Heather K. Margolis of Spark Your Channel: “Abolishing the stigma around failure”

Most women (not all) at a high level are better managers, better listeners, and more pragmatic than their male counterparts. All things that may move the needle more slowly but at the end of the day will push their businesses to be more successful. As a part of our series about “Why We Need More […]

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Most women (not all) at a high level are better managers, better listeners, and more pragmatic than their male counterparts. All things that may move the needle more slowly but at the end of the day will push their businesses to be more successful.

As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Heather K. Margolis.

Heather K. Margolis is Founder and CEO of Spark Your Channel, a through-channel marketing automation platform, and Founder and Chairperson of Channel Maven Consulting, a strategic channel marketing agency. Heather is a recognized channel marketing expert and a sought-after keynote speaker to a variety of audiences about entrepreneurship, building a service-based business and B2B strategy, B2B marketing and channel marketing. After growing up in Massachusetts and earning her master’s degree in business administration from Babson College, Heather now lives in Boulder, Colo., with her husband and fellow entrepreneur Simeon, their two daughters and dog Zoe.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

My first job when I was 13 was at a small-town hardware store. Not just the cashier, I did all the things. It was amazing to see how people reacted when a “girl” not only helped them find what they were looking for but then could show them how it worked. I always knew I wanted to start a company. When I was 6 someone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. My response, “the boss!”.

Tech was always super sexy to me as a non-technical person. I knew enough to be dangerous and speak to the benefits of a certain technology but not so much that I’d get lost in speeds and feeds. At the end of the day our agency puts a personality and helps build relationships with technology companies and their Partners.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

There are so many! I think the most interesting story is the culmination of two stories. About 6 months into starting Channel Maven a fairly well-known consultant in the same space called me to say “You’re not really trying to start a company, right? You just want a new job. So let me help you find a job.” I assured him that I intended to start a company and that I wasn’t looking for a job.

Fast forward to today, Channel Maven’s 12th anniversary. My 20 employees surprised me with a video compilation telling me how much they love the company, culture, and team that we’ve all built together. Had I listened to the hater in 2009, none of these people would have built their careers with us and we’d all be missing out on working together or with our amazing clients.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I learned the most about how to run a company from people I saw doing it wrong. I had a family member who ran their own business into the ground. Their team didn’t trust or like them very much, they believed too much in a hierarchy (i.e. I am the boss) soooo…. Because their people didn’t trust them, they were the victim of a bookkeeper stealing money, a vice president stealing clients, and a team that wouldn’t follow them anywhere.

Watching what NOT to do was incredibly valuable to me.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

There are so many! Where to begin. I think there have been several books that resonate because of their timing. We all know that 2020 was an incredibly challenging year. I found ‘The Courage to Be Disliked’ and ‘Leaders Eat Last’ super helpful this year. I’ve spent way too much of my time, in my own head, concerned that I was catering to everyone. It took me far too long to realize that you’ll never please everyone and you definitely can’t waste a single moment worrying about it.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

“Keep F*cking Going” When I started my second company, a software company that required me to raise money, my close friend sent me a bracelet that had this engraved on the inside. No one can see it but me when I take it off but anytime things are challenging, I just look at the bracelet!

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

As a company, we do fundraisers to raise awareness and encourage donations for organizations that we feel are making a profound impact in the world. Throughout each quarter, we share information and inspiring stories related to a particular cause and organization, as well as make a contribution. We’ve raised money for a variety of organizations including The Trevor Project and Equal Justice Initiative. Before the pandemic, our team also participated in annual in-person volunteering for local non-profits like There With Care who supports supporting families with critically ill children in our area.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. Can you share with our readers what you are doing to help empower women to become founders?

One of the most motivating conversations I had when I was first starting was someone suggesting maybe I didn’t really want to start a business. His came from a negative place but if fed my fire and pushed me to be better and better. When I meet women who are contemplating starting a business I push them and question them on their why. I have several friends who have started small businesses in the past year and when I push them they get more and more energized by their why. It’s almost as if convincing me they’re also convincing themselves. Once I see that, I give them my tricks of promoting themselves online and of course the administrative mistakes I made early on so they can avoid the same mistakes.

This might be intuitive to you but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?

Most women (not all) at a high level are better managers, better listeners, and more pragmatic than their male counterparts. All things that may move the needle more slowly but at the end of the day will push their businesses to be more successful.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Can you please share 5 things that can be done or should be done to help empower more women to become founders? If you can, please share an example or story for each.

  1. There’s a fundamental shift that needs to happen as we raise and empower young girls so that they feel equal. We need to encourage girls to take science and math seriously and not shy away from a challenge. My girls are 2 and 4 and I hear it on the playground all the time with other parents telling their girls “Oh no, don’t do that, it’s dangerous!” By the time I was graduating high school I had had stitches 5 times and broken several bones. My parents never felt like some things were for my brothers and some were for me. Trust me, there were times I wished they did as I was pushing the lawnmower around the yard!
  2. Encourage women to grow their companies. Many women do found companies, but they are solopreneurs who sub million-dollar businesses. Programs for SMBs at banks and with angels tend to be for over that threshold. I think it’s great we’re all talking about it but I feel these entrepreneurs feel it’s either what they’re doing today OR multi millions of dollars and a BOD.
  3. Set up mentorship programs. I meet with at least one female entrepreneur per month but it’s not a structured program. I’m just drawn to them and want to help. A more formalized program would see many women taking bigger risks and, in many cases, building more successful businesses.
  4. Abolishing the stigma around failure. The stress I used to feel around the possibility of failing is so much higher than the stress of actually running the business. Women internalize so much around work, life, childcare, and running a business. If we didn’t have the pressure of trying to impress and do right by every single unobtainable standard, maybe we would risk failure if it meant we might reach a higher goal.
  5. Investors need to readjust their goals. I recently had an investor tell me they only invest in risky companies that could potentially return their entire fund. That’s great for them but I’m guessing they have very few female founded or female led companies. Women tend to be more pragmatic. Could my company return the whole fund? Possibly…but I’d rather under promise and over deliver. If investors’ goals took into account more companies with positive job creation, good will, and well-run businesses instead of a few unicorns, we would see a very different landscape.

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

One of my favorite ideas comes from a team member of mine and I could not agree more! I think in order for a movement to bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people it needs to be fueled by the younger and future generations. So if I had to pick just one movement to inspire, it would be around education and giving every child and young person the support and resources they need to develop strong value systems and informed opinions on their own. Helping them understand the current state of the world, and inspiring them to be passionate about social and political causes. Oh…could we also abolish daylight savings time!?

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

I am such a huge fan of Sara Blakely. Not only did she found an amazing company, she also did it on her terms and now takes her power and celebrity to give back!

How can our readers further follow your work online?

I’m quite active on LinkedIn, just search Heather K. Margolis. I also host The Channel Maven Podcast where we discuss everything from channel marketing and B2B demand generation best practices to entrepreneurship, leadership and self-care.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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