CYstarters Spotlight Story: Flourish

This story is part of a series featuring each of the fifteen startups in the CYstarters 2019 summer cohort. Each team has the opportunity to focus on their startup or business idea while receiving $6,500 or up to $13,000, along with mentorship, accountability, and educational sessions on how to build a business.

By Diana Wright, ISU Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship

Have you ever tried face painting? Lauren Gifford, also known as Lauren Liz, creates hand lettering and calligraphy tutorial videos on YouTube for over 80,000 subscribers. Watch her latest video to learn ‘Face Paint Hand Lettering’.

Get to Know: Lauren Gifford

Age: 21

Education: Senior studying marketing at Iowa State University

Hometown: Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Passionate about… making a living doing something I really enjoy.

Most recently I…have been trying to push myself out of my comfort zone.

Currently working on: Flourish

Lauren Gifford started making videos with her friends in middle school. More specifically — music videos singing along to Katy Perry songs, and other pop artists in 2010. Record, edit, and then later upload their creative bursts to YouTube (without having their parents find out).

“Those videos are no longer available,” Lauren shared, laughing now.

While the childhood memories and recording are no longer available for our viewing, Lauren continues to create high quality videos on YouTube. Now in the spotlight for all things art. Think hand lettering, calligraphy, bullet journaling, watercolor, and more.

One click on her YouTube channel, Lauren Liz, brings you to a library of tutorial videos, from how to begin brush calligraphy to her latest video on face paint hand lettering. Over 80,000 YouTube subscribers check-in weekly to learn from Lauren Liz.

The video counts continue to tick up.

Today, Lauren spends her time posting tutorials and creative content to her social channels. Adding another layer, she is working on growing her second business, called Flourish.

Flourish combines the fun of learning calligraphy with the social atmosphere of an elegant party through a blend of teaching classes, hosting community driven events, and creating online courses.

In a recent interview with Lauren, she shared with us the Flourish experience, how she has grown since starting, and where she is headed today in creating a community of women calligraphers.

When did you start working on Flourish?

It was after my YouTube channel had grown to the point where I realized that it was a viable business. It was right around my sophomore year of college when I really decided that I didn’t want to go the corporate route. I definitely wanted to have my own venture. That was two years ago.

Have you always seen yourself starting something?

Yeah, I think my background has played a role. My family is entrepreneurial. My dad is a third-generation family business owner. And on my mom’s side, my grandparents are both painters. I got the mix of art and entrepreneurship from both sides of my parents, which is kind of cool.

Why calligraphy and hand lettering?

I really like art in general. But for some reason, hand lettering is something that I really attached myself to because it’s really fun to watch. There is a systematic way of creating it. I can teach it because, unlike other arts, it’s more of a formula.

Describe the experience of an in-person calligraphy class.

Right now I am teaching classes in Ankeny at AR Workshop. Typically there is a set number of people that are going to be in the room. It is about an hour and a half long, and you have all the supplies laid out in front of you. I spend most of my time at the front of the room, basically teaching and also trying to interact with each person individually to help guide them.

I think that a lot of people are surprised with how hard it is to do calligraphy. And that their hand is really sore, because an hour and a half straight of writing is hard! I want to get my students to a point where they feel like they can do it. Where they can actually continue to use calligraphy throughout their lives.

How have you grown since you started?

I think monetizing my YouTube following was a big one. That was probably about a year into my venture. The next big milestone was hosting my first in-person class this past February.

Future milestones?

I’m really looking forward to the launch of my online class (Brush Calligraphy for Beginners) this July. The online class is going to be a series of 10 videos, tailored to learning the basics of calligraphy and beyond. All the supplies will be mailed, including a 200-page workbook that I wrote and published.

Once someone signs up for your online course, what do you hope they will learn?

Future brides are one of my main targets starting out. The goal is that they will be able to hand letter their own wedding invitations at the end of the class, and hopefully also have an interest in continuing with the art and learning more.

Other than wedding invitations, I see women creating signage for their homes, making wall art, and posters. I always tell people to write letters to their friends. Send mail. You can even write your grocery list in calligraphy if you want to!

What is your biggest challenge you face each day?

The first thing that comes to mind, for some reason is that, there is just not enough time.

In the past, I’ve struggled with direction and where I need to go. But I think even since being in this (CYstarters) program, I know what I need to be doing now. And it’s just a matter of putting in the hours. It is having that consistent time every day where I wake up, and I know what I need to be working on, without the distractions.

How has entrepreneurship at Iowa State impacted you?

Just being able to get to know and work alongside other student entrepreneurs, has reminded me that it’s very normal. Because when you’re doing it by yourself, you kind of feel like the odd one out. None of my friends are entrepreneurs, at least not until I was in this program. Programs like CYstarters has helped normalized entrepreneurship as a career path for young people, and especially young women.

What advice would you give to a smart, driven college student?

Don’t be afraid to try a lot of new stuff. I feel like you’d be surprised at the different types of people you’ll meet if you just do the one thing that’s a little bit out of your comfort zone.

When I first started doing pitch competitions, I was so nervous, but it was one of the most rewarding things I ever did. You meet a couple of people at the end of the pitch competition, and you gain the confidence to start talking about what you’re doing.

Where are you headed? And how would you invite others to join you?

World calligraphy domination! Really, I think I just I want to try to build a community of women who are learning something new, but also interacting with each other and meeting new people.

I also want to spread positivity, too, as cliche as that sounds. I think that is what I really enjoy most about how I come off on social media — always trying to be positive. I would invite other people to share what they’re working on and be transparent about their lives on social media.

Interested in learning calligraphy? The online course will be available to purchase through Lauren’s website later this month. For more updates on when it will go live, visit!