“Give direct, honest feedback, even if it feels uncomfortable. It’s the quickest route to success not only for your company, but for the individual as well. Two helpful resources on that topic are Kim Scott’s Radical Candor and Adam Grant’s WorkLife podcast on a hedge fund that embraces negative feedback.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Alexis Grant, Executive Vice President of Content for The Penny Hoarder, a fast-growing media company that focuses on personal finance. Alexis leads 50+ content creators, including editors and writers, photographers and photo editors, video editors and producers, and designers. She began her career as a journalist, then founded and grew a blog-management company, which was acquired by The Penny Hoarder. In addition to leading the company’s reporters and creatives, she works alongside the founder on strategic initiatives and scaling the company.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I never expected to leave traditional journalism; I loved working as a reporter for the Houston Chronicle and then U.S. News & World Report. But then I had a taste of what it was like to grow my own business… and I found satisfaction in figuring out how to bring in money. My position now at The Penny Hoarder is the perfect mix, at the intersection of content creation and revenue-generation.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Our fast pace of growth has presented some pretty unique opportunities for personal growth. When The Penny Hoarder acquired my company in 2015, I was the third employee. Three years later, we have 110 employees and a brand-new HQ in downtown Saint Petersburg, Florida. That landed us on the Inc. 500 as the fastest-growing private media company in 2017.
Initially, I was the lead on everything related to editorial and marketing, and over time we hired people with experience to lead departments within those divisions. For example, we hired an SEO Manager, who now has an entire team working under him to grow our presence in search. We brought on a Managing Editor who had 20 years of experience at the Tampa Bay Times to lead our newsroom. We recruited a Director of Video who worked for years with Oprah at Harpo to grow our video team.
Each hire has not only helped the company level up, they’ve helped me grow as an individual — because I get to learn from them. Absorbing all the ideas and knowledge from the brilliant team we’ve put together is one of the major perks of my job — brainpower I simply wouldn’t have had access to if I hadn’t joined this company.
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?
Two months after I joined The Penny Hoarder full time, I had my first baby. My son surprised us by arriving three weeks early, something I hadn’t expected or prepared for as a first-time mom.
Picture me in the recovery room, holding my newborn just hours after he was born, and my phone rings. I was kind of in a just-gave-birth stupor and assumed it was a call related to the baby, so I answered. It was one of our designers who had a quick question about a t-shirt design. He didn’t realize I’d had the baby, and I was too caught off guard to tell him… so I just answered his question and ended the call like I would’ve any other day. My husband still laughs about me “working” in the hours after giving birth.
At the time I didn’t realize it would be the beginning of a constant balance between family and work. I am so lucky to contribute to a company that’s highly flexible and values family time, and I love that I get to play a role in setting the expectation here for work-life balance. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Like in many families, my husband and I both work demanding jobs, and every week feels like a bit of a juggle to take care of and spend time with our now 1- and 3-year-old boys. I appreciate and enjoy both my roles, as a mom and as a professional leader, and I’m always looking for ways to make them work better together.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I know I’m not the only one who appreciates all the opportunities we have here for learning and personal growth. In fact, we realized when looking at some of our most successful hires that having the ability and eagerness to learn is crucial to contributing to this company in a meaningful way.
So I often ask job candidates, can you share at least one thing you’re hoping to learn while working here? There’s one answer I hear often, whether I’m interviewing for a creative position or a role in another department: new hires want to learn the money magic behind the business. They want to understand how we monetize content during a time when so many media companies are struggling.
Because of this interest, we provide a lot of opportunities for staffers to learn about revenue generation, regardless of which department they work in. I think it’s pretty cool that staffers who traditionally might not touch revenue get to learn about and even affect it here. It’s satisfying when your work makes a difference not only in the lives of readers, but also for helping the company thrive over time.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We’re rolling out a new video series about interesting ways people make money. What I love about these videos is the personal angle; you really get to know the subject’s motivation and the details behind how they made it work for them. For example, we covered a woman named Kate who got in a serious car accident, invented a unique heating pad for her injuries, and has since brought in $1 million in sales for the product online. Her story is so inspiring!
All of our content is created to help people earn, save or grow their money, and this video series fits right into that wheelhouse.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
Give direct, honest feedback, even if it feels uncomfortable. It’s the quickest route to success not only for your company, but for the individual as well.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
Trust and relationships come first. Yes, the work is important, but you’ll never get things done if you don’t trust each other.
Take time to build that trust and those relationships just like you would take time to improve a hard skill. Often that means getting out of the office, connecting on a personal level about something other than work, and showing people you care about them.
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 lucky to have awesome parents who have supported me, even when I followed through on some crazy dreams, like backpacking solo through Africa at the age of 27. Now that I’m a mother myself, I see just how hard that must have been for them!
In part because my company serves people who want to learn how to manage their money, I also recognize how much I benefited from my parents teaching me about finances. When I was young, I found it annoying that I had to put aside half my babysitting money in a savings account. But that set the foundation for me to manage my money well as an adult.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
We reach about 15 million people with our personal finance content every month, and we often hear from those readers about how the information and stories we share has helped them live a better life.
But if I’m being honest, I’m just as proud that we’ve created 110 jobs in a beautiful, hip city in Florida, and a culture that sets people up to enjoy their work!
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
1) Trust your gut. In the beginning, I worried about overstepping and offering too much guidance to my team, but over time I realized my gut is usually right, and speaking up from the beginning saves us a lot of time and money. This applies even when I’m working on a project that’s new to me, which happens often!
If I notice something that could be better, I first wait to see if a member of my team offers that feedback — they often do! — or ask questions that helps the team come to that conclusion. If no one brings it up, I’ll make the suggestion. It’s a fine line as a leader, figuring out how to guide your team in a way that maximizes their growth, but I’ve learned from missteps that thoughtful steering helps everyone.
2) Prioritize ruthlessly. I used to think prioritizing meant choosing some things to do now and some to do later. Now I see it as choosing a few things to do now, a few to do later, and a lot to skip altogether. Many of the things I end up skipping are things I want to do! But not at the expense of the items that truly belong on my list. This is partly to do with being an executive, and perhaps even more to do with being a mom to two young kids.
There’s only so much time in the day, so it makes a difference to use every minute thoughtfully. One resource I’ve found helpful here is Laura VanderKam’s blogs and books.
3) Consistently recognize your team. Company leaders are often futuristic, which means we look and move toward what’s next. Generally that’s a positive quality for growth, but sometimes it comes at the expense of appreciating what your team has already accomplished.
My brain often thinks two steps ahead of where we are, so I constantly have to remind myself to slow down and show appreciation for what the team did yesterday. Most staffers appreciate that recognition, and some truly need it to stay motivated. Taking a few moments to give it goes a long way toward setting us up for the next project.
4) Adjust your leadership style for different people. I find it easy to work with and motivate teammates who work in a similar way to me… but it can be challenging to set someone up for success whose brain is wired differently.
For example, in the past I’ve struggled to help a staffer who misses deadlines and gets easily distracted, because I thrive on execution and time management. Now, I’m better at looking at the situation through the other person’s eyes, and thinking about what they need to succeed, not what I would need if I was in their place.
5) Always stay calm and confident. As a leader, my demeanor sets the tone for the entire company. That means even if I feel frazzled or overwhelmed, it’s important to stay calm, so others can, too.
I feel this especially when it comes to balancing work and family. I always remind myself that the test isn’t whether I can do it all, it’s whether I can stay sane while trying.
At The Penny Hoarder, we’ve hired with this in mind. Especially with our fast growth, we know our employees need leaders with steady hands.
I’ve heard folks say one of the best gifts a parent can give a child is protecting them from stress. In many ways, I see this as my job as a company leader, too. Of course, some stress is healthy and even productive. But one of my goals is to create an environment where we can all move forward together calmly. The end product — and the team experience — is better that way.
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. :-)
Travel. I believe people who are exposed to others who are different from them in some way, and appreciate or even love people who are different from them, treat everyone more compassionately. To do that, you have to put yourself in the position to interact with people in different places with different backgrounds. I can’t wait to travel with my kids when they are older!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“And if I am truly crazy, don’t you know I like my life that way.” — Pat Green, Texas country singer
I use this to remind myself that when I do something a little differently, there’s probably always going to be someone who thinks it’s crazy — and that’s not a bad thing. In fact, if nobody think I’m truly crazy, I’m probably not getting off the beaten track as much as I should.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
I’ve actively pivoted away from social media to focus on building this company and spending time with my family, but I do still share occasional updates on LinkedIn.