"A straight line from point A to point B is one thing, but a curvy line that meanders down different paths is a much richer, more beneficial learning experience," says Stephanie Retcho, a co-founder of Mia Tango. Retcho and Melissa Birge launched the online maternity boutique one year ago. Neither of these Fairygodbosses followed linear paths, but each of their experiences shaped their journey to entrepreneurship.
"The road from there to here was a long one, but how I got here was a combination of hard work, some good luck and willingness to take risks," says Birge.
Fairygodbosses of the Week: Melissa Birge and Stephanie Retcho
Co-founders, Mia Tango (Birge: CEO; Retcho: CMO)
FGB: Tell us a little about your career. How did you get to where you are now?
MB: I started out as a CPA at Arthur Andersen in 1991 and I currently am the co-founder/CEO of Mia Tango, an online maternity boutique we launched one year ago. The road from there to here was a long one, but how I got here was a combination of hard work, some good luck and willingness to take risks.
SR: I started out in account management at Leo Burnett Advertising in Toronto, Canada and am now the CMO and a co-founder at Mia Tango. As a marketer, having both agency and brand side experience has been an invaluable asset and has given me a solid perspective on how marketing can solve business challenges. In terms of how I got here, it certainly wasn’t linear—and I think that’s been important. A straight line from point A to point B is one thing, but a curvy line that meanders down different paths is a much richer, more beneficial learning experience.
FGB: What is an accomplishment that you are proud of?
MB: I took five months off between jobs and traveled around Asia and Africa by myself. It was such a liberating experience and I’m proud that I had the courage to go for it.
SR: It’s certainly not the traditional definition of an accomplishment, but I’m most proud of the fact that I’ve never shied away from change. Whether it was using my vacation time at Leo Burnett in Toronto to interview for jobs in NYC (and moving three weeks later) to moving my family to Switzerland almost six years ago with KAYAK, I’ve always seen change as not only inevitable but desirable. Adapting is a great growth opportunity.
FGB: What is a challenge that you've faced and overcome?
MB: I’m from a really small town in Ohio - I mean really small, as in no stoplights. My parents didn’t work in business, and I didn’t have any kind of network when I left college. I’ve had to build everything myself, and I have to say, I’m truly grateful for that. I learned that if you put your head down and work hard, you will build fans, and those fans will support you as you grow and branch out. I try to be that fan for younger people in business and help them make the connections they need to realize their dreams.
SR: INFJ. Need I say more? Over time, I’ve recognized that my “I” is a gift. It’s the gift of a listener, a contemplator, a thinker. I may not be the person who grabs the mic at a stand-up comedy bar, but I’m a great problem solver, which sometimes comes from holding back and observing—deciphering what the challenge you’re trying to solve really is.
FGB: Who is YOUR Fairygodboss? Why?
MB: I’ve never had a woman boss, if you can believe that, but I have a #bosscrush on my co-founder, Stephanie. She’s smart, communicates her thoughts so clearly, is hyper-organized (my desk probably gives her hives) and can get an enormous amount of shit done in one day. Plus, she’s funny and caring.
SR: Aw, shucks. When I first read through the questions I also immediately went to Melissa. She has a vision and isn’t afraid to go after it. That takes guts and smarts, and she has both! Now, if only I could steal her fashion sense...
FGB: What do you do when you’re not working?
MB: If I’m not working, I’m hanging out with my family or exercising.
SR: When I’m not working you can usually find me squeezing every drop out of the fact that my girls still like hanging out with me. I know enough to know that it’s fleeting. Either that or I’m walking our dog, Molly.
FGB: If you could have dinner with one famous person—dead or alive—who would it be?
MB: Having seen Hamilton twice, I’m obsessed with Alexander Hamilton, but I don’t think I’d want to have dinner with him. He’s too smart—I think my brain would just explode.
SR: I’d sincerely rather have a nice dinner with family and friends. I’m about to get on a plane to Switzerland to visit my mom, along with some close friends we made while living there. I wouldn’t trade the opportunity to enjoy one of my mom’s meals or share a bottle of wine with our friends, for anything.
FGB: What is your karaoke song?
MB: I’m a terrible singer, so I avoid karaoke at all costs! The only time I sang by myself in public, I chose to sing the Ohio State fight song so that everyone would clap along and drown out my voice. There’s a funny story behind that actually, but for another time...
SR: Oh darlin’—if it’s not singing Happy Birthday to my girls, no one needs to hear me sing. Ever.
FGB: What is your favorite movie?
MB: Impossible! Too many to list, but every year, I watch It’s a Wonderful Life at Christmas time, and every year, it gets me. I could probably quote it from start to finish. Hee Haw!
SR: Just one? Can’t be done. The Godfather (1 or 2 only, please), Shawshank Redemption, White Christmas (a family tradition that my girls have picked up on), Breakfast Club, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter. I could go on. I’m also a huge comic book movie nerd. Love me some Marvel movies.
FGB: What book would you bring with you on a desert island?
MB: I love great fiction—stuff that makes me think and quite possibly, cry. But when I’m on vacation, I like something easy to read, like a mystery or some David Sedaris. Maybe I’d bring the Harry Potter series because it’s both easy to read and makes me cry.
SR: Again with the one! Too many great books out there. I love classical literature but agree with Melissa on the idea of a series. Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, the Dune sestet—all great choices.
FGB: What is your shopping vice? What would you buy if you won the lottery?
MB: Shoes!! I just cannot resist a great pair of heels, even though I don’t wear them much anymore. Also lipstick. I don’t even wear it, but I love having it, and I have good thoughts about one day wearing lipstick.
SR: I go through phases. It’s not always necessarily clothing related, but I get on a bent and then go all in. This past summer it was a great camera. I bought a new camera body and then I couldn’t stop buying lenses!
FGB: What is the #1 career tip you'd like to share with other women who want to have successful careers like you?
MB: Seek to learn and contribute to the team, rather than try to get a more impressive title. Bigger jobs will come to those who truly care about what they’re doing. Also, when the job is no longer fun? Time to move on.
SR: Be curious, and follow your curiosity. Interested in learning something? Sit and listen, and then T H I N K. And, don’t be afraid of change. If something doesn’t turn out to be quite what you thought it was going to be, it’s not necessarily a bad thing.
FGB: Why do you love where you work?
MB: My boss is amazing! In all seriousness, running Mia Tango is my dream job. I love operations, and it’s fun for me to work in lots of different areas after spending so many years just doing accounting and finance.
SR: I call Mia Tango my passion project. I’m working on something that I feel solves a real challenge for women in a meaningful way. Plus, I get to learn new things and work with someone whom I trust and am inspired by.
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