Entertainment industry veteran and seasoned entrepreneur Sibrena Stowe Geraldino conquered the worlds of New York City media buying, publicity, and journalism years ago. Currently, the socialite sits on the board of the Arthritis National Research Foundation, is minority partner and director of marketing for the United Premier Soccer League’s New Jersey Teamsters, is a founding investor in cannabis company Planet Concepts, and drives several other diverse endeavors. In 1999, Stowe Geraldino was featured alongside FUBU founder Daymond John, “Living Single” producer Yvette Lee Bowser, and other black millionaires in Niki Butler Mitchell’s “The New Color of Success,” highlighting the achievements as President and CEO of Stowe Communications, Inc. The book reported the company’s net worth as $3 million after just two years in business, and described its founder as an ambitious, no-nonsense businesswoman. Those qualities, along with hard work, continue to allow the Philadelphia native to flourish at each new venture. Read more about Sibrena Stowe Geraldino in an exclusive #FMFeline feature for FM Hip Hop! This interview has been edited for content and clarity.
FM HIP HOP: What was your first foray into entrepreneurship?
SIBRENA STOWE GERALDINO: I became an entrepreneur in 1996 when I started Stowe Communications, Inc., which was a full service media firm [specializing in] media buys. I added publicity later. My clients were high-end real estate that would go in the New York Times, Newsday, the legal journals, and The Wall Street Journal. Eventually, I started utilizing my media contacts and became their media buyer– negotiating and placing 30- and 60-second commercial spots to say that an album is “in stores now” or “coming soon.”
FM: How were you able to successfully transition from being an employee to having your own business?
SSG: That was easy because I could never keep a job. I hated everything. I would work for the Spirit of Philadelphia [cruise line] and be a part of the group sales team, and that was exciting because it was seasonal. Then I would intern at Power 99FM in Philadelphia as a reporter, sound engineer, and producer of a show there. I also worked for Montgomery Publishing Company, which had the largest suburban newspapers outside of the Philadelphia area– so I was always on the advertising end of it. I’ve had jobs that I really enjoyed doing because it catered to my communications and broadcast background. I always wanted to be a writer, so working in a publishing company was like putting me right there where I could smell the newspapers being printed, etc.
My passion was to do my own thing, and that even happened accidentally. I never was anyone’s employee; I’ve always been [an independent contractor]. I worked with [Gelwicks Advertising] in Long Island City, NY, and I was like, “Hey, I can get all these music industry people, do you think I could run it through here?” And [the owner, Salvatore Franco] was like, “No, let’s just start your own division, start your own company.” I had a meeting at Universal/Motown– at the time it was Kedar Entertainment– Erykah Badu, Chico DeBarge, the home of these indie soul artists. I said to the guy, Kojo Bentil, who’s a friend and lawyer now, but I said, “Do you think I can do your advertising?” And he said, “No, I think I got it covered. But, can you do media buys? I said, “Yes, I can do it.” He said, “Alright, I’ll give you a budget of $50,000,” just as an example, “and let me know what spots I can get.” And I was like, “Okay!” I didn’t know anything about what the hell he was talking about. I had to run back to Salvatore. “They want me to do media buys. What is that?” He’s like, “Okay, you gotta establish credit with the TV networks and the radio stations. You know what these people are listening to and watching on TV. So pick the shows that the consumer would be able to know about.” It happened like that. It was never a planned thing for me to become an entrepreneur.
I sold [Salvatore] my entire real estate account so that I could kick off my entertainment industry account. So he bought it from me, helped me establish credit with the TV networks, like BET and MTV and all these different networks, and then he fronted me the money until the record labels paid me. So like, $100,000, $50,000. As a media buyer, you’re dealing with huge budgets. I was the first woman of color to ever own a media buying company in the country. It’s really a WASP or Jewish guy’s career.
FM: How were you able to diversify your clientele?
SSG: I was in the music industry at the height of hip-hop– no other generation will know what that’s like. I didn’t think about corporate clients, I didn’t think about art clients, I didn’t think about anything except music. Occasionally, a film would fall into my lap, or maybe three NFL players, and one was a Super Bowl champion. After I sold my real estate clientele to Gelwicks Advertising, I said, “Alright, I’m strictly entertainment,” because that was my passion. As a kid, from five years old to 18 [years old], I studied ballet, jazz, tap, theater, piano, flute, keyboard… I was in band; I was very active. I thought I was going to be a newscaster on TV. So I thought, “I can be a media buyer and still be involved in the entertainment aspect?” That’s where my head was. It wasn’t until recently when the music industry fizzled totally, to everything going digital– so no one has $100,000 to give me for media buys. So now it’s like, “Okay, I gotta think of something else.” I got a few real estate clients, but even they were going to the digital aspect of things. So I tried what I knew.
The only thing that I can say that I did successfully from that is buy real estate with no mortgage, and just roll my money into something like that. Four or five properties at the time, where I was thinking I was doing the safe thing. I had a million-dollar company under the age of 30, and then you have to bring that transition. It’s ten years later and I’m not Puffy, I’m not any of the guys. These guys are my colleagues, but I’m not hanging out with them. I’m not doing all the things that they’re doing. I had a child that I had to raise also, so I had to be home at a certain time. So, that’s when you sort of have to figure it out. So, now I know it’s better to diversify your assets and not stick with one genre and one industry.
Now, we’re an equity partner in Planet Concepts, which is a cannabis business that is based in California. I did that because I suffer from rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, and I wanted to support something that’s holistic to help find a cure, or to help people like me that are in pain every day, that may need to rely on pharmaceutical medicines that aren’t necessarily great for a long span of time. Especially for athletes, because they’re taking all these heavy drugs and then they’re committing suicide because of different illnesses and mental illnesses that happen with that. I would like to be an advocate for the cannabis industry with professional athletes, especially those with head trauma, because I think that they would be [less stressed], and the pain would be subsided.
I’m also partners with my husband, Alex Geraldino. I got married three years ago, so he’s like another asset I picked up. Marriage is a partnership, it’s not just love. You should be doing things like supporting one another and helping each other fulfill each other’s dreams. So he’s been around while I fulfilled the pageantry life and became a pageant queen, and really just challenging myself to overcome my health issues doing the Mrs. America circuit and the Ms. Northeastern pageant circuit. So now I’m a pageant director for Miss Globe and Miss Latina World, and I’m mentoring these young ladies. People think beauty pageants are about beauty– it’s not. It’s totally about self-confidence, awareness, giving back, community activism, and just empowerment for women. I love the pageant life, I’m glad that I’m directing now, and I look forward to doing that once a year [laughs]. I have the regions of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware, and in some cases New York.
My husband also purchased a pro-development soccer team called the New Jersey Teamsters, and our professional season will debut in March 2018. So that’s going to be exciting. We’re part of the United Premier Soccer League, bought into the franchise and created the brand and the name. We’ll be able to help young kids who aren’t able to play soccer because soccer is a rich kids’ sport– now these kids that can’t afford it, we can give them some assistance with attending different training camps, and watching and supporting our team.
Right now I’m consulting for Ruff Ryders and a firm that does memorabilia and brand name clothing deals. I work with [Ruff Ryders co-founders] Chivon Dean and Dee “The General” Dean, those two siblings out of the three. We did a pop-up shop and it was pretty successful for no advertising, so now it’s on to the next step.
I’m also working with a guy named Cooper James, who used to executive produce my podcast, “Stilettos, Sports & Entertainment.” Cooper is a Hollywood writer and executive producer, so I’m working on an off-Broadway play with him. I’ve taken a master class with Shonda Rhimes, so I’m learning television. So that’s my next passion. I’m working with Cooper on all of his projects in New York.
FM: How can people pursue their passions and wear multiple hats without spreading themselves too thin?
SSG: I think the first thing would be that if you’re truly passionate about something, and you’re doing a job that you’re really not excited about, you have to build your passion in some kind of way. My family thought I should work for the city because I worked for a congressman and had a job and all this security, and that was cool, but I wasn’t totally happy because I was doing someone else’s dream and not my own. I would encourage people to really look at the things that they truly love to do. If that’s playing video games all day, if that’s something that you’re addicted to and you enjoy it, perhaps you should be a part of that team that creates video games, or even do the testing or fan engagement of it. Find a way to get into that industry, set goals, know what you really like to do, and just take the steps to do it. Every day you should work on that. For the soccer team, I’m getting to know soccer. It’s not a sport that I grew up playing, but every day I do one or two things that lead to the end result of game day.
FM: What are some tips for being a successful entrepreneur long-term?
SSG: People see everything and they think, “Oh, it’s such a success,” but they don’t see the peaks and the valleys that I go through. Just be prepared for when you’re in the valley. Study other successful people. I would read a lot of motivational and inspiring books. I studied Les Brown, I studied Joan Rivers, Liz Taylor– autobiographies, preferably, but I do read other biographies about these people. People that have longevity in any industry that they are passionate about, I love those stories. It’s not about how they became rich, it’s about how they went from point A to point B that interests me. If being rich fell into the plan, then yes, I want to know all about that too.
Also, my mother taught me to never eat where you s***. I wasn’t sleeping with any of the guys that I work with. They respect me like a sibling, and I respect them. That kind of thing I kept as a woman, because everyone is going to try to get a piece of you, if they can. I think that you just have to keep things in mind. Unless you fall in love with someone, don’t even waste your time. You’d rather have your respect and dignity than a penis.
Lastly, set goals, and just do the work. Don’t stop learning. The minute you stop learning is the minute you might as well die.
FM: How are you able to balance all of your roles and responsibilities?
SSG: I balance all of these roles with a day planner! I love to write these things down. My husband is always saying, “Oh, you should use your digital notebook and your cell phone.” No, I need a pencil, I need a pen, I need a diary. I write everything down, I’m looking at calendars, and sometimes I set an alarm clock to let me know what’s going on and where I need to be. I undersell myself so you’ll be extra happy at what you’re getting. That’s just something that I like to do: Undersell and over-deliver.