CEO Chat

Elise Lindborg, CEO, BrandPride, Las Vegas, NV

Q. What did you want to be when you were a little kid?

A. A cop. Because I thought Angie Dickenson from the TV series “Police Woman” (1974–1978) was strong, smart and hot!

Q. What does your company do?

A. We produce branded merchandise and company stores for Fortune 500 companies.

Q. How long has your company been in business?

A. 23 years.

Q. Can you tell us about why and how you started the company?

A. In 2019, I was working in tobacco-use prevention for a local health department when I applied for and received a full scholarship from the Centers for Disease Control to study for my master’s degree in public health from the University of Washington. Procrastinating one day, I began working on a design for a giant cigarette costume. I wanted to create a friendly, health-educator character to teach people about the risks of tobacco use in a fun and memorable way. The costume was developed with real-world use in mind: It was lightweight, collapsible and affordable. As “Ciggy Buttz,” I crashed the World Conference on Tobacco or Health in 2000, wearing the costume and handing out flyers to conference participants. Two costumes were sold — and an entrepreneur was born!

The cigarette costumes were a huge hit with health departments around the country. Pretty soon organizations wanted stress balls, T-shirts and health-related giveaways to accompany their events and campaigns. Now, more than 23 years later, BrandPride is a multimillion-dollar company and the only LGBTQ-certified business to win the NGLCCs coveted Supplier of the Year award twice, once in 2013 and again in 2021. 

Q. What has been your biggest business challenge in the past year?

A. Employee turnover with our customers related to the pandemic. For instance, Twitter was our customer in 2020–2022. Since Elon Musk took over the company, all of our contacts at Twitter have gone and we’ve lost a substantial amount of business. We’ve had to start over with many of our customers to find the right contacts who purchase branded merchandise.

Q. What is one thing that makes you stand out from your competition?

A. We get to know our customers and figure out what their operational pain points are. We take those pain points away and make our customers look like rock stars to their employers.

Q. What do you wish you had more time to do?

A. Travel, read and create art.

Q. What’s your favorite place in the world you’ve ever visited?

A. It’s hard to pick just one place because my wife Kelli and I love to travel all over the world. I can say that our recent trip to Rwanda to hike with gorillas was absolutely amazing. Rwanda was stunning, and hiking up a volcano to see gorillas in the wild was an experience of a lifetime. They are so gentle, and the silverback farts a lot!

Q. What is one piece of business advice you would offer your LGBTQ+ peers?

A. The only way to get new business is to get yourself out there and network. How is anyone going to know about your business if they never meet you? It’s all about relationships and consistently showing up. Deals take time, and you need to be patently persistent and earn the trust of potential clients.

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