Paige Arnof-Fenn is the founder and CEO of Mavens & Moguls, a global branding and digital marketing firm whose clients range from early-stage start-ups to Fortune 500 companies including Colgate, Virgin, Microsoft, and The New York Times Company. She was formerly VP Marketing at Zipcar and VP Marketing at Inc.com. Prior to that, she held the title of SVP Marketing at Launch Media, an Internet start-up that was later sold to Yahoo.
Arnof-Fenn has also worked as a special assistant to the chief marketing officer of global marketing at The Coca-Cola Company and held the position of director of the 1996 Olympic Commemorative Coin Program at the Department of Treasury.
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Table of Contents
Thank you for joining us today. Please introduce yourself to our readers. They want to know you, some of the background story to bring some context to your interview.
Paige Arnof-Fenn: 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 is incredibly rewarding and gratifying.
It has been a lot of fun, I joke that I am an 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).
You are a successful entrepreneur, so we’d like your view point, do you believe entrepreneurs are born or made? Explain.
Paige Arnof-Fenn: I think both ways are paths to being an entrepreneur. There are successful entrepreneurs like Michael Dell and Mark Zuckerberg who were clearly born that way but the majority of entrepreneurs like me I think get into it after working for others earlier in their careers. Looking back I am guessing the ones who are made can see signs of being entrepreneurial in their previous lives so maybe there is a little part of it you are born with but the rest can be cultivated when you get inspired by the right idea.
If you were asked to describe yourself as an entrepreneur in a few words, what would you say?
Paige Arnof-Fenn: I’m an enthusiastic, hard-working problem solver with a mission to bring world-class marketing talent and expertise to organizations that want to make a difference in the world regardless of size or budget.
Tell us about what your company does and how did it change over the years?
Paige Arnof-Fenn: We are a network of seasoned marketing experts who can do anything a marketing department, market research shop, public relations firm or ad agency does on an as-needed or outsourced basis. We help our clients tell their stories in compelling ways by finding the right words and pictures to create interest. We have resources in major metro areas across the country and around the world.
We work with clients on both a project and retainer basis and clear communication is the key to success. Post the Great Recession and now the pandemic the majority of our work is project-based (it used to skew to more retainer work before). Projects have a beginning, middle, and end so it all ties to the deliverable, are very clearly defined, and usually take a few months to complete. Retainers can last for years we had clients early on who kept us as part of their team for more than a decade.
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?
Paige Arnof-Fenn: It is incredibly gratifying and fulfilling but you will be working harder and longer than ever. Working for yourself and building a business you started is incredibly rewarding and fun but assume there will be many ups and downs,
Did you make any wrong assumptions before starting a business that you ended up paying dearly for?
Paige Arnof-Fenn: 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!
If you could go back in time to when you first started your business, what advice would you give yourself and why? Explain
Paige Arnof-Fenn: Years after I started my company a mentor told me that to stay sane and be successful “me time” is not a luxury or pampering, it is maintenance, respecting my time on the calendar, and taking myself as seriously as I take my most important clients is the most important act I can do to care for myself because if I am not at my peak performance I am not going to be useful to anyone else either but I wish I learned sooner to:
Give me permission to say no. Whether it means sleeping in (no to an alarm clock), meditating, taking a walk, delegating more work, or just turning off your phone and computer (no I will respond later on my own schedule), simple acts of letting yourself relax and enjoy the moment are the very best gifts you can give yourself. It is about touching people in meaningful ways which may mean being less busy not more.
Disconnect from technology periodically and focus on cultivating human, face-to-face relationships (when not social distancing). Even meeting for virtual coffee or drinks can accomplish so much more than e-mail exchanges, social media posts, etc. I have found that building relationships are what drives my business and technology supports them once they are solidified. Technology helps advance the conversation but it will never replace the human interaction that builds trust over time.
What is the worst advice you received regarding running a business and what lesson would you like others to learn from your experience?
Paige Arnof-Fenn: Especially for new business owners and entrepreneurs, I recommend NOT spending money on things like fancy brochures, letterhead, business cards, etc. Until you know your business is launched I would say to put your budget into things that help fill your pipeline with customers. Getting your URL and a website up and running is key. I created online stationery for proposals and invoices, ordered my cards online, and made downloadable materials as leave-behinds for people looking for more information to help me find clients more quickly.
I know other business owners who spent thousands of dollars on these things and found it was a waste of money. Your story will evolve as you find your market, you need to look professional and have a website to be taken seriously but embossed paper with watermarks and heavy card stock is not going to accelerate your sales cycle. Find those reference customers quickly, use them to get testimonials and referrals. There is plenty of time later to dress things up!
In your opinion, how has COVID-19 changed what entrepreneurs should assume before starting a business? What hasn’t changed?
Paige Arnof-Fenn: With most people working remotely now there has never been a more important time to provide accurate, empathetic communication with transparency, truthfulness, and timeliness. It is inappropriate now for content to appear tone-deaf in any way to this crisis. We have learned to acknowledge that now things are different so we need to communicate in a way that will give our audiences better focus, helping them to create a bridge from today to the future, combining information and need, synthesizing feeling and facts. I feel we have a tremendous responsibility because never before has communications had the power to help society in the way that it does right now. Words are part of the healing process and we can see which leaders and brands are doing the best job every day with messages that touch not only the mind but also the heart and soul.
Human nature has not changed so the quote “people do not care how much you know until they know how much you care” which has been attributed to many people including Teddy Roosevelt is still true today. I find it helpful because it is a simple reminder even (maybe especially) online to listen more than talk, show empathy, and try to look at the situation from another perspective. The goal is not to wear them down or impress them with your smarts. The goal is to connect, communicate clearly, solve the problem and move on. For me, the most empathetic brands share a few qualities:
- Keep the promises they make — on the packaging, in the ads, on the sales floor what you see/hear is what you get, no bait and switch
- Timely response — they act quickly to address the issue in a genuine way not with a script but with sincerity
- Take responsibility — they do not make excuses or place blame they take ownership of the issue and do not pass you around or use threats and jargon, the customer feels heard and respected
- Professional, empathetic and honest, polite to deal with
In my experience even if they cannot solve the problem if you feel respected and heard then at least you can say they tried. Some problems cannot be fixed but everyone can be treated fairly and with dignity. I predict the most trusted leaders and brands will have a big competitive advantage in the new normal that evolves in a post-Corona world. Employees, customers, and clients will remember who treated them well during the crisis and they will be rewarded with loyalty from earning that trust during the bad times. The current crisis has provided a stage for our political and business leaders to rise to the occasion. We have learned that it is about touching people in meaningful ways which may mean being less busy not more for a while. Once we lay this groundwork it all will be in place to continue moving forward as the economy fully reopens. Maybe the silver lining is that this crisis reminds us that we have always needed each other and we have learned that everyone is struggling right now to find a new normal so the key is to show our humanity and compassion while we look out for one another. With Zoom, social media, cell phones, etc. we see that technology does not have to be isolating it can be used to build our real-world communities and relationships too!
What is a common myth about entrepreneurship that aspiring entrepreneurs and would-be business owners believe in? What advice would you give them?
Paige Arnof-Fenn: The concept of work-life balance is a myth. You will never work harder or more than you do as an entrepreneur! But because it is for your vision and dream you will never love it more too. People who start businesses thinking it is less work will be disappointed. There is always more you can do to build your business from new proposals to refreshing your website to writing articles & blog posts to updating your social media and CRM so it is hard to turn it off, trust me.
What traits, qualities, and assumptions do you believe are most important to have before starting a business?
Paige Arnof-Fenn: Successful entrepreneurs today are adaptable/agile, are strong communicators, and have a growth mindset. They are persistent, determined, focused, and resilient. Those are the traits 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 and trying again with enthusiasm and energy. A lot of people tell you no (investors, board, customers, candidates, etc.) so if you are easily daunted or do not have thick skin you will not last long in my experience. A good sense of humor goes a long way too.
They are also inclusive, collaborative and build trusted relationships to drive the business leveraging technology to support them to build real-world communities and relationships too. These traits are also important for crisis management along with remaining calm/clear-headed/in control so that you can get through ongoing setbacks and curveballs as creatively and quickly as possible. Being able to adapt to change is critical so staying nimble today is core to survival and ultimately success.
How can aspiring leaders prepare themselves for the future challenges of entrepreneurship? Are there any books, websites, or even movies to learn from?
Paige Arnof-Fenn: They should never stop learning/experimenting, be focused on the future, and see opportunities ahead by embracing a culture of learning/growth. It takes effort and a commitment to excellence for leaders to continually learn/grow especially now in a virtual/remote environment. I do not think there is one trait to stay sharp/fresh, I recommend using a combination of reading/learning online and off/attending conferences/talks, networking/newsletters from influencers/TED talks/podcasts/finding mentors/ listening to all feedback good and bad. To stay relevant/keep growing I also try to prioritize professional development to keep skills fresh and stay on top of new trends/technologies.
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?
Paige Arnof-Fenn: I did not plan on starting a company. My father and both grandfathers were successful in business and ran regional companies so I always wanted to push further and go work for a large multi-national 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. If I had not left my corporate jobs to start a company I would probably still be on my original path.
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?
Paige Arnof-Fenn: It would be a woman for sure. maybe Ruth Bader Ginsburg or Gloria Steinem. They are both national treasures and every woman owes them a debt of gratitude!
Larry Yatch, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Paige Arnof-Fenn 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 Paige Arnof-Fenn or her company, you can do it through her – Linkedin Page
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