Don’t be quick to take no as an answer — if plan A doesn’t work, go for plan B and C. There will always be “no’s”.
As part of my interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Donna Spurrier. Donna is a marketing innovator and strategic media consultant. For 40 years, her strategies and executions for government, commercial and non-profit clients have inspired new ways of thinking across the marketing and media industries. She has recently added entrepreneur to her resume as the inventor of Showerspecs, the only reader for the shower.
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?
I was actually in the music business for a good while as a singer/songwriter. My dad was a recording artist in the 50’s with Jess Duboy and the Hitchhikers. Random fun fact — he was also the producer and the voice of the Rock-A-Teens cult classic hit, “Woo-Hoo”, heard in lots of commercials and the movie Kill Bill. So, music is in my blood. While I love to write and to perform, I did NOT like the music industry in the late 70’s and early 80’s. While I was figuring out what to do about it, I went to work at my dad’s advertising agency and fell I love with media strategy. After about 15 years there, I started my own media agency, Spurrier Group, and have been running that for the last 25 years. The invention of Showerspecs is the most recent of my entrepreneurial efforts, another attribute I credit my dad for instilling in me.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
That’s easy! We went to market literally WEEKS before COVID shut everything down. The product is Showerspecs, readers for the shower for those of us who can’t see to shave, or read the product labels. If you have readers in every other room in the house, it just made sense that you might need them in the shower! It took 2 years of research to get the lens coating right, since hot steamy showers and glass lenses don’t mix well — but we did it and were ready to go to market. Fast forward a few months and we are all wearing masks. One day in the grocery store, I was struggling to read anything in small print on the products as my readers just kept fogging up. I was so frustrated and then I remembered I had a pair of Showerspecs prototype in my purse. I put those on and was shocked (don’t know why!) to realize they did not fog even a little bit. From this experience, and having many others try the same thing to test it out, we rushed back into production with a lighter weight frame and many more style options to create Clearspecs Readers.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
So, here’s the mistake — we did an ad campaign with side by side images of people with Clearspecs and without, one all fogged up, one clear as a bell. Seems like an easy way to show people the functionality of the product, right? Oh my goodness, we had no idea what can of worms we opened up as our campaign become some kind of trigger for anti-masking! We posted ads on social media and the two “sides” when bonkers with each other and we are shaking our head, like, this is just an ad campaign, folks. We pivoted to the greater value of anti-fog readers — some folks must wear masks in the profession (healthcare, food prep, etc.) and Clearspecs also don’t fog with a hot cup of coffee, when you cook over the stove, open a hot dishwasher, go from cool temps to hot, etc. They are a great addition to the Showerspecs product and we increase the line of products with this patent pending coating. Sunspecs are next — sunglasses that won’t fog with you work out outside or when you get into a hot car!
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?
Easy one! My dad. Even though it was his company I was leaving to start my own, putting him in a tough spot to fill that position, he was always 200% my biggest supporter and fan. Honestly, most people in our lives don’t REALLY care about the day to day of starting, growing and running a successful business. I don’t blame them — my dad did, however. He asked me about every facet of building Spurrier Group.
He was so excited about the idea of Showerspecs, but he would not live to see me get them to market. My dad was an inventor himself and it’s clear where I got that bug as well. In his early advertising days, dad invented both the Sell-a-thon and the Toyota-thon concepts. Outside of work, he was forever making things work better with wacky inventions. Some of those “wacky” things that he did years ago are now patented products by later inventors. That is the reason that I have worked so hard to get Showerspecs to market. Dad never did with any of his tangible inventions. He passed away in 2016 but I know he is cheering me on along this journey.
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. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?
In my opinion, it’s the cultural expectation that men are the breadwinners, the workers and the achievers. Men didn’t ask for this life position by the way. It’s culturally assumed in most countries for generation upon generation. Today, Gen Z young women are seeing a different pathway than my generation (Boomer) as well as the Gen X and even most of the Millennial population. There really has been a glass ceiling, it’s not a myth. The generations of productive, creative, “won’t take no for an answer” women of the previous decades have paved the path for today’s women. It’s a thin path still, but it’s a path! Those of us who are successful need to continue to support and mentor the next generations of entrepreneurs. My generation didn’t have a lot of leaders. We have become those leaders now and owe it to the generations of amazing women that follow us, to continue to pave this road.
Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?
I’m not sure about how helpful government can be as the tax laws for small businesses of all kinds are tough, but as individuals and communities, we can fill the top of the funnel! The more smart women there are starting businesses, socializing ideas, and supporting existing businesses with their insights and leadership, the more the opportunity to involve more and more entrepreneurs.
This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder, but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?
The timing has never been better. Since the ability of women to work outside the home has become more “acceptable” (hard to believe) there have always been obstacles. Many of those have been overcome. Don’t misunderstand me though — there will always be the challenge of raising our families and working, inside, outside, or upside down — raising our children while conquering the workplace is by no means easy.
And, for those that get fulfillment from this kind of challenge, who want to provide value to the business, who have to work to support the family, or any of the other reasons we work, now is a really good time in history to flex those muscles (sans COVID of course).
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?
Honestly, time. Running a company is not a walk in the park. You have to really decide to do this. There are endless things out of your control that become your responsibility if you are the owner and running the business every day. I mentor lots of young people and almost everyone says their dream is to own their own company one day. That’s a great goal and I commend them for that kind of desire, but it will take all that and more. BUT, the thought that all you have to do is have a great idea and you’ll be set is a myth. It is laborious hard work and lots of it isn’t what you specialize in, much of it is running a business with HR and payroll, and employee reviews, etc. etc. My advice is always to really think it through and KNOW that this is what you want.
Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?
Everyone should NOT be a founder or owner! Great work is needed at every single level in a business. We need great leaders and great followers. We need great thinkers and great doers. There is absolutely nothing wrong or underwhelming about being an awesome employee. As the owner of two businesses, I can tell you first hand, my companies may be the result of my ideas, but their success is absolutely attributable to the staff that is carrying out the dream.
The way I explain it is like this: a good worker who enjoys what they are doing experiences little victories throughout the day, the week, the project. Not everyone is motivated or satiated by closing the big deal, landing the big client, getting the client face time, topping the official roster. LOTS of workers are really happy to do a great job that they know is part of the work needed for the overall greater good and we NEED these workers!
Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, what are the “Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder?” (Please share a story or example for each.)
I have two businesses that are very different. One is Spurrier Group, which is the strategic media company I’ve owned for 25 years. The other is Showerspecs. This is brand new and exists because of a product line I invented. The two businesses could not be more different but there are some rules to live by that apply equally to both endeavors.
1. Believe you can do it — there is confidence that is required to help others believe in you and what you offer. The leader must believe in herself.
2. PREPARE — STUDY — RESEARCH — KNOW YOUR BUSINESS, YOUR COMPETITION, AND YOUR CONSUMER. Going into a business without this kind of prep is a big mistake. Short cuts don’t usually work. There is no substitute for due diligence.
3. Don’t be quick to take no as an answer — if plan A doesn’t work, go for plan B and C. There will always be “no’s”.
4. Do NOT be afraid to fail. Any successful person will tell you that failure is part of the journey. The list is endless of successful people that have vivid stories of failure, myself included. What we learn from failure cannot be taught. We have to experience it.
5. Reward the people that help you be successful. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you’ve gotten to the top completely on your own. Don’t be stingy with your profits OR with your time. They are both very valuable and need to be shared.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I have regularly used the platform I have to work for nonprofits, usually in the role of volunteer board positions. For 25 years, my media company has at least one pro bono account that we provide strategic research and media services for. Having been a past professor at the VCU Brand Center, I have had access to lots of students and over the years, have mentored many young professionals in their career paths. I continue to do that today.
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.
FEED EACH OTHER! I have an idea I’ve been working on for a few years now around how to align successful businesses with feeding their local communities; a non-profit that would bring these two together. The catalyst for this is that food is the most basic need that we as humans have. It’s our fuel, literally our lifeline. Children shouldn’t go to bed hungry. They shouldn’t have to get their only meal at school. Moms shouldn’t ever have to put their babies to bed hungry. There are solutions to this problem and we can solve hunger in the United States. Of course, all hungry people are equally important, but it’s also important to solve the issue at home. I have ideas around this, ideas that are scalable and doable. That’s my next project. 🙂
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.
Loaded question. I can think of a dozen right off the cuff — different kinds of people for different areas of interest — government, faith, music, and business. There are so many smart people that would be so enjoyable to share lunch with. Where I am in business right now, I think lunch with Lori Greiner from Shark Tank would be fascinating. Talk about an amazing woman entrepreneur!
What I would love to ask her is how she manages to juggle the razor-sharp business decision-making and the clear compassion she has for people, even in the business environment. She didn’t get where she is by accident. She’s lovely, professional, seems to be kind-hearted and successful as heck! Showerspecs maybe my first consumer good product invention to go to market, but I’m still inventing! I have 2 more prototypes waiting for me to have time to focus on them. Right now, running Spurrier Group and Showerspecs, trying to launch a brand new category (not just a new product). But, there are no other readers for the shower anywhere. Lori might have some really sound advice for me.