#WomenWorldwide : From Building Empires To Knitting With Paige Arnof-Fenn

Paige Arnof-Fenn is the ultimate Boss Babe. An accidental entrepreneur, she started her career on Wall Street and built an enviable career before jumping all in to launch her own company, Mavens and Moguls. Paige was formerly VP of marketing at Zipcar. She was responsible for all branding, corporate communications and corporate partnerships for the business and was instrumental in the fundraising efforts for this early stage company. With the skills she learnt here, it was a no brainer that one day she would be the owner of her own company. 

Here, she tells us more about building her empire and her passion for knitting…

You’re the founder of Mavens and Moguls, can you tell me about the journey that lead you to launching your company.
I did not plan on starting a company.  I always wanted to 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.  I started my career on Wall Street in the 80s and had a successful career in Corporate America at companies like Procter & Gamble and Coca-Cola and worked at 3 different startups as the head of marketing.  I took the leap right after 9/11 when the company I worked for cut their marketing.  I had nothing to lose.  Being an entrepreneur 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 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).

You have an impressive back story and I love hearing how you developed your skills whilst working for major corporations before going it alone. How did that leap feel?
It felt like the right next step for me, at that time in the economy post 9/11 funding dried up and companies were conserving cash so there really were no marketing jobs open.  Because I had run marketing at 3 successful startups that all had good exits I knew a lot of people in venture capital and private equity who had portfolio companies that needed marketing help on an outsourced or interim basis so I hung out a shingle and found some old colleagues who were also available and we jumped right in.  I called the women the marketing mavens and the guys the marketing moguls and we’ve been at it now for18 years!  It did not feel risky at all because we had clients from the very beginning.  I am still having fun!

Tell us about a recent BossBabe moment that you have had…
For fun I enjoy knitting and I am in knitting group that meets every week  in a local coffee shop.  I have only been knitting a few years and I am by far the worst knitter in the group so everyone helps me when I make mistakes.    We really do not talk about work at all in the group but people have seen my signature in e-mails that I am the founder & CEO of a company.  A few weeks ago a new person showed up for our knitting group and as soon as she sat down she recognized me from a talk I gave years ago.  She is also an entrepreneur and belongs to a very high profile organization that had brought me in for a keynote speech at one of their big events.  She is an excellent knitter too.  She immediately tells the group all about me, my company, how great my talk was, etc.  She still remembered things I had said in the talk and how great my advice was, etc.  I think the group was amazed she was such a fan and I was so well respected in my field given they have only known me for a few years as a terrible knitter 😉  The woman is now a regular in our group and I think they all see me in new light now more as a beginner knitter with potential who has other strengths and is a BossBabe in other parts of her life.  They are also asking to send me referrals now which is great!  Plus my knitting is slowly but surely getting better now too!

Marketing matters. What advice would you give to anyone who is planning on launching a brand in 2020…
Branding is very important to growing your business because if you do not brand yourself then the market will brand you instead.  The single most important ingredient to creating a great brand  is authenticity and here are a few tips from my experience to help establish an authentic brand without spending a lot of money:

  • Be original. What makes you unique or special?
  • Be creative. How do you want people to think & feel after interacting with you vs. your competition?
  • Be honest.  Let your brand be known for speaking the truth, and you become the trusted advocate and go-to source.
  • Be relevant. Brands aren’t created in a vacuum.
  • Be consistent. Develop a cohesive message, and live it every day.
  • Be passionate.  Everyone loves to work with people who are passionate about what they do; it makes life much more fun and interesting.

There will be new tools and technologies coming for sure but here are some trends to leverage to grow your audience in the new year:

*  Smart speakers and voice search are growing in importance so being able to optimize for voice search will be key to maximize the marketing and advertising opportunities on Siri, Alexa, Google Home, etc.  I predict that the brands that perfect the “branded skill” with more customer-friendly, less invasive ads are going to win big.  Are you prepared when customers ask your specific brand for help like “Alexa ask Nestle for an oatmeal cookie recipe”  if not you are missing a big opportunity!

*  Live video will grow in importance – live streaming is available on every major social media platform and it is only getting bigger to hook in users with short attention spans, in a mobile first world, you have less time to grab people, attention spans are shorter than ever so video will be used even more, show don’t tell for maximum impact, rich content drives engagement.

*  Interactive marketing soars — brands will drive engagement even more with polls, surveys, quizzes, contests, interactive videos, etc. to grab audience attention even quicker

*  AI-powered chatbots cut costs and convert visitors into leads by encouraging themed content to answer FAQs with voice search friendly semantic keyword  phrases, is your content strategy ready?

*  More confidence in trusted content, friends and influencers than advertising — the world has been moving this way for years with people seeking their friends’ and influencers’ opinions and advice online on what to buy, where to go, and what to do more than a paid ad or fancily packaged content.  Customers are savvy today they are happy to buy what they want and need but they do not like to be sold things.    Curated content and ideas from a trusted source beat paid content every time.  Partnering and building relationships with the right influencers with content that is co-created helps brands scale and grow faster and amplify and boost their message

* Authentic relationships beat marketing automation — technology runs our lives more than ever but it is relationships that drive business and commerce so people will find more ways to connect in person to  build trust and strengthen connections.  Make sure you offer several ways to talk with them and get to know them.  Algorithms can only tell you so much about a customer, transactions are driven by relationships.  Use automation where you can but do not ignore the power of the personal  touch.

Tell us about your biggest success story
We have been fortunate to have a lot of success over the past 18  years but one of the first big breakouts 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!

Looking back over your time since launching the brand, is there anything you would do differently?
I am not sure I would do anything differently though because everything has lead me to this point now. I made plenty of mistakes along the way but that is how you learn and grow.  I learned something new with each situation but I probably learned  the most during the toughest times when the economy was volatile or I had a client who was difficult.  Those are the lessons you never forget.  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!

Our readers love to travel, where is home to you?
I grew up in New Orleans, Louisiana but have lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts since 1999.

Imagine you’re stranded on a desert island for 6 weeks, what 3 items would you take?
I’m assuming the phone and internet would not work so maybe a short wave radio with lots of batteries, water & sunscreen

What does 2020 look like for you…
Exciting both personally and professionally but the jury is out on how it will be politically and what that means for the world.  I have a great husband and close group of friends I love spending time with and I think every project on the radar is really interesting! That is the beauty of running your own business, if you are not genuinely excited by the work then you can pass on it. I only take on work that I find interesting and worthwhile.

 

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