What will you need to sacrifice to make this dream a reality? When starting a business, you need to understand what you are giving up and be okay with that. Set your expectations so it’s not a shock when it happens. Will you sacrifice time? Will you need to sacrifice financially? Get specific. Since we took the approach to not seek seed money or raise capital, bootstrapping the company instead. I knew from the beginning I would need to delay our retirement –and I was okay with that decision.
As a part of our series about strong women leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Maria Grimm.
Maria is the founder and CEO of Relly, a marketing subscription service for small businesses. She is also the Chief Marketing Strategist for Grimm Collective, a marketing consulting firm.
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?
My path has been quite interesting! After a few failed attempts at discovering what I wanted to do in college, I finally landed on pursuing a Marketing degree while also majoring in Finance. I’m creative at heart with a passion for data, therefore marketing — especially in the digital age — was the perfect combination to flex both of those muscles.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I was approached to help book Snoop Dogg for an intimate show at a local restaurant/bar. The catch was I had to accomplish it in three weeks. I had to secure sponsors, sell tickets, produce the show and coordinate arrangements with the celebrity himself — and ended up accomplishing it all and it was a HUGE success. We sold out the show in less than 24 hours and the owner was so happy with the turnout, he decided to make this an annual event. Plus, I won major brownie points with my husband because he got to meet Snoop, and I got Snoop to sign my daughter’s book, “A-B to Jay Z” — a children’s book that teaches the alphabet using famous rappers.
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?
Well, it’s not the funniest … but it certainly made an impression. It was hiring the wrong person for a job. The biggest lesson for me was learning to find people who are a cultural fit, rather than hiring someone based on experience and ability alone. I also learned the importance of being clear about expectations from the very beginning — a move that would have helped me sidestep a mis-hire and would have saved my business time and money. I think any leader can learn –and improve from a negative experience.
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?
There truly are so many people I could name! You know the saying “behind every man is a great woman”? Well, behind every business founder is a long list of people who helped them. From my parents who watch my daughter during the day and my husband who comes home early so I can squeeze in more hours. To my business partners who take my ideas and make them better and my friends and family members who support me through constant encouragement. So, I guess I could sum it up by saying “behind every founder is a great village.” And without them it would be impossible to achieve success.
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?
For me, it was figuring out how to balance being a mother and running a successful company. I think as mothers, we are in a constant state of thinking about our children — worrying about their health, happiness and safety and, not to mention, worrying if we are being good moms or not. This can take up a lot of mental space. Parenting worries aside, another challenge is taking something from an idea to a marketable product or service. There are a lot of things that go into creating a company, causing you to operate with fewer resources, like capital and time. For some women, myself included, adding these new stress levels could be a factor in determining if they want to launch their own company.
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?
First and foremost, the world needs to stop promoting that success looks one way. Each person needs to define what success looks like to them. Our culture promotes that hustling 24/7 and only multi-million-dollar brands are a success. But what about the woman who created a company that generates 250,000 dollars a year that she is wildly excited about? Why aren’t we sharing those stories?
For example, success for me looks like running a company that provides great value to my customers but still provides me the freedom to spend time with my family — whether it generates 500,000 dollars or 5 million dollars. For someone else, it could be building a billion-dollar empire. Both of these scenarios will require varying levels of time commitment and dedication. If you determine what success looks like first, it will make all the difference and guide your actions in everything else you do.
Secondly, free education and resources are a necessity for startups. Knowledge is the currency of the future. However, knowledge often costs a lot of money or is not easily accessible. It would be great if there was a government-funded program that’s for women, made by women. It could offer free playbooks on how to start a company, find funding, get access to mentors and more.
We as a society need to make entry into entrepreneurism less cumbersome. There are so many things to know when starting a company — let’s make it easier to know them.
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?
Empathy. We have an innate ability to connect to human emotions on a deeper level and we understand problems from an emotional point of view, in addition to having logic and reason. This can be beneficial for many reasons, such as: connecting with consumer needs on a deeper level, having a greater appreciation for the work-life balance, understanding how our product and/or service creates better outcomes for the end-user, not just our bottom line, and more.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder. Can you explain what you mean?
That we have it all figured out. Trust me when I say this: we don’t. A lot of trial and error is happening along the way when creating and running a company, along with a lot of mistakes or missteps. One thing I’ve had to learn is that it is better to just get started than to wait until you have it all figured out.
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 a founder you can’t be afraid of failing. If you aren’t okay with putting something out into the world and it not being a success, then don’t become an entrepreneur. Secondly, be okay with instability and taking chances. There will be a lot of ups and downs. People often talk about the entrepreneurial spirit, but what does that mean? I think it is having a thirst for the process of building something and making it better and better. Did I fail 1,000 times or did I try 1,000 times?
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.)
- What will you need to sacrifice to make this dream a reality?
When starting a business, you need to understand what you are giving up and be okay with that. Set your expectations so it’s not a shock when it happens. Will you sacrifice time? Will you need to sacrifice financially? Get specific. Since we took the approach to not seek seed money or raise capital, bootstrapping the company instead. I knew from the beginning I would need to delay our retirement –and I was okay with that decision.
2. Make sure everyone who is on the team is clear about the direction.
When you are launching a company, things move fast. This includes conversations, ideas, execution and more. If you are not clear about what the ultimate outcome needs to be and what each person’s role is in the process, things can go awry pretty quick. Whenever someone on the team was upset or frustrated, it always came down to the expectations not being clear.
3. You will make mistakes. And it’s okay.
I contracted the wrong person without truly vetting them and it turned out they were not a good fit, which cost me a lot of tears and money. While I learned a lot through that process, it could have saved me time, money and headaches if I had been better prepared when I was hiring.
4. Lean on others. Ask for help.
I tend to be a person who likes to take on a lot of things. However, I’ve learned that it is of great value to lean on others and ask for help. We can’t be 100% at everything. For instance, I knew that in order to create a great product I needed the right partners to link arms with. Our company is better because of our collective experience.
5. Read more leadership books.
There are a lot of great leaders who have written some incredible books and I wish I would have read them prior to building my companies. Take the time to read books that cover areas you feel you are not as strong in. For me, those areas would have been human resources and operations. So, a book like Traction would have been smart to read before jumping in with both feet.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
For me, my household and my companies, we give away 10% of our profits. That giving tends to focus on local organizations and non-profits, but in 2020 it went to a lot of small businesses and individuals who lost their jobs, like waitstaff, or to families in need. We don’t have strict guidelines on who we give to, just that what we give and that it needs to make someone’s day better.
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.
The 10% Pledge. Companies commit to giving away 10% of their profits to organizations that are important to their employees and customers. Companies don’t succeed without these two groups, so it’s only fitting that those people would get to choose where those funds would go.
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.
Sara Blakely. She is my ultimate female founder icon and I would love to pick her brain. Not only did she create a great product that empowers women, she hustled hard when everyone told her no. And now, she gives back so much! With her red backpack fund and commitment to helping women-owned businesses in 2020, she gave away 5 million dollars. Of course, as a founder, we always seize an opportunity. So, I would also love to drink wine and share good news stories on the internet with Hoda from the Today Show.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.