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Alumnae pursue business ventures

Oct. 28, 2005

by MAEGAN MCGOWEN, entertainment writer

The definition of success, according to Merriam-Webster, is achieving a favorable or desired outcome and the attainment of wealth.

"Whoever is willing to risk for a dream is successful," Common Grounds owner Jill Mashburn said. "Win or lose, you've learned, and through that, you're a success."

Prefontaine owner Revekah Kim agrees.

"I absolutely think that I'm successful," Kim said. "Everything from the whole concept of my business was only in theory. There was never a practice run, and I didn't have experts telling me things."

Kim never took a business class at Baylor but managed to come out on top anyway.

"I never took statistics, so all of this is very experimental. I'm fortunate that people like the things I buy. Everything came together just right, and even if I went out of business tomorrow, I think I would've done a good job," she said.

Kim graduated from Baylor December 2000 with undergraduate degrees in English and journalism.

She never imagined she'd own Waco clothing boutique Prefontaine.

"I was set on going into newspaper again; I love it," she said. "But owning a boutique has also been a dream of mine, and it just sort of fell in my lap."

With no experience in business or the fashion industry, Kim relied on her intuition to learn the ropes.

"When you start a new project, you're always learning," she said.

"There's a very steep learning curve. Everything is new, and I'm someone who never even balanced my check book, so I had to learn a couple of different software programs."

Kim found that her knowledge of people was invaluable to running a business.

"It's always been very fun, because just like art, business is created by people," she said. "Obviously, everything that happens always has to make sense on a base and derivative level. If it doesn't, business won't work. In marketing and selling things to people, everything is based on intuition."

Owning a boutique requires an artist's eye and a sense of style, both of which Kim is confident she possesses.

"I think that your aesthetic individually is an intuitive thing," she said.

"I've always enjoyed fashion and I've followed designers since I was 8 years old. I know what I like and how to dress people, so I knew I could do it."

In the fashion industry, it's important to stay on top of current fashion and know what customers want to buy.

"In my store, I don't just try to keep up with trends. It's about making a collaborative personal statement within a certain time context," she said.

According to Kim, Waco is a lucrative city for a boutique, but she isn't sure if she'll always own Prefontaine or even stay in the fashion industry.

"I'm going to run my business until I know that it's time to leave, and when I go it won't be anywhere near here and it won't be doing anything remotely similar," she said.

Kim gave two pieces of advice for aspiring college graduates.

"First of all, you have to treat any circumstance in life as a learning experience," Kim said. "Secondly, you can't let your actions be controlled by fear. People tend to play the 'what if' game and fear starts to build when people are paralyzed by those questions.

"You have to answer them and move on. You keep going for it and be willing to hang in there when everyone else gives up. Tenacity is very important."

Tenacity is a quality Mashburn understands. She carved a niche for herself with a coffeehouse and people skills.

From Scottsdale, Ariz., Mashburn graduated from Baylor in 1995, earning her undergraduate degree in English.

"I never planned on staying here, but I had an opportunity," she said. "I felt like we needed a cool college hang out spot."

Mashburn leased the location of Common Grounds her senior year without ever having taken a business class.

"My family is really entrepreneurial and I knew instinctively it would work," she said. "I leased the place and started researching business after I signed the lease. I wasn't a business major, but I created a place where I would like to go."

Starting a new business comes with its fair share of challenges.

"Every day I would put out whatever fire came my way," she said. "I was working with my peers and all the sudden I was the boss. It was a little before the coffee house time, so I had to educate my market."

Running on no sleep and instinct, Mashburn found her biggest challenge was everything being new.

"I was sleeping three hours a night; we had no system," she said.

"The biggest challenge was that everything that came my way was brand new. I was overstimulated all the time."

Although she's never taken a business class, Mashburn feels her degree in English is invaluable.

"Even though I was an English major, literature taught me a lot about people and the human condition. It taught me how to think," she said.

"When you are writing a paper, you have a thesis that everything is built upon. My 'thesis' for Common Grounds is to bring people together and facilitate relationships through the coffee house atmosphere."

Mashburn's commitment to excellence drives her to have the best coffeehouse possible.

"If I'm going to do it, I'm going to do it well," she said. "I want the best product, the best baristas, and even though Waco didn't know what a barista was, I wanted to hold a candle to the best coffee bar in Seattle."

Although Mashburn has worked incredibly hard, she still attributes much of her success to God.

"By the grace of God I've made it through somehow. God's really been gracious, and it's been a real blessing. This place has a life of its own and I show up and somehow manage it," she said.

Her advice to aspiring business owners is to fill a need and listen to the experts.

"Look for a niche. You need to have a purpose on why you need to exist as a business," she said. "Listen to instinct and get really great advice. Get a good accountant and a good attorney. Entrepreneurs are visionaries; they need someone to ground them.

"Also," she said, "have enough start-up capital."

Her biggest piece of advice is to hire to your weaknesses. You won't always have your bases covered, so surround yourself with people who are strong where you are weak.

"Realize business is all about relationships. It isn't a formula. Learning people and giving customers what they want is very important," she said.