The Accidental Entrepreneur
How does one become an accidental entrepreneur? Paige Arnof-Fenn, founder and CEO of Mavens & Moguls, knows the answer. She calls herself the accidental entrepreneur as she “never wrote a business plan” or “raised any outside money.”
Paige bootstrapped when she started Mavens & Moguls. She and a college buddy did the company’s first website. Her friend did the programming, while she wrote the content. Another friend, who is a lawyer, drew up paperwork to incorporate and wrote contracts.
Paige then proceeded to design some stationary so she could send out proposals and invoices. She also opened a small business bank account to pay people, and set up an account with an outsourced payroll firm. She sent out e-mails to contacts and told them they were open for business.
“Then the phone started to ring, e-mails started coming and I was setting up meetings and calls to get going,” Paige recalls. “That was almost 15 years ago. The rest is history and we have been busy ever since.”
How did she do it?
Mavens & Moguls is an international consulting firm that specializes in strategic marketing. The distinguished woman behind it, Paige Arnof-Fenn, was the vice president of marketing at Zipcar. Prior to that, she was also VP of marketing at Inc.com.
Single-handedly she built Mavens & Moguls in 2002. Fourteen years later, the company continues to flourish. In an interview with Founder’s Guide, Paige reveals how she did it.
“It is amazing how much you can accomplish with a computer, cell phone, a clear vision, a lot of energy and a great attitude/sense of humor,” Paige shares. “I started the company before social media and smart phones were everywhere so it would be different for entrepreneurs launching today.”
Paige also joined several networking groups when she first started her company. Networking groups in certain industries and categories helped her meet like-minded people who could refer businesses to them. She wrote a popular monthly column in Entrepreneur magazine for 4 years, and she then wrote for Forbes. She spoke at many conferences, trade shows, webinars, etc.
“For a professional service firm like mine I needed to have high visibility in the community and in my industry as a leading expert in marketing and branding. All of this lead to referrals and added to my credibility.”
An intense but fun leader
Paige reveals that she has a very seasoned team where everyone has 20+ years of experience. “We are a virtual company and both clients and consultants are located all over the world so we never all get together,” she says.
“I think we have a very collaborative and collegial environment, lots of mutual respect. We are all a little Type A neurotic and cannot help ourselves but to overdeliver so we have a reputation for offering great value. We are internally intense but fun to work with.”
She talks to all the team leaders multiple times a week, and because the team is virtual, that is the closest to the “management by walking around” style she can do.
Paige believes more in what she calls “work-life integration” rather than balance. “My friends are my clients, my clients become colleagues and my colleagues become friends. I work all the time, I am always on but I love what I do and I have the best boss of my entire career,” she comments, on having her own company.
Paige has learned that if she does not take good care of herself, then she is no good to anyone else. She works out every day and does not set an alarm unless she has to catch a plane. She understands that if she wants to play hooky on a pretty day, it just means that she may be on the computer, working on e-mails later that night, but it is her choice.
“It is not balance per se but it works for me,” she says.
The lessons she learned
Paige’s biggest regret is not getting rid of weak people, out of loyalty to them, earlier than she should have in the first few years of her business. “They became more insecure and threatened as we grew, which was not productive for the team,” she said. “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.”
Paige also learned that listening tours can do a lot of good for your business for the price of a few coffees and meals. It is a great way to connect and is a lot of fun too.
She advises entrepreneurs to make a list of the movers and shakers that they admire and respectt. They should also ask them a few smart open-ended questions through phone or e-mail, then sit back and take notice. “If you listen to what they share with you there will be plenty of opportunities to help them,” she said. “I did it when business slowed and picked up several new clients.”
From one entrepreneur to another
When Paige meets successful people, she always asks them for advice. These are some of what she has learned that she would like to share to other entrepreneurs out there.
- Be original. Can you imagine Barbra Streisand with a different nose, Jay Leno with a new chin, or Cindy Crawford without her mole? Everyone remembers the original, but the copycats start blending after a while, so differentiate yourself to stand out from the pack. When you exploit what makes you unique, people will remember your authentic brand.
- Be creative. As George Washington Carver once said, “When you can do the common things of life in an uncommon way, you will command the attention of the world.” We are known for our creative solutions and often get the tough projects others do not want to touch or have not been able to solve.
- Be honest. Because there are so many choices out there in every category, customers tend to choose the brands they trust most. Let your brand be known for speaking the truth, and you become the trusted advocate and go-to source. People don’t always want to hear the truth, but they’ll respect you for telling it, and when they’re ready to listen, they’ll remember you for it.
- Be relevant. You must define your brand, communicate it, and review it periodically so your brand stays current. Look at Madonna, circa 1985 (leather outfits, bleached hair, wild child) and today (yoga, family, spiritual). The branding basics still apply when the brand is you—having a core message, a brand promise, visual and verbal identification and fully integrating all components.
- Be consistent. Develop a cohesive message, and live it every day. The repetition reinforces your key points so people will remember them. It takes time to build great brands—no one wins Olympic gold medals, Grammy awards, Oscars, or anything of importance overnight. These things require an investment of your time and energy. Every transaction and experience with your customers is an opportunity to build trust in your brand.
- Be passionate. If you remember nothing else, remember this suggestion—it makes up for any shortfall above. Everyone loves to work with people who are passionate about what they do; it makes life much more fun and interesting. So build your brand around what you enjoy, and remember the words of John Ruskin: “When love and skill work together, expect a masterpiece.”