Female Founders: Dannie Festa of World Builder Entertainment On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder
An Interview With Candice Georgiadis
Not everyone is cut out to be a founder, as you really have to be a self-starter. You need to be able to manage your time really well. You sometimes will have to live on the edge, invest in yourself, and never let the “no’s” stop you. There can be a lot of rejection. You are always on call- your business is your baby. So it’s definitely not for everyone. What could motivate someone to become a founder is when that person finally realizes being an employee isn’t going to provide them with a platform for all of their creative energy and ideas. Having the opportunity to be my own boss and a founder has given me more flexibility to create my own hours which was always very important for me.
As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dannie Festa.
Prior to founding her management company Festa Entertainment, Dannie Festa honed her expertise by years of working with top-flight producers and directors. Being a manager/producer combines two things Dannie loves most about the entertainment industry: closely collaborating with writers and directors and producing projects that speak to her. A native Chilean, Dannie’s international background allows her to represent a wide variety of creative talent, companies, and brands. She manages the iconic brands Dam Things (Good Luck Troll Dolls) and the Merian C. Cooper/ DeVito Artworks King Kong Skull Island property as well publisher Markosia and various global animation studios. Dannie is also the Executive Producer of the animated features TROLLS, TROLLS WORLD TOUR and TROLLS 3 at DreamWorks Animation. Her production slate includes MERMAIDS at MGM, TIGER LILY with Montecito Pictures/ Netflix, MYTH EXPLORERS at Disney+, and OPERATION PANDORA with Sugar23/ Netflix.
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?
While I am originally from Chile, I have also spent a lot of my childhood in Los Angeles which has allowed me to have roots in both places. After I graduated high school in Chile, I went on to study Marine Biology at UC Berkeley but quickly realized that my heart was in film and literature. So I made the decision to switch my major and pursue my studies in the arts.
My first industry job was in Chile after college working on the local telenovelas in production design, editing, and general production. It was an excellent way to get experience in all areas of production but I really wanted to go to film school. So I moved to Los Angeles where I got a job at a producer’s office as an assistant reading scripts. It was like a light switch had been turned on for me — I loved working on screenplays and the writers who created them. When I was accepted to film school, I had to make the decision whether to go or stay on my path. I had found my yellow brick road and I chose to follow it. It has led me to some amazing places, including becoming a female founder.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
An interesting and challenging time in my career was centered around my work on the Trolls property. The experience of taking the brand from dolls to an entire line of licensed products and building an entertainment platform provided me with a wider perspective on every aspect of branding and development — from start to finish. Having worked on the brand for over 10 years, I developed a deep passion and love for the project — which is all you can hope for in any professional experience. I was recently at a party, and an old friend came up to me and said “Remember how you used to drive around with that suitcase of Troll Dolls in your car?” Back then it was just me and a dream (and a suitcase full of dolls). Watching Trolls grow into an iconic worldwide brand is one of my most rewarding experiences in the industry thus far. The movies bring a lot of joy to people, which also makes me happy.
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?
I fall on my face constantly but I try and remind myself that the only way you will learn things and grow as a person is if you take a risk and try new things. Otherwise, how will you learn anything? I try to embrace my mistakes and invite the learning opportunity that comes with each one of them. Not always easy I know.
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?
I never had a mentor in my work life but that’s ok. I feel very lucky because I had the best role model as a kid- my mother. She had me at a young age and I saw how hard she had to work to make things happen for us. My mother was an immigrant who always had many jobs but used those jobs to fund her education and ultimately, her dream. I got to watch her grow up and build her incredible career. I am so proud of what she accomplished and am inspired by her passion every day. When I became a founder at 25, she never doubted me. And while she didn’t always understand my job, she understood that we’re all passionate about different things, and mine just happened to be in the arts.
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?
Perhaps women feel held back in the workplace thanks in part to traditional gender roles. There is this stigma that women can’t have a career and raise a family and, oftentimes, women have to choose one or the other. Even though there are some amazing female founders out there who work tirelessly to mentor and empower young women in the workforce, the level of representation is not where it should be. There is still a large percentage of talented young women who don’t have a female founder “role model” to look up to who can help push and inspire them to reach for their dreams.
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?
- Provide more government funding and/or scholarships for women who can’t afford the cost of education
- Establish programs in the workplace that help employees understand gender roles and how to begin the process of breaking them down
- Mentoring opportunities and programs are very important, too — throughout the years I’ve mentored many people, myself, which I find very rewarding.
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?
Women aren’t always taken as seriously as they should be and often face more challenges in the workplace including being underpaid. Latin America is still plagued with sexism. Growing up in Chile, there were very few women running companies, it’s not something you ever saw and it certainly wasn’t something anyone discussed. Equal representation in the workforce is extremely important. Being a female founder is hard but I do it in part to be a role model for my daughters, the more doors I can open for myself as a female founder, the more doors I can open for women in general. Female founders can inspire other women to realize their visions by supporting them to take chances. Showing support for one another can really help to build up the female workforce. It sets an example for women as to how they can have both a family and an independent career simultaneously without having to choose one over the other.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?
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?
Not everyone is cut out to be a founder, as you really have to be a self-starter. You need to be able to manage your time really well. You sometimes will have to live on the edge, invest in yourself, and never let the “no’s” stop you. There can be a lot of rejection. You are always on call- your business is your baby. So it’s definitely not for everyone. What could motivate someone to become a founder is when that person finally realizes being an employee isn’t going to provide them with a platform for all of their creative energy and ideas. Having the opportunity to be my own boss and a founder has given me more flexibility to create my own hours which was always very important for me. When a close friend grew terminally ill, I valued my position as a founder even more, because it afforded me the time and space I needed to be there for my friend. I would do my work from a laptop in her hospital room and keep her company, not something you could do if you didn’t work for yourself. Attention is a form of love. Having the space and freedom to give someone your undivided attention is what life is all about.
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.)
- You might find that at times your pets eat better than you do.
- There may be someone random living on your couch. (Or that random couch dweller might be you)
- You might have to supplement your income by taking random jobs
- It may be lonely
- People might not always be happy about your success, including close friends and family.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
Looking through a creative lens, I try to make the world a better place by working closely with artists to get their creative body of work realized and out there. Through mentorship, I try to pay forward my success to help others become successful. Because I do have my own company, I get to choose projects that excite me and work with people who I genuinely align with. It’s also fulfilling to be able to provide a space for people to thrive creatively, and hopefully, the work I do empowers others to become founders themselves and find their own creative spaces to thrive. I also work a lot in Latin America to help artist-driven companies build their creative pipelines.
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.
The nerd in me would love to meet David Lynch. His work has always inspired me creatively and meeting him would make my inner child jump for joy.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.