Jess Phillips is the Founder and CEO of The Social Standard, a full-service influencer marketing agency. After getting her start in investment banking and private equity, she moved into the world of start-ups as COO and employee #2 of HelloSociety, an influencer agency which she helped grow into a multi-million dollar business in just two short years and ultimately sell to The New York Times in 2016. At the time, influencer marketing was still in its infancy, which led her to then found The Social Standard to set the standard in the influencer space. Now, she does just that for an impressive client roster of Fortune 500 companies including Adobe, FCA, L’Oreal, Buick, Tostitos, FiatChrysler, and Hinge (while being a mother to two toddlers).
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You are a successful entrepreneur, so we’d like your viewpoint, do you believe entrepreneurs are born or made? Explain.
Jess Phillips: It is a mixture of the two, but it can’t be done without help. I do believe there is an X factor for most entrepreneurs. I think it is strongly tied to perseverance, confidence, and a solutions-oriented approach. Most entrepreneurs are simply solving problems at scale. That takes a lot of trial and error, and you have to be ready for doors to be slammed in your face. It’s not all pretty, but it does come with the job.
If you were asked to describe yourself as an entrepreneur in a few words, what would you say?
Jess Phillips: Driven, innovative, and focused on the social/digital space.
Tell us about what your company does and how did it change over the years?
Jess Phillips: At The Social Standard our goal has always been to set the standard for influencer marketing, especially as the industry has changed and evolved over the years. Using our expertise, we inspire experiences that go beyond expectations. We inject a fresh perspective into influencer marketing campaigns by supporting brands with everything from the creative concept to seamless execution.
Thank you for all that. Now for the main focus of this interview. With close to 11.000 new businesses registered daily in the US, what must an entrepreneur assume when starting a business?
Jess Phillips: My family is full of entrepreneurs, so I grew up understanding the potential of what is possible and getting a first-hand look at what it takes to run a successful business. My father’s company was a part of the Inc 500 list growing up, so the bar was set high!
Did you make any wrong assumptions before starting a business that you ended up paying dearly for?
Jess Phillips: Absolutely, but I would not say I paid dearly for it, just learned from it. When I was ready to start my agency, I was not seeing eye-to-eye with the investors at my previous company. This ultimately led me to leave. I was lucky enough to have a friend who is an incredible entrepreneur and investor who pulled me out of the weeds and helped motivate me to start my own business. I distinctly recall him saying: “Jess, don’t feel like you are in a corner here. You have options, there are always options,” and I think that was the moment that I gained my confidence to just go for it. Everyone needs a person to do that for them, and it will make all the difference. And, he is an investor in my agency today!
If you could go back in time to when you first started your business, what advice would you give yourself and why? Explain.
Jess Phillips: I think the biggest misconception of entrepreneurs is that founders are these geniuses who create a business in a vacuum without any help. One of the first things I learned as an investment banking analyst was to call on and listen to my peers. I saw the guys in my analyst class pick up the phone and call their friends in the industry or down the hall to ask for help or get a better understanding of how to analyze select financials. Naively, I thought everyone just knew how to do this stuff from school. What helped me realize early on is that you better pick up the phone and talk to as many people as you can because nobody gets ahead by trying to do everything themselves.
What is the worst advice you received regarding running a business and what lesson would you like others to learn from your experience?
Jess Phillips: It took me a little while to get to my first real deal when I started The Social Standard. I was trying some new approaches in the space, and they weren’t all working. When someone asked me how it was going, I gave them a candid response. They said, “Hmmm…are you sure this is a good idea? Maybe you should do something else.” To me, that was quite possibly the worst advice to give someone who is in the thick of trying to get something off the ground. I knew it wasn’t the right move, so I simply shrugged it off. And I’m very glad I did.
In your opinion, how has COVID-19 changed what entrepreneurs should assume before starting a business? What hasn’t changed?
Jess Phillips: Speaking from a digitally-focused business, a lot has changed and a lot hasn’t. For us, the biggest shift was changing our sales team strategy from mainly outside sales to inside sales. If you can’t meet clients in person, you have to find other ways to connect with them. We launched a content arm to ensure our clients were always up to date on the industry and that we were always in their inbox and we also tested out a lot of interesting tools like Givsly which allowed us to donate to charities of a client’s choice in exchange for a zoom meeting.
What is a common myth about entrepreneurship that aspiring entrepreneurs and would-be business owners believe in? What advice would you give them?
Jess Phillips: I think a pretty common myth or assumption is that when you run your own business you get to have this awesome life where you are the boss and you don’t have to work as much. A lot of people were surprised at the hours I was putting in when I first started, but the reality is if I didn’t show up and give it 100% every day, the business wasn’t going to move forward. Entrepreneurship provides you with more flexibility but the risk is so great that most successful ones rarely abuse the privilege.
What traits, qualities, and assumptions do you believe are most important to have before starting a business?
Jess Phillips: Trust your gut. This is always my go-to advise for success. I’ve never once regretted a decision I made with my gut, I’ve only ever regretted the ones where I didn’t listen to it. Find your support system. Don’t just find them, lean on them hard. Write your goals down. This is huge – it’s so easy to lose sight of what you are trying to accomplish. A few days turn into a few weeks, months, etc. If you’ve got your goals, you’ve got your path. And lastly, talk about what you are doing. Talk to everyone who will listen, the more you discuss an idea the better it becomes and the easier a problem is to solve.
How can aspiring leaders prepare themselves for the future challenges of entrepreneurship? Are there any books, websites, or even movies to learn from?
Jess Phillips: Ben Horowitz – I read his book “The Hard Thing About Hard Things” before I started The Social Standard and it struck a chord with me. It’s a book I recommend to all first-time and aspiring entrepreneurs – he hits the nail on the head so perfectly about the challenges you will face, and that no one can make the call but you.
You have shared quite a bit of your wisdom and our readers thank you for your generosity but would also love to know: If you could choose any job other than being an entrepreneur, what would it be?
Jess Phillips: I’d be a stay-at-home mom – it’s probably the only other job in the world I would be as passionate about. And I know it would be just as challenging!
Thank you so much for your time, I believe I speak for all of our readers when I say that this has been incredibly insightful. We do have one more question: If you could add anyone to Mount Rushmore, but not a politician, who would it be; why?
Jess Phillips: Oh wow – that’s a pretty big question! Each one of those presidents had a tremendous impact on our country, but I’m generally of the mindset that it’s teams that move mountains and rarely just one person.
Jed Morley, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Jess Phillips for taking the time to do this interview and share her knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Jess Phillips or her company, you can do it through her – Linkedin Page
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