Entrepreneurs and sisters Ariel Nathan and Austin Nathan Peterson come from an entrepreneurial background—their father owned his own business. Both were inspired by his ambition and, though their entrepreneurial journeys differed, in 2015 they came together to launch Black Label Innovation. The startup is a culmination of both sisters’ talents.
Black Label Innovation connected with Innovation Destination Hartford in January 2017, when the team was doing the marketing for Ten Minute Tai Chi. Since then, Black Label Innovation has continued working with Connecticut lifestyle businesses and the company currently refining its service offerings.
Ariel and Austin say their father’s entrepreneurial experience played a significant role in their career choices.
“We always saw our dad’s drive, passion, and dedication to work being something you absolutely love. He had many challenges, but first and foremost he loved what he did,” remembers Ariel.
“He showed us how much your day-to-day work experience can be positive, productive, and exciting. That’s what I saw growing up, which is how the entrepreneurial drive started for me,” she affirms. “I realized if I build something I love, I’ll go to work every day and I’ll love what I’m doing.”
Ariel was also inspired by her older sister, who she notes, “has always been a huge influence.”
Austin didn’t necessarily set out to become an entrepreneur. She went to school for sociology and later earned a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy. When she graduated college, their father presented her with the opportunity to start a business with him.
“As the owner of an accounting practice, he had many businesses as clients and discovered there was a real need for merchant service and credit card processing,” Austin explains. “He and I started [name of company] to provide those services 10 years ago. It’s still in business today.”
She adds, “I always say my dad gave me my MBA. He enabled me to really learn business.”
While Austin was getting her master’s degree and building the startup with her father, she recognized an entrepreneurial side of herself. “I was starting to question my future. If I did get that degree, what was I going to do with it? I didn’t find myself meshing well in an agency setting and following the policies and procedures if I had so many ideas,” she points out.
“Learning the merchant services industry was so helpful. I got my master’s and kind of put it on hold because I didn’t really feel like it was the right thing for me anymore. I realized business was really the right thing for me,” Austin recalls.
With that startup experience under her belt, Austin began to think about ways she could direct her passion into another business opportunity.
“I’m really passionate about the beauty industry and skincare. So, four years ago I launched my second business, Palmetto Derma. I learned a whole different skill set that included manufacturing, packaging, labeling, raw ingredients, shipping, and a lot more marketing,” she notes. “I was able to create a fairly successful company through internet marketing, influencer relations, and social media, which at the time were still kind of up-and-coming.”
Meanwhile, Ariel was finding her footing. “I took a different path,” she explains. “I had seen what Austin had done—she sort of dove in and started a business with our dad. I wanted to explore what I loved a little further after graduating college.”
Ariel moved to Boston, where she started her first business, a home décor company called North Detail.
“Similar to what Austin was doing with her skincare line, I saw the importance of social media, digital marketing, website design, and influencer relations,” Ariel says. “I knew if I was starting this business, I needed to be an expert in all those things. Each of us drove into them the marketing aspect of our businesses and focused on that—me a little more creatively, Austin a little more business strategically.”
BUILDING A BUSINESS CONCEPT
Several years ago, Ariel moved back to Connecticut and, with her business still running, began working for Austin. “I saw her drive and motivation and how much confidence she had doing what she did. I remember thinking: I want to do this, and I want to do this with her. That’s kind of how it all started.”
Austin reiterated, saying, “The concept for Black Label Innovation developed because I realized I could provide this type of marketing for other business owners who were trying to leverage more of their female lifestyle brands.”
She adds, “At that point, Ariel had her own company up and running. As she said, she had also found some of the same ways to leverage her business through the internet. With her creative skills and my more business-minded skills, we felt like we could create a great business that could help other others market and grow their businesses.”
DEVELOPING A TARGET MARKET
With their separate lifestyle businesses up and running, the sisters already had a target market in mind for Black Label Innovation. And, they knew there was a need for their marketing services.
“We created a network of other female entrepreneurs who saw what we were doing with marketing and were loving it,” says Ariel. “They encouraged us to provide the services for them and others.”
Ariel and Austin used word-of-mouth and email marketing to spread the word about the business. “We told everyone we knew what we were doing,” Ariel recalls. Then, they researched companies online and created lists of potential clients who they emailed directly. “I think email marketing was is the biggest way we gained sales and clients,” she adds.
“We specifically built our own list because we weren’t trying to market to the masses and give somebody something they didn’t need or something that it wasn’t going to work for them,” Austin emphasizes. “We wanted to have a unique and specially curated client base, so we knew what we were doing was going to make a difference for them.”
MEETING CLIENTS’ NEEDS
Initially, Black Label Innovation primarily focused on influencer relations, social media management, email marketing, and website design. Based on their clients’ needs, the startup recently shifted its service package to be more focused on graphic design, website design, and branding.
“We found that it’s all well and good to have an influencer post something on their social media, but if we backed up a couple steps, branding and developing the visual aspect of a product or a business was where we needed to focus,” says Austin. “Social media has morphed into such a visually present thing. Especially for the clients we work for; they want their image to be appealing and they want to have a very consistent voice. And our clients didn’t really know how to portray that,” she adds.
“After listening to our clients and really understanding their pain points, we really realized what our clients needed was a place to go online and design their own marketing materials. The business owners we were working with knew the value of social media and developing a visual brand. But, when they were working with someone to help them create visuals for their website, that person wasn’t necessarily hitting the nail on the head,” says Ariel.
“Our clients are so innovative. We wanted to give them an easy way to create what they wanted. That’s how we developed CreateCaddy, which gives business owners a place and space to create all the marketing materials they need,” she continues. “We’re providing business owners with the tools to be able to do it themselves without needing to know how to use Illustrator or Photoshop. CreateCaddy streamlines the process.”
CreateCaddy helped Black Label Innovation solve a business challenge, too.
“Our business challenge is that we want to help everyone. We love our clients and we want to do everything for them, but we can’t do everything for them. We don’t have the skill set to do everything,” Ariel admits.
“I think that business challenge led us to where we are now in trying to help more than just a few people. We want to help as many people as we can. CreateCaddy will enable to help more people rather than just a very niche population,” she says.
CreateCaddy is still in its development phase. The near-future goal is to have shifted from Black Label Innovation to Create Caddy.
“Within a year, I’d like to see CreateCaddy 100% up and running and I would love to see people in Connecticut using it,” Ariel hopes. “At that point, all the services we are offer now as Black Label Innovation would be available on CreateCaddy. We’ll transition our clients and they’ll be able to do what we’re doing for them right now on their own.”
TAPPING INTO CONNECTICUT’S ENTREPRENEURIAL SCENE
When it comes to business mentors, the sisters admit they have heavily relied on their father. They both expressed interested in becoming more involved in the Hartford-area entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Ariel spent a year involved with the Little Black Desk Society, a nationwide women’s entrepreneurial organization. She brought a chapter to Connecticut and met monthly to talk about business challenges.
The two entrepreneurs successfully run multiple businesses separately and together. How do they find balance? Austin credits their employees.
“Our teams are really important to our businesses,” she underscores. “Ariel and I do a lot of things simultaneously that aren’t necessarily connected to one another. The people who work alongside us and focus on each specific business really help—and they’re foundational to us being able to grow each business.”
Austin adds, “The challenge is finding the right people and going through the recruiting and hiring process. That’s been difficult because we know what we’re looking for and being able to create the right team is so important to us. We’ve been very lucky to find such great team members.”
Learn more about Black Label Innovation