Cynthia Daniels has a knack for seeing a problem and finding a solution. Perhaps that’s why her event planning company, Cynthia Daniels & Co., attracts thousands of young professionals in Memphis, many of whom are repeat attendees. The Atlanta native, who moved to the Bluff City in 2009, says when she relocated, she noticed that there weren’t a lot of events catered to young professionals, especially those of color. Instead of complaining, she did something about it.
The “entrepreneur by accident” started by organizing small, intimate dinners with CEOs and went on to create the nationally recognized Memphis Black Restaurant Week in 2016. Since then, Cynthia has orchestrated an extensive mix of popular events including the Black Bridal Expo, Memphis Top 40 Under 40 Urban Elite Professionals and the LEVEL UP Conference.
This busy entrepreneur isn’t slowing down yet. In fact, she says there’s still a lot more work to do, including expanding the reach of Cynthia Daniels & Co. We spoke to Cynthia about the secret to her signature events and what she loves most about the city she now calls home. Get to know this FACE of Memphis better!
Your company Cynthia Daniels & Co. has produced some of the biggest events in Memphis. How did you get your start in event planning?
I discovered my passion for event planning while volunteering with nonprofits. They always needed help with fundraisers, and I realized how much I enjoyed event planning much more than my career in human resources.
What surprises you most about the success of your company?
I still can’t believe how many signature events I’ve created in Memphis in less than two years. My plan was to focus on Memphis Black Restaurant Week and Top 40 Under 40 Urban Elite Professionals, but I continued to see a need to create events for young professionals. So I continued creating them.
It’s said that the best way to grow a successful business is to find a need and fulfill it. What need does your company fulfill for young professionals in the city?
My company creates cool events for young professionals in Memphis while pushing the envelope of normal event experiences. I’ve also found a need to create events to market and uplift local black-owned businesses.
You’ve seen a lot of success, including both local and national recognition for your first signature event, Memphis Black Restaurant Week. What do you attribute to the success of Cynthia Daniels & Co?
I think my success comes from the fact that I spent six years volunteering with companies and organizations by planning events. So I was able to learn on the job and make mistakes before I launched my own company.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned since becoming an entrepreneur?
The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that it’s important to stick to a lean budget when becoming an entrepreneur because you don’t get the luxury of having a paycheck every two weeks. I learned to scale down my personal expenses tremendously in my first year of business to make sure that I could pay personal expenses, while also having money to invest in my business.
You’ve created a diverse mix of events. Where do you get ideas for event creation?
It comes from seeing a gap in what’s needed in Memphis. Most recently, I launched the Black Bridal Expo to expose minority brides to vendors that they typically wouldn’t see at other expos. I also created Elixir, a social event with four rooms, seven DJs and live music because a lot of my friends were tired of going to clubs. I decided to create an upscale environment for them to party and experience different music under one roof.
What’s next for Cynthia Daniels & Co.?
My next step is working with nonprofits and corporations to help them rebrand their fundraisers.
You often say that you’re a Memphian by choice. What do you love most about Memphis?
I truly love the people here! They are super-friendly and will assist you in connecting with the right people to help achieve a goal. Everyone really just wants to make Memphis a better place.
When friends or family come to visit you, where are three must-go places you take them in Memphis?
I would first take them to the National Civil Rights Museum because it is truly a life-changing experience to learn so much about African-American history from the 1600s until now. The exhibits are interactive, educational and thought-provoking. Every time I leave the museum, it empowers me to do more in my community.
I also absolutely love the brunch menu at Sage, a new downtown restaurant by Chef Eli. He’s brilliant in the kitchen. My favorite creation is the “Soul Waffle” — it’s stuffed with fried chicken, collard greens and mac ‘n’ cheese. It’s the most delicious thing I’ve ever tasted. Once my friends try it, they might be ready to move to Memphis.
Lastly, Memphis has the most incredible live music scene, so I would take visitors to The Pocket to hear some of my favorite musicians. The Pocket is a speakeasy with the most amazing cocktails and fun atmosphere. I’d be able to show off my city in the best way if I take my friends there.
As a busy entrepreneur, how do you balance your career and personal time? What do you do for self-care?
I’m a big advocate of self-care! I block off one hour a day for “Cynthia Time” and use it to unplug, take a nap, listen to music, whatever I need to do to keep myself from feeling overwhelmed. It’s helped me stay balanced as an entrepreneur, and I recommend that everyone make time to do it. Also, once a month, I block off a weekend to unplug from everything to go the spa to treat myself to some much-needed pampering.
What’s one thing that people would be surprised to know about you?
I really love watching Hallmark Christmas movies year-round. On the weekends or when I have some downtime, I’ll just binge watch them all day. And I know they’re so cheesy, but I love them.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received or a motto that you live by?
Always follow your vision, even if others don’t fully see it! I learned that from my mentor, Beverly Robertson, who is a pioneer in business in Memphis. When I first started thinking of events to plan, some people would tell me, “Oh that won’t work in Memphis.” Beverly always told me that my vision is for me. I can’t expect everyone else to always see it in the beginning, but that shouldn’t stop me.
What are three things, besides faith, family and friends, that you can’t live without?
I can’t live without my iPad, my air fryer and MAC lip gloss.
Thank you, Cynthia! And thank you to Laura Armstrong of NLA Projects for the gorgeous images of Cynthia!
Want insider tips from financial experts? Read our new Q&A series, “Money Moxie,” in which Reliant Investment Management’s dynamic team of financial experts cuts through all the dizzying fiscal jargon and delivers practical answers. Approachable financial information has never been easier! Click here to read the second article in the series.