Women Of The C-Suite: Laura Casselman of JVZoo On The Five Things You Need To Succeed As A Senior Executive
An Interview With Candice Georgiadis
It’s consuming — it’s hard and oftentimes impossible to switch off thinking about the business, the direction of the company, the future of the industry, worrying about what you may have missed. Those thoughts will consume you at all hours of the day and night and you have to find a way to switch it off. Running is how I switch off as a few miles in, the only things I can focus on are my pace and breathing.
As a part of our interview series called “Women Of The C-Suite”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Laura Casselman.
With an ambition to dance on Broadway fulfilled, Laura Casselman beat the “Old Boy’s Club” at their own game, advancing into the boardrooms of The Big Apple. As the CEO of JVZoo.com, co-founder of VidaStreet and with a quadruple listing on Inc. 5000’s list of America’s Fastest Growing Companies — Laura has become a champion for equal rights and opportunity. When her new book, Trust Your Increments hits the bookshelves on March 7th 2023, she aims to show the next generation of business leaders how to get what they want, without losing their soul.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! 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?
My story isn’t your typical climb up the corporate ladder. My background is performing arts and I was a Rockette at Radio City Music Hall. I knew that my path wasn’t the normal performer route of maybe retiring from dance performance and opening a dance studio. Selling Girl Scout cookies as a young girl had shown me that I had a knack for selling. In New York City, I built both my resumes at the same time — my performance resume and my corporate resume. I started at the very bottom with both and worked my plan to both become a Radio City Rockette and a business maven. I danced at theme parks and sold gym memberships, learning from every experience. However, when I finally decided it was time to hang up my dance shoes, I stepped into my first executive role as a VP of Operations. By that point in time, I was good at identifying cost effective ways to grow income while reducing expenses. I first joined JVZoo as a contractor, then later became their COO. I took over the role as CEO in 2016. In 2020, I also co-founded my media company, Vidastreet.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
There are countless stories I could share, however the most interesting to me would be meeting JVZoo’s users. One in particular stands out, as he was not only someone I enjoyed interacting with, but also someone who blew me away with his knowledge and work ethic. That person is Simon Harries and he’s my partner at Vidastreet (and the talent behind the company.) Simon and I share the belief that the team that makes your business run is the heart of the company and should be treated as such. Our team at Vidastreet, much like JVZoo’s, is based around the world and we’re off to Serbia in January to have face-to-face time with our team there. Technology like Zoom and Slack make daily work with remote teams easier, however there’s nothing like shaking someone’s hand, looking them in the eyes and saying ‘thank you’ for all you do.
It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. 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?
I’ve said this before, but as an executive, our mistakes are not usually funny as they come with high impact and affect a lot of people. We all make mistakes though — so own them, apologize quickly and begin rectifying the mistake.
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 wouldn’t say there is one particular person, but rather many people that have helped me along the way. Past managers or bosses — both the good ones and the bad ones have shown me what to or what not to do as a leader.
In both sales and executive roles, Mary Laudati taught me the most about believing in your product, personal energy, and authenticity. She’s so good at what she does that I asked her to share some of her knowledge in the bonus material of my book, Trust Your Increments.
Leadership often entails making difficult decisions or hard choices between two apparently good paths. Can you share a story with us about a hard decision or choice you had to make as a leader?
You’re correct. OFTEN, leaders find themselves making hard choices and it’s incredibly hard when the choices both seem to be good paths for the company. Even as a CEO, we still have bosses to report to, so when decisions are particularly difficult, we must make the decision that is most in alignment with the board’s wishes or vision for the company. That’s when the decision feels the hardest for me, when I know what I would choose for the company and I also know that it isn’t what the board wants. Ultimately, the decision is easy to make in that scenario as I serve at the pleasure of the board, however there are certainly times it doesn’t feel easy. At the end of the day, leaders need to know the end goal and then decide which path is most likely to lead there with the least amount of damage and expense to the company.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?
Executives shouldn’t just motivate and inspire their teams, pulling out the best in each like leaders should, they also need to be focused on the direction or future of the company. Executives should be less hands on with individual team players and employees, and provide more of the big picture to departments or teams. As executives we find ourselves more hands on with spreadsheets and numbers, keeping a finger on market pulse, and making informed predictions or forecasting the industries future.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive? Can you explain what you mean?
I feel when most people think of a CEO, they instantly think of the role in a well-established, large company with funds flowing and they glamorize the position. I know I’ve done that in the past. However, according to the Small Business Association, 99.9% of all US businesses are small businesses and before reaching the small business label, a company will begin as a startup. The US currently has over 70,000 startups with a 9 out of 10 failure rate.
When I first became the CEO of JVZoo, we were still a startup. We’ve now successfully entered the small business phase, however my role as CEO has been far from glamorous. We’ve experienced every type of growing pain possible, from staffing shortages and overages, to payment processing issues, navigating new laws and regulations, and even litigation. It’s taken a little luck, a lot of hard work, long hours, grit, and the ability to quickly adapt to a rapidly changing market. The reality is, the role of CEO for a startup is stressful and exhausting.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
Statistics show that women in executive positions are held to higher standards than male executives. This leaves more room for failure in the eyes of others than a male executive would be scrutinized for. Women in executive positions are also likely to be paid less than males (even if the male has less experience and performed poorly in the same role/same company as the female.) Women who are confident, competent and strong leaders are often seen as not likable or bitchy.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
The naive, pre-executive version of Laura Casselman, thought I’d have more free time and be able to leave work or turn it off earlier in the day. I’ve laughed at myself about that for years now. I work harder and longer hours than ever before. Again, being an executive is not glamorous!
Is everyone cut out to be an executive? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?
If you’re the type of person that likes to stop thinking about work the moment you walk out the office door or 5pm hits, being an executive is definitely not for you. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that approach to work, it simply doesn’t work for an executive. Specific traits that increase the likelihood to become a successful executive would be adaptability, tenacity, curiosity, and courage. As an executive, you’ll need to be inquisitive, seeking industry/consumer problems and of course, creating solutions for those. You’ll want to plan ahead for the direction of the company, but you’ll need to be able to adapt your plan as things change or more information is uncovered. Sometimes you’ll have to adapt your plan simply due to new regulations. You’ll also need determination, persistence and grit to keep going after you’ve encountered roadblocks. I certainly wouldn’t recommend an executive role to someone who dislikes change, as you’ll be the one leading the changes at your company.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- It’s consuming — it’s hard and oftentimes impossible to switch off thinking about the business, the direction of the company, the future of the industry, worrying about what you may have missed. Those thoughts will consume you at all hours of the day and night and you have to find a way to switch it off. Running is how I switch off as a few miles in, the only things I can focus on are my pace and breathing.
- It’s scary — being responsible for the health of a company, knowing how many people (both customers and employees) rely on the success of the company, and knowing if I make a mistake it could negatively impact them all, is scary.
- You’ll feel responsible for more than just the company. I never realized how much I would care about an industry. I find that many of the decisions I make aren’t only to protect our company, but also our industry. I wish more “leaders” in my industry felt the same and weren’t out for a quick money grab, but rather working to protect the industry to ensure it was protected and would be around for decades to come.
- As a female, even in an executive position, people will still assume you work for customer support and in the end, you do because every person in a company should be focused on customer support.
- You’ll work longer and harder hours than ever before. A CEO serves as the pleasure of the board, but also needs to ensure the customers are happy and keep coming back. On top of that, while one might initially think that the employees work for the CEO, the reality is the CEO should work for their team. It’s a lot, but if you work in an industry you love, build a strong team, in a company with values that align with your own… it’s a privilege.
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.
Take responsibility for your own happiness. If you don’t know what makes you most happy and brings you the most joy in life, then make it a priority to figure it out. Once you know what makes you most happy, find a way to work into your life frequently, daily if possible. I believe that happy people do most everything better and happiness spreads. I feel strongly about this, I’ve dedicated an entire chapter of Trust Your Increments to this topic.
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
Cindy Eckert is an incredibly inspiring business woman that I find myself watching and trying to learn as much as possible from. She epitomizes adaptability and tenacity and turned her “no” into a billion dollar business.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.