Do Sweat the Small Stuff! As a founder, you become hyper-conscious of your company’s image. I spent a lot of time deliberating over design choices and the wording on my website and in my marketing materials, not simply because they impact a potential client’s first impression of the company, but also because I see this company that I founded as an extension of myself.
The COVID19 pandemic has disrupted all of our lives. But sometimes disruptions can be times of opportunity. Many people’s livelihoods have been hurt by the pandemic. But some saw this as an opportune time to take their lives in a new direction.
As a part of this series called “How I Was Able To Pivot To A New Exciting Opportunity Because Of The Pandemic”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Amy Rowland.
Amy Rowland is the Founder of Varia Search, a boutique legal recruiting firm that uses a bespoke approach to fill legal department roles. Prior to starting Varia Search, Amy was a recruiter at another legal search firm where she focused on recruiting for in-house legal positions. She has also held in-house roles at two international companies and a large New York City law firm.https://content.thriveglobal.com/media/85e39b9bfa1f5f43d0fa4c089c3eae53
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I grew up playing competitive tennis which instilled in me the drive and focus I have today. When I was 7 years old, I watched my first professional tennis match on television. From the minute I saw Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert smash the ball across that net, I was hooked. Luckily, my mom said I could take lessons at our neighborhood swim club, and after my very first lesson, I signed myself up for the club’s junior tennis tournament — absolutely positive that I’d win! My mom tried to temper my ambition with a little dose of reality, gently pointing out that I didn’t even know how to score yet. But I was not to be dissuaded, even though the tournament was just a couple of weeks away. The day of the tournament came, and I went out onto the court full of confidence. I lost miserably. But I didn’t go home empty-handed. The tennis director gave me the third-place trophy, partly because she admired my determination, and partly because there were only three participants. It didn’t matter. I loved tennis. All through grade school and high school, I spent every free moment I could playing. At Kenyon College I joined the tennis team where my teammates and I won the NCAA Division III Tennis Championship — twice!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“You can often change your circumstances by changing your attitude.”
— Eleanor Roosevelt
I am a big believer in the importance of keeping a positive attitude. It’s not only important in business, but it’s important in life. To me, this means starting each endeavor with a “can-do” attitude, while also being realistic in understanding the possible challenges and risks involved.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
The Luck Factor by Dr. Richard Wiseman has had an impact on me. In this book the author analyzes the characteristics and habits of people who seem to attract good luck. One of the key habits lucky people share is creating chance opportunities — cultivating a large and diverse network which in turn increases the odds of good things happening. I try to follow that model and put myself in situations — such as joining carefully selected networking groups — where I can meet new people. Starting my podcast, Fashionably Late, also gave me a chance to have really interesting conversations with people I would not otherwise have met. Not only have these things brought me helpful connections, but they’ve also opened up new ways of thinking and acting that I hadn’t previously considered, bringing me new opportunities.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before the Pandemic began?
Immediately before the pandemic I was a legal recruiter with another legal recruiting agency. Prior to that I was a lawyer, working first at a major New York City law firm and then in-house at two large corporations. Before switching gears to a career in law, I had pursued my passion for tennis by working as a college tennis coach.
What did you do to pivot as a result of the Pandemic?
First, I started a podcast called Fashionably Late which features people who have found fulfillment in their careers after a pivot. As I listened to these inspiring stories (in many cases from entrepreneurs and small business owners), two things became increasingly clear: if I wanted to find both success and happiness in my business life, I needed to strike out on my own instead of working for someone else and I needed to target clients whose businesses interested me personally.
I have always had an interest in startups and growing tech companies and have followed those sectors closely. Keenly aware of the lessons gleaned from the Fashionably Late interviews, I launched Varia Search, a boutique legal recruiting firm. Varia Search focuses on serving the needs of startups and tech companies. By connecting with these companies and their founders to help them determine and meet their legal staffing needs, I am already reaping the benefits of combining my skillset and my passions.
Can you tell us about the specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path?
I actually had two “aha!” moments. During the early days of the pandemic, I’d go out walking several times a day to counteract the cooped-up feeling and would sometimes listen to other people’s podcasts and sometimes just toss ideas around in my head. One day the idea came to me that starting my own podcast could be a great way to connect (virtually, of course!) with really interesting people who had done some pretty terrific things. Then, as I was reviewing one of the interviews I’d recorded for my podcast, I had another moment of clarity. My guest was extremely inspiring and talked about how deeply enjoyable she found her work with clients in a particular niche area. It suddenly hit me that if I really wanted to get the most satisfaction from my work, not only would I need to strike out on my own, but I would also want to focus on the types of clients that interest me most — startups and tech companies.
How are things going with this new initiative?
So far, things are going very well for my new firm. I am already networking, getting referrals of clients and building up a database of amazing candidates.
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?
Yes — my grandmother. Because my parents both worked, she was the one who took me to most of my tennis tournaments when I was a kid. Although she was very competitive and was delighted whenever I won, I never felt any pressure from her. In fact, whenever I lost a match, she was pretty philosophical about it. “Two people are out there on the court,” she’d tell me. “One is going to win, and one is going to lose. This time you weren’t the winner, but another time, you will be.” Those words made a huge impression on me. It meant that even when I lost, I never had to see myself as a “loser.” I think this has made me more willing to take risks in many areas of my life. If one thing doesn’t work out, I don’t worry that I’m a failure. I keep going, knowing that I will eventually succeed.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?
The most interesting thing to happen is learning just how generous some people are willing to be with their time and advice, even people who have headed up multimillion-dollar companies. For example, I reached out to the founder of a very successful startup (a person to whom I had only a slight connection), and not only did he cheerfully give me all the time I needed to pick his brain in a Zoom meeting, but he also has continued to be a great ongoing resource, emailing me occasionally with helpful ideas. People seem to genuinely want my new venture to succeed. Whether they are making a referral, offering advice, or just cheering me on, the level of people’s support has been a pleasant surprise.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Do Sweat the Small Stuff! As a founder, you become hyper-conscious of your company’s image. I spent a lot of time deliberating over design choices and the wording on my website and in my marketing materials, not simply because they impact a potential client’s first impression of the company, but also because I see this company that I founded as an extension of myself.
- You’d Better Shop Around. There can be a huge range of what vendors are charging in fees for the various services you need. When I contacted vendors to work on branding and building my website, for example, I found a dramatic variation in their fee schedules. The first company I approached wanted 40,000 dollars, way more than I had in my budget. I did some research and was able to find someone great to complete the project for a fraction of that amount.
- Referrals! Referrals! Referrals! Obviously, it’s great to get referrals for clients (and in my case, for candidates as well), but I didn’t know just how valuable a personal referral could be in finding the right service providers for my business. The networking groups I belong to have been an amazing resource for this, but sometimes it was the case that one great vendor led to another. For example, I got the name of a wonderful firm to help with SEO from another vendor I had used.
- It Takes Longer Than You Think. Setting up a business was surprisingly time intensive. You should budget more time than you think you’ll need to put your company’s systems and processes in place. Even though I was eager to get my company up and running, I had to keep reminding myself that investing time at this stage would pay off later with a smoothly running operation and fewer headaches.
- The Thrill of the Launch. It was even more rewarding than I had anticipated to actually get my company up and running after having it live only in my imagination for so long.
So many of us have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. Can you share the strategies that you have used to optimize your mental wellness during this stressful period?
I walk — a lot! As a former athlete, I find that regular physical activity is a great way to burn off anxiety. Combined with being outside in nature, particularly on beautiful sunny days, exercise is a very effective stress reliever. I used to run, but because of some old injuries, that’s not really an option for me any longer. These days, if I’m walking by myself, I’ll often listen to podcasts which can inspire me or teach me something.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
Three issues that matter enormously to me are education, food security and most fundamentally, the environment. I would really like to see every child given a truly meaningful chance to grow up to fulfill his or her potential, by having access to nutritious meals, schools that encourage kids’ imaginations and give them the tools they need to succeed, all in a space that’s safe from pollution and environmental threats. Right now, while we have a lot of terrific efforts being made on those fronts by individual groups and charities, we need a larger scale movement with everyone on board.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!
I would love to have lunch with Guy Raz, the host of the podcast How I Built This. I would like to hear more about what he has learned from talking to entrepreneurs — things that didn’t make it into the podcast or his recent book. He’s a great interviewer, but it would be fun to turn the tables and interview him!
How can our readers follow you online?
I am on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/amylrowland/
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!