Female Disruptors: Paige McPheely of Base On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry
Love anyway. This seemingly simple phrase has proven to be applicable to so many areas of my life. Whether I’m collaborating with my team, talking to someone with differing viewpoints than my own, or reacting to something my children have done, I’ve found (with effort) it’s possible to have a love-first approach. By asking yourself, “How do I love in this situation”, you can work to protect humanity while still holding true to your values. This is a favorite saying of Preemptive Love, an organization I wholeheartedly respect, and has since been adopted by my husband and I as our family motto.
As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Paige McPheely, the co-founder and CEO of Base, the first-ever SaaS workspace built specifically for assistants and the executives they support. Paige is a two time co-founder on a mission to change what it looks like to give and receive support in today’s remote work world. She previously co-founded and remains an advising partner for 33Vincent, a remote executive assistant agency, where she recruited and employed top talent to serve high profile executives across the country. Her experience with executive assistants uncovered common pain points and the need for a software solution of their own. In less than two years since launching Base, Paige has attracted thousands of users, raised money from A-list investors like Slack Fund, and been recognized as a top startup in 2020’s NEXT Venture Pitch and as one of the Top-Rated Startup Culture Award Winners in Powderkeg’s 2020 National Tech Culture Awards.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I have a background in sales and marketing and in 2013, I began dreaming of a career that would allow me the flexibility to be present with my growing family, and give the same opportunity to like-minded people. I recognized the growing need for a high-quality, virtual workforce and met with my friend Casey Putschoegl to discuss it further. Great leaders can do anything, but not everything — and we realized the same went for us. That same year, we launched the remote executive assistant agency 33Vincent. Together, we recruited top talent and attracted high-profile clients like Teach For America, Keller Williams, and One Goal, growing the company organically and sustainably. Today, 33Vincent employs over 50 contract executive assistants who support busy executives across the country.
Through my years of experience collaborating with executive assistants, I took note of common pain points and gaps in their workflow. It’s not uncommon for an EA to use seven or more apps daily as they manage every project for their executives across multiple business units, all of which might use different tools. Despite their influence at the highest levels within an organization, assistants lack software of their own, a strong community, and a trusted knowledge center for training and resources. Designers have Figma and Dribbble, project managers have Asana, Trello, and Basecamp, and engineers have JIRA and GitHub — but what do assistants have? I then turned my attention to creating a solution in Base, and assembled a team composed of more than 50 percent women to make it a reality.
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
COVID-19 has transformed the way we work forever. We’re entering a new era for collaboration and productivity tools, going from using applications that are “nice-to-have” to those that are fundamental to business success. Executive assistants juggle more responsibilities and tools than many other knowledge workers today — it’s imperative they have the tools they require to thrive and evolve. We built Base from the ground up to provide a single dedicated workspace where updates from all the tools EAs use daily can be organized and distributed to executives in an elegant, efficient, and reliable way.
Base is perfectly positioned to disrupt the industry by reframing what it means to collaborate with an assistant and to be an assistant. We want every high performer to have access to a high-caliber assistant. Many people think assistants are too expensive or reserved only for C-level executives, but the truth is, time is a precious commodity and hours spent prioritizing the mountain of daily tasks is time leaders are NOT spending on growing and scaling a business. Not employing an assistant is like leaving money on the table.
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?
In the beginning, we took all meetings together as a founding team at Base. This meant ALL of us would be on all interviews, all sales calls, all prospective partner calls — you name it. Looking back, it was such an ineffective use of our time but we sure did learn quickly how to be more efficient and productive.
We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
I have been so fortunate to have myriad incredibly strong women in my life, from my single mother and her three sisters, to my sister-friends, my (much) younger sisters, and many fierce coworkers. Being raised in the midst of such strong women meant that I never felt out of place as I grew into my own as a female leader. Imposter syndrome can occasionally rear its head through other avenues, but I never questioned the pure and unbridled strength of women and what we can accomplish.
Beyond these women who are deeply embedded in my life, I have adopted a few pseudo-mentors who have likely never heard of me. Deeply Incredibly intelligent and powerful women of color like Rachel Cargle, Jo Luehmann, Layla Saad, and Luvvie Jones, who have opened my eyes to the deep complicity of people just like me to the establishment and maintenance of white privilege. This has certainly shaped me as a leader and as a visionary for the future I want to see.
In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?
Positive Disruption: When the norm is exclusive in some way (i.e., only women are assistants, affordable housing needs to look a certain way, etc.), bucking against these norms feels healthy and necessary. If we have pre-defined “normal” in our mind when entering a new situation or environment, or if we’re settling for a less than optimal experience, disruption may be a good idea. We want to disrupt the role of the assistant and establish a new way of thinking amongst high performers: everyone deserves an assistant.
Negative Disruption: When an invention adds unnecessary complications, exclusivity, or division (i.e., a new technology that makes things more cumbersome instead of streamlining work) it feels less positive for the industry. I think automation and AI can be a positive AND a negative, in that AI automates basic tasks to free up time for more important things, at the expense of eliminating jobs.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
- Love anyway. This seemingly simple phrase has proven to be applicable to so many areas of my life. Whether I’m collaborating with my team, talking to someone with differing viewpoints than my own, or reacting to something my children have done, I’ve found (with effort) it’s possible to have a love-first approach. By asking yourself, “How do I love in this situation”, you can work to protect humanity while still holding true to your values. This is a favorite saying of Preemptive Love, an organization I wholeheartedly respect, and has since been adopted by my husband and I as our family motto.
- Know when to drop the plastic balls. It was once explained to me how we are all constantly juggling a number of “balls” both in our personal and professional lives. But what many of us don’t realize is that while some of these balls are made of glass (i.e., very breakable), others are made of plastic. The trick is recognizing which balls are made of plastic and are therefore less breakable, and then giving yourself permission to drop them from time to time. For me, this has led to much less guilt when I need to drop a plastic personal ball in order to keep juggling a glass professional ball or vice versa. I can’t tell you how freeing it is to not force myself to stay on top of “crazy sock day” or whatever weirdly specific requests sent home from my kids’ school.
- Reality does not need you to like it in order to be reality. The last few years have seen my striving to break away from “dualistic thinking” common to many of us. Win or lose, right or wrong, us or them. The realization that both of these things, all of these things, can exist at the same time was a huge one for me. Stepping into non dualistic thinking has allowed me to attempt to hold the “good”, the “bad”, and everything else all at once while also attempting to assign value to those things. I believe great leaders are able to hold seemingly conflicting or contradictory things all at once, and can rise above them instead of getting bogged down in their midst.
We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?
Luckily, I’m married to a bit of a serial entrepreneur so dates are often full of talk for potential ventures with no shortage of ideas or inspiration. Through the vein of love anyway, all of our goals center around building inclusive and intentional places (in-person or remote) geared toward helping people be their best, which for us always involves some amount of community, learning, varying sets of beliefs and backgrounds, and connection. As inhabitants of this planet, we believe in being good neighbors, which when pictured on a global scale leaves no shortage of ideas.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
Representation. This could be that there are few women in the space you’re trying to break into, or sell to, or raise money from, or perhaps within your own environment. On a small scale, I’ve struggled with being one of the only moms in my former neighborhood who had a job outside of the house. On a slightly larger scale, I’ve not yet successfully secured a female Board member for Base or had a women-led financing round. Without proper representation, there are extra steps required to surround ourselves with other women.
Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?
- Seeing White — This podcast was one of the first steps in my journey of seeing my own “whiteness” and its impact on the world around me — no matter how loving and anti-racist I thought I was.
- Untamed by Glennon Doyle — I’ve followed Glennon’s professional and personal journey for years, so I couldn’t wait to read her latest book about her love story with her wife. By the end of the book, I came away with a feeling of pride and excitement on what it means to be a woman today. This memoir is a mantra for all women, parents, leaders, and people to find peace with your particular strengths and weaknesses, and that we can all do hard things.
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. :-)
I want every high performer to have access to a high-caliber assistant. There are roughly 8.5M assistants in English speaking countries today and given the shift to distributed and remote work, I’m sure that number is even higher. I truly believe if humanity started accepting and giving support, we would be much more advanced as a society.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“It’s hard to hate from proximity.” One of my favorite writers and teachers said this once as she was detailing the list of people she really, really, really strongly disagreed with. Especially these days, it’s so easy to think in dualistic “us vs. them” terms, but the truth is if we lean in just a bit more, and get to know others beyond their seemingly difficult facade, we would find a whole bunch of similarities. That makes it much easier to love one another.
This one is definitely easier said than done. It’s a worthy goal that I inch my way toward a little bit each day.
How can our readers follow you online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!