Lusterity — a one-stop-shop for socially conscious celebrations
Founders Sierra Rothberg and Marie Zemler Wu discuss their startup experience
Lusterity is a one-stop shop for socially conscious celebrations founded by co-founders Sierra Rothberg and Marie Zemler Wu who were first brought together to lead their children’s public school 375th birthday celebration. They share interests and passions for socially conscious issues, and saw a business opportunity in the party planning arena. They have taken their ideas from concept to startup and have taken the time from their very busy schedules to answer our questions about their experience as entrepreneurs thus far.
Tell us your origin story. What was the spark that took you from concept to startup?
We met as parent volunteers at our children’s elementary school, the Mather in Dorchester. After co-coordinating the Mather’s 375th anniversary, as the oldest public elementary school in the nation, we knew we loved collaborating and made a great team. We also learned that Dorchester is full of creative people — some of them already with their own businesses, others dabbling on the side — whose talents can come together to make really amazing events.
As community organizers and fundraisers, and also as moms who frequently host children’s parties and family gatherings, we love using products and creative services that are local, sustainable and overall just “good” businesses, but when you’re in the thick of it, pulling together a big celebration, these things can be hard to find.
And so the idea for “Lusterity” was born. Just as there now are brands where you can purchase socially-conscious groceries, clothing or cosmetics, Lusterity will be the one-stop for socially conscious celebrating, where you can find all the products and services you need to host amazing events and know that all those purchases have a positive impact. We’re especially excited that in creating Lusterity, we’re building a marketplace where so-called “creatives” —who are predominantly women — can bring the talents they’ve been developing in their basements and attics for their own families and friends, and get them out into the world — and find economic success on their own terms.
Have you ever used any source of crowdfunding and if so which one and was it successful?
We haven’t (yet).
How has participating in the Fairmount Lab helped you? Is this the first accelerator program you have been through? Do you plan on applying to MassChallenge at some point?
Fairmount is our first accelerator. We just learned that we’re headed to our next accelerator, the Babson’s Women Innovating Now program, where we’ll be City of Boston Women on Main Fellows.
The Fairmount Lab has gaven us an amazing cohort, structure and network that we would have not gotten otherwise. From Day One, we started meeting people at Fairmount Lab’s launch party, which opened the door to many other opportunities, including being part of City Start, a three-week accelerator for innovation and community in Boston, which generously provided intense mini-business workshops. Overlapping those two experiences at the same time was a huge time of growth for us.
We also have a training and check-in night set aside with our Fairmount Lab cohort every Monday. It really has become a mile-marker of sorts for us. Launching a start-up can be a something of a chaotic and even isolating process. Having the routine of seeing our cohort and updating one another on the week’s progress has been a steadying influence, and one that’s pushed us forward faster than we’d ever gone on our own.
We applied to MassChallenge at the same time that we applied to the Fairmount Lab. We knew we were way too new to be accepted, but really saw the benefit for us learning more about us through the process of applying and getting feedback. That helped shape Lusterity and we look forward to applying next year.
What are the significant milestones you have achieved or need to achieve in the growth of your company?
We’ve established the brand promises of Lusterity — diversity, sustainability, local, makers and giving back — and we’re currently curating our initial offering of products and services that live up to these values. Our first lookbook is in the final stages of production and we’re looking forward to a “soft launch” mid-September. At that point, you’ll be able to visit our website and select a purchase of a combination of gorgeous party goods and local creative talent to make an amazing event.
We’ve also formed a partnership with another amazing Dorchester start-up, the home.stead bakery & cafe in Fields Corner. When they open this fall, we’ll be sharing their space in the evenings. We’re going to offer a variety of inspiring workshop classes, some geared at event hosts who’d like to get their DIY groove on, and others geared toward creatives who want to bring their services to the events market. Whether that means trying your hand at calligraphy or cake decorating or developing photography skills or building a website to showcase your creative portfolio, we’ll be focused on creating community and offering inspired learning opportunities.
Is this the first company you’ve formed and if so — has the experience been what you anticipated? Please give an example of one major eye-opening experience that was unexpected (if you’ve had one!)
We both have had very small businesses. Sierra continues to operate Goga, a sustainable apparel business, and Marie ran a successful children’s photography business for many years. This is our first attempt at building a company. As we anticipated, planning for something that we see growing much larger than just ourselves is a process of ongoing learning and adaptation.
One unexpected experience that we seem to keep having over and over is that everyone knows someone who would be a great addition to an event. Each time we talk to someone, they’re excited about what we’re building and almost always say, “Oh, my sister bakes these cupcakes…” or “I’ve been trying to get my photography business off the ground.” And it’s really fantastic to meet these entrepreneurial dreamers while building a platform that can help them reach their goals, too.
Do you think as a woman you face any different challenges as an entrepreneur? Did you tap into any women networks for funding (angel investors) or for general support?
Balance remains the greatest challenge. It isn’t exclusive to women, but we are both mothers of young children. We try to give each other pats on the back each morning, knowing the mountain of camp dropoffs, packed lunches, soothed sibling rivalries and so on that already have been completed before the work day begins.
We still are in early stages. Female angel funders are something we hope is on the horizon for us. Eight of the ten Fairmount Lab businesses are women-led, and we’ve also been taking advantages of the Women on Main’s networking opportunities in advance of our beginning their residency WIN Lab program in September.