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Female Founders: Tessa May Marr On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder

An Interview With Candice Georgiadis

Positive Self Talk — Work on harnessing your ability to choose your thoughts, and to choose positive ones. I have learned some of this from studying yoga. Being able to pause, to watch your thoughts come and go and disassociate from them is very powerful when you’re “spiraling”. Learning to put your attention on what you want is a great way to manifest!

As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tessa May Marr.

Tessa May Marr is an entrepreneur at heart and proud to lead a 100 per cent virtual social media marketing agency, working with B2B and B2C brands to build custom social strategies, paid social advertising, influencer marketing and fully outsourced social media management. Tessa is a pioneer in her leadership style, with a strong focus on work/life balance, empathy, and a whole-human approach. She has developed unique practices throughout the years of building and leading a remote, creative team and breathes new life into the agency format.

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?

In the early days, post high school, I had dreamt of a career in PR and/or business. Social media wasn’t really a thing back then, so it never crossed my mind. But before I got too far in that direction, I landed a job at an airline and uncovered a love for travel. That was how I spent the better part of my 20s — up in the air, seeing the world. As much as I loved the lifestyle, the job itself wasn’t filling my cup and challenging me in the ways I longed for, and I started to get restless. One fateful day, enjoying a boozy brunch downtown (isn’t that where all great ideas are born?) I sent out a tweet to a handful of different hot spots, publicly “considering” where we should head that evening. Within minutes, one business tweeted back and offered me and all my friends a free glass of bubbly to pick them, and so of course, we did. This exchange got me thinking… they won our business with one tweet. I felt seen, heard and important to them, all from less than 140 characters. (This was 2012 when that was the character limit.) Imagine if all businesses actively engaged with customers and potential customers on social media. It could be pretty effective? And just like that, I decided I wanted to put that theory to the test.

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

Well… managing 3X growth across the board over the wild and crazy 18 months of COVID was pretty up there! But I’ll get a little more specific and talk about one thing we did that contributed to our exponential growth. I hadn’t really raised my rates since inception. I was so afraid to. Terrified, really! And I’d heard dozens of entrepreneurs offer the advice to charge more — charge what you’re worth. But, of course, I worried that that couldn’t apply to me. But finally, January 2021, we did it. We not only increased rates — we doubled them across the board. And guess what? I have more leads than ever before and our monthly recurring revenue has grown by 3X. So, for anyone reading this, PLEASE TAKE MY ADVICE. Charge more!

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?

Well, I accidentally wound up running a design firm for a hot minute there. After kicking things off with one client, then signing my second shortly after, they started asking if we would do some graphic design for them as well as social. I knew some designers, so I said sure! Seemed easy enough and a great way to make some more money. Then someone asked if we would do website design for them and once again, I knew someone who did it so wrote up a contract and kicked off the project. Within a few months, I had a team of eight, six of whom were designers and had nothing to do with social media. Growth is good, right? Wrong. I was bleeding money, having no clue how to price design work, handle scope creep or manage people in general. I started a social media marketing agency… how did this happen? So I pivoted back to the original plan, sized down and got back to doing what I knew how to do and voila… we started seeing success. Seems like such a crazy mistake now that I look back, but it can be tough in the beginning to say no to work. To this day, social media remains our niche and area of focus, which is a big part of our differentiation.

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?

Without a doubt, my partner, James Thomas. As a seasoned CMO, has played a huge part in mentoring me through working with clients, managing a team and growing a business in marketing. As an entrepreneur, your business becomes a huge part of your life. It’s what you think about first thing in the morning and when you wake up in the middle of the night — it’s hard to turn off. Having a partner that is supportive of that reality, and participates in your journey as a champion and a sounding board is crucial to your success.

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, of course, a generalization, but leading a team of all females (right now — we have had men in past) I certainly feel I can speak to this with some element of expertise. I find women to possess less confidence than men. What’s been great for me in managing men is how willing they are to take something on, present to a client, deliver their work. My coaching has been most often encouraging them to take another pass at something, perfect it further or ask for help. With women, it’s been the opposite for me. My job is to get my team to believe they’re as capable as they already are, be okay with less than perfect at times and to take well deserved time off. There are pros and cons to both situations, but the lower self confidence would certainly present a barrier to taking the leap of starting a business.

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?

I think as a society, women can be very critical of themselves and each other. This has to stop! We should be building each other up, not tearing each other down. Everyone can contribute to that change no matter their role in the world. The good news is, I’m noticing this idea taking shape more and more, little by little.

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 often have a very empathetic, human approach to business, which I think is a game changer for the world of business. We are often softer in nature, and I think our team’s deserve that. People deserve to be treated like whole humans, with families, emotions and mental health needs. When we show up like that for them, they have the opportunity to be more open, honest and fulfilled at work and, in turn, do their best work! We can also bring that energy to our clients, in how we treat and serve them. Personal connections can be formed even in a business atmosphere, and it always translates back to retention and satisfaction. And finally, in the way we grow our businesses. Have you ever seen the meme about men’s brains being a bunch of boxes and women’s being spaghetti? We have the ability to consider multiple perspectives, ideas and impacts simultaneously and while in some ways it can be less efficient, it can also be incredibly powerful when strategizing.

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

This was the hardest question of the entire interview, and I think mainly because, I don’t know if I have come upon many myths that aren’t true! It’s way harder than you expect it will be. It isn’t glamorous a lot of the time. It usually takes awhile to make any good money. You do have to fake it till you make it. You do have to learn to delegate to grow. It will take blood, sweat and tears. And, it will be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life.

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?

I don’t think being a founder is for everyone. It’s not better or worse (the world needs both entrepreneurs and employees to function) but the personalities, needs and desires are different. Founding a company is like having a baby. You have to be committed to prioritizing it, dreaming about it, keeping it safe and helping it grow. It can feel very consuming, but it’s also incredibly rewarding. Ask any parent and I bet they’d say the same thing about raising their children. For some, they don’t want to take that on. Maybe they have other priorities in their life they’re not willing to compromise like security, family.

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.)

Personal Support System — Founding a company is emotionally challenging, and feels a lot different than having a job in many ways. It takes up a lot of capacity in your brain, and you’re going to need to be able to talk about it. A lot. Ensuring you have friends and family that are willing to listen to you, reassure you, let you cry or vent or even bounce ideas off of goes a long way. Even as you grow and you have a team, you can’t always go to them in pure, raw form when you have to keep your leader hat on. So find someone who you can be a mess with.

Positive Self Talk — Work on harnessing your ability to choose your thoughts, and to choose positive ones. I have learned some of this from studying yoga. Being able to pause, to watch your thoughts come and go and disassociate from them is very powerful when you’re “spiraling”. Learning to put your attention on what you want is a great way to manifest!

Mentors — Identify one or more key people in your life that have experience that could help you as you grow. They could be fellow founders, partners, leaders in key areas — that can depend! And if you don’t have anyone in your life that fits that bill, get out there and start networking and find someone! And, when you’re finding your success, be sure to pay it forward and mentor someone else.

Relentlessness — It’s simple. You just can’t give up. You have to keep working, keep dreaming, keep pitching, keep iterating and never ever stop. (Other than, for vacations — we all need time to recharge.) The only difference between a small side hustle and a thriving business is going all in, every day.

Vision — Founders need to be able to step back and see the big picture. They need to be able to envision what the future could look like and then work backwards to map out how to get there. But it starts with a concept. I know for me, I can often get too entangled in the day to day and have to force myself to get away (a holiday, take a drive, daydream on a flight) and that’s when the big ideas start flowing again. It’s crucial to make the day by day stuff matter.

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

I don’t know that I’m doing it on any grandiose scale, but I like to think I am within my team. I get to lead, challenge and inspire a team of females, which is pretty cool. I encourage them to get out of their comfort zones, make space for other interests in their lives, have families and ultimately to align their work with their lives as a whole. Personally, I think our world could use a lot more of that. So it’s what I’m up to.

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’d love to find a way to inspire and support more female entrepreneurs! I think we’ve come so far, and yet there are still a lot of women who generally feel less confident than men out there. I’d love to help change that somehow.

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 have to say Ariana Huffington or Jillian Harris. Both are business leaders who believe in working hard, all while balancing time and energy for fun, family, health and wellness. I’d love to talk about leadership philosophies and compare notes with either of them! I’m sure I could learn a ton.

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

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