“Make friends with other CEOs, and entrepreneurs. Your friends and family will not necessarily understand you predicaments or even how to talk to you about them. Taking time to chat with like-minded individuals will be your saving grace to vent, brainstorm and grow.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Heidi Luerra the early 30’s Founder & CEO of the largest international arts organization in the world, RAW natural born artists. RAW showcases emerging artists in events that span across 70 cities in the U.S, Australia, Canada & the U.K. RAW (as it’s called for short) just celebrated their 9th birthday. Heidi oversees a team of 55, out of her downtown Los Angeles headquarters.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
I’ve been a creative person since birth, an entrepreneur since I was 11 years old, but my career started when I was 19. I started my own clothing line for tweens. As a young fashion designer, I was doing anything I could to market myself. Most of that involved being in front of the wrong demographic and setting up a booth anywhere that would let me do so. I sold at swap meets and music shows. It wasn’t ideal. I dreamt of a way that I could showcase my line and gain buyer’s attention. I also had quite a few friends that I thought were extremely talented in fashion, music and art. I felt like it was an injustice that there was nowhere for us to go to be seen or heard.
In 2005 we all pitched in a bit of money and I directed the showcase. It was pretty much myself my friends and it was an instant hit. We had attendance above 700 people. Other creatives started coming to me in droves wanting to participate in the (non-existent/non-planned) next one. It was clear that there was a need.
After some time trying to balance my collection and the fashion, music and ar event, I decided to lay my line to rest to focus solely on the new concept show. No one was doing anything like it at the time. I felt I had found my calling. After years of helping designers, musicians, and artists and a brief stint in the corporate world, I decided to take all my past experience and mix it into a new showcase platform that featured more artistic crafts, with an ultimate plan to take the showcase national.
RAW was born in 2009 in downtown Los Angeles. Our mission is to provide tools, resources, education and exposure for artists that are just beginning in their creative journey.
Our showcases take place on a quarterly basis and feature 50–60 local artists from their specific community.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Before RAW went national we planned a tour of the U.S to visit the communities we would be launching in. We needed sponsorship for the trip and had to push our trip back because we didn’t have it. We were hosting fundraisers, silent actions, we made a really embarrassing funny video, but nothing was bringing in the type of cash we needed.
We were subletting an office at the time and we’re in a business park in South Orange County. Lots of finance, insurance, banking in the building. My partner and I happened to always stop and chat with a gentleman that was a floor above us. We would talk shop about business, employees and he asked a lot about RAW. We never thought to ask him what he did for the software company he worked for.
One Friday after 6pm we ran into each other outside the building and he asked why we weren’t on our nationwide tour. We explained we didn’t have funding for it, but was working on it.
He slapped me his card, “CEO of United States Region for Magic Software” then he told us to come to his office on Monday and pitch him the sponsorship. We did. A software company (that really had no reason to) sponsored RAW and as a result we launched in 17 cities the next year. I call Regv from Magic Software our RAW angel.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
RAW is unique because most artists and art companies focus on one area of art and showcasing that one craft category. RAW brings all creative generes to one place in one night. We showcase film, fashion, music, art, performing art, hair, makeup accessories, photography, craft and tech!
I’m a young 30’s female CEO and I have run this company for almost a decade. I think that’s rare.
We’ve never had any major corporate sponsors or investors. We’re 100% self-sustaining.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?
We are in the midst of really launching our agency arm of the organization. We’ve been testing and dipping our toes in the pool for a few years, but now we’re really ready to move forward. The agency fields opportunities from corporate clients that want to work with artists on large scale paying gigs. From a photo shoot to a hotel mural, we’re connecting artists with opportunities to take them to the next level of their career. All RAW artists in our network are eligible for opportunities from the agency, which is named FOUND Agency.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
I think there are many different things you can do to help your team thrive.
- Communication, if something is changing, refining, growing, stopping explain it with full transparency to your team. Give them an opportunity to have feedback or weigh in even before you make a decision. I think a happy team is a part of a democratic process.
- Educate them, at RAW we often have guest speakers, or watch videos that give a little more in depth information on a topic to sharpen a skill, make you think.
- Free Food. You don’t have to be an employee to love it. We have healthy snacks available every day for our team. We also have free lunch on Fridays. It’s our way of appreciating everyone weekly.
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
Obviously, no man is an island. There have been tremendous people, pioneers and teachers along the way. RAW would not be what it is without the small army of dedicated people that help it grow daily, have touched it or molded it in some regard.
I will say my partner, Matthew Klahorst. He’s a web genius and a big reason why we could grow RAW so quickly. We can leverage his technology (which is all proprietary) to do things that other companies can’t. He was RAW’s first supporter. We’re a good team.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
RAW has showcased over 150k artists to date. Artists write us daily to tell their success stories at or after the show. We bring people to art and art to people. We get to help educate artists on how to ask for support. We give artists an opportunity to showcase themselves to upwards of 1,000 people, they network, they get professional photos and they keep 100% of their sales (we take no commission). I think incubating creativity is the most important thing to do with my time.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Your business will run you at times. You will most likely not have a normal schedule. Your weekends (what are those?) will simply turn to more quiet times with less interruptions while you work. Your friends and family may not understand and practically beg you to stop working. You’ll get a chat about not having your phone at dinner. Finding balance between all the facets of your life is difficult no matter the job.I force myself to leave work at a reasonable hour now. Even if I eventually have to get back on my laptop.
- Hire only good humans. Your people are the face and voice of your business. If you skip a step, hire too fast, or don’t do your due diligence and your hire a less than perfect employee it is a big deal for everyone at your company. Also, hire a Human Resource representative. I spent too much time trying to learn this on the fly, and while I appreciate that I’m now well versed in employment law etc, It was difficult to play both boss/manager/HR. Hire one early and make sure they do a fantastic job.
- It’s a the most challenging job you can have! You will be forced to grow on every level. Growth can be painful, but it’s necessary. You will get all the credit, and all the blame.
- You will be the only person that will view all 360 degrees of your business, take advice, listen, be democratic if you want. But every once in a while make an executive decision all on your own. No one will understand everything but you.
- Make friends with other CEOs, and entrepreneurs. Your friends and family will not necessarily understand you predicaments or even how to talk to you about them. Taking time to chat with like-minded individuals will be your saving grace to vent, brainstorm and grow.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?
Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this :-)
Barbara Corcoran and I have a similar story from our early years. I would love to have a mentor like her.
If you would like to see the entire “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me” Series In Huffpost, Authority Magazine, ThriveGlobal, and Buzzfeed, click HERE.