Female Founders: Ali Grant of Be Social On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder
An Interview With Candice Georgiadice
… Have an exit strategy. Whether that’s to sell, to partner, or maybe it’s to keep owning the company yourself… just have a plan of where you want to take your business and what that next level looks like. It will help you prioritize goals and maximize your efforts.
As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ali Grant.
Ali Grant launched Be Social in 2012 as one of the first agencies with a hyper focus on executing influencer outreach and collaboration. Ali recognized the power of digital creators and built a business harnessing their influence. Today, Be Social is a leading digital communications agency specializing in influencer, media and experiences for brands and digital creators. With a dedicated focus on all things influencer, the company’s expertise spans across influencer marketing, media placements and experiences.
To further build on the mission to build brand awareness, Be Social has launched BrandEdit, a brand discovery platform. Be Social and Ali power the content creator app Createur alongside Tribe Dynamics. Ali is also a co-owner of organic craft hard seltzer, Ashland. The firm supports and is partnered with the Freedom & Fashion non-profit, which uses the arts of fashion and beauty to empower youth overcoming trafficking, homelessness, and other injustices.
Be Social was acquired by Dolphin Entertainment in 2020, putting the company alongside some of entertainment’s greatest, such as 42West and The Door.
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 originally thought I’d take a career in journalism, specifically broadcast journalism. I dreamt of being an entertainment reporter! After taking courses in public relations and social media in college, I quickly changed directions. The idea of helping amplify the voices of creatives through traditional and new media was exciting. From there, I did a few internships in the industry and really finally found my focus in the world of social media and influencer marketing.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Entrepreneurship with little to no experience is always an interesting ride. From mistakes to learnings and the ups and downs…I could name quite a few stories. To date, the most unique and interesting experience has been the acquisition of the company. It’s certainly a feat not every entrepreneur gets to experience, and the ride of that experience was truly unforgettable.
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 stages of starting my company, I quite literally did everything… from QuickBooks to payroll and janitorial services. I was juggling way too much with too little time. There were quite a few experiences where missing the fine details lead to some funny outcomes, such as mislabeling invoices or ordering vehicles for an on-site activation that were stick shift when no one knew how to drive them! These experiences, though inconvenient at the time, helped me grow as a leader. Understanding that everyone makes mistakes and that at the end of the day, we can learn and laugh about it is something that I carry with me as I run my business and guide my team. Giving people the agency to make mistakes is essential, and even better when it leads to a funny story.
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?
My late grandmother, Patricia. While she didn’t directly help me with my business affairs day to day, it was the invaluable lessons she taught me around being confident, savvy, and powerful.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?
I think one of the major issues holding women back from becoming founders is a lack of resources. Luckily, there has been such a movement in female entrepreneurship and resources to support that growth! Even just 10 years ago when I started my company, there were far less tools and resources to empower my decisions. Of the many events, podcasts, books and newsletters on the topic, the one I find most valuable is Create & Cultivate, a media company we work with often that provides content, community, and curated events for ambitious women.
Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?
Seek out and buy from female owned brands! While you’re at it, support female-operated companies. If you own or operate a company, hire women in executive leadership positions — and give them the training and support to succeed. As far as the government goes, it is critical to support women by increasing paid leave.
This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?
We are savvy, powerful, smart, quick, understanding, helpful, and devoted — all important hugely important qualities in a founder!
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?
Entrepreneurship will always be more than a 9 to 5. A founder never turns off and their business becomes quite all-encompassing.
Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?
No. And some people can make a lot more money and have far more satisfaction having a “regular job.” Entrepreneurship does not always equate to success, and oftentimes there are more failures than wins. You have to have a thick skin and be “always on” — it’s much harder to shut off when your name is on the door and your employees are counting on you.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Get a mentor. I didn’t, and I regret it. Many people are too afraid to ask someone to be their mentor, but I think more often than not, experts want to share their personal experiences with others, and women especially
- Learn the fundamentals of operating a business, including HR and accounting. It’s key you have an understanding, even from a high level, of what it takes to operate a business and employ staff.
- Hire experts. When it comes to legalities, business formation, accounting process, and employment practices, hire experts who know what they’re doing so they can set you up for success.
- Separate business and pleasure. Lines can get blurred, especially when you work in an industry that intersects with your personal life, but when your business consumes everything, you will eventually burn out.
- Have an exit strategy. Whether that’s to sell, to partner, or maybe it’s to keep owning the company yourself… just have a plan of where you want to take your business and what that next level looks like. It will help you prioritize goals and maximize your efforts.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
We’ve had such great success as a team and for our clients, so we’ve decided to give back by taking on a pro-bono client and non-profit partner, Freedom & Fashion. F&F is dedicated to using the arts of fashion and beauty to empower youth overcoming trafficking, homelessness, and other injustices.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Mental health advocacy has been an area in which I’d like to dedicate more time and resources. Our emotional well-being is everything and we often lose sight of that in the hustle of life. Leaning into a movement that provides resources that support positive behavior, thinking and feelings would be rewarding.
We are very blessed that some very prominent 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.
I’ve recently started following Adam Grant… not related. He’s an organizational psychologist at Wharton and I find his posts and content extremely helpful for anyone in a leadership position, or quite frankly, trying to navigate life!
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this