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Paige Arnof-Fenn of Mavens & Moguls: “Strong moral compass”

Great leaders are confident and humble enough to bring onboard people who are smarter, more experienced, and capable of executing the vision. Empowered people to take more initiative and they overwhelmingly rise to the occasion. As part of our series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading My Company” I […]

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Great leaders are confident and humble enough to bring onboard people who are smarter, more experienced, and capable of executing the vision. Empowered people to take more initiative and they overwhelmingly rise to the occasion.


As part of our series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading My Company” I had the pleasure of Paige Arnof-Fenn.

Paige is the founder & CEO of global marketing and digital branding firm Mavens & Moguls based in Cambridge, MA. Her clients include Microsoft, Virgin, venture-backed startups as well as non profit organizations. She graduated from Stanford University and Harvard Business School. She is a popular speaker and columnist who has written for Entrepreneur and Forbes.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

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 startups had positive exits. I was always the person trying to bend, break or change the rules in my corporate jobs so the startup world was a good fit for me.

What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?

I took the leap into entrepreneurship right after 9/11 when the company I worked for cut their marketing. I had nothing to lose. Being an entrepreneur provides me a platform to do work I truly enjoy with and for people I respect. I get to set my priorities, pre-Covid I had time to travel and hang out with my inner circle, and I work out every day. It has been a journey to get here but I am lucky to have found it. I love the autonomy, flexibility and the fact that I know every day the impact that I have on my business. When I worked at big companies I always felt the ball would roll with or without me, that if I got hit by a bus someone new would be in my office right away. Now my DNA is in everything we do and I can trace every decision and sale to something I did or a decision I made and that is incredibly gratifying and fulfilling. Like most entrepreneurs, I am working harder and longer than ever and I have never been happier. Working for yourself and building a business you started in incredibly rewarding and gratifying. It has been a lot of fun, I joke that I am the accidental entrepreneur. I knew I had made it as an entrepreneur when Harvard wrote 2 case studies on my business a few years after I started it, we were very early to pioneer sharing resources on the marketing front (before my company it was really only done with HR, legal and accounting/finance).

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

Never! To be successful today you must be resilient because you get knocked around often so you have to be able to keep getting back up and trying again with enthusiasm and energy. A lot of people tell you no (investors, board, customers, candidates, etc.) so if you are easily daunted or do not have thick skin you will not last long in my experience. A good sense of humor goes a long way too but without resiliency you will not survive in business today. It makes the biggest difference between success and failure I think because the road is always bumpy and you know you will have to overcome obstacles along the way. I stay motivated because I get excited solving problems and helping people. I have always loved fixing things and helping out where I can. I am naturally curious and get energized talking to people so when I meet interesting people it is just natural for me to ask a lot of questions and when I hear about things that they are dealing with where I can be helpful I want to roll up my sleeves and jump in. It’s just how I am wired I guess. I love the challenge of cracking the code to see what works. More challenges create more opportunities!

So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?

We have had delayed projects and things have slowed, but activity is starting to pick up now which is exciting. For professional service firms like mine we will recover even if our revenues slow from the crisis. I continued to plant seeds during lockdown, pivoted to online meetings, podcasts, webinars, etc. and just stayed connected to my network which I think always pays off in the long term. I am measuring productivity now by what I get done, it is based on accomplishing goals not activity. People need more downtime now we are all under a lot of stress with so many moving parts. Our job is to get through this period together intact, that will make us all feel we have been productive. When this crisis is over if I remain healthy and have stayed tight with my inner circle of people who mean the most to me and we all find a way to incorporate the lessons of gratitude, simplicity, friendship and love into the new normal I will be incredibly happy that we did not waste the crisis. If we can hold on to the very best parts of this lockdown the world will be a better place for it.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Our name really sets us apart it think For my company when I started the firm I jokingly referred to the women as the Marketing Mavens & the guys as the Marketing Moguls & for short I called them Mavens & Moguls as a working name but never expected it would stick. I did research over e-mail with prospective clients, referrers, media, etc & tested ~100 names. Mavens & Moguls was one choice on the list & to my great delight & surprise it came out as a clear winner. It has helped us be memorable and stand out from the pack. Because I have a hyphenated last name half the battle is for clients to be able to find you when they need your help. I have had clients tell me they could not remember anything other than my first name & one word of my company so they googled Paige & Mavens and we popped right up. I was at an event one day and a venture capitalist started waving in my direction and shouted “hi Maven!” across the crowd, everyone looked my way and we ended up getting introduced to a portfolio company that hired us! Names contribute to your brand and in our case I think it has been a major plus. Maven is Yiddish for expert and a Mogul is someone of rank, power or distinction in a specified area. I like the alliteration and I think it sets us apart from other consulting firms. It shows a little personality & attitude and implies we do not take ourselves too seriously. Would you rather hire “Strategic Marketing Solutions” or Mavens & Moguls? We are the “not your father’s Oldsmobile” of marketing firms. If nothing else our name is a great conversation starter and getting into a conversation is all it takes to open a door.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?

It can be hard to laugh at mistakes but looking back I remember one week early on when I had 3 or 4 talks lined up over a couple of day period so I went from one evening event to a breakfast the next morning to a lunch and evening talk the following day. I enjoy public speaking and get a lot of referrals and business that way. The morning after my final speech I showed up at a meeting with a prospective client along with a few of my colleagues and I realized I was completely out of business cards. I was so embarrassed and my team laughed at me since I always remind them it is important to be professional and prepared all the time. I ended up sending a hand written thank you note to the prospect with my card enclosed and we won the business so I turned my mistake into a good outcome plus I have never run out of business cards again! It is a great lesson in the power of humility, resilience, persistence, manners and having a sense of humor.

Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?

I always tell my clients that “there is no such thing as bad PR” is bad advice because there are a lot of ways you can dilute or damage your brand equity. Stay on message and on strategy for best results. It can take a lot of time, effort and money to try to course correct after the fact but once things are released/posted online social media can take on a life of its own and the information can live on the web forever.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Being a good communicator is really important for an entrepreneur to succeed. Whether you are focusing on fundraising, hiring, promoting or scaling, you need to be able to communicate effectively with investors, employees, the media, and partners or the idea will die in your head. Being able to share your story is critical to spreading the word and turning your dream and vision into reality. Communication goes both ways so learn to talk and listen for best results. In my experience the most important traits for successful entrepreneurs are:

Excellent communicator — able to rally the troops and keep them on the critical path

Strong moral compass — you cannot compromise on ethics and values

Smarts — technically competent and they work hard to earn the respect of their team

Bonus — great sense humor and fun to work with

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Like most small business owners and entrepreneurs there are never enough hours in the day to fit everything in so when something has to give it is usually time I have allocated for myself to exercise or just relax. A mentor once told me and I have come to appreciate and realize is that to stay sane and be successful “me time” is not a luxury or pampering, it is maintenance! The mentor shared that 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, specifically I have encouraged my team to:

Give yourself permission to say no. Whether it means sleeping in (no to an alarm clock), meditating, taking a walk, or just turning off my phone and computer (no I will respond later on my own schedule), simple acts of letting myself relax and enjoy the moment are the very best gifts I can give myself. You can fill a calendar to stay busy but what matters most is having impact on people’s lives and that has nothing to do with volume of activity, 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. and it is a great way to get to know people better, their interests, hobbies, and dreams. 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. I used get out of the office 3–5 days a week which was a great way to stay connected, shake up my routine and get going before the virus hit.

Taking breaks with exercise — I do something active every day to stay healthy and break up my day.

Practice gratitude — I am so grateful I can work productively in my home office now with no commute.

As an entrepreneur it is easy to get overwhelmed. Staying healthy for me is about finding ways to unwind and relax as part of my day. It is about balance. I am a big fan of Tai Chi, but I also do Qigong, massage, acupuncture, knitting, reading, hanging out with friends, and watching TV to de-stress. I started learning Tai Chi >15 years ago and have gotten progressively addicted over the years. I now know the choreography of 2 different forms and I absolutely love it. It is a way to both relax and focus. I even guest teach when the regular backup cannot be there. I have met great people, it has helped my balance, improved my bone density and helped calm my mind. I just love it. I even wrote an article on it for Entrepreneur magazine a few years ago.

What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?

My biggest mistake was 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. Out of loyalty to them I let them hang around much longer than they should have. They became more insecure/threatened as we grew which was not productive for the team. 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 hire slowly and fire quickly. I did not make that mistake again later on so learned it well the first time. I wish I had known it even earlier though but lesson learned for sure!

I also recommend NOT spending money on things like fancy brochures, letterhead, business cards, etc. Until you know your business is launched I would say to put your budget into things that help fill your pipeline with customers. Getting your URL and a website up and running is key. I created online stationery for proposals and invoices, ordered my cards online and made downloadable materials as leave behinds for people looking for more information to help me find clients more quickly. I know other business owners who spent thousands of dollars on these things and found it was a waste of money. Your story will evolve as you find your market, you need to look professional and have a web site to be taken seriously but embossed paper with watermarks and heavy card stock is not going to accelerate your sales cycle. Find those reference customers quickly, use them to get testimonials and referrals. There is plenty of time later to dress things up!

In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?

I love what I do and after 19 years of running my business it is hard to imagine ever working for someone else again but like most entrepreneurs I am always on. It is easy to work all the time so make sure you find new ways to bring creativity into your life. I think as we age it is important not to become a creature of habit and to keep your antenna up to be exposed to new and fresh ideas, products, ways of thinking, people and experiences. It is so easy to get busy and let inertia kick in so I make a conscious effort to being more creative in everything I do. No matter what line of work you are in especially with Covid I think making creativity a priority serves you well and makes life more fun and interesting.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading My Company”? Please share a story or an example for each.

I think my tips for not burning out belong here too — focus, and prioritize, you cannot do everything so pick no more than 2–3 things that you can accomplish and delegate the rest. Learn to say no. Leadership is about making choices and tough decisions, pivoting is an option when you get more information or the situation changes so keep moving forward.

It takes effort and a commitment to excellence to continually improve as you move up the ladder and especially when you get to lead. I do not think there is one silver bullet, I use a combination of reading and learning online and off, attending conferences and talks (virtually now), online networking, finding mentors and listening to all feedback good and bad. I have found that I learn more from the bad and tough situations in my career than when things go smoothly.

Great leaders are confident and humble enough to bring onboard people who are smarter, more experienced, and capable of executing the vision. Empowered people to take more initiative and they overwhelmingly rise to the occasion.

Providing the team with autonomy and the opportunity to collaborate on tactics generates creative solutions so hire well and get out of the way.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would love to spark a movement or create change through a new (domestic) Peace Corps (2021 version) and suggest we are all in it no application required. We have so many opportunities now across every state. We need our roads and bridges fixed, clean water in our communities, tutors, day care, senior care, teachers, healthcare workers, there is no need to pay people to stay home or send them abroad to build infrastructure overseas we need it here right now across all 50 states! We also need peace to prevail and I think if we work together side by side to fix these problems in our communities we will all be on the same team.

How can our readers further follow you online?

www.MavensAndMoguls.com and https://www.linkedin.com/in/paigearnoffenn

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!

Thanks so much it’s been my pleasure!

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