Kate Gremillion, co-founder of Mavenly + Co. works alongside team members.
This post was originally published on NOEW.org. New Orleans Entrepreneur Week is a festival celebrating entrepreneurship and innovation in New Orleans. See it all happen this year March 19-24, 2017.
Some people are born entrepreneurs. They are energized by the risk and thrill of starting something new. They are attracted to the unforeseen challenges of starting a company. They are excited by experimenting, building and pivoting. Before they can even exhale a sigh of relief about a product launched or a vision fulfilled, they are on to the next one.
Other people become entrepreneurs. They encounter a problem and are passionate about solving it. They find a gap or void in the market and set out determinedly to fill it.
That’s who Kate Gremillion, co-founder of Mavenly + Co, identifies with.
Gremillion’s first job out of college was as a career consultant for her sorority. She traveled and met with hundreds of college women across the country and advised them on their career options.
It wasn’t later until she was working at what she perceived as her dream job at a large PR firm, that she started writing a blog during her free time. Once again, she began connecting with women throughout the country who were all seeking the same thing – a meaningful and enjoyable career. And while she was not intrigued by the idea of starting a company, she realized it would be necessary to do the work she wanted to do.
That’s when she set out to bring Mavenly + Co to life.
Since then, she’s launched a podcast, and has been a part of a team producing workshops in different cities throughout the country to help women cultivate their dream careers. Mavenly + Co hosted the first beta workshop in New Orleans, and has since expanded to Austin, Atlanta, DC and New York.
But before you go swooning over her airy Instagram account, Gremillion warns that social media is just one part of the startup story, and it’s time we start talking openly about the importance of support and self-care for entrepreneurs.
When we first met you told me your story and why you created Mavenly + Co. Can we go back there and tell me about what you were doing then, and your first year starting Mavenly?
I was a collegiate consultant for my sorority Delta Gamma and through that opportunity, I was able to meet with women all over the country. I was in a different city every week and that really got my mind going. There were all these different women learning a ton about different subjects, but no one was having conversations about post-graduate life and what they would actually like to be doing and what kinds of careers would be great for them. So, that got my wheels turning.
Then, I worked at a very large PR firm in Dallas. That’s when I started writing and blogging, but it definitely wasn’t a business in my mind. It was something I was doing for the sake of needing to do it. I was used to having very obscure hours as a consultant at my sorority, so working in an 8-5 setting, I would get off at 5 and think what do I do now with my time, so I started blogging.
When we started, we had no plans to be anything except for a blog and then it was our audience coming to us with news ideas and us saying there was a way to do this full-time and that’s how we got to where we are today.
The blog was something that women started rallying around and feeling this sense of shared disappointment in their careers and what was out their for young women, and it’s really been built since then. I’ve been able to work with two amazing entrepreneurs who allow me to have flexible schedules and understood the importance of what I’m doing with Mavenly.
I worked with an entrepreneur who is a TV personality based in DC. His name is Paul Brunson. I did all of his communications and media for him. And I also did the same thing for Sean Cummings, an entrepreneur in New Orleans. I was able to work very flexibly with them which was really cool and exciting, and that’s something I would recommend to anyone that wants to be an entrepreneur.
If you don’t want to take that jump yet, and you want to have come cash coming in from other places while you work on your business, find an employer who understands the value of creating something for yourself, and be very honest with them about what you want to achieve.
If that’s something they are game for, than that’s easier to work out in that situation than a company that doesn’t understand or value employees entrepreneurial spirit and efforts. I was very lucky.
Q: How have you been doing since we first met last October?
A: It’s been a year! So much has happened in a year. We have two more team members since last year, which is very exciting. But I think we’ve also really honed in on the business we want to be doing.
We’ve always operated from a place of catering to our audience’s needs. And so being really attentive and alert to what people are asking us for and at first that was a blog and a newsletter and then that became a podcast and that turned into these in-person workshops that we’re doing now but it’s still really the focus of providing women with all of the information and knowledge that we can.
So now we’ve been in five different cities doing live workshops which is really exciting but it’s all based on the content that we have on our website which is really cool.
We are focusing on women that want to be crafting their careers intentionally or building their brands with intention. Both of those we found are spaces that we want to be playing in and that women really need when they’re starting their career.
It’s been very exciting, lots of changes, lots of new and interesting things, but the main message is still the same of trying to help women find a career that they love and work that works for them.
Q: How is the podcast going?
It’s going well. For me, that’s the most exciting part of our business because we are able to reach the most people through our podcast. I think people really underestimate podcasts or they think it’s only for older people or nerds like myself, but I think so many of the women we cater to have a very busy lifestyle and they’re very ambitious, there’s such a benefit of having that information that you can listen to while you’re doing something else. We have 20,000 subscribers worldwide.
That’s awesome! Congratulations!
Thank you! One of the coolest things about it is that women that would have never heard about us otherwise hear about us because of the itunes algorithm. It’s very similar to Netflix in that if you listen to a certain podcast, they’ll suggest other podcasts for you. A lot of people find us through other podcasts. Recently we’ve gotten a larger following in Australia, which is kind of crazy. It’s really exciting to be able to see that women in Australia, Italy or France are listening and interested in the same topics and struggling with the same things and finding value in our content from a distance.
Q: When did you launch the podcast?
About a year and a half ago. And we’ve been really lucky with the guests that we’ve been able to chat with and the topics we’ve been able to cover. We put it out every week, so women are going to hear something new from us every week. A lot of the things we talk about on our podcasts are direct requests from our audience. Like how do I find a job abroad? Or how do I negotiate my salary with my boss? Or How do I find a job that is suited for me? Or what’s the best way to interview for a job that I’m not qualified for.
I’m going to download it. What’s the name of it?
We renamed it. It was the Mavenly podcast, but now it’s Women, Work and Worth. We changed it because we think every single one of our episodes caters to one or all three of those topics. It’s focusing on women, their careers, and finding value in what they’re doing.
This time, last year when we first talked, you were beginning to think about offering workshops, and now you’ve implemented them. Can you talk to me about how that’s been?
I’ve realized that I am not a natural event planner. Since that time we spoke, I had this idea of creating these workshops where women would come and we’d have these conversations and activities and exercises, and since then I’ve realized my weaknesses as a founder. That was a huge thing for me. So, I sold a portion of Mavenly to a co-founder who has a background in organizational Psychology. It’s the study of what makes people do well in their workspace. She has the academic background, and I have the corporate business background and experience. She is a stickler for details and logistics and planning. Whereas I was much more interested in spreading the word and the marketing.
What have you learned about yourself as a founder since starting Mavenly + Co.?
One of the things I realized in the past year is how much I needed a team to be able to balance my strengths and weaknesses. To be able to have Talia on as a co-founder and utilize the other resources of our team to be able to keep those pieces of our brand going. Angelique and Laura are our two team members based in New Orleans and they manage all of our content for our website. Having team members like Angie, Laura and my co-founder Talia has made this possible.
I learned a lot about delegating my weaknesses to people who have that strength and understanding that every single city we’ve been to is different. We’ve done five total workshops in New Orleans, Atlanta, Austin, DC, and New York so far.
For us the biggest learning lesson was that women are coming for different reasons, they’re all in different stages of their life and they’re all looking to get something different out of the experience.
It’s been eye opening for me. New Orleans was our first one of the summer, and you can see the progress from New Orleans to Atlanta and Atlanta to Austin to New York.
There were so many different things we decided to include or omit based on how women were responding to the content. I think it will continue to get better. It really was that old adage of practice makes perfect. You can se fro our participant show much more they are engaged with our content once we think critically about the best way to deliver it.
Can you talk to us about the Mavenly + Co business model?
Absolutely. We’re running these workshops. Right now, we charge $179 per person for the weekend. That includes everything-the food, tangible resources.
We also have sponsored content on our website. We work with a variety of partners everywhere from insurance companies to certain web development apps. But someone on our team has to use the product. We have lots of people approach us for sponsorships, but they don’t fit. Even ones like men’s boxers, and obviously that’s not a fit. But we are very conscious about only having products that women would actually buy which is very important to us. That’s the smallest piece of our business model.
We also do 6-week private sessions for individuals. So if you’re an individual and you say, I would love to go to a workshop, but they are nowhere near me, or I’ve been to a workshop, but I feel like I need more specialized attention, we do these six week sessions on crafting your career or building your brand. Crafting your career is with Talia. She works you through finding a career that works for you.
Building your brand is a six week session with me, where once you’ve decided on the career you want, if you feel like you need an online presence or a reframing of yourself to be successful in that career, I’ll work with you for six weeks to build that online presence or virtual brand you would need to be successful in that.
Where did your first workshop take place in New Orleans?
Our first workshop took place at New Orleans-Riverbend Collective. We worked with General Assembly in Atlanta. In Austin we worked with a company called Revelry. In New York, we were at Coworkers. We’ve been so lucky with women and men who believe in what we’re doing and provide us with free space and make it possible.
Are you able to talk about revenue?
We are currently cash flow positive. And that’s because my chief policy when I started Mavenly was discipline. A lot of people when they think about creating a podcast, or doing a lot of the things we’ve done, they think you have to spend a lot of money, but you truly don’t.
If you research how to start a podcast, a lot of times that can run you up to five thousand dollars. We ended up doing our podcast for $300. We enlisted friends that were coders, friends to sponsor places, people willing to write content for free to get their name out there. We are fortunate that we are a business that doesn’t have a lot of overhead, and we don’t spend a lot of money that we don’t need to spend. By no means are we killing it financially. I wouldn’t go around bragging about all of the revenue we have, but we are cash flow positive because we’ve remained disciplined in the decisions we’ve made.
Some people might argue that it’s not a great model, that we could be growing a lot more quickly if we were willing to spend more money, but I think for us we are more risk averse than your typical entrepreneurs.
“We joke that we didn’t want to be entrepreneurs, it’s something that we stumbled upon because it’s the only way to do what we want to do. There was no full-time job for it, and because of that, we don’t have the typical stereotype of an entrepreneur that’s risky and willing to go all in and spend.”
We have what we call lifetime customers so a lot of women buy into what we’re doing, and stay engaged and active and want to come to a workshop, and then another one, and then do private coaching and want to bring this business to someone else or refer us to a friend. Because we don’t spend a lot of time advertising, we spend a lot of time on 1:1 interactions, which seems counterintuitive to the modern space, but women who are going to spend upwards of $800 on coaching with you, aren’t people who see you from a Facebook Ad. So we spend a lot of our time speaking to women’s organizations, and sororities, and speaking with women we know are going to be huge assets to us and will be in our corner. Because 75% of our clients are people we’ve interacted with directly before.
So I think you really have to know your customer well. We spent so much of our first year figuring out who our customer was because we really didn’t know, and we didn’t know how they were going to make purchasing decisions and I think when you talk to most women 20-29, they’re not willing to spend $700-$800 on something that they don’t really believe in. So, for us to have a full roster of clients says a lot about the way we’ve done business and gained trust among our customers and that’s based on discipline and knowing that our time was just as valuable as our money and we were going to spend it in a certain way.
So you haven’t done any online advertising?
The only online advertising we did was for our podcast and we did that because we found that the majority of our paying customers find us through our podcast. They hear my voice every week, and they feel like they’re a friend of ours. They hear the conversations we’re having every week, and so when we meet for a coaching call, it doesn’t feel like you’re meeting a stranger.
Who is your customer?
Women in their 20s and early 30s. Our sweet spot is usually women between the ages of 24-28. The women who engage in our content are probably 25-35. These are women who are ambitious, forward thinking, but are having a lot trouble defining exactly what is the right career for them because they do have options and they are thinking critically about that decision.
Did you have any funding for Mavenly + Co?
Not any outside sources. It was self-funded by me, but I definitely used a lot of my pay checks and money coming from other jobs to fund things for Mavenly. We also have donations by readers and that was how we originally got started. We didn’t have a lot of upfront costs, it was really time and putting in the work.
I see a lot of people who want so badly to be an entrepreneur, but they don’t know what they want to do, and we very much the opposite of that. We know exactly what we want to do, have found a void in the marketplace, and want to approach it head on. We were more resistant to the idea of being an entrepreneur.
I find that there are a lot of companies that we work with that are very similar in terms of that narrative. It wasn’t that they were looking to do something on their own, it’s that they had a passion for a certain industry or solving a problem, and created a company through that.
I have a hard time imagining it any other way.
That’s what’s crazy. I go into a lot of co-working spaces and I meet people who are in love with the idea of startups, and they love the hot topic around startups, and that’s very much not my personality. I think starting a business is very hard, and it takes a lot of time, effort and money, and we just found ways to get around needing a lot of money in exchange for putting in a lot more work. If someone else had Mavenly before we started, I think we would have just worked for them and bought into their idea. We were not the entrepreneur type, but now that we’re here, we’re very happy.
Yes. Which leads me right into my next question for you. Staying true to what The Distillery is all about, which is shedding light on the hardships of entrepreneurs as they pursue their ideas and businesses. What has been the hardest part of this experience since starting two years ago?
Oh man, there are so many hard things about starting a business.
I think one of them is convincing yourself and the people around you that what you’re doing is real and important and valuable. We all have ideas of startups that don’t seem real or realistic to the people around us. And I think unless you have really tough skin, or believe in your idea. Those opinions of others can really squash your determination, motivation and drive.
I’ve met a lot of women who are interested in starting their own business or doing something on their own, but the first thing they say is they have a fear of what everyone will think, or they are not good enough to be doing what they’re doing. I think that for a lot of women who are used to honorable or prestigious careers, it’s very hard to think about going to a place where you’re not earning a lot, you’re working a lot more and people don’t give you the recognition or the support you need and deserve. I think because of a combination of all those things, once you become an entrepreneur, you have to develop a tough skin. You’re going to get a lot more no’s than you think. You’re going to get a lot more rejection than you think. You’re going to have a lot of people who don’t believe in what you’re doing, and that can be really hard to reconcile when you’re not making a lot of money and you don’t have a steady, clear career path. I think that’s very intimidating for so many people, myself included.
And I think we don’t talk enough about mental health among entrepreneurs and in startups.
I think that for me, that was really important. Being an entrepreneur can be really lonely. It can be very isolating, especially if you feel like you’re idea is not taking of or it’s not where you need it to be to be financially stable and so we always talk about failure once that entrepreneur is already successful.
“So it’s easy to talk about failure once your Steve Jobs, or Marc Cuban, but if you’re in the moment of failing, at that time, it’s a very hard, lonely, dark thing.”
I think that’s something that is underestimated, and it’s the most important reason why entrepreneurs need to find and support each other and really find and establish that community amongst each other.
Mavenly would not be where it is today if it weren’t for the women in this space that supported me and were able to have honest conversations about owning a business and what that was like. Or not having enough money, or feeling like you’re a failure, and your parents or friends don’t understand. Or why you quit this cushy job to start this thing. And what if it doesn’t even work?
Or for some people, they break up or divorce.
Yes, absolutely. I’ve heard horror stories about people blowing their 401Ks and then their wife leaves and they’re still trying to work on this idea.
“It’s just a narrative that we don’t see on the cover of Entrepreneur or the news, and I think it is really important to talk about, because until you take that leap, you have no idea just how dark and scary it can be.”
So I think if you are considering entrepreneurship, you have to surround yourself with people that feel comfortable enough sharing those pitfalls with, so that they can truly and honestly support you and not just have you put on a brave face for the sake of moving forward.
I’m really glad you brought up the point about mental health, because it’s something that entrepreneurs talk to me a lot about in private conversations, and that more people than we think struggle with, so we really want to make that a part of the conversation and talk about why it’s important to maintain mental health as an entrepreneur, or seek help if you need it.
Absolutely. I think it is unfortunately perceived as weakness by a lot of people, but I think the best and strongest thing you can do for yourself is realize when you are struggling with anxiety, stress, or depression is address it head on because your company is going to be better for it and no one benefits by you hiding the way you’re feeling.
Yes. And it’s debunking this myth that you have to work yourself to death to be a successful entrepreneur, because we just don’t believe that it’s true.
Yes, it’s not. And we talk about working long, hard hours. Yes, absolutely we do. But it’s things we enjoy, but we also take breaks. I think when people look at my Instagram, they think that we just travel around and live this beautiful life, and of course I’m posting the things that I enjoy, but I make it a point to do things that I enjoy. After this, I have three more calls and then a podcast at 9pm because it’s somewhere on the west coast. But I’m going to walk and get myself a coffee and call a friend.
So I think that’s an even more important myth to debunk, that self-care is important. And we have a lot of women that subscribe to Mavenly that have this anti-hustle mentality, that you don’t have to work hard, you have to work smart and if you get all your emails done by 10am, then you deserve to go to the park.
I think a lot of people think because I started my own business, I have to work 100-120 hours a week. Absolutely not. Part of the beautiful thing about owning your own business is that you have the freedom to decide what your schedule is. So when people see that you’re taking a few more days off on a trip, yes, but I also worked the past three weekends because we’ve had workshops and events. So I think giving yourself the grace to say I’m making my own schedule and sometimes that means to stop in the middle of the day to go get a coffee or ice cream, or whatever it is, you are the only person that knows what’s best for you. So when your body is telling you to stop working, or your body is telling you that you’re too tired, you need to listen. I think that mental health is super important, especially in young women.