Verrna was a rebel from day one! She left home at 16 and built her first company at 23. She was a single mom with limited resources and a 2-year-old who shadowed every move she made!
Back in 1990 it was the pre-internet-era. It would be another 5 years before email would be taken seriously... and 9 years before “Google” officially came into existence! The concept of “dot-com millionaires” was a long way off and anyone under 30 was considered to be too junior to be taken seriously. The business world was largely ruled by middle-aged men... not young men... not women... and certainly not YOUNG women! Verna was playing cards with a losing hand - or so it seemed - as she was up against blatant discrimination for her age, her gender and even her status as a single mother (which was still the kind of thing that caused people to “whisper”).
Right from the start of her first business, she faced unexpected challenges that set her back. What seemed like a great business idea to her (personal matchmaking with video profiles to pre-screen your suggested match) was perceived as unconventional and very controversial... Not just for lenders, but for society in general. Before she could sell to customers, she would first have to change the way they think... it was a tall order!
Under those conditions, start-up money was hard to come by. The application for loans, “easy-to-get” government grants, and even simple bank services were all declined. Lenders offered only discreet apologies that they couldn’t back her idea because of the potential for controversy.
Nonetheless, a pioneering spirit drove her forward. She believed there was a real need for her service. Besides, there was a recession looming that had shrunk her earning potential in the workforce. As the sole provider for her daughter, Verna was feeling the pinch. She had to be bold in order to survive and decided it was “business or bust”. Had she known what was in store, she might have run the other way!
The first ten days of business presented shocking obstacles: the start of the Gulf War (Nov ‘90), which filled people with fear and a hoarding mentality. This in turn caused the immediate onset of a recession ... plus there was the government’s new 7% tax on all goods and services.. it began at the same time as the war and this put consumers in a foul mood.. buyers refused to buy unless merchants found creative ways to hide the maligned new tax (oops, that twist wasn’t in the business plan!)
It could not have been a tougher market to enter into. But there she was with a furnished office (financed by 3 months worth of tips from her job at Don Cherry’s Grapevine). At this point however, Verna had already left her job and had only $70 left to her name. She took a gamble and used the last of her money to place a tiny classified ad in a major newspaper.
H U S T L E F O R S U R V I V A L
The immediate agenda was to ‘hustle for survival” and 90-hour-work-weeks would be constant for the next decade. All the while she maintained a “daycare for one” at her office (turning storage rooms into playrooms and the curious daughter gleefully chatting up clients in the lounge!)... Verna kept a duplicate office at home in order to continue working through the night, while the little one slept. The process eventually took its toll on the young mother, but within 7 years she had turned the tables around and was honorably recognized with a
“Woman of the Year” award. Sometimes ‘unconvential’ pays off in unexpected ways!
H O W I T T U R N E D O U T
That first business lasted eight years and grew to 3 locations before it sold to a competitor in 1998.
Verna’s next business venture was an aquarium company she inspired in 1994 (co-founded by
Dave Jarritone). When it ran out of steam in 1998, she gave it an overhaul and took the helm as General Manager. It is still thriving and growing under her active management as it enters its 16th year.
The company, known as TheFishGuys.com, has unwittingly become the source of material for her developing sitcom Fish Spies.