Businesses founded by women have been found to generate higher revenue on average — more than twice as much per dollar invested — than those founded by men, making women-owned companies much smarter investments for financial backing.
Women are more likely to collaborate in the workplace, enabling them to leverage the thoughts and expertise of others in the industry. This accelerates business growth and expansion.
Women are more adept at time management and juggling multiple priorities — especially those women who are juggling the needs of their family with the needs of their businesses.
As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Marla Isackson.
Marla Isackson is a seasoned marketing executive with over 25 years’ experience creating innovative marketing campaigns for world-famous brands including Citibank, American Express, Barnes & Noble, and WebMD. A longtime passionate supporter of women’s initiatives, Marla is creating a new movement for women in podcasting. She is the founder of Ossa (https://ossacollective.com/), a podcast network and two-sided marketplace with over 1000 podcasts, connecting women-hosted podcasts and women-focused brands in order to increase the representation and influence of women’s voices worldwide.
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?
I am the Founder and CEO of Ossa Collective — a women’s podcast network on a mission to increase the reach, impact and earning power of women’s voices on a global scale. We run a two-sided marketplace of over 1,000 podcasts that connects women-hosted podcasts and women-focused brands.
Prior to Ossa, I built a women’s empowerment network called Like A Boss Girls to a following of over 1.2 million people.
In my earlier career, I worked as a corporate marketing executive. I have over 25 years of experience creating innovative marketing campaigns for world-famous brands like Citibank, American Express, Barnes & Noble, andWebMD. I wanted to create a home base for women entrepreneurs, social activists, leaders and go-getters — the type of resource that I wished I’d had access to in the early days of my career. Much of the work I did at Like A Boss Girls carried over to Ossa when I made the transition in 2018.
During my time at American Express, I managed a marketing budget of 200 million dollars and led a team that generated over 2 billion dollars in revenue. We developed the concept for the Blue Card and I led the consumer direct marketing launch. It was one of the most successful product launches to date for American Express. During the dot-com boom, I left American Express for a position at WebMD. I was SVP of Marketing during their initial launch period and worked on brand amplification initiatives.
Although my experiences at these companies were positive overall, I grew very tired of the politics, bureaucracy, and both implicit and explicit gender bias that I dealt with on a daily basis.
I decided that I wanted to become an entrepreneur and put my energy into helping women achieve their business dreams and pursue their passions.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I can’t believe that I’ve become the CEO of a tech platform, working in an industry I hardly knew about just a few short years ago. At the beginning of 2018, I was still running Like A Boss Girls, but I started to realize that we were outgrowing the type of community I’d built. Society and culture had evolved, and the type of content that people were interested in consuming had started to trend in a new direction.
Like A Boss Girls had centered around our blog and Facebook, and that was no longer the best way to reach people. I saw incredible potential in the future of the podcast industry. Although the term “podcasting” was coined in 2004, podcasting didn’t become mainstream until after 2014, around the same time that the podcast Serial was released. According to Edison Research, the number of monthly podcast listeners in America nearly doubled in the five years after 2014, from around 39 million Americans to an estimated 90 million. I decided that I needed to take advantage of the growing prominence of the podcasting industry, but I was concerned about my lack of experience at the time.
I’m also still floored that I ever got up the courage to start my own podcast. I’ve never been someone who seeks out being in the spotlight. I launched my podcast, Mind of a Mentor, right as we were starting to transition from Like A Boss Girls to Ossa. When I go back and listen to my earlier episodes, I can hear the nerves in my voice. I was so self-conscious about my performance that my voice sounded robotic and unnatural. However, by Episode 11, I started to hit my stride. I realized that I was having a lot of fun. I am very inquisitive by nature so having the permission to ask my guests a lot of questions is pretty awesome.
All of this has taught me not to make assumptions about what I can or can’t do.
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?
In the prior iteration of Ossa, called Like a Boss Girls, we hosted post-work IRL panel discussions and networking events for millennial women. A few days before one of our events, we had to scramble and find a new venue due to some logistical issues with our first space. My team was able to secure a large but still budget-friendly space in a photography loft in the garment district in Manhattan but were told by the loft owner that we had a hard stop at 8PM. No problem. We rented tables and tablecloths and ordered some crudites and cheese platters and we were very pleased that the event drew a nice crowd.
About halfway through, my son came back from the bathroom in the hall and beckoned me over. I poked my head outside — the participants in the next event were here early and, let’s just say, they were not here for an 8pm panel event. I didn’t have to look too carefully to tell that the men and women standing on either side of the hall were not wearing very much under their jackets. I had a minor panic attack because everyone leaving our event would have to push their way through the hallway — but I didn’t have to worry, because right as the panel ended and we were clearing out, the group walked right in and started rearranging the furniture and…taking off their jackets. I’m sure our guests either didn’t care or thought it was a cool and edgy end to a fun event, but I was flustered and freaked out. As we were leaving I leftover crudites and cheese platters to this new group because what event would not be better with a crudite platter?
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?
My motto is: “I’m only as good as the people I surround myself with”. Ossa’s Editor-in-Chief Meredith Reed, our Director of Business Development Lori Lefcourt, and my dear friend and mentor Anne Kavanagh always provide me with great advice and counsel. They are the women in my life who always inspire me to “go big”.
Additionally, my daughter is my muse. She was the inspiration behind my decision to launch a network dedicated to helping young women achieve their personal and professional goals. When she first became a teenager, I was frustrated to discover that so many resources targeted at her demographic centered around topics like celebrities, fashion, and beauty instead of giving real career advice and offering professional, highly-accomplished female role models. I wanted to provide content to inspire and educate this target audience.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
I have always been attracted to books that have a positive impact on my way of thinking about entrepreneurship, creativity and work-life balance. Books written by entrepreneurial authors like Seth Godin and Gary Vaynerchuk have been valuable in helping me develop growth strategies for my business. Essentialism by Greg McKeown is another book in this category that I found to be incredibly informative. As an entrepreneur, evaluating potential new initiatives or programs always leads me to ask myself if I am doing enough or whether or not I am doing the right thing. This book helped me to reframe my way of thinking — doing more is not always better. The key is to distill down your to-do list and focus on doing the essential initiatives that will make the most impact.
Additionally, as an entrepreneur I have experienced many highs and lows building my businesses. A key factor to success is having the ability to handle any type of issue and solve problems calmly and dispassionately. I believe that the classic children’s book The Little Engine That Could provides great insight into the power of positive thinking. I read this book to my kids when they were very young countless times and the theme continues to resonate with me. By changing the mindset from “I think I can” to “I know I can”, the Little Engine was able to overcome challenges. Channeling the Little Engine, it enables me to use the mantra “I know I can” when I’m faced with obstacles in my path.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work? .
Developing an approach to help work through daily challenges and achieve a positive mindset, I adopted a mantra coined by the very successful business coach Marie Forleo: “Everything is Figureoutable”. When confronting challenges or issues, I approach problem solving with this quote and this mantra guides me as I work towards achieving clarity and resolution.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I am driven every day by my desire to help women find confidence in their story. Podcasting is a powerful tool that I believe can be used to raise women’s voices on a global scale. However, like many industries, women currently are underrepresented in the world of podcasting. Only 27% of podcasts are hosted by women, and women hosts are behind just 20% of podcasts on the top charts.
Ossa is committed to helping women in podcasting to build meaningful connections, grow their career, and make more money. Our ad booking platform helps connect women with ad placement and sponsorship for their content. Rather than focusing on big-name influencers and celebrities like many other podcast networks, Ossa is focused on supporting the “every woman” — a wide variety of nano-and-micro-influencers with small-to-medium niche podcast audiences. Podcasting provides a unique opportunity for women to discover and amplify their voices and to champion the people, topics, and causes they care about most.
Can you share with our readers what you are doing to help empower women to become founders?
Our core mission at Ossa is to increase the visibility, influence and earning power of women in the podcast industry. Podcasting can help more women become successful founders because it is a tool for increasing a woman’s earning potential. The workplace as we know it was created predominantly by men, so it’s not a surprise that it doesn’t always fit the needs of women. Podcasting offers the flexibility and remote access that women need in order to find compatibility with a multitasking lifestyle. Podcasts can also be used to amplify existing product-or-service-based businesses. This gives women entrepreneurs another tool for building a brand that can support more women becoming founders.
This might be intuitive to you but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?
- Businesses founded by women have been found to generate higher revenue on average — more than twice as much per dollar invested — than those founded by men, making women-owned companies much smarter investments for financial backing.
- Women are more likely to collaborate in the workplace, enabling them to leverage the thoughts and expertise of others in the industry. This accelerates business growth and expansion.
- Women are more adept at time management and juggling multiple priorities — especially those women who are juggling the needs of their family with the needs of their businesses.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Can you please share 5 things that can be done or should be done to help empower more women to become founders? If you can, please share an example or story for each.
- Support young women leaders. It is important to help women develop their leadership skills early on and encourage them to participate in school and extracurricular activities. Leadership roles in the student council and service organizations can help encourage and support the leadership mindset. I am on the board of the local Community Chest organization, which supports the needs of my community. We instituted the Young Women’s Leadership Award for high school students that encourages young women to be involved as community leaders, both now and in the future.
- Participation in women’s leadership and entrepreneurship organizations. Organizations like these offer support, visibility and valuable connections that can help women achieve their personal and professional goals. I belong to one such incredibly supportive organization, Dreamers & Doers, founded by Gesche Haas. The advice and guidance I receive from this organization is invaluable! I want to encourage women founders to find the organization that will best meet their needs.
- Women mentors. I hope that successful women founders will continuously seek out opportunities to mentor up-and-coming women founders. In addition to providing support and guidance on a wide range of business topics, women mentors can provide valuable insights as to how to navigate and succeed in industries that may be male-dominated.
- Investment capital. Private tech companies, according to the Kauffman Foundation, led by women achieve 35% higher ROI on average versus their male counterparts, but somehow women founders in 2020 received only 2.3% of venture capital funding. This is dismal — especially considering that about 40% of U.S. businesses are women-owned. Unfortunately, when seeking investment dollars, I still know of many examples when investors showed preference for companies that included at least one male co-founder. Women founders are still subjected to implicit bias or questioned about their commitment to building their company, especially women with children.
- Nurture entrepreneurship from a young age. In addition to supporting leadership opportunities for young women, it is also important to encourage young women to consider entrepreneurship. Support your daughter’s desire to start her lemonade stand, for example. We’ve talked to teen entrepreneurs who are building businesses reflecting their hobbies and interests in a very wide range of industries. Additionally, many of these businesses are mission driven supporting non profits and community organizations.
Additionally it is so important to support women-founded startup businesses. Showing your support for women entrepreneurs on social media or through your conversations is important, but it shouldn’t stop there. Part of true empowerment is financial freedom, so it’s important to support women entrepreneurs through your purchasing decisions.
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.
As a society, we are confronted with many forms of inequality and bias. We need to do so much better in supporting people who are disenfranchised. Ossa is committed to raising awareness about inequality and amplifying the voices of those who deserve to have their stories and perspectives heard. I want to encourage people to seek out lesser-known podcasts rather than only looking at those at the top of the charts.
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.
I would love to connect with Mika Brzezinski ( MSNBC).
Ossa’s core mission to increase the visibility, influence and earning power of women in the podcast industry and The work Mika is doing with her Your Value movement really inspires and resonates with me. I would love to get her insights as to how we can continue to leverage Ossa to reach and elevate underrepresented voices on a global scale.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.