Authority Magazine
Published in

Authority Magazine

Female Founders: Lizabeth Wesely-Casellam of L-12 Services On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder

An Interview With Candice Georgiadis

Creativity — This is the lifeblood of your founder’s journey. Creativity in products and services is only the beginning. Creativity will help you find funding, focus your messaging, solve crises, streamline workflows, and help you attract high caliber talent. Creativity is the common denominator for founders.

As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lizabeth Wesely-Casella.

Lizabeth Wesely-Casella is the Founder and CEO of L-12 Services LLC, a firm specializing in internal communications training focused on workflow, processes, and culture. She works alongside her clients as a strategic advisor to create clarity from chaos through streamlined systems, meaningful internal communications strategies, and hands-on support and training for company leaders. Throughout her career, Lizabeth’s work has created lasting positive impact and powerful change across a wide spectrum of clients, from nonprofit organizations to civilian-military lead organizations.

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?

We have to go pretty far back for the beginning of the backstory; over 45 years back, as a matter of fact. It all started with process improvement in a fabric store, and I was about four years old.

Back then, my mom made a lot of our clothes and frequently took me with her to shop for patterns, fabric and sewing materials. Now imagine the reaction of the women at the sales counter when she let me loose, unattended, in the thread aisle. Cross expressions, lots of huffing, and a palpable expectation that this child was going to cause chaos. What they didn’t know, and my mom did, was that my entertainment had nothing to do with creating a furious thread rainbow. Rather, I’d entertain myself by returning the correct color bobbins to the designated tracks. I essentially performed the inventory for the sales team as a means to entertain myself while my mom shopped.

Fast forward to the legal age of employment, and that same fascination landed me jobs, promotions and increasingly exciting opportunities. From commercial construction, to nonprofits, to advocacy and health programs, I’ve found that my greatest contribution is providing unique solutions to the challenges of burnout and overwhelm.

Pattern recognition, streamlining, intuition, and empathy–those skills have served me well and enabled me to design business ecosystems that save time, reduce costs, and improve culture. I’ve been honored to help businesses retain and attract high-caliber talent through exceptional teamwork and outstanding environments.

Part organizational development, part Six Sigma, part Lean philosophy and a lot of listening, I grew a business that focuses on mining solutions from within, rather than looking outside for ‘off the shelf’ answers and one-size-fits-all tools.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

The most interesting, and arguably pivotal, event in my journey as a founder is the work I performed rewriting a health policy for First Lady Obama’s Let’s Move! program. It was the result of eating disorders and weight stigma prevention advocacy, and though it was late in the life cycle of that Administration, I found my sweet spot–leading divergent groups in a common cause by organizing and refining information.

Our coalition was comprised of community leaders who oppose weight stigma messaging but who also view the behaviors surrounding weight and weight loss through significantly different lenses. For example, the eating disorders and obesity prevention communities are on opposite sides of the conversation related to health metrics, and because of this, finding common language and common ground was a challenge. Guiding these passionate leaders through a process of collaboration was a challenge, but in the end, that opportunity helped me identify the ways I wanted to use my skills and the value of sharing that experience with organizations and teams.

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?

This is an excellent question, but I would argue that the statistics are potentially way off if we are asking the question in 2021. Why? Because the pandemic has shifted the entrepreneurial landscape dramatically. We are currently in the beginning stages of what some are calling the Great Resignation, and women make up an increasingly significant part of the workforce leaving employee positions to start their own business. I predict that by 2023 we will see an increase in not only funded female-owned businesses, but also in six, seven, and eight figure businesses with female founders.

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?

Women have reevaluated what they want for a work-life balance. They (we) also have access to programs and a social justice message unlike any other time in recent history. The climate is right for women to make great strides in business, especially as entrepreneurs.

My work regularly connects me with established businesses, so something that I hear quite often is, “I wish we would have thought of this, or built this, from the beginning.” With that in mind, I think that individuals who are thoughtful about building their business and structured in their growth, avoid a lot of problems. What that means in concrete terms is, whether a person wants to build a solopreneur business, or a business with additional teammates, starting out with structure is wise. Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) are as valuable in a One Woman Shop as much as they are in teams. They help us identify inefficiency and increase standardization. Similarly, memorialized policies and strategic plans keep any size business on track and focused for significant periods of time.

Both of these documented practices will also help down the road if funding is on the table. Investors want to know what you do, how you do it, and what you’ve tried historically, so record keeping is also a way to fast track your proposal materials.

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?

Ruth Bader-Ginsburg was once asked, “When will there be enough women on the Supreme Court?” Her answer was, “When there are nine.”

She meant that we need to normalize women in positions of power, and in my mind, that relates directly to this question. More women should become founders because business leadership is not a male specific activity. Any woman who wants to become a founder or an entrepreneur should have the opportunity to learn what it takes and do so as she feels capable.

As a non-monolithic talent pool, women offer myriad qualities and benefits to the founders and leader eschalon.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?

  1. That “doing it all” is the definition of success. I’m not going to get into the weeds on whether or not a person can do it all, but I will say that most women do not have the resources and support to do so and nail everything at the same time. There is a big difference between doing a lot of things marginally and doing a few things exceptionally well. So if you can, choose the things that are important to you, aligned with your values, and that you feel really good about. Don’t set “doing everything” as the metric for succeeding. Not everything has equal weight or importance. The common storyline is the eternally harried professional, and that means the character is actually failing at the one thing that we all deserve: a successful, enjoyable, life. Take care of yourself, experience the journey, connect with others, read for enjoyment. Whatever “life” is to you, don’t neglect that piece in favor of “all the things.”
  2. The founder gets paid last. Whoever thought this up was only playing at business, not a business person. The founder is arguably the hardest working and most invested person in the business, and they deserve to be paid as much as any sub or vendor. Don’t cheat yourself, and don’t fail to prepare. If you pay yourself, you have money to reinvest during lean times; and if you fail to pay yourself, you are not running a business, you are engaged in a hobby. I encourage all founders to read and practice Profit First, by Mike Michalowicz.
  3. Experts must be serious. Not true. Think about some of the best athletes, scientists, actors, and inventors and the moments that go viral. It’s when they look like they are having fun. So, go ahead and be friendly and approachable. What you throw out to the universe you attract to you, and who doesn’t want happy, fun clients?

Is everyone cut out to be a business leader? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful business owner, and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?

I would say that anyone who is interested in starting a business, educated about the risks and skill sets required, can test the waters, but not everyone will want to become an entrepreneur once they know what it takes to be successful. And starting a business is different from being a leader.

I don’t want to dissuade people from learning about what it takes. What I’d encourage people to do is think deeply about the many hats, the demands, and the risks required. There are creative solutions for people who have some skills and not others.

For example, many people who own businesses are not hands-on leaders. Others work strictly within one specialty area, such as external sales or product delivery, and surround themselves with experts to manage the other aspects of the business.

Good leaders get to know their people on a deeper level. They invest time and attention in those people who keep the boat afloat through regular one-on-one meetings, net promoter surveys, walking “the floor”, and mentoring. Leaders with high performing teams are interested and available. If being a successful leader is a goal, the milestones to get there include engagement, respect, and genuine communication.

What I’ve seen our clients develop through our work together, and what I’ve experienced firsthand, is a keen ability to hear what’s not being said and to draw those conversations, solutions, or confidence out for the benefit of all involved.

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.)

  1. Confidence — You are going to run into people who don’t understand your business, the value of your service, or don’t agree with you. You must believe deeply in what you are offering so profoundly that you can explain it any number of ways, smile through rejection, and consider constructive criticism without throwing in the towel.
  2. Curiosity — The more you open your mind to the possibility that your product or service can improve, the better you and your business will become. Not all input is appropriate, but listen with curiosity for those nuggets that propel you past your competition.
  3. Courage — You are bringing something new to life. You will hear the word no. People will ghost you. Others will negotiate with you for something you don’t agree with. Stand firm, know your value, work hard, and have the courage of your convictions. You are your own greatest champion, and this is your shot.
  4. Compassion — Listen to your clients, team, and vendors. How can you be valuable? How can you make working with you better/easier/more desirable? How do you want to be perceived by your peers or within the business community? Those businesses that are known, liked, and trusted are the ones who give back to all stakeholders in ways both large and small.
  5. Creativity — This is the lifeblood of your founder’s journey. Creativity in products and services is only the beginning. Creativity will help you find funding, focus your messaging, solve crises, streamline workflows, and help you attract high caliber talent. Creativity is the common denominator for founders.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

We’re reminding our clients and their teams that their workplace ecosystem is a direct reflection on that company’s leadership, as well as its people. It requires each participant bringing their best every day to make that ecosystem thrive. We work with our clients to invest and support their teams through better internal communications, systems development, and more. It’s really about treating employees as investment-worthy parts of the company.

And outside of our client work, we’re always looking for ways to create opportunities for our community. L-12 Services in the process of developing a start-up community support resource for businesses owned by women, minorities, and those with disabilities. The work will center around how to position these young businesses to prevent common workflow and process challenges and what to do when growth threatens existing processes. We also provide internships for those interested in learning how to identify and solve workflows, processes, and culture challenges within corporate environments.

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.

A return to being thoughtful. I would love to see people connect the dots between what they do and say with the behavior of others. It’s not a new concept; it’s pretty much the “everything I learned in kindergarten” idea. But over the last few years, I’ve seen a lot of people act without considering the impact on others.

Whether it’s ghosting a colleague, not showing the respect of paying attention during a meeting, behaving badly toward service providers, or propagating misinformation, our actions toward others have a ripple effect. If we treat one another with respect and kindness, I believe those ripples will move though society just as fast and far.

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.

Vice President Kamala Harris. She is powerful and confident, but compassionate at the same time, which is pretty freaking cool.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis is an active mother of three as well as a designer, founder, social media expert, and philanthropist.