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Secrets of Success: Holly Daniels Christensen

We’ve launched Secrets of Success, a new weekly interview series here at’s Small Business Forum. I’ve asked some of the smartest, most innovative, most successful people I know to share their insights and success secrets.

Meet: Holly Daniels Christensen, the founder of Dune Jewelry, the Original Beach Sand Jewelry Company®. Holly is a self-taught jewelry designer, who, almost exactly four years ago, after working for 14 years in the Boston real estate market, decided it was time to become an entrepreneur.

A Cape Cod native and casual surfer, Holly loved her summers on the beach. She began making beach sand jewelry for her family and friends. The idea (she sells various types of jewelry filled with the sand from your favorite beach, from all seven continents) quickly caught on and Holly’s business moved from her kitchen table to her basement, then into a small one-room studio and finally into a 1,400-square-foot space in an old mill building in Dedham, Massachusetts.

To keep up on what Holly’s doing, follow Dune Jewelry on Twitter: @dunejewelry; follow on Instagram: DuneJewelry and like Dune Jewelry on Facebook:

Rieva Lesonsky: What did you want to be when you grew up?

Holly Daniels Christensen: I grew up on a small farm on Cape Cod and always wanted to be a large-animal veterinarian. I love horses, cows, Nubian goats—the bigger the animal, the better! Unfortunately I eventually realized I wasn’t very interested in science, so that ended that. Luckily I found my passion elsewhere!

Lesonsky: Why did you start your own business?

Christensen: I didn’t have a privileged upbringing so I’ve had a job since I was 11 years old. Every summer I worked at a zoo on Cape Cod cleaning up after the animals, giving pony rides and hayrides. I started at $5 per day and worked my way up to $5 per hour by the time I was 18. This really showed me the value of hard work! Throughout my life I’ve had all kinds of jobs: zookeeper; pharmacy technician; promotional model; bartender; cell phone salesperson; and then, finally, real estate agent. It took me a long time to figure out what I loved to do, and not to just base my work on survival. There were times I would be working three jobs per day to pay the bills and through it all I soaked in every bit of information. I learned from each and every boss and manager I came into contact with, all the while knowing I needed to do something I was passionate about. I knew I wanted to be my own boss; I knew I wanted to use my creative side and I knew that I loved everything to do with growing a business.

Lesonsky: Did you experience a pivotal moment on your way to success?

Christensen: When I transitioned from [running] Dune part time–because I was still working in real estate–to Dune full time. This was a hard decision for me because I enjoyed working in real estate but my husband saw the reaction to Dune Jewelry and kept telling me over and over again that it was a “once in a lifetime opportunity” to do what I truly loved. He encouraged me and gave me the confidence to make the transition and he couldn’t have been more right. He doesn’t have a formal business background but he has fantastic intuition!

Lesonsky: What’s the best small business advice you ever gave and/or received?

Christensen: To be honest, I’m not sure it’s the best advice, but it’s been the most truthful. Be extremely careful about hiring friends or family. It is a difficult dynamic that doesn’t work for most people even though it seems like a brilliant idea in the beginning.

Also, it’s critical to surround yourself with people who possess strength where you are weak. I’m not the most organized person in the world, and believe me, I know it. I have learned to surround myself with a great team and it takes each and every one of us to make Dune happen. Even when I’m pacing back and forth yelling to my operations manager how amazing it will be when we have a whole line of beach apparel someday, he can sit down, focus and sort out the day-to-day details of getting Dune Jewelry out the door to our fantastic customers and retailers. I get excited very easily, and he reins me in a bit.

Lesonsky: What’s one “best practice” more entrepreneurs should be embracing?

Christensen: The one “best practice” for my industry for sure is: Listen to your customers! This sounds so simple, yet many business owners think they know what’s best. Your customers know best and your customers are the people who will help to build your brand and your business simply by word-of-mouth. With social media so prevalent in our society it’s easy to hear what your customers are saying. Just ask. Then–most important–follow through. Trust me, it will be worth it!

Lesonsky: Do you have a small business prediction for the rest of the year?

Christensen: My prediction is that we’re going to be busy! Consumers are savvy and many prefer to support local and small businesses rather than bigger corporations. Everyone knows “a friend of a friend” who is an entrepreneur or self-employed, and I think supporting small businesses helps the human spirit. It makes people feel good about themselves and their actions. Also, I see more and more small businesses being able to manufacture in the United States and/or bring their businesses back to the United States. It’s becoming affordable again, and with companies like Rhode Island-based Alex and Ani [a trendy jewelry design company] paving the way, it’s showing business owners that it’s possible.

Lesonsky: Do you have a favorite book?

Christensen: With work and two babies at home it’s been hard to get in as much reading as I would like but right now I’m enjoying Losing my Virginity by Richard Branson.

Lesonsky: Is there a quote you find particularly inspiring?

Christensen: I have a few quotes that provide a lot of inspiration to me on a daily basis; it’s hard for me to choose just one. “Life isn’t about finding yourself; it’s about creating yourself.” “Live for the moment, then take it with you.” And, “Respond to every call that excites your spirit.”

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Author information

Rieva Lesonsky

Rieva Lesonsky is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media and custom content company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship. Email Rieva at [email protected], follow her on Google+ and, and visit her website,, to get the scoop on business trends and sign up for Rieva’s free TrendCast reports.