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Female Disruptors: Paige Arnof-Fenn is the marketing mind behind some of the world’s most well-known brands

I had the pleasure of interviewing Paige Arnof-Fenn, Paige is the founder & CEO of global marketing and branding firm Mavens & Moguls based in Cambridge, MA. Her clients include Microsoft, Virgin, The New York Times Company, Colgate, venture-backed startups as well as non profit organizations. She graduated from Stanford University and Harvard Business School. Paige is a popular speaker and columnist who has written for Entrepreneur and Forbes.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?

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 Mavens & Moguls after beginning my career on Wall Street in the 80s and having a successful career in Corporate America at companies like Procter & Gamble and Coca-Cola and then working at 3 different startups as the head of marketing. All 3 startups had positive exits.

For the first 5 years after I started my company, I was scared to go on vacation for fear all my hard work would unravel. Then 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 and I became executrix which is like having another job at times. So, I had to take very good care of myself or I would not have been helpful to anyone else. I started working out every day. I started 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. 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. 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 >50,000 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.

Why did you found your company?

I took the leap 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, I have time to travel and hang out with my inner circle, and 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.

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.

What is it about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

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).

We all need a little help along the journey — who have been some of your mentors?

I have been very fortunate to have great mentors throughout my career, former bosses, senior women in companies I worked for, my dad who was a great CEO and professionals I met along the way. They have given me great advice and perspective to navigate the politics and my career.

How are you going to shake things up next?

I am always shaking things up to keep life interesting and exciting, adding new tools to the toolkit, getting outside my comfort zone so I don’t get too comfortable. I want to give myself more time to be creative and leave more open space on my calendar to explore new areas of growth.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

There is so much to share…

It really is a marathon not a sprint so do not set arbitrary goals like being named 30 under 30 or 40 under 40 because it may take you longer than Mark Zuckerberg to hit your stride and that’s ok. Most people take many detours on their career path before finding their true calling. Don’t be disappointed if you get to 40 and are still exploring because the journey really is a great adventure so enjoy it! Figure out what makes you unique and special and own that real estate in people’s minds.

Don’t be scared to fail, just learn from every bump in the road so you make better mistakes next time, that is where you learn the most! You learn to do by doing. Course correct and pivot along the way, it makes for a fun career path.

Thought Leadership is a great way for startups to build their brand, increase visibility more broadly, raise their profile and attract more customers. Activities like speaking at a conference, writing articles, building the following on social media all contribute increasing awareness with potential customers and building credibility with a larger community.

Before trying to start your own blog or newsletter, try contributing regularly to existing well trafficked blogs in your industry or newsletters of likeminded organizations reaching the same target audience as you. Make sure you put your URL or contact info on it so they can find you and follow up. When your articles or talks become available online, make sure to send them out via social media to all your friends, followers and contacts.

What’s a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Share a story with us.

I prefer the classics. How To Win Friends & Influence People — it is a classic with timeless advice on manners and people/human nature. You cannot go wrong with this one.

Another good one is Getting To Yes — I took the author’s negotiations class in business school and this reminds me of what he taught us, we are constantly negotiating in business and you have to always keep in mind what your best alternatives are and be ready to walk away.

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 whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)

There are so many people I could pick for this, but I would choose Arianna Huffington.

She has become a media powerhouse in both traditional and aniline outlets with books, speeches, HuffPo, TV appearances, etc. She is well respected, thoughtful, smart, opinionated, and puts her money where her mouth is. I think I could learn a lot from her.

She rebranded herself in mid life post divorce and has never looked back. I am 52 years old and started a global marketing firm 17 years ago.

I think she is what a lot of women aspire to today. She is clearly comfortable in her own skin and an independent thinker. She has stayed relevant and grown with the economy shifts into technology and new media. She is a force to be reckoned with and I hope I am still at the top of my game as I age too.

I am sure she could teach me a few things and has some great stories to share!

How can our readers follow you on social media? https://www.linkedin.com/in/paigearnoffenn