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A Thriving Business Partnership

How Two Female Co-founders Overcome Obstacles and Maintain a Healthy Working Relationship

Photo Credit: Rocky Macchiato
Photo Credit: Rocky Macchiato

Much like a marriage, partnerships take a lot of hard work. Take it from these two, Anita Gatto and Sarah Ivory, the Co-Founders of the leading experiential and brand strategy agency, Self Employed. Since founding the business in 2016, they have collectively had three children, essentially alternating turns being pregnant whilst building a business that serves top tier clients such as Moet Hennessy, Kylie Cosmetics, Westfield Group, Hourglass, and Sergio Rossi. I sat down to find out how they make their partnership work.

How did you two initially meet and what made you decide to start a business together?

Sarah: I was introduced to Anita on a blind work date set up by a mutual friend. I had zero expectations, but after talking to Anita for a little while, I felt that she had the expertise and experience that I needed to go after this big new business lead. I asked her if she would be interested in partnering with me on this pitch, and she agreed but warned me that she was newly pregnant with her first child and wasn’t sure what the next few months would look like.

Anita: In the months leading up to meeting Sarah, I had merged my PR agency with a bigger company, left said company, gotten married, lost my father, and gotten pregnant. I really had no idea what I wanted to do next, but Sarah had such a calming energy, and I could tell she was unlike anyone  I had ever done business with before. Pitching on this first opportunity was one of the easiest, creative processes I have ever been through.

Sarah: And we won the business, beating out every established agency in town!  It was with arguably the most notable fashion conglomerate in the world and the process a vendor required so much paperwork, meanwhile, we were still waiting for our tax ID number! Needless to say, it all worked out, but as a result, our foundation was built on the idea that anything is possible.

So how did you know that your personalities were going to work well within a partnership?

Anita: I don’t know that we did. We just took it one step at a time. We were very respectful of each other and are actually quite opposite of each other, but we share common goals, and we are each other’s ying and yang.

Sarah: It’s true. Anita has a very sunny personality. She can talk to anyone and she always has a smile on her face. She’s the warm hug. I am the cold shower! But more importantly we think about things in very different ways which allows us to see a myriad of possibilities around a single instance. Then we talk through our ideas and together end up settling on something that feels right to us both. We get a chance to check each other’s motives and make sure we aren’t making ego led decisions.

Anita: Sarah is great at getting to the point and being very direct and clear, which our clients appreciate. She doesn’t waste time tiptoeing around her thoughts, where I am more prone to deliver a slow burn.

Sarah: She has taught me to smile more. It seems like a simple note, but it’s actually super effective. I relax a bit more and I think clients do too. She puts people at ease.

How has having children affected your working relationship?

Anita: We were at a pivotal point in building the business when I gave birth. I actually took a conference call with Kris Jenner in the delivery room. We didn’t have any employees at the time, so Sarah didn’t have any help, and we had all this new business, so I cut my maternity leave short and was back in the office after only four weeks. It was personally challenging to deal with the emotions that come from being a working mom, but I stayed focused on not feeling guilty and using my precious time on work I cared about.

Sarah: When I became pregnant with my son, I remember feeling so much pressure to go back to work and bounce back quickly because Anita did. I was scared that I wouldn’t be able to function the way she did. I went back after only 5 weeks, and, truthfully, I was miserable. Anita shared tips on prioritizing time, which was super helpful. She also helped me face some bottom line truths, like the fact that once I got home, it wasn’t likely I was going to do more work. I needed to just finish what I could at the office and reset my expectations. That really helped because I was continually disappointing myself thinking I was going to finish things from home when I never did.

Anita: The reality is your body is still going through massive changes, your memory is shot, in our cases you’re pumping, breastfeeding and sleep training babies and trying to come up with a powerful brand strategy for your clients at the same time.

Sarah: Women are capable of the impossible. That’s one thing I learned from motherhood.

So now you both have children and Anita you recently gave birth again. What’s changed this time around?

Anita: Well, we have a full in house team now, so I was able to take three months off with the birth of my son. He’s nearly five months, so I am back to the grind, and my first day back we flew to Vegas to close some new business. With two children and a growing business, time management is more crucial than ever.

Sarah: We plan our days out, we communicate our time commitments with each other, and we support each other. Shame is not part of our vocabulary. Family comes first, and we know that our business allows for the wonderful things we can share with our families. When we have to travel for work, we will balance it out by taking a personal day to be with our kids or work from home for a day.

Any advice for other business partners?

Sarah: Have compassion for one another. Respect your partner’s opinions and honor their feelings.
Anita: Ask for help when you need it and have a sense of humor! At the end of the day we are here to be of service to our clients and enjoy the lives we have designed for ourselves along the way. It’s why we are Self Employed.

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