Decision Dialogues Ep 31 - Christian Meneses

On episode 31 of Decision Dialogues, Mark Willoughby and Mindy Neira speak to Christian Meneses, owner of Blanc Noir Event Group. Christian founded Blanc Noir in 2011 as an extension of his skills in DJing, and he did so after two previous failed entertainment ventures. He discusses his willingness to fail, pick himself back up, and try again, and also his connection to the special needs community, as he also does work as a speech-language pathologist.

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Transcript

The summary below has been created by a professional transcription vendor upon review of the recorded presentation. Please excuse any typos as well as portions noted to be inaudible.

Thanks for joining us on Decision Dialogues. We’re thrilled to have you along. My name is Mark Willoughby, and I’m a Principal and Wealth Manager at Modera Wealth Management, LLC. Today, my colleague Mindy Neira, who’s also a Principal and Wealth manager at Modera, will be chatting with Christian Meneses of Blanc Noir Event Group. Blanc Noir specializes in bespoke event experiences for each and every client. Christian, I hope I have pronounced the name of your company correctly. I tried to use my best French accent there in describing it.

Ha! I like it!

I will hand it over to Mindy to take it from here.

Great. Thanks, Mark. Hi, Christian—good to have you today.

Hey Mindy, how are you? How’s everything?

Good. And I’m excited to have a conversation here—you know, your path and journey through being an entrepreneur. But you’re not only a business owner, you have two jobs. So I want to start there. Tell us what you do.

Yes. I have two different lives, I guess you could say, but they somehow meet along the way. Other than being a DJ and business owner in the entertainment business, I am also a school-based speech-language pathologist. 

That’s great. And so how did that happen?

Well, it’s funny, because when I first started going to school, I knew I wanted to work with people—I’ve always had that personality trait of being the patient person in the room, I guess you could say. Even with my younger cousins that would beat me up or whatever, I was always the quiet, patient child, and I guess as I grew up, I always had that characteristic.

But then I didn’t know where I wanted to go. I went to college undecided. During that time, I had a cousin who was actually developmentally delayed. I had no idea what that really meant at the time. But I do come from a Colombian background where most of my family is immigrating to this country—so I’m a first generation—so I was helping my aunt and my uncle translate a lot of things because they didn’t know what was going on. They were completely lost, and I was the closest thing they had to somebody who’s somewhat educated and can help them out.

My cousin started getting early intervention and all these magnificent things started happening with his speech and language development and I was like, “Wow, this is cool. Somebody just helped my cousin, who didn’t say one word—now he’s communicating all these things.” I started doing some of my own research, due diligence, observations, I contacted some speech therapists in the area to say “Hey, can I just come see what you do? I don’t need any signatures or any hours. This is unofficial, off the books.” Some people said yes.

I did some observation hours, and the rest was history. I enrolled into this program, which was a very challenging program and competitive because the class sizes are always so small, and I was able to finish my bachelor’s in speech and hearing sciences with a minor in psychology, and then obtain my master’s degree in speech language pathology. But during that time is also when the DJ stuff evolved, because it was my college job—something that kind of was getting me through, and something that I did for fun, which ended up turning into a bigger business. But, you know, I don’t know if we’re gonna get into that at this moment.

Yeah, we’ll definitely get into that, because that’s some big stuff. So that’s great. So you’re a DJ in college, you’re pursuing your speech pathology future career, and I know when we’ve talked, you didn’t think that the DJing side of things would continue. We’ll come back to the speech pathology—as you mentioned earlier, sort of those roads cross and in a lot of ways now, but tell us a little bit about how the DJing side of things continued to get to where you are now.

Sure. So the DJing thing was a job that I acquired from just being “the guy carrying the equipment.” It was the roadie—I started off as a roadie. Before that, I always had a passion for music, I always had a passion for playing music. I actually, fun fact that some people don’t really know this about me, would save my lunch money to buy music. So I wasn’t the normal kid, saving his lunch money to buy toys or other things. I would literally buy records, cassettes, CDs—sometimes if I couldn’t afford the full album, I’d buy the single, because the singles were cheaper than the full albums. I don’t know if you guys remember any of that. But, and I know we’re on a podcast and you can’t see the visuals, but even right now, my background, those are all real vinyl records on my wall, like, and I have tons of them. And so that was always a passion of mine.

And then I got this opportunity to just kind of get my foot in the door with a DJ entertainment company, learn the ropes, and kind of see what they did. And I just worked my way up, like almost saying, I’m working my way up the corporate ladder.

Wow.

The guy carrying the equipment, then the guy who got promoted to doing the TVs and the audio-visual, and then up and up, and then finally I got the opportunity to DJ—they gave me a chance, and I started DJing, and it just really started going really well. And the parties went well. And I also kind of just started doing some things on my own on the side. It was fun, but it also was something that I needed, because I needed money to get through buying some books and getting gas money, and unfortunately, my parents financially couldn’t help me with a lot of those things. They supported me in saying, “Hey, go to college and do something in your life,” but that was it. That’s as much support as that they could give me. Obviously, I appreciated that, and so I had to find my way.

Not to get a little bit more, but you know, even when the DJing thing was enough, I have many times in my since I started working, I’ve always had two to three jobs, or multiple sources of income going on, because when as a DJ, I was also working on campus very involved in and helping transfer students and new incoming students with things there. And then I also was a cashier at ShopRite. So the hustle has never really stopped for me, even from my early years. I’ve always had multiple things going on.

Wow. So you’ve worked very hard to get to where you are. 

Yeah!

And along the way, even as you come to Blanc Noir, and now here you are with a well established event group, which is amazing. And by the way, I didn’t mention the beginning, but  Christian was a DJ at my wedding, which we’ve gone through a lot together in the past few years, the pandemic and rescheduling. So he is amazing. 

Thank you.

You know, you’ve really come a long way it sounds like, but I know that that didn’t just happen. So tell us about the trials and tribulations. You did try to start your own company a couple times before you got to this point—is that right?

This is very true, Mindy, and this is something that when people comment of the luck, and of the fortunate moments that you might have now—it’s really a moment that I always reflect back on and I say to myself, because sometimes I’m not going to sit there and tell you my entire life story, but yeah, I failed—not once, but twice, in starting my own business in the entertainment world. I first started with one business, it’s—the name is actually pretty funny. But whatever. We’re all having a conversation here, right? We called it Brilliant Beats Entertainment. So Brilliant Beats. And I was really over the creative and talent in the company. And then my friend just thought that DJing would bring him girls and other stuff. So he was like, “Hey, man I want in.” And his investment into the company was business cards. That’s it! He bought business cards, and that was his buy-in. And looking back at it. “I’m like, wow, what if this thing really took off, you would have got off really easy.”

And it didn’t work out. You know, it just wasn’t the right, I guess you could say, fit, and just back to the drawing board, right? And then I started Meneses Entertainment, which was just… me, and, “I’m gonna try to do this thing on my own.” And that didn’t work, either.

And so there was a lot going on in my life. I was also in school, and I was busy and whatever the case may be, and why these things didn’t work out, you know, I could kind of try to dissect it apart. But what I do know is that that fire still was inside of me that I couldn’t give up. When you’re working towards something, it’s crazy how things just kind of start finding themselves your way—almost like that concept of your attracting things. And around that time, when I was working still very hard and trying to build what I was doing, and still create a name for myself, and then back then it was making mixtapes and handing out CDs—believe it or not got me clients. Like people were remember those CDs that you know—my DJ name is DJ Menace—DJ Menace gave for free a few years back, and then when they were getting married, they would say “Hey, I remember your mixes were so awesome. I want you to DJ my wedding.” And that just kind of kept coming around.

Facebook came around too—I’m dating myself, but the early years of Facebook came around, and I reconnected with an old childhood friend, who was also DJing. We lived in totally separate areas, we had lost communication, because this was also before cell phones. And we kind of went back and forth a little bit, and one day, we sat down in his mother’s dining room and said, “Hey, we want to do things our way. We are kind of tired of just being the hired gun for other companies, and almost just settling and certain ways of how we would like to do our own thing.” And we just went for it. And in my mind, obviously, after failing a couple of times it was like, “Okay, this is hopefully ‘it’ for me, but I’m going to give it a good try. I’m not gonna let my past failures determine what my future is going to look like, I’m just going to give it a good shot, and see where it goes.”

That was late 2011, and now it is 2022, and Blanc Noir has grown. As you guys already might know, in the field that you guys work with, in the financial and business side of things that life expectancies for small businesses start to decrease as the years go on—three years, five years, and now my company has been around for ten plus years. So I feel like that is a success.

Yeah.

I’m not gonna say that those ten years were easy, either. Even when we were—we’ve been building, and the tons of mistakes and obstacles that we had to overcome. But I am very grateful that a passion of mine—because I still have that passion of music and connecting with people and “communicating through music,” as I call it, because I’m not really talking very much on the microphone, when I do events, I let the music do more of the talking. It is definitely something to me, that’s amazing. Because I saw something the other day, it’s like, “If you can’t stop thinking about something, don’t stop working towards it.” And so I can’t stop thinking about music and about what I do all the time, I literally think about DJing and this side of things, all the time, to the fact that I have one whole room in my house dedicated to my music. I have my turntables, I have my vinyl records, I have all this setup, because sometimes I just come here, turn on the turntables, put my headphones on, and for me, it’s an escape. It’s also a therapy for me. So it’s great that I’m able to kind of do something that I love to do and get people to pay me to do it. I mean, come on.

It’s not work. Right, Christian? 

Yeah! 

Do you mind me bringing you back to the two failed ventures? Because failure is not a waste of time, right? It’s probably some of the best learning opportunities for all of us. I think some people don’t recognize that. But you know, when you fail, the big thing is to learn something from it. Did you take any big learnings from the failed ventures? Was there anything that you came out of them and said, “I’m not doing that again?”

Yeah. I think the biggest lesson learned is that, although I had some direction, and I guess clarity, in what I wanted to do, to get from a more mental and personal level, I know that I didn’t fully believe in myself. And here’s a little bit more to that: When you’re building a business, and saying, “Okay, I’m a creative that does ‘this,’ but now I’m trying to organize it in the sense of getting people to trust me, to give me money, I have to deal with the legalities of contracts and all these other things”—to me, it was so daunting that I was almost kind of like, “How is anybody going to pay me this sum of money that I’m asking them to pay me when I’m just starting out, I don’t necessarily know all these other avenues of business things—I’m a DJ!” I wanted to play music, I wanted to make people dance. But when you start a business, you start to realize, it might not just be what your technical, or you know, talent is—it’s a lot more to it.

And as I matured as a person, as I matured as a DJ and all these other aspects, I started to have more confidence in myself, and I do feel like that confidence helped me break through to that next level and that next step that I needed to get to, to have more success in what I do.

So am I hearing then, that maybe the timing of the launch of your first venture, it may have been too soon. Maybe you could have worked somewhere else as a DJ first to kind of kick the tires, learn your craft, and then launch yourself.

Could be, yeah. I mean, I was you know, still, like I said, working for other companies and taking a lot in from what they were doing. I mean, because most entrepreneurs before they become one, some will mostly say they work for somebody else, they learned the ropes, and they got some backend experience and whatever that might look like, and kind of helped them to get where they need to go, because I definitely took that opportunity.

I used to work for a company that had to put in the paper, they’re a multi million dollar event company. So they weren’t small by any means, and they were doing some high end stuff, and also pumping out hundreds of parties, and things that I was trying to take in everything—from logistics to just organizing these events to office stuff to—it was a lot going on. So yes, I definitely tried to take a lot of notes.

But once again, when you get there yourself, even if—you know, it’s like, I went to school to study this, but when it’s your first day at work, you’re like, “Uh, okay, well that didn’t really prepare me for all this.” You know, that’s kind of like what it felt like. So yeah, it was definitely a little bit of a mixture.

So let’s talk about finances at the beginning of your—in the beginning stages of Blanc Noir versus now. When we’ve talked in the past your perspective on, you know, what to do with profit and earnings is very different than it is now. So I’d love to hear a little bit more about that.

As far as the financial aspects of when the business started, most of the funding—so self funded, it was myself and my business partner, money out of our own pockets. We took out a small credit card, maybe like $6,000, like nothing crazy to just buy some equipment. We’ve always run a pretty lean company in the sense of not taking on debt, which I think has been good. However, the profit side of things, I would say, definitely weren’t being managed properly. 

When I first started my company, I was 25 years old, and I was transitioning from moving out of my parents’ house, trying to do things on my own, and I necessarily wasn’t thinking about retirement or investments, or any of that stuff. I also, to be honest, didn’t really have guidance, or people in my circle, who would really talk about those things, either. So it wasn’t really something that came to mind. It was, “You work hard, and you should enjoy it.” That was the, what was happening, and that’s what I was doing. I was working hard. I was making way more money than my peers at the time, because don’t forget, at this time, I was also getting some money from my speech pathology job. So I wanted something nice, I would get it; if I needed to do something, I would do it; if I wanted a leased car that was nice, because I liked it, I got it, and I wasn’t managing anything, you know?

I was putting a really small amount, maybe like $75 a check, or maybe a month to like a 403(b) account, which I mean, I could have put way more. I really wasn’t tackling my student loans. I wasn’t doing any of it. I was just living my life. And it’s changed drastically—the changes, like, I can’t really look at that person and say I understood what they were doing. But almost kind of going back to what Mark kind of says, “Hey, you know, maybe the timing, or you just weren’t in there at the time.” And those mistakes helped me make better decisions.

And I believe that is very true, because the light bulb hit me one day, and it really went from just not thinking that way to now that’s on my mind all the time. I started investing more into that 403(b), I started doing some personal stocks on the side, investing into real estate, and thinking about my future in a totally different sense. And now, it’s just an everyday thing. It’s just something that I just need to have on top of mind. Not saying that if I want to go on a vacation, I’m not going to go. But there’s some type of balance, and there’s some type of realization that you’re eventually going to get to the point of your life where you might want to slow down, or your income might change. You might want to retire, and you might get there, to this quote unquote “age” whatever that might be—62, 65, 69—whatever it is, and you might not be ready. And that, to me, is pretty scary. When I speak to people and they’re just going at it because they can’t stop—not because they want to necessarily be there, or want to keep going to work, but they just didn’t prepare themselves or they financially weren’t making the decisions that they needed to make.

And look, as human beings, I feel like we’re always learning—or you should be learning—and to this day, I’m always trying to learn more, and do more things, to get myself in a better position financially. Because there’s a lot that I don’t know, and whether it’s listening to a podcast, or reading a book, listening to an audiobook, whatever it is that I’m doing, I make time for it now, just like I make time for other things, because it’s that important. Like, if I make time to work out, I make time to learn more about financial decisions and things like that. Because I’m also a person who comes from a family of immigrants who came to this country who said to themselves, “We can only do this much,” and they surpassed that “so much” point to that point, they were like, “Okay, this is it. Like, what Christian’s doing right now is crazy.” You know, when I talk to my father about investing in stocks, or I just raised the amount that I’m putting into my 403(b), or I have a multifamily, and then another house—

—He doesn’t understand. Right, Christian?

It’s very foreign. It’s very foreign, you know. So I had to get out of that mindset, I had to get out of that, you know, “This is what I should be doing,” versus educating myself and saying, “Okay, this is what I think is the best fit for my lifestyle and my future, and although my parents did the best that they could, they were also, like I said, not really educated in that area,” which is no fault of theirs. But then I had to figure out a way to kind of learn those things along the way. And I’m still, like I said, I’m still literally learning.

Was it one moment, Christian? Or was it a series of—was it a growing realization, that kind of got you more comfortable thinking about, you know, saving and building wealth and planning for the future?

What I think it was, Mark, is age! And I know we shouldn’t put the whole number on age and what society thinks on things, but I’m being honest here. I was hitting 30—I started my company in 2005—I was hitting 30, and I really got to that day where that light bulb went off, literally, and I said to myself, “Man, I’m about to be 30, and I really have nothing to show for it.” That’s kind of like, what hit me. Like, I was renting a house with some roommates, and just like I said, living my life and not really worrying about any of these things—to fully saying, like, “What is happening?” and just everything, the switch flipped, like completely, from literally like a day to another. I started saving aggressively. That same year, I bought my first property. Like, it just, once that fire gets in me, good luck trying to stop me.

Christian you also mentioned retirement, right, as your longer term goal, but also, we’re kind of coming out of a recession here. We’re still in it. So, you know, how did it prepare you for that? I know we had a lot of conversations at the beginning of 2020—not only because of my wedding problems—but also because of what was going on and, you know, being a small business, and it took a toll on you and your company, I imagine.

Correct. I mean, it was as extremely scary time, I think, for everybody. For my business, like really 90-something percent of events we do are weddings. We do some corporate events, but we do mainly weddings. In the state of New Jersey, we were one of the first to have an aggressive shutdown, and then one of the last to reopen. So the longevity of the situation was rough. We had countless amounts of postponements, and we still have a commercial lease because we do have a storefront. We still have marketing contracts that we have with some of these wedding sites that, believe it or not, people were like, “Hey, we still want our money.” You know, they were, “Hey, we’re really sorry for what’s going on. But you signed a contract and we still need to get paid.” And I was like, “Okay, we have to figure this out.”

And when Mindy called I remember we were talking about some things going on and financial stuff because she was trying to educate me about some programs that were coming up in the pipeline, and that I was still kind of figuring out myself, and I said to her, “Okay, I’m happy that you know, I live to a certain extent below my means, and I always have a security blanket—certain money allocated to, if it hits the fan. Whether you know, it’s my business, or I have to replace my roof tomorrow, which you know, is not cheap, or whatever else might come your way, what is going to help me get through?” And luckily, I had that, and so I think that helped me breathe a little bit. But it was so stressful because we had no clue how long it was going to last, and every time we thought we were coming up for some air, it kept kind of extending. So yeah, I mean, a lot of companies didn’t make it, and it was scary when you started seeing those things. You’re like, “Am I going to be next? Like, this is tough.”

And I’m still feeling that to this day. And I feel like some people forget about that when it comes to some of these wedding vendors, and what we do in our business. Like, for example, I have a wedding next month in April, that was postponed twice. So I’ve been working with that client for three years, and on their same date, I’ve said “no” to a bunch of other clients, so I’m not making any of that money up. And the same thing with Mindy’s date, you know? She got married in a very popular month, which is October, and obviously, we had our deal, and we had our contract and when I had to move their wedding, anybody else that came my way, I had to say no.

So either way, you know, I’m still feeling a little bit of it, because I’m still doing postponed events, till today. That money, you can’t really make up for it. But luckily, we always had a kind of lean way of running the company. But furthermore, the security blanket, and just having the “something happens, what are you going to do?” And I know for some people, sometimes people think of it for three months worth of my expenses, six months or whatever. I feel like it’s always good to have something, you know? And I think Mindy, when we were talking the other day, it’s also like, what helps you sleep at night, too? Because the reality is, something can happen. And what are you going to do if it does? Getting yourself in a hole is probably not going to make the situation any less stressful.

Yeah. And thanks for sharing that, because I think that’s, you know, it’s really impactful—you had this happened, you know, when you were 27, maybe things would have looked very differently for your company. And so those financial decisions and changes you made really paid off, even though it was still a struggle to get through, and you’re still going through it.

Right.

Before we really wrap up, I want to change gears just a minute here and talk about the sort of overlap—the crossroads of going back to your two businesses—so speech pathology, and DJing. And, you know, working with the special needs community is actually one of the reasons that drew me to you, you know, that I’m involved in the special needs community as well. And I saw your Autism Awareness bracelet when we first met. And after a conversation it was, you know, I knew we’d be working together. I knew that you were doing good things. So how have your two sort of careers collided and worked together? I’d love to hear more about that.

So I’ve been fortunate enough that my career as a speech pathologist has really been focused on working with children and young adults living with autism. And that’s always been a passion of mine from the speech pathology side, something that I’ve dedicated literally the last 15 years of my life to. 

When I first started working with the special needs population, I started participating in like small events, like little dances, and I would DJ for a group of, you know, 50 kids or whatever. We’d have like a little dance, maybe an hour or two, because they didn’t have these opportunities. They didn’t have an opportunity to have a dance, or to do any of these things like their “typically developing peers,” some people would say, and so I was like, “No, these kids party, these kids love to dance, these kids love music, and why not?” So I would do it all the time, and then it started kind of growing from there.

And then I started doing like small proms. Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to like, participate and be like, a Special Olympics coach. Even in April—I work with this nonprofit—and they’re actually based out of Newark, the Center for Autism. We’re going to be doing an event where it’s almost like an advocacy event for the community, and we’re going to have some music, but there’s going to be some formalities at the beginning. And so I’m going to be participating in that in April, as well.

So the last couple years things kind of died down with events, obviously, because of what was going on, but I was very excited to kind of get that call and and be a part of something again, because it’s been a little while, but it’s always tied into the community and doing two things I love. I’ve said this to a couple of people, and I say look, “It’s so hard to find something that you love to do and then be able to do it. I don’t mean to sound greedy. But I found two things that I really love to do. And then I’m able to do them.” And it’s pretty awesome. You know? It really is.

That’s great. Yeah. And I’m sure those proms and dances are a lot of fun.

Absolutely, absolutely. They have those smiles—I mean, it changed my perspective on life, to be honest. You know, when you’re going through something, and you’re having a hard time you see this child with a disability overcoming so many obstacles, and they have a smile on their face, You’re like, “What am I doing?” You know? Like, “Why am I upset about, you know, the traffic that I hit on the way to work today?” Like, it was a new sense of perspective. They gave me that. The autism / special needs community gave that to me. So it’s almost kind of like, what could I do to give something back to them?

So this has been a great conversation. I have one last question for you. And to wrap up, what is the last decision you made, that was not financial-related.

The last decision I made that wasn’t a financial decision was to not carry my baby girl and pick her up, because I knew I’d get stuck downstairs, and instead, I ran straight to my office to talk to you.

So you need to get off of this call and go see your little girl!

She was in a little chair with her hands sticking out—I mean, I’m like, I can’t do this because I know I’ll get stuck here. So I ran up here. That was the last decision. It was a tough one.

Okay, well, thanks very much to Mindy and to Christian for letting us listen in on their conversation. We appreciate their time and perspectives. And thank you, our audience for tuning in. We hope you’ll join us next time on Decision Dialogues for more stories from successful business owners. So long for now.

 

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About Christian

Portrait of Christian MenesesChristian Meneses, M.A., CCC-SLP, is a Speech-Language Pathologist a with history of working in the primary/secondary education industry, since 2007. He is the owner of award-winning DJ entertainment company Blanc Noir, which he founded in 2011. Blanc Noir specializes in weddings and corporate events.

Christian earned his master’s in Speech-Language Pathology from Kean University in 2013.

Disclosure

Modera is an SEC registered investment adviser which does not imply any level of skill or training. For additional information see our Form ADV available at www.adviserinfo.sec.gov which contains a full description of our business, operations and service offerings including fees. Statements made in the podcast are not to be construed as personalized investment or financial planning advice, may not be suitable for everyone and should not be considered a solicitation to engage in any particular investment or planning strategy. Statements made are subject to change without notice.