Interview: Elsie Larson
Can you start by telling our readers a little about yourself?
I’m Elsie Larson, Founder of A Beautiful Mess, a women’s lifestyle blog, and A Color Story, a photo-editing App. I started my first business at the age of nineteen and have been working for myself ever since, which still blows my mind. I never set out to be an entrepreneur, but I caught the bug early and have experienced all the highs and lowest lows that come with that life. I’m really proud of that. I took a leap, even though it was a naïve choice at the time!
My husband is a songwriter and producer (his project it called Violents) and we live in Nashville, Tennessee. His music career brought us here, but we have since fallen in love with the city and are planting our roots here.
We are in the process of adopting our first child, a daughter, from China!
You’ve made a name for yourself with A Beautiful Mess and creating the A Color Story App. I have a feeling this wasn’t what you were expecting to do when you were young, so what did you want to be when you grew up?
Oh no, definitely not. My mom stayed at home with us for most of my childhood and I grew up envisioning myself doing the same. I always loved art and design and have always been an ideas person—but I never envisioned myself owning multiple companies—especially in tech! Life is full of surprises.
What led you towards your current career path?
My blog started as a for-fun project. I started it probably one or two days after I found out that another friend had a blog. I love to jump in with both feet! I never imagined it would become a career ten years ago—it’s shocking how fast and how big our industry has grown!
I feel really lucky to have been one of the people who got to start with no expectations and learned as I went along. I feel like new bloggers now have dollar bills in their eyes when they publish their first post. I’m not judging! I feel bad for them. I’m just really glad I got to experience it all when it was OG and we all just did it for the fun of it.
My sister and I did our first app about five years ago. At the time we emptied all the savings our business had to build the app. It was scary and a lot of people we respected told us not to do it. It was calculated risk. We felt like we would never regret trying, even if we didn’t make our money back.
That first app went #1 within a day, maybe two days…I can’t remember…but it stayed there a long time. It sold millions and was the most life changing experience of our lives.
Since then we’ve done three apps, A Color Story, is definitely the one I am most proud of. And we have another one on the way; it’s a companion app for A Color Story.
So far, my career has just been a series of small choices leading me from one project to the next. We’ve had big wins and big fails. It’s not all sunshine and roses, but it’s been an adventure!
Your business partner is your sister, correct? How did the two of you get started working together?
Yes, I have worked with Emma for about eight years now. My business was failing and I was barely making ends meet (and going into debt) when we partnered up. We complete each other in so many ways and she is the best business partner anyone could ever hope for.
What is something you’ve learned from your job?
Always keep looking for what’s next, but don’t quit what you’re doing too quickly.
We are never really done growing up. What do you hope to do in the future?
I can see us staying in the app biz long-term. We absolutely love what we do and the creative challenge is thrilling! I am so glad we got in when it was a young, baby industry. It’s not an easy path, but it’s been really fulfilling for us!
On a personal note, I am working—on the side—on my first children’s book. I am writing it and illustrating it and it’s completely different than anything I’ve ever done, which is so fun!
What gets you out of bed in the morning?
Do you have advice for girls growing up today?
Don’t rush. You don’t have to do everything by the time you’re 30. I know when you’re young 30 sounds so old, but I promise you that it’s only the beginning. Take your time to find your style, find your passions and create the life you want. Don’t put so much pressure on yourself.
Do you have any female figures that you look up to?
My design hero is Dorothy Draper. I love her quote, “I always put in one controversial item. It makes people talk.” She was so ahead of her time and I love the push to be different, especially in a time when style can be so easy to just buy, you don’t even have to try. I love that push to take it farther and be unique!
Why do you think it is important to tell our stories?
My biggest treasures (material things, I mean) are the clothes my grandma saved and the photos my grandpa took. They are worth more than anything and are so special! I took up photography to try to be like him and make a gift for my family like he made for us.
What is something in life that you are most proud of?
The thing I am most proud of in life is helping my husband stick with music, even when it wasn’t making any money. He did the same thing for me in the years when we were really poor. It takes a lot to stick with something through the hard times and I’m really glad we had each other to stay encouraged and keep going when it felt impossible.
A few favorites:
My favorite book is 100 Ways to Happy Chic Your Life by Jonathan Adler. It’s mostly a photo book, with his beautiful room designs. But the words in the book hit me at just the perfect time in life and completely changed my perspective on design and pushed me in the right direction at the right time.
I collect records for my hobby and I feel like our collection is really random! I am obsessed with pop music and completely shameless about my love for Justin Timberlake and Katy Perry. But I also love to collect old country records, anything from the sixties—Frank Sinatra vibes and the Beach Boys…Stuff like that. Our top two jukebox artists that we always pick at the bar are Dolly Parton and Electric Lights Orchestra.
What is your life motto?
Only do business with people who believe in karma.