Mandy Gilbert of Creative Niche: “Women make incredible leaders”

Women make incredible leaders. We build sustainable businesses. We listen, are open to feedback, drive collaboration, and learn from our mistakes. We are also intuitive; we genuinely care about our staff and their well-being and feel it’s important to grow and develop them in their careers. And of course, we’re resilient and resourceful. These are […]

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Women make incredible leaders. We build sustainable businesses. We listen, are open to feedback, drive collaboration, and learn from our mistakes. We are also intuitive; we genuinely care about our staff and their well-being and feel it’s important to grow and develop them in their careers. And of course, we’re resilient and resourceful. These are all characteristics leaders need to become successful and build great businesses.

As a part of our series about strong women leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mandy Gilbert, author of Just Go With It: How To Navigate the Ups and Downs of Entrepreneurship. She is also a speaker, investor, founder and chief executive of Creative Niche, a company that provides creative staffing and workforce management solutions to multinational corporations as well as major advertising, digital and public relations agencies. Mandy has been recognized as the United Nations Global Accelerator and completed the Entrepreneurial Masters Program at MIT. She is the proud mom of two busy boys, Isaac and Sam.

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?

When I was in my mid-twenties, I stepped away from my lucrative role to start my own business. I had no money, no contacts, and no idea what I was doing. But I did have two things: grit and passion. I wanted to create a company that did things differently. Where culture was more important than the bottom line, philanthropy was a core value, and people took precedent. Now Creative Niche, my staffing and recruitment firm, has been in business for nearly 20 years, has placed thousands of great talent in amazing jobs, and earns millions of dollars in annual revenue.

My most recent project was also one of my most challenging, and that was writing my first book, Just Go With It. It took me nearly three years to write, but it’s been incredibly rewarding to put everything I learned to paper. My hope is that it helps fellow entrepreneurs and leaders learn from my mistakes and know that they have someone who understands the challenges they’re facing (or about to!).

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

Funny you ask because writing my book made me revisit so many interesting, embarrassing, and hilarious moments throughout my career. It’s really hard to choose just one, but what comes to mind is that no matter what country, company, or role, everyone wants the same characteristic out of employees and employers: integrity. We want to work with honest people and work for honest businesses. From Amsterdam to Toronto, people with integrity are how we build great teams and great companies.

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?

Two days after giving birth to my first son, I was back at the office. I was completely unprepared and unaware of how demanding newborns are, and foolishly thought I could easily manage the same role while getting barely any sleep and tending to this little human. At the time it didn’t seem very funny, but now I look back and shake my head. What was I thinking?!

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?

It’s really impossible for me to just choose one person because the reason I am where I am today is because of the friends, family, mentors, colleagues, and employees who have enriched my life in so many ways. I’ve been extremely fortunate to work with incredible people, especially those in my EO (Entrepreneurs Organization) and YPO (Young Presidents Organization) groups. They’ve been there through the ups and downs, and always offered sound advice.

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?

There are a number of things holding women back from entrepreneurship. A lack of confidence and self-esteem can scare anyone into second-guessing themselves. Women often undervalue their knowledge and capabilities, when in reality, we just need to believe in ourselves and take the leap.

The second issue is because, as you mentioned, we don’t see enough women leading funded companies. If we don’t see enough examples out there, then we don’t believe it’s possible to do it ourselves.

Another issue is personal obligations. Once we get married and have kids, it’s a lot harder to put our finances on the line to fund a business idea. In addition, we’re also raising kids, which limits our time and attention to pursue and lead a business.

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?

Great question! I’m actually launching a new platform this Fall to help budding and fellow entrepreneurs learn the skills they need to affordably grow their business. I’m starting this because I’ve seen too many great people feel stunted and overwhelmed by all of the decisions they have to make, and not knowing what to do or where to turn. Plus if you have limited funds, particularly when you’re bootstrapping, it makes it all the more challenging.

It takes up to two years and 100,000 dollars to earn your MBA. This amount of time and money isn’t feasible to the majority of the entrepreneurs out there. In addition, business loans are incredibly hard to get, especially when you’re first starting out (and need the money!). Therefore, I think there needs to be more support and affordable resources to develop our future employers.

That being said, organizations like the Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network (DWEN) have created an incredible community of over 68,000 women. Michael Dell is truly an innovator and was interested in female entrepreneurship before it was trendy or newsworthy. He started DWEN when he didn’t have to and invested a lot of money before anyone else was to help incredible women build their businesses. This platform is free for anyone to sign-up. We need more organizations like this to step up and do their part in supporting women entrepreneurs.

In addition, I think it’s important that women mentor other women. I currently mentor eight amazing females who are building and leading great businesses. When you’re in the position to offer mentorship, it’s really important to give back.

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?

Women make incredible leaders. We build sustainable businesses. We listen, are open to feedback, drive collaboration, and learn from our mistakes. We are also intuitive; we genuinely care about our staff and their well-being and feel it’s important to grow and develop them in their careers. And of course, we’re resilient and resourceful. These are all characteristics leaders need to become successful and build great businesses.

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

Some common myths about being a founder are:

Myth #1: “You’ve made it”.

A great entrepreneur never stops. You’re always looking at the future of your business and staying one step ahead. Being complacent is a bad sign. True entrepreneurs never rest or stop dreaming.

Myth #2: There’s not a lot of stress.

Stress and entrepreneurship truly go hand-in-hand. It’s a big responsibility to run a company and employ people who rely on you to make a living. You never know what you’ll have to navigate — whether it’s your top talent resigning or a global pandemic.

Myth #3: “You’ll make tons of money and barely have to work because your employees will run the business for you.”

My first year in my business I made myself 17,000 dollars. My second I made 32,000 dollars. For years I paid my employees way more money and way more vacation than myself. When times get tough, I’m the first one who takes a pay cut. You have to make sacrifices in order to keep the business afloat.

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?

To be an entrepreneur, you don’t have to be the top of your class, graduate from Harvard, or have an MBA. You don’t even have to know what your long-term plans are. You just need to get started. Taking the leap is the hardest and most difficult part, because everyone has ideas, but very few actually put them into action.

In my experience, entrepreneurs have grit. You’re going to face a lot of challenges. Some will be what you expect, like losing clients or having a hard quarter. But others may blindside you, like laying off employees or struggling to pay the bills. Things are going to happen that are out of your control, so entrepreneurs have to be diligent, resilient, and creative. They have to be able to pivot when there’s an economic turndown or things just aren’t going their way.

If you’re cringing at the thought of having to deal with these kinds of challenges, then you can still have a very fulfilling and successful career as an employee rather than an entrepreneur. There are definitely pros to being employed rather than being the employer!

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

1.When things are good, take some time for yourself. During those periods when nothing is keeping you up at night — your team is great, your sales are great — look back and acknowledge it. Take some time for you, indulge yourself in a ‘you’ day. Because when things get hard, it’s really exhausting and really demanding.

2. Hire great people and trust them early from the get-go. Don’t try and go ‘cheap’ with talent. It will end up costing you a lot more in the long run.

3. What outcomes do you want? Many entrepreneurs aren’t planning for their future. They don’t have a trust or will set-up, so get your financials in place. We tend to take care of our employees and clients, but make time to take care of yourself financially and plan for the future.

4. Take risks. Try things and fail; it helps you innovate and iterate. Without failure, we don’t have growth, both personally or professionally.

4. Have fun! Let your personality shine-free and be yourself. Have fun with your team and company. This will not only be your unique edge, but it will also make your day-to-day a lot more enjoyable and fulfilling.

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

Philanthropy is a big part of why I do what I do. I’m a Board Member for The Remix Project, a non-profit that helps level the playing field for young people from marginalized and underserved communities. Our programs serve youth who are trying to enter into the creative industries and further their formal education.

In addition, my company, Creative Niche, has donated millions of dollars over the years in both services and monetary donations to start-ups, students, and entrepreneurs.

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.

I would inspire meaningful mentorship. Being a mentor doesn’t mean you’re telling people what to do and soliciting advice. Instead, it’s storytelling. It’s being there for someone. Otherwise, you’re robbing them of their own confidence and judgment.

If we could all just lend an ear, we’ll be doing our part to empower our future leaders. Have a genuine interest in helping people and their journey, and it will start a wave of future female entrepreneurs and leaders.

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.

Kamala Harris. Her story is incredible. She’s real, she’s polished. I never miss her speeches because I find she’s just so engaging, intelligent, and herself. Plus you can tell has a really fun side to her. She would have fascinating stories about obstacles she’s had to overcome and how she’s been able to consistently succeed in whatever she does.

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

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