Seeing Faces in NYC Inspires Business Start-up in San Francisco

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Alex Regenstreich
Garry Bowden/Souls of San FranciscoAlex Regenstreich, founder of iseefacestoo

In 2012 I was standing in Bloomingdale's in NYC when I noticed a famous Celine purse that looked like a "face." I was with a friend who had seen that bag hundreds of times but until then had never seen the face.

Delighted by this change of perspective, we began noticing faces in objects everywhere we went.

Celine face purse
Alex RegenstreichThe "face" that launched a business
As the face images started to pile up, I decided to create a folder on my computer and share these images with other people. And a funny thing happened the more I shared. People began to see faces in objects in their everyday lives and to enthusiastically share them with me.

After doing some research it turns out there is a phenomenon known as "Pareidolia" where our brains are hard-wired to recognize patterns and faces in objects. Carl Sagan hypothesized that as a survival technique, human beings are "hard-wired" from birth to identify the human face.

Da Vinci wrote of pareidolia as a device for painters and Picasso once sent a photo of an African Hut to Salvador Dali because he thought it looked like a face profile turned sideways, which Dali turned into a surrealist painting.

Fast forward a couple of years and I had hundreds of face images in this folder.

%VIRTUAL-pullquote-After six years of working in advertising sales, selling other people's visions, I wanted to experiment with a vision of my own.%After six years of working in advertising sales, selling other people's visions, I wanted to experiment with a vision of my own and find a project I was passionate about. I attended a life accelerator in San Francisco called Bold Academy where we were encouraged to take our ideas seriously, no matter how small or seemingly out of reach.

That is when I decided to take my images and make one small, quirky book to sell in stores. Then I was encouraged by my family and close friends to take this idea even further and to create a brand of these whimsical images.

I decided on a name and instagram handle (@iseefacestoo) and that is when Joseph Campbell's quote "Follow your bliss and doors will open where you didn't know they were going to be" kicked into high gear.

I was walking around my neighborhood in San Francisco when I met this awesome, quirky lady named Fran who runs a print shop called Ella Print out of her garage. She and her partner Audry are makers and they helped me prototype my face designs onto t-shirts, coffee mugs, puzzles and prints.

Another friend introduced me to a top-notch non-profit in the Bay area called FACES SF, serving the needs and well-being of San Francisco's most vulnerable children and families. They provide high-quality after school programs and job placement to low-income families. Inspired by social entrepreneurs like TOMS and Life is Good, 10% of all sales go to FACES SF.

Today I am working on getting others to buy into my vision. I am speaking with Urban Outfitters and the Exploratorium in San Francisco to get this book and merchandise in stores and I sell my products on iseefacestoo.com.

OMG Face Mug
Alex RegenstreichOMG Face Mug sold on iseefacestoo.com
A friend asked me, "Why faces?" To me, it is delightful to see something that was in front of us the whole time but that we never saw until we took the time to stop and look.

Seeing faces is a metaphor for learning to see our whole lives with a fresh perspective. My mission with faces is to get us to pay more attention to our surroundings and to inspire others to experiment with their ideas and visions.

Right now this venture is funded fully by my own savings.

I've spent roughly $5,000 getting to this point.
  • $1,500 on some branding and website help
  • $1,500 on Trademark/copyrights
  • $500 on book prototypes
  • $1,000 on various other product prototypes.
So far, I've netted about $1,800 in sales.

Seeing Faces in NYC Inspires Business Start-up in San Francisco

For small costs that can quickly add up over time -- like that daily latte habit or weekly apps and music purchases -- consider buying yourself a gift card and load it with a set, budgeted amount at the start of each month. Then go ahead and enjoy those treats until your card runs out. "This makes it easy to keep track of small, daily expenditures," says Natalie Taylor. "Plus, it feels more special and guilt-free when you're paying with a gift card."

If you're just starting to share in financial decisions with a significant other, Stephany Kirkpatrick suggests keeping a "slush fund" bank account into which you each set aside money every month to use for one or two joint expenses. "You can use this to pay for date nights, a vacation or a bigger purchase you want to make together," she suggests. "It helps take away the burden of wondering who is going to pay for certain things -- and it's a great way to get your feet wet when it comes to joint finances."

After a few months, you can graduate to contributing enough to the account to cover larger household bills if you live together, and before you both know it, the concept of combining your finances probably won't be as overwhelming.

"So many people get talked into buying extended warranties on electronics or insurance on their cell phones," says Tom Gilmour, who tells his friends to skip these purchases and use that money to buy term life insurance and disability insurance instead.

David Blaylock agrees. "Life and disability insurance are often overlooked and shouldn't be," he says. "For most of us, the greatest asset we have is our ability to earn income. If we become sick (or die) and we lose that ability, it can be financially devastating. I see clients all the time who have these benefits available to them through their employers and simply haven't signed up for them."

"Jot down all of the things under $30 that are little, feel-good splurges -- and when you need to treat yourself or someone special, pull from this list," Kirkpatrick says. "Whether it's frozen yogurt, an impromptu yoga class, a few copies of recent New York Times best sellers or a nice bottle of wine, $30 can give you the happiness boost you need -- without derailing progress you've made on your financial goals."

"I recommend prenups and postnups," says Brandie Farnam. "If you think about it, people are most inclined to be fair and equitable when things are happy and stable in a relationship -- not when you're fighting for things while parting ways." She notes stay-at-home moms need to protect themselves financially if they opt to leave the workforce for an extended period to raise a family.

Thinking of having a baby and trying to decide whether you can afford for one parent to scale back at work or quit altogether? Farnam tells her friends to completely bank the income they're thinking of dropping (or reducing) for six months -- and rely on the other salary to cover expenses during that period. "This will give you a sense of how it'll feel before you make such a huge, potentially irreversible [career] decision," she says.

Speaking of kids, Gilmour tells all of his new-parent friends to consider setting up a 529 plan -- even if they can't afford to start saving for college themselves. "You can use it to deposit monetary gifts received from grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends."

Taylor tells all of her friends to consider opening a "fun account," so they can splurge without guilt every once in a while. Taylor and her husband used their own fun account to buy a used elliptical machine, pay for a private Pilates trainer and go on a post-maternity wardrobe shopping spree. If it works for your budget, "Dedicate a certain percentage of your income and all money windfalls, like bonuses, to put into this account," Taylor suggests. "10 percent is a great place to start."

You may be able to accomplish the same idea the old-school way too. "One of my friends was able to treat a few of us to a poolside cabana when we were on vacation because she'd been putting small bills into a 'fun jar' for guilt-free splurges just like that," Farnam says.

Don't want to hire an investment adviser or don't have the confidence to manage your own portfolio? "Consider using an all-in-one asset allocation fund to help ensure you always have a diversified asset allocation," says Elizabeth Sklaver. "When buying investments, be sure to check your firm's [no-transaction-fee]/commission-free list, so you're not paying fees you may have avoided. If you are contributing regularly and paying a fee for each trade, it may be worth it to switch firms."

Staying home to raise the kids? If possible, you should still be saving for your golden years, notes Kirkpatrick. "I tell my girlfriends that if they choose to leave their jobs, they should maximize a Spousal IRA or Spousal Roth IRA," she says. "This way, retirement savings is accumulating in their name, in addition to what their spouse saves for the future."

Kirkpatrick says she's amazed by the number of people who skip the simple step of filling out a beneficiary form for their retirement plan or life insurance. "Since a beneficiary form is a substitute for a will, this is a critical document that allows money to transfer to a beneficiary directly -- without the overhead or complexities of probate," she says. This can become especially important, if you aren't married or if you want someone other than your spouse to inherit your money. "Just remember that if something changes -- say, you get married or divorced -- you need to update paperwork everywhere."

Remember to donate some of your hard-earned money. "People who set aside money to support various organizations live richer lives," Blaylock says. Choose an amount you can afford to donate each year -- and consistently give it away. "I hear people say that they will give when they are older," he says. "But I find that those who don't get into the habit of giving early on rarely become charitable."

Yes, your eyes may glaze over when you're reading the fine print. But really understanding what's offered to you can help you take advantage of any "free money," like a 401(k) matching program, health savings account, gym discount or a pretax commuter benefit, says Gilmour. "Also, if you donate to charity," he says, "many large companies are willing to match your gift, which helps your dollar go even further."

Planners say they are shocked by how few people have a budget. Blaylock says that you should start by asking yourself these key questions: How much are your monthly fixed expenses? How much are your variable or flex expenses each month? How much is your net income? Armed with the answers, you can then sit down to map out a monthly budget that can help keep you on track for your financial goals.
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