Looped In: with special guest, Riham LaRussa

In this episode, Lisa Munter talks with Riham LaRussa, CEO, founder and owner of Small Packages.

looped in podcast


Lisa Munter: Welcome everyone to Looped In With Knitt. My name is Lisa Munter and I am super excited today to have this conversation with somebody who I'm totally gaked out over and admire, who I have been admiring from afar. Her name is Riham LaRussa. She is the CEO, founder and owner of Small Packages. What I love about her is that I've met her through Palette, which is a co-working space that we both belong to, and it's really amazing because she is an entrepreneur like myself. I got to hear her backstory, which I'm excited for her to share in just a few moments. I'm very inspired by her journey to lead her to Small Packages and what her business does and how she's able to connect it by giving back to the community. So welcome, Riham. Thank you for joining us.

Riham LaRussa: Well, thanks for having me, Lisa. I'm excited to be here. I know me too.

Lisa Munter: It's all great and it really is just about the friendships that we make, the people that we meet in the spaces, and I was just really excited that a few weeks ago we had the opportunity we attended a women at work innovative event down at Hearst Tower and we had a chance to spend some time on a bus together, which was really wonderful. I always appreciate that bonding time that we have, so I would love for you to tell our audience who you are, what you do, what is Small Packages, and we can go from there.

Riham LaRussa: All right, sure. So you know again, I'm Riham LaRussa and I actually grew up in Columbus, Ohio, and I always had wanted to move to New York City and just do something big with my life. I didn't know what it was, but I felt like there was some kind of calling for me. So I went to Ohio State and after I graduated I had a great job, but I quit and I moved to New York City with nothing and I actually ended up in the Stone Entire World, which is not anything that I ever desired to be in, wanted to be in, but that's where I ended up for 17 years. You know, after that I just I wasn't happy anymore. I wasn't, I didn't feel fulfilled. You know, not everybody loves their jobs, but there was like there was just zero fulfillment and I knew there was something else out there for me and that's one of the things I loved about Palette was, through connecting and talking to people, the opportunity to actually acquire small packages came about and I loved. So it was established and I was totally it could be called a founder, because I have made a lot of changes. So I just want to make that clear. So I didn't. I mean, I'd always had a similar idea, but I didn't start the actual small packages. What I loved about it was that it was already supporting minority owned and women owned businesses, and something I had wanted to always do was do something like that to uplift the voices of others and then take it to the next step by giving back to those as well, and that's like something that's important to me. I'm a child of two immigrant parents. I spent my summers in a small town in the West Bank of Palestine, where my parents are from. You know, I grew up in that house where we had an outhouse, didn't have electricity and, you know, everyone slept in one bedroom and we got water from a well. So I had privilege when I was in America, but I really understood how hard my parents fought to be where they were in life, and I wanted to find a way to make that easier for others.

Lisa Munter: I absolutely love that because I think your backstory is what inspired you to acquire this company Small Packages and I would love for you to just talk a little bit more about what you do specifically with Small Packages, because people are like, oh, it's gifts or whatever, but you know you started to touch upon it. I would like you to just go into a little more detail about how you specifically select the items that are part of that gift, because we can tie that next level into how you give back in the philanthropy space using your company.

Riham LaRussa: Yeah. So one thing that was important to me is everyone's like oh, you can just go to Target or Walmart and put together a basket of goodies for somebody, like a care package, and you can do that. However, what I like to do is actually learn about each company and the products that are going to go into the package so they're thoughtfully curated, and I really try to focus on companies. So I think it's 85% currently that are women owned on there and are small businesses, and I don't have the percentage breakdown of BIPOC and AAPI, but we really focus on trying to bring more of those kinds of companies in, because if you look at the statistics, they're the ones who get the least amount of money for their small businesses. So it's my little way of helping to bring them up onto a larger national platform. And the products are amazing. I don't put any products into the boxes without testing them, trying them first, and I really try to make sure that each product also a lot of them those companies specifically give back on their own and most of them are sustainable products that are made in a sustainable way, because one thing that I'm really against is giving people a gift of junk that they're just going to throw away.

Lisa Munter: I absolutely love that. So it's, you know, you are obviously as a for-profit business, you are being able to give light and awareness to those other smaller artisans, if you will, who have a gift of being able to create these products that are sustainable. That people you know bring value and be like, oh my gosh, that's such a keepsake. So I love that. So, and then in regard to what you do in your community, you know why is giving back important to you, you know, and your company, when it comes to supporting nonprofits.

Riham LaRussa: You know it's. I think it's the way I was brought up and seeing you know firsthand that not everybody is as lucky as I am and materialistic things really, at the end of the day, don't mean everything. So I was really raised and brought up in a way of gratitude and just gratefulness for what I have and knowing that there's so many people out in the world that just don't have that or don't have the resources. And a lot of it, I do feel, is, you know, generational cycles, and so it's important to me to find ways to give back, to help break those generational cycles of poverty and trauma. You know, it's just really important because I don't think you need to have a lot of materialistic things or money to be rich in this world, but I do believe everybody deserves to have the safety of a roof over their head and warps and food and water. I just think those are human rights and I got to see firsthand that not a lot of people, not everyone in this world, has it. So I want to do what I can to help get back. And another one is you know, I think everybody in this world has been affected by like suicide and people like an addiction and I feel like that's another thing is a big generational trauma and try and help and prevent that as much as possible, because it's something I, you know, want to break the chains for the future generations.

Lisa Munter: I love that. I really appreciate you. You know going into more detail of what your why is and you know the importance of. You know why you choose to give back and to what type of groups you know are important to you With your business being. You know your new. You know and it's small and you can do online. You know you don't have a storefront. So how do you give back? Do you give cash? Do you give money? Do you do volunteer? Can you go and talk a little bit about that?

Riham LaRussa: Yeah, so we did do. We are doing, like you know one where we are giving back cash where it's our box. It was called you Matter and we did partner with other brands that give back to suicide awareness and addiction recovery. So 5% of the profits from that box all goes to save.org. In other ways, you know, like we are small so we're not mighty with our financials just yet. So we do have products that sometimes they just don't get used or purchased or they're not winners. So we donate those because there are causes that need them. Like we have some great, amazing soaps that I guess people don't want to give to, people's, soaps which I get. You know, like you think about it, like, yeah, you know, maybe you don't want to tell your friend that they smell, so we're they need to do it right, so I get it. So we'll take these soaps and we'll find a homeless shelter or you know a women's center that can use them. So we try to. You know we are thoughtful with that as well. We don't just throw these things in the garbage. We find ways that we can donate those goods to, and I also am trying to find ways to donate and volunteer, like my time, volunteer more. That is something I do struggle with a little bit as a full time working parent with they with two daughters or 10 and seven are very active, so but that is something else I want to do more of.

Lisa Munter: I love that and I hear you, especially when you're you know you are running your own business and you have a family and there's not ever enough hours in the day, and then you know you're at the importance of giving back through volunteer time. Sometimes you're you know you want to do it all but you can't. So I love that you're finding these other creative ways. You, you know you have so many different things that you offer, so you know how, how would nonprofits you know what do they need to know before connecting with you? How, how can they connect with you?

Riham LaRussa: So I think honestly now the best way to connect with me is a little plug for you is through Knitt, because that way I know that they've been vetted. It's really hard when there's so many nonprofits out there right now and it's one of those things where I want to help everybody but I just am not able to. So one thing I do enjoy or not enjoy, but one thing I really like is that Knitt has already vetted everybody and I've posted. You know, I can give my time, I can give you know goods and they can reach me that way and I think that's the best way. And you know, just because the answer is no this quarter doesn't mean the answer is going to be no again next quarter. You know, each quarter sales are a little bit different, products are a little bit different, my time is a little bit different. So just because something doesn't work out the first time doesn't mean you shouldn't try again.

Lisa Munter: Excellent, yeah, I appreciate you saying that. I think sometimes that's important to hear you get discouraged, and no doesn't necessarily mean forever, it might just be just for right now, but to check back, and you know I appreciate you saying that. So, because you mentioned that there's so many different nonprofits and you know you're small and you can't give to everybody, for you personally, what, what makes you want to continue to for reoccurring support to a particular organization? Is there anything in particular that an organization would do that would make you feel like, okay, oh yeah, I'm gonna. Just I want to keep giving to them, you know, year after year.

Riham LaRussa: For me, it's seeing the impact of the donations. I don't need the stationery and the labels and everything else you know the swag that I get. I want to see the impact that I'm making, whether it be an email or a newsletter. And you know, something I just have to make like so, like something that Doctors Without Borders does, which is like one of my favorite non-profits, because these people can make millions that are like hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, and then instead they risk their lives to go help. You know I get a newsletter from them stating, you know, like, this is what we've done, this is what you've helped, you know, and it makes you feel good. So it's just seeing the results and the impact of the donations in your time really will make me want to continue supporting you.

Lisa Munter: Excellent. So, obviously, with small packages, what I find very impressive is, again, you are showcasing, depending on the season, many different you know, small business owners, artists, that type of thing, which is kind of exciting because you're just like, like you said, maybe one quarter you're just like, and nothing's really resonating with me. But, like you know, the next quarter, like oh my. Or the season you're like, oh my God, I love everything. I need to order this box for everyone. So you definitely harness that. You also, you know, did a great job explaining all the different nonprofits that are important to you and how you help. So behind all that is you as a person, which is, you know another way why people would want to connect with you. So I always like to ask you know, what is one thing that people would be surprised to know about you? You know the CEO and owner of small packages.

Riham LaRussa: So let's see here I'll go with some things they for now. Maybe next time you'll get more out of me. Okay, I used to be a figure skater all through high school. I was inspired by and it's really rare Tanya Harding, Nancy Kerrigan why does that inspire you? Like a injury like that or like attack, I don't know Weird. So I started figure skating and I quit when I was, I think, a sophomore or junior in high school, because it was just kind of came to the point where I didn't want to wake up before school and go practice when you realize you're like I'm not going anywhere with this, so yeah, but yeah, I used to be a figure skater.

Lisa Munter: I love that and what a great keepsake to be able to, you know, to share with your kids and you know it's, you know a different part of you that they probably, you know, weren't aware of.

Riham LaRussa: Or, as they get older, it's like, oh my gosh, that's super cool, you know well, I need to get out the videos to show them how cool mom used to be, because they doubt that a lot.

Lisa Munter: Well, I, you know, Riham, I greatly appreciate your time with me today and you know it's always, you know, a pleasure to, you know, be able to talk to you on a personal level. Again, I'm very inspired, you know, by what you're doing and what you've already been able to achieve in such a small amount of time with you know your company's small packages, and I really appreciate the impact that you make at a local level with our, with our nonprofits, and getting involved in that way, even though you're just, you know, starting out and launching your business and still making that a priority. So I appreciate your time today. Thank you so much.

Riham LaRussa: Well, thanks for having me and, yeah, I appreciate everything you do and for the community I mean. I think it's really important to acknowledge all the hard work you guys put into it as well. You're making like donating and giving much easier for the rest of us.

Lisa Munter: Well, thank you for saying that. All right, well, I'll definitely see you soon at some Palette event, and thank you again for your time.

Riham LaRussa: Thank you.

Lisa Munter: All right, bye-bye.