“In the future, there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders.” 
― Sheryl Sandberg

BABE #214: ILAURA REEVES — Co-Owner, Gold Daughters

BABE #214: ILAURA REEVES — Co-Owner, Gold Daughters


Ilaura is the co-owner of Gold Daughters, an Alaskan gold panning business that she started with her sister, Jordan, back in 2014. Gold Daughters has grown a lot since its humble beginnings (just five months after Ilaura’s graduation as a student athlete at University of South Florida,) and all signs continue to point toward success. Leading an all-female staff with a desire to rival the stereotypical image of what a gold panner looks like, Ilaura’s unique business is paving the way for future female gold panners, and connecting travelers and locals alike through getting their hands dirty, exploring nature, and of course, finding gold.

The Basics:

Hometown: Fairbanks, Alaska
Current city: Fairbanks, Alaska
Alma mater: University of South Florida
Degree: B.A., Mass Communications with a minor in Entrepreneurship
Very first job: “Talent” on a National Geographic reality series called “Goldfathers
Hustle: Co-Owner, Gold Daughters

The Interests:

Babe you admire and why?
My mom, Ramona. My parents made the bold decision to start a family and open a business at the same time. As I’ve worked the past five years to build my own business, I’ve grown a deep admiration for my mom being able to balance raising five kids while simultaneously taking on the risks and lifestyle of being an entrepreneur. Now that I know the stresses and responsibilities of developing a business, I’m grateful that she never allowed those stresses to interfere with our life at home. She is kind, patient, hardworking, supportive, selfless and everything I strive to be.

How do you spend your free time?
I love going out for a drive. I grab my golden retriever, Nugget, hop in the car and turn up the music or a podcast and drive across town. I don’t usually have a destination in mind, which allows me to explore new sites and enjoy the ride.

Ilaura panning.jpg

Favorite fictional female character?
Melissa Lewis, the captain in the book and movie “The Martian.” First of all she’s an astronaut, which was my first childhood dream. To be an astronaut you have to be absolutely brilliant, physically and mentally strong and fearless.

Current power anthem?
Shotgun,” by George Ezra.

What would you eat for your very last meal?
All the Thai food.

What’s something you want to learn or master?
I’d love to learn lapidary and soldering.

What’s something most don’t know about you?
I was an extra on a “Saturday Night Live” skit called “Getting Freaky with Cee Lo” when I was in college. My sister, Lauren, was living in NYC and got us both on last-minute when I went up to visit her for a weekend getaway. I told a couple of my friends and my family to make sure they tuned in, but haven’t brought it up since!

If you could have coffee with anyone in the world, who would it be?
Ellen Degeneres. I’ve never experienced hot coffee coming out of my nose, but it’d be worth it.

The Hustle:

Tell us about your hustle.
Along with my sister, Jordan, I co-own Gold Daughters, a gold panning company in Fairbanks, Alaska. Being an entrepreneur has challenged me beyond any of my expectations. I am constantly thinking about my product and asking myself questions like: How can I improve it? What don’t I like? How can we grow? What products should we carry? How can I be a better boss? Being a business owner doesn’t allow you time to check out on your duties because you never know when you’ll have an epiphany on how to improve. My main duties are to answer those questions I’ve listed, and then figure out how to make it happen.

What does your typical workday look like?
In a nutshell, I’m the creative and my sister is the logistics. I head up our marketing and spend time taking/editing/posting pictures and videos, responding to reviews, creating ads and selling our product to tour operators. We have a small gift shop and I’m in charge of creating and buying products, stocking and merchandising. A typical workday starts by delegating tasks to our staff of six incredible women, responding to emails and calls, talking with customers, filling in where I’m needed and seeing what the day will bring. I never know who I will meet and what stories I will hear, and that’s the best part of working in tourism.

What is gold panning?
Gold panning is the process of using water to look for placer gold (gold that is deposited in creek beds). The process is simple physics, yet technical and counterintuitive for most. We spend a lot of time teaching the proper panning technique, which is essentially a two-step process of: 1. Shaking the gold pan while water is covering material. 2. Letting gravity and water take out layers of dirt by dipping the pan in and out of the water. Eventually the dirt is gone and only gold remains. Our goal is to teach people how to gold pan efficiently, so they are capable of finding gold on their own. The result is they learn a new skill and, of course, find gold. However, the real magic happens in the search. We’ve found that people naturally love making discoveries, and our drive is to get people outside and get them to feel like they’re an explorer. Whether they catch gold fever or just feel inspired to go outside and pick up cool rocks, we consider it a win!

When did you first become interested in it, and when did you decide to turn that interest into your career?
I have been panning for gold since I could hold a gold pan. My dad owns several mining claims and our family would go prospecting throughout my childhood just for fun. Our family was approached by National Geographic to star on a gold mining show, which we filmed in the summer of 2011. After I graduated from USF in 2013, my sister and I were sitting around during Christmas doing a puzzle and started brainstorming business ideas we could do together. She had a degree in geology and I had a minor in entrepreneurship. We knew we wanted to work together and threw out the idea of creating a destination where people could pan all day and we would teach them how to do it. We wrote down some business names on a piece of scrap paper in January and opened in May. We thought we had a product that was unique and just decided to go for it—and we’re so glad we did!

What has the evolution of the business been like since you created it?
Gold Daughters was inspired by two sisters who saw an opportunity and wanted to take a risk together. When we opened, we had a small wooden building with a walk-up window. One of us would stay in there and greet customers while the other one was working at the troughs (where we do our panning). We had six small troughs, no protection from the rain and a big pile of paydirt (dirt with gold in it). Now we have 14 troughs, an awesome staff of babes who hustle, a panning shelter to protect from the elements and a gift shop. The most important piece of our vision is encouraging the simplicity of playing in the dirt. We hope that when people reflect on their time at Gold Daughters, they cherish the memories made more than the gold itself. We’re grateful for the opportunity to celebrate and share our hometown’s history while meeting incredible people from all over the world.

Whats it like navigating what seems like a male-dominated industry from the female perspective?
When people think of gold panning, they tend to picture a man with a great-big beard hunched over at a creek. During the first couple of seasons, our work as prospectors was questioned because we’re female. After demonstrating our ability to find gold and our knowledge of mining, we were able to crush that stereotype. We are now more established in the community and are known for high-quality gold panning and instruction by our entirely female staff. However, another issue we face as young female business owners is that people sometimes assume our dad created and owns this business. They’re pleasantly surprised when we correct them and they discover Gold Daughters is purely our golden child. We get our hands dirty with our shellac manicures, wear jeans and rainboots most of summer and aren’t afraid to get muddy. I think people really admire that, and it’s been fun to watch their expectation of gold panning get turned upside down. Playing in the dirt is for everybody, men and women alike.

How has your local community contributed to the growth of Gold Daughters?
Our local community has been pivotal in our growth. Not only do locals visit our attraction regularly, they also send us visitors when they can. The growth of our business has been significantly accomplished by word of mouth in the community. We’re honored to have created a product not just for tourists, but something locals appreciate as well.

How has running a business together affected your relationship with your sister?
I’m three years younger than Jordan and have always played the role of being the “annoying” little sister. We’re best friends, but I definitely poke fun at her when she wears horrible outfits. Early on in our business relationship, I was making jokes about something business related and she nipped it in the bud right away and told me that if we are going to work together it’s got to be professional. We treat each other like business partners, listen to each others ideas and respectfully work through disagreements. Sometimes when we aren’t on the same page, we’ll defer to our family or our employees for their opinion. If what we disagree over isn’t pertinent, we’ll table it and come back to the topic in a couple hours, days or weeks until we can get to an answer we’re both happy with. I’m proud of the work I’ve done at Gold Daughters, but it would be nothing if I didn’t have my sister to share it with. Outside of business, we still goof around and spend way too much time together.

What did your hustle look like before Gold Daughters?
I graduated from college in December 2013, and we opened Gold Daughters in May 2014. I was a full-time student athlete at USF and played softball for the duration of my schooling. My hustle was 6:00 a.m. weights or conditioning, a full day of classes, four-hour practice or game, eat, do homework, repeat. On top of my college courses, I also hosted a web series for our athletic department called, “iTalk with iLaura” and was a reporter for our athletic department. I love, love, loved the grind of being a student athlete and wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Elizabeth, Tour Guide, sharing a laugh over gold panning.jpg

What’s been your biggest career milestone to date?
My biggest career milestone is Gold Daughters being in business for five years.The first two years were mentally and physically exhausting. It was just the two of us, which left no room for anything personal. We couldn’t get sick, because our business depended on us showing up. Jordan and I would tell each other if it’s this hard in five years, we aren’t doing it right. Our goal was for Gold Daughters to be fully operational without us having to be there by our fifth year. Our amazing staff has made our goal possible and we can now let off the reins and turn our focus away from the day-to-day operations and towards future growth and development.

Who are some women in your field you look to for inspiration?
The Salmon Sisters! Emma and Claire are two sisters from Homer, Alaska who were raised on their family’s commercial fishing boat. Emma is an artist and Claire is a businesswoman. As a team, they have created a brand of clothing that’s widely popular in Alaska and growing on a national scale. They’re thriving in business but still grounded in their hometown and working on projects to help the fishing community and ocean lifestyles of Alaska. They support local artists by collaborating with them on projects and they donate a can of salmon to the Food Bank of Alaska for every item sold on their website. We were fortunate enough to work with them on one of our popular panning designs, of a girl panning in a picturesque Alaskan setting. We wanted the image to rival the stereotypical image of a bearded-man panning in a creek. Emma and Claire can now be seen on a national advertisement for Microsoft. The fact that they have a national reach from pursuing what they love and following their heart is inspiring.

panning area.jpg

What motivates and inspires you?
Our customers inspire me. Each visitor has a unique story of how they wound up in Fairbanks. Some of them are heart-wrenching, others are comical, all of them are special. It’s one thing to read a good review, but to be thanked and hugged and told that the experience at Gold Daughters is one of their favorites from their Alaskan vacation keeps us going and motivates us to provide a world-class product.

What is your philosophy on work-life balance?
My business is seasonal. I work for several months straight and then have a couple months of downtime. I am naturally a workhorse and it’s actually easier for me to put my head down and be busy than it is to relax. I’m getting better at it, but I have to actively remind myself to go out and enjoy the downtime and not let feeling compelled to work get in the way of enjoying my life. The easiest way for me to manage stress is to go outside. A breath of fresh air can do wonders for the soul.

Career and/or life advice for other babes?
Do what you love! My Oma told me that if you’re bored, you only have one person to blame. The same goes for work, friends, routine, etc. If you are unhappy with something in your life, you have the power to change it.

Connect with Ilaura:

Instagram | Website | Email

This interview has been condensed and edited.

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