Leaders can help their team thrive by creating a culture in which it’s okay to make decisions. In order to move fast, you need to remove all possible bottlenecks. Especially when you’re growing from 2 people to 5 to 10 to 30, it’s a critical time to evaluate what decisions are a “make or break” and which aren’t. That way your team can make decisions for you and things move along faster.
As a part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Natalie Ellis, BossBabe Co-Founder and Co-CEO. At just 27-years-old, Natalie is one of the creators and strategist behind BossBabe, one of the fastest growing online communities of ambitious women. With a global online community of over 1.3 Million women, its mission is to inspire and support women to turn their dreams into a reality through building successful businesses. Natalie is a self-made success story specializing in social strategy to scale your business in community growth and revenue rapidly and effectively. Through curated online courses, mentorship programs, in-person events, Natalie has built BossBabe into a multi-million dollar business in a matter of just three years. Natalie has worked with academic institutions and government organizations to advise on young entrepreneurship, as well as winning over 11 national awards for her work in the space. Natalie’s passion lies in empowering and supporting women to have the confidence and skills to build and run successful businesses. Based in Los Angeles, Natalie is also the voice behind the new BossBabe Podcast with BossBabe Co-Founder Danielle Canty, where the two share a behind the scenes look at building a successful business and learning how to balance it all.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I started my first business when I was 13. I’ve always had an entrepreneurial drive from a very young age, even when it seemed like nobody in my network shared that drive. One thing I realized very quickly that this journey could be so incredibly lonely — no one seemed to understand what I was doing. Fast forward a few years upon graduation, I had to make a decision. Accept a great graduate job offer or set up a company. I took the leap into the unknown, something most people advised against. That’s when I started my first product-based company with zero marketing budget.
I discovered that Instagram was a free tool to market your products. Within months, I was able to ship to over 60 countries, a little while later I was in over 200 stores in the UK. From there, I got into BossBabe. BossBabe was simply started as an account on Instagram sharing sassy, ambitious quotes — something no one was doing at the time! We’ve been able to scale it rapidly and continue to be one of the fastest growing online communities of ambitious women.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Since I’ve began leading BossBabe, the most interesting thing that’s happened to me was hiring my first employee. Going from doing everything yourself to hiring others to help build the company is hard. We spent months trying to find the right person without any luck. One day, we decided to get super clear in our application form. We put together which characteristics and skills our “dream colleague” would have. Not only were we looking for someone who was extremely tech-savvy, this person would also need to feel as passionate about helping women as we are. The second we put this out, we found that exact person.
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?
Earlier this year, we launched The BossBabe Podcast. We approached it the same way we tackle everything. Let’s just commit to it and figure out how to do it later. The easy part was finding guests, but trying to work the tech was quite something. We ended up spending thousands of dollars on equipment that we didn’t actually need and had no idea how to use. Sometimes we would be doing sound checks moments before our guests arrived, but eventually we got it right.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We read and answer all of our DMs ourselves and it’s perceived as a key success metric. On any given time of day, we have hundreds of unanswered messages of people who shared our quotes in their Instagram Stories or tell us how much our online course helped their business. We make it a priority to answer them with a personal message.
Another way we stand out is through viral content and original quotes. We share 4 Instagram posts every day and we’re serious about that. We don’t outsource our quotes. The entire BossBabe team commits to writing them. From our CEO to our Customer Support team to our Executive Assistant, anyone can write a quote for the brand. When we write these, we put ourselves in the shoes of a Boss Babe and ask ourselves what she would want to hear on that day.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We’ve got a few new things up our sleeves that are too early to announce. In the meantime, we’re really focused on sharing high-quality information in our podcast. The exciting part is that we cover business & personal health and it helps towards our larger vision of changing how business is done. To give you an example, we recently did a podcast about using your menstrual cycle to perform well in business and we got so many reviews. We’re always looking for that connection between your personal & business life.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
Leaders can help their team thrive by creating a culture in which it’s okay to:
● Push back and ask if it’s a priority. In a startup, everything can feel like a fire drill. Everything can feel like a priority. And when the CEO asks you to do something, you may feel nervous to push back. Allow that space to push back and ask if that task is a priority or can be done later
● Make decisions. In order to move fast, you need to remove all possible bottlenecks. Especially when you’re growing from 2 people to 5 to 10 to 30, it’s a critical time to evaluate what decisions are a “make or break” and which aren’t. That way your team can make decisions for you and things move along faster
● Be vulnerable. Not only about your technical skills, but also how you’re doing that day. Make sure people can be fully transparent with you. If they know it’s okay to tell you they don’t know how to resolve a certain project, you can step in and offer support. Let them know it’s okay to let their guard down about how your personal life is affecting their work that day. Lead by example and your team will match that. It creates a healthy and trusting culture.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
The first thing to understand is that every person has a different personality and work style. Some people like to receive feedback in a direct way, others require a bit more care. For some Slack works well, others prefer a quick voice note on Whatsapp. When someone new joins, the first thing you’ll want to do is listen.
The best way to manage a large team is to hire good talent. If you hire outstanding people, your job as a manager becomes 10 times easier. When hiring, don’t only look for someone who can do the job at hand, understand how their skill set fits into the company now and in 2 years from now. You’ll want to hire someone who can hit the ground running, is proactive and self-driven. I’ve learned a lot from our Head of Marketing, Kay Snels, who manages our entire sales and marketing team. Hiring someone who can clear your calendar from the get-go and execute at such a high level is a game changer.
Once you’ve hired that rockstar team, management is all about trust and offering support. We trust that everyone is an expert in their field. We want them to make their own decisions. We check in to understand how we can remove blockers, make their jobs easier, and foster collaboration. We don’t claim to be experts in management, but we’re vulnerable enough to ask others for feedback about how we’re doing.
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?
Honestly, I’d have to say my co-founder / co-CEO Danielle. After doing business as a team together, I can’t ever imagine doing it alone. Having someone who is always there to listen, support and strategize is invaluable. The fact that I also get to work alongside my best friend also makes everything way more fun.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I love that the success of our business is directly correlated to the impact we are having in the world. To be encouraging and supporting millions of women daily feels incredible. I am where I am because I was inspired as an 11 year old, by a female entrepreneur at our school career day. I want to be that woman for other women.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. To lead, you also need to know when to follow.
Finding that balance between leading and following is key. As a company, you won’t always agree on everything. As a leader, often you’re the one making the final decision if you’re not gaining any consensus. But most times, you need to let your team lead you and trust their decisions.
2. Leadership is about inspiring others, not directing them to do something.
Most of us can relate to that feeling of being micromanaged. Nobody wants it. It’s a lose-lose for both parties. As a leader, it’s your job to inspire others with your vision. To get everyone excited about a new product or a lofty sales target. It’s not your job to tell them exactly how to get there. Leadership is about inspiring and supporting your team and trust that they will know how to get the company there.
3. Anyone can lead, regardless of their actual title.
This one may sound like a broken record. We’ve all heard this before. But it’s true. If you’re making informed decisions, guess what? You’re leading. Others are following whatever rule, process, playbook you initially created. And that’s leadership to us.
4. Leadership is hard and not everyone enjoys it.
Leadership, and people management in particular is hard. Everyone in your team has different expectations, work styles, and personalities. If you don’t enjoy managing people, hire someone who does. Building a strong culture where people feel supported is important. A lot of people want to become a CEO because it sounds fancy, but realize they might not enjoy management. Do what will set your team up for success.
5. You won’t always make the right decision as a leader. That’s okay.
Often, as a leader you need to make decisions without a clear idea of whether it’s right for the company in the long-term. Make decisions anyway. Know that you’ll be wrong sometimes, but at least you’re moving forward.
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. 🙂
We want to change the way business is done. People glorify a “hustle” culture, whether in a corporate role climbing the ladder or as an entrepreneur. They claim that the more successful you are, the more it affects your personal life. It’s one or the other. We want to change that. We want to help people reach their own version of success. We want to inspire people to work smart, so they can have a social life, a successful business, and feel happy.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“The thing is… your opinions don’t pay my bills.”
With more people than ever creating online courses, it’s important to only take advice from people who have walked the walk successfully… with data backing it all up. When you do anything in life, many people will give you unsolicited advice, don’t let it paralyze you. Keep doing you and take advice from successful mentors.
Some of the biggest 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! I feel like she’s the definition of a BossBabe and I’m so inspired by who she is.
Thanks for all of these great insights!