Get clear on your vision. Just like using your GPS in your car, you need to first envision where you want to go before you start driving. If you would love to create a side-hustle that supports your family or brings in extra revenue, great! If you dream of creating a company that goes public someday, awesome! Wherever you want to go (in life and in business), it truly helps to start with an end destination in mind. This will help you figure out the best path to follow and determine which action steps to take to get you where you want to go.
Startups have such a glamorous reputation. Companies like Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, Uber, and Airbnb once started as scrappy startups with huge dreams and huge obstacles.
Yet we of course know that most startups don’t end up as success stories. What does a founder or a founding team need to know to create a highly successful startup?
In this series, called “Five Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Startup” we are talking to experienced and successful founders and business leaders who can share stories from their experience about what it takes to create a highly successful startup.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Christina-Lauren Pollack.
Christina-Lauren Pollack is a digital entrepreneur, lifestyle blogger and influencer, business-branding consultant and course creator. As the Founder of Inspiring Brands Academy, she loves educating women about online branding, marketing, advertising and publicity, and she empowers them to take advantage of those opportunities.
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?
As the Creator of Inspiring Brands Academy®, I love helping women succeed.
I’ve spent 20+ years managing small businesses, building brands, and being an online marketer. Over the past decade, I became a digital entrepreneur, a pro lifestyle blogger + social media influencer, grew my online community to over 300k followers (including celebrities, magazine editors, and industry leaders), got featured in books, in top publications, and on television, have worked with hundreds of the world’s leading brands (inc. Oscar de la Renta, Ulta Beauty, Cynthia Rowley, Cupcake Vineyards, Estée Lauder, and Reebok), and have written for multiple magazines.
Basically, I learned the ins and outs of doing digital branding and marketing, which led to my newest venture, Inspiring Brands Academy. As the Founder of Inspiring Brands Academy (which offers private coaching sessions and online courses for female small business owners), I teach digital branding, marketing, advertising, and publicity strategies that help women-owned companies save time, money, and energy while growing their business.
Because I’m a DIY gal, I do-it-all — from creating content and building websites to doing social media marketing and publicity strategies. I love teaching other business owners how they, too, can do-it-all (especially if they’re just launching a company or on a limited budget). The best part is, once you understand the fundamentals, it’s easier to then hire and manage a team.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
In 2020, after watching so many small businesses face unprecedented challenges, I felt inspired to help by becoming an online educator for female small business owners.
The biggest struggle that many companies have had in recent times is learning how to harness the power of online marketing. I often hear how confused, overwhelmed, or frustrated most small business owners are when it comes to online branding and marketing. Many business owners have told me that they don’t know what steps to take, how to invest their time or money, or even how to effectively reach their ideal customers or clients online.
The truth is… learning how to successfully elevate and grow your brand online is the most powerful way to leverage today’s technology to reach your ideal customers, grow your audience, save you time and money, and increase your company’s revenue.
Whether you have an e-commerce brand, coaching or consulting company, a product, or even a brick-and-mortar biz, a branding strategy will help you reach your goals faster.
Having learned so much about digital branding and marketing over the past decade, I wanted to put my experience to good use, by helping others succeed. Not to mention — if I could teach business owners how to save time, money, and energy while reaching their target audience online, that could put them lightyears ahead of their competition. So, I set out to do just that.
After working for several months on my online program, in March 2021, I officially launched the Inspiring Brands Academy Signature Course, which includes 10 easy-to-follow modules:
- Digital branding
- Brand photography
- Content marketing + SEO
- Graphic design
- Facebook marketing + ads
- Instagram marketing
- Pinterest marketing
- Email marketing
- Influencer marketing
In June 2021, I launched the Inspiring Brands Academy Social Media Marketing Course, which provides 18 video lessons about Facebook marketing + ads, Instagram marketing, and Pinterest marketing. This 3-part course is ideal for anyone who just wants to learn how to supercharge their growth through social media.
In addition to my online courses, I also provide private one-on-one coaching sessions.
Through my virtual platform, I help business owners and marketers learn the tools, technologies, strategies, and secrets I’ve used over 10+ years in business. Plus, they get exclusive access to my step-by-step roadmaps to grow their company easier and faster.
Was there somebody in your life who inspired or helped you to start your journey with your business? Can you share a story with us?
To start with, I grew up in a family of serial entrepreneurs. My father (Jules), mother (Suzy), and brother (Reagan) have all founded various businesses — from online companies to manufacturing and wholesaling businesses and beyond. Each of them inspire and motivate me to succeed in all the ventures I pursue.
My mom (Suzy Goodman-Pollack) is a modern-day Wonder Woman, in my opinion. She’s a talented product designer and inventor, children’s book author and illustrator, the creator of the trademarked patriotic characters Yankee Doodle Dandy®, Yankee Doodle Dolly®, and the Dandyland® Characters, a singer/songwriter and musician, a successful entrepreneur and business woman, and the creator of popular consumer products manufactured by Creative Balloons Mfg. Inc. that are sold worldwide.
When I was a young girl, she encouraged me to explore my creative talents. From music and dancing to art, acting, and sports, she got me involved in a variety of extracurricular activities. She always inspired me to believe in my abilities and to have fun doing projects, which has given me a great foundation for my career.
Having grown-up watching her “do-it-all” (including having a career and being a supermom), she taught me that women can truly become Wonder Women when they believe in themselves. Because of her, it’s shown me that women can be incredibly successful when they harness their energy, set their minds to accomplishing goals, and believe in their ability to make things happen.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
To start with, I’ve been in business for 20-years. Not only have I founded and co-founded companies, but I’ve also worked with many of the world’s most notable businesses.
Since I’ve collaborated with hundreds of top brands and retailers (inc. Ulta Beauty, Safeway, Walmart, Olay, Reebok, Estee Lauder, etc.) on digital marketing campaigns, I’ve learned directly from many of the best marketers on the planet. I’ve been working with public companies and Fortune 500 brands for my entire career, so I’ve learned how to elevate and grow brands online.
Because of my extensive experience, I understand every part of the entrepreneurial journey from ideation to launch to scaling a business. Not to mention — I have experience partnering with a range of businesses in various niches (fashion, beauty, health/fitness, food/wine, travel, etc.), which gives me a diverse background and understanding of different industries.
For these reasons and more, I know exactly how to help small businesses grow faster and easier, by using online marketing strategies that are both cost-effective and proven.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I only involve myself with businesses and missions that serve humanity. Whether through producing products that bring joy and happiness to people’s lives, or inspiring women to become their best selves (through my lifestyle blog), I’m always passionate about bringing goodness into the world through my work.
As the Lifestyle Blogger behind Inspirations & Celebrations (which reaches 300k+ women around the world, including celebrities, notable industry leaders, and top magazine editors), I am proud to have created a community of empowered and enlightened women who support and motivate each other.
One of the greatest joys I’ve experienced in running Inspirations & Celebrations is connecting with the I&C followers and reading the kind-hearted comments they’ve written. In a world filled with hate speech and online bullying, building a community that focuses on positivity and helps people live an inspired life is one of my top priorities.
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?
In my opinion, three character traits that have helped me become successful are ambition, authenticity, and perseverance.
No matter what business you’re in, you need to be a go-getter if you want to make anything happen. That’s why setting goals, motivating yourself each day, and focusing on what you want to achieve will help you go a long way. You have to be your biggest cheerleader in life.
Second to that, being true to yourself and expressing your unique authenticity will help to set you apart. Every memorable leader has their own personal traits and characteristics that make them stand out. If you’re known to be funny and tell great stories, use that to your advantage. Whoever you are, own it. That’s part of your unique power! To highlight the importance of authenticity (in marketing and communications campaigns), Entrepreneur.com recently published an article I wrote that shared “3 Ways to Use Authenticity to Build Customer Loyalty”. In my opinion — authenticity is one of the hallmarks of any great brand, which is why it’s such an important trait for any leader to exhibit.
Thirdly, never give up. There will always be no’s in life, but remember — a no doesn’t necessarily mean never. In truth, instead of seeing a “no” as rejection, go one step further and find out why. You might learn that it’s just not the right timing, or perhaps you need to improve something first before you hear a “yes”. Don’t let a “no” discourage you from persevering. For example, it took one of the companies I manage 5 years to land a major chain, and we finally got a lucky break because their previous source of supply wasn’t able to keep up with delivery. Keep going! You never know when a “no” will turn into a “yes”.
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?
Absolutely! When I first launched my lifestyle blog-turned-business (Inspirations & Celebrations), everyone told me to “niche down”. Instead of blogging about a range of subjects that interested me (including fashion, beauty, wellness, and more), all the experts I talked to (including other entrepreneurs I know) kept telling me to focus on one topic and become known for that. And, with good reason — it’s easier to excel in just one category.
While I totally understand the value of their advice, the truth was — I initially started my blog as a creative outlet, to share my passions with the world. It was the last place I wanted to limit myself. So, I followed my intuition and decided to blog about a variety of topics that interested me. And you know what? I ended up becoming a successful lifestyle blogger that has been able to partner with hundreds of leading brands on various campaigns, from beauty and fashion brands to food, wine, and even major hotel chains.
While it might have been easier for me to dominate in one niche, I chose to go the harder route, but ended up feeling more satiated and happy as a result. So, the moral of the story is — follow your intuition and do what feels right to you, no matter what the world thinks!
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
Similar to building a house, like the saying goes, everything in business will always take longer and costs more than you initially planned. Fortunately, I’ve learned how to enjoy the process of making things happen while being patient as my path unfolds.
In the early part of my career, I used to take everything personally. It caused me to become a constant worrier, prone to anxiety, and feeling like I was responsible for everyone’s happiness. If a customer sent me a grumpy email (about a delayed delivery or some other problem, that was out of my control), I would internalize their frustration. I’ve since realized that emotionally reacting to every circumstance or person would only drive me bonkers.
So, I’ve taken a more mindful approach to business (and life) these days.
I’ve learned that I have the power to do what is in my capacity; and for everything else (that is out of my control), I’m just going to take a deep breath and relax. Even when someone else is having a mini meltdown, I’m no longer going to allow their frustration to rattle me. I’ve learned how to stay calm, centered, and grounded (as much as humanly possible). Meditation helps!
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard? What strategies or techniques did you use to help overcome those challenges?
Just like life has its ups-and-downs, so does a business. One day you’re signing a deal with a new chain customer and jumping for joy, and the next day, you’re facing a supply chain disruption (like the recent container shipping delays and pandemic-related lockdowns).
After 20-years in business, I finally stopped worrying. My mindset now is “faith over fear”, plus I’ve implemented a mental and physical routine that helps to keep me grounded. I realized a while ago that all the stress from reacting to circumstances was wreaking havoc on my mental, emotional, and physical well-being. So, I changed my mindset and my lifestyle. Now, handling business is much easier for me, no matter what’s going on, as I use mindfulness techniques.
As a lifestyle blogger, a topic I love writing about is mindfulness. I’ve interviewed Psychologists, Therapists, and Life Coaches about the subject, and often share their expert advice in my articles.
While it’d be wonderful to live a blissful, stress-free business life everyday, that’s idealistic. From handling responsibilities and tackling to-do lists to dealing with unexpected situations that spike our anxiety levels, learning how to reduce stress is the most important step we can take.
The journey of an entrepreneur is never easy, and is filled with challenges, failures, setbacks, as well as joys, thrills and celebrations. Can you share a few ideas or stories from your experience about how to successfully ride the emotional highs & lows of being a founder”?
While I’ve had a lot of amazing highs and exciting moments, I’ve experienced many low points during the course of my business experience too.
From facing two recessions, a global helium shortage (that affected my family’s balloon business), a pandemic, global supply chain issues, and more — there’ve been countless issues to deal with. But, that’s where my mantra “faith over fear” really has come in handy.
As I believe in the power of our minds, I use a re-phrasing technique to help my mind better handle unwanted situations. Instead of referring to unwanted circumstances as “problems”, I now call them “issues”. I do my best to remove emotional attachment to undesirable situations that have to be dealt with. I’ve become rather matter-of-fact about “lows”, and intentionally so.
Let’s imagine that a young founder comes to you and asks your advice about whether venture capital or bootstrapping is best for them? What would you advise them? Can you kindly share a few things a founder should look at to determine if fundraising or bootstrapping is the right choice?
I would ask them 3 questions:
- Where do you ultimately want to go?
- How fast do you want to get there?
- How do they feel about having financial partners?
For example, if your dream is to ultimately sell your company or IPO, then raising capital might be a good option for you. But keep in mind that you’re giving away a large portion of your stock to fund your business. And ultimately, the VCs will have such a vested interest in your company, which might enable them to fire you (and replace you with a new CEO). So that’s the risk.
On the other hand, if you just want the freedom to run your own company the way you want, without any outside funding, then bootstrapping is the way to go. In this case, I’d recommend having a personal savings account that you can rely on (for rainy days, or during the early times — when you don’t have any steady cash flow coming into the business).
My brother, Reagan Pollack (a serial entrepreneur, business advisor, and the new author of the book No Startup Left Behind: Learn How To Launch An Idea and Skyrocket To Success) shares a great piece of advice in his book: “I think you should only consider raising capital when you are in the strongest possible position to negotiate. The whole job of an entrepreneur is to flip the power paradigm to make investors jump to fun you. The only way to do that is with proven traction demonstrated over a short time horizon.”
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Many startups are not successful, and some are very successful. From your experience or perspective, what are the main factors that distinguish successful startups from unsuccessful ones? What are your “Five Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Startup”? If you can, please share a story or an example for each.
In my opinion, an entrepreneur who is destined for success (and fulfillment) will do the 5 following things:
- Get clear on your vision. Just like using your GPS in your car, you need to first envision where you want to go before you start driving. If you would love to create a side-hustle that supports your family or brings in extra revenue, great! If you dream of creating a company that goes public someday, awesome! Wherever you want to go (in life and in business), it truly helps to start with an end destination in mind. This will help you figure out the best path to follow and determine which action steps to take to get you where you want to go.
- Define your mission. Beyond making a profit, every entrepreneur needs to fuel their drive each day by establishing a personal mission that aligns with their life vision and higher purpose. Basically, it’s the “why” behind what you do each day that matters. When you focus on creating a business model that adds value to the world, solves problems, improves people’s lives, or does something meaningful, it makes all of your hard work that much more fulfilling. Not to mention — when you feel passionate about your work, it satiates you on a deeper core level. So, even in the early days of starting a company (before you ever turn a profit), you feel like you’re making a difference and doing something purposeful. This keeps you motivated.
- Think about the type of business operation you want. Do you want to create a digital business that gives you the freedom to travel, work remotely, or have a flexible schedule? Or would you prefer a brick-and-mortar company (such as a retail store or restaurant) that has a day-to-day routine and structure? Before launching a company, think about the overall operation that you’d ideally want. For example, if you love working one-on-one with clients, perhaps you’d be best suited for a consulting business that charges by the hour? However, if you dream of scaling your coaching company and serving thousands of people simultaneously, maybe you’d be better off building an online course or membership program? The more clear you can get about the type of operation you want, the more you’ll enjoy running the day-to-day of your business.
- Do a personal SWOT analysis. Just as we learned in business school, a SWOT analysis helps companies determine their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. While this is a practical application for businesses, it’s also helpful to apply this strategy to your personal traits. What types of activities do you love doing or are great at? Which tasks are difficult or confusing to do? How big of a market are you going after? What types of fears do you need to overcome? The better you know yourself, the easier it will be for you to figure out what tasks you’re best suited for (versus those you might want to outsource or hire staff for).
- Keep learning and evolving. Every successful entrepreneur will tell you that most of what they learned happened “on the job”. To stay on top of your game and become the best businessperson you can be, continue to educate and empower yourself through learning new skills, honing your talents, and being open to new ideas. The more that you learn and evolve, the stronger of a leader you’ll become. And, whenever you feel unsure or fearful about something, just remember Marie Forleo’s quote, “Everything is Figureoutable!”.
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?
One area that I often see small business owners, founders, and entrepreneurs struggle with — it’s knowing how to create an effective branding and marketing strategy. In my opinion, having this fundamental know-how is exactly what will help you scale and grow a company faster.
When you know how to create a powerful brand identity, develop an intelligent branding and marketing strategy, and can utilize all of the online tools that save you time, money, and energy doing all of this — you’re one step closer to becoming successful.
That’s why I launched Inspiring Brands Academy — to teach business owners everything they need to know about digital branding and marketing. Essentially, within just a few short weeks, my students learn my step-by-step roadmap to digital branding success. I’ve turned 10+ years of knowledge and experience into a 10-week course. It’s truly an accelerator program!
One of my students, Heidi Simon (a Marketing & International Business Student) says,
“Inspiring Brands Academy is an in-depth, effective toolbox for managing your brand. I consistently looked forward to learning the new content and speaking with Christina each week, as it always made me motivated and prepared to take action. A business idea combined with Inspiring Brands Academy is an unstoppable team!”
Startup founders often work extremely long hours and it’s easy to burn the candle at both ends. What would you recommend to founders about how to best take care of their physical and mental wellness when starting a company?
I’m a hard-working, goal-oriented, and high energy person. But, I truly believe in life-work balance. I don’t think that we were born to be robots or machines. In truth, that’s the fastest way to burnout and become frazzled. The most successful people (who actually enjoy their lives) know when to work, and when to relax. A mindful approach to life and business will not only help people become more productive, creative, and resourceful, but it will also help them enjoy the fruits of their labor more too.
To start with, we’re human beings, not human doings. Hyper-productivity is engrained in our culture. It seems like we’ve all been programmed to continually fixate on getting things done. However, this can quickly lead to burnout, exhaustion, and stress-induced illnesses.
One of the best growing trends in recent years has been the focus on self-care. The reason why this is so important is that it allows us to take a break when we need it, to rejuvenate and recharge our minds & bodies, and to give ourselves some quiet time (away from work).
Have you ever noticed that new ideas and creative solutions often pop up in your mind when you’re doing something simple, like showering? It’s because you’re allowing your mind to relax and be still. Instead of constantly thinking about to-do lists and problems, by shifting your attention towards self-care, you give your creative mind a chance to work its magic by coming up with solutions and new ideas.
From pampering yourself with a DIY at-home spa treatment to listening to relaxing music, curling up in a cozy blanket, and doing deep breathing exercises, a regular self-care practice is a great way to boost your energy while finding inspiration.
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. 🙂
Be nice to people. It’s a pretty simple, yet powerful, message. The truth is — humanity needs more compassionate and caring leaders; people who exhibit true “humanity” in every sense of the word. With so much stress affecting everyone these days, the last thing anyone needs is to deal with more rude, disrespectful people. The more often that we can make others smile, feel good, or even laugh, the happier the world will be. It’s like the Butterfly Effect of positivity!
We are 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, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
I’ve been fortunate to connect with so many prominent business people, celebrities, and notable leaders during the course of my career and life.
One of my personal role models is Julia Haart, the CEO & Chairman of Elite Model World, the Chief Creative Officer behind the fashion line e1972, and now the new star of the Netflix show “My Unorthodox Life”. Her brazen confidence, fearless attitude, leadership abilities, and heartfelt nature make her one of the most incredible Wonder Women in my opinion.
After connecting with her during New York Fashion Week in 2019, she contributed to my blog (Inspirations & Celebrations) by sharing her inspiring advice in an empowering article that I wrote which celebrated International Women’s Day. In addition to this, for a few weeks, she featured the link to my article on her Instagram profile bio (which is followed by celebrities, supermodels, and fashion industry elite). It was such an honor!
She told me, “Give yourself permission to dream big. So often the limitations that we see are in our own minds and as women, we have been taught to aspire for less, to be “pleasing and grateful.” This is the biggest impediment to success. Allow yourself to claim what you really want and then go for it!”
How can our readers further follow your work online?
To learn more branding, marketing, advertising, and publicity tips, subscribe to the free Inspiring Brands Academy e-newsletter by signing up at www.inspiringbrandsacademy.net.
You can also follow me on Instagram (www.instagram.com/inspiringbrandsacademy) and on Facebook (www.facebook.com/inspiringbrandsacademy).
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!