Grit: The Most Overlooked Ingredient of Success: “Being told ‘no’ ignites a fire in me that ‘yes’ can’t compare to.” With Aurora Pfeiffer and Phil Laboon

How influential people built empires from nothing Being told “no” ignites a fire in me that “yes” can’t compare to. There’s something about proving what you’re capable of doing when the odds are stacked against you, that truly motivates me. When you’re so certain of your purpose in life, it doesn’t matter what you’re up […]

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How influential people built empires from nothing

Being told “no” ignites a fire in me that “yes” can’t compare to. There’s something about proving what you’re capable of doing when the odds are stacked against you, that truly motivates me. When you’re so certain of your purpose in life, it doesn’t matter what you’re up against, you’ll find your way through it. Quitting is never an option.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Aurora Pfeiffer, Founder and President of Rolen Group. Rolen Group is a boutique management and creative services company in New York City, engaged in managing and consulting for clients in music, entertainment and original content. Founded by Aurora Pfeiffer in 2013, Rolen Group has grown organically over the years, garnering the attention of those in the music and entertainment industry through successful deals and partnerships with Warner Music, Universal Music, SONY Music, Snapchat, YouTube, Forever 21, Revlon, Sephora, L’Oreal, Lucky Brand, MAC Cosmetics, Armani Exchange, YMI Jeans, Maybelline, and many others. Utilizing a boutique management style and being selective with the clients that join the roster, Rolen Group takes pride in being able to provide individual attention to each of its clients, personalizing and tailoring their services to match clients’ unique needs.

Since launching the business in 2013, Rolen Group has enjoyed considerable success for its clients. The company has placed over 100 songs, secured more than 250 brand deals and delivered a number of major record label and publishing deals for members of the Rolen Group roster. Rolen Group clients have had releases go #1 on Billboard charts, as well as been featured on the radio and major soundtracks for movies and TV shows. In addition, Rolen Group’s clients have been a part of releases that were streamed and downloaded hundreds of millions of times, certified gold and platinum by the RIAA, and have been featured on billboards, on TV, in magazines and in-store displays, and have been a part of countless brand campaigns that have gone viral worldwide.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what events have drawn you to this specific career path

For as long as I can remember, I was fascinated by expression and finding ways to share great ideas with the world. Growing up, I enjoyed telling stories, playing piano, writing songs, shooting content and editing photos, pitching ideas, asking questions, networking, and often found myself trying to finish other people’s sentences, as I could understand others visions and wanted to help articulate where I thought they were trying to go. There’s no job for that per se, but as time went on, I realized many managers and creative strategists in the entertainment industry have that gift, and I’m fortunate to have found my calling at a very young age.

I truly enjoy working with creators and helping them craft their stories and bodies of work, providing them with the tools and resources they need to finish their sentences and “fill up their pages,” and then going out and finding a home for their creations. I provide support to my roster and help them monetize their ideas and shape their next thought. Whether I spend my days strategizing or pitching talent, a song or a piece of content, what I enjoy most is the process: incubating an idea, strategizing on a plan of execution, connecting the right people to bring that idea to life and ultimately fighting for the creator’s needs so they get the best deal possible. I love bringing other’s stories to light, knowing I was an integral part of their journey and the mark they make on the world.

Can you share your story of Grit and Success? First can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?

Fresh off the plane from NYC to LA, on my first day of my internship at EMI Music/Capitol Records in 2008, I was told, “Get out while you still can.” Although the music business is perceived as a glamorous business, it’s not all rainbows and butterflies and is not made for the faint at heart. When I entered the business in 2008, there were four major record labels; there are now three, and layoffs when I started were, and still are, at an all time high. I took that statement with a grain of salt and decided no matter what was to come of the future of the music business, I was here for a reason and I would give my all to earn a spot.

One month after starting my internship, my department was throwing a release party for an unknown artist at the time- Katy Perry. There was something about that time in my life that’s still magical to me. There’s nothing like being a part of the journey of an emerging artist’s career, even if as “just an intern.” Not that I had anything to do with her success, but having that experience of watching an artist’s career takeoff and become a household name in front of my eyes at the start of my career, really put things into perspective. It was that summer that I promised myself I would work as hard as I could to land a job at EMI/Capitol Records when I graduated from college.

Fast forward to 2010, after graduating college a year early, and with lot’s of persistence, I landed my first job at EMI/Capitol Records in NYC, coordinating for the A&R team at Blue Note and Manhattan Records. I couldn’t have asked for a better first experience. While working there, I gained insight on how to make a record, where to find new talent and songs, how to develop talent, what goes into signing an act and how to help shape an artist’s career. During that time I was promoted twice and truly felt like I found my place in the business. Looking back, the beginning of my career really shaped me, and my work ethic, and laid the foundation I needed to build my career. After those three years, the inevitable happened-I was laid off, and as predicted, four major labels became three, and EMI was bought by Universal.

Instead of thinking that my career was over, I tried to see my layoff as a stepping-stone, an opportunity to test the waters and see what other labels had to offer. One month after being laid off, I was offered a job at a major record label in LA to support the A&R team there. I accepted the job and moved to LA less than a week later. While settling into my new job, I didn’t feel as if I was meshing with the culture of the label, and eventually decided it wasn’t the right environment for me to flourish in. I began questioning why I moved to LA in the first place. It was difficult being in a new place, away from home where I didn’t know anyone and having to start over again. I kept telling myself there was a reason I moved to LA and that I’d find it; I just had to stick it out no matter how uncomfortable it was. Four months into the new job, having moved across the country on my own account, I realized it wasn’t working out as planned, and began to apply for other jobs.

After persistently applying, I found another job in LA that interested me. Three weeks later, I was offered a job at a boutique music publishing company under a major label. During that time, I saw several hits my bosses were behind takeoff. It was in that process and being in an entrepreneurial environment, where I realized I didn’t want to work for someone else for that much longer.

I began to apply for other jobs, while also doing research on how to start a company in the entertainment business and build clientele. As fate would have it, I was let go right before Christmas in 2013. Instead of pursuing other job opportunities that I received, I took being let go as a sign to start my own company and take a leap of faith.

The thing about the entertainment business is that it relies heavily on culture, and sometimes you can be good at your job, but not be the right fit personality or cultural-wise for the company you’re in. I’ve learned not to take things personally or burn bridges. You have to constantly reinvent yourself and learn how to be quick on your feet to succeed. That is where grit comes in. Some of the entrepreneurs I admire-Oprah Winfrey, Steve Jobs, Michael Jordan, and Walt Disney-were let go at one point or another in their journey to entrepreneurship, and they too saw it as a blessing.

Reflecting back on all I’ve been through in the past decade: doubling up on classes to graduate college early, moving to NYC to start my career, being laid and let go twice, moving across the country to LA, working 16–18 hour days, moving back to NYC; the most stability in all of this was starting Rolen Group five years ago and being in control of my own fate. Starting a company isn’t easy, but then again neither is working in environments where your vision doesn’t necessarily align with that of the company you’re in, and if I had to go through everything I went through to be where I’m standing now, I’d do it all over again.

Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

I’ve been strong-willed and solution-oriented for a long time now; I think a big part of my drive has come from that. I commit to everything I do 100%. I’m either all the way in, or not at all.

I also learned to trust in the process. I went through so much in such a short period of time that I didn’t have much more to lose. I made a promise to myself to see out my journey in LA for a few years and find my purpose. I didn’t really have a choice but to keep on going. I eventually moved back to NYC once I got my company off the ground, but starting over while living in LA and going through what I went through, really helped me grow a backbone and assert myself.

The beauty of starting a company is that you can pick and choose, for the most part, those you work closely with. I began surrounding myself with like-minded people and signing talent I believed in who believed in me just as much as I believed in them. I started blocking out the noise from those who didn’t understand me, and focusing in on the ones that did. When I first started Rolen Group, I was songwriting a great deal, and that really helped get me through those tough times.

My parents taught me that you could be anything you want to be if you put your mind to it, which has stuck with me through every chapter of my life.

So how did Grit lead to your eventual success? How did Grit turn things around?

Being told “no” ignites a fire in me that “yes” can’t compare to. There’s something about proving what you’re capable of doing when the odds are stacked against you, that truly motivates me. When you’re so certain of your purpose in life, it doesn’t matter what you’re up against, you’ll find your way through it. Quitting is never an option.

Although I learned a lot at corporate companies, I’ve learned a lot more being out on my own. There’s no right time to start a company, it was grit and hardship that gave me the extra push I needed to take the leap of faith. Life is about timing and finding like-minded people. I firmly believe that with the right combination of timing, people and opportunity, magic can be made.

So, how are things going today? 🙂

In all of my 29 years of life, I’m the happiest I’ve been. I get to work with the people I love everyday and help make their dreams come true.

Although I’ve been a part of major achievements for my clients that have lead to us winning numerous awards, it’s being there for my clients and having the power to change lives through the work we do that motivates me. There’s nothing like having someone trust in you and work alongside them to help them reach their goals. Knowing that you were a huge part of their growth, is such a rewarding feeling- no money in the world compares to that feeling, and that’s why I do what I do everyday.

I have a great team member and colleague, Olivia Zhou, who provides day-to-day management and creative direction to our clients at Rolen Group and works closely with me to find new ways to grow the business.

When growing a company, one must always think five steps ahead, and for me hiring a team was one of the first steps I knew I had to do when the time was right. To me the word “I” can only get you so far, but the word “we” has the power to change the world.

Based on your experience, can you share 5 pieces of advice about how one can develop Grit? (Please share a story or example for each)

Know the value of time. Life is too short to give your time to the wrong people. Learn to say “no” and protect your time when you’re not happy. When you’re in a job, relationship or situation that isn’t furthering you, re-evaluate the situation and think about if it’s mutual or why you’re still showing up. Each time I felt I wasn’t getting what I deserved from my job, I would address those feelings and start looking for new opportunities where I knew my time would be valued. By staying in one place, you’re not going backwards, but you’re certainly not going forward. When you reach the end of a road, find a new road, don’t stay on the road you’re on just because you know it well. Time is the most valuable asset that we have in life and we must learn to treat it that way.

React not out of emotion, but with logic. When I was let go, I didn’t think “why me?” and start attacking others or come from an emotional place, I listened, took constructive feedback and thanked my previous employers for taking a chance on me. I finished all the tasks that were assigned to me with integrity and left knowing I gave my very best.

Character over everything. No matter what situation you’re in, how you handle yourself is reflective of your character. I’ve had former clients of mine that would consistently not pay me, and come up with excuses, time after time. Instead of me exposing them or threatening them to get paid, I let them go. If it takes more energy out of you to fight something then to keep it, it’s not worth having it in your life. You’re not going to always get what you want or even deserve out of every situation, but knowing you did what’s right for you allows you to make peace out of a situation and move on so you can focus your time and energy on situations that are meant for you and mirror the character you’ve built.

Keep on keeping on. Being rejected, let go from opportunities, and told “no” multiple times is what I needed to hear to become better and further develop my craft. Oftentimes, rejection is a blessing, it puts things into perspective and pushes us to come back to the table with a product of nothing short of amazing once we’ve taken the time to develop our original concept and find another way of looking at it. The best thing to do when times get tough is to keep on going, the more you put yourself out there, the more opportunities will present themselves to you.

Take your ego out of the equation. Once you’ve learned to silence your ego, so much can be accomplished. It’s not about being the smartest person in the room and taking all the credit, it’s about collaboration, and learning to accomplish things as a team where everyone has the chance to contribute to something and help take something to the next level. When working with my colleagues, our clients and our partners, there are times I don’t come up with the idea that we end up running with, but I’m still just as invested in it and use my resources to support the idea in whatever ways I can. In the end we are a team and it’s about taking great and making it amazing together, no matter who is taking the lead.

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 you when things were tough? Can you share a story about that?

I learned a lot from my first boss, who became an integral part of my career- Sir Ian Ralfini (he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II). When we were working together, he was the President of EMI, Blue Note and Manhattan Records. Prior to that, Ian was the President of Warner UK.

Ian’s a successful music executive and visionary that helped sign and develop acts such as Fleetwood Mac, Rod Stewart and The Faces. He also A&R’d The Grateful Dead, Rolling Stones, Jimmy Buffett, Led Zeppelin, Neil Young and Tom Petty. He got to learn from influential people like Frank Sinatra, listen to songs being played live from Charlie Chaplin, and attend dinners with members of The Beatles. He took me under his wing and not only taught me about the business, but also taught me how to treat people. One of the many things he taught me that sticks with me to do this day, is that people live through experiences, and if you can create a meaningful experience that others can connect to, you’ll be successful. Music is an experience in itself and people listen to it to experience a feeling. No matter how many years pass, you’ll always remember where you were standing or how you felt when you first heard a song that changed your life.

There were many instances Ian had my back through tough times, but through my layoffs and being let go, no matter how busy he was, he was always the first person to open his rolodex and make introductions and vouch for me. I’ve made some life-long friends and partners from the people he introduced me to that have shaped my life to this day. It’s very rare that presidents of companies willingly mentor and guide those who are just starting out. He taught me the fundamental principle of what I’ve built my business off of-follow through and reliability. Ian changed my life by taking a chance on me, a timid girl (at the time) in a black and purple dress, who walked into his corner office facing Fifth Avenue on a summer afternoon in July in 2010, the rest is history, and I’ll never forget it.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I believe in paying it forward. I enjoy guest lecturing at colleges and sharing knowledge with others who seek it. Every semester at Rolen Group we take on an intern and provide them with tools and resources to support us on special projects; it’s rewarding to watch them grow and be a part of their journey. Outside of that I’m involved in a few music non-for-profits and try and give back as much as I can.

I enjoy sharing my “glass is half full” philosophy with those who are willing to listen and show them that with hard work, dedication and mastering of their craft, anything is possible. I’d like to give back more as I continue to grow and find charities and larger music organizations that I can lend my time and resources to.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I can’t disclose all the details, but a handful of priority artist song releases and brand campaigns are slated to roll out early next year for our roster that we’re really excited about.

Outside of that, I’ve been doing more partnerships in entertainment that revolve around content and experiences, partnering with merchandise, media and production companies and investing in other startups in that space. I’m constantly reading articles and keeping my finger on the pulse for all things music, content and entertainment.

Content is the bridge between creators and brands and a lot of creators use it as an outlet for expression. I don’t see that changing anytime soon and if anything, I see it expanding in the next year more than ever, leading to even more outlets for content to be distributed and voices to be heard.

What advice would you give to other executives or founders to help their employees to thrive?

Create an environment where your employees have a voice and feel as if their opinion matters. To me, productivity isn’t measured by hours worked, it’s measured by outcome. If an employee feels valued they’ll invest in their job and take pride in what they do and it’ll show in the work they produce.

I’ve learned if an employee feels like a prisoner in their work environment, they’ll be looking for ways to escape. If an employee feels free in their work environment, they’ll be looking for ways to stay and create more opportunities for themselves and their company and want to grow in the place they’re in.

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? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I’ve always had this idea that if every one of us who wanted to instill goodness in the world identified three go-getters they work with regularly, who are exceptional, reliable, and living out their dreams, and take the time to introduce those three people to three similarly minded go-getters they work with regularly, imagine how much could be accomplished by bringing like minds together.

Most movements in life that have impacted others on a larger scale were started by communities of people who came together to share their resources and help other people, by connecting go-getters with other go-getters, so much good could be borne from the those who are already making so much happen.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Be fearless in the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire.” — Jennifer Lee

I’ve learned that fear doesn’t exist in places my soul leads me to.

When the force that drives you is greater than yourself, nothing will stop you from obtaining what’s meant to be yours. Fear not my friends 🙂

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Instagram: @aurorapfeiffer and @rolengroup

Twitter: @auroraj and @rolengroup


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