Authentic Conversations with Entrepreneurs Episode 20: “Love Your Inner Unicorn” with Danielle Ramos

In this episode of “Authentic Conversations with Entrepreneurs” I spoke with Danielle Ramos, Visual Brand Strategist & founder of Dani Lou Illustrates. Danielle shared how she discovered and learned to love her ‘inner unicorn’ along her entrepreneurial journey.



Katherine Morales: Hey everyone. Thanks so much for being here. This is episode 20 of Authentic Conversations with Entrepreneurs. I’m Katherine Morales. I’m an Authentic Drand Strategist and founder of Inflection Point Communications. I am so excited to share one of my favorite people here today. It’s Danielle Ramos. She’s a Visual Brand Strategist and founder of Dani Lou Illustrates. So, hi Danielle.

Danielle Ramos: Hi everybody. Thank you for having me.

Katherine Morales: Of course. I’ve known Danielle for a number of years and I just can’t wait to share everything about you with everyone. But before we jump into today’s topic, at the top of every show I always explain what the heck is an authentic conversation. So I define authenticity as honoring the Good & Growing within all of us. So in each episode, what we do is we explore an entrepreneur journey from the growing… Excuse me, yeah, growing to the good. Let me get it in the right order.

So we all kind of hit these bumps in the road. Maybe it just feels like it’s broken down by the side of the road. But this is a show for entrepreneurs like Danielle to share that vulnerability of the true entrepreneurial experience and journey because we all have lessons to learn from one another. So I want to thank you in advance, Danielle, for being here and being open to sharing your experience and your story. So without further ado, today’s topic is “Love Your Inner Unicorn.” I just love this topic in general. Oh my gosh, my daughter has one of those too. Full compliment.

Danielle Ramos: They’re great.

Katherine Morales: Oh, go ahead.

Danielle Ramos: I was going to say it’s not a filter. It’s real. It’s a real horn.

Katherine Morales: Right? It’s authentic and real.

Danielle Ramos: My authentic horn.

Katherine Morales: Yeah, no, literally my mom wore one of those when she flew from Florida. She was wearing it in the airport when we picked her up.

Danielle Ramos: Oh, I love it.

Katherine Morales: Yeah. We have a couple of those in the house.

Danielle Ramos: They’re so much fun.

Katherine Morales: What a great way to start. So beyond the costume, this phrase “Love Your Inner Unicorn,” what does it mean to you? Where did it come from?

Danielle Ramos: Well, so why do I consider myself a little bit of a unicorn? I think really different. And we all think different. It makes us who we are. It makes us unique humans. But I really feel like that I see things from a different point of view than a lot of other people. And what I mean by that, an example is when you know when you’re a kid and you’re laying on the grass and you’re looking into the sky and you see a cloud that looks like a horse or a monkey or whatever, and you kind of make these clouds into things, I do that with everything all the time, and I always have.

So I go to somebody’s house and we’re having a drink. And I look at their rug and I see all these different things that I want to draw in the rug just sitting there. It’s just shapes or colors or whatever, abstract things. But I see all these things that inspire me that I want to draw. In my shower I have wood paneling, and so there’s an old man with a beard and an elephant and a dancing giraffe. And every time I go in, I see something new. It’s just how I’m wired. So I think that part of my horn is being able to see things from a different point of view. And it’s been mostly good, sometimes not as easy, but mostly good.

Katherine Morales: I love that. And really I love just directly the visual point of view. And it’s interesting because I’ll tell you just a fun side note that when I was younger, I saw the clouds as people. I thought people would die and become a cloud. And so I saw faces in the clouds.

Danielle Ramos: Oh, I love that. That is super imaginative.

Katherine Morales: That’s how I was connected to my grandmother and all that.

Danielle Ramos: That’s great.

Katherine Morales: So yes, I see that as well. Okay. So let’s talk about, because this is about growing, and I think obviously if you’re sitting… Let’s go to the scenario with your friend. You’re sitting having a drink and you look at the rug. Now, I don’t know if you’re always saying, “Hey, I see this in your rug,” but is there a moment like that? Obviously your friends love you and they love your horn and all of that. So let’s go to the entrepreneurial journey.

Danielle Ramos: Sure.

Katherine Morales: Was there a moment where that sort of scenario of, “I see this,” or, “Here’s my awesome unique way of seeing things,” that it wasn’t celebrated or honored?

Danielle Ramos: Oh, sure. I’ve had plenty of those.

Katherine Morales: I love the pause. Like, “Um, yeah, let’s go there.”

Danielle Ramos: Yeah. It’s not always easy having a horn. Sometimes people think it’s strange. When I was younger and I was in elementary school, when it comes to teachers and stuff, I would do math just really backwards and in ways that my math teachers just didn’t know. I got the right answer, but they didn’t know how. My brain just worked differently and I couldn’t always do it like everybody else. And sometimes that can feel like a really lonely feeling to not be able to think the way that everybody else thinks. And you feel like maybe you’re wrong. Maybe the differences are wrong. I used to wear crazy outfits in elementary school. I would wear my mom’s big sweatshirts with a belt and go into school with these boots and thinking I look so cool. And a kid would say, “Oh my God, you’re just so weird.” Parents would say, “She really marches to the beautiful own drummer,” which I’ve never been able to really figure out if that’s a compliment or a backhanded compliment.

So yeah, I definitely felt quirky. I loved anything creative. I was an only child, so I had a lot of playtime by myself where I would really start exploring all different kinds of creative things, one girl shows for my mom, or I’d make little action figures out of clay. I’d actually make my own toys and stuffed animals because I really enjoyed the creative part of actually building something and putting a lot of heart into it. But yeah, I know that the clothing and the being different was not always fun. I definitely had a lot of people making fun of me for my differences or the way I dressed or the way I acted because my horn was showing.

Katherine Morales: I love this. And I want to dive in though. You said, “I love building something,” like creating something. So literally by nature, entrepreneurship is that. So how from clay molds or outfits, how did you make the decision or how did you know, “Oh, I’m going to take this entrepreneurial journey and do my own thing.”? And how different was that to build a business versus what you know how to do? This is we learn as we go, right?

Danielle Ramos: Absolutely.

Katherine Morales: So how different was that and how did the horn play into that experience?

Danielle Ramos: So I would say I have been an entrepreneur about as long as I can remember.

Katherine Morales: It wasn’t like a certain moment of starting the business?

Danielle Ramos: Well, so when I was little, when I was in fourth grade, a friend and I started a comic book for girls, my friend Erica. And she was super creative too. So we started doing that. My friend Marty was also creative, and so we started making jewelry and selling it at school. I made coloring books that I’d sell to other kids. So the drive to create things for people to put a smile on their face or just something that hadn’t been created before was really fun to me and exciting. I guess kids don’t ever write notes in class anymore like they used to. It was my favorite thing to do.

Katherine Morales: A dying art.

Danielle Ramos: Yeah. It was a really big deal, right? So every day I would write a few friends on special paper. I had special note-writing paper with special markers and I would draw little things. And at the time, the teachers didn’t like you to send notes to people, so we’d have to be really careful. And a lot of times if they saw the notes, they would either just throw them away or they’d read them in front of the entire class, which was the most embarrassing thing that could happen in fifth grade. So I got a Crayola marker, I took out the marker part, the filter, and then that way you could roll a note and put it into the marker container, and then you could just hand your friend the marker. And so I started selling those, and my friends never got in trouble for notes again because the teachers never knew.

Katherine Morales: Oh my God. Oh my God, I love it. How long have you had your business and how have these amazing creative skills come into how you offer what you do?

Danielle Ramos: So I’ve had Dani Lou Illustrates for nine years now. It was-

Katherine Morales: Congrats.

Danielle Ramos: … a scary jump, but a needed jump. I don’t love being told what to do all the time by a boss or a teacher. And some people really like that. Some people are like, “Oh, I know what I’m supposed to do, when I’m supposed to do it,” and I don’t like a whole lot of downtime. And I found that sometimes in school there is a good bit of downtime. Sometimes in work there’s a good bit of downtime. I like to stay busy and I’m pretty good at keeping my own schedule and staying busy like that. So I really work best alone. Even though I like to work with other creatives and stuff, I work best when I can be at home and create and think and feel and be inspired by a nature walk or-

Katherine Morales: Shower tile.

Danielle Ramos: … a rug or a wallpaper, whatever. I really work best like that. So it was really in me for a long time that I knew that I wanted to take this step, but I wanted to get some experience in the industry before I did that. And once I felt like I had kind of done my due diligence and worked at several different places, I thought, “Now or never. I’m going to try it.” And it was slow at first. I had to figure out what made me special and stand out to the people that I wanted to stand out to, the clients that would appreciate my horn and what I can offer. It really started in art school. I went to college in undergrad and I studied medical illustration, which is super specified.

Katherine Morales: Literally until you, I had never heard of that.

Danielle Ramos: That’s what most people say. It’s such a small market, but it’s needed. You have to draw very realistically. A lot of times you work with lawyers or CDC, stuff like that. It’s a creative job. But for creative jobs, it’s less creative because you have to draw like a photograph, right? And when I was an undergrad, I did this drawing of Mona Lisa. It was supposed to go on the cover of a magazine. She had allergies, so she was holding a Kleenex box and her face was all puffy and her eyes were red and she’d been tearing up. And it was way more creative and out there than most of the medical illustration stuff that my classmates were doing. And so my unicorn horn was definitely there, but my teacher kind of pulled me aside and said, “Look, I think maybe you need a path that’s a little bit more creative and has a little bit more creative leeway where you can use bold and bright colors and kind of interesting humorous things.”

So I went back to school for design and I picked an art school. And so design and illustration, it’s a misconception that they’re the same thing or that people that design can illustrate or vice versa. Usually they do very different things and very different types of creatives. Design’s a lot problem-solving. It’s a lot strategic. And illustration can certainly be those things, but it’s a lot more just whatever comes to your mind. How do you communicate a message, but through visuals? So it’s two different things. And I decided, “Sure, I know enough about illustration already. I don’t need that.” And I was wrong. And so I got into design and got to art school and everybody was a unicorn. Everybody was talented, everybody was great at what they did. They already knew all of these things. It came easy to them. And I felt my horn getting smaller and smaller and smaller because I didn’t really feel like I had found my place. I felt like there was a little bit of a mismatch, not the school, but maybe what I was focusing on. And I remember-

Katherine Morales: That’s so interesting. Oh, sorry.

Danielle Ramos: No, go ahead.

Katherine Morales: I was just going to say I love the visual of that. And I just think when you go into business, you’re guaranteed a moment. Even if you know you’re unique, unicorn, you know what your special sauce is, inevitably there will be a moment where you find yourself in a room or in an experience where you’re like, “Oh my God, everyone’s a unicorn.” So I love how you describe it and how you bring it to life, but that moment happens for everyone. Okay.

Danielle Ramos: Absolutely.

Katherine Morales: Sorry, to pull out of the moment. But so what happened? You had this moment.

Danielle Ramos: So it was the moment that I thought, “Yeah. I think different and I’ve done that all my life and it’s just kind of been me. But here, everybody thinks different. Everybody thinks out of the box. They’re coming up with these amazing ideas that are so creative. And how do I do that? How do I keep up?” So I worked really, really hard. My third quarter in school, it was a two-year school, and went in, we had critiques. That was kind of like our finals was a half an hour critique where we had to present all of our work and explain it. And I was getting kind of blank stares. I was so proud of my work going in. I was like, “I killed it. This is great. I’m going to get all A’s across the board.”

Katherine Morales: All the confidence in the world.

Danielle Ramos: And so I go in and they’re like, “This doesn’t really make sense, and you didn’t really connect this, and I don’t love this design, and this illustration’s not quite right.” And it was very much not how I thought it was going to go. I had one critique-er that I cried when I went out of the door, which was not uncommon. It happens. And creatives are so protective of their work and their ego gets involved and it’s this big thing. So I calmed down. I had to tell myself that I needed to hear what they were saying to me instead of just thinking I knew better. These were people that were out in the world doing what I wanted to do, so I needed to hear and take in what they were saying and refocus. I needed to define my horn again because I feel like I kind of lost it.

And so I thought back to really what made me stand out and what made me special even in art school with all these other great people, talented people that were way better than I was. And what I found was it was really the combination of design and illustration together that made me unique and stand out. Most creatives can’t do both. And so I went to the president of the school and I said, “Look, I think I want to double major in design and illustration.” That wasn’t a thing at all. And he tried to talk me out of it. And I said, “No, it’s just something’s not aligning. Something doesn’t feel right deep inside. I need to do this. I need to at least try it and see.” So he agreed, and he was on board. And then a few friends of mine who were also interested in both decided they wanted to double major.

Katherine Morales: Look at you, trendsetter.

Danielle Ramos: We called it designustration.

Katherine Morales: I love that.

Danielle Ramos: So designustration became a little bit of a thing. I found my horn again. I got some confidence back. It really was what I needed to do for me to get to where I am now, to get to clients that want something different, that want something out of the ordinary, and to really stand out. That’s what allowed me to get to that place. So thank you, that guy who made me cry. Thank you for making me change my whole career path and refocus. I really sincerely do appreciate that. So I’m glad he made me cry.

Katherine Morales: It’s some of those moments that they don’t look pretty, but they are designed to turn inward and say, “Oh, what is my unique light?” or horn as you would say. So yeah. Yeah. I love that. So today and for the past nine years, you help your clients find their horn. But I imagine you don’t make them cry in the journey.

Danielle Ramos: I try not to. Yeah, no, we don’t like tears. Unicorns don’t particularly like tears, so I try to avoid that.

Katherine Morales: So yeah. Tell me, how has connecting with this love for your inner unicorn helped you to do that with others that you work with?

Danielle Ramos: So I had this one illustration teacher who pushed us to be as weird and push the boundaries as much as possible. And he said, “You can always take it down a level, make it more normal. But you got to start with something kind of crazy to even show people that that is a possibility.” So I took that to heart. And I think when I started my business, I’d think, “I don’t want to get too weird. I don’t want to turn them off. I don’t want to go too far so they think-”

Katherine Morales: How much of my horn do I show?

Danielle Ramos: Yeah, yeah. Do I put on a little bit of a hat so they can only see part of it?

Katherine Morales: Right? Yeah.

Danielle Ramos: So slowly, I started showing more and more really unique things, really different ideas. And what I found was that the clients that I really enjoyed working with loved it. They were like, “Wow, I’ve never seen anything like this. I’ve never heard of it. This is totally unique,” and ownable for their business. And it wasn’t finding a brand that they liked the look of and changing it and making it a similar version of that. It was something that was completely different. And so the more I showed clients that and the more they loved it and chose that direction, the weirder I got and the more I did it, and the more clients I found that were also weird unicorns. And they started kind of like, “I know this designer. She’s weird. She’s good. Let’s talk to her. You need to talk to her when you do your branding for your restaurant or whatever.” And it kind went from there. So yeah, it’s been a beautiful journey.

Katherine Morales: In full disclosure, since I’ve been a client of yours and we’ve worked together in partnership, does that make me a unicorn then?

Danielle Ramos: Absolutely. Absolutely it makes you a unicorn.

Katherine Morales: Oh, go ahead.

Danielle Ramos: I was going to say we can all be unicorns. Everybody has that thing that makes them different, that makes them unique. It’s just pushed down after our childhood. We’re so creative as children.

Katherine Morales: It’s our natural state.

Danielle Ramos: Children look at something like a curtain and they’re like, “It’s a window blanket,” and it’s hilarious. But it makes so much sense, and you see why they saw things in that way. It was such an innocent childlike thing. And we are inundated with people telling us what to be, who to be, how to be every day from elementary school. And you start showing your unicorn horn a little less, you start using that imagination a little less because we’re worried about calling something a window blanket and somebody looking at us like-

Katherine Morales: “What’s wrong with you?”

Danielle Ramos: … “What are you talking about?”

Katherine Morales: Yeah, yeah.

Danielle Ramos: But stuff like that, that deep reaching down for that inner child and those moments that make us feel really good and creative and sketching our shadow puppets on the wall, anything like that that kind of gets us back to that place where we didn’t care what anybody thought when we were little. We did what made us feel good. And people lose that because life is hard and you have to fit in enough to get to where you want to be. But when you can have those moments and dance in the rain or do shadow puppets on the wall or swing on a swing when you walk by it, it kind of gets you back in touch with that creativity.

Katherine Morales: I love it. And I thank you for helping me bring my brand visually to life. I feel like it was a matter of time before we found one another because of how, what you call a horn, I call the fire.

Danielle Ramos: Absolutely.

Katherine Morales: It’s like when you know how to share that light or show the horn, it’s like the right people will be drawn to you because they’re like, “Oh my God, I’ve been looking for this and I didn’t even know I was looking for it. I just feel so at home by your fire or in this group of unicorns,” right?

Danielle Ramos: 100%. We have very similar stories and ways of working. And I think I love finding my other unicorns like you, Katherine.

Katherine Morales: I know. Big hugs. Well, I know our listeners are interested to see some of your work, and I’m so excited you launched your website. I’m going to put it up here. And that was just what, in the past six months or so, right?

Danielle Ramos: Yeah, the last six months. It had-

Katherine Morales: Nine years in business, no website, right?

Danielle Ramos: I had a few that I was not proud of. This one, I really decided to take the time to be strategic and make it what I really needed it to be.

Katherine Morales: It’s just beautiful. It is so you. You have the unicorn on the site.

Danielle Ramos: I do.

Katherine Morales: Yeah. Go and visit

Danielle Ramos: I also have Steven Tyler as an avocado in there. If you want to see Steven Tyler as an avocado, I got paid for that by the way. Please go to my site, going down to the end of the homepage.

Katherine Morales: Yes. Yes. It is a true gift. If you haven’t seen Steven Tyler as an avocado, you must go do that now, have to. It’s everything. When I think of you too, I always think of that. So yeah, if you hadn’t mentioned it, I probably would’ve.

Danielle Ramos: I’m so glad. That was one of my favorites.

Katherine Morales: So okay, before I share where they can find you on social, so for the people who they’re in business and they know they’re magical, but for some reason they’re still afraid to let their horn out, what advice do you have to offer them?

Danielle Ramos: Okay. If you have showing your horn scary, just a little intimidated, not sure what to do about that, let me help you. I would be glad to help you find your horn, find the right way to show people your horn, and then you can be a full-fledged unicorn. We can be a blessing of unicorns together. Did you know that a group of unicorns was called a blessing? I found that out recently.

Katherine Morales: I learned via My Little Pony with my daughter, so yeah.

Danielle Ramos: That also works. But I do want to invite anybody who’s interested in finding their horn or growing their horn to book a free connection call with me, go to my website.

Katherine Morales: Let me put that up here.

Danielle Ramos: Yeah. Go to my website, send me a message, and it’s a free connection call. We’ll talk about you and your business and see if we’re a good unicorn fit together.

Katherine Morales: It’s like a call to connect with our inner unicorn. I love it. And here, I love the simplicity that you have. I always encourage this if you can do it, for entrepreneurs, try to get the same handle for your social. So congrats that you were able to get Dani Lou Illustrates across Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook. So I love your Instagram channel. Obviously Instagram’s highly visual, so that’s a true gift too to just scan your Instagram feed.

Danielle Ramos: Yeah. It’s pretty much only projects, art and my animals. You’ll see a lot of my cats on Instagram.

Katherine Morales: This is beautiful. I want to stick to our time and just respect everyone’s schedule. So is there any other advice you would want to offer or-

Danielle Ramos: Oh, man. I would say-

Katherine Morales: So many great tidbits already, and also literal definitions of the difference between design and illustration, which I think most people don’t know. So I love that too.

Danielle Ramos: That’s true. Sure. I would say just creativity and imagination, if you don’t use it, you lose it.

Katherine Morales: Like anything, right?

Danielle Ramos: Yeah. Today, try to do something that your seven or eight-year-old self would do. Whatever you had fun doing then, or whatever sounds fun now, even if it seems like crazy and you won’t be good at it, I did a cartwheel the other day just for the hell of it, just to see if I could.

Katherine Morales: Could you do it?

Danielle Ramos: I could. Yeah, I did it.

Katherine Morales: Oh, good for you. I did one, oh my God, it was very sad, but kind of okay. I was half proud, so yeah.

Danielle Ramos: I was pretty proud. And then a few days later, I was bragging about it and decided to do another one, and I pulled my hamstring. So that happens too. But use that imagination. It was there. It was in you. So reach down, find your inner unicorn and bring some of those authentically you moments to your life that are just joyful and not for anybody else.

Katherine Morales: And I’ll say I just absolutely love that, and I feel though that when you let that out in some small way, it’s what lights everyone else up. It really does.

Danielle Ramos: Yeah. It does. It’s like a domino effect, right? So when I kind of did my weird thing, a lot of my friends were like, “Hey, I have some weirdness too, and I like your weirdness, so let’s be weird.” It gives you confidence, right? You feel supported. You’re not the only weirdo out there. You’re not the only Phoebe from Friends out there. You have other unicorns.

Katherine Morales: There you go. There you go. Yeah. Phoebe’s one of the best characters. And every time I get any kind of sickness, I sing Smelly Cat, because who doesn’t do that?

Danielle Ramos: Me too.

Katherine Morales: Right? It’s like, “Oh, I have the voice.”

Danielle Ramos: Smelly, smelly, smelly, really smelly cat. It’s not your fault.

Katherine Morales: Yeah. You have it naturally, like a very sultry… I love it, Danielle.

Danielle Ramos: Oh, I’m not good at singing, but I do it anyway. I sing Meatloaf in the shower. So you can catch me on many weeknights just singing Meatloaf in the shower or Smelly Cat.

Katherine Morales: Yeah, there we go. I went to-

Danielle Ramos: Looking at the animal shapes on my wall and the different things that I see, right? Yeah. That’s my-

Katherine Morales: I think you’ll like this one. I have to share the creativity, just because I think it’s good to give suggestions. I went to this retreat. I don’t know, I shared it on social. I went to a retreat in Arizona a few weeks ago. And one of the things that they did was a spontaneous dance party, just middle of-

Danielle Ramos: Nice.

Katherine Morales: And there were adults 31 to 61 at this thing, like 16 of us. At first, I was like, “Holy crud, I should dance more because I’m so out of shape.” That happened because I danced for a while. I was like, “Huh, huh,” but I was into it. And I left the thing, lots of awakenings and wonderful things happened. But I was like, “OMG, I have to do a dance party every day.” And so 95% of the time so far, there’s been a few days here or there, my family and I, but my daughter and I especially get into it, we just put on a song that we like and we just start dancing.

And what I think is so cool about it is, one, you can’t feel anything but joy when you do that. But two, it’s like as much as you’re enjoying your unicorn horn and your authenticity and your style of dancing, what I think is so beautiful is find the moments to step back and just watch other people’s, because I did that at the retreat and that just added more to it to see someone else experiencing that joy and lighting up. And I love just watching my daughter do it. So it’s my way of… Literally too, I’m thinking about signing up for an adult dance class because I just love it so much.

Danielle Ramos: Well, you’re breeding a unicorn. You’re teaching her how to be a unicorn self and not to get in her head about dancing like nobody’s watching. You’ve got to do stuff like that.

Katherine Morales: Literally, yeah. Our dog does not like our dancing. She likes to jump and bite, but that’s a whole nother complication. But-

Danielle Ramos: Yeah, my cats think I’m really weird. They think I’m probably weirder than anybody else. They see all the things.

Katherine Morales: Yeah. Yeah.

Danielle Ramos: I’m so glad they can’t talk or get on the internet.

Katherine Morales: If only, oh my goodness. We could go all day, Danielle. I love this. Thank you so, so much for being here.

Danielle Ramos: Thank you.

Katherine Morales: And hopefully this inspires the listeners to celebrate their unique unicorn within them and to do something creative today. And yeah, I hope you’ll tune in and they’ll also tune in to our next episode, Episode 21, on September, oh my gosh, 21st. Look at that 21 and 21. I did not do it on purpose. I just realized that too. Same time, 1:30 Eastern time. We’re going to be talking to Iris Goldfeder. She is owner of Gas Stove Creative, so she’s one of my favorite people and I can’t wait to share her with you all.

Danielle Ramos: I can’t wait to watch. Thank you, Katherine.

Katherine Morales: Yeah, good to see you, Daniel. Thanks everyone.

Danielle Ramos:  Bye.

Katherine Morales: Bye.