Wendy Yates is the founder of Abigail-Elise Brands and Well Fit Human, which are both based in San Francisco, California. Born in Oahu, she was raised in the Air Force, and grew up with a passion to make the world and the people she meets better than when she found them. In her 20s, she started various businesses, worked several jobs and side hustles until she realized that she wasn’t satisfied with where her life was going. So, in 2007, she decided to take becoming an entrepreneur seriously.
At Abigail-Elise Brands, Wendy Yates also acts as the company’s Creative Director. She pursues her dedication to positively influence people’s wellbeing “via environmental and social projects.” Another passion of hers is to bridge the gap between “luxury development and humanitarian efforts through the union of both businesses.” She also exercises her creativity and business acumen by adding daily value to the world of lifestyle design through her efforts.
In 2000, Wendy Yates began her professional career as a designer, focusing on interiors. Through the years, she has evolved her skills and efforts to create a brand that knows no limits. Her designs “encompass wellness, define non-trends, and are forward-thinking.” She combines “laid-back luxury with fresh concepts to property, hospitality and homeowners wanting integrative solutions through an organic and spontaneous approach.”
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Jerome Knyszewski: Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Wendy Yates: I was born in Oahu, Hawaii. My mom did secretarial and administrative work, while my dad was a varied-ranking member of the U.S. Air Force. Because of my dad’s military work, we bounced around a lot when I was a kid, from Hawaii to Turkey and back, then on to Arkansas and a small town in southeastern Colorado.
I was in a hurry to grow up — in part because my dad was an alcoholic and my parents’ fighting made my home scene less than ideal. It was difficult to create and maintain friendships, which made me feel both lonely to some degree, but it also helped me become more independent and self-reliant. I never really had a sense of home, nor a community so in a roundabout way I believe those aspects moved me toward my specific career path.
I was going through a divorce in my young adulthood, didn’t have a place to live, and had a two-year old when I decided to start Abigail-Elise Interiors. My timing wasn’t ideal as it was during a recession, but that motivated me even more. My shift into entrepreneurship was very natural and it enabled me to build more long term working relationships in an area I now call home, Summit County Colorado.
A couple years ago I was craving more human connection and felt compelled to make adaptations to my own life that inspired more joy and self-fulfillment. It was from this idea that I created Well Fit Human Retreats, a wellness-travel-impact company that promotes giving back on a global level. Through local and international events we are activating purpose in people, while also creating experiences that improve an individual’s mental, emotional and physical sense of well-being.
All in all, I’ve always had a drive to constantly grow in ways that made me incrementally better so that each day I can live with purpose and joy. It took me failing several times to learn how to successfully utilize my natural creativity and leadership skills so that I can create and collaborate with high-reaching design teams, and create both spaces and experiences that change what others believe is possible for themselves.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Wendy Yates: Hmmm… Can you define interesting? If by interesting you mean valuable then I have a story.
Beginning my career may be one of the most interesting/valuable stories I have because it forced me to grow up and live with intention. I was divorced with a baby, my car was broken down, I didn’t have a job or friends, and …I was hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. Add in the fact it was during a recession and there wasn’t a single person to help me at that time. I did what was necessary, I started a company.
As a side note, I fully believe that if you are paying attention life forces you to be intentional with your time and resources. My experience showed me that once I was able to recognize this reality, I was able to accomplish what I put my mind to. In the long run, I want to help guide others to know and embody this life lesson so that they too can create their lives in a positive and productive way.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
Wendy Yates: Looking back this may be seen as funny, but probably not. It’s more painful. Once upon a time I blindly invested in a real estate project that was brought to be by a builder and an architect. They showed up, flashed a few drawings, and I ignorantly was in. I didn’t do my due diligence in researching and lost a substantially large amount, besides 10%, which almost left us bankrupt.
My greatest takeaway that I’ll share, do your homework! Know what it is you’re getting into and minimize the risk by educating yourself on as many details as possible.
Jerome Knyszewski: Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to lead a company from Good to Great? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Branding — Consistency, transparency, and reliability are key to building a success brand.
- Purpose Driven — When you have intention and purpose behind what it is you’re doing, you’re motivated to do it far better than anything else.
- Uphold Your Values — Similar to having purpose, it is imperative to maintain your core values in a way that builds upon your mission and adds to your team’s daily actions.
- Be Goal Oriented — Set goals and accomplish them, no matter what. If you temporarily lose sight and/or are faced with an unexpected roadblock, it’s ok. The art of pivoting can still fall in line with your goals.
- Be Open to Feedback — It’s through feedback that we can truly learn and grow. See criticism as opportunities and praise as extra encouragement.
Jerome Knyszewski: Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. Can you help articulate for our readers a few reasons why a business should consider becoming a purpose driven business, or consider having a social impact angle?
Wendy Yates: Being a purpose driven business means everything to me. I focus on impact over expansion and believe that this frame of mind automatically moves my company in the direction we’re looking to go. When working on a new project we look at how our participation will positively influence and create more opportunities for others. We lead by example and prioritize helping others to see what’s possible within their lives.
Jerome Knyszewski: As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies a business should use to increase conversion rates?
Wendy Yates: One of the best strategies and/or mindsets is to acknowledge that you are not for everyone and neither is what you are offering. So as you are your most authentic self you’ll attract a more authentic sale, which in turn will increase your conversion rate. Learn and evolve, but stay true to yourself. It will pay off.
Jerome Knyszewski: Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that a business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?
Wendy Yates: Be authentic. Always do the right thing. Show up. Deal with difficult conversations quickly. Take responsibility for both the good and the bad. And as we have all heard before…Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. This is our gold standard of operation.
Jerome Knyszewski: How can our readers further follow you online?
You can find me here:
Abigail-Elise Design Studio Website: https://aeinteriorsinc.com/
Abigail-Elise Design Studio Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/abigailelisedesignstudio/
Well Fit Human Website: https://www.wellfithuman.com/
Well Fit Human Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/wellfithuman/
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!