Erin Davies of The Wedding Kickstarter: “BE THE COMPANY YOU’D WANT TO WORK FOR”

BE THE COMPANY YOU’D WANT TO WORK FOR. This one is really big for me. If you aren’t starting with your Core Values- your “why,” your reason for founding the company to begin with-then how can you possibly inspire others to buy your product, believe in your offerings, join your team, refer you to a […]

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BE THE COMPANY YOU’D WANT TO WORK FOR. This one is really big for me. If you aren’t starting with your Core Values- your “why,” your reason for founding the company to begin with-then how can you possibly inspire others to buy your product, believe in your offerings, join your team, refer you to a friend…whatever! Showing respect, giving a voice to your team, and always starting every day with the WHY are all immeasurably important in finding success. If your passion is palpable, everyone will want to get on the train you are riding….and that’s when you see real growth and magic.

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

After planning world class events such as Chelsea Clinton’s wedding and Obama’s inauguration, Boston-based Event Producer/Expert Erin Davies launched The Wedding Kickstarter, a service offering a custom blueprint for couples with premium taste in need of accessible wedding planning. With 300+ luxury weddings under her belt, Erin Davies today is redefining the world of wedding planning. With the creation of her innovative process, she gives couples the tools they need for a smooth & enjoyable wedding planning experience, resulting in fabulous events with an expert consultant in their corner every step of the way.

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?

Absolutely! I grew up in West Virginia and always had a knack for leading and organizing. After moving to Boston after college, I naturally fell into the world of event planning, and quickly rose to the top of my field. Working at high end venues and agencies, I kept noticing a major disconnect and gap in the market. I saw either fabulous full-service planners who charged 20%++ of a client’s wedding budget OR day-of coordinators who only get involved in the planning process about a month before the big day. I always kept wondering- what about the people who don’t need a full-service planner (either because they can’t afford it or actually WANT to do a lot of the groundwork themselves on their own wedding) but simply don’t know where to start. Don’t these couples deserve a quality plan and access to expertise to get them started in the right direction? For years I wanted to start a consultancy for weddings that focused on the beginning stages of the wedding planning process but was feeling too tethered to the security of working for a high-end planning agency. When Covid shut down the hospitality industry in spring of 2020, it was the actual “shove” I needed to take the jump. And thus (even amidst a pandemic that was prohibiting people from gathering and celebrating), The Wedding Kickstarter was born.

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

To me, the most interesting story is the story of collaboration, partnership and support that I’ve been so blessed to experience. I worried that the other planners might see the launch of my business as a threat because it offers clients looking for a wedding planner a less expensive alternative, but it has been just the opposite. I don’t know if it is because of the new perspective our industry has gained from being his so hard by the pandemic, or simply a beautiful trait of human nature, but I’ve felt nothing but cheered on and supported by the industry planners in Boston. I’ve loved how we can all collaborate, share advice, and lean on each other for support during this crazy time.

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?

When I first went out on my own, I made the mistake (from a place of fear) to take any business that I could take- even if it wasn’t fitting the model I had created. It was the beginning of the pandemic and I was starting a business that was planning weddings in a time no one was gathering! I took any job as a consultant even if it didn’t directly relate to the world of events- and it was a slippery slope. A few months in, I found myself agreeing to help source the “perfect puppy” for a family who had previously used my planning services. All of the sudden I found myself driving an 8-week-old doodle of some sort up to Boston from Amish Country PA, on a bathroom break in the pouring rain with an un-housebroken puppy just wondering, “how the hell did I get here?”. It was a very good “Come to Jesus” moment for me where I realized just because someone is willing to pay your rate to do something, it doesn’t mean it is what you should be doing.

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?

YES! My first real job in the events field was at a high-end agency (Rafanelli Events) as the production assistant for a very strong and inspiring woman named Amy Kimball. Not only did she take me under her wing at the time to show me ropes, she showed me what it meant to demand perfection but also to never lose the humor in all of it. I watched her move on to start her own company and have been inspired by her ability and willingness to change course as she has continued her own personal growth journey. I don’t have a specific story to share but I’m so grateful for her presence at every crossroads in my career. I can’t begin to quantify the value of having someone consistently say “look at what you’ve accomplished and don’t for a second doubt what you can do or sell yourself short.” When I told her about wanting to create this industry-disruptor concept of mine, she couldn’t have been more encouraging. I hope one day I can be that same place of motivation and encouragement for someone else.

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. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?

UGH! It’s crazy. I work in the event planning hospitality industry — a VERY female dominant industry, but even with 90% of my coworkers being women, every boss I’ve ever had before going out on my own was a man. I know a ton of AMAZING women who have gone out on their own as independent planners, but have seen very few growing any of these boutique agencies into larger companies with staffs and departments. I believe that women, for a slew of sociological reasons, not having the confidence and not dreaming big enough is a huge part of the problem. I also, however, am a huge believer that the way the US handles maternity leave and how it treats mothers in the workplace in general is majorly holding back women from rising to the tops of their fields and founding companies.

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?

We must offer longer and paid maternity leaves. We must change the expectations on when company leaders should be accessible. We must share the mental and physical load of running the home with our partners. There is no path for more women founders without these changes.

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?

Without women founders, we will NEVER change the backwards system the US has of how women, particularly mothers, are treated in the workplace. If we don’t change what leadership looks like, we can’t change the stigma and backlash on career that comes with taking maternity leave.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?

I think most of my fellow founders will agree that the biggest myth (and therefore perhaps the biggest fear and roadblock keeping other women from becoming founders) is that being a founder means you will have to sacrifice your personal life priorities. For me, I was scared of not being present with my children and having to be “on” all of the time. I’m not going to lie- it takes work and is a daily challenge to keep this myth from being a reality, but it is possible. Once I realized I get to write my own rules and set my own boundaries, I was able to give myself the permission to keep work within work hours without the fear of it hindering my success.

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?

Nope! And that’s ok! A founder needs to be motivated by their own “why” more than just the idea of owning a company. If the work and mission itself aren’t compelling and if becoming a founder for its own sake is more of a drive than the actual core values of the company you are looking to found, than I can’t see how the motivation will ever be there to create real success and to offer real value to clients or consumers.

Ok super. 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.)

SET BOUNDARIES. No one will ever do this for you and if you aren’t doing it for yourself there is no way to hold on to any sense of self and keep your eye on running the business. Being clear and unapologetic about what you are and are not willing to do will only help you in reaching your goals. It took me a long time and a lot of practice to get comfortable saying NO. Saying no to bad clients; saying no, I cannot be flexible with my model of services I provide; saying no, I’m not available for you to pick my brain, but you can certainly pay for a one-on-one consulting session; saying no, I cannot do a call after these business hours….all of these things I thought would hurt me growing my business, but I only started seeing growth once I embraced the boundaries and stopped being scared of rubbing people the wrong way.

COMMUNITY IS A MUST. Even if you are solopreneur — you need a support system! Surround yourself with people who believe in your “special sauce” and who would mention your name in a room of opportunities. Aside from making time for regular mastermind support sessions with fellow entrepreneurs I trust and admire, I also discovered the value in outsourcing. Even while just getting started, giving myself the permission to outsource the marketing and the social media made all the difference in the world- not just in giving me the time to focus on what I do best, but by creating a team for support and accountability.

BE THE COMPANY YOU’D WANT TO WORK FOR. This one is really big for me. If you aren’t starting with your Core Values- your “why,” your reason for founding the company to begin with-then how can you possibly inspire others to buy your product, believe in your offerings, join your team, refer you to a friend…whatever! Showing respect, giving a voice to your team, and always starting every day with the WHY are all immeasurably important in finding success. If your passion is palpable, everyone will want to get on the train you are riding….and that’s when you see real growth and magic.

DON’T LOSE CONFIDENCE. I know- easier said than done. Imposter syndrome is real, people….and for me it is a daily battle to combat it! I have to constantly lean back on that support system and remind myself to stick to my passion. I have to tell myself that just because someone doesn’t love my idea doesn’t mean it’s any less great. Just because someone doesn’t want to pay my rate doesn’t mean I’m worth any less. I constantly have to remind myself to not compare my Year 1 with someone else’s Year 2 or 5 or 10. It’s so hard but so important.

SHOW GRATITUDE. Seems like this one should be a no-brainer, but I’m not sure that it is. So here is the daily reminder to give credit where credit is due, show thanks to those who support you, respect teammates, vendors, and clients, and to help others when you can. You’ll never regret showing thanks to those who have helped you or by admitting that you had help along the way.

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

Ha! Well I don’t know I’ve made the world a better place, but I like to think I’m creating a kinder and more accessible niche within the hospitality industry. One that offers a quality service under an affordable model, and one that ensures vendors are referred with integrity, freelancers are paid what they are worth, and that anyone who crosses my path will be shown respect. I also like to think that by creating a business based on passion but built with boundaries, I am teaching my own children that success doesn’t have to come at the cost of being a present parent.

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.

If I could inspire a movement, I’d like for my company to start a ripple effect changing our expectations of what it looks like to be a leader in business. I hope more children can see a successful parent that is a founder, but who hasn’t fallen victim to their success by not allowing themselves the boundaries and permission to be a present participant in the non-business facets of their lives.

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.

Is it too cliché to say Oprah? Oprah. Why? Well, you know…because Oprah.

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

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