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She moved to Boise and didn’t know a soul. Now, she’s racked up 29K Instagram followers

Boise was different. She could sense that as soon as she got on the plane for a job interview here.

All of her seatmates were cordial, nice, welcoming.

People asked her questions. They genuinely wanted to know about curly haired, boisterous, tall, 34-year-old Diana DeJesus from West Palm Beach, Florida, and what brought her to Idaho.

“Everyone was always willing to ask questions and just … talk,” DeJesus said. “That is not common where I’m from in Florida, not common at all.”

Now, two years to the day after her interview for the University of Idaho’s assistant director of admissions for its law school, DeJesus is the one asking questions of Idaho residents.

For her day job, she asks recruits across the country to become Idaho Vandals through the law school.

Her nights — and weekends — are spent running her popular Boise Bucket List Instagram account that has racked up nearly 29,000 followers.

DeJesus asks Boiseans to explore all aspects of the Treasure Valley and beyond with her — from testing out new coffee shops to traveling to places like Hells Canyon.

That wasn’t enough. Through her Collaboration Over Competition events, she’s asking women from every level of the business world to connect with one another to see how they can be better entrepreneurs — together. Those monthly meetups are now selling out weeks in advance, with waiting lists, as one of the hottest networking events in the Valley.

As for her downtime?

Boise’s busiest woman doesn’t really do downtime.

The origins of the bucket list

Even during her first few days in Boise, DeJesus started noticing, well, differences than places she had lived before.

Older couples who had been married for 40 years still hold hands at the farmers market here. Kids can still be kids at the skateboard park. It’s safe to walk to your car at night by yourself. The acceptance of art and creativity is proudly on display throughout downtown.

“Boiseans and Idahoans probably don’t quite realize not every place is like that,” she said. “I’m from South Florida, I know that’s not always the case. I recognize that the love for nature is here in Boise, that the work-life balance is actually a balance … someone leaves at work at 5, and they’re on their bike off to Camel’s Back (Park).”

With a dad in the Navy, DeJesus said she knows what it’s like to move around. She had finished her law degree in 2013 at the University of Maine and knew she wanted a job in higher education.

She said she also recognized the importance of joining a group of like-minded people in Boise Young Professionals, an organization that aims to retain workers and industry leaders in the Treasure Valley who fall in the 21-40 age category. Now she volunteers on the organization’s marketing and communication team.

DeJesus has become an ambassador for Boise and all it represents, said Erin Erkins, a senior manager for the Boise Metro Chamber.

“The biggest thing is building strong relationships,” Erkins said. “You’re not going to get business from just handing someone a business card and that’s it. It has to be face to face connection. She gets that.”

Initially, she started her Boise Bucket List Instagram in 2016 to document her travels and experiences living in a new place. Then, following a suggestion from her brother, she started posting about her experiences with Boise’s dating scene. That’s when the followers started pouring in.

After a while, businesses started asking what it would take to get a shout out on her page. DeJesus said she quickly realized the growing power of Instagram to connect people with local businesses — and to connect people with other people.

“There were a few (Boise-related) Instagram pages with a lot of followers; I just didn’t see people building a community that was just organic through Instagram and then meeting in person,” she said. “The key is that the community has to gain your trust. ... When you’re organic, and what I mean by organic is that you interact with everyone in a way that they feel comfortable, it’s about the experience, the shared experience.”

And as the Treasure Valley’s population continues to grow, DeJesus said she recognizes that there are probably a lot of newcomers in the same new-to-the-Gem State-boat who need restaurant suggestions, tips on local businesses to support and a road map to their new town.

“Sometimes life can get routine, and my page shows you what you can explore in your own backyard,” she said. “Try a new place every week. Cross that place off your own Boise Bucket List.”

Working women, working together

Want a ticket to DeJesus’ next monthly Collaboration Over Competition business mixer? Good luck.

So does seemingly everyone else.

What started as an “EmpowHERment Brunch” has turned into one of the hottest networking tickets in town. The collaboration events, which happen at various locations throughout Boise such as The Reef or City Center Wines, usually have enough room for 25-50 people. One thing an attendee notices right away? The mood. Everyone is remarkably relaxed.

DeJesus, who is a self identified “introvert whisperer,” said she hopes that never changes. Women should never feel intimidated by other women, especially if they can grow their businesses together, she said.

And they shouldn’t have to spend a lot of money to mix and mingle, DeJesus stressed. Her collaboration events are only $15-25.

During the monthly get-togethers over cocktails and appetizers, she takes time to prompt each attendee to briefly talk about their business and life goals and acts as a cheerleader for the success of each person.

“She doesn’t say much, but she says a lot at the same time,” said Rose Gebran, owner and founder of the popular Instagram and cookier account RoRo’s Cookies. “People just want to cling to her in a way, because she’s just so real. People can relate to her on all levels.”

Gebran said she started following Boise Bucket List and instantly felt drawn to the events and places DeJesus was highlighting. After meeting DeJesus, Gebran said she felt drawn to her as a person, too.

“I love meeting other women that are looking forward to helping each other and lift each other up,” Gebran said. “I needed that, especially starting my own business. They didn’t need to do exactly what I was doing; I just needed a place I belonged to.”

Mary-Selena Melhado, a hair stylist who moved from Texas to Boise about five years ago, started attending DeJesus’ events about a year ago. She also first started following Boise Bucket List on Instagram and quickly realized DeJesus could teach her a thing or two about branding her own identity in such a competitive industry. Melhado took one of DeJesus’ free branding classes, and she was hooked.

“She’s using social media how it’s supposed to be used,” Melhado said. “That’s the key. She really does make positive connections with people. She introduces you to people you wouldn’t think could help you stand out, but they can.”

Gebran and Melhado have expanded their businesses and their client base because of connections made at DeJesus’ events, they said.

For example, Gebran is constantly adding new cookie frosting tutorial videos on Instagram that show her hands. She was able to partner with a woman she met at August’s Collaboration Over Competition event named Codi Bills, who sells Color Street nail polish strips. The two have promoted each other’s work on their Instagram accounts.

These are the small, simple connections that DeJesus wanted to facilitate from the beginning, she said.

“I just started seeing a common story,” DeJesus said.

The women who came to her events were those starting a new side job, often from home, or who were stay at home moms who had previously been in the workforce. They were women who had a prior identity that was now shifting into something else.

“It wasn’t anything about their husband or their children, they just needed something for themselves,” DeJesus said. “They were isolated at home with their kids; they didn’t know who else to talk to who also has their business.”

DeJesus said she has had enough interest from Canyon County women for her events that she’s started to hold the networking mixers in Nampa and Caldwell as well. She’s even hoping to start a Collaboration Over Competition mixer in Twin Falls after one woman drove the two hours to attend one of her events in Boise.

The power of Instagram

DeJesus also uses the mixers as a way to promote her free social media workshops and paid Instagram boot camps for women looking to up their game on that social media platform.

“There’s a power of Instagram where you can connect people through photos and compelling content,” DeJesus said. “That’s when I realized my passion is to build community, and this was the tool to do it. The ah-ha moment is when I saw the same women who were following me were the same women coming to my events.”

Especially for women who are running a business by themselves, DeJesus stresses that a business owner doesn’t necessarily need an advertising agency or a marketing firm to get their products directly in front of a targeted consumer.

“You can control your own branding, and that is powerful,” she said. “No more of the big players. Now you have ... someone from small town Idaho who makes dessert candles, and they’re being sold everywhere on earth.”

Take Boise-based startup Red Aspen, for example. The cosmetics company specializes in false eyelashes and is active on Instagram. The company reported in March that it reached the $1 million mark after five months in business.

“These are local women,” DeJesus said. “They’re doing things like tutorials so you gain their trust. You can say, ‘I think those eyelashes would look good on me.’ Before you know it, you go to their website. You purchase. People buy directly from Instagram. It is an ecommerce friendly tool, so use that swipe up function. They swipe up, and then they buy.”

DeJesus said it’s her mission to ensure in-home business women, or others, just starting out have that same experience and influence on social media. She also wants to be an approachable person for anyone who just wants to build a community of friends.

“I did not want to just be the person behind an Instagram account,” she said. “I did not want to be the person just showcasing, ‘oh, look at me. I’m exploring Boise.’ I wanted it to be more like, ‘Hey, if you want to do the same thing with me, come join me.’”

And, from the looks of things, Boise is happy to be along for the ride.

Christina Lords is the breaking news editor. Call her at 208-377-6435 or follow her on Twitter at @ChristinaLords.