Thanks to the close friendship of our husbands, Carla Gomes Jensen is a dear friend I’ve come to know and respect over the years. I’ve been fascinated by her upbringing in Sao Paulo, Brazil and how she has blossomed living and working in the United States. We’ve connected especially over the last year or so because she too is a writer and recently founded her own publishing company, Solarium Press, LLC, where she has written, illustrated and published two children’s books – all while still working a full-time job!
From a very young age, Carla had a special relationship with reading. Her family was well aware of her being a so-called “bookworm” since she always had a book in her hands. Every year since she was 11 years old, her Christmas list has been filled with books. She continued her love affair with reading into adulthood, working at a major Brazilian publishing company while earning a degree in Marketing.
Carla decided to move to the U.S. to broaden her professional resume and learn a second language. As part of an exchange program, she began working with kids shortly after arriving in the country. Taking a page out of the book from the children she worked with, Carla learned English from an unexpected source: Dr. Seuss. With the help of Dr. Seuss books, she was able to practice her pronunciation and reading skills, eventually becoming fluent in English.
Today, Carla wants to share her ideas and culture with the world through her favorite way of communication: children’s books. Find out more about how she got started and what her plans are for the future in our exclusive interview below!
Carla, so excited to have you a part of the Shine On series! Can you give an overview of your story and how you got to be where you are today?
As a freshman pursuing a Marketing degree in Sao Paulo, Brazil, I landed an internship with one of the most successful magazines in the country. During my second year of college, that internship turned into a full-time job. Every day I left my house for work at 6am for work and attended school in the evenings, often getting home close to midnight. Seeing my dream job as the magazine’s head event coordinator in my future, I kept pushing forward and did not let those long days get in the way.
After 3 years with the company and nearing graduation, I applied for the position I had coveted for so long. When I wasn’t even considered for the job, I was extremely discouraged and blamed myself for not doing more. According to the hiring manager, my resume was not good enough due to my college’s reputation. The magazine only promoted people that attended top tier schools and, due to financial reasons, that was not my case. To be considered for such a position, I would have had to earn a master’s degree from a top school or become fluent in a second language. After some research and deliberation, I took matters into my hands, packed my bags and moved to the USA to learn English.
The first few months in the U.S. were very challenging. My inability to communicate well put me in many embarrassing and troublesome situations. In order to reach my goal of mastering English in one year, I needed to dive in headfirst and learn by any possible means. While taking ESL classes, I was also taking care of children through the au pair program (a fancy way to say I was a live-in nanny.) Luckily for me, one of the children I lived with was learning how to read. We would get together every night and read Dr. Seuss to each other. To this day, when I try to remember how to spell words, I sound it out just like that 6-year-old taught me how to.
Sadly, I did not become fluent in English in one year. Although I could communicate, I was not quite there on a professional level and I decided to extend my stay in the States. Enrolling in a city college, I chose to continue my education by pursuing a psychology degree. Hitting two birds with one stone, I could still use what I learned in marketing and I knew my classes would be full of big words that are very difficult to pronounce, advancing my desire to be proficient in English.
Years later, life has happened. I found someone I really love, got used to my life in a foreign country and those dreams I had in my early twenties grew distant. I found myself drawn to newer, different goals that were shaped by the hardships I went through my first few years in the States. Since I was away from the “real” workforce for several years, my resume took a huge hit. Finding a job here was extremely challenging and discouraging. When I finally got one, it was not the field that I wanted or something I enjoyed doing.
Once again, I decided to take matters in my hands. I wrote down my ideas, analyzed the potential risks and with unconditional support from my family and friends, decided I was ready to take a huge leap. So, in February of 2019, I opened Solarium Press, LLC.
This story is incredible, Carla, and it shows just how determined of a person you are. You powered through so many obstacles and are living out one of your dreams! How have you gone about building your business and ensuring what you wanted to do was successful?
Research, research and more research.
Before starting Solarium, I read books, watched videos, read blogs, attended free classes around Chicago and purchased online classes to learn how to build a website and market my product across social media platforms.
I made a spreadsheet with steps I would have to take and how to get to where I wanted. I also made sure to learn the legal part of working with the state, paying taxes and submitting legal forms.
I did not have a lot of money to invest, so I published my first two books targeting the Brazilian community living in the U.S. As part of the intended audience, I knew exactly what they were looking for and how limited their options were for finding books about Brazilian culture written in English.
That’s amazing and I think you made all the right choices along the way in building Solarium Press! What would you say has been the most rewarding and most challenging part of starting and running your own business?
Solarium is a one-woman operation, so the most challenging part has been running the areas I previously had little knowledge of, specifically accounting. Although I took an accounting class, purchased accounting software, and watched several tutorial videos on the subject, I still struggle with the ins and outs. The reality is that I just don’t enjoy this part of the business, which is why I think it is so challenging for me.
The most rewarding aspect of Solarium has been the feedback. The reviews are not always positive and that’s okay! I made something that impacted someone enough that they wanted to give their opinion about it. It also excites me how far my words have traveled! I only sell the books in the U.S. (for now) and people have been purchasing it from coast to coast. I have even sold a few in Hawaii! Customers have told me that they bought my books as gifts for people living in different countries. It fills my heart to know that right now, there is a little girl in Italy that has my book on her bookshelf. It is surreal!
Awww! That is so, so great. That definitely has to make you feel good. What do you love most about what you do either in your full-time job or with your publishing company?
At my full-time job, I love the stability. I am good at what I do and know that my company wants to keep me around. That stability allows me to take risks with Solarium since it’s not yet my main source of income. It’s easier to “gamble” when it’s not affecting all the money in your pocket. Don’t get me wrong, I am not irresponsible about how I invest & spend my company’s money. The risks have just been less stressful and at worse, are mildly expensive lessons I learn when not all goes smoothly.
I can definitely relate to that, working full-time and having L&I on the side. What keeps you motivated, working both of your jobs?
The idea of what Solarium can become! Life gets in the way, A LOT. It’s natural to think about giving up the grind to have real free time where you don’t have to do anything. To keep me moving forward, I repeat a quote I read on Lipstick & Ink to myself all the time: “When you are tired, learn how to rest, not to quit.”
Instead of quitting, I take breaks when I begin to feel overwhelmed. Sometimes the break is for a day, sometimes it lasts a week. But during those breaks, I continue to dream about what my books and Solarium could become and that’s what keeps me going. The future has endless possibilities.
I couldn’t agree more. Breaks are crucial not only for our health but also for our creativity! Speaking of, have you found a balance between your work and your well-being?
Quite frankly, I have not mastered the balance yet. When I first started Solarium, I barely slept and worked myself so hard that I got sick. As I said before, I’ve now learned to take breaks. I love my company and the work I do, but I decided I am only doing it while it gives me pleasure. I’d rather keep moving forward slowly and steadily, keeping my passion and love alive instead of doing too much, too fast and transforming Solarium into a miserable job.
Super smart. What would you credit your success to thus far?
That’s a funny question because I don’t believe I am successful yet. Solarium is still growing and while technically my company is profitable, the profits have and will be reinvested into new books and projects. But I would say that my “success” comes from hard work and determination. An idea does not get anywhere by itself. You need to envision, plan and follow all the steps. Taking short cuts could damage the bigger picture. It’s tedious and tiring sometimes, but you will need to believe that sunny days will come after the storm.
Yes! I truly believe hard work always pays off, despite the challenges you may run into along the way. What does the future of your business ultimately look like?
I want to move on from targeting a Brazilian demographic and broaden the books’ audience to children of all backgrounds.
I have an idea for a book series that will allow children to not only learn but express themselves individually. I can’t give too much away since I am still in the R&D phase and months from taking the product to market, but I am beyond excited about this project. If everything goes as planned, this series could take Solarium to a whole different level!
Ooh! That’s so exciting. I can’t wait to learn more in the coming months. You inspire me!! Can I ask who inspires you and why?
Thank you!! I admire a lot people but don’t have a specific person that sticks out. Small business owners, people who break stereotypes and women that are kicking butts in their careers are on the top of my list. These are the type of people I look up to when I need some inspiration.
Love it. So, Lipstick & Ink is all about encouraging women to make their mark on their lives, the lives of others and on the world. What does “making your mark” mean to you?
Here is the thing, we are all automatically branded somehow. For example: here in the U.S., people usually refer to me as the “Brazilian friend” when talking about me to someone else. I personally don’t take offense to that, but I’d like to believe that “making your mark” means you can choose, create and earn what your brand will be and play a role in how it is perceived.
Although I love being Brazilian, it’s not an earned title. None of us have control over the location of where we are born. However, being Carla, the children’s book author or Carla, the entrepreneur, is my own doing. It’s the mark I made and what I believe “making your mark” is – a choice!
I haven’t gotten that response before but I absolutely love that perspective. Making your mark is 100% a choice! If you had one piece of advice for women trying to make their mark, what would you say?
I heard this once and I think about it often: “Do not give up on a dream that you can’t spend a day without thinking about.”
Life will get in the way EVERY SINGLE DAY and it is up to you to make your goals happen. You will learn how to prioritize and find the help and support you need. It’s never too late to make your mark!
Yessss!! Thank you so much, Carla, for sharing your wisdom! Do you have any parting thoughts or advice?
Be supportive! If someone is stepping out of their comfort zone, be their cheerleader. Follow their social media, attend their events or even just tell them you admire their efforts. It goes a long way and it’s always free to be kind!