Nelly Arnold runs Personal Space
"There are so many different layers and dimensions of self-confidence and it’s the reason people are successful."
Nelly Arnold, founder of Personal Space
Nelly Arnold is the creative mind behind Personal Space, a design firm that specializes in building self-confidence through personal style and interior design. She believes in the power of the entrepreneurial spirit, and she's learned to trust the process in running her own company.
What was your initial vision for Personal Space?
I saw that women were struggling with their appearance after they had a baby, for example, or transitioning from college to first job. Confidence to me is a complicated concept, but it’s been easier for me to have confidence in my life. Others have noticed that about me — I attribute that to my upbringing.
The self-confidence concept is still the centerpiece of what I do professionally and personally. I think it’s so important for people to have self-confidence in relation not to just their body, but in their work product. There are so many different layers and dimensions of self-confidence and it’s the reason people are successful.
Did you have any fears about becoming an entrepreneur?
I’m not sure if fear is the right word. I’m not great with fear. I just kind of ignore it. Fear is being unsure of the unknown because you can’t control it. I’m not controlling, so fear for me is not something I feel a lot.
There does come a point when you just need to jump. You’re never going to be stable enough. It’s a combination of luck, hard work, friendships, and connections that I made 10 years ago that all really came together. When something is meant to be at the moment [that] you’re doing it, it becomes easy and pulled together and logical. It almost gets to the point where if you don’t do it, it becomes detrimental to who you are and where you’re going.
What has been your greatest struggle in founding the company?
There’s been a lot. The biggest struggle has been making sure I connect with other people who aren’t clients. At Urban Outfitters, I was in a sea of intensely creative, intelligent people from all around the world. When I left Urban and was in my home office, and now my office in the Bok building, it’s like, where do I get that creative energy? Where do I find that community?
That aspect of not having coworkers has been difficult. I’m collaborative and creative. I draw a lot from interactions with other people. I’ve had to seek that out.
What has been your greatest triumph in your founder’s journey thus far?
When a client really loves the work that I do. I work with a lot of families. I explain to them, how can we take your family culture and what you want to express to your children and channel that to their home’s interior?
The connection to fashion and home — my business is the intersection of fashion and home. Not just colors or patterns, but what are we trying to say. How can I bring that to my clients and combine it with their culture? That’s the fun part for me, combining all of those elements.
"Owning your own business is not for everyone, but being entrepreneurial is."
Nelly Arnold, founder of Personal Space
Did anyone in your life try to dissuade you from becoming an entrepreneur?
It was the total opposite. I think that there’s a lot of insecurity that others feel about starting a business. Sometimes their insecurity is reflected onto me. But no one has ever said, “No, don’t do it.”
Most people say, “That’s so great. I could never do that.” It makes me sad to hear that though. Owning your own business is not for everyone, but being entrepreneurial is for everyone. As a first world nation, we should be pushing that to get to a level of innovation to be competitive – that mindset and developing that no matter what you’re doing. I think it would help move us forward as a country.
Have anyone in your personal life been a constant source of support?
My mom. She’s like — I can’t even describe my mother. She’s the most important person to me, hands down. She meets me where I am right now, which is very difficult for a parent to do. She says the thing I need to hear, when I need to hear it. She herself is an incredible person. She’s always smiling, always positive, always a little off color, always funny. She taught me how to interact with people and think about as it relates to interiors, the full picture of interior, shape and color. And curiosity. My mom has taught me to be curious and that has served me very well.
How is your work-life balance?
I’ve never had work-life balance. I will say I am much more in control of my schedule. It’s nice to not be attached to a desk. I’m able to go back to Montana every summer and have a bit of a retreat. My dad still lives there and is a cheese-maker. I work with him and get back to manual labor and what that means — working in a way where your body hurts because you’ve been carrying and standing. The ability to have time to travel and to dictate my own schedule is hugely important to me.
I have a very charmed, lucky life right now. No children, no partner. But I own my house. I own my car. It has duct tape on it, but I own it. This is the right time. I have freedom in a way that a lot of other people don’t have freedom. A lot of women start a business for the flexibility — to be home with family, and to have that emotional and mental flexibility. I think it’s sad that our American culture doesn’t support women in that way.
I want to have that flexibility in 10 years. If I do have kids and do have a partner, I want to be able to experience life with them, and for them to see mom building a business. Growing up, I had that. I saw my parents doing something unrelated to me. We weren’t their centerpiece.
Did you ever come close to giving up?
Every day. There have been times I’m so overwhelmed and concerned about how I’m going to support myself that it would be really nice if someone gave me a paycheck, pat on the back, and a promotion. When I take a step back, I see that it’s a moment of weakness or frustration — not a moment of giving up.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned as an entrepreneur?
I hate that this term has become trendy, but trust the process. I used to be someone who would pivot a lot. That brought success and innovation, and I learned a ton. But now I’m able to be more resilient and to have that master vision and keep pulling that through.
This interview has been lightly edited from an in-person conversation for clarity. Capturing Lightning is a project from Woden, a strategic storytelling agency in Philadelphia that helps organizations articulate who they are and why people should care. To learn more about how to tell your story, visit us at wodenworks.com.