Being a founder, entrepreneur, or a business owner can have many exciting and thrilling moments. But it is also punctuated with periods of doubt, slump, and anxiety. So how does one successfully and healthily ride the highs and lows of Entrepreneurship? In this series, called “How To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur” we are talking to successful entrepreneurs who can share stories from their experience. I had the pleasure of interviewing of Paige Arnof-Fenn
Paige is the founder & CEO of global marketing and digital branding firm Mavens & Moguls based in Cambridge, MA. Her clients include Microsoft, Virgin, venture-backed startups as well as non profit organizations. She graduated from Stanford University and Harvard Business School. She is a popular speaker and columnist who has written for Entrepreneur and Forbes.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Paige Arnof-Fenn: I did not plan on starting a company. I always wanted to go work for a large multi-national business and be a Fortune 500 CEO. When I was a student I looked at leaders like Meg Whitman & Ursula Burns as my role models. I started my career on Wall Street in the 80s and had a successful career in Corporate America at companies like Procter & Gamble and Coca-Cola and worked at 3 different startups as the head of marketing. All 3 startups had positive exits. I was always the person trying to bend, break or change the rules in my corporate jobs so the startup world was a good fit for me.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
Paige Arnof-Fenn: I took the leap into entrepreneurship right after 9/11 when the company I worked for cut their marketing. I had nothing to lose. Being an entrepreneur provides me a platform to do work I truly enjoy with and for people I respect. I get to set my priorities, pre-Covid I had time to travel and hang out with my inner circle, and I work out every day. It has been a journey to get here but I am lucky to have found it. I love the autonomy, flexibility and the fact that I know every day the impact that I have on my business. When I worked at big companies I always felt the ball would roll with or without me, that if I got hit by a bus someone new would be in my office right away. Now my DNA is in everything we do and I can trace every decision and sale to something I did or a decision I made and that is incredibly gratifying and fulfilling. Like most entrepreneurs, I am working harder and longer than ever and I have never been happier. Working for yourself and building a business you started in incredibly rewarding and gratifying. It has been a lot of fun, I joke that I am the accidental entrepreneur. I knew I had made it as an entrepreneur when Harvard wrote 2 case studies on my business a few years after I started it, we were very early to pioneer sharing resources on the marketing front (before my company it was really only done with HR, legal and accounting/finance).
In your opinion, were you a natural born entrepreneur or did you develop that aptitude later on? Can you explain what you mean?
Paige Arnof-Fenn: I think both ways are paths to being an entrepreneur. There are successful entrepreneurs like Michael Dell and Mark Zuckerberg who were clearly born that way but the majority of entrepreneurs like me I think get into it after working for others earlier in their careers. Looking back I am guessing the ones who are made can see signs of being entrepreneurial in their previous lives so maybe there is a little part of it you are born with but the rest can be cultivated when you get inspired by the right idea.
Was there somebody in your life who inspired or helped you to start your journey with your business? Can you share a story with us?
Paige Arnof-Fenn: I have been so fortunate to have great mentors, champions and role models throughout my career including former bosses, my father, senior women in organizations where I worked but the person who has always encouraged and supported me as an entrepreneur and has my back every day is my husband. He started a company too so understands the journey of an entrepreneur and has been my sanity check and thinking partner every step of the way. He is both a cheerleader and butt kicker depending on the situation and I trust his judgment and advice because I know he always has my best interests in mind. I am very fortunate to have him in my corner.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Paige Arnof-Fenn: Our name really sets us apart I think For my company when I started the firm I jokingly referred to the women as the Marketing Mavens & the guys as the Marketing Moguls & for short I called them Mavens & Moguls as a working name but never expected it would stick. I did research over e-mail with prospective clients, referrers, media, etc & tested ~100 names. Mavens & Moguls was one choice on the list & to my great delight & surprise it came out as a clear winner. It has helped us be memorable and stand out from the pack. Because I have a hyphenated last name half the battle is for clients to be able to find you when they need your help. I have had clients tell me they could not remember anything other than my first name & one word of my company so they googled Paige & Mavens and we popped right up. I was at an event one day and a venture capitalist started waving in my direction and shouted “hi Maven!” across the crowd, everyone looked my way and we ended up getting introduced to a portfolio company that hired us! Names contribute to your brand and in our case I think it has been a major plus. Maven is Yiddish for expert and a Mogul is someone of rank, power or distinction in a specified area. I like the alliteration and I think it sets us apart from other consulting firms. It shows a little personality & attitude and implies we do not take ourselves too seriously. Would you rather hire “Strategic Marketing Solutions” or Mavens & Moguls? We are the “not your father’s Oldsmobile” of marketing firms. If nothing else our name is a great conversation starter and getting into a conversation is all it takes to open a door.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
Paige Arnof-Fenn: Being a good communicator is really important for an entrepreneur to succeed. Whether you are focusing on fundraising, hiring, promoting or scaling, you need to be able to communicate effectively with investors, employees, the media, and partners or the idea will die in your head. Being able to share your story is critical to spreading the word and turning your dream and vision into reality. Communication goes both ways so learn to talk and listen for best results. In my experience the most important traits for successful entrepreneurs are:
- Excellent communicator — able to rally the troops and keep them on the critical path
- Strong moral compass — you cannot compromise on ethics and values
- Smarts — technically competent and they work hard to earn the respect of their team
- Bonus — great sense humor and fun to work with
Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?
Paige Arnof-Fenn: I always tell my clients that “there is no such thing as bad PR” is bad advice because there are a lot of ways you can dilute or damage your brand equity. Stay on message and on strategy for best results. It can take a lot of time, effort and money to try to course correct after the fact but once things are released/posted online social media can take on a life of its own and the information can live on the web forever.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them create a work culture in which employees thrive and do not “burn out” or get overwhelmed?
Paige Arnof-Fenn: Like most small business owners and entrepreneurs there are never enough hours in the day to fit everything in so when something has to give it is usually time I have allocated for myself to exercise or just relax. A mentor once told me and I have come to appreciate and realize is that to stay sane and be successful “me time” is not a luxury or pampering, it is maintenance! The mentor shared that respecting my time on the calendar and taking myself as seriously as I take my most important clients is the least I can do for self care because if I am not at my peak performance I am not going to be useful to anyone else either, specifically I have encouraged my team to:
Give yourself permission to say no. Whether it means sleeping in (no to an alarm clock), meditating, taking a walk, or just turning off my phone and computer (no I will respond later on my own schedule), simple acts of letting myself relax and enjoy the moment are the very best gifts I can give myself. You can fill a calendar to stay busy but what matters most is having impact on people’s lives and that has nothing to do with volume of activity, it is about touching people in meaningful ways which may mean being less busy not more.
Disconnect from technology periodically and focus on cultivating human, face to face relationships (when not social distancing). Even meeting for virtual coffee or drinks can accomplish so much more than e-mail exchanges, social media posts, etc. and it is a great way to get to know people better, their interests, hobbies, and dreams. I have found that building relationships is what drives my business and technology supports them once they are solidified. Technology helps advance the conversation but it will never replace the human interaction that builds trust over time. I used get out of the office 3-5 days a week which was a great way to stay connected, shake up my routine and get going before the virus hit.
Taking breaks with exercise — I do something active every day to stay healthy and break up my day.
Practice gratitude — I am so grateful I can work productively in my home office now with no commute.
As an entrepreneur it is easy to get overwhelmed. Staying healthy for me is about finding ways to unwind and relax as part of my day. It is about balance. I am a big fan of Tai Chi, but I also do Qigong, massage, acupuncture, knitting, reading, hanging out with friends, and watching TV to de-stress. I started learning Tai Chi >15 years ago and have gotten progressively addicted over the years. I now know the choreography of 2 different forms and I absolutely love it. It is a way to both relax and focus. I even guest teach when the regular backup cannot be there. I have met great people, it has helped my balance, improved my bone density and helped calm my mind. I just love it. I even wrote an article on it for Entrepreneur magazine a few years ago.
What would you advise other business leaders to do in order to build trust, credibility, and Authority in their industry?
Paige Arnof-Fenn: Whether you are B2B or B2C every business is P2P and connecting on a personal level is what matters most. Successful business leaders understand their product or service is about more than the transaction, they are in the relationship business. In my experience people buy products & services from people they know, like and trust so your website, advertising, etc. should look and sound like your organization and the brand you have built. Whether yours is polished or more informal, chatty or academic, humorous or snarky, it is a way for your organization’s personality to come through. Everyone is not going to like you or hire you but for the ones who would be a great fit for you make sure they feel and keep a connection and give them a reason to remember you so that when they need your help they think of you first. Trust grows when you have consistent messaging and deliver on your promises to build a strong relationship that is based on your value proposition not on price. It is easy for customers to get distracted by promotions, advertising, etc. Brand loyalty does not require big budgets but it does take time. Authenticity is the key, it has to be and feel real for it to work I think. This has helped me grow my business. Customers may switch but if they have a great experience and relationship with your brand you can win them back by staying in communication. Show them they are loved/missed. It is a smart investment to get this right.
Can you help articulate why doing that is essential today?
Paige Arnof-Fenn: CRM tools are only as effective as the relationships you have built. As we move to a more remote/virtual world trust becomes an even more important currency to getting things done. Building trust will determine your success so lack of trust will be a huge obstacle I think after the lockdown ends. I predict the most trusted leaders and brands will have a big competitive advantage in the new normal that evolves in a post-Corona world. Employees, customers and clients will remember who treated them well during the crisis and they will be rewarded with loyalty from earning that trust during the bad times. The current crisis has provided a stage for our political and business leaders to rise to the occasion. Maybe the silver lining is that this crisis reminds us that we have always needed each other and we have learned that everyone is struggling right now to find a new normal so the key is to show our humanity and compassion while we look out for one another. With Zoom, social media, cell phones, etc. we see that technology does not have to be isolating it can be used to build our real world communities and relationships too!
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
Paige Arnof-Fenn: My biggest mistake was that the people you start with are not always the ones who grow with you. The hardest lesson I learned when I started my company is not getting rid of weak people earlier than I did in the first few years of my business. I spent more time managing them than finding new customers. Out of loyalty to them I let them hang around much longer than they should have. They became more insecure/threatened as we grew which was not productive for the team. As soon as I let them go the culture got stronger and the bar higher. “A” team people like to be surrounded by other stars so hire slowly and fire quickly. I did not make that mistake again later on so learned it well the first time. I wish I had known it even earlier though but lesson learned for sure!
I also recommend NOT spending money on things like fancy brochures, letterhead, business cards, etc. Until you know your business is launched I would say to put your budget into things that help fill your pipeline with customers. Getting your URL and a website up and running is key. I created online stationery for proposals and invoices, ordered my cards online and made downloadable materials as leave behinds for people looking for more information to help me find clients more quickly. I know other business owners who spent thousands of dollars on these things and found it was a waste of money. Your story will evolve as you find your market, you need to look professional and have a web site to be taken seriously but embossed paper with watermarks and heavy card stock is not going to accelerate your sales cycle. Find those reference customers quickly, use them to get testimonials and referrals. There is plenty of time later to dress things up!
Ok fantastic. Thank you for those excellent insights, Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview about How to Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur. The journey of an entrepreneur is never easy, and is filled with challenges, failures, setbacks, as well as joys, thrills and celebrations. This might be intuitive, but I think it will be very useful to specifically articulate it. Can you describe to our readers why no matter how successful you are as an entrepreneur, you will always have fairly dramatic highs and lows? Particularly, can you help explain why this is different from someone with a “regular job”?
Paige Arnof-Fenn: As an entrepreneur there are many ups and downs but most would agree that the excitement and joy of bringing your idea to life is incredibly fulfilling and dealing with the bumps in the road is just part of the adventure. To stay motivated during the rough times I try to maintain perspective by taking good care of myself, getting exercise, seeing friends and family and reminding myself that I can always go back to work for others but when I open the file with all the notes and kudos I have gotten from customers and colleagues with praise and encouragement along with sincere thanks for helping them or making a difference through my business it is just the kick in the pants I need to keep going. Start a file with cards, notes, e-mails, etc. and dust it off when you are down so that you can be reminded of not just who you are and what you do but why you do it. That always works for me!
Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually high and excited as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.
Paige Arnof-Fenn: In the first few years of my business I had pitched a CEO about a month before I ran into her at a networking event where she was the keynote speaker and her topic was about being a woman leader in a traditionally male-dominated business. I had followed up after sending my proposal several times via e-mail and voice mail but the CEO never returned any of my messages or even acknowledged receipt of the proposal requested. You can imagine my shock when she announced at this event as part of her speech that she believes it is important to put your money where your mouth is and for women CEOs to support other respected & well-run women’s businesses and that is why she has hired my firm to handle all her company’s marketing & PR! Everyone congratulated me after, it was a better endorsement than the New York Times because she was very well known and had the reputation of being very tough with high standards so I got a LOT of business from people in the room that night because they thought if I was able to impress her I must be very good 😉 To think I almost did not even show up maybe seeing me there is what prompted her to pull the trigger and hire us? I sold more business in the month that followed than l ever had since starting my company so we really began to scale quickly at that point and got a lot of referrals as a result! It was a big day in our history for sure.
Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually low, and vulnerable as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.
Paige Arnof-Fenn: For the first 5 years of my company I was scared to go on vacation for fear all my hard work would unravel. Then my world changed when my in-laws, father, mom and stepdad all started to get sick and I wanted to be there for them. They all lived thousands of miles away so I started to work less. After years of decline they each died about 6 months apart (7 people in 6 years) and I became executrix which is like having another job at times.
Based on your experience can you tell us what you did to bounce back?
Paige Arnof-Fenn: I had to take very good care of myself or I would not have been helpful to anyone else. I started taking myself as seriously as my best clients by working out every day and planning me time on my calendar. I became more comfortable with white space in my day and stopped over scheduling myself. And guess what? My business did not suffer, in fact it has become stronger. We moved up the food chain and have better clients.
Through something bad came something good. I do not think I could ever go back. I am so much happier and more productive as an entrepreneur than I ever was working for others. It is all about controlling your calendar. I no longer try to squeeze in more meetings or hit multiple events at night (pre-Covid). As an entrepreneur, I can be selective. Less really is more. I’ve chosen quality over quantity. It sounds trivial but it is true. I created a platform to do work I enjoy and feel energized by. I feel I have found my purpose because I used to work all the time and life was passing me by. I got raises and promotions but I was all work and no play and I did not feel fulfilled. Since starting my business I have joined boards and volunteered at several organizations. I am a mentor to the next generation of leaders and have helped build a very successful anti-bullying program that >100,000 middle school aged kids have gone through. As a marketing consultant I am able to write articles, contribute to books and speak at events to share my experience and lessons learned.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Five Things You Need To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur”? Please share a story or an example for each.
Paige Arnof-Fenn: The key is creating an ecosystem – friend, partner, family, mentor, coach, mastermind group, etc. to give you support and a thinking partner/tribe to help navigate challenges along the way especially when you are first staring out. I have had great champions throughout my career. As an entrepreneur these people and trusted networks can also be invaluable sources of inspiration, advice, encouragement and can help you avoid rookie mistakes. There are times when you need cheerleaders, butt kickers, people who can be counted on for tough love and others to help expand your footprint and elevate your profile in the community. Accountability is so important as an entrepreneur. Having friends and family to keep you grounded and humble is critical too, it is easy to lose perspective when you are launching a new business. Entrepreneurship can be consuming if you aren’t careful. In my experience things are rarely as good or bad as they seem and it takes a village to launch and grow a successful business.
We are living during challenging times and resilience is critical during times like these. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
Paige Arnof-Fenn: Resilience is about finding creative ways to adapt and move forward despite obstacles. Covid has definitely made me and my business more resilient. We have learned that pivoting to online meetings, webinars, etc. is a smart and productive way companies like ours can continue to have conversations that educate and inform, build relationships and move forward during this crisis period. So first and foremost I have learned to help small businesses to be flexible and open minded so we can keep working together during the crisis and create more flexible capacity going forward over the next year as the economy reopens. Resilient people are persistent, determined, and focused. Those are the traits that make the biggest difference between success and failure I think because the road is always bumpy and you know you will have to overcome obstacles along the way. You get knocked around often so you have to be able to keep getting back up and trying again with enthusiasm and energy. A lot of people tell you no (investors, board, customers, etc.) so you have to be driven, focused and learn to say no to distractions you cannot pursue every opportunity so be selective and concentrate on only those ideas with the greatest potential say no to everything else, be intensely curious and always be looking for the next way to make something better, be a good listener to customers, critics, feedback, the market and your team to show respect for great talent and ideas, and there has never been a more important time to provide accurate, empathetic communication with transparency, truthfulness and timeliness. With these traits they attract the best people so increase the odds to recover and succeed.
Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Would you mind sharing a story?
Paige Arnof-Fenn: I was raised to be responsible, honest, hard working, and confident all great qualities for an entrepreneur. Both my grandfathers were successful entrepreneurs, neither had a college degree and only one graduated from high school. My dad took a more traditional corporate path, my mom stayed at home and I had always assumed I would. go into business (vs law or medicine) and follow in my dad’s footsteps. After college I took a series of corporate jobs and got an MBA like my father but by my early 30s I knew I had more of the entrepreneurial gene in me so I took the leap and started my company. My parents always supported me to challenge the status quo and question authority when I had done my homework and could make a strong case which is also great training to becoming an entrepreneur. They were also very proud of me and encouraging when my high school guidance counselor told me I needed more back up schools because I was shooting too high for college and I went ahead and applied to my top choices anyway. My mother reminded that man every time she saw him how much I loved going to college at Stanford and getting my MBA at Harvard Business School so I come by my renegade tendencies naturally I guess. My parents seemed to get me when I tried to bend, break or change the rules if I had a solid argument so I learned early on to not stop just because someone says no. That is such an important part of being an entrepreneur and has served me and. my business very well.
In your opinion, do you tend to keep a positive attitude during difficult situations? What helps you to do so?
Paige Arnof-Fenn: I have always been optimistic and positive by nature. When I interviewed, coached and mentored people from when I worked in large Fortune 500 companies to early stage startups and now as an entrepreneur I looked for other go getters to work with who had great attitudes too. In my experience they have high energy, are driven, ambitious, motivated, and jump in or raise their hand without prompting. They have a can do spirit which is magnetic and contagious so people gravitate to them. They tend to be open to opportunities to learn and grow, signal to those around them that they are ready, willing and able to roll up their sleeves to start making things happen. They get things done without being asked or making excuses. In my experience when you surround yourself with people who see opportunity not challenges it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Can you help articulate why a leader’s positive attitude can have a positive impact both on their clients and their team? Please share a story or example if you can.
Paige Arnof-Fenn: With the right attitude you can always teach the new team member more skills. I have been fortunate to work in several world class businesses in my career like Procter & Gamble and Coca-Cola with growth mindsets and l have tried to create that culture in my company too. In my experience, having a growth mindset helps successful people realize that the more happiness and wealth they acquire the more they can help others succeed too. Their gratitude becomes a multiplier and virtuous circle creating a positive .environment for future success. Fixed mindset people tend to feel that they know it all and see the world as a zero sum game, so if someone else is winning they must be losing. Growth mindset people never stop learning and experimenting, they are focused on the future and see opportunities ahead by creating a culture of learning and growth. The key is to make the know it alls see the power in becoming learn it alls.
Ok. Super. We are nearly done. What is your favorite inspirational quote that motivates you to pursue greatness? Can you share a story about how it was relevant to you in your own life?
Paige Arnof-Fenn: I saw this quote from Angela Davis, “I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept” and it inspires me to turn my ideas into action. Another great quote is “For it isn’t enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it. One must work at it” Eleanor Roosevelt said it and it is still true today.
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This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!
Paige Arnof-Fenn: Thanks so much it’s been my pleasure, stay well!