Female Founders: Lauren Kelley of That Random Agency On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder
An Interview With Candice Georgiadis
A community of other women — nobody succeeds in a vacuum as an entrepreneur. Connecting with other female founders for camaraderie and friendship has had such a positive effect on my business. Remember, there is room for everyone to succeed.
As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lauren Kelley.
Lauren Kelley is a Social Media Strategist from Detroit with a passion for creating content that makes an impact. After working in advertising and PR for major Fortune 500 brands like Ford, Harley-Davidson, Nestle Purina, she founded That Random Agency to provide social media and podcasting services for brands who want to accomplish big goals and have fun along the way.
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?
As the daughter of a single mother who owned her own business, I was fortunate to be raised with the belief that women can achieve anything they set their minds to. My entrepreneurial journey began in my college dorm room. At the time, I had a horrible job at the campus library. My job was to scan the shelves, row by row, and make sure the books were in proper Dewey decimal order. It was horribly boring, and I spent hours dreaming about painting while scanning books. One day, I broke out a pair of canvas shoes and started to paint on them. This little hobby turned into an online store and I was able to quit my library job and pay for all of my expenses doing something I love from my college dorm. My business grew by sharing on social media, which would turn out to be a career years later.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
When it comes to being a founder and a leader, it can sometimes feel like you’re on an island when you first start out. You’re spending long hours with yourself or a small team and it’s easy to forget that others around see the work you are putting in. About a year after launching Random, I was approached by someone who was looking for a job. We worked for the same company in the past, but I didn’t know them very well. After chatting more, I learned that they had been following my company and its progression for a while and were excited about what they saw. Although we didn’t work directly together previously, this person told me a story about a positive interaction we had in the lunchroom one time that stuck with them. That moment taught me two big lessons:
- People are cheering you on, even if you don’t know it at the time. So, don’t give up!
- People remember the way that you made them feel. So always be kind to others. You never know when someone may come back around to your life again.
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?
This certainly didn’t feel funny at the time, but one mistake I made early on was thinking that I needed to manage every aspect of the business myself. When we hired our first intern, I thought I had everything set to go. Signed offer letter, new hire paperwork, direct deposit information — check, check, check! It wasn’t until a few days before her first payday that I realized that because she was working out of state, the tax paperwork that needed to be filed was entirely different than ours in Michigan. After hours of research, paperwork, and phone calls, I was able to get things filed in time for payroll. I laugh about this now with our very wise tax advisor, but it was important to go through because it helped me realize that sometimes the best thing for your company is to hire an expert to help instead of trying to do it all yourself.
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’m thankful to have had many female leaders who have inspired and shaped me along the way. One person who I am incredibly grateful for, though, is Sarah Holm. I started my career in advertising at one of the biggest ad agencies in Detroit. At the time, there were two choices for your career in the creative department — art direction or copywriting. As someone who enjoys both writing and the visual arts, it felt like a limiting choice. After that meeting, I was approached by Sarah. She told me she was fighting to start a new department at the agency for social media and invited me to join her. At a time when social media wasn’t yet taken seriously by brands, the decision to join the social media team was risky. But that leap of faith paid off tremendously, and I’m grateful to Sarah for teaching me that it pays off to question the status quo and do hard things.
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?
When I started my business, a countless number of female friends and colleagues celebrated and supported me. Quite a few even admitted they were envious. Dozens of women shared that they would love to be their own boss, pursue their passions, or start a company. Each woman I talked to had the same general reasons for not taking the leap. I heard statements like, “How can I walk away from benefits and a reliable position?” “What if it doesn’t work out?” and “I have kids, parents, other responsibilities; it feels like an unnecessary risk.”
From an early age, young girls are conditioned to be smart, sensible and to play it safe. It’s subtle, but studies have shown that confidence in women starts to go down in teen years, while it rises for men in their teens.
As a society, we need to encourage women of all ages to pursue the things that light their fire. We need to celebrate and share stories of the founders that are making it happen against all odds. You never know when sharing your truth could be the spark that another woman needs to pursue her dream too.
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?
One important thing we can all do as a society is to support women-owned businesses. We vote with our dollars each day, so it’s imperative that we are mindful of who and what we support.
I would also love to see more schools teach students entrepreneurial thinking and business concepts. Young people are full of wonder and ideas. If channeled the right way, I genuinely believe they can change the world.
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?
More women should become female founders because the world needs our ideas. Women have unique experiences and perspectives to offer that aren’t often represented in major industries. I’m amazed to see so many women, especially women of color, blazing a new path in the business world and C-suite. Imagine what powerful products, services, and contributions these women could make if they founded a company on their terms, with their rules and standards. That’s a world I want to live in.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?
Many people have this idea that being a founder is a glamorous job — you set your hours, choose what clients you work with, and spend your days hanging out in a modern coworking space like they see on TV.
For some people, this might ring true. But for myself and many other female founders I know, the reality is many late nights, wearing many hats, and near-constant strategizing of how you can continue to improve, support your employees and grow the business. Don’t get me wrong; it’s a lot of fun. But it’s also a lot of hard work and messy desks.
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?
Being a founder and entrepreneur is definitely not for everyone. It requires incredible self-awareness and perseverance on both the good days and the bad. You’ll hear the word “no” a million different ways, and some days it can feel lonely. You need to know your strengths and where you need to grow (or hire!) to keep your business going. If you are someone who needs the stability of the same thing each workday, you’re probably better off with a “regular job.”
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, what are the “Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder?” (Please share a story or example for each.)
- A thick skin — whether you’re pitching your business to a VC firm or talking about your company at a dinner party, you are going to receive all varieties of feedback about your product, service, or vision. You must follow your gut and stand true to what you believe.
- Support system — whether it’s your partner, family, or friend, a good support system is crucial for life as a founder. You’ll need someone to celebrate your wins and pick you up when you’re down.
- A good tax person is a very practical recommendation, but it’s the best advice I received when I started my company. An experienced tax advisor will save you both time and money in the long run.
- Creative outlet — I’ve learned that it can be hard to come up with innovative solutions when we focus on one problem or situation for too long. The best solution I’ve found is removing myself entirely and spending time on something else I enjoy. Whether that’s art or cooking or exercise, find something that you love and do that whenever you’re feeling stuck. When you take a break from a problem, the ideas start to flow.
- A community of other women — nobody succeeds in a vacuum as an entrepreneur. Connecting with other female founders for camaraderie and friendship has had such a positive effect on my business. Remember, there is room for everyone to succeed.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
One cause that I’m particularly passionate about is creating opportunities for women in the business world that often get overlooked. At Random, we’ve created a “Returnship” program specifically for women who have been out of the workforce for several years. Whether a woman left her career to have kids, take care of an elderly parent, or experienced an injury, a job gap on someone’s resume can make it almost impossible to re-enter the workforce. These women have so much to contribute. I’m proud to offer a flexible job opportunity for these women and like to think that I’m helping make the world a better place, one family at a time.
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.
I would love to inspire women in business to be unapologetically themselves. So many of us have spent far too long comparing ourselves to others or worrying about being “too much” or “too little.” The truth is that my greatest successes as a Founder have always come after being authentic. No matter what you do, you won’t be the best fit for every investor, client, or opportunity that comes your way — but if you are true to your mission and values, you will find success.
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 would love to have a private breakfast with Sallie Krawcheck, the CEO and Co-Founder of Ellevest. Sallie is such a positive advocate for women in business, and I admire her work to level the playing field for women when it comes to financial literacy and education.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.