Jessica Adnani smooths the edges of Washington’s accomplished class. For about $65 an hour, the professional personal assistant will locate the prescription drugs you forgot at the Paris four-star hotel, find the tickets to the must-see Kennedy Center event, map the trip to Turks and Caicos or design your personal Web site.
This hungry young capitalist has built a thriving concierge boutique, which she is bent on turning into a much larger business. At 25, the Miami of Ohio graduate has her eyes on leaving the drudge of wage slavery to join the ranks of the swells for whom she works.
Her vision of a coast-to-coast concierge business fires up the ambition.
“It’s residual income that I am after,” she says, sounding like an MBA.
Starts are everything, and Adnani appears to be off to a healthy one. She has 10 wealthy clients who pay her to organize their daily lives. She doesn’t divulge her client list, but “you would recognize the names,” she said.
Adnani said she is working 40 to 60 hours a week. Her company, Personalized Solutions, should bring her a healthy, six-figure income this year. Small. But you have to start someplace.
While some of her fellow millennials troll the Internet for slim-paying salary work or wait for a well-connected mom or dad to “make a call,” Adnani troubleshoots for her established clients.
“Jobs don’t land on your lap,” she said by phone, while tooling to her next job. “My generation is plagued by laziness, and that’s a huge inhibitor to success.”
She drives a used Audi A4, pays down her not-inconsiderable college loan, employs a pair of part-time contract workers and reinvests her growing income in the business. She networks like mad and hits art events and Neiman Marcus fashion shows, where potential clients congregate.
“I place myself strategically,” she said. “Even if you make one or two connections, it’s all worth it. It’s just good to be mingling in the same circles.”
Her clear-eyed approach is refreshing. She knows she is in a moment (“I don’t have any competition”) and is making the most of it. “It’s really hard to create something out of nothing,” Adnani said. “But my biggest asset is I had nothing to lose when I started this. No boyfriend. No real estate. All I had were student loans to lose. ”
She is direct, looks people in the eye and is always upbeat, even when others aren’t.
“Being Debbie Downer doesn’t make you money,” said the former Nordstrom saleswoman. She took that job in August 2011 but quit five months later when she grew weary of looking at her after-tax, two-week paycheck. It read: “$300.”
Adnani grew up in Orange County, Calif., where her father manages databases for Lockheed Martin. Her mother sells for Next Day Blinds in Columbia, Md.
She graduated in 2011 with a degree in political science and made ends meet tutoring students in English for $20 to $50 an hour while she looked for work. Then she took the job at Nordstrom in the women’s clothing department.
“It taught me customer service, the importance of showing up on time, looking the part, always be positive. It also taught me working your butt off doesn’t always mean you are going to make money. You have to work smart.”
That last part alone was probably worth more than a college semester. My experience is you must work hard but make sure it is serving your career goals. Don’t get on a treadmill.
She e-mailed one of her best Nordstrom customers, Kathleen Golden, who is married to Washington real estate bigwig Terry Golden, whose impressive résuméincludes stops at Trammell Crowe and Oliver Carr Co. He is a former chief executive of Host Marriott and former assistant secretary of the U.S. Treasury.
“I said I need to make my next move, and do you know anyone who needs a personal assistant?”
Adnani, who was living in Annapolis, to this day isn’t sure why she selected personal assistant, but she confesses to loving details and loving organization. Kathleen Golden invited her to the Goldens’ home in Friendship Heights. They started her at 15 hours a week. “Terry said, ‘Let’s give this a shot.’ ”
She started helping them with travel, using her technology skills to exploit frequent flier mileage to the hilt. She organized a family wedding/vacation in Italy, including hotels and rental cars. She planned parties, including a St. Patrick’s Day fete on the Goldens’ boat. Once she had gained their confidence, Adnani started scheduling Terry Golden’s life, filtering phone calls, e-mails and meeting requests.
“The key is being able to juggle a million things,” Adnani said. “You have to be able to switch roles in the blink of an eye. People blurt out things at a million miles a second.”
Her business took off from there. One day, a woman saw Adnani on an elevator clutching Container Store bags and asked whether she was moving in. “No, I’m a professional organizer,” Adnani answered. The women said she needed her help, and another client was born.
When she got home that night, she jumped online and ordered business cards. She also researched how to create a limited liability corporation, and then drove to Baltimore and filed the paperwork.
The work is hard, with calls sometimes in the middle of the night, but she loves owning her own business. Her proudest moment came when she looked at her schedule and realized there were not enough hours in the week to fulfill all the requests from clients.
“It was a milestone moment,” she said. She draws the line at being asked to clean, grocery shop or pick up kids from school. She also doesn’t house-sit.
Not everything has gone smoothly. She booked a complicated flight for one couple to a remote part of the world. When the couple got to the airport, they discovered that their tickets were booked for the wrong day.
Adnani drove to the airport and offered to pay for the mistake. The couple are still clients.
Last week, she was multitasking on several assignments: organizing a dinner party for 15 at the Capella hotel in Georgetown; helping a client who is a member of the New York Yacht Club launch a Chesapeake Bay cruise for fellow members; working out arrangements for a family of 11 to spend a summer vacation touring Italy and France.
She is negotiating a partnership with a local chef/entrepreneur to start an invite-only, monthly dinner that will be held at exclusive locations around Washington.
I’m not sure whether this little start-up is going to blossom into something bigger. I know that Adnani is smart, a self-starter and works hard. She shows up and, as she puts it, “I do the best I can. There is a solution to every problem.”
That kind of optimism goes a long way.