Alternatives to the 9-5: Launching a Business

When Stephanie Hayman and Nicole Gardner were just 24 years old they did something many post-grads would be afraid to do. They helped launch the business Dormify, an online-only brand that sells highly designed decor and apartment furnishings for college dorm rooms.

Nicole showin' off the goods in the NY office.

You may be thinking ‘okay… I thought this was about alternatives to the 9-5,’ and, well, it is. The idea of Dormify was just coming to life when the girls were hired, and the hours were… umm, let’s just say NOT 9-5. Not to mention, the girls had other jobs when they first ventured into the start-up world.

Before I tell you about Stephanie’s and Nicole’s post-college experience, let’s learn a little bit about Dormify’s history: When Karen Zuckerman was getting her daughter, Amanda, ready for college they noticed the lack of stylish options for college dorm decor. They knew there was a need for chic and sophisticated products to make dorm rooms look less boring and more fun… and eventually they thought of the idea of Dormify. Since Karen, the CEO and Chief Creative Officer of the 25 year old successful advertising and branding agency, Hirshorn Zuckerman Design Group, was very busy with her own company, she needed to hire some people to help her bring the idea to life and ultimately launch the business. So of course Karen turned to two young, bright, fashionable girls who worked at her ad agency. These girls were Nicole and Stephanie.

Stephanie, left, and Nicole, right goof off with Dormify props at the end of a day-long photoshoot.

Meanwhile, when the idea of Dormify was born, Nicole was working as an Account Executive at Karen’s agency in DC. Karen asked Nicole to help start up Dormify, as she knew she was fully capable, although Nicole had a more than full plate as an Account Executive at HZDG. While Nicole knew it would mean a lot more work, she did not pass up the opportunity to be involved in the start-up. Even though it started as just helping Karen with internal brand development, Nicole created new responsibilities for herself by building the business strategy as well as executing it to make the dream come alive, which established her role as heading up Business Operations. Nicole continued to work as an Account Executive for demanding clients and spent diligent non-working hours to work on Dormify – mornings, nights and weekends.  

Upon graduating from college Stephanie was hired to work in New Business for Karen’s agency’s New York office in 2008. After about a year and a half, Stephanie made a career change and set out to find a job more closely related to her passion of fashion and design and freelanced for a jewelry designer and a fashion designer. Soon enough, Stephanie received a call from Karen, whom she was still very close with, proposing to her to come back and help launch Dormify. Stephanie was “in.” Business + Interior Design?! The opportunity was right up her ally and with her fashion background and keen sense of style, Karen hired her as the Buyer of Dormify. Stephanie added this to her roster of freelance jobs and came back part-time, to head up Buying as well as Public Relations, while still working for the fashion and jewelry designers. She spent 3 days a week in Karen’s NY office and most night and weekends working on Dormify.

At only age 24, these girls had a lot of hard work on their hands and a lot of learning on the job to do. They were tasked to launch an e-commerce website and blog from scratch, design and manufacture goods overseas and in the US, curate a variety of chic and sophisticated products for the site, manage collegiate and sorority licenses for specific product lines, develop and manage a brand ambassador/Style Advisor program, gain as much exposure as possible through press and social media, all while creating unique relationships and important partnerships. With all of this to do, these girls were working basically all the time… aka not your typical post-college job.

Nicole (right) Stephanie (left) instagramming in the elevator of the famous Hearst building in between desk-side appointments with magazine editors showing them the new Dormify products for the season.

Originally, Nicole and Stephanie were both working on Dormify on the side… you know, for fun. But soon enough, the company was incorporated and both girls became full-time Dormify employees in the Summer of 2011. All their hard work had certainly paid off. Around this time, they hired one of Dormify’s very own standout Style Advisors, Liz Billman, when she graduated college, to manage the blog and Style Advisor program.  

Nicole and Stephanie love working for Dormify. Every day they feel as though they are working towards a goal, which makes the job much more exciting than sitting in a cubicle doing monotonous entry-level work  (did someone say boring?). Not to mention, the work they are doing and learning on the job is the best education you can get after college (like way better than grad school… since it’s the real thing).

Although the path they have chosen is a lot more work than a typical 9-5, Stephanie and Nicole have no regrets. They have become successful business women and are happy where they are now at only 26 years old. They have successfully positioned Dormify as a “tastemaker” and a one stop shop for ‘all things cool’ for dorm rooms. I’m sure they have made Karen very proud, as well as themselves.

Stephanie testing out the new Dormify poufs coming out in June.

Stephanie and Nicole think it is important to treat every experience as an important one, whether its an extra curricular activity (which landed Liz a full time job at Dormify), a part time or full time job, or even an introduction to a new person. You never know what an experience – either significant or brief, can lead you to. For Stephanie and Nicole it led them to be a huge part of launching a now well-known brand. Don’t be afraid to take risks or make sacrifices. Work as hard as you can. It might just get you to your dream job – or a job you didn’t even know was your dream.

Samantha Matt

Hi I’m Sam. I made this website in 2011 and it’s still going. My first book, AVERAGE IS THE NEW AWESOME, is coming out in January (you can buy it right now on Amazon or from your fave bookstore!). I like pizza, French fries, barre, spin, more pizza, more French fries, and buying clothes. Writing is fun. Follow me on twitter & Instagram at @samanthamatt1... and on this site's meme account on IG at @20somethingproblems. OKAY GREAT THANKS BYE.

2 Comments
  1. Well written article! Couldn’t be more proud to have the opportunity to learn from these two fabulous women.

  2. What a great article about 2 amazing people. I had the privilege to intern for Dormify last summer and both Nicole and Steph went above the call of duty in mentoring me in how to tackle the business world.

    Keep up the AMAZING WORK I can’t wait to see what Dormify 2012 will bring!

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