As part of the Morning Lazziness series spotlighting couple entrepreneurs who have built businesses together, we have the pleasure of interviewing Lisa and Heather.
Lisa Casoni brings a wealth of sales and marketing experience from renowned companies like Coldwell Banker, Giorgio Armani, and Prada. Her role as Communications and Marketing Manager at Claims Resource Services in Campbell, CA, from 2005 to 2010 showcased her prowess. Relocating to Ojai, CA, in 2010, she co-founded the Ojai Art Festival in 2013 and, later that year, partnered with Heather Stobo to establish The Porch Gallery Ojai in the historic John Montgomery House. In 2015, Lisa and Heather founded Porch Girls Productions, an endeavor representing emerging and established artists while producing artistic events across the Ojai Valley.
Heather Stobo, an accomplished artist and gallerist, holds degrees in Art History (BA), Photography (BFA), and Photography (MFA) from Denison University, the San Francisco Art Institute, and the California Institute of the Arts, respectively. Her photographic series have graced group and solo exhibitions in San Francisco and Los Angeles. With a career spanning art-related roles since 1992, including positions at Crown Point Press and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Heather’s extensive background culminated in the establishment of Porch Girls Productions in 2013 alongside Lisa Casoni. Together, they curate, manage, and produce art-related exhibitions and events, overseeing the acclaimed Porch Gallery Ojai.
About Beato Chocolates:
Beato Chocolates, an artisan chocolate company, draws inspiration from the iconic artist Beatrice “Beato” Wood, affectionately known as the Mama of Dada. As an all-female business, Beato Chocolates merges the worlds of art and confectionery, utilizing Beato’s original artwork to craft witty and irreverent packaging for their delectable and ethically sourced chocolates. The name “Beato” is used with permission from the Beatrice Wood Center for the Arts in Ojai, CA, reflecting a harmonious blend of artistic homage and delectable treats.
What inspired both of you to venture into entrepreneurship together?
Lisa: It seemed at the time to be a combination of a natural progression of where we both were in our lives and moving to Ojai. We took advantage of an opportunity we were given and the timing of it. We also believed we had the combined skill sets to put us in the best position to succeed.
Heather: In 2013, Lisa and I started the Porch Gallery together. It was supposed to be a side project…something fun to do. Within six months, both of us had quit our other jobs to focus on the gallery full time; that path eventually led us to the artist Beatrice “Beato” Wood and the chocolate business.
How do your individual strengths complement each other in your business?
Heather: Lisa is an “idea person” and I am the practical one. Lisa never anticipates any problems. I start planning for them months in advance, usually at 3:00 in the morning.
Can you share a memorable moment or achievement that you both cherish in your entrepreneurial journey?
Lisa: One of the things that means the most to me in our entrepreneurial journey is that it got started at all. Heather and I were running a successful art gallery in downtown Ojai in an historic building. At the end of 2017, we were in the process of buying the building when we were forced to evacuate because of a major fire and almost lost our building. When we returned to Ojai five days later, we decided to honor one of Ojai’s most famous artists (Beatrice Wood) by starting a chocolate business in the building as an extension of our gallery. We were able to not only tell a great art story, but also keep her legacy alive through chocolate (something that she famously loved) and present it in a way that is very creative and brings us a lot of joy. We also feel very supported by our local community as well as our online community.
Heather: In the “you never know what you had until its gone category,” the Porch Gallery. When we closed its doors in April 2023, we realized what a community hub we had created. For months afterwards, Lisa and I couldn’t leave the house without someone stopping us to let us know how much they missed the space.
How do you navigate the balance between your personal and professional lives as a couple in business?
Lisa: It’s not easy because it can be all consuming if you let it. I enjoy hiking, getting out in nature, reading, meditating, seeing live music, riding my bike or driving around town in our golf cart delivering our chocolates to local customers and meeting up with friends. Heather loves cold plunging, working out, writing, reading, going on her annual girl’s trips. It’s important to have our own outlets. We spend so much time together that it’s great to have other areas of interest to enjoy.
Heather: As Lisa mentioned, we have a lot of separate interests, but I would say that the week link in our partnership is our inability to distinguish between our personal and professional lives.
In challenging times, how do you support and motivate each other to keep pushing forward?
Lisa: We’ve gone through some very challenging times over the last few years including the Thomas Fire, most recently a hurricane and earthquake in the same day, multiple Covid-19 shutdowns, flooding and the loss of close family members. We are grateful to be able to lean on each other, friends, family and our community to help us get through it. For example, Beato Chocolates was created because of the experience we had evacuating for five days when the Thomas Fire surrounded the town.
Heather: We are both very good at pivoting. I’m not sure if it is hubris or naivete, but both of us truly believe we can make anything work.
What’s the division of roles and responsibilities like in your business partnership?
Lisa: It’s been pretty straightforward since we started our company. I handle events, sales and marketing and Heather handles the technical aspects including website,billing, purchasing, and coordinating with vendors.
Heather: I take care of everything that begins and ends with a spreadsheet. Anything that involves smiling and talking is Lisa’s territory.
Have you encountered any significant challenges as a couple in business, and how did you overcome them?
Lisa: Challenges in small business are a constant. There are always things that come up that you have to deal with. Supply chain issues, cost of goods, employee retention, power outages, you name it. You have to learn to be flexible and creative in adversity because that’s part of it. It’s not what happens, it’s how you move through it in a way that doesn’t de-rail you and your vision.
Heather: When we had the gallery, some artists would play us off each other. We have such different personalities, that some people quickly learned that if I said “no,” there was a good chance Lisa would say “yes.”
What role does effective communication play in your entrepreneurial relationship?
Lisa: It plays a big role. If you’re not willing to hear the other person’s point of view, even if you disagree with it, then you shut yourself off to other ways of thinking that you might not have even considered. When you’re in a creative business, it’s fun to bounce things off of each other and also your co-workers and friends. We have a circle of friends and business owners who we product test and share ideas with all the time and we know they have our best interests at heart. It makes the journey even more fun when you can do it together and celebrate each other’s successes and also be there for each other when it doesn’t go so well.
Heather: There is no way to have a good business and romantic relationship without communication.
How do you celebrate successes, both big and small, within your business and personal life?
Lisa: You can measure success in many different ways. There are times when everything is going smooth and you get calls from clients saying how much they love your products and when you get written up in a national publication and orders just pour in. It’s also personally rewarding that we created something that didn’t exist before that people have responded to and supported from the very beginning. We also adore the people we get to work with and employ every day. That makes life even that much sweeter and more rewarding.
Heather: Lisa and I spend some time working together that, when it comes to celebrations, we like to share our joy with our friends.
Can you share any advice for other couples considering entrepreneurship together?
Lisa: It’s not for the faint of heart. There will be many challenges and most people find it easier to work for a company that they can leave behind at the end of the day. Having your own business is a seven day a week commitment. Even if you’re not open, you’re working in some capacity to improve or support other entrepreneurs like yourself. It’s a way of life.
Heather: Strap yourself in, it’s going to be a wild ride.