Masters of the Turnaround: “When I opened myself up to learn from other people and appreciate what they had to say, that is when I overcame the adversity in my business” with Lauren Grech and Jason Crowley
As part of my series about prominent entrepreneurs and executives that overcame adversity to achieve great success, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lauren Grech. Lauren is the co-founder and CEO of LLG Events, a luxury international event management and design firm specializing in weddings and experiential events in New York City and worldwide. In just three years, LLG Events became a Forbes 30Under30 nominee for taking a $300 billion industry and generating philanthropic revenue; after being the youngest-ever company invited to the Destination Wedding Planners Congress, where 70+ countries are represented. Lauren and her partners are adjunct professors for New York University’s upcoming Masters of Science in Event Management program, the first of its kind in the country. They have solidified partnerships with resorts and tourism boards across the globe, worth over $1 million in corporate-sponsored travel for 2019. Learn more at LLGevents.com.
Jason Crowley: Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this specific career path?
Lauren Grech: LLG Events was born unconventionally. Thinking I would pursue a career in Biology/Pre-Med, I went to undergrad at Binghamton University and then went on to earn my Masters of Science in Forensic Science at Pace University. Post-graduation, I became a Research and Development Scientist where I determined cause of death, ran toxicology reports and researched new drug testing technology for pain management clinics. Turns out, I hated it! I thrive in social settings, with dynamic people, and although working at the medical examiner’s office was extremely rewarding, it did not feel like I was making a direct impact and I typically worked alone.
I was working at the medical examiner’s office in New York City when my now husband, Paul, proposed! I began planning my own wedding and learning about the world of events. There was such a flair, it reminded me of putting on a show, and I loved it. It felt like going to the circus for the first time — when you see all these different acts, and everyone’s talent and coordination to pull it off, how could you not get enamored by that? It was a lifestyle that celebrated the happiest day of people’s lives and I wanted to be a part of it. So, I began planning my exit strategy from research and development, and started LLG Events, one month after I married my husband Paul. I told him about my plan and he wanted to be part of it, so we agreed to be business partners. We sat at my mom’s kitchen table thinking of a name and creating a business strategy. We agreed that our first step was to go back to the place where we got married and ask to shadow the Maitre D.
And so we went, working 40 hours a week at our “normal” jobs, and volunteering every Thursday and Friday evening when they had corporate or social events, and every Saturday and Sunday when they had weddings. Paul and I would be there for 32 hours most weekends, and learned everything we could. We worked every job — from barback to waiting tables to bridal attending to valet to bathroom attending, we did it all. We shadowed anyone and everyone we could, to learn every aspect of the industry. I knew that if we were going to be successful and respected, we needed to have exposure to every position.
Crowley: Can you share your story of when you were on the brink of failure? First, take us back to what it was like during the darkest days.
Grech: Six months into our marriage, I made us sell our apartment, our cars, and move in with my in-laws. I had finally quit my job as a Research and Development Scientist to go all-in on LLG Events.
I invested all of our wedding money into a photoshoot and vendor showcases at a prominent venue, but we did not receive any business. I nearly cleaned out our bank account. I received lead lists from various venues and I reached out to every single couple I met. Weeks went by and I would follow up or wait for the phone to ring, thinking we would book a client and everything would change. I expected fast success, but as most entrepreneurs know, it’s not that easy. It was naive of me to think that investing in one photoshoot and some vendor showcases would mean an instant return in business when I had no name or clout in the industry.
I felt discouraged, depressed, embarrassed, and that I didn’t even want to do it anymore. I thought, “Did I make a huge mistake? I made this massive career move, I told everyone about it, and here I was — with no business to show.” That’s when I felt I was on the brink of failure.
But at the same time, I knew I was onto something because I viewed the industry differently than anyone else.
Crowley: What was your mindset during such a challenging time? Where did you get the drive to keep going when things were so hard?
Grech: I was deflated, embarrassed and felt like a failure. I truly was in my own head. You know how everybody recommends that during difficult moments you should talk to someone, reach out to a friend, partner, etc. where they can be a sounding board? That’s not me. When I’m in my head, I’m the only person that can get myself out.
Yet, I knew that I didn’t want to give up. I had too much to prove — mostly to myself (and too much to bring to the industry). I thought, “If I could just get in front of the right people, then I’ll get my break.” So I searched for other opportunities that I wasn’t thinking about beforehand.
This led me to attend a New York City bridal showcase — but this time, as an attendee. I wanted to learn about the audience that attends these kind of events, to talk to them as a fellow bride and not as a vendor. I was hoping to understand what they want, so in return, I would know what to show them. However, I realized that there were about 10 vendors to every 1 couple, and it felt really discouraging as each of the couples were being hit with multiple sales pitches across all vendor types. Even if I learned what to show couples at these showcases, how would I stand out enough to get booked? I knew this wasn’t the answer to my success, so I left.
After the showcase, I decided to take a walk through Little Italy, wondering what I was going to do next. Coincidentally, I ran into the Colombian model from my first photoshoot where I had spent most of our savings. She did not talk to anyone at the photoshoot because she was intimidated to speak English, but thanks to my Peruvian heritage and efforts to include everyone, I was able to converse with her in Spanish and make her feel important.
So there we were in Little Italy and she told me how she had just gotten engaged to the love of her life. She asked if I was still planning weddings, and if I would consider planning internationally. This was my break — I literally could not believe my luck! Three weeks later, she called, signed our contract, and confirmed she wanted to get married in either Italy or France.
Crowley: Tell us how you were able to overcome such adversity and achieve massive success? What did the next chapter look like?
Grech: I created buzz around the wedding I was planning in France. I tried to get different New York City vendors involved, different media publications and features, because I knew that if I could create social and brand currency, people would start talking about this wedding and it would be my big break.
From there, I just didn’t stop. It was the spark that I needed to take off, the validation for myself that I was good at what I was doing. Knowing that someone was paying for me to go to France and plan their wedding was the confidence boost I needed.
When the destination wedding day came, everything went wrong. There was a freak frost in the Loire Valley (located in the middle stretch of the Loire River in central France), which caused multiple power outages, flight cancellations and black ice, which affected every component of the destination wedding. I was feeling intense, crippling pressure. I was grateful that Paul was with me on this trip, but we knew we needed another person. We needed to start adding bulk to our team and leveraging other’s strengths. Luck was on our side because the venue hired an event producer to assist with the catering preparations. She saw the situation we were in, as well as our guests, and she knew exactly how to help. She sprinted into action — calling and rescheduling multiple flights, determining alternate bus routes, speaking French and helping us coordinate through our worst case scenario. She was the puzzle piece we needed — the friendly and kind coordinator, producer and now business partner, Teal.
After two years of trying to do it all on my own, I eventually matured through age, experience, and falling flat on my face. When I opened myself up to learn from other people and appreciate what they had to say, that is when I overcame the adversity in my business.
The next chapter — it wasn’t what it looked like, it’s what it felt like. It felt like I had control, but in the most liberating way. I no longer felt suffocated by tasks or overwhelmed by the mounting workload, because I had control over my business and had brought Teal on board. So, the biggest component of my ‘next chapter’ was building a team — a really dynamic, creative team that can teach me as much as I can teach them. Lessons learned — play people to their strengths and capitalize on a little luck.
Crowley: Based on your experience, can you share three actionable pieces of advice about how to develop the mindset needed to persevere through adversity? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Meditate — Take time for yourself and wellness. I began my wellness routine when my partner had to take two months off from work in light of a family tragedy. Imagine building a team and finding success with them, and then having to go back to working alone again. My partner had become my best friend, my confidant, and I also was not quite sure how to help her through the loss of a loved one. So, I invested in my mental health and started going to meditation to see if this was something we could do together. It was extremely calming, and I learned techniques on how to overcome anxiety, how to work alone and still be productive, how to have a work ethic without my partner coming to the office and prompting me to get working. This helped resolve all of those feelings from when I was on the brink of failure, because the mindset during a challenging time is usually that you feel alone.
- Read — Reading books about other entrepreneurs that were successful to me was extremely helpful. I read The Magnolia Story by Chip and Joanna Gaines, Contagious by Jonah Berger, Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler…these books helped immensely because they showed me what other people had endured, and how they overcame their own adversity.
- Personality Tests — I did the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and it’s amazing how accurate it is. It allows you to see yourself for how you truly are and can almost predict how you will react in certain situations. I saw exactly where my weaknesses are — one being that I don’t thrive in an environment where I’m alone. I regain my energy through interactions with people, so I know now to build a network of people that can always help create good energy.
Crowley: None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Grech: There are three main people who have helped me get to where I am.
- Paul — My husband, my founding business partner for LLG Events. Paul has been there since the beginning. When I told him I wanted to start a business and quit my job, he volunteered with me so that I was never alone. He came to every meeting, met every vendor, every client. He put the time in outside of his full-time job so that we could build LLG Events together as a husband-wife duo. He never let me face anything by myself — even to this day. He always has my best interest and knows how to pull the best out of everyone. He’s the one that recognized I needed to partner with Teal, and pulled me out of my own distractions to notice it.
- Teal — My business partner that took a husband-wife duo and made it a fabulous trio. I wouldn’t be anywhere without her. You can’t buy loyalty like she has. And we didn’t even know each other from anywhere, we just knew that we both came from certain pasts and would be lifelong friends, supporters, motivators, and business partners. She was the event producer I needed during our event in France. She is reliable and hard working; she attends every single event, coordinates every event, and is the Creative Director for LLG Events; she is the one that gives me the confidence to go out there and sell our services.
- My Mom — From the very first LLG sit down at her kitchen table, to her showing up and volunteering at our events, she has walked this journey with me from the very beginning. She made sure to attend every event, showcase and photoshoot I ever created; she was my travel buddy when venue scouting; she is my biggest fan. She never fails to remind me how proud she is and to always take care of myself. I would not be the CEO I am without her business savviness, her love and her continued support.
Crowley: Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Grech: You know the saying, “Give someone a fish, you feed them for a day. Teach someone to fish, you feed them for a lifetime.” That inspired me to start LLG Events’ Industry Meetups for college students and young professionals seeking to enter the events industry. And I think this will be LLG Events’ biggest impact on the industry to date. By being able to fuse together the experienced with the up and coming, we can shape the future of the industry. No one has hosted event industry meetups on college campuses, rather everyone in our industry just talks to others already within the industry. But I want to teach and inspire, I want to give back the knowledge that I’ve acquired.
From this effort, Paul, Teal and I were asked to be adjunct professors for New York University’s upcoming Masters of Science in Event Management program, the first of its kind in the country. We get to have a direct impact on students. It’s the biggest testament to all the hard work we’ve done to grow our business.
Crowley: You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Grech: A story that really inspired me was told by my Abuela who lives in Peru. She attends two flea markets that happen annually, where family members of prisoners line up to sell crafts made by the prisoners. The crafts are sold to raise money for a lawyer, to get the prisoners out on bail, for things they might need such as a clean pair of underwear.
I thought this type of reformation effort was incredible. By teaching people a craft or trade, they have a better chance of getting a job and staying out of trouble when they get out. I would like to start a movement where these rehabilitation efforts are seen in the U.S. for prisoners or for recovering addicts, who need some assistance with integrating back into society and staying on track in the right direction.
Crowley: Any parting words of wisdom that you would like to share?
Grech: Enjoy the process. That’s one thing I’ve always had difficulty doing. I always wanted to get “there,” but recently I’ve realized it’s better to learn and live in the moment, all while loving the process.
Good fortune favors the brave and the hardworking. Sometimes you have to take matters into your own hands, make your own luck and know when to capitalize on what’s been placed in front of you.
Fail quickly, and own your failures. I used to feel that failure was a sign of weakness, but in fact it’s probably the greatest way to learn and my greatest strength!
Crowley: How can our readers follow you on social media?
Grech: @LLGevents for all social media accounts!