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Local start-up aids the recently single

By Kira Doman

GREEN BAY – Eliza Cussen and Elizabeth Paulson, founders of Divorcist, a gift-registry site geared toward the recently single, said they take pride in breaking the stigma in divorce.

After combining their creative ideas for years, Paulson and Cussen said they were inspired to launch Divorcist by a few different situations – Paulson’s own divorce, another friend’s divorce and Cussen’s work on her own baby registry while she was pregnant. 

Cussen said in the process of putting together her baby registry she has a strong support system, while her friends experiencing divorces and heavy breakups weren’t receiving the same level of support.

“There was no equivalent service, nothing that validated and catered to your experience the way a wedding and a baby registry did, and so I thought that said something really interesting about how we still think of divorce,” Cussen said. “There was nothing in our society that reached out to those people and said, ‘Hey, we’re here for you.’ So we really want to make divorce and breakups equivalent, in significance and support, to a baby or wedding registry.”

Paulson, who has been through two divorces, said she knows firsthand the alienation those going through a divorce feel.

“When I was going (through one) in my 20s, when every single human being was getting married and having babies and I wasn’t, I was deeply resentful of the idea of registries,” Paulson said. “If there’s going to be registries for those people, there should be registries for other people such as new homeowners, graduating law school, moving homes, etc… There’s many other important life events that deserve acknowledgement like that. But we’re starting with divorce, because that’s the best one.”

Paulson and Cussen said partnering with people and businesses of similar backgrounds is important to them.

“We particularly reach out for female partnerships, female investors, because we do feel like there is an intrinsic understanding,” Cussen said. “We have a lot of supporters and male investors too, but we find that there’s an understanding gap with them. They might understand business but they might not necessarily understand why receiving a toaster in the mail on the worst day of your life would mean so much. As women, we understand that, so I feel we were very conscious in picking our partners who have a good values fit.”

One of those companies is Bev, a female-founded wine company out of Venice, California.

“They reached out to us saying, ‘Hey, you’re two women. We’re two women,’ and we’ve been partners with them from the very beginning,” Cussen said. “So, I think it’s just instantly mutually beneficial and it’s something that allows us to kind of operate really at an independent scale.”

The duo said working with small-businesses has been anything but limiting.

“We’ve been able to source products from essentially, like, wholesale Etsy suppliers,” Cussen said. “So micro-businesses, often from women’s kitchen tables, and also locally, like, we’ve sourced products from Aurora’s Apothecary just down the street from our office.”

However, Cussen said sourcing locally does come with challenges.

“We work very hard to keep our prices as low as possible while making sure that we can stay afloat and pay ourselves,” Cussen said. “So it’s that constant tension of making sure that we’re being a good company, a good corporate citizen and sourcing people and their products ethically.”

Divorcist offers standard merchandise, such as t-shirts, mugs, and tote bags with its logo.

The business’ spring/summer “Better Off Box,” a care package for the newly single, includes a beach blanket, organic tea, a cedar smoke wand, hand-drawn affirmation cards, a self-care checklist, lavender bath salts, a cotton tote bag and rosemary plant-based lip balm.

“So everything is kind of a little sweet and sassy, comforting and reassuring, and we really want to make sure that you feel nurtured when you open it up,” Cussen said. “And it also includes a handwritten note that we sit down and write ourselves for every customer.”

Paulson said along with the expanded business, they plan on adding new partnerships, and are even working on their own app.

“It’s like a divorce management app,” Paulson said. “A lot of things like it exist that are similar, but nothing quite like ours. It’s basically building a community of people who are going through divorce. We have plans for the website to establish a forum, ways to get our readers more engaged. What we really want to do is support people through the divorce journey and beyond. The more support the better.”

The Blueprint of a business

Divorcist was launched with the help of Blueprint Green Bay, a business accelerator program sponsored by the Greater Green Bay Chamber geared toward helping minority-, women- and veteran-owned startups take root in the area.

“It was crazy,” Paulson said. “We were the first cohort in Green Bay. And especially for women and minorities, who already have barriers to entry for entrepreneurs, and startups. So, it was really great to learn the language of startups and entrepreneurship. You can have a really great idea, but the doors are not very open for women and minorities under normal circumstances, but then to not have the right language and to not know the processes and the steps, there’s just so much gatekeeping in the entrepreneurship community.”

Cussen said even the word entrepreneur, “what’s the difference between that and anyone who starts a business?”

“These are kind of false categories really designed to exclude people,” she said. “So this program that was really developed to counteract that culture has been really helpful, and it’s just served as a bridge between our world and the world of traditional venture capital.”

Cussen said they have recently graduated from Blueprint, and have been enjoying their time as business owners.

“It’s a lot more fulfilling, believe it or not,” Paulson said.

She said in addition to Divorcist, she and Cussen both still have their day jobs.

Paulson said the support system Blueprint Green Bay still provides is helpful as they embark on the new journey as business owners.

“We’re still very connected with our classmates, with the people running it at the chamber, like Lamar Banks, who coordinated the program,” Cussen said. “I see him every day. We really do feel immensely supported by our local community. Everyone who hears about us is so supportive and just so excited. And we do feel like we have this whole community behind us and we would not get that sense if we were living in a bigger city.”

Safety is key

Cussen and Paulson said they designed the Divorcist site with the most vulnerable customer in mind – providing enhanced security and privacy features for the safety of its clients.

“Really, to make sure that no one can use a registry to find where someone lives,” Cussen said. “That just gives people real peace of mind to make sure that you know our service could never be misused.”

The business duo spent nearly six months researching and comparing gift registry software options before deciding to build their own.

“That is because nothing on the market had the privacy and security features that we needed,” Cussen said. “Nobody has built that custom tech specifically for the divorce and break-up market. And that’s where we think we can really make the most social benefit. I think one important thing is just layering on technology into what women have already done.”  

She said the site also provides articles written by specialists, such as therapists and financial planners, on how to navigate a new separation, comprehend dating apps and how to get back into feeling empowered over oneself. 

“So, for example, if you are leaving a violent relationship, the point of leaving is the most dangerous time, which a lot of people don’t understand,” Cussen said. “You kind of think the decision has been made, you are home free. No, that’s actually when things get really scary for a lot of people. So we specifically designed our product around that scenario to help keep people safe.”

Cussen said the business has also helped them grow as people.

“We’re learning even in our own lives, how our assumptions about divorce and breakups can really differ,” she said. “Beth and I have both been through the wringer, but that tells me nothing about someone else’s divorce. So, I think just building in that sensitivity to the experience is something we’re really conscious of.”

For more information on Divorcist, visit divorcist.com.

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