For Olivia Howell, making connections is everything. She calls it her superpower – the ability to offer vulnerability and honesty to people in exchange for trust and, inevitably, growth. This is exactly what she’s doing with her newest business, a unique venture she has so much faith in, she decided to sell her house in East Northport and move back to her parent’s Huntington home, along with her two children, in order to fund it.
Fresh Starts Registry was first conceived in a journal entry in Howell’s diary. She wanted to start a company that supported women going through the same types of changes she had experienced. Today, about one year after its launch, her concept is celebrating big, brave and bold life decisions with a one-stop online shop and support center.
Howell and her sister, Genevieve Dreizen, created the first and only platform specifically designed to give people making big life decisions everything they need to start again. The sisters provide a gift registry, product recommendations, and a resource guide with expert advice a person may need when beginning a new phase in life.
“I started this company because I went through my own divorce,” Howell told the Journal. “My background is in marketing, social media, and PR communications. I’ve worked in the registry space; I was a lead social media director for a baby registry for about seven years, and when I was literally cleaning the house out of half my stuff, I thought, ‘Why is there not a registry for people going through these big life transitions?’ We celebrate babies, weddings and all that, but we don’t support people through all the other stuff that we do, which is really the rest of life.”
Howell and Dreizen have run a social media management agency together for the last decade; after Howell’s divorce – and an aha moment during that house cleanout – she brought the idea of Fresh Starts to the agency’s team. She knew from extensive research that there was no platform like this out there, and there still isn’t.
“I think the divorce industry, specifically, is untapped because there’s a lot of shame around it, and so people don't really want to delve into it,” Howell said. She believes that any big life decision or experience, from breakups to career changes, moving homes or choosing to stay single, deserves this extra level of support and attention. Howell calls life events like these “stepping into your truth,” and views them as moments that should be honored and celebrated.
Today, Howell is the chief executive officer of Fresh Starts, handling communications and press, and Dreizen is the chief creative officer and chief operating officer, making sure the site is running smoothly and has the right aesthetic.
They take a different approach to divorce, or any life-changing moment, than other forums. “We celebrate divorce; divorce is a gift and a blessing,” Howell said. “It allows two people to live their truth and live a happy life. And I always say, there’s no shiny award at the end of an unhappy, long marriage.”
The sisters built the Fresh Starts platform themselves. The registry component is completely free to users, and the website doesn’t capture any personal data from registrants. Safety and security is paramount, Howell explained, because going through a life change is already vulnerable. People may ask why divorcees, for instance, need presents, but Howell explained that they are really symbols of support that enable a loved one to continue the process and journey in a powerful way. “We never want people to feel alone in their decision making because that’s a really scary place to be,” Howell said.
Fresh Starts provides a community for those people.
The other aspect of the business is the database of vetted experts in place to help “take the overwhelm away” as people go through these changes.
From divorce lawyers, mortgage brokers and realtors, to therapists and wellness coaches, the Fresh Start Expert Guide is another tool for people navigating a transition period. “The average person uses ten experts per life change,” Howell noted, so the guide was created for that extra element of support. The experts are all vetted and they have to apply to be a guide; they also sign the “Fresh Starts Ethos” agreement, which states that they will be inclusive, and never judge or shame clients.
The Expert Guide is what allows Howell and Dreizen to sustain the business. Once they’re approved, experts become paid members of the brand and in return, they are provided with an SEO-optimized stand-alone profile, as well as social media, marketing, communication, and public relations support. There are also monthly speaking events and workshops for the experts that focus on professional development.
“If you are an expert and you’re trying to boost your business or build your digital footprint, there’s nothing else like this out there,” Howell said.
Most Fresh Starts users begin exploring the site’s offerings when they are thinking about divorce and at the “beginning of their journey,” Howell said. They feel like something isn’t right and become curious about the next steps. That’s why the site provides blog posts, expert interviews, podcast episodes, and “anonymous nights” during which people can ask questions about the process. Howell said that because she’s so open about her experience, she gets many direct messages from women asking about where to start, and she’ll recommend experts like a divorce coach and financial planner.
Howell and Dreizen are a two-woman team, working to get the Fresh Starts name out there and grow the business, all while offering this engaging and nurturing platform. Howell said that growing up in the Huntington community showed her what it’s like to feel supported, and why it’s so important to her that no one ever feels alone. Above all things, she noted, the connections that she’s able to make with Fresh Starts are what matters most.
When asked how she’ll know when she “made it” with Fresh Starts, Howell said that it will be when there are thousands of experts on the site. “There are so many different ways to support people through life changes and I really want to be able to provide that,” she explained. She’d also love to buy a house for herself and her two boys.
“I believe I’m going to change the world with this,” she said. “When you can empower people through life changes instead of shaming them, it changes the whole story.”
The Fresh Starts registry and expert guide can be found here.