Find the silver linings — For the first 5 years of my company I was scared to go on vacation for fear all my hard work would unravel. Then my world changed when my in-laws, father, mom and stepdad all started to get sick and I wanted to be there for them. They all lived thousands of miles away so I started to work less. After years of decline they each died about 8 months apart (7 people in 6 years) and I became executrix which is like having another job at times. I had to take very good care of myself or I would not have been helpful to anyone else. I started taking myself as seriously as my best clients by working out every day and planning me time on my calendar. I became more comfortable with white space in my day and stopped over scheduling myself. And guess what? My business did not suffer, in fact it has become stronger. We moved up the food chain and have better clients.
Resilience has been described as the ability to withstand adversity and bounce back from difficult life events. Times are not easy now. How do we develop greater resilience to withstand the challenges that keep being thrown at us? In this interview series, we are talking to mental health experts, authors, resilience experts, coaches, and business leaders who can talk about how we can develop greater resilience to improve our lives.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Paige Arnof-Fenn.
Paige is the founder & CEO of global marketing and digital branding firm Mavens & Moguls based in Cambridge, MA. Her clients include Microsoft, Virgin, venture-backed startups as well as non profit organizations. She graduated from Stanford University and Harvard Business School. She serves on several Boards, is a popular speaker and columnist who has written for Entrepreneur and Forbes.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?
I did not plan on starting a company. I always wanted to go work for a global business and be a Fortune 500 CEO. When I was a student I looked at leaders like Meg Whitman & Ursula Burns as my role models. I started Mavens & Moguls after beginning my career on Wall Street in the 80s and having a successful career in Corporate America at companies like Procter & Gamble and Coca-Cola and then working at 3 different startups as the head of marketing. All 3 startups had positive exits. I took the leap right after 9/11 when the company I worked for cut their marketing. I had nothing to lose. Running a global marketing business provides me a platform to do work I truly enjoy with and for people I respect. I get to set my priorities, I have time to travel (pre-Covid) and hang out with my inner circle, and work out every day. It has been a journey to get here but I am lucky to have found it. I love the autonomy, flexibility and the fact that I know every day the impact that I have on my business. When I worked at big companies I always felt the ball would roll with or without me, that if I got hit by a bus someone new would be in my office right away. Now my DNA is in everything we do and I can trace every decision and sale to something I did or a decision I made and that is incredibly gratifying and fulfilling. Like most entrepreneurs, I am working harder and longer than ever and I have never been happier. Working for yourself and building a business you started in incredibly rewarding and gratifying. It has been a lot of fun, I joke that I am the accidental entrepreneur. I knew I had made it as an entrepreneur when Harvard wrote 2 case studies on my business a few years after I started it, we were very early to pioneer sharing resources on the marketing front (before my company it was really only done with HR, legal and accounting/finance).
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
In the first few years of my business I had pitched a CEO about a month before I ran into her at a networking event where she was the keynote speaker and her topic was about being a woman leader in a traditionally male-dominated business. I had followed up after sending my proposal several times via e-mail and voice mail but the CEO never returned any of my messages or even acknowledged receipt of the proposal requested. You can imagine my shock when she announced at this event as part of her speech that she believes it is important to put your money where your mouth is and for women CEOs to support other respected & well-run women’s businesses and that is why she has hired my firm to handle all her company’s marketing & PR! Everyone congratulated me after, it was a better endorsement than the New York Times because she was very well known and had the reputation of being very tough with high standards so I got a LOT of business from people in the room that night because they thought if I was able to impress her I must be very good 😉 To think I almost did not even show up maybe seeing me there is what prompted her to pull the trigger and hire us? I sold more business in the month that followed than l ever had since starting my company so we really began to scale quickly at that point and got a lot of referrals as a result! It was a big day in our history for sure. Wasn’t it Woody Allen who said 80% of success is just showing up. It is a strategy that has worked for me and has been fun way to build my marketing business.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Our name really sets us apart it think For my company when I started the firm I jokingly referred to the women as the Marketing Mavens & the guys as the Marketing Moguls & for short I called them Mavens & Moguls as a working name but never expected it would stick. I did research over e-mail with prospective clients, referrers, media, etc & tested ~100 names. Mavens & Moguls was one choice on the list & to my great delight & surprise it came out as a clear winner. It has helped us be memorable and stand out from the pack. Because I have a hyphenated last name half the battle is for clients to be able to find you when they need your help. I have had clients tell me they could not remember anything other than my first name & one word of my company so they googled Paige & Mavens and we popped right up. I was at an event one day and a venture capitalist started waving in my direction and shouted “hi Maven!” across the crowd, everyone looked my way and we ended up getting introduced to a portfolio company that hired us! Names contribute to your brand and in our case I think it has been a major plus. Maven is Yiddish for expert and a Mogul is someone of rank, power or distinction in a specified area. I like the alliteration and I think it sets us apart from other consulting firms. It shows a little personality & attitude and implies we do not take ourselves too seriously. Would you rather hire “Strategic Marketing Solutions” or Mavens & Moguls? We are the “not your father’s Oldsmobile” of marketing firms. If nothing else our name is a great conversation starter and getting into a conversation is all it takes to open a door.
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?
I have been so fortunate to have great mentors, champions and role models throughout my career including former bosses, my father, and senior women in organizations where I worked. Finding a mentor, coach, mastermind group, etc. gives you support and a thinking partner/tribe/ecosystem to help navigate challenges along the way especially when you are first staring out. As an entrepreneur these people and networks can also be invaluable sources of inspiration, advice, encouragement and can help you avoid rookie mistakes (with hiring, fundraising, etc.) in particular at the beginning They can also make key introductions so that you avoid getting burned by service providers or potential investors who have mixed reputations. I have seen several situations where a lot of time and money could have been wasted but was not.
The person who has always encouraged and supported me as an entrepreneur and has my back every day is my husband. He started a company too so understands the journey of an entrepreneur and has been my sanity check and thinking partner every step of the way. He is both a cheerleader and butt kicker depending on the situation and I trust his judgment and advice because I know he always has my best interests in mind. I am very fortunate to have him in my corner. There are times when you need cheerleaders, butt kickers, people who can be counted on for tough love and others to help expand your footprint and elevate your profile in the community. Accountability is so important as an entrepreneur. Having friends and family to keep you grounded and humble is critical too, it is easy to lose perspective when you are launching a new business. Having people you trust for judgment and advice who have your best interests in mind is priceless. Entrepreneurship can be consuming if you aren’t careful. In my experience it takes a village to launch a successful business.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
Resilience is about mental toughness and the ability to bounce back from adversity or setbacks. Covid has definitely made me/my business more resilient. There have been so many times in my career where things did not go as I had hoped/planned but with each setback, I learned important lessons which made me more resilient and able to bounce back stronger/mentally tougher/try again.
To be more resilient the traits I rely on most are persistence/determination/focus. Those are the ones that make the biggest difference between success and failure I think because the road is always bumpy and you know you will have to overcome obstacles along the way. You get knocked around often so you have to be able to keep getting back up/trying again with enthusiasm/energy. You have to be driven/focused/learn to say no to distractions you cannot pursue every opportunity so be selective/concentrate on only those ideas with the greatest potential say no to everything else/be intensely curious/always be looking for the next way to make something better. With these traits they attract the best people so increase the odds to recover and succeed.
Courage is often likened to resilience. In your opinion how is courage both similar and different to resilience?
Both are key elements of success in business and entrepreneurship but I think of courage as being willing to take a chance where others won’t, choosing to follow your vision no matter where it takes you, standing up for what you believe in, especially when your beliefs are unpopular, ignoring distractions/noise and doing the right thing, even though easier options exist. Courage is what drives you to overcome your fear for something you care about. Resilience is about finding creative ways to adapt and move forward despite obstacles. It’s about bouncing back, my dad loved the quote about falling down 7 times and getting up 8. You need both to succeed and reach your potential, it is not either/or you want both for best results!
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
There are so many examples in business, politics, sports, everywhere! Simone Biles was a great example at the Tokyo Olympics coming back to win medals, Martha Stewart came back stronger than ever after serving time in prison, my mother was told she had 4–6 months at best and she lived for another 2.5 years. We are all resilient from the pandemic!
Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?
My senior year in high school I met with the Guidance Counselor to discuss where I wanted to apply to college and he told me I was shooting too high and needed more backup schools. He was very discouraging and as I returned to class after our meeting I was very sad. My AP math teacher asked me after the class what was going on and I told her. She said I was a great student and not to worry she was writing my recommendation letters and I would get into a top school. I told my mother that night and she agreed that I should apply to the schools I wanted and not to listen to him. I decided right then I would not let anyone even a person with credentials define my potential in life.
Well my mom and math teacher were right, it was not up to him. I went to Stanford for college and Harvard Business School and every time my mother ran into that man until she died she would make sure to remind him who she was (“so nice to see you, I’m Paige’s mom remember her she went to Stanford & Harvard and she loved them did great and even joined the boards of both schools”). I grew up in the Deep South and my teacher and mother both taught me to think big and follow my dreams and just kill people like that with kindness and not let them get me down. My math teacher warned me too that there will be people in my path in school or jobs trying to distract or discourage me but I should just ignore them (she was the only woman in her PhD program so she knew all about that) and both of them told me I could do anything I wanted to in life if I put my mind to it and worked hard. They were right and I still remind myself of this all the time. I just told a high school senior (my college roommate’s kid) the same advice recently in fact. It has served me well ever since!
My mom taught me early on to not stop just because someone says no. That is such an important part of being an entrepreneur and has benefitted me and my business very well. I have thanked my math teacher too for making my skin thicker and teaching me not to give up on my dreams. That Guidance Counselor was a precursor of many bosses and tough people I had to deal with in my career and they taught me the importance of persistence and determination. It is a good lesson for a 17-year-old to learn! I am 56 now and have never forgotten it. I met my husband and closest friends at school which has brought tremendous happiness to my life.
Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?
Every setback has made me stronger. Getting a bad grade on a quiz made me work harder for the midterm and final so I could end the term strong, not getting into the Ivy League college in the early round lead me to a place that was a perfect fit for me academically where I met lifelong friends including my husband. When doors shut find the open ones to see where they lead.
How have you cultivated resilience throughout your life? Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?
I think it is in my DNA. Both my grandfathers were successful entrepreneurs and only one graduated from high school so they were both scrappy and resilient. My parents always supported me to challenge the status quo and question authority when I had done my homework and could make a strong case which is also great training to becoming an entrepreneur so I come by my renegade tendencies naturally I guess. My parents seemed to get me when I tried to bend, break or change the rules if I had a solid argument so I learned early on to not stop just because someone says no. That is such an important part of being an entrepreneur and has served me and my business very well.
Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Stay true to your core values, learn to say no
I had to fire a client in my first year of business. It was absolutely the right decision but a tough one to make! On a personal level the guy was a jerk who never paid on time and was rude to my team who was doing great work for him. He was mean, unappreciative and had terrible manners. I am from the South and expect people to behave with common decency. He hired us to do PR for his firm and I realized if we could get great press for a guy like him then people who knew him & knew how difficult he was might want to hire us too to help them thinking “hey these PR people must be really good and I’m not as nasty as this guy so imagine what they could do for me!” I did not want to attract other bad clients so even though he signed a 1 year contract I ended it after 3 months. It sent a signal to my team that the money was not worth an unappreciative client who was a jerk and treated us poorly. We replaced the income and more within a month with a much better client. I have never looked back. Optics matter and culture counts, as the leader you have to set the tone for your group, you better walk the talk because all eyes are on you so your team is not just listening to what you say but also watching what you do and how you respond/react. When we say we have a no jerks policy we really mean it. Life is too short to work with or for jerks. When it is your business it is up to you. It attracts the right people as clients and colleagues for the ecosystem I am trying to build. When killing tough clients with kindness does not work you just have to shake hands and part ways sometimes.
2. Reframe mistakes as learning experiences to pivot and gain wisdom
It can be hard to laugh at mistakes but looking back I remember one week early on when I had 3 or 4 talks lined up over a couple of day period so I went from one evening event to a breakfast the next morning to a lunch and evening talk the following day. I enjoy public speaking and get a lot of referrals and business that way. The morning after my final speech I showed up at a meeting with a prospective client along with a few of my colleagues and I realized I was completely out of business cards. I was so embarrassed and my team laughed at me since I always remind them it is important to be professional and prepared all the time. I ended up sending a hand written thank you note to the prospect with my card enclosed and we won the business so I turned my mistake into a good outcome plus I have never run out of business cards again! It is a great lesson in the power of humility, resilience, persistence, manners and having a sense of humor.
3. Remember your why and who has your back
As an entrepreneur there are many ups and downs but most would agree that the excitement and joy of bringing your idea to life is incredibly fulfilling and dealing with the bumps in the road is just part of the adventure. To stay motivated during the rough times I try to maintain perspective by taking good care of myself, getting exercise, seeing friends and family and reminding myself that I can always go back to work for others but when I open the file with all the notes and kudos I have gotten from customers and colleagues with praise and encouragement along with sincere thanks for helping them or making a difference through my business it is just the kick in the pants I need to keep going. Start a file with cards, notes, e-mails, etc. and dust it off when you are down so that you can be reminded of not just who you are and what you do but why you do it. That always works for me!
4. Find the silver linings
For the first 5 years of my company I was scared to go on vacation for fear all my hard work would unravel. Then my world changed when my in-laws, father, mom and stepdad all started to get sick and I wanted to be there for them. They all lived thousands of miles away so I started to work less. After years of decline they each died about 8 months apart (7 people in 6 years) and I became executrix which is like having another job at times. I had to take very good care of myself or I would not have been helpful to anyone else. I started taking myself as seriously as my best clients by working out every day and planning me time on my calendar. I became more comfortable with white space in my day and stopped over scheduling myself. And guess what? My business did not suffer, in fact it has become stronger. We moved up the food chain and have better clients.
Through something bad came something good. I do not think I could ever go back. I am so much happier and more productive as an entrepreneur than I ever was working for others. It is all about controlling your calendar. I no longer try to squeeze in more meetings or hit multiple events at night (pre-Covid). As an entrepreneur, I can be selective. Less really is more. I’ve chosen quality over quantity. It sounds trivial but it is true. I created a platform to do work I enjoy and feel energized by. I feel I have found my purpose because I used to work all the time and life was passing me by. I got raises and promotions but I was all work and no play and I did not feel fulfilled. Since starting my business I have joined boards and volunteered at several organizations. I am a mentor to the next generation of leaders and have helped build a very successful anti-bullying program that >100,000 middle school aged kids have gone through. As a marketing consultant I am able to write articles, contribute to books and speak at events to share my experience and lessons learned.
5. Keep moving up the food chain by making higher level mistakes as you go
My biggest mistake was not realizing sooner that the people you start with are not always the ones who grow with you. The hardest lesson I learned when I started my company is not getting rid of weak people earlier than I did in the first few years of my business. I spent more time managing them than finding new customers. I knew in my gut they were not up to snuff but out of loyalty to them I let them hang around much longer than they should have. It would have been better for everyone to let them go as soon as the signs were there. They became more insecure and threatened as we grew which was not productive for the team. As soon as I let them go the culture got stronger and the bar higher. “A” team people like to be surrounded by other stars. It is true that you should hire slowly and fire quickly. I did not make that mistake again later on so learned it well the first time. I wish I had known it even earlier though but lesson learned for sure!
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. 🙂
I would love to spark a movement or create change through a new (domestic) Peace Corps (2021 version) and suggest we are all in it no application required. We have so many opportunities now across every state. We need our roads and bridges fixed, clean water in our communities, tutors, day care, senior care, teachers, healthcare workers, there is no need to pay people to stay home or send them abroad to build infrastructure overseas we need it here right now across all 50 states! We also need peace to prevail and I think if we work together side by side to fix these problems in our communities we will all be on the same team.
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders 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, especially if we tag them 🙂
I’d choose Michelle Obama I think her perspective and experience will be critical to our future success and she will be part of the solution to many of our problems now. She is smart, kind, and makes things happen. Michelle can be the catalyst that lights the spark on our new path.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
Thanks so much it’s been my pleasure! Stay well.