Aubre Murphy, founder of nonprofit The Warpaint Project, is an artist and entrepreneur. Her nonprofit empowers those who are facing challenges. Murphy refers to these individuals as Warriors, be that of cancer, autism, or another diagnosis. By tapping into the unifying powers of art and community, The Warpaint Project creates a place for people to donate funds and send unique gifts to Warriors.
Though Murphy created The Warpaint Project in February 2019, it received its nonprofit status in March 2020. We chatted with Murphy about the journey of building her organization from the ground up and what she’s learned so far.
Swyft Filings (SF): Tell us about your journey to becoming an entrepreneur, and what inspired you to start your business.
Aubre Murphy (AM): A little over a year ago, my best friend called with news that her father was diagnosed with cancer. After the call, I pulled out a canvas, painted her an elephant, mighty and strong, representing both who she needed to be and what I would be for her. I posted it on Facebook asking for prayers, tagging her, and the post went 'viral' with more than 1000 likes or comments.
A woman messaged me asking for the painting for her autistic son, who loved elephants. After a discussion about logistical challenges — having no canvas and a lack of expendable funds — we left the conversation. Quickly after that, however, I had an idea: why not paint an elephant for her son, a Warrior of Autism, and tell his story, asking for likes and prayers? In fact, why not ask anyone who wanted a painting the same question? I wondered who would benefit or want their story told.
Within the first hour, there would be a dozen requests for a free Warrior Painting. And in the first year, 215 total. It didn't dawn on me to become a business at all. It wasn't until a 'fan' and old friend who watched more than 180 paintings created and received became inspired and reached out with a life-changing donation with the funds needed to become a nonprofit organization. Through The Warpaint Project, Warriors of cancer, autism, or any other diagnosis, are nominated to receive an acknowledgement that they are 'Warriors' in Life, in a War with their health and surviving their daily battle against their diagnosis.
SF: What makes The Warpaint Project unique?
AM: The Warpaint Project is unique in that it allows us to take our talent and passion to give warriors a painting for free, ship it for free, tell their story, and find them donations and support. I've also accumulated more than two dozen additional free and donated gifts that accompany their painting from Etsy artists, such as bandannas, small toys, miniature games, and cards. We ask for nothing in return except that they enjoy the moment when a large group of people comes together to celebrate a Warrior.
In one year we've shipped 174 Paintings and gifts to Warriors nationwide. It's been the most incredible journey.
SF: What’s the one thing you would tell someone thinking about starting their own business?
AM: Analyze what you believe would be the moment that you’d be able to define as "successful" and ask yourself what you think that will take to get there. Then ask yourself if you're able to do all the work by yourself; depend on no one to pay for it, to create your opportunities, to promote you, or give you the keys. You inhabit every role; every responsibility, and if you can't believe it no one else will.
SF: What’s been the most difficult aspect of starting a business?
AM: Funding. Finding supporters. Finding fans. Finding donations. It's a full-time job.
SF: What is something that you never thought you’d do, but have found yourself taking on as a business owner?
AM: I didn't think I was capable of understanding the 'behind the scenes' aspects of website creation, adding content, HTML, blogging, and so on. Now that I've created one from scratch, it gives me one more part of success that I don't need someone for.
To be independent is key. You have complete control, you understand the in's and out's, you're in front of trends and reporting, and you can use the money you would pay someone to do this, on other things.
SF: What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
AM: Obsessing. I will begin thinking about our Warriors the moment my eyes open and think about them until I fall asleep. My mind is taking in influence, troubleshooting, criticising, pondering the 'what if's? I day-dream about best and worst-case scenarios.
To submerge yourself into every little detail allows two things: one, that you consider every detail and then use or discard what's needed and not and you create priorities based on your instincts; and two, your mind, body, and soul will surround an idea when it's good. It gives your business a surge and keeps you fresh. That you never stay comfortable and complacent, improving both your approach and your customer's experience is a language no words can speak.
People see your passion, your truths, and your trying and they give you support because they love your energy. You cannot fake it in 2020 where authenticity is in your actions.
SF: What’s been your strategy for gaining followers?
AM: The Warpaint Project has a Facebook Page, Tik-Tok, Instagram, Google, and website. When posting an update, it's done on all 'channels' of media.
Our Motto, "Stop for the Art, Meet A Warrior' means we use visual arts to attract a person who is flying through a newsfeed looking for images. Once they learn this artwork is donated and given to a Warrior of Life, it's only human nature to become a fan across the board.
We also don't post the full painting until our Warrior receives their gift; anticipation is an important tool. Being repetitive but with new content shows how busy we are, constantly creating new artwork, receiving new nominations, showing new Warriors who receive their gifts; there's a trust that's built that no matter the post, it's something you've never seen before.
SF: What is the one piece of advice you often heard about starting a new business you now think is overblown?
AM: “You need a business plan and a lot of money.” It's just not true. If you're like me, I've been an artist my entire life, I've given paintings away my entire life; this business is an extension of who I am. It's not how I become wealthy or famous.
My opening a nonprofit is for the simple purpose of qualifying for grants and accepting donations at a corporate level. If you are starting your business for anything other than a continuation of what you're already an expert at, maybe then it needs to be mapped out to death. For me, it's just another day in the life.
SF: On the hand, what common advice do you now appreciate even more?
AM: Act as if you are already as successful as you want to be: dress the part you want to have; celebrate as if it's already happened; surround yourself with success stories and know that you’re one of them; all things that 'manifest' the destiny you were made for.
SF: Where do you hope to see your organization go in the next five years?
AM: We would like to add scholarships to our Warrior Kids gift, provide a more valuable GiftBox, and have other Artists join us. We’d also like to share our story of 215 Warriors in a Year; a story of individuals who fight for the life we take for granted, and being able to give them a moment their diagnosis cannot touch. It’s a gift that's donated from dozens, always reminding our Warriors of their strength with gifts that never die, that never lose their luster, never fade in worth.
The Warpaint Project wants to remind our Warriors, they're Warriors for life and then help them get through this life no matter what's needed.
If you're interested in starting a nonprofit of your own, speak with the business specialists at Swyft Filings today.