This feature is part of our series on members of our community who inspire us. From entrepreneurs, stylists, and consultants starting their own businesses to executives changing the game at the highest levels, we’re lucky to be able to learn from these incredible role models.
In that vein, half the profits from our Duet Pinky Rings fund seed grants for entrepreneurs around the world. Each ring is a symbol of a pinky pledge to pay it forward to support women & a connection between each member of our community. Make your own pinky pledge here.
Written by Rachel Janfaza
Ali Kaminetsky never imagined that at 24, she’d be celebrating the one-year birthday of her very own startup. But today, that’s exactly what she’s doing. Modern Picnic, whose mission is to provide working girls with a chic alternative to a lunch box, was founded out of Ali’s practical desire to carry her lunch to work in something other than a brown paper bag.
Modern Picnic now sells sustainable and chic “Lunchers” and “Snackers,” which functionally allow women to bring healthy options with them wherever they go.
We had the privilege of chatting with Ali, who has created what’s considered the “Birkin of lunchboxes,” to learn just exactly how she got there.
On Life Before Modern Picnic
After graduating from Lehigh in 2016, I moved straight to NYC, where I was working in buying and planning at Macy’s. All throughout college, I knew I wanted to do the business side of retail. I worked for a small fashion label one summer and then after that I wanted experience in a larger company. Macy’s offered me a job, and I was very gung-ho in following that career trajectory.
It was during my first week at Macy’s that I came up with the idea for Modern Picnic. I knew that bringing my own lunch was faster, cheaper, and healthier, but I hated carrying it in plastic bags. I looked online for another way, but couldn’t find anything. It was really out of a personal need that I came up with this idea.
On Idea to Execution
I had just graduated, was 22, and had no prior experience. I was like, “How do I even kind of begin to execute this. Where do I even start?” I started inching my way, talking to anyone and everyone who would listen. Through a variety of conversations, which led to connections, I began to chip away at this. It was a before work and after work type thing. It was growing, but it took me almost two years to get from idea to execution to launching.
On Independence: Running a One-Woman Show and Being Self Funded
I went from working with all these amazing people at Macy’s, to working completely on my own. I do like being my own boss, making decisions and executing on them, but I definitely miss working on a team. Right now, it’s just me, but hopefully that will change.
I was lucky enough to get Modern Picnic off the ground by self-funding, which was a difficult decision. As we continue to grow and hopefully scale, we’ll be seeking outside funding.
You need a support system and outside perspectives, especially when working by yourself. There are so many people in my life that I go to for advice: mentors, family, and friends that I involve in pretty much everything. I love meeting new people too, hearing what everyone else is up to, and getting their advice on what I’m doing.
On the Tough Parts
The manufacturing overseas has been the biggest hurdle and learning curve. From customs to brokerage to production, I was so unfamiliar with every step of the actuality of making the bag. I have been able to figure out or have had some visibility on most other things, but when it comes to the manufacturing overseas, I had no idea how that process works, and I am still learning.
On Role Models
I love Emily Weiss and Sarah Blakley, they’re amazing. Sarah Kauss is a big one, how she reinvented the water bottle. She took an age-old utility item, kind of like we did, and made it into this desirable product. That’s what we’re trying to do with the lunch box.
This sounds kind of basic and simple, but it resonates especially with me: just go for it. If you have the passion, will to succeed, and determination, go for it. You can’t be afraid of failure.
When I first started, I quit my job that I worked so hard to get and was taking this leap. I still am taking this leap into the unknown, doing something that could very well just fail. But you can’t look at it as a failure. It’s all about learning and growing. Go for it, mindfully, of course.
It’s so ok if you don’t know what you want to do, most people don’t, but just be curious and continue to network. Be really open to learning from people around you. Get out there and talk to people. Don’t be shy!
Visit startupgirlfoundation.org to learn more about the companies our Duet Pinky Ring is currently funding. Make your own pinky pledge to pay it forward and support women by purchasing a Duet Pinky Ring here.