Devotion — you just have to loveit. There’s nothing to replace that passion and commitment. I firmly believe we should all be doing the thing we love in some capacity or another, and to go into the journey of being a founder for anything you don’t love isn’t worth it in my opinion. That’s not to say you won’t find “success”, I think a lot of times you may, but when you reach that place you my find it’s not where you really wanted to be if it’s not something you love. I know that was the case for me.
As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sarah Parsons.
Sarah Parsons is an American Businesswoman and creative entrepreneur. She is the Founder of Sarah Parsons Media, a public relations and media arts company specializing in bringing a holistic, transparent, and story-based approach to public relations for artists and creatives.
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?
Absolutely! Our stories are one of the most important things to share.
As with many, I arrived at founding my own business in a very roundabout way. I started as an actor studying at the college level by the age of 15 and then continued my studies at CALARTS in Southern California. Once I landed in LA, I realized very quickly that simply showing up on set as only an actor wasn’t going to be enough to satiate my desire to tell and share stories that truly matter. I wanted to be more involved in the whole process.
This began a nearly decade-long period of trying different things outside of that industry. I went out and tried my hand at all different kinds of skills not taught in a traditional university setting. I became a yoga teacher, graphic designer, virtual assistant, online business manager — just to name a few.
When I look back at that period of my life now, what felt aimless at the time was actually an important stage of seeking. This helped me to uncover a deeper understanding of myself and how I could do something more than simply be an actor and why that wasn’t enough for my personal creativity.
One of the positions during this time was in PR, once I was working in this space I quickly realized, “Oh, this is something complimentary and a completely different kind of storytelling” I could see right away that public and media relations is an industry that crosses all kinds of organizations and art forms and is constantly changing and evolving how we share stories. I’m very lit up by that unique exchange between the teller of the story and the listener because I believe each iteration of telling a story is a unique moment in time shared between these two people (potentially strangers) and that in and of itself creates a new story.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
It’s always difficult to assign value to an individual instance because they’re all so intrinsically tied together, especially in an industry like Public Relations.
So, I guess if I had to pick one thing that has really stood out to me since founding Sarah Parsons Media it would be the incredibly giving and connected aspect I’ve been honored to witness and be a part of in the release of the film “Night, Mother” on Twitch.
From celebrities to beloved Twitch streamers, mental health organizations, and even legendary artists — the giving spirit in the name of this project and the message behind it has been inspiring to behold. It truly speaks to the power that stories have in bringing us together and the unlimited potential they hold to connect and even heal.
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?
I think the most ironic (though not always funny) part of being a founder is that you very quickly realize the image you had in your head of what you thought this journey would look like or the person you thought you had to be is so far from accurate it’s laughable.
I remember when I first started working in PR everyone was always dazzled (sometimes they still are!), but the truth is that founding a PR and media company has been much less Samantha Jones-esc than I thought it would be. While it was difficult to let go of those expectations at first, once I did it allowed me to appreciate and be more present in my personal journey and really tap into what founding a company looks like for me.
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 are SO many people, in fact, I would argue almost everyone in my life has helped me to get to where I am right now in some way or another. However, there are a few standouts I can’t imagine being at this point in my journey without, namely: Elby Gilbert and Sheila Houlahan. Both of these women are incredibly generous and fearless creatives that have held the space for me to express and realize myself in a way that was non-judgmental and honest, and it absolutely encouraged me to make Sarah Parsons Media a reality.
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?
I think we’re currently in this unique in-between time, where on one hand there are these record setting numbers to be celebrated, but on the other hand they are still incredibly low. So, it’s up to us to translate that information appropriately and take encouragement from the positive trend we see in the steady rise of more female founders and continue taking up more space without asking for permission to do so.
When I look back now, I see countless times in my own experience where the only thing that was holding me back was my desire or need for external permission. That’s not to say there weren’t tangible obstacles, there absolutely were and will always be. Not to mention the over-hyped fear of failure, but I think the societal expectation for women to ask, “Am I allowed to do is?”, “Am I taking up too much space?” is something we’re still very much dismantling — even within ourselves.
I think the sooner each woman can start empowering herself and the women around her with full permission to go after and create whatever we want, the sooner we’ll see these numbers rise — because everything else becomes so much easier when you have your own permission.
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?
Absolutely! The process of giving ourselves permission is an inside job. While it’s tempting to think about the outside “stuff” of business, especially when we’re getting started (which is 100% necessary) it’s made that much harder when we’re having this internal battle around permission.
The main thing I found that helps re-write this need for outside permission that we can do both for ourselves and our fellow femmes when it comes to holding ourselves back or seeking that validation is: call it out.
Yes, literally call out the thought or feeling of hesitation. Get curious and bring it into question — what would you gain by getting this outside permission? Where is the need coming from? And most importantly, do this from a loving place — it can be tough love sometimes, that’s okay, but other times we just need to validate our own need for that outside validation that in actuality we don’t need and probably won’t ever get and that’s okay too — as long as we don’t let it stop us.
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?
Being the “founder” of something is an incredibly unique and profound experience; mainly because it fundamentally re-writes in your very bones what you believe is possible. When you step into founding something you truly believe in, you are daring to peek behind the curtain of “Well that’s just the way it’s done” and say, “I think we can do it differently… and maybe even better”
This is not to say everything we start will be a screaming success, but rather I think it helps us understand and redefine what success is. For me, I’ve come to see all my trial and errors as unequivocal successes, because if it pushes the inner limits of what I think I’m capable of and how I carry myself through life then it was absolutely worth it.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?
That you have to be “chosen” to do this. We have all sorts of ways of denoting whether someone is chosen or not, right? Ivy League schools, beauty standards, fame, wealth — you name it — but the more stories I see and read about, the more I understand just how incredibly talented each of us is. We just have to choose ourselves first.
Everything won’t always magically fall into place when we choose ourselves, but to be a founder of any kind requires you to step into yourself in a very visible and vulnerable way and when you can do that honestly and without any kind of presentation then you’ve already “won”.
I think the other myth I’d like to dispel is the “tough” woman trope. There’s this narrative that being a successful woman (in business especially) you have to be this cold, calculating, unkind shell of yourself. All I can say is that this outdated trope is so one-dimensional it shouldn’t still be part of the conversation, but sadly it still is. Are women founders tough? Yes absolutely, but we also get to define what that means and looks like for each of us.
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?
While founding something is a very special and often arduous task, I think the beauty of this process lies in that we can “found” exactly the thing we want. There’s really no limit.
In this respect I would say absolutely we can all be founders of something in some regard or another and it’s up to each of us how far we want to take that journey. I also think it’s important to mention there’s nothing wrong or lesser than about having a “regular job” it’s just a matter of finding what suits you in where you’re looking to go and aiming to create in life.
When it comes to traits that are helpful on this type of journey, I think a good sense of humor is a gravely underrepresented skill that’s a serious sanity saver when stepping into the role of “founder”. Being able to roll with the punches and take the work but not yourself too seriously is a real skill that has been unbelievably helpful in my own journey.
Additionally, listening. Being a founder or leader is often portrayed as being the one with all the answers who’s often dominating the conversation in a certain space, however in my personal experience I’ve benefitted infinitely more by simply listening to others to really hear them rather than just to respond. It’s absolutely one of the key traits I attribute my “success” to, and I think the world would benefit from a lot more listeners right now.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, What are the “Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder?” (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Quiet time — whether it be traditional meditation, a routine walk, simply sitting quietly in nature, or exercising alone I’ve found that having mandatory time to reflect and be with yourself every day is essential for maintaining creativity, solving difficult problems, and staying grounded. I take walks daily on top of exercising every morning and without fail, if I’m feeling “stuck” in any way, I always come back to the issue with a new perspective or solution as a result of the time I spent with myself.
- Boundaries — it may seem surprising to see boundaries on a list for success as a founder. When I look back at my own journey, I can see how easily things became confused because I lacked firm work boundaries. When it comes to being a founder, having firm boundaries in place around working hours, business practices, values, and pricing (just to name a few) will ease and expedite the daily decisions you have to make.
- Your people — finding your people, your honest to goodness group of fellow go-getters doing their own thing makes all the difference in the world. Being the founder of something can be lonely and isolating at times because it’s your vision. However, a community of fellow visioneers to share these times with makes it infinitely better when times are tough and equally when they’re going great. They’ll remind you why this journey is worth it, offer comparable experiences and perspectives, and ideally, you’ll celebrate one another throughout the process.
- Stay stoic — Stoicism recently has gotten its long overdue boost in popularity thanks to writers such as Ryan Holiday and I have to say I can see why. Being able to envision outcomes (even the worst possible ones) and resolutions without getting overly attached is a skill that has allowed me to step into executive roles and found Sarah Parsons Media.
- Devotion — you just have to love it. There’s nothing to replace that passion and commitment. I firmly believe we should all be doing the thing we love in some capacity or another, and to go into the journey of being a founder for anything you don’t love isn’t worth it in my opinion. That’s not to say you won’t find “success”, I think a lot of times you may, but when you reach that place you my find it’s not where you really wanted to be if it’s not something you love. I know that was the case for me.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
My hope and mission for Sarah Parsons Media over the years is to become a guiding source of authentic, inspiring, and unique stories and storytellers that truly connects meaningful messages, missions, and creativity to others.
In a more immediate and tangible way, I’ve made it a mission to include a new charity for ongoing donations each time the company meets or surpasses a goal. I believe that as we grow and expand it’s our duty to improve the world around us and the lives of those in it.
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.
Similar to what I had mentioned prior, the thing that drives me in all I do and why I’m so incredibly invested in telling stories creatively and from a PR perspective is the desire to create deeper, more meaningful human connections.
If anything, the mission I would really love to be a part of is one that would create a space and outlet for deeper understanding within ourselves and between one another based on sharing our stories.
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.
Brene Brown, without a doubt. To connect with her one on one would be incredible, her work and the stories she’s shared as part of that have really inspired me expand and connect on a more authentic level personally and in my business. I think she’s such a boss.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.