Minute Mentoring Interview with Danielle Dobin

Danielle Dobin is the founder and President of Apifeni, Inc (pronounced “epiphany”), a luxury activewear brand for women.  Apifeni’s innovative pants and leggings have been featured in O Magazine, Elle, SELF, SHAPE, Allure and on the Today Show. Apifeni is a formal Aliance Partner of Women for Women International, to whom Apifeni donates a portion of proceeds of every sale.

Prior to founding Apifeni, Danielle was a real estate developer and attorney. She earned her law degree from Georgetown University and a Masters degree in real estate investment from New York University. Her company, Monarch Real Estate LLC developed multiple condominium projects in California.  Prior to launching Monarch Real Estate, Danielle was an associate at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom in New York. 

Danielle lives in the New York metro area with her husband, their two sons and their beloved Whippet, Jean Luc.

Minute Mentoring: If you could point to something your parents instilled in you as a child that helped lead to your success, what would it be?

Danielle Dobin: I am fortunate to come from a family of entrepreneurs.  In fact, my father would actually list his occupation – on school/medical/camp forms – as “entrepreneur”, long before most people had ever heard of that word!  My parents started our family business when I was in Kindergarten. I had the perfect vantage point to see how entrepreneurs launch a company, grow a business over decades, build a dynamic team and expand internationally (and electronically) while raising a family and traveling the world.  My parents are the very definition of “can-do” and they instilled in my siblings and me a fearlessness with regard to business creation and product development.

MM: You have had a couple of different successful careers even before you’re 40 – what made you decide to change and what gave you the courage to start your own business?

DD: I have so many professional interests – politics, real estate, design, fashion & manufacturing amongst them.  I never felt I had to choose just one path, instead I consider what I want to learn, where I want to live and my current resources.  In order to start a business, you truly have to be willing to fail…publicly.  Find the courage to fail and you can do anything.

MM: Balancing work and family is one of the most asked questions at Minute Mentoring events – as a wife, mom of two, sister, aunt and neighbor, do you have a secret formula you could share?

DD: I have two pieces of advice:

1 – Forget about achieving balance and simply focus on pursuing happiness.  As a working mom, I have learned to pay attention to what is important to me in my life and to structure my life based on those priorities – not anyone else’s.   Forget about what other people may think and focus (as Oprah puts it) on creating your own best life.

2 – Forget the so-called “mommy” wars. I look to the extraordinary community of moms in my life – those who work and those who stay home – as my “village”. I ask for help when I need it (i.e. if I’m out of town for the day and I need another mom or her nanny to drop my child at an after school art class or sports practice) and I make myself available to help in return.  My fellow moms operate as a vast support network for each other.  Our lives are richer and more “balanced” as a result.

MM: Many young women ask if they should pursue an advanced degree – graduate, business or law degrees.  Do you think that’s important for career advancement?

DD: Attending the right graduate program will provide a launch pad for a number of career choices and will help you create a vast network of contacts.  Graduate school can also be an excellent means of gaining specific industry knowledge.  However, you should think carefully before committing to a program. My advice for choosing a school is simple and honest – First, If you want to pursue a career as an investment banker, a professor, an attorney or as a professional in any other highly specialized field, grad school is likely a necessity not an option and, secondly, don’t attend graduate school (i.e. law school, business school, an international affairs program, etc.) unless it is a highly ranked and well respected program.  My basic rule of thumb is that if a program isn’t ranked in the top 20, it’s not worth the money. If it won’t lead to career advancement or work opportunities, simply to debt, why do it?  Look closely at how a school or a program is perceived in the industry and ask a lot of hard questions – particularly if you are on the fence – with regard to the real number of graduates who find full time positions doing the type of work that interests you post-graduation.  If you are seeking knowledge of an industry – not necessarily a degree – explore the idea of a Continuing Education program. These are offered at most universities are typically far less expensive, particularly if you simply audit a class or two.

MM: And our signature Minute Mentoring question – If you could give three pieces of advice to Mentees, what would they be?

DD: 1 – Be your own best advocate. Men are far more likely than women to stand up for themselves and demand more advanced work, more money and a better title.  Be your own best advocate at work – be assertive, deliberately cultivate the image you want to project and speak out.

2 – It’s never too late to be what you might have been.  This is cribbed from George Eliot (1819 – 1880). George was the pen name of Mary Anne Evans. Evans was a voracious reader as a girl but spent most her of life until age 30 living at home and acting as her father’s housekeeper.  She wrote her first novel at the age of 39. Her novel Middlemarch – viewed by many as the greatest novel in the English language – was written when she was in her 50s.  Keep George Eliot’s life in mind as you make your own choices.  You can be in your mid-20s or your mid-50s, it’s never too pick a different path.  Be thoughtful about what you want and strategize your way to a different future. Thanks to the internet, all of the knowledge in the world lays at our fingertips.  If in the 19th century George Eliot, with little formal education and no support from a paternalistic society, could transform herself from a housekeeper living at home into one of the world’s greatest writers, there is no limit to what you can accomplish in 2013.

3 – Choose the right partner. Know yourself and know what you need in a life partner. Find someone who shares your life values and will encourage and support you personally and professionally.  Life is long, marriage and relationships can be wonderful and they can be rocky – find someone in whom you believe and who believes in you.  This will make all the difference.

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