This CEO was fired from her own company and bought it back
Yeah, you read that headline right.
This CEO was fired from her own company that she built from the ground up, allegedly by her former business partner. What’s so dope about her story is that she bounced back and not only bought her company back, but made sure it flourished and made a mint at the same dame time.
Mary Seats is a former musician who’s toured with huge artists, graduated from Kent State University, and now heads up Cupcake Mafia, a brand that’s sold in stores all over the country.
If you’re trying to figure out how the hell Mary Seats did it, check out our Q+A below.
Who are some of the major artists you toured with and why did you end your music career? Are you still somehow in the industry?
I toured with Gucci Mane, Wyclef Jean, Lil Wayne, Travis Porter, Trina and many others.
When I became a head stylist at Topshop, along with working with different cultures, it just caused me to lose my passion for music and really grow my fashion career. When I graduated from college I had the opportunity to go on a huge U.K. Tour and I took that money and invested in a boutique partnership. This gave me no time to pursue music and then Cupcake Mafia was birthed.
How would you describe your journey of becoming a business owner?
I would describe my journey as an uphill battle with high heels. With my boutique I came off of tour and had enough to pay cash for a new Range Rover that I was customizing to be pink in the inside and outside. My dad gave me a reality check very fast and told me that I should pay off my student loans or start a business.
There was a guy who use to always give me clothing for my tours for promotion so I asked him could I partner with him on a store and after I passed a few tests, he said yes.
What I noticed at that store is that ladies were purchasing all of our men’s streetwear. This gave me an idea to create a brand that would make streetwear look cool for girls. The lane was wide open. “Married To The Mob” and “Dime Piece LA” were the only brands popular and neither brand really was known in the South or Midwest.
I took $300 and created Cupcake Mafia, a relatable brand to females everywhere. I addressed issues that all females had while using the likeness of some celebrities to draw in the consumer.
We all have felt heartbreak, haters, success, and we all have a love of money! My most popular shirts consist of these subjects.
As an entrepreneur you will always face many challenges but successful people never make excuses, they find solutions. I attribute a lot of my success to having amazing relationships. I strongly believe your network is your net worth. Building relationships are much more important than building wealth because with great relationships and the right people, wealth will come.
My journey has also been very exciting because my company is all about girl power so to be able to employ 24 girls and help them accomplish their dreams is what keeps me grinding.
Starting your company off with $300, where did your money go and how did you initially turn over a profit?
My first $300 went to 30 shirts, a logo, and one design. I flipped that by selling 20 shirts and giving 10 away to celebrities, and people with influence I knew.
Within three weeks Tiny wore a Cupcake Mafia shirt on TV and our website was moving about 20 shirts per day. We then took that money and started to do events.
I began to see a profit my second year. I would have made a profit my first year but I never planned anything so it caused me to spend more than I made the first year just trying to build the brand up.
How does Cupcake Mafia empower women?
I feel like Cupcake Mafia unites women by starting unique conversations between females about various situations.
If someone posts a shirt that says “FVCKHIM,” other girls that can relate to this shirt will comment and follow, and a conversation will start between two people that have this common interest.
Our brand has always been witty with funny but real phrases that strike serious emotion. We have created a cult following of girls that are diehard fans because of our message of Girl Power. We make shirts saying what most girls may be scared to say, but will feel better wearing.
We have worked with tons of female artists [who] typically would have never worked together like Trina, K Michelle, Honey Cocaine and many more. We want to help other girls feel confident about themselves and their feelings. We curate weekly events in our stores that sell out and most girls leave being friends or associates. It’s like a big mob.
What are some challenges that you faced during your journey creating this brand?
The biggest challenge a brand will face that starts ground up is having no capital. Most small businesses have the ideas, the team, but once you grow your brand to a certain point its hard to find capital. With amazing connections and with my buyers and customers believing in my brand, I was able to grow it to $1.4 million.
However, when different growth opportunities approached me in order to fulfill those type of orders I would need overseas production, and a partner that can facilitate that type of order. In business you are only good as what you negotiate. So although I believed at that time that finding a partner was the solution I needed, it caused me to rush into the wrong opportunity. Of course in everything you do there will be challenges but I believe that is the biggest challenge.
How were you fired from your own company? And how did you buy it back?
That rushed business partnership that I signed into in 2015 led me into a whirlwind of unhappiness.
[We had a high-profile collaboration on the table but] our partners were greedy and wanted to milk the fashion industry in every way. However, my company is built on relationships and morals. I have never been so greedy for money that I would ruin a good relationship.
We began to argue daily about it and one day they called me into the office and said “You are no longer needed at Cupcake Mafia.” I gave up my beautiful condo in Atlanta, downsized my staff, had my friends/employees move to New York to chase this dream they sold us, but within a blink of an eye it was all over.
I moved back to Atlanta, partnered with the best apparel lawyer in the business, Peter Rosenthal, and we went to war. After six months of going back and forth, me opening up another retail store with the license at the time I did not own, I just wanted to make them move faster and let them know I was not backing down.
It was at that time they were finally willing to negotiate. I purchased my brand back from them for much more than they invested in the partnership but I was just happy to not let my team down and get the ship back moving. From there I went to purchase my own factory in China, to eliminate the middle man. [There are] so many great things I learned from that partnership and I believe God put me through that so I can teach others.
Since your business focuses on women’s empowerment, why is this so important to you as a business owner?
I grew up with pretty much all brothers. My sister committed suicide my senior year of high school. In school it was all about competition with the girls while the boys are collaborating and getting things done.
That was the same with female music artists, I would sit in so many music sessions with Shawty Lo, Gucci Mane, 2 Chainz and watch them collab on a hit record meanwhile it was no girl power with the female artists. I believe that was in me at a young age, I just have always wanted to see another girl win. It makes my success feel greater to say I attributed to another girl’s success. It’s amazing to say I helped her skip some steps to success.
What has been the most useful tool or outlet that you’ve used to keep your business flourishing?
Networking, building relationships, and keeping your word. Honestly, social media is cool and all and it has been a great free source of marketing.
However, it’s nothing like building a relationship with a buyer [for a big brand], and when your collection is late and you are holding a $50,000 late purchase order in your hand, you can call them and they will extend it.
It’s nothing like getting a cease and desist [from a company, but having a friend there] to make it go away. The last thing is whatever you say, do it. That will separate you from the next. There are plenty of things I promised customers and probably didn’t make the best profit margin on it but I delivered anyway because that’s my word.
What are three tips you would offer to aspiring entrepreneurs?
Get the idea and plan it out. Don’t just start making money, because I’m telling you, the money goes so fast. Don’t do anything you are not passionate about, there will be plenty of sleepless nights where you have zero dollars in your bank account. Only passion will wake you up the next morning.
Sell a lifestyle more than you sell a product. Make sure that people understand why this product is important to them.
What do you want your followers to take from this interview? What is the overall takeaway from your story?
My overall takeaway is that you can start off on one path, mine was music, and God may take you in a different direction but it will still lead to success.
I started over seven years ago with $300 and today I have grossed $2.4 million. I have been fired from my own company only to purchase it back and build an even stronger empire!
If you are starting a company you have to make sure you are so passionate that you still want to wake up and do it even with $0 in your bank account. I had plenty of days of struggle but it was my mission to change the mindset of women all over that has gotten me this far today.