Sonja Rasula's passion for supporting small businesses sparked her entrepreneurial journey. For twelve years, she scaled Unique Markets, a company that holds tradeshow-sized pop-up markets to help emerging brands, designers, and small businesses to reach new customers in-person. She’s featured over 11,000 small businesses around the country.
Now with COVID-19, she pivoted her business to fit the current climate. I spoke with Sonja to learn how she's highlighting small businesses, especially women-owned and minority-owned businesses (BIPOC, LGBTQI+), through her new subscription box, Care Package.
Kate Talbot: Tell me about yourself and your mission to support small businesses.
Sonja Rasula: I spent most of 2008 volunteering as a non-profit director, registering voters and educating young people about local L.A. elections. I came from the corporate world, so it was very eye-opening to be on-the-ground and learn about how my city works on a very local level. That experience made me understand how crucial small businesses are, not just for the community they create within a neighborhood and city, but to our entire economic prosperity. Small businesses create 64% of all new jobs in the country and are the backbone of America.
Talbot: What fueled your passion for supporting small businesses?
Rasula: It's all about impact and legacy. Instead of working for massive corporations, I knew I could translate my former media, retail, and marketing expertise to help grow small businesses. I know first-hand how hard it is to not just 'dream big' but to walk away from a steady paycheck.
Most small businesses fail within three years, and I know I can help change that. Most small business owners don't have access to large amounts of capital. They don't have the resources or continuing education that large companies have. But what they have is passion, grit, and an adversity to fear unparalleled! I want to make sure as many small businesses have a chance at The American Dream because when they succeed, so do we. Small businesses aren't just about selling a service or a product. They are connectors, community leaders, and employers. And examples for younger generations to take chances and dream big.
Talbot: You pivoted to launching Care Package during Covid-19. Can you tell me about it?
Rasula: Remember, as a kid, the joy and excitement of opening a care package? You feel special because someone took the time to send you something in the mail. Because of Covid-19, my mom started sending my sister and me care packages back in April. A lightbulb went off in my head! I realized that I could deliver that same nostalgic sense of joy and discovery to people's doorsteps by curating my favorite brands and products into Care Packages. Instead of coming to one of my pop-ups, this is the perfect way for people to continue to support small brands, create jobs, and strengthen our economy - all from home, in sweatpants.
Talbot: What are some of the brands you're working with, and why did you choose them?
Rasula: P.F. Candle Co, Tea Drops, Walker Noble, Graf Lantz, Clevr Blends, to name just a few. It's the stories behind these brands that I love so much and want to share with subscribers. Kristen, the founder of P.F. Candle Co, went from making candles in her living room to employing close to 75 people! Walker Noble is a relatively new Black artist who makes beautiful art prints, so I can't wait to share his work with the world! I know all the founders and business owners personally and have hand-selected every item. My mandate is that 75% are women-owned and minority-owned businesses (BIPOC, LGBTQI+, etc.) to have a real impact and create change in the business and entrepreneurial landscape. These small businesses don't just make unique products. They have excellent practices from hiring local talent to having a socially conscious supply chain incorporating eco-friendly shipping and packing techniques.
Talbot: What differentiating factors are part of Care Package, as there are many subscription boxes out there?
Rasula: The biggest thing that sets us apart is that we truly shine the spotlight on small businesses to help them grow. That means the items are extremely high quality, hand-crafted products, not mass manufactured goods made abroad. These are outstanding entrepreneurs who will be the next big brands! Another differentiating factor is that Care Package is proud to be a forward-thinking, gender-neutral box, so whether a candle, stationery, or coffee, the items are curated for all.
Talbot: You host a podcast SOS where you share business best practices with call-in listeners. What is the best advice you've received as a business owner?
Rasula: To let small things go, not sweat the small stuff.
Talbot: What is the common pain point you hear from young women launching a business?
Rasula: A lot of women share with me that they face serious imposter syndrome. It makes perfect sense when you think that there's a giant industry that is selling women the idea and glamour of being a "girlboss." Many people tell me they start businesses and then feel like they are in over their heads, or that they don't have the skills to pay the bills. But the fact is no one has all the skills for any job. The trick is to keep pushing, learning, improving, and to stick with your guns — belief in one's self is the most important thing. If you believe you can do it, you will do it.
Talbot: What is your best advice for female founders starting on their entrepreneurial journey?
Rasula: No one has all the answers, or has it all together. Don't let a myth stop you from moving forward and starting, because it's that simple — all you have to do is start. And trust me, when obstacles appear and doors close in your face, you'll figure out how to get in the building another way. Or just build yourself your own building!