It is so important to attract the right people as clients and colleagues for the ecosystem I am trying to build. As a leader you need the best talent and getting the right people on the team is key to being successful.
Paige Arnof-Fenn is the founder & CEO of global marketing and branding firm Mavens & Moguls based in Cambridge, MA. Her clients include Microsoft, Virgin, The New York Times Company, Colgate, venture-backed startups as well as non profit organizations. She graduated from Stanford University and Harvard Business School. Paige is a popular speaker and columnist who has written for Entrepreneur and Forbes.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
I joke that I am the accidental entrepreneur. I always wanted to go work for a global business and be a Fortune 500 CEO. When I was a student I looked at leaders like Meg Whitman & Ursula Burns as my role models. I started Mavens & Moguls after beginning my career on Wall Street in the 80s and having a successful career in Corporate America at companies like Procter & Gamble and Coca-Cola and then working at three different startups as the head of marketing. All three startups had positive exits. I took the leap right after 9/11 when the company I worked for cut their marketing. I had nothing to lose. Running a global marketing business provides me a platform to do work I truly enjoy with and for people I respect. I get to set my priorities, I have time to travel and hang out with my inner circle, and work out every day. It has been a journey to get here but I am lucky to have found it. I love the autonomy, flexibility and the fact that I know every day the impact that I have on my business. When I worked at big companies I always felt the ball would roll with or without me, that if I got hit by a bus someone new would be in my office right away. Now my DNA is in everything we do and I can trace every decision and sale to something I did or a decision I made and that is incredibly gratifying and fulfilling. Like most entrepreneurs, I am working harder and longer than ever and I have never been happier. Working for yourself and building a business you started is incredibly rewarding and gratifying. It has been a lot of fun. I joke that I am the accidental entrepreneur.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
There are 2 stories that come to mind…#1 our name really sets us apart I think. When I started the firm I jokingly referred to the women as the marketing mavens and the guys as the marketing moguls. For short I called them Mavens & Moguls as a working name but never expected it would stick. I did research over e-mail with prospective clients, referrers, media, etc. & tested ~100 names. Mavens & Moguls was one choice on the list and to my great delight and surprise it came out as a clear winner. It has helped us be memorable and stand out from the pack. Because I have a hyphenated last name, half the battle is for clients to be able to find you when they need your help. I have had clients tell me they could not remember anything other than my first name & one word of my company so they googled Paige & Mavens and we popped right up. I was at an event one day and a venture capitalist started waving in my direction and shouted “Hi Maven!” across the crowd, everyone looked my way and we ended up getting introduced to a portfolio company that hired us! Names contribute to your brand and in our case I think it has been a major plus. Maven is Yiddish for expert and a Mogul is someone of rank, power or distinction in a specified area. I like the alliteration and I think it sets us apart from other consulting firms. It shows a little personality & attitude and implies we do not take ourselves too seriously. Would you rather hire “Strategic Marketing Solutions” or Mavens & Moguls? We are the “not your father’s Oldsmobile” of marketing firms. If nothing else our name is a great conversation starter and getting into a conversation is all it takes to open a door. The 2nd story happened in the first few years of my business I had pitched a CEO about a month before I ran into her at a networking event where she was the keynote speaker and her topic was about being a woman leader in a traditionally male-dominated business. I had followed up after sending my proposal several times via e-mail and voice mail but the CEO never returned any of my messages or even acknowledged receipt of the proposal requested. You can imagine my shock when she announced at this event as part of her speech that she believes it is important to put your money where your mouth is and for women CEOs to support other respected & well-run women’s businesses and that is why she has hired my firm to handle all her company’s marketing & PR! Everyone congratulated me after, it was a better endorsement than the New York Times because she was very well known and had the reputation of being very tough with high standards so I got a LOT of business from people in the room that night because they thought if I was able to impress her I must be very good 😉
What was your biggest challenge to date either personally or professionally and how did you overcome it?
Getting rid of bad clients and weak team members is critical but tough to do. I fired a client in my first year of business and it was absolutely the right decision! On a personal level the guy was a jerk who never paid on time and was rude to my team who was doing great work for him. He was mean, unappreciative and had terrible manners. I am from the South and expect people to behave with common decency. He hired us to do PR for his firm and I realized if we could get great press for a guy like him then people who knew him & knew how difficult he was might want to hire us too to help them thinking “hey these PR people must be really good and I’m not as nasty as this guy so imagine what they could do for me!” I did not want to attract other bad clients so even though he signed a 1 year contract I ended it after 3 months. It sent a signal to my team that the money was not worth an unappreciative client who was a jerk and treated us poorly. We replaced the income and more within a month with a much better client. I have never looked back. It is so important to attract the right people as clients and colleagues for the ecosystem I am trying to build. As a leader you need the best talent and getting the right people on the team is key to being successful. It is hard to admit that the people you start with are not always the ones who grow with you. The hardest lesson I had to learn when I started my company was not getting rid of weak people earlier than I did in the first few years of my business. I spent more time managing them than finding new customers. I knew in my gut they were not up to snuff but out of loyalty to them I let them hang around much longer than they should have. It would have been better for everyone to let them go as soon as the signs were there. They became more insecure and threatened as we grew which was not productive for the team. As soon as I let them go the culture got stronger and the bar higher. “A” team people like to be surrounded by other stars. It is true that you should hire slowly and fire quickly. I did not make that mistake again later on so learned it well the first time. I wish I had known it even earlier though but lesson learned for sure!
What does leadership mean to you and how do you best inspire others to lead?
I believe in leadership by example.Optics matter and culture counts, as the leader you have to set the tone for your group and you better walk the talk because all eyes are on you. Your team is not just listening to what you say but also watching what you do and how you respond/react. When we say we have a no jerks policy we really mean it. Life is too short to work with or for jerks. When it is your business it is up to you. The best leaders have a vision and can inspire others to reach beyond what they even think is possible. They are able to bring the team together and create opportunities where the whole is bigger than the sum of its parts and everyone contributes to play a part in the successful outcome.
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?
I have had great mentors and champions throughout my career. In my corporate life I had bosses, senior women or alums from my alma mater who took me under their wings to help me advance and show me the ropes. As a small business owner mentors can also be invaluable sources of inspiration, advice, encouragement and can help you avoid rookie mistakes (with hiring, fundraising, etc.) when you are starting out. They can also make key introductions so that you avoid getting burned by service providers or potential investors who have mixed reputations. I have seen several situations where a lot of time and money could have been wasted but was not. Expectations have to be managed; for me I had mentors who I counted on for tough love and others to help me expand my footprint and elevate my profile in the community. Mentors have different strengths and connections that can help. I think everyone even established entrepreneurs can benefit from strong mentoring. The world is always changing and we can all learn new things along the way.
Was it difficult to fit your life into your business/career and how did you do that?
My friends became colleagues and my colleagues became friends; many became clients too so now we all work together and it is a lot of fun. I have built a platform to do work I love with people I enjoy and respect so I am able to bring my whole self to work everyday. I made it a priority to create an ecosystem that works for me to do my best work. It was not always this way in my career when I worked for others but that is a huge benefit to starting a company. Now it all fits together well!
Did you find that as your success grew it became more difficult to focus on the other areas of your life?
For the first 5 years after I started my company I was scared to go on vacation for fear all my hard work would unravel. Then my in-laws, father, mom and stepdad all started to get sick and I wanted to be there for them. They all lived thousands of miles away so I started to work less. After years of decline they each died about 6 months apart and I became executrix, which is like having another job at times. So I had to take very good care of myself or I would not have been helpful to anyone else. I started working out every day. I started planning me time on my calendar. I became more comfortable with white space in my day and stopped over scheduling myself. And guess what? My business did not suffer, in fact it has become stronger. We moved up the food chain and have better clients. I do not think I could ever go back. I am so much happier and more productive as an entrepreneur than I ever was working for others. It is all about controlling your calendar. I no longer try to squeeze in more meetings or hit multiple events at night. As an entrepreneur, I can be selective. Less really is more. I’ve chosen quality over quantity. It sounds trivial but it is true. I created a platform to do work I enjoy and feel energized by. I feel I have found my purpose because I used to work all the time and life was passing me by. I got raises and promotions but I was all work and no play and I did not feel fulfilled. Since starting my business I have joined boards and volunteered at several organizations. I am a mentor to the next generation of leaders and have helped build a very successful anti-bullying program that >80,000 middle school aged kids have gone through. As a marketing consultant I am able to write articles, contribute to books and speak at events to share my experience and lessons learned. As my success has grown I think it has made my life easier actually. I have more and better opportunities to choose from now. It is great to see the hard work pay off.
Can you share five pieces of advice to other leaders about how to achieve the best balance between work and personal life?
If I do not feel good I am not going to be at my peak performance level for my team or my clients. With technology and social media we are always on today 24/7. All work and no play is just not a sustainable option. To be more productive I try to find creative ways to multi task that incorporates work and exercise. When I worked at large companies they had gyms at the office or groups who walked at lunch but when you are an entrepreneur you have to get creative to find balance. Instead of meeting up with your local colleagues at a coffee shop, over a meal or chatting with them on the phone, meet them for a walk so you can catch up while you are getting some exercise too. You’ll feel great after, the time will fly & it will be a fun activity to share. It works with customers too, I have clients who play golf so sometimes we meet at a driving range instead of the office to discuss things especially when you are trying to think outside the box. A change in venue is always nice and you feel so much better when you are moving and not trapped behind your desk. The other tips I like to incorporate are taking public transportation when possible, parking at the far end of the lot and walking as well as taking the stairs instead of the elevator, it adds up to a lot of extra steps and movement if you do it every day. As an entrepreneur, having white space or “me time” is not a luxury or pampering like it was in my youth, now it is maintenance! I recommend allocating time on the calendar and take yourself as seriously as you take your most important clients because if I am not at my peak performance I am not going to be useful to anyone else either. I will set aside regular time to recharge my batteries and take better care of myself so that mentally and physically I will be sharp and in the best health possible to set myself up for success. Even if you do not have time for a big vacation, sometimes a long weekend away, a walk outside in fresh air mid day or a trip to the museum or local gallery can be a nice break to hit the refresh button in pinch. Mini-breaks and short vacations can be effective ways to avoid burnout and stay refreshed.
What gives you the greatest sense of accomplishment and pride?
I love the feeling of a job well done, working hard towards a goal that is achieved or exceeded through hard work and collaboration. I am so proud of the business I have built and the team I have assembled that has helped our clients find the right words and pictures to tell their stories in compelling ways. I am proud to have built a life that gives me so much joy and allows me to have impact in communities I care about.
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’d try to start a kindness movement to counterbalance what we see in Washington and all over the media today. I grew up in the South and people were generally nice, respectful, kind, and friendly. I do not believe life or business is a zero sum game. We do not have to divide up the pie — we can work together to bake more pies so there is enough to go around. I think the people around the world in the center want peace and we need find ways to bring the extremists back into the fold but it is going to take people from all walks of life to band together to make it happen. There really is more in common across cultures when you realize everyone wants the best for their family and community so we should all be putting our energy into building stronger foundations and ecosystems that will help us all.
Rabbi Jacob Rupp is an author, coach, and speaker. For more information, please see his website www.liftyourlegacy.live