As a part of our interview series called “Women Of The C-Suite,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Erica Halpern Chaliff.
Erica Chaliff is a renowned teeth whitening professional who enjoys every moment of helping soon-to-be brides look and feel their absolute best. To date, Erica has an extensive background involving aggressive yet gentle whiting processes and has cultivated an extended product line (including BRITEN, Groom Glow, and StayBRITE) that is guaranteed to not only meet expectations, but exceed them every time.
Native to Atlanta, GA and currently living in Nashville, TN, Erica earned her master’s degree in Occupational Therapy from Columbia University. During this time, she reunited with an old high school friend, Ryan Chaliff. Fast forward to today, this husband-and-wife duo launched Bride Brite on their proposed wedding date before COVID hit, a brand that was inspired to finally bridge the prevalent gaps between effective, affordable, and sensitivity-free whitening solutions.
Overall, nothing makes Erica happier than empowering brides with the exquisite white smile they have always wanted, all while ensuring they have a pain-free and seamless experience along the way. She has a true passion for what she does and demonstrates that through her advanced LED technology, precise whitening applications, and on-the-go solutions that were strategically derived through a bride’s lens. This, in conjunction with her reputation for always putting her customers first, is what shaped Erica into the bride-favored asset she is today — one who continuously strives to raise the industry standards bar.
When Erica is not working at Bride Brite, you can often find her marathon running (ran 3/6 world major marathons thus far), exploring Nashville with her dog named Flash, and networking with other entrepreneurs, brides, and people within this ever-evolving industry.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I started my career as a pediatric occupational therapist (OT). Growing up, I was inspired by my fifth grade teacher who believed in me. At that time, school was getting harder for me. I was intelligent, but it took other tools to assist and support my learning style. My teacher enabled me to see myself for my strengths and at that moment, I knew I wanted to work in a field where I would be inspiring others to gain skills and independence in order to maximize their potential and participation across all settings.
After graduating from Columbia University with my master’s degree, I went on to pursue my dream working with kids with developmental disabilities. At that time, I was also living in Nashville with my fiancé, Ryan Chaliff, MD, DDS, an aspiring oral surgeon. The launch of Bride Brite happened simultaneously while I was still working as an OT.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Attending my first bridal trade show was one of the best days ever! As a predominately e-commerce brand owner, I had not had the experience of connecting face to face with our customers until our first bridal show. I loved connecting with others in the industry. Nothing made me happier than when someone came to our booth. The most interesting moment was looking back on the conversations I had that day. I had a few customers ask to take my picture with me. Others, expressed gratitude from the positive influence I have had in their wedding experience. That day was such an interesting and surreal feeling because I instantly felt like I was making a difference at the start of my career.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Friends (you know who you are), if you’re reading this, I’m sorry! It’s one thing to be co-founders with your significant other, however it’s another story to bring on friends to the job. When we founded our company, we brought in 2 friends with the expectation that the money they put in would help us fund products, create an LLC, work with legal teams, etc. We didn’t really think of the long term implications of giving up shares in our company. Don’t get me wrong, we love these guys! But, we learned that there is a difference from signing on employees versus shareholders in a company. We will never make this mistake again and we encourage any other entrepreneurs to think twice prior to selling off percentages of your company.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I am grateful to be surrounded by a family of entrepreneurs. My dad (well both of my parents) have always inspired me that I can do anything I set my mind to. After a year and a day of practicing law, my father chose to work for his dad (my grandfather) in the steak and seafood business. I can relate to this career change after practicing pediatric occupational therapy. When the opportunity presented itself, I realized that I was destined to be an entrepreneur driven by my passion to connect and inspire other brides to smile BRITE and confidently on her wedding day.
For my father, he spent decades in varying roles from CEO to president to COO and beyond. In recent years, my father chose to branch off and create opportunities for my younger brother, Benjamin. After all, the steak and seafood business was always a father and son company so it was inevitable that this would be his “third chapter” in business. Like any other company, my father and brother had to pivot during the pandemic by shifting their business model from supplying steak and seafood to hotels and restaurants to home delivery in response to covid shutdowns.
Though I always remember my dad working long and hard hours growing up, what stood out to me most was that he always made time for his family. He attended every one of my brother’s plays and productions, every single one of my soccer games, and he always made time for my mom (his wife) too. What this taught me was the importance of balancing business and family.
As I run a company now with my husband, the balance to achieve success is a good balance of making time to grow our business and making time for our relationship as newlyweds. When marrying Ryan, I was also fortunate to marry into his wonderful family. I guess you could say we both come from a family of entrepreneurs. His father, Michael, is in the medical field (that’s where Ryan’s love for medicine began) and his mother, Marla, and brother, Jason, both started their own companies. Oftentimes, I confide in his mom and sister, Pamela, who are my role models as women in business.
In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?
I have two rules for myself that prepare my mind and body for success in both business and my personal life.
Rule #1) You must take care of yourself in order to take care of the company. For me, this is seen through my love for running. An hour outside is not an hour wasted, rather it’s an hour that provides me with the energy and positive mental state I need to maximize my productivity throughout the rest of the day.
Rule #2) Business must be addressed outside the bedroom. Discussing high stake decisions right before bed will only get your mind to cycle through every possible option and outcome. Breaking this rule, also interferes with personal life by accepting role confusion between husband/wife and partners in business.
As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
Organizations need diversity in order to make decisions based on varying experiences and backgrounds. When decisions are made from a diverse perspective, there are greater opportunities for growth, learning and coming together to make a decision that will benefit the majority of people.
As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.
Self-awareness is essential as a business leader when it comes to creating an inclusive, representative and equitable society. In the age of social media, it is important to represent an inclusive and diverse community. When I plan our social media content for the month, it is important to me to represent our entire Bride Brite community- Representing people of all colors, ethnicities, religion, gender identity and sexual orientation. Historically, the bridal industry is outdated. It’s important to shift our language. When creating emails, campaigns, ads and even when creating the Couple’s Bundle- it was important for me to represent all couples. When purchasing our couple’s bundles one can choose to check out with Bride Brite x Bride Brite; Groom Glow x Groom Glow or Bride Brite x Groom Glow.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?
An executive must be a leader. But a leader does not need to be an executive. The executive is the individual responsible for making all of the company’s tough decisions.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?
The biggest myth that comes to mind is that CEO = boss. As a CEO, I’d like to think of our model as “servant leadership” rather than the traditional top down approach. As a servant leader, I am still an executive by being the individual responsible for all of the challenging decisions, yet it is my responsibility to serve our customers, employee partners and vendor partners. My goal is to make things as perfect for everyone else as possible. By busting this myth on the power of the CEO, the magic happens from the people empowered to continue to use their skills, creativity, connections and support to expand the company to new heights.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
For me, the biggest challenges faced by women executives is to be taken seriously.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
As a “fast” marathon runner, I always pictured business growth to happen organically yet quickly. I thought of each move as a sprint. Oh was I wrong on that one. Rather than using the analogy that my “actual job” is a marathon, I’d like to compare it to a track field. In a marathon, there is one finish line. When you run around a track, it is never ending. Some laps may be run faster than others, and some might seem like a never ending loop. That being said, routine is key and you can’t waste all of your resources in one lap. The magic of the track field is that persistence is key. That’s what our job is all about.
Is everyone cut out to be an executive? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?
A successful executive must have passion and determination. She must always believe in the company during times of successes and disappointments. An executive must have strong interpersonal skills and effective written and verbal communication skills.
What advice would you give to other leaders to help their team to thrive?
Delegate roles and responsibilities when needed and do not be afraid to ask for help when you do not know something.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
When a customer reaches out to me thanking me for creating a product that provides the person with confidence to smile, I believe that the world is already a better place when one person is happier. I want to continue to make those around me #stayBRITE and smile.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Own your mistakes. Before I started, I wish I knew that I would make a few mistakes along the way. With each mistake, came an opportunity for growth. At first, it was a bit defeating taking accountability for my mistakes. Yet, I learned that with a mistake, comes an opportunity to go above and beyond to make the situation right. I have learned the power of taking accountability, apologizing, making the situation better, and learning from my mistakes so that it never happens again.
- Preplan. There are always tasks to be done, emails to be sent, ads to be created, packages to be shipped and opportunities to grow the company. Time management is a skill I gained early on (live day to day with my old fashioned calendar). I understood how to prioritize early on, however I wish I knew the power of preplanning. In order to lockdown large purchase orders and create successful ad campaigns, you must sign up and start early.
- Empower yourself to learn new skills and roles. Just because you don’t have a strong background in something, does not mean that you are unfit for the role. When I first started, I delegated finances to our “finance guy”. By delegating this responsibility on day 1, I was removing myself from this position. If I were to go back, I would tell myself to take an online finance course in order to feel empowered.
- Delegate responsibilities to talent. Though it is empowering to learn those new skills, delegate responsibilities to talent when you find the right people.
- You are always on. As an entrepreneur and CEO you are always on. You must be able to respond to emails in a timely manner, communicate effectively with customers, co-workers and vendors, and be there for your customers at all hours of the day.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
My movement would be called #StayBRITE. The goal of this movement would be to bring BRITE smiles to as many people as possible. It can start as small as pledging to make 5 people smile a day. From there, those 5 people would go out of their way to empower 5 more people to smile BRITE and so on. There are no rules in terms of how big the action needs to be. There are no exclusionary criteria in terms of people you know, vs strangers, vs people already happy, vs people who could use a smile. Most importantly, 5 is not the limit and this can be ongoing every day. Take 5 minutes at the end of each day to list the people you empowered because at the end of the day it’s not what you said, it’s not what you did, but it’s how you made that individual feel. Imagine the power of bringing happiness and BRITE smiles to those around you. Just thinking about this movement makes me smile.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“I live life like my blood type, B positive” (Timeflies) is the life lesson quote that guides me day by day. When Covid first hit, I (along with so many other people) was struggling with the fear of uncertainty and the unknown. As Timeflies’ song continues “These days, something got me feeling quite the opposite”- I was feeling quite the opposite of this mantra to be positive. Ryan quickly reminded me that what makes me unique is the positivity I bring to people. Rather than moping around and feeling sorry for myself that our wedding plans were about to change, we chose to make something positive out of this date. That reminder to “live life like my blood type, B positive” was the final spark I needed to move forward with launching our company, Bride Brite.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
There are three people in this world I would absolutely love to sit down with: Ellen DeGeneres, Jimmy Kimmel and Lori Greiner. Ellen, Jimmy, and Lori: If you are reading this, coffee or red wine is on me! (I’ll even bring my StayBRITE on-the-go teeth wipes so we can smile and laugh together with no embarrassing red wine or coffee stained teeth and lips)
- Ellen DeGeneres- Ellen is the epitome of doing good for this world. She brings BRITE smiles to so many deserving individuals and her energy is contagious. Ellen, I would love to meet you (even if your team rejected Ryan’s application to propose to me on your show! Don’t worry, I still said yes and our proposal was still very special!)
- Jimmy Kimmel- Admittedly, you are my celebrity crush. Ryan knows this and he accepts the facts. You’re funny, handsome, down to earth, and talented. During our “date”, we can create a new youtube segment together. If you accept my offer, I’ll submit my ideas to your team.
- Lori Greiner- As a female entrepreneur, I would be honored to sit down and learn from the “queen of QVC” and this “shark”. Not to mention, I just feel like Lori and I would hit it off. She would make the world’s best mentor.