We had the good fortune of connecting with Ilene Squires LaCourt and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Ilene, what’s the most important lesson you’ve learned along your journey?
The most important lesson I’ve learned along my journey is that a plan is simply just a suggestion for the future. The more I can follow my plan, the more confident I feel. However, the more I diverge from the plan, the more success I find. A life plan of any sort is nothing but a recipe, a good starting place for any business owner. But don’t be afraid to take risks and diverge from your plan – many times it’s off the beaten path that we find the most success!
What should our readers know about your business?
Over the years I have parlayed all of my professional experiences to maximize my career opportunities. The word ‘pivot’ is extremely trendy nowadays, but to be honest, it is something I’ve been doing since the beginning of my career. I’m most proud of turning a hobby (taking photos) into a cash flow positive, bicoastal enterprise after first, spending 10 years in education reform. At the moment, due to the current world events, my commissioned photo work in NYC and in LA has been suspended indefinitely. However, in the fall of 2019, I took on a position through the LA Promise Fund where I was teaching digital media to urban middle and high school students, and luckily, I am currently writing a distance learning curriculum for a major motion picture studio through this position. Sometimes, when you have faith in the twists and turns of entrepreneurship, it works to your benefit! It has been a bumpy road but once I learned the peaks and valleys and acquired the right assets – mentors, champions, partners – the process became a lot more manageable and exciting.
Any great local spots you’d like to shoutout?
California is all about maximizing the outdoors which means spending the days out and about and having early nights indoors. I would start with an early morning hike in Temescal Canyon where you can reach a vista of the Pacific coastline which is picturesque, Southern California. We would follow with brunch at Malibu Farm, then head into the canyon for al fresco drinks at Malibu Cafe for some quintessential people watching. I love the beach but I am an Eastside girl so I love the mountains more. For me a day of thrifting at the Rosebowl Flea then brunch at Grand Central Market would be a perfect day off. Some casual walking around the DTLA Arts District and maybe some shopping on Melrose. Other musts? Yoga and Bounce classes at my favorite studio, Madre LA., Ramen in Little Tokyo, drinks on a rooftop downtown, maybe the Freehand or by the pool at Silverlake Pool & Inn. If you’ve never been to LA, you have to spend at least one sunset at The Griffith Park Observatory – it’s magical, and I write that as a native Angeleno! I’m fairly addicted to nail art and there are SO many choices but I love my nail lady, Nail Kitchen by Janis. Last, we would have to catch at least one performance at the Hollywood Bowl and depending on the season, maybe a Laker or Dodger game, all quintessential LA!
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
This is a tough question but I’ll give it a stab. Success is where preparation meets opportunity so I’d be remiss not to mention my parents, who were largely blue collar workers, and specifically, my mother, who is an immigrant. The lessons I learned about grit and tenacity from watching them work full time, raise a family, consider philanthropy and be dutiful friends and relatives, has become a very important narrative to me as an adult. Now that I am a working mother myself, I know how hard it is to raise mindful children, hold it down at home and grow a business. It takes a level of commitment that most aspiring business owners just don’t have. I think it is very important to face adversity early on in your career (and life) because it will help groom you for the trenches of entrepreneurship. More professionally, two professional organizations were critical in helping me develop the necessary skills required to meet the demands of being a boss lady. The first is an internship program that brought me to NYC in 2001, just before my senior year of college called MAIP: Multicultural Internship Program, an advertising initiative managed by the AAAA’s. At the time, I had no idea what a privilege this was to be selected from a pool of candidates nationwide to go to Madison Ave. for a summer to work at one of the most prestigious advertising agencies in the world. That summer, I passed my days day drinking with my supervisors, fetching prescriptions and archiving photos, but I learned a lot about professionalism in the corporate space, especially as a woman of color. I didn’t know anything about generational wealth or cultural privilege until I spent that summer in the company of peers who embody those terms. Those hands on experiences prepared me better for life than anything I could have read about in a book or listened to in a podcast. MAIP helped me learn that I did not want to work in a corporate job – ever. Which is a natural introduction to the second organization that shaped my early working years, called Teach For America, a kind of antithesis to MAIP. TFA recruits outstanding and diverse leaders to commit to teaching for two years in a low-income community, where they’re employed by local schools and matriculate, at no cost, in a graduate program. After taking a gap year post undergrad to live and study in Spain, I served my two years with TFA in the South Bronx as a Bilingual Special Education Kindergarten Teacher. Besides being a parent, that was the hardest job I’ve ever had! Knowing what you don’t want is as powerful as knowing what you do and that has been a major life lesson for me in every position I’ve had since I stepped foot into my Madison Ave. office many moons ago. As I write this from my sunny LA porch, it is clear that I came of age in NYC – and if you’ve ever lived there yourself – you know what kind of bootstrapping is required to find success in that space. I’m incredibly proud to have spent most of my adult life back east becoming fluent in all the jargon of privilege and access, but I am so happy to be back “home” for the time being and look forward to seeing how entrepreneurship shifts in the future.