Paige Arnof-Fenn, Founder & CEO, Mavens & Moguls
Paige Arnof-Fenn is Founder & CEO of Mavens & Moguls
For those who don't know anything about you or your work, can you provide a bit of background?
I did not plan on starting a company. I always wanted to go work for a large multi-national business and be a Fortune 500 CEO. When I was a student I looked at leaders like Meg Whitman & Ursula Burns as my role models. I started my career on Wall Street in the 80s and had a successful career in Corporate America at companies like Procter & Gamble and Coca-Cola and worked at 3 different startups as the head of marketing, all 3 had successful exits. I became an entrepreneur and took the leap right after 9/11 when the company I worked for cut their marketing. I had nothing to lose.
Was any one person who was instrumental in helping you get from where you started out, to where you are now?
I have been so fortunate to have great mentors, champions and role models throughout my career including former bosses, my father, and senior women in organizations where I worked. Finding a mentor, coach, mastermind group, etc. gives you support and a thinking partner/tribe/ecosystem to help navigate challenges along the way especially when you are first staring out. As an entrepreneur these people and networks can also be invaluable sources of inspiration, advice, encouragement and can help you avoid rookie mistakes (with hiring, fundraising, etc.) in particular at the beginning. They can also make key introductions so that you avoid getting burned by service providers or potential investors who have mixed reputations. I have seen several situations where a lot of time and money could have been wasted but was not.
The person who has always encouraged and supported me as an entrepreneur and has my back every day is my husband. He started a company too so understands the journey of an entrepreneur and has been my sanity check and thinking partner every step of the way. He is both a cheerleader and butt kicker depending on the situation and I trust his judgment and advice because I know he always has my best interests in mind. I am very fortunate to have him in my corner. There are times when you need cheerleaders, butt kickers, people who can be counted on for tough love and others to help expand your footprint and elevate your profile in the community. Accountability is so important as an entrepreneur. Having friends and family to keep you grounded and humble is critical too, it is easy to lose perspective when you are launching a new business. Having people you trust for judgment and advice who have your best interests in mind is priceless. Entrepreneurship can be consuming if you aren’t careful. In my experience it takes a village to launch a successful business.
Is there a particular piece of advice you were given in the early days of your business journey that you still benefit from today?
A mentor once told me that to be successful “me time” is not a luxury or pampering, it is maintenance! I try to lead my team by example, respecting my time on the calendar and taking myself as seriously as I take my most important clients is the least I can do for self care because if I am not at my peak performance I am not going to be useful to anyone else either so I have learned to:
Give myself permission to say no. Whether it means sleeping in (no to an alarm clock), meditating, taking a walk, delegating more work or just turning off your phone and computer (no I will respond later on my own schedule), simple acts of letting yourself relax and enjoy the moment are the very best gifts you can give yourself. It is about touching people in meaningful ways which may mean being less busy not more.
Disconnect from technology periodically and focus on cultivating human, face to face relationships (when not social distancing). Even meeting for virtual coffee or drinks can accomplish so much more than e-mail exchanges, social media posts, etc. I have found that building relationships is what drives my business and technology supports them once they are solidified. Technology helps advance the conversation but it will never replace the human interaction that builds trust over time.
What is the most important lesson you've learned about leadership in your business journey so far?
It takes effort and a commitment to excellence for leaders to continually learn/grow especially now in a virtual/remote environment. I do not think there is one silver bullet to keep your skills sharp and fresh, I recommend using a combination of reading and learning online and off, attending conferences and talks, networking, newsletters from influencers, TED talks, podcasts, finding mentors and listening to all feedback good and bad. To stay relevant and keep growing I try to prioritize professional development to keep skills fresh and stay on top of new trends and technologies.
What are the top three things you wish you'd known when you were just starting out?
Mistakes are part of the learning process so learn from every setback. You cannot avoid them just don’t repeat them. Keep pivoting and moving forward, that is how you grow.
1. I wish I realized sooner that the people you start with are not always the ones who grow with you. The hardest lesson I learned when I started my company is not getting rid of weak people earlier than I did in the first few years of my business. I spent more time managing them than finding new customers. As soon as I let them go the culture got stronger and the bar higher. “A" team people like to be surrounded by other stars so you should hire slowly and fire quickly.
2. I recommend NOT spending money on things like fancy brochures/letterhead/business cards until your business is launched put your budget into things that help fill your pipeline with customers. Getting your URL/website up and running is key. Find reference customers quickly/use them to get testimonials/referrals. There is plenty of time later to dress things up!
3. Brand awareness is not enough anymore. You have to stand for something. It doesn't matter if you call it brand purpose or personality, but people need to know more than what you sell. When buyers have a better idea of what you stand for that builds loyalty today. The single most important ingredient to creating a great brand is authenticity, it has to be and feel real for it to work I think.
In your experience, what is the most effective way to build a strong network of mentors and advisors to guide you in your business endeavors?
In my experience the best way to do it is organically by getting to know potential mentors over time through casual exchanges, lunches, coffees, e-mails, etc. and then once a history and relationship is there only then share with them how valuable their advice and counsel has been to you and tell them you have considered them a mentor and champion for a while and see how they react. That usually leads to formalizing the relationship if all goes well. I think the best questions to ask mentors fall into a few categories:
Career — What was your path? How did you know it was right for you? Would you choose it again today? Best/worst job? Best/worst boss? Why? Any regrets?
Life — Is there ever balance? Biggest source of pride/joy? How have you recovered from failure?
Personal — What do you do for fun? Favorite quote? Movie? Book? Vacation spot? Band?
How do you determine when it's time to pivot, and what factors should you consider in making that decision?
It is time to pivot when the market changes with new products or services, new competition comes in, new tools like social media enter the scene, consolidation starts to occur, you plateau/get bored, etc. Market conditions dictate the need and timing of a refresh, no one is immune. In my experience, there really are no tricks or short cuts to success, the classic business principles always apply: figure out who your target audience is & what is important to them, pick out no more than 2 or 3 key messages you want to communicate and reinforce those key messages in everything you do. Strategies and plans are not about which tactics to implement, it is about understanding who buys/wants you, your product or service and what info they need to make a decision. It is more about benefits than features. What is in it for THEM not you? What works today is being transparent and doing your homework. Listen to your customers/audience. Understand what real estate you own in their minds vs. your competition. Be consistent so that every touchpoint reinforces those key messages you want to communicate. If you do that you are on your way to building a great foundation for business and life.
How do you stay motivated and inspired during the business cycle of ups and downs?
I stay motivated through a combination of curiosity, connecting, caffeine and communication. I love asking lots of questions and solving problems so when I meet interesting people (now mostly virtual) I can’t help jumping in with ideas to help them thrive plus I hate to waste time. I have always loved fixing things and helping out where I can. I love the challenge of cracking the code to see what works.
Looking back, what one thing would you do differently if you could start your journey over again?
I am not sure I would do anything differently because everything has lead me to this point now. I made plenty of mistakes along the way but as I said that is where you learn the biggest lessons. I learned something new with each situation but I probably learned the most during the toughest times when things broke down, the economy was volatile or I had a client who was difficult. Those are the lessons you never forget.