Meet one of the most successful women in publishing: Valerie Brandes

Meet one of the most successful women in publishing: Valerie Brandes

Becoming one of the most successful women in publishing wasn’t an easy task, but Valerie Brandes, who was raising two kids, and left her hometown of nearly twenty years behind, was able to make it.

With a deep belief in bringing a diversity of voices together and giving them an important space in the publishing world, she opened Jacaranda in 2012 in London. To date the company has published over 24 titles of talented authors, including multiple award winners such as Irenosen Okojie(Butterfly FishSpeak Gigantular), Fiston Mwanza Mujila(Tram 83), and Bernice L. McFadden(The Book of Harlan).

Named one of the top 100 most influential Black Britons on the Powerlist 2018, Valerie Brandes is an example of success for women entrepreneur, and you can get to know more about her in this exclusive and inspiring interview by Alma Emprendedora:

AE: What made you decide to join the team of women entrepreneurs?

VB: I have always had a deep desire to have my own business. It’s an environment that I am constantly excited and challenged by. When I decided to launch Jacarandathat was the beginning of the realization of a lifelong dream. Finding a community of women entrepreneurs was the icing on the cake.

AE: What major hurdle did you encounter in making Jacaranda thrive?

VB: This is a loaded question. Us thriving is an ongoing objective so we are constantly having to jump hurdles both major and minor. As with many business access to funds starting out was a big hurdle and remains one. The learning curve of being a new business in a deeply established industry was and is very challenging. Understanding the importance of building a very strong team as soon as possible and doing so without access funds or a record of making money has been the biggest hurdle so far.

AE: Being part of a selective group of successful women entrepreneurs is very difficult. When you add children to the equation, the work becomes even more demanding. How do you manage to combine and thrive in both?

VB: For me this is a very real and clear challenge. When I started the company both my children were in their early teens and while the basic needs of food, clothes, shelter of an early stages mother are no longer as high a priority, they still have those needs, along with the growing need for emotional support. Just because they may now be challenging you in terms of height and attitude, as a parent we cannot drop the ball, not then nor now as young adults even. The fact is regardless of how enlightened one’s partner may be or society has changed, as a woman I often found myself leaving day long meetings and going direct to the supermarket to do the weekly shop on the way home. I would always wonder how many male CEO’s would be in that position. They can count on a wife, but women have to be the wife and CEO and it can be exhausting. Over the years I have made it my responsibility to maintain my health, mentally and physically. To not look at that as a chore or another thing on the ever-growing list, but as a pleasure and in many ways an honor. I love to read, write, walk in the trees, and go to the spa. Oftentimes, simply putting on my trainers, a podcast and going for a thirty minute walk can be transformative. I also work hard to offer the same level of care to my staff and encourage them to put themselves on the top of their list of priorities. In terms of productivity this has only been completely positive.

AE: Have you ever felt like giving up? If so, what kept you going?  

VB: Absolutely. Being in business is not for the faint-hearted.  The challenge to your own sense of self and wellbeing can be astonishing and there have been many “dark nights of the soul” moments where nothing could feel better than simply deciding not to continuing. What keeps me going is the love and passion I have for Jacaranda, the desire to really learn all that I can about building a successful business for the long term and other people’s appreciation and understanding of the level of hard work and sacrifice we have made to get to where we are. I do feel that I can’t let them (or myself for that matter) down.

AE: To select a piece, what’s the instinct that prompts you to follow a story?

VB: Without question the writing and by that I mean, have I fallen into this world being created by this author and accepted entirely the premise of the work no matter how far-fetched it may seem? Our wonderful author Irenosen Okojie with her novel Butterfly Fish and her short story collection Speak Gigantular, is a great example of this. Her work is astonishing and complex and yet one falls in and is willing to be led (sometime astray) by her amazing talent. Likewise, Bernice McFadden, author of The Book of Harlanhas this incredible ability to grip you with her words and the pictures she paints.

Rest in Power by Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin

Rest in Power by Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin

AE: How attached do you get to a story? Specifically, for Rest in Power, the book by Trayvon Martin’s parents, how much were you move by it?

VB:As a general rule you want to really love a book and if not love, then you definitely need to be moved by it. Rest in Power is my most cherished and proud acquisition. It was incredible for me to be able to read about the real family behind those terrible headlines and to see just how courageous his parents are and just how typical of a teenager Trayvon was. It is clear to me that George Zimmermanmurdered Trayvonand got away with it because of a system that is so deeply corrupt any true challenge to the status quo could see it collapse. (It may yet anyway). My anger over the travesty of that situation and the completely unnecessary loss of such a young life, has been tempered by the rise of movements such as Black Lives Matter, which at their best have taken this racial conversation to new heights, as well as the accidental activist roles Trayvon’s parents Sybrina Fultonand Tracy Martin, suddenly find themselves in. Their humility, repose and determination not to let their son’s life be taken in vain is a true inspiration to us at Jacaranda. I am deeply proud that we could bring this story to British readers and since publication, it is clear that it has really struck a nerve, particularly with young white British readers who aren’t upper or upper-middle class and who feel a sense of alienation from the perception of them as being highly privileged and as having it all.

AE: Any advice that you’d like to give to the women entrepreneurs that are just starting?

VB:

  1. Do your homework. You don’t know what you don’t know and this could be your undoing. Even if you have extensive experience in the industry you are starting out in, study the latest trends and look at where others have failed.
  2. Be passionate about the industry and product you are offering. When times get challenging, that passion, while it may not be as inflamed, it will be the little light you need to keep going.
  3. Believe in yourself. Deeply. Unreservedly. Unequivocally.
  4. Have a champion, or group of champions. People who will tell you not to give up but will also ask the hard questions. Love them, they believe in you.
  5. GOOD LUCK!!

Finally, here are some fun quick questions:

Favorite food: Chocolate

Favorite song: Treat Her like A Lady, The Temptations

Favorite city: New York and London

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