The beginning of a new year, the blooming of a new season, the acquisition of new followers … all call for the reintroduction of our Founder, CEO and Creative Captain, Melissa Kandel! You’ve read the story of little word studio here, and you’ve read what we do here … now, you can read behind-the-scenes of Melissa’s success both in and out of the office.
Where are you from? What was your favorite part about that area?
I was born in Manhassett, New York and grew up on Long Island in a town called Lake Success. I lived really close to a community center with a golf course, outdoor restaurant and gym, which I loved visiting on the weekends and also lived right nearby a pool and tennis court complex and a super cute, little town. It was definitely Gilmore Girls-esque, East Coast suburbs-type living.
What did you study in school?
I went to Columbia University for college and studied creative writing and American literature then I went to Northwestern and studied journalism in grad school.
Was this your first dream job? If not, how did this become your passion?
I always thought I’d grow up to be a singer/songwriter, so maybe that was my dream job but ever since I was little I also thought I’d be a writer. When I was in first grade, I won a national writing contest and that’s probably when the idea stuck that I wasn’t too bad at the writing thing. In high school, I definitely dreamed of being a Devil Wears Prada-like magazine editor, so writing for a living now is something like the evolution of that dream.
What’s your sign?
Pisces. It’s the creative sign, right?
What’s your favorite quote?
“They always say time changes things but you actually have to change them yourself.” – Andy Warhol
When did you start lws?
Unofficially I started it back in 2016 but at the time it was just a blog and I wasn’t making any money with it. I had this idea to contact these big artists on Instagram – photographers, painters, fashion designers – and ask if I could write a short story inspired by their work. It was just for fun. Officially, I started little word studio in October 2018 after I left my job at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices to do something on my own.
Where did the name come from?
Funny story. I originally called the blog “Blue Love Studio” after this character in a short story I wrote whose last name was “Bluelove.” Right after I named it, I happened to be teaching a class to about 50+ real estate agents and sharing my screen when a notification popped up, “So and so has liked your Facebook page, ‘Blue Love Studio.'” It was EMBARRASSING (that taught me to shut off your notifications before sharing your screen!) but it made me realize the name was pretty bad (and a little depressing). I was driving home from work that day and “little word studio” popped into my head, so I changed my blog name the minute I got back to my apartment. When I started my business, I already had a good amount of blog followers, so it made sense to name my business after the blog.
What was your first “big break?”
Two weeks after I officially launched the company, I got a call from Gino Blefari, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices (or he was at the time, now he’s CEO of HomeServices of America) and he asked to sign on with me and be a client of little word studio. My second big break that started the momentum rolling was when I attended the Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Sales Convention a few weeks later. I didn’t go with any intention in mind, I just wanted to see what was out there and let people know I started this company, but when I left the convention, I had six new clients!
What’s your favorite book?
Oh this is too hard! Can I just say anything by Jane Austen, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle or Haruki Murakami? I also love J.K. Rowling writing as Robert Galbraith.
What’s your favorite movie?
What’s the hardest part about your job?
Balancing creativity with commerce. I would love to sit and write all day or do something super creative but when you’re running a business there’s so much more to it – you have to make sure your team is happy and productive, make sure your clients are happy and that the work you do for them is productive and then run the business. Invoices, taxes, compliance documents … nobody taught me how to do it, I just figure out how to get it done or ask someone smarter than me what I should be doing, ha!
What’s the best part about your job?
The satisfaction of knowing success is 100% up to me. If I work hard, I’ll be more successful. If I don’t, I won’t. I’ve always had a pretty strong work ethic, so this one usually goes in my favor.
What’s your favorite coffee?
I gave up drinking coffee over the summer! I miss it …
What’s your favorite wine/cocktail/beverage?
I’m a big cocktail/wine enthusiast, so you’re talking my language. In the summer, I love to mix Monkey 47 (a dry gin) with a splash of Fever Tree tonic water and a twist of lemon. In the winter, I’m all about the rich, reds … Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noirs, Zins, even. Belle Glos Clark & Telephone Pinot Noir is always a winner. I love that California has such a strong wine culture. There’s always a new wine to try and a nearby place to pick up incredible, even rare bottles.
How did you decide to settle in SoCal?
After grad school, I was recruited to work at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices, and the corporate office is in Irvine. A few years into the job, I moved to Newport Beach and it’s so beautiful here, I couldn’t leave even after I left the job.
What is your best advice for networking?
Make it about them. The best connections I’ve made haven’t been when I talk about my background or capabilities but when I really listen to the other person and bring value to what they do or need. Also, even though it’s not applicable right now, when you go to a conference, make sure to spend some time in the lobby and hotel bar or coffee shop. Attendees are always flitting around there and it’s usually where I have the most honest and valuable conversations with prospective clients. Oh another time! (This one does apply now.) Make sure you sign up for the mobile app if you’re going to an event that has one and fill out your profile completely. Then, post content (if it has that functionality) and virtually network before, during and after the event!
Do you have any tattoos?
None. Afraid of needles.
How do you get inspired for your creative writing?
I think it’s about a mindset. A lot of famous writers talk about how there’s no such thing as writer’s block or a muse or inspiration, and I agree. You can be inspired in a place, for sure – like whenever I go to Big Sur, I always have to sit by the cliffs and write. But I think if you really focus, you can write whenever you want, the ability is always there, even if you’re not feeling particularly inspired. One of the best ways to get a boost of inspiration is to read really good literature, and read in an analytical sense. Ask yourself, “How is this character being developed?” “Why does this dialogue work so well?” “How did the author describe the action in a way that feels so visceral?” Learning from the best helps inspire you to become better.
How do you read your clients to create their visions so successfully?
It gets easier as you strengthen and grow a client relationship. However, to start, I focus a lot of my attention on the pre-project interviews and meetings because it’s when you can really dive into the mindset and goals of your clients and deliver specifically on what they need. Again, it really comes down to listening and learning.
What inspires your brand content?
I feel like I drive the team crazy sometimes because I think I have a handle on our brand content and then we’ll go in a completely different direction but for me, little word studio is the place where we can experiment with aesthetics and captions, fonts and visuals, and see what works and what doesn’t in a pretty forgiving environment.
What’s your most helpful creative outlet?
Writing? I have a journal and I’ll write in that when I need to feel creative. I also do like surfing (even if I’m terrible at it) as a way to relax and occasionally I’ll I take out my electric piano and play and sing for my dog.
When did you discover an interest in writing/marketing/content above other fields?
Writing was something I’ve done since I was very, very little. I remember working on the New York Times crossword puzzles when I was about six or seven. I’ve always been a reader and I’ve always been interested in stories and words.
What’s the “cherry on top” you include in all your projects?
A lot of times when it’s a writing project, I’ll let it sit for a day after I write it and come back to the words the next day. Even if I think (objectively) the work is good, the little bit of time to let the content breathe always makes it that much better.
Do you have any unusual talents?
Over the last few months I’ve learned to give myself a manicure/pedicure. Does that count?
Were you every given a superlative? If not, what do you think it would have been?
Ohhhh I think I was but I can’t remember. Most likely to do your homework? I used to help out way more people than I’m proud of when I was in high school.