Amber Duncan shares stories from fashion and the farm
Amber and Ryan Duncan own a debt settlement company, Reduce My Debts, valued at $50 million. Ryan Duncan, Amber’s husband, established a regenerative agriculture farm on their 12-acre property in Bradenton, called Jubilee Organics, Amber owns two cupcake franchises and has launched Jackie, a clothing subscription and personal shopping service.
In the fall of 2015, Amber purchased a fitness center in Palmetto, which she rebranded and revitalized into Live Training Center. This location serves as a training gym for American Ninja Warrior competitors. Shortly after purchasing this location, Amber handed the company to her brother to own and operate.
The couple’s latest entrepreneurial feat launched in the fall of 2019, Class Coach, an online learning platform, was right on time for everyone to be told to stay home.
TBBW publisher and CEO Bridgette Bello interviewed Amber Duncan in front of a live audience at Red Mesa Cantina. This interview has been edited for length and brevity.
Has anything exciting happened since you were on TBBW’s cover in September?
I feel like every little moment that we can get to share our stories can inspire others. So for me, being a part of what Bridgette has, and I know, for most of you all, it has been an honor, and it has been very humbling. I find it to be an opportunity to go back and replay my story the whole way through, even for myself. It’s amazing to share this journey with other entrepreneurs who are trying to figure out their way. We’ve been at the bottom and we rose to the top.
In your story, we weren’t able to go into great detail about where you were when you launched Reduce My Debts. Can you tell that story?
So, my husband and I were both mortgage brokers. And, if you remember, for those of you in the housing industry in 2008, it crashed. I mean, we had loans, ready to go that day, like 10 closings, and it was literally like the bank shut the doors and said, “No more. We’re done.” And we were both in that industry. We also had four children, at the time, and I was pregnant with my fifth child. And so for us looking at that situation, we’re were like, “Oh, my gosh. What are we going to do now?” What we did realize, though, is that most of the people who are refinancing their homes were sucking out the equity in their homes to pay off their debts.
When you strip that away, and people could no longer see the appreciation go up as quickly as it was and they could no longer take out their equity, then it left them with a gaping problem. So, my whole life, I’ve kind of been a negotiator. I’ve never dabbled in unsecured credit card debt. But I figured, “OK. This cannot be that hard.” My husband and I, went a year trying to make it work in mortgages, we filed bankruptcy and we went through all of these things trying to rebuild.
Finally, I just realized after standing in front of the bankruptcy attorney, at the time that we filed, he looked at me and said, “You know what. I’ll see you here again.” And it sparked something inside of me. I looked at him and said, “You’re not going to see me, or anyone else we can help stand in front of you.” I walked out of there so crushed emotionally. This is how people feel, who get in bad situations. It wasn’t like we weren’t responsible, we were paying our debts, but the industry closed down. And we couldn’t get rid of all of our properties and cars. At that moment, it was about helping other people avoid what we had to go through. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.
From there, I figured out how to negotiate with credit card companies for a fraction of what people owe. I learned how to deal with credit collection agencies. And I learned what Fair Debt Collection Practices Act violations were. Out of that our debt settlement company was born, which is now one of the largest debt settlement companies in the nation, not only for helping clients but also for back-end servicing for other companies who are doing this for their clients.
We all have that moment where somebody says something to us, and we go, “Oh, yeah? Watch me.”
Totally. And I’ve been that kid my whole life, but that did something different for me. It was a blessing.
Debt settlement in the times that we’re in, I’m going to imagine things are, unfortunately, pretty good for you.
In the last year, we’ve seen growth by 50% more than last year, just in a small amount of time this year. So we’ve seen tremendous growth in last year.
One of the things that you said, when we did the interview was you talked about the hustle. You had a baby and went back to work the same week. Talk about how you launched the company and got it to where it is today.
It’s so funny because when Ryan and I were driving up to your anniversary party in September, we were replaying our story through and talking through it, like how did we ever do this when we had four small children? If you’ve ever seen the movie, Having Fun with Dick and Jane, that was us to a tee. Everything about that movie was our life.
I was pregnant with our youngest, we have five kids. I remember I had my son on a Friday. We had just launched the company. I had to get back in there and deal with these banks. So, I can remember having him on Friday, pushing the stroller in on Monday, putting him on my desk in a bouncy seat and working, talking with banks, feeding and just going back and forth. To be quite honest, I don’t even know how I did it at the time. I think when you’re in the zone like that, and you realize your backs are against the wall, for me, I thrive in those situations. It’s your moment to shine. It’s your moment to show people what you’re made of.
Amber has a clothing subscription service, and I’ll let her talk about it rather than me, but my favorite part of that story, among your multiple different companies, was the way that you came up with the name, Jackie. Want to talk about that a little bit?
When I decided to venture into fashion, I knew what I always wanted as a client, and I tried all the subscription boxes out there, and never found one that I truly connected with. I wanted someone who got me, who got the fact that I was a mother of five children and I was a CEO. I had to go from a ball game to the office and get on a plane. And I wanted them to style me in that manner. But I never really connected with anything that was out there.
When I was originally going to launch what’s now called Jackie, I had come up with another name and I thought it was so great. I was going to call it Chatterbox, with a tagline of, “Give all your girlfriends something to talk about.” I went to my branding company, Brave People, to talk with them. They looked at me like, “Are you for real? Like, do you understand that chatterboxes have a negative connotation? Do you really want to call it that?”
Coincidentally, I had just watched a documentary about Jackie Kennedy the night before. There was a moment where she walked in after her husband was shot and she had this white suit on and it was covered in blood. She walked in and her Secret Serviceman said, “Mrs. Kennedy, we’ve got to go.” She turned around and looked at him and said, “Don’t call me Mrs. Kennedy. Call me Jackie.” And that for me encapsulates what I wanted to create with Jackie like, I want women to feel like they’re enough. They don’t have to be married to someone who gives them their last name. They don’t have to be a CEO. They could be a mother that goes out to the field and watches their kids on a daily basis, but they can look really good doing it.
You’re launching a men’s subscription too, right?
Yes, it will be called Jackbox.
Would you talk about how this year has impacted that business?
Surprisingly, as soon as COVID hit, we, of course, were concerned about what does this mean for our business but so many women have realized that getting a box is a great idea. They can try on the clothes in the comfort of their own home. But more importantly, they’re getting selections, they never would have chosen for themselves. That’s the caveat of signing up for Jackie is that when you have stylists to understand the way you live your life, can pull those items and send them to you, but also tell you how to style them.
We found for us, we thrived when it came to our clients. It was a little difficult to get our clothes from New York during the first three months. But that’s picked back up again. So we really saw an uptick in our clients.
For local clients, we can schedule one-on-one styling appointments. They can come inside of Jackie, meet with their stylist, try on the clothes and have an experience that is solely about them. There’s no one else there shopping.
They have a farm on their home property. You could close the gates and feed all five kids, and yourself and your husband, for how long?
I think we could feed ourselves forever because we’re on the water so we could fish. But it’s kind of like Green Acres. Honestly, when we say “farm in public,” I’m always like, do we have to tell everybody we live on a farm? Like I’m just trying to do this style thing. But it is an organic farm. It’s very unique because Ryan, my husband, took a lot of time to learn about the agriculture part and what food is doing to our bodies.
When we created the farm, it was more for healing him. When I saw the difference it made, I became a believer. We’ve got passion fruits, there are sweet potatoes … we just had two adorable baby goats.
It’s just so nice to wake up and see all this in your backyard but get in your car and go into a styling company.
-Photos by Ryan Gautier