YOUNG: … it was actually about a year and half ago. I had gone through a couple of career changes and that time it came again in my life,you know, I had been an artist and the art market changed, and it just wasn't cutting it. So, I had to make another career change, but I did not want to go out and sell somebody else's widgets. I wanted something that meant something, and so I looked around my life and I realized there was 2 things that had been constant in my life since my daughter was born, when I was just a kid myself. That was my daughter herself and my facial routine. My do it yourself facials, and so I looked at it and I thought could this be a product. Could I turn this into a business?
And so, the first thing I did is, I did what women do, I shopped. Okay, now, okay, I have this, I need to put it in a bottle, and I have my herbs, I need to put it in a little jar, and I started pricing things.
And the second thing I did pretty quickly is I hired a professional packager, and we sat down and we just started putting pieces together. And in the course of putting the pieces together I realized, there's a lot of little components here that go into this box. My daughter had been working with this special needs work program for about 10 years by that point, it's called Achieve, and I thought, you know what I bet you the kids at Achieve could do this. I bet the participants would love this.
So, after all the pieces were together and I knew what was going on I brought it to the owner of Achieve, her name's Charlotte Higdon, and I said, "This is what I have, what do you think?" And we sat down and we got I guess our version of a focus group. A couple of the participants together and we told them we need these to go in the box like this and for whatever reason the participants loved it. They started calling them “beauty boxes”.
I know! Isn't that, I don't know where that came from, nobody else calls them that, but, um ... and that's exactly where that came from. And I felt at that point that I had gone full circle. It came up because of a need I had, because my daughter, and now it was serving my daughter and her community.
PHYLLIS SMITH: Oh my God, I just got, I just felt all tingly when you just said that.
AVA YOUNG: And I got a little teary.
PHYLLIS SMITH: Yeah, and so this was really not too long ago that you decided to actually create this product about a year and half ago. Is that correct?
AVA YOUNG: About a year and half ago. Yeah.
PHYLLIS SMITH: So where are you now with your business?
AVA YOUNG: Well we just finished a major revamping, um ... at first when we put the packaging together we were looking at one facial at a time. We've revamped the packaging and you have a one-month kit, which is 2 facials at one time. It turned out to be a better cost for the customer to doing it that way.
I just totally redid the website. We added videos, you can go into the video now and meet Charlotte, the owner of Achieve and what her motivation is to serve the special needs community. There's videos of my daughter, okay, the inspiration. There's videos, that our feature packager of the month, one of the participants named, Angie, and she talks about what it means to her to work and make her own money. And so, I, and you get to know the company, get to know the mission behind it, um ... meet everybody basically face-to-face at home on your monitor.
PHYLLIS SMITH: I love it! And how are you selling it? Is this only an online, is this an online product, like it’s not in stores at this point?
AVA YOUNG: We're working on getting them in stores right now, of course, you can buy it through the website. There's an online catalogue that's been around for years and all the women I know I love it, and it's uncommongoods.com. They're carrying our product.
There's a brick-n-mortar, it's actually a compounding pharmacy that's kind of like this, they also sell natural kind of spa products and so locally here in Tucson, AZ, um ... they're selling it to.
And um ... I've just taken this big course from this one company that teaches you how to get your products into big box stores. So, we're really hoping that that happens. We have a goal of so many units a month, and that’s only going to happen with a couple of big accounts and that's what we're aiming for.
PHYLLIS SMITH: Beautiful! How, your startup, what, do you, how are you funding yourself?
AVA YOUNG: I've become very close to mister Visa and mister Mastercard.
PHYLLIS SMITH: [laughter] So on a prayer and a card, right?
AVA YOUNG: That's it. That's exactly what it is. [laughter]
What's in a Name
PHYLLIS SMITH: I love it! And I love the name of your company. It's, you know, tell us the name of your company.
AVA YOUNG: It's "Self Spa Skin" that's ...
PHYLLIS SMITH: and, go ahead ...
AVA YOUNG: self, online we're selfspaskin.com, S-E-L-F like in Frank, Spa like going to the day spa, and Skin.com
PHYLLIS SMITH: And the tagline, which is really my favorite part of it all.
AVA YOUNG: Great skin has special needs. I think you might like our mission statement to. I don't know if I told you that.
PHYLLIS SMITH: Tell us your mission statement.
AVA YOUNG: It’s in three parts, it's so, what our mission is ... is to spread beauty, to empower the vulnerable, and to enrich our community.
PHYLLIS SMITH: It's beautiful. It's really holistic. I mean when you talk about the product itself is natural and holistic, from the earth. It's community, it's special needs, it's really about people. So, It's this whole kind of interconnectedness, you know, with nature and the earth. So, what would you say to people right now who have a dream like you and a few credit cards ...
AVA YOUNG: [laughter]
PHYLLIS SMITH: ... what would you say to them if they’re on the fence, and they’re scared but they have a dream and they know their life won't complete unless they do it.
AVA YOUNG: First thing, I'm going to say is that dreams are wonderful and make sure that it's really rooted within you because it's a lot of work. Building a company is a lot of work. I've had to learn things. This as I mentioned to you is my first podcast. I'm doing things and learning things I never would've and never did otherwise um ... and there are times where I know for sure that as wonderful as the product is and I would always use it in my own life as a company, as a commercial venture, if it wasn't for the mission, I think, I think a couple of times I would've walked away. It got that hard.
You need to know what your motivation is, and you need to know that it's strong enough that whatever they throw at you. No matter how many tears you cry. No matter how much you tell your friends I can't do it, I can't do it! That you know, you're going to wake up in the morning and do it anyway.
PHYLLIS SMITH: That is a great message and for all of you out there soak it up. Do it. Right? And uh they'll be failures. I mean, if you think about it, how many inventions that we use now, that there many prototypes before that that failed. So, you know, that's what gonna happen, failure is an option, it's vital for your learning and you have learned that and you're learning every day and you always have to be learning. Thank you, Ava, for telling us your stories so much, and we just wish you the best of luck. We're so proud and honored to have you as part of eWomenNetwork.
AVA YOUNG: Thank you so much Phyllis! I really appreciate it.