Sonja Rasula turned her passion for community, specifically helping empower independent business owners, into a lucrative profession. In 2008, she created Unique LA, which quickly became the world’s largest made-in-America shopping event. And last year, she started CAMP, a business conference for creatives that takes place at a summer camp (amazing, right?) Her most recent endeavor, The Unique Space, is a permanent place for budding entrepreneurs and creative thinkers in LA. We caught up with Sonja to learn more about how she created her dream job.
WHAT WERE YOU DOING 8-10 YEARS AGO BEFORE UNIQUE?
SR: I went to Journalism School. I started as a writer, then editor and entered into the job market during the first internet boom, so I always worked online (instead of in print or radio.) I immediately started working in the corporate/Fortune 500 world and stayed throughout my 20s. I worked as an online content director and then creative director for large companies such as HGTV, Reebok, Sony and Food Network — I basically created their online strategies and websites.
IS UNIQUE YOUR DREAM JOB?
SR: Pretty much! I think a creative Pisces/dreamer like me always has other things I want to be doing and reaching for, but yes, owning my own company and having a positive impact on community is my dream job. It’s tougher than anyone tells you but the perks of being a leader, setting my own schedule, setting my own company values, figuring out employee perks — are really rewarding!
WHEN DID YOU HAVE YOUR “AH HA” MOMENT OF UNIQUE?
SR: It was actually after the very first market, December of 2008. When it was all over and I realized I hadn’t lost my life savings, I realized I actually had a viable business on my hands! And I’ve never looked back…
HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THIS CONCEPT AND DID YOU HAVE EXPERIENCE IN IT PRIOR?
SR: The concept came to me while stuck in traffic – I thought there must be a smarter, more fun way to shop then driving across town from boutique to boutique. So I thought about malls and why people like them (and why people hate them), and essentially created a cooler pop-up version of a mall! I had zero event production experience, no fashion or art school background, and had never thought I’d be producing a ‘shopping event’. But I took all my work and life experience and used it to figure it out. I think that may have been a benefit actually, because I didn’t know any rules; I created my own and that’s how innovation and real creativity took place.
HOW DID YOU FUND YOUR START UP?
SR: I took my entire life savings/401k (about $35k) to rent the venue back in 2008. It was risky but I believed in it and I always trust my gut. And it paid off!
NAME 3 OF THE SCARIEST MOMENTS YOU HAD WHEN DOING THIS?
SR: In all honesty, I never get scared. It’s a character flaw, as well as a blessing! I think most successful entrepreneurs that I know have that same lack of fear. You have to be very strong willed to be a business owner and run a company. There was one time, however, that was scary: when renovating The Unique Space there was a time when my employees checks bounced and it was a terrible, terrible feeling I don’t wish on anyone. I, of course, rectified things immediately, but that was a hard month for me (the guilt, the analysis of why our cash flow was so bad, etc.) I also learned a lot through that experience!
WHAT IS YOUR PIECE OF ADVICE FOR ANYONE WHO WANTS TO STOP WHAT THEY’RE DOING AND CREATE THEIR “DREAM JOB”?
SR: Hmm, great question! Too often people make excuses, create too many to-do lists and/or barriers for themselves to be doing something they truly love. But I also get it, I mean it took me 10 years of working for others to finally create something of my own.
Get your ducks lined-up in a row if it makes you feel safer/more comfortable, but my advice is this: GO FOR IT. Time does not stop and you can never get it back. If you jump in without knowing how to swim, trust me, you figure it out right away. Do it, jump in, and that will give you the motivation and fear and everything-you-never-knew-you-needed to be the best because you’ll have to keep moving forward or you fail. It’s that simple.