Interview with Toni Robinson, owner of Stilettos & Screwdrivers
It’s not everyday that I get an opportunity to interview a woman who runs her own electronic repair company. Toni Robinson is the owner of Stilettos & Screwdrivers an electronic repair company, she can fix just about any gizmo or gadget that you can think of. Phones, laptops, iPads, you name it the team over at Stilettos & Screwdrivers are fixing it (the team which consists of Toni and her husband). I had been following Toni and her company for awhile before I got up the nerve to ask for an interview. I honestly followed her social media handle (Instagram) because she inspired me. Here was a woman, a Black woman who is married, has a family, and took a leap and started her own electronic repair business from scratch. Talk about wow! What stood out to me the most was that she used her social media to pump her business and empower other women who were interested in getting into the tech business. I am not sure if you are aware but there aren’t a lot of women in the tech business. So to have a black woman not only thrive in that area of business but also create her own company is very inspiring. I was interested in her journey, I wanted to know exactly how she maintains wearing her fancy stilettos while holding those screwdrivers.
S.H: Tell me a little bit about yourself, where you’re from and how you got started?
Toni: I am originally from New York (Harlem) born in Brooklyn raised in Harlem, I migrated to New Jersey when I got married. I’m pretty spunky, I’ve been working with electronics for quite a bit now. I went to a trade school when I was in high school. I was kinda coerced by my mother because originally I wanted to be a professional dancer. But she said for me to always keep my options open because you never know what can happen. You have to have a back up plan, once I graduated high school I was offered an apprenticeship position with New York Transit Authority, and I was going to New York City Technical college at the same time. So, I did that for about three years, I graduated the apprenticeship and was offered a full time job. So that’s where I started, I started in a trade school and then I started doing electronics at work I was a technician, that’s where the screwdrivers part comes from in “Stilettos & Screwdrivers.”
S.H: How did you come to create your own business?
Toni: So I started doing the technician work on the side, I broke my phone a couple of times and I was tired of sending it in to get repaired. And being technically inclined you know coming from a tech background I did the research and fixed my phone myself. I told people I fixed my phone myself and they were like, “oh you fixed your phone, can you fix mine?” More and more people asked and then a light bulb went off and I thought, “you know what I can make some money from this.” And having two children I wanted to be in their lives more, my career is very demanding, and I really wanted my own schedule so that is what helped me begin the stages to create my own company.
S.H: How did you come up with the name “Stilettos & Screwdrivers?” I started following you on social media because the name stood out to me.
Toni: Well, I’m kind of a quirky person. I am so girlie yet I have that tomboy feel, like I love getting dirty but I will do a 180 and put on heels and shock everyone. I love dressing up, I’m a girly girl, I like fashion, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t do my thing with my hands. My main tool is a screwdriver, so I was thinking of ways to add feminine and masculine together. I thought, “I rock a mean stiletto and I use screwdrivers,” it was always “S&S” in the back of my mind, so that’s where it came from.
S.H: How has your experience been being a black woman in the tech business?
Toni: From the beginning I was always the minority, when I was in high school I was the only girl in my class. From then I knew that was my place, I felt like I had something to prove, like I can do this. I wanted to show that it doesn’t matter how I look, I can work hard just like you. Following through into college there was no one that looked like me in my classes. That’s what kinda gave me the push to keep going. When I started my job there were three girls in my apprenticeship program along with a class filled with guys, two black girls and one Latina and we kinda stuck together. They hated us they were like, “these girls you know try to outwork us.” So that was in the background all the time, me being different. Even now at my current job there is almost 300 employees, still its only three of us. Its rare that you see a female especially a black female in the tech field, that’s why I always want to encourage girls to try it.
S.H: Why do you think girls steer away from tech jobs? Do you think its a subconscious thing?
Toni: I think subconsciously we do stay away from tech jobs, because when you think about tech jobs it seems boring. People use gadgets all the time but to want to fix it, they don’t take an interest. I do think growing up there is a disconnect, because when you are looking for a career as a woman they push nurse, lawyer, business related jobs, but you never hear technician or engineer in the mix of that. So I don’t think that as a society they push women to enter this field because they feel as though its a mans job. It’s changing slowly because they are introducing it in after school programs and summer camps and they are targeting girls to get them interested. Because if it’s not presented there won’t be an interest.
S.H: You have a job that not many people can sit and say “yeah we understand what you’re going through” because not a lot of people work in your field. Who has been one of your mentors or someone you looked up to, to keep going?
Toni: Well surprisingly I met my husband on the job, and we are really ridiculous (she laughs) because that’s all we talk about. People look at us like, “okay they are having geek talk.” But we feed off of each other. I had a very good group of people that I was associated with going into my career. We all came in together through the apprenticeship and we motivated each other in all areas. The majority of all of us brought houses before we were 35, we went to school together, we built each other up, it was a family. I appreciate them having the same drive as me because it wasn’t just me trying to show the world alone. I also have a couple of people at my job who make sure I understand that I have to be on top of my trade or I will get left behind. They will tell me about taking different certifications, my boss is definitely one of my mentors and helped to give me my drive.
S.H: Now when you say drive, people want to know how to keep up the drive? A lot of people who want to be an entrepreneur who may have day jobs or want to get started are trying to figure out how to get going?
Toni: What made me really buckle down and decide to do this was my children. Not being there when I needed to be, when it was concerts that I couldn’t make or different things I couldn’t do because of lack of energy because of working. I decided that I wanted more for myself, having a career is great but what do you value the most? My family was at the top of the list, I wanted to have my own say at my time. I also have my own ventures that I want to get into, my time was more valuable than the money, the money is really good at my job but my time is valuable. I want to develop my kids into beautiful young ladies, I want them to see mommy work hard for herself, and I want to set the example for them to see entrepreneurship as second nature. So they were a big part of me going into entrepreneurship. And I have a really strong base of friends who are women who are doing the same thing I’m doing.
S.H: What’s a typical day for you?
Toni: I haven’t left my full time job as of yet, I’m in the process of doing that. Depending on the amount of products I have to fix I’ll schedule my time just like that. I’ll get up in the morning fix maybe two products, I’ll go to work (which is in New York City and Toni lives in New Jersey), I’ll come home cook dinner, make sure my kids are straight, and then I work. Sometimes I am up into the wee hours of the night because its important that I have speedy service (fixing the product and shipping it out). And I also have my truck so I will park my vehicle where the customers are and do on the spot service. I’m really busy but once I make a schedule I stick to it so nothing gets left out as far as family matters or the work.
S.H: The truck! When I first saw the truck I was so excited! How did you come up with the idea to have your office on wheels (they are very flyy wheels might I add).
Toni: My next step was to get a storefront, and I was looking at leases, rent, and I wanted to know how could I get a bang for my buck. So I did some research on unconventional businesses and I saw a lot of trucks pop up. I saw some food trucks, and I thought, “if they have food trucks then can you have a truck that provides a service?” And I saw so many mobile trucks, boutique trucks, makeup trucks, the list went on and on. So I said okay, I need to look at this and see how I can get into this. By getting a truck I won’t have an overhead and I could save money. Adding the truck was different and it was a way to give people on the spot service, people need their electronics fixed immediately and with the truck I could provide that service.
S.H: What has been some of the lessons you have learned since starting your business?
Toni: The first and foremost lesson I have learned is to believe in yourself. We are so scared to fail that we don’t even give ourselves a chance. We will always brush an idea off before we try to do it, no idea is stupid and you can get it accomplished. You have to research and take the time out to develop your idea. Meditate and look inside yourself to see what you can give to the world, what is your craft or special talent you have. I thought things would be faster than what it has been for me when I started building this business almost three years ago. There is nothing done overnight you have to go step by step and have a plan. Because when you have that plan even when something doesn’t work out right you can have alternative ways to take the next step, without the plan you have no idea what comes next. To always have goals and keep learning, just learning something like quickbooks, I didn’t have to learn that before. So you have to learn so you’re not just winging it and making mistakes that you could have avoided.
S.H: What was a sign to let you know that you were moving in the right direction with starting your own business?
Toni: I think the response from people I didn’t even know rooting me on, for instance you! Because this is what I am trying to do, I’m trying to show girls to take time to learn yourself and see what you can offer. So having someone see me, and see my work, and say, “you know what, this girl is special she is really doing it.” That is what keeps me going, and to know that I’m an encouragement to someone is really special. I got a message from a girl, I didn’t know her, she wanted my advice on whether she should take electronics. To want advice from me, she doesn’t know me but me showing this side as quirky as it is, can help other young women. I don’t mind being a nerd. Some people don’t want people to know that they are good in math or enjoy reading, but if you stay true to who you are you will excel.
S.H: You use your social media to encourage people, and I think that’s really cool. What made you incorporate motivation on your page?
Toni: Well that was one thing that I felt was important because I am a minority in the field that I’m in. To me it goes hand in hand. I needed that when I was growing in my career, I needed that, “keep going, girl you can do it” encouragement. I want to show people that just because the majority is not doing it doesn’t make it impossible. Everything about me is different, my name, my profession, the music I like, so I stress being you, and that’s where the motivation part comes from. There is so much negativity on social media and if my one post out of the hundreds of posts you see makes you smile then my job is done.
S.H: Well that wraps up the interview, I do have a couple of flash questions, these are questions you answer without thinking, you just say what comes to mind.
Toni: (She Laughs) Okay.
S.H: Favorite time of day?
S.H: Coke or Pepsi?
S.H: Favorite television show?
S.H: Favorite thing to do when you are not fixing things?
S.H: Favorite Food?
S.H: Who is Toni?
Toni: She is a black, beautiful, smiley faced girl.
I wanted to interview Toni because she stood out from a crowd of voices on social media. There was something special about her, yes she is a black woman who is in tech business, yes she owns her own company, but there was something else. Up until the interview I couldn’t put my finger on it and then it hit me, she is a woman who is living in her purpose. I couldn’t shake the aha moment I had when I realized what is making Toni succeed is the very thing that most people overlook when making career decisions…her family. The money was not at the top of the list, it was on the list but not at the top. She trusted her talent and created a life for herself that included her family. I also noticed that she keeps people who motivate and challenge her in her circle. Time and time again that was something that kept popping up throughout our conversation, that and her need to encourage other young girls and women to take a chance on themselves.
Toni prides herself on being the quirky girl who marches to her own beat and we need more people like her. From her cool hairstyles, cute outfits (stilettos included) travel pictures, family photos, and my favorites…the videos of her jamming to music while she is fixing electronics showcases all of who she is. The moral to this amazing story is that you can be yourself and be a success if you work hard and create a plan. I have included a few pictures (because I am a fan of her instagram page) check them out below…