Before starting photo booth company MBFNI (MyBestFriendNi) two years ago, real life best friends Cynee Foreman and Lavern Butler had no experience in the events industry. The friends, who met in the 6th grade, had always dreamed of starting a business together, but they weren’t quite exactly sure what it would be. It was the idea to learn each other’s money habits first before embarking on a business venture together — by starting a joint savings account — that sparked the business idea for the photobooth company, and eventually, what ultimately strengthened their friendship.
Despite gaining steady momentum after launching their business in 2019, Foreman and Butler suffered business losses due to the COVID-19 outbreak, since social gathering is at the heart of their business. It was during that time that they took time to re-strategize and refocus, so they could come out of the pandemic stronger and more prepared than ever.
The startup has now become a go-to event vendor in New York City, snagging high-profile gigs, but also serving the local community — such as birthday parties, baby showers, weddings and family functions. After finding success with the MBFNI photo booth, they have since introduced other services such as a marquee champagne wall and red carpet stanchions after seeing other event trends become increasingly popular post- COVID.
In this interview with ESSENCE, the BFFs detail how their friendship has been the catalyst for their entrepreneurship journey, and also what’s next for the business.
What did you learn about one another after deciding to open a joint savings account?
Butler: The funny thing is we actually discovered each other’s strengths once we opened the savings account. We were able to determine that I [Lavern] have innate budgeting skills and Cynee has a great eye for quality elements needed to execute the mission. These roles are crucial for running a business and go hand in hand. In a nutshell, Cynee tells me what is needed as far as inventory, and I give the budget or allowance to get the best for our brand within limits. We also try to keep up with the latest version of what our industry has to offer. We did research on why some businesses fail, and we learned that overspending was one of the top reasons. I am able to keep us on track and determine when we might have to hold off on making a purchase, and remind Cynee that “emergency funds” is never an option, unless it is an emergency!
How did this help you change your money-mindset?
Foreman: Our favorite line we say to one another is, “Make it make sense”. We often use this line with one another when it comes to purchases, business or personal. We do not deprive ourselves of the things we like, but we have become more aware of unnecessary spending.
What challenges have you faced since launching?
Foreman: Becoming an entrepreneur is both exciting and scary. It is an overwhelming feeling to have a passion for something that one million others have the same passion for. So many are pursuing the same interest as you are, people that have already established names for themselves and are thriving. This is all so inspiring, but to be transparent it can also be discouraging. Developing a name for yourself can be challenging, at times we find ourselves being anxious, impatient, and even a little disheartened. Our faith, principals and beliefs are very similar, and we know that there is a lane for us. Timing is everything and what is meant for us will be. We just focus on providing the best service for our clients and let our work speak for itself.
Do you have any advice to Black entrepreneurs who are just getting started?
Butler: The first thing we would say is, not to think of your business as a side gig. Being an entrepreneur is being a student all over again. Not everyone can just show up to class the day of an exam and pass without having to study night after night. Some students can and some entrepreneurs have experienced the blessing of growing fast (the anointed). Apply the same routine as a student, and go through years of schooling. Work daily, educate yourself, learn from your mistakes as well as the mistakes of others. The goal is to long term, continue to invest and reinvest in yourself, it will be worth it in the end. This goes for successful businesses as well, remain a student and you will forever grow.
What’s next for the business?
Butler: Bigger and better is next for us. We challenged ourselves to achieve the goal of opening up an event space this year. After a year like 2020, with the pandemic, we have been blessed that our business has an opportunity to continue growing. Now that restrictions are being lifted, events will have more meaning to people and their loved ones. We had time to reevaluate life, love and freedom. People want to take advantage of their time and celebrate each other now more than ever. This is the perfect time to expand our brand. The goal is to be a one-stop-shop, which will include our photo booth services, as well as Cynee’s expansion into event planning, where she displays her skills in décor. The future is bright.