AWNY Startup Stories: Lipstick Queen

Poppy King is a name many Australian women associate with lipstick. Her successful brand Poppy was a 90s icon that gave us bold lipsticks named after the seven deadly sins. Fast forward 20 years and Poppy King has created Lipstick Queen. Poppy spoke with AWNY about her experiences of reinventing her brand in the USA.

Tell us about yourself and your business – how was Lipstick Queen born?

I grew fascinated with lipstick when I was 7 years old and played dress up with one of my mum’s lipsticks. What amazed me was how different I felt on the inside when I put on lipstick, and that is what led to my lifetime obsession with creating lipstick that makes you feel like a superhero.

What have been your greatest challenges in starting up a new business in the New York area?

Holding people’s attention. There is so much going on here so its hard to compete with that – it’s something I work at every day.

What are your three greatest learnings in starting up a business?

Repetition, Repetition, Repetition… have to repeat what you stand for so that people understand what your business does, and what it offers them that no other business can.

What steps did you go through to launch your business? (logistics, marketing etc)

I developed the right lipstick formula that gave the brand a point of difference.  and then figured out how best to get that message across in the marketing.

Starting up can be notoriously difficult – what’s motivates you to keep going?

Someone once said to me, “Don’t give up five minutes before the miracle” – meaning work hard and be patient!

What has been your ‘Ah Ha’ / ‘I’ve made it in the USA moment’ 

I feel that way every time I look at the Chrysler Building. I am just so happy to have that beautiful art deco skyscraper in my sights.

Where have you been most successful in marketing your business?

By treating lipstick the way Willy Wonka treated chocolate. Making it magical, surprising, and imaginative, versus a trend or fad.

poppy 2

Do you have any mentors that have been instrumental in their support? How have people been with sharing information and their networks?

My customers are my mentors and working at my in-store counters is where I get the most inspiring and useful information.

What advice would you give someone thinking about starting a business?

Think about why you are doing what you are doing as that will help you figure out what you need to do to achieve success.

Other than yourself, what piece of Australia have you put into your business, and why – or if not, also, why?

Australians are great at multi-tasking, which is great for efficiency, and I credit my Australian-ness with being able to see things from a wide perspective.

What is next for Lipstick Queen?

More magical and enchanting lipsticks and global expansion on the back of that!

poppy logo





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Enjoying the sweet life with Van Leeuwen Ice Cream; AWNY Startup Stories interviews Laura O’Neill

Life is full of twists and turns, and while visiting her brother in London in 2006 Laura O’Neill fell for an American living in London. She followed her heart and made the transatlantic hop from Melbourne to New York. When the romantic relationship faltered, it gave way to an even stronger friendship and business relationship.

Read on to discover more about the string of successful ice cream trucks and NYC/L.A. ice cream shops that are the very hip and very delicious Van Leeuwen brand.

What brought you to the USA?

I met my business partner (then boyfriend) Ben in London in 2006, I was ready for a change so jumped at the opportunity when he suggested I move to NYC and start a ice cream truck business with him and his brother, Pete.

Tell us more about how you met and why are you are in business together?

Ben and Pete had driven ice cream trucks as summer job in Connecticut during college, then right before graduation Ben was in Manhattan and found himself in front of a Mr Softee truck thinking “why doesn’t anyone sell great ice cream off trucks?” That was the ah-ha moment and the birth of the idea.

How was the new business born? 

After enlisting Pete and myself, the three of us started experimenting with making ice cream in our shared Brooklyn apartment.

We were making amazing ice cream using simply milk, cream, cane sugar and egg yolks, but when we looked to find a simple product to buy and sell off the trucks, nothing met our standards of purity. We knew we had to find a way to make our own recipes on a large scale. All the ice cream we found were full of stabilizers, fillers and gums and no one was using exceptional chocolates, fruits nuts etc. Simultaneously as we were experimenting with ice cream making, we found an old 1988 Chevrolet Step Van and retrofitted in to our first pretty yellow ice cream truck.

Was there capital investment when you started up?

We wrote a business plan and raised $60K to get started (very little for a food business!) We managed to pull together the funds from small investments from friends and family and a line of credit. We’ve grown without further investment until this day, with the help of some debt and a small business grant we won in 2012. We currently have 8 stores and 6 trucks across NYC and L.A. and sell our pints of ice cream through around 250 wholesale accounts, with big plans to expand in the next 12 months.

Starting up can be notoriously difficult – what motivates you to keep going?

I won’t lie, there have been some really tough days; time management goes out the window, you’re being pulled in all directions. One particular day there was a literal meltdown of a ton of our ice cream! That was stressful for sure, but with each challenge you realize how resilient and resourceful you can be difficult times and how you deal with these moments, define you as an entrepreneur.

How do you know that you are on the right path?

By remaining authentic to our vision. It’s easy for us to know what to do, because we have a clear vision and know what we won’t do. It comes back to our passion for our product; we will not compromise our ingredients.

How many people are working in your business?

We manage about 180 people at the peak of our busy season, across retail, production and office.

Lets talk about your brand messaging…

Our dedication to making the best ice cream is completely authentic, we use the best ingredients across all our flavors. About 5 years ago we introduced our vegan ice cream. The easy thing would have been to start using gums and fillers to give it the right “mouth feel”, but instead we created a product using fats from plant based ingredients that naturally mimic ice cream. For our vegan ice cream we use house made cashew milk, cocoa butter (the fat from chocolate), coconut cream and coconut oil. Last year we rebranded our pints and chose to work with design firm Pentagram; the best in the biz. With their guidance we were able to realize a brand image that so perfectly and simply communicates our vision.

What is your strongest marketing tool?

Instagram (check us out at @vanleeuwanicecream) is our best marketing tool. We’ve not yet ever spent a cent on marketing or PR so tools like Instagram are a great direct link to our customers.

It was a very deliberate decision to make our packaging more Instagrammable and we’ve doubled our sales since the redesign.

Deciding to use the professional design services of Pentagram was a very smart move; it’s important to know when to invest and work with other professionals to move your business forward.

Photo credit: Sydney Bensimon / Van Leeuwan Facebook

Where are your sales coming from?

Mainly our sales are from our retail; scoop shops that do great and of course our ice cream trucks. Currently we are focusing on wholesale distribution and opening more stores. We also do a lot of events with our trucks, film sets, weddings, festivals etc.

Tell us about ‘Aha’ moment – I’ve made it in New York!

It’s easy to get bogged down in the day to day grind, but it’s amazing to simply be at the stores and see people enjoying our ice cream. The food business can be tough, many try and fail, so although we’ve worked very hard we also feel very lucky that we have so many loyal customers that keep us going!

What are your 3 greatest learning’s in starting up a business? 

  1. Its worth investing in getting your packaging design right.
  2. Invest in quality equipment , if you cut corners it will cost more in the long run.
  3. Be authentic and focused, dig in your heels and stand up for what you believe.

What have been your greatest challenges in starting up a new business in New York? 

The mobile vending world presents many hurdles in terms of permits and parking and truck break downs etc, and the city doesn’t go out of their way to be very helpful, so that can be challenging.

Managing people, particularly as we grow isn’t always easy. When we were smaller it was simpler to convey and promote the company culture we desire. Nowadays we rely on great leaders within the company to help keep our culture and vision strong when we can’t always be present. Our team is awesome!

Going through a break-up with my business partner was a trying time, but we certainly came out stronger and closer and have done our best work since breaking up.

What do you love about doing business in New York? 

  1. If you have a good product, people will support it.
  2. There is the population density to support any type of idea and people who will collaborate with you!
  3. You can always find what you need; I’ll often be searching for an specific part or piece of equipment and realize I can find it right in our own neighborhood.

Photo credit: Van Leeuwan Facebook

In hindsight, is there anything that you would do differently?

We used to be such purists when it came to our flavors. The early menu was all single ingredient flavors, now we are willing to make more fun flavors with chunks and swirls etc, so long as we make everything in-house from scratch.

What advice would you give to someone else in a start-up?

  • Partner with the right people and its good to have business partnerships.
  • When you have an exceptional product, keep working at it. We never rested on our laurels; we continued to evolve our product.
  • It’s when you become stagnant that your business gets stale.

What is next for you and Van Leeuwen Ice Cream?

We are working towards opening more stores in New York and L.A., and increasing our wholesale distribution.

When I’m not doing all things ice cream related, I’m making music with my band Laura and Greg and running the Brooklyn chapter of No Lights, No Lycra. My partners I also run an Indonesian restaurant we opened 4 years ago called Selamat Pagi in Greenpoint.

As a final note, what was your favourite ice cream flavour growing up?

I have very fond memories of vanilla dixie cups with chocolate syrup on top.  Also I loved vanilla ice cream with fresh strawberries, and I’m especially nostalgic about Hokey Pokey ice cream and it inspired our honeycomb flavour, that’s our number one seller.


Connect with Van Leeuwen Ice Cream




The Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream book can be ordered through Amazon.


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Startup Stories – Tanya McCaw of Royal IT

Tanya McCaw is the CEO of Royal IT, an IT Managed Services business. She and her business partner and husband arrived in NYC in 2015 to take a bite out of the Big Apple. AWNY sat down with Tanya to find out what it’s been like bringing their company from Perth to NYC.

Tell us about your business and what inspired you to begin?

Royal IT provides IT consulting, support and Managed IT services to small businesses of up to around 200 staff. Our team of consultants, engineers and project managers become the IT department for our clients so they don’t need to hire their own IT staff. Our goals are to maximize our clients’ profits through the use of technology. We have an office in Perth, Australia, which is now 9 years old and we opened our second office in NYC in 2015.

My business partner and husband is the founder of Royal IT – he started the company after working in the IT industry for over 17 years. I joined Royal IT when it was 3 years old and needed a person to take charge of the business and leadership aspect. I have always wanted to own my own business since I was a teenager, and now that I am realizing this dream with my life partner I feel blessed as we really complement each other.

You brought your business to the USA two years ago – what was the inspiration for moving to the USA?

After backpacking around the world together for a couple of years when we first met, we had a taste of what it would be like to live abroad.

We came to NYC for a holiday 5 years ago and instantly fell in love with the energy of this amazing city. There are so many interesting, talented and diverse people compacted together – it really does inspire me on a daily basis to evolve and become a better version of myself.

From a business perspective, we have always dreamed big: our goal is to open 5 international offices. By moving to the US we are able offer an exceptional service that is 24×7 because we have international teams that are on opposite time zones. The US was an attractive place to start because the need for Managed IT services in small business is becoming crucial as the technology landscape becomes more complicated.

It also made good business sense to expand to the US and diversify our markets during a time when Perth is experiencing an economic downturn.

Tanya McCaw 3

As an IT consulting business – why come to NYC vs other cities in the USA?

In a city like NYC business professionals are very busy and don’t have time to wait hours for their IT issues to be resolved. Our 24×7 help desk and technical consulting team is able to service the round the clock needs of our clients. In addition, we provide guaranteed IT support within 45 seconds! We do plan to expand to other cities in the USA, but at this stage we are focusing on NYC.

What has been your ‘Ah Ha’ / ‘I’ve made it in the USA moment’?

The first 12 months I definitely wasn’t in my comfort zone and was trying to get a grasp of the unique way everything is done in this city. I worked really hard on putting myself out there to develop new friendships and networks and after a while it started to pay off. Now I find that I am out most nights of the week either socializing, attending workshops or networking events. I love it!

My ‘Ah Ha’ moment was when I was delivering a presentation on Royal IT to a group of around 30 professionals and I was sharing our story. I was proud to show photos of our international team and offices. I remember feeling really confident and proud of what we have achieved so far.

What have been the hardest lessons in starting a business?

There have been so many! Starting a business and expanding internationally isn’t for the faint hearted that’s for sure. The main lesson would be not rushing into new hires and taking the time to find the right people. We are now very picky with selecting new staff to join our team and have a lengthy interview process in place. We go against the grain of the typical ‘IT geek’ and employ exceptional communicators that can relate to our clients’ needs. Of course it’s also essential that they possess the right technical skills and are a good fit for our team.

What has been the hardest thing about bringing your business to the USA?

Leaving my family, friends and the Royal IT team in Perth was definitely the hardest part. The flight to Perth is around 26 hours, so unfortunately I don’t have the luxury of popping home for a long weekend catch up. Despite this, I make sure I take out regular time from my schedule to Skype home. My parents and Aunty and Uncle are coming to visit in August this year and they have never been to NYC, so I am very excited to show them around.

Where have you been most successful in marketing your business?

We use an outsourced marketing team to coordinate the marketing campaigns for both our Perth and NYC offices. We developed a strong brand and use a range of marketing strategies that have proven successful, which include in-bound marketing and paid advertising. Networking and referral-based marketing groups have also been critical for lead generation.

Do you have any mentors, and how have people been with sharing information and their networks?

Royal IT is a member of several different IT industry groups that provide ongoing training and mentoring by business leaders. We also attend a couple of industry conferences each year, which are critical as they provide a community to share information and learn the latest technology trends.

In addition to this, I have engaged the services of Zento Global Consulting for the past five years for business coaching. We have used business coaches since the early stages of the company’s development and this has been an instrumental component to supporting the company’s growth.

Tanya McCaw2

What advice would you give someone thinking about starting a business?

The best advice I can provide is: don’t go at this alone! If you don’t have any business experience, find some mentors or engage a business coach. It might cost a bit extra but it really is a wise business investment and will save you from making many costly mistakes. If you pick the right coach they will effectively become part of your team.

Secondly, as a business owner a critical part of your responsibility is to put aside time every week to work ‘on’ the business. This time should not be switched out to work on operational or reactive tasks. Use a virtual assistant and outsource ALL of your lower level tasks where possible, as it is not a good use for your time.

Finally, it is critical to take time to look after yourself. Eat well, exercise, meditate and ensure you have time for family and friends. It is very easy to get caught up in all the ins and outs of running a company and let your life and health go downhill.

Other than yourself, what piece of Australia have you put into your business?

Our business name is from the street we used to live on in East Perth: Royal Street. Our whole team in Australia is involved with the servicing our NYC clients in one way or another, which is really exciting.

What is next for your business?

Continuing to grow the NYC office and expand our networks is the priority. At the end of 2018 we will start looking into opening our third office somewhere in the USA.

Do you have an offer or promo code you would like to share with AWNY members?

Royal IT offers a 10% discount on our services to AWNY members. Use the code RIT-AWNY when you get in touch.

Tanya McCaw 4

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AWNY Year in Review: President’s Letter



Hello to all our members,

I hope everyone has had a great start to 2017. Just as Spring marks new beginnings in this city, it also coincides with the election of our volunteer-led Australian Women in New York (AWNY) steering committee.

Now is your opportunity to get involved. Alongside a dynamic group of women, you will give back, guide the programs and direction of our community, make fabulous friends and most importantly, have fun. We’d love for you to join us.

All positions are available for re-election including: President, Vice President, Secretary, Co-chair (leadership) positions available for Communications, Events, Mums & Dads, Charity and New Members. Plus there are numerous positions available for volunteer coordinators for Events, Communications, Charity, and Mums & Dads.

If you are interested in joining us, submit your nomination by Thursday, April 13 online here, and attend our upcoming Annual General Meeting (April 17).

If you are wondering what our committee does, then read on!

What does the AWNY Committee get up to?

AWNY is a platform for Australian and Kiwi women to support each other through the craziness that is New York – whether it’s getting settled, or stretching for growth – we are here to help you understand more about yourself and how to thrive in this city.

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Selling Vintage Jewelry with Hester Fleming Vintage from Sydney / London / New York – AWNY Startup Stories

Hester Fleming turned a love of Vintage Jewelry into a thriving online business. Read about her journey from London to New York and back to Sydney.



Tell us about yourself and your business, particularly what inspired you to begin.

I started buying and selling genuine vintage jewelry and Accessories in 2010, when I was living in London. I loved spending the weekend exploring the markets of Bermondsey, Camden Passage, Spitalfields and the large collector fairs around regional England. To help sharpen my buying eye, I gravitated to reference books to help distinguish particular styles with eras, and back my investment!  I knew there was a strong market of clients interested in vintage, however they lacked the time to source pieces at a reasonable cost, so this is where I could come in.

Once I built up a large enough collection, I rented a showcase at Grey’s Antique Market Mews in Mayfair, London.  However, it was a challenging time in London to start a business. The economy had gone into shock and people weren’t shopping the way they used to. Lack of foot traffic and sluggish sales in the antique centre, led me to develop my own website.  I had been working for a digital publishing company, so I felt I had the skills to experiment with an ecommerce platform, and implement an integrated marketing plan.

To measure interest online, I sold a few test pieces through my Facebook profile. The result was really positive, so I launched my own site with an email newsletter over a few weeks.  Towards the end of 18months in business, my husband, James, and I were asked to move to New York at the end of 2011!  I was excited to explore what the New York vintage scene was all about but slightly daunted by how my business could work in a city where I knew no one.


What steps did you take to launch your business in a new country?

When I arrived in New York, I spent a lot of time investigating local markets and talking to the traders. Most weekends, I would get up early, coffee in hand and visit markets all over Manhattan and Brooklyn.   I quickly realized 20th century signed Vintage Jewelry and Accessories was very accessible at a reasonable cost.  I eventually developed a great rapport with a few traders, which enabled me to put together a collection that was far more in tune with the New York customer.   I also worked on upgrading my website, organized a photoshoot for rebranding purposes (I’m still in love with the result), attended a few digital marketing workshops and conferences, continued to collect as many potential client email addresses as possible and had a baby!  Once I was back on my feet, I decided for more momentum, I would participate in the Manhattan Vintage Clothing Shows and the Williamsburg Artist and Fleas market. Both were great for expanding my audience and feeling a part of the fashion fabric of New York.  I can now say my customer base in New York includes stylists, fashion bloggers, jewelers, avid collectors of historical costume jewelry and the every day style conscious elite! I also met some wonderful friends in the trade who I will always treasure.

What has been your ‘Ah Ha’ / I’ve made it in the USA moment.

As we all know, New York is tough. I was shocked when I observed how quickly customers browsed and purchased at vintage events. I wondered how I would ever make an impact. It was when customers started to email me last year, to check on my attendance at upcoming vintage events, that I knew I’d made an impact.

What have been the hardest lessons in starting a business in New York and how do you think it differs from doing so in Australia?

The key lesson theme for me, has been confidence. New York is so loud. However, I have learnt you can still make a significant impact by being true to yourself and what you’re offering the world.  I’m currently in the process of setting up my business in Australia, so it will be interesting to see how the Sydney customer responds to my concept and whether it will need altering, like it did when I moved across from London to New York.

Where have you been most successful in marketing your business?

I’ve found the best way to market my business has been by talking about it (with a constant stream of business cards), participating in events, and being consistent with email newsletters.  Over summer last year, I wrote an ebook about vintage buying in New York, which created some buzz. I also had a great Instagram campaign running, which definitely helped with exposure and revenue.

Do you have any mentors, and how have people been sharing information and their networks? 

So many wonderful people have helped me along the way.  Vintage traders who have been on the scene for decades are fantastic at imparting their knowledge.  The organizers of vintage events have been so supportive once I’ve pitched my concept to them.  For an extra push, last summer I  joined Lucy Shahjahan’s Momentum Circle program. I loved connecting with like minded individuals, in a fun and productive environment.  The process helped sharpen my brand, increase revenue and move forward with new ideas.

What advice would give someone thinking about starting a business?

For everything I have invested in my business, there has always been a return one way or another. Don’t have any expectations.  Build a business concept that you are genuinely excited about. It’s what you learn and the community you build with it, that adds so much value into your life.

What is next for your business?

My husband, daughter and I have recently relocated to Sydney, so I’m in the process of setting up my business here.  Selling to Australians in New York has given me the confidence there is a market ready for me here.

Special Offer

For all AWNY members I’d like to offer free worldwide shipping.  Please use code AWNY during checkout.  All product pricing reflects $AUD


Follow Hester Fleming Vintage at:



Instagram: @hesterflemingvintage

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