How do you start your day?
These days we are hunkering down in upstate New York and I have a new ritual to start my day which I love. I take my dog Doe for a long walk (which helps get my steps in!) and often listen to a podcast either related to my business or something for personal inspiration. It helps me start the day with motivation and I feel ready to tackle my work and other tasks once I’ve had this time for myself. One ritual to carry over post-pandemic!
Who inspires you?
The women in my life inspire me - especially those who have taken a leap and made a big professional or personal move to actualize who they are now. These are women who have taken big risks and betted on themselves to figure it out as they go. They are my friends and colleagues who want more meaning and want to contribute their talents and won’t settle for less. I am especially inspired by my co-founder Linda Lautenberg who in addition to helping to pivot our business, Evolve, in these times, has also been leading an effort to support frontline workers and businesses.
What would you tell yourself as a teenager?
I would say get over yourself and stop taking life so seriously. I was a type A student and put a lot of pressure on myself to succeed. Now I believe “perfect is the enemy of good” and I’ve learned to trust myself more.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?
The best advice I ever received was from a former male boss who was hired into a job that he wasn’t 100% qualified for and he was very up front about it to me. He literally said “fake it until you make it” to me when we were in a 1:1 meeting one day. That was freeing -- and maybe even more freeing coming from a man who was making himself vulnerable.
What do you need to get you through each day?
What I need to get through each day is work I am passionate about, family who cares about me and I for them, cuddles with my dog, sunshine, exercise, COFFEE (morning cup always is the best and the rest disappoints) and greens -- I can’t get enough of anything green, especially kale.
What are you reading?
I’ve wanted to read non business related books and articles for a long time! I'm a personal and business leadership development junkie and I just love all things about improvement, growth and living and working better than before. The pandemic is giving me the opportunity to do so. I’m craving books that give me a window in other peoples’ lives -- it’s not as good as meeting up with new people in person but does the trick during social distancing. Right now I’m loving Coming to My Senses by Alice Waters. It’s an autobiography of how she started her own restaurant at age 27 and started a local food movement in the United States. It inspired me to start my own garden.
Briefly describe your business and inspiration for it.
Evolve is a life-long professional development company for women in career transition -- returning to the workforce, pivoting careers, starting a new venture or regaining a professional identity after a major life event like a health crisis or divorce. Navigating a career transition can seem overwhelming and unachievable. Linda, my co-founder, and I know that because we’ve been there. We found the process isolating -- me as a pivoter from a national non-profit and Linda as a returner after an 18-year break from the workforce. We knew there were many women in the same position and yearned for a group of like-minded peers with whom to undergo the professional reinvention process.
After building out a program for women returning to work in the social impact sector, we came to realize the very real need for programming developed for the specific needs of women at mid-life. And we discovered our passion. We founded Evolve as a way to help mid-career women kick-start their career transformation through curated programming and support from each other.
How has your passion fueled your business?
As a mission-driven professional, my passion for catalyzing change has always been front and center to all of my work. Now I am passionate about women coming together in group experiences to explore their next chapters. Most of us never get the chance to explore “what we want to do when we grow up” with a structure and community to support this process. Women at midlife have so much experience and wisdom to share -- my passion to reach them and bring this community together keeps me going, especially because I have been in their shoes.
What made you decide to become an entrepreneur?
I decided to become an entrepreneur because I was at the stage of my career where this felt like the natural next step. After working in nonprofit organizations focused on research and programming in girls and women’s leadership development for the tenure of my career, I was ready to bring my expertise out into the world to work with women on their next chapters. I felt there was little that existed to help support women move into this next stage of their career with confidence and in the company of other women. That’s key! I wanted to create the program that I was looking for when I was pivoting into the entrepreneurial space.
What was the tipping point for realizing you had a good business?
The tipping point was when after numerous networking events, we had women asking us if we had programs not just for women returning to the workforce, but for women who at midlife wanted to pivot their careers and they were working and felt stuck. We were also hearing from women who were going through divorce and recovering from health issues and wanted to rebuild their careers with other women who were going through that same stage. We had a test run of leading a program for women returning to the workforce that was successful and felt there was enough interest and enthusiasm for us to broaden our market to capture women interested in different types of reinvention, and also get more specific- focusing on women in midlife. And now we are pivoting to reach women across the country through virtual programming, which the current environment demands. It’s all part of the iterative process that reinvention is!
What has been the key to your success?
The key to my success is that I am driven and passionate about what I set out to do. I also like working with people and building off their ideas and that makes my own work even stronger. I also believe that I lead with my values and stay aligned to them in the best of times and in hard times. Values are your north star and need to guide you. They give you parameters to assess opportunities and also shape your decision-making. My values led me to take the leap and leave my comfort zone from my nonprofit executive career and become an entrepreneur.
What lessons have you learned along the way that you wish you would have known at the beginning of your start-up career?
One of the lessons that I’ve learned that I wish I knew at the start of my career is how important it is to rely on the wisdom and experience of women who have come before me in this entrepreneurial journey. I’ve learned so much from women who I’ve had coffees with (now on zoom!), met at networking events and from introductions from colleagues and friends. Learning from women leading start-ups across sectors and industries is so important. We’re our own tribe!
What challenges did you face in the early days of being the Founder of your own business?
In the early days of Evolve, the challenges were developing branding, marketing and a voice that would speak to our target audience. We spent a lot of time thinking about the lives of the women who we hoped to support and what they needed now from a professional development company. Now we hear that the content and the communications that we share really resonate with women in midlife who are searching for career clarity and their next chapters and that feels really good!
What is the biggest mistake/challenge you have encountered in your business to date and how have you moved past it?
One challenge that Evolve is currently facing is adapting what was formerly in-person programming to virtual courses. We managed to pivot very quickly at the onset of the pandemic and for the first six weeks have hosted virtual events with industry leaders and weekly content. Our goal is to try and recreate the group experience that we have with women in conference rooms through digital offerings. We know that women aspire to greater goals and move faster together when they can share their stories and mirror each others’ talents and skills. We’re excited to now be able to reach women across the country.
What would you have done differently?
We love working with individual women and are building a strong community. We also know that businesses that are struggling with workers being furloughed and laid-off need resources to share with their employees who are being further challenged by economic hardship. Now that the need is so great, we want to reach women whose careers have been derailed and help them get back on track. One thing we are doing differently is being more proactive about partnering with organizations and companies to reach even more women who are in need of career clarity, especially now.
When self-doubt hits, what do you do?
When self-doubt hits me I think of all the women Evolve has helped with their career reinvention and all the others that are counting on Evolve to help create the momentum for their next steps. I also think about what I know to be true from research and in my conversations with women in real life: women have the spectrum of talents and skills that are need in the workplace to adapt to our changing world. We have the emotional intelligence and the leadership skills to make sound decisions -- evident in the women leaders of countries who are at the forefront of fighting COVID-19. When I am doubting myself I think of examples of women who are role models for me. I also think about the other women I can help. Getting out of my own head makes me more focused and confident. Having a greater purpose can erase self-doubt quickly!
What is your biggest fear as an entrepreneur?
My biggest fear as an entrepreneur is that I don’t know what I don’t know. We are learning every day and try and practice what we help women learn. Having a growth mindset is key. You can learn new things at any age and stage. This mindset has helped us fuel Evolve’s growth. But what about all the things I might not know? For example, now that our reach can be national with online courses, I want to be sure we know the latest digital marketing strategies to reach women who are looking for Evolve’s help. We’re learning more and more everyday!
What aspects of being an entrepreneur do you love and/or dislike?
The parts about being an entrepreneur that I love are the flexibility--I can decide my own schedule. I also love working with a partner and building something from scratch with our own joint vision and values. I enjoy the creativity and the opportunity to unleash ideas quickly! The aspects that are more difficult are financial insecurity, blurred work and life boundaries, and that our success is entirely up to us. There is no one else to blame!
Which books, articles, blogs have helped to shape your business and/or leadership style?
I am a big fan of Brene Brown. Her TED talk on vulnerability is a must. I love Marie Forleo’s podcasts! Her practical, down to earth advice for succeeding in work and life are spot on. The book Becoming by Michelle Obama was so authentic and honest. It helped fuel my interest in women sharing their career reinvention stories with each other in Evolve’s #40over40 and “How She Did It” series. Michelle Obama is a career reinventor herself and is so open about the challenges she had as a recovering lawyer before she started her career in the social sector.
Are there any go-to resources that you have found useful to run your business (service, web site, etc.)?
Fly Female Founders is a great resource for Evolve and other women entrepreneurs. They hold events with experts covering a range of topics that are of interest for female-led startup leaders -- marketing, SEO, productivity etc. One of their founders is an alum of a cohort Linda and I led for women returning to the workforce.
What has been your best strategy for selling your product or service and what have you learned along the way?
The best strategy for selling our services has been word of mouth and especially from the women who are alumni of our programs. They’ve been huge supporters and are paying it forward through referrals. We’ve also seen how we can leverage partnerships with mutually aligned organizations led by women entrepreneurs and leaders. We’ve learned that growing our community is about the give and take of building reciprocal relationships and that is where our focus is now.
How did your experiences in the corporate world prepare you for entrepreneurship, or not?
For many years I worked at a large nonprofit organization that operated like a corporation. The business functions were siloed but as a researcher in women’s and girls issues, my work cut across different functions. I worked with program development, fundraising, branding, marketing, operations and consulting teams. Having had exposure to all of these functions has been very helpful in creating my own business. I also had experience in restructuring and managing a team within a large organization and those strategic leadership skills have been valuable.
What do you think the most important attribute a female entrepreneur/ business owner can possess?
I think the most important attribute a female entrepreneur can possess is being able to adapt to change. I would go a step further to say that she not only needs to be able to adapt to change, but in order to be successful, she needs to fully and unabashedly embrace change. You’ve got to be open to trying new things and consider what you might have typically thought as a “failure” as a learning opportunity to do something differently. If you’re rigid, it’s going to make the entrepreneurial road a lot bumpier!
What do you do outside the office to help you stay creative/productive?
I like to run to keep my energy up and do yoga to stay grounded. I also like to spend time with my husband and two sons outdoors. I love to cook and have a passion for food education. I’m on the board of Teens For Food Justice, a youth-led hydroponic farming organization in New York City public schools. I also chair the board of trustees of an independent school in Brooklyn which helps me to hone my leadership skills and fuels my passion for working with a team.
What would you say to another woman who asked you if they should take the leap and start their own business?
I would say go for it! You don’t have to go at it alone either. Find a business partner who complements your skill sets. If you don’t have a co-founder, create a personal board of directors across fields who can help fuel your thinking. Starting your own business is going to be more energizing than you ever thought -- because it’s all yours and the amount of autonomy you have and creativity you can inject into it is endless! It will be harder in ways that you could never imagine. Think about it as a long play -- it’s a marathon not a sprint. Build up your stamina! Get used to living in the moment and celebrating the small victories along the way!
EVENT ALERT: Register now and join Judy at Evolve's next event on 5/12, 1-2 PM EST. Female Founders: Meeting the Moment