Phil La Duke
Jul 26 · 7 min read

Always be learning. Even if you are hiring for a position that you won’t necessarily deal with, or not in your wheelhouse or the resident expert, learn enough to hold a conversation and ask the right questions because you are ultimately responsible or the outcome. Encourage solution based conversations with everyone, anyone can call out issues, but the culture must foster a solution-oriented environment where anyone can share ideas regardless of a title or perceived level in the company. You must have a “they put a man on the moon” approach, encourage creativity and recognize just because the team feels like they can’t do it, doesn’t mean it can’t be done. Most importantly don’t ever confuse effort with results, I try to remind myself of this always with everything I do personally and professionally.


As a part of our series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Katie Cunningham. Katie is the Founder & CEO of LYFETYMES. LYFETYMES is an innovative One-Stop Celebration Platform and Market Network transforming the Celebration Industry. Prior to founding LYFETYMES in 2018, Katie spent 20+ years in Banking and Finance leading large organizations responsible for client acquisition, revenue strategies and digital innovation.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is it about the position of CEO the most attracted you to it?

I decided to take a leap of faith from my corporate background and start my own business. I did not strive necessarily to become a CEO, but I came up with an idea and wanted to solve a problem, so LYFETYMES was born.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

When you are beginning a startup- most people, especially females, are not starting with a funded idea scratched on the back of a cocktail napkin. You are bootstrapping from day one, wind in your face, and your most valuable resources are time and money. With tech, building anything can be costly and timely, so some of the team we decided to utilize was outside of the US. It is a great solution and I was extremely lucky my team had an existing infrastructure in place to leverage with great talent. But with anything, you have to pay the price of admission in some way; most of the team was on exact opposite time schedules, building a complicated platform with language barriers, and not everyone was always familiar with US customary celebrations so you have little room for error in expectations. It has proven to be a great partnership today and we have our team rhythm down and I’m very proud of how well we work together.

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?

Everyday comes with challenges and mistakes …and they are usually not funny. I think I will have more to share when I can look back in a few years.

Specifically, what is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?

Honestly, I was somewhat prepared for it so I had the business acumen from my background in corporate and building an infrastructure. It is different because you are working with external resources, which makes your move in slow motion. You have the ability to be more agile and gather resources faster in corporate. In my startup, I have needed to wear many hats and push my capabilities to the limit.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

Always be learning. Even if you are hiring for a position that you won’t necessarily deal with, or not in your wheelhouse or the resident expert, learn enough to hold a conversation and ask the right questions because you are ultimately responsible or the outcome. Encourage solution based conversations with everyone, anyone can call out issues, but the culture must foster a solution-oriented environment where anyone can share ideas regardless of a title or perceived level in the company. You must have a “they put a man on the moon” approach, encourage creativity and recognize just because the team feels like they can’t do it, doesn’t mean it can’t be done. Most importantly don’t ever confuse effort with results, I try to remind myself of this always with everything I do personally and professionally.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

Learn how to communicate effectively with the folks on your team and what is important to them and what makes them tick. If you are able to understand their motivations, then you can give them what they need to build loyalty and a sense of fulfillment.

Who inspired/inspires you and why?

My family, my children, my three brothers I’ve lost. My parents who have lost children and continue to get vertical every day and face the world with a heavy heart, My children who are the best motivators and keep me moving and working, and my three beautiful brothers who passed way too young. They remind me how precious the time we have here is. They remind me that we need to spend less time working and more time celebrating milestones. I lost my last brother, Jeremiah, three years ago when he was only 34 and that experience was a big reason I started LYFETYMES. At the heart of it, it is my way of encouraging people to spend time together and create memories, because when those moments or people are gone, it’s what you will hold dear to the most.

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?

Yes, I think given today’s tone it’s very important to also highlight male leaders that have championed women. One of those is Desmond Smith who is very well known in the mortgage industry. He built a diverse team and promoted and championed women, including myself. Mortgage is traditionally very male dominated and for a long time I was there with not a lot of females at the table. By the time DPS (which he goes by) moved on, he had built a great organization and at least half of which were female leading strong divisions. He had an eye for spotting talent and putting people where they would shine the brightest. It’s one thing to talk about it and another to do it. I’ve been lucky enough to have some great mentors to learn from and hopefully emulate, both male and female.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

I don’t think I have yet left a mark I’m satisfied with, however, my ultimate goal is to be able to work with families that are at risk of losing a child to plan and fund a life celebration that child helps narrate in some way. I saw a family who had a terminally ill child and that child said they wanted a carnival versus a funeral and the parents honored that request. It was so touching and I believe really helps with beginning the healing process by changing the negative connotation of the word funeral to life celebration. That’s why at LYFETYMES we are committed to helping plan life celebrations that will not only make planning one easier, but you can actually personalize your celebration details.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you. Always be open to learning and growing.
  2. Be agile. Know that things change and need to pivot when you are just starting a business.
  3. Trust the talent that you find. Do not hover and remember that you hired experts in their fields. Trust the process.
  4. It will cost 10 times more than you think it will. Will take 5 times longer than you thought.
  5. Don’t confuse effort with results.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-) if I could inspire a movement

There are so many challenges, life is so hard, I want to use LYFETYMES as a way to bring people together and celebrating milestones. Be in person and be present — talk to each other.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Time is free, but it isn’t priceless

You can’t own it, but you can use it

You can’t keep it but you can spend it

Once you’ve lost it, you can never get it back

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 :-)

Arianna Huffington. She is so brilliant and encouraging to women. She has this ability to offer humility into our lives, put our guard down and let us know it’s okay to take care of yourself with proper sleep, meditation, and unplugging from it all and most of all not feeling guilty over it.

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About the author:

Phil La Duke is a popular speaker & writer with more than 350 works in print. His most recent book is Lone Gunman: Rewriting the Handbook On Workplace Violence Prevention. Follow Phil on Twitter @philladuke

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

Phil La Duke

Written by

Author of “I Know My Shoes Are Untied. Mind Your Own Business” and “Lone Gunman. Rewriting the Handbook on Workplace Violence Prevention

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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