My entrepreneurial journey began at age 16, when I started teaching private ballet lessons over my summer break. I ran the numbers, made flyers, and rented studio space from my extremely gracious ballet instructor and owner of Ballet Midwest in Topeka, Kansas. Whether I knew it or not - because in places like Topeka in the mid 1990s, "female entrepreneurship" wasn't really a thing - a woman had paved the way and opened my first door. That summer, I made roughly $2,000 which got plopped into an interest bearing savings account, and off I went to build my career and several more businesses.
What I've learned in nearly two decades of honing my entrepreneurial spirit is that unless you're surrounded by a solid support system, operating from a place of passion, and ultimately being profitable, then no business endeavor is worth the input. It's often hard to find that balance, let alone a work/life balance that won't send your sanity or important relationships careening off a cliff. Something else I've learned, particular to female executives and entrepreneurs, is that we often do a lion's share of the work and are afraid that if we toot our own horn or talk about our success then others will balk. Certainly there is a graceful way to do everything, including sharing our accomplishments and "how we got there."
With that in mind, I've asked a stellar selection of women (who have inspired me over the years) to share a little about why they love what they do, as well as what's made them successful. By watching them closely I've learned a tremendous amount, and I hope you will too.
Marisa Ricciardi: Trusted C-Suite Partner
After stints as the Chief Marketing Officer of NYSE Euronext and Vice President at Goldman Sachs, Marisa ventured out on her own so she could have more flexibility while raising her two daughters. While she was a "party of one" at first, serving as a virtual CMO for several major financial-focused brands, Marisa quickly identified a niche and the Ricciardi Group was born. From helping early-stage CEOs allocate venture capital that will have the highest impact on their business, to assisting CMOs in navigating the complex marketing landscape, Marisa is committed to providing her clients with a clear path for turning business strategy into action. "I spend my client's money like I would spend my own money," I've heard her say on several occasions.
Bragging rights: In less than four years, she has built a team of over 30 full-time employees and contractors, enlisted a board of advisors from some of the world's leading firms, and expanded her client roster to include Fortune 500 companies like Adobe, Legg Mason and BNY Melon, and emerging technology brands like AlphaPoint, ComplySci, and General Assembly.
Why she loves her job: "Now the hustle is real. As a result, connecting with interesting people is an integral part of my day. Unlike my previous corporate roles, where my professional community was homogenous and taking time to develop yourself was a luxury, better Ideas, inspiration, leads and best practices come from all over."
Deirdre Breakenridge: Author and PR Industry Leader
I've known Deirdre for roughly a decade, and anyone who has ever had any success in the PR and marketing space has likely had her as a friend and mentor. As the CEO of Pure Performance Communications, the author of six business books, and the host of Women Worldwide, she speaks internationally on the topics of PR, branding, and social media. She is also an adjunct professor at UMASS, a PR certificate course instructor at Rutgers University, and a LinkedIn Learning author with six PR and marketing video courses.
Bragging rights: After publishing her sixth book, "Answers for Modern Communicators," one of her interviews ended up airing on United Airlines in-flight TV. The response was overwhelming with increased book sales, new consulting work, and speaking opportunities.
Why she loves her job: "Being an entrepreneur is the best way for me to be true to my life purpose and my passion to educate others about changes and challenges in technology and communications. At the same time, I'm a forever student, always learning, growing, and feeding my curiosity."
Meredith Fineman: Writer, Author, and Female Empowerment Specialist
Meredith is an entrepreneur, writer, and founder of FinePoint - a professional development company that gives clients (particularly female CEOs and other leaders) the tools they need to spread their message. She teaches girls how to promote themselves, emphasizes the importance of women talking positively about their professional accomplishments, and covers trends in media, particularly among Millennials.
Bragging rights: She has been published in Harvard Business Review, Forbes, Fast Company, Inc., Elle, Shondaland, Marie Claire, and Entrepreneur, and has been found delivering lectures at Stanford, UPenn, Georgetown, George Washington, American University, and the GirlUp Leadership Summit. She recently collaborated with Mark Penn on the book "Microtrends Squared: The New Small Forces Driving the Big Disruptions Today," which was published by Simon & Schuster on March 20, 2018.
Why she loves her job: "I get to just figure it out, and not work within a framework. That also makes it difficult and trying - sometimes I want someone to tell me what to do or how something works. But the figuring it out part, trusting your gut, and being instinctual, is something I deeply value."
Analisa Goodin: Advertising Industry Visionary
After a decade working in the advertising agency world with some of the most recognizable global brands, Analisa identified a specific pain point: The ability to find relevant, compelling content that could be quickly and safely licensed and turned around for commercial projects. Fueled by the ubiquity of the Internet and social media channels, user-generated content (UGC) was something advertisers and brands began considering as viable creative content. With this in mind, in 2014 she founded Catch&Release, a technology-driven platform for sourcing and licensing UGC.
Bragging rights: When Analisa went out to raise venture funding, after bootstrapping the company to a profitable point, the round was oversubscribed. In less than a year, the company has doubled in size, released its first major AI-powered product, and curated and licensed user-generated content for some of the world's leading brands including Jeep and the NBA.
Why she loves her job: "My favorite part about being an entrepreneur is making an idea - a fantasy, a dream, an aspiration - become real. Supporting a team, priming a market, and building a product that makes a dream come to life. I can't think of anything more professionally fulfilling than that."
Kathleen Flaherty: Hollywood and Technology Connector
Kathleen has spent more than two decades as a PR and marketing pro in the technology, fashion, and entertainment industries. As the founder of K21 Communications she has worked with clients ranging from A-list celebrities to fast growing tech companies. Beyond helping her clients figure out creative ways to share and amplify their messages, Kathleen has been a part of delegations hosted by the Aspen Institute to help young entrepreneurs in Jordan and Myanmar (a trip that was also sponsored by the Richardson Center for Global Engagement).
Bragging rights: One of K21's most notable successes was a recent sextortion campaign for Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher's Thorn, a nonprofit that works to prevent child trafficking and sexual abuse. Its educational video was narrated by actress Shay Mitchell, and the campaign was covered in The New York Times, Entertainment Tonight, The Huffington Post, the Today Show, and The Doctors to name a few. The video was viewed several million times and it's now being shown in schools and at conferences around the world.
Why she loves her job: "Because my life and my time are my own. I'm the driver. If we love you and your company or your mission, we work with you. And if we don't, we walk away. It's just that simple. If it's not fun, why do it? Or if you choose to do it, stay clear on the reason, be grateful, and do an awesome job."
Jess Peterson: Animation Expert and Content Creator
Jess is the CEO and creative producer at Mighty Oak, a studio that creates hand-made animation for brands and TV networks. Since the company launched in 2015, its work for clients such as Netflix, HBO, Nick Jr., Airbnb, NBC, Conde Nast, Giphy, and The New York Times has amassed more than 200 million views. Jess has also led workshops on entrepreneurship and branded content at General Assembly, Etsy's HQ, Independent Filmmaker Project (IFP), Brooklyn's Northside Festival, Lincoln Center, The MET, and on Capitol Hill.
Bragging rights: In the past year, Mighty Oak has doubled the size of its full-time team, forged relationships with more than 40 contractors and moved into an 1,100 square-foot facility. Oh, and it's projected to bring in a million dollars in annual revenue. Not bad for a business that was operating out of a vacant apartment above Jess's only a few short years ago.
Why she loves her job: "I've had an entrepreneurial spirit since I was selling mixtapes to my second-grade class. I thrive on the opportunity to solve problems, plan for the future, and create a great product. But ultimately, making space for creatives like me to flourish has been the most rewarding experience."
Genevieve Custer Weeks: Ballet School Franchise Founder
Genevieve is the founder of Tutu School - which has grown into a franchise of more than 30 boutique ballet schools across the United States in under eight years. After a career as a professional ballet dancer (which included training at the San Francisco Ballet School, The School of Ballet Chicago, and American Ballet Theatre), Genevieve founded the first Tutu School in San Francisco. Her vision was to provide children under the age of eight with an outlet for creativity and self-expression, and this approach has been replicated all over the United States.
Bragging rights: Genevieve had always wanted to open her own studio, but she couldn't have known her methods would be emulated on such a massive scale. When the 30th location opened, Tutu School was ranked one of the top 500 franchises in the country.
Why she loves her job: "I get excited about nurturing our core mission - taking care of the thread that binds our brand together and gives it direction. At Tutu School, our foundational values come first, and I love making sure they are reflected in every single thing that we do."
Judy Luk-Smit: PRTech Product Leader
After two decades of working with brands such as Dell, Philips, Roche, and Xerox to build and market new products, Judy joined AirPR Software as the vice president of product and has taken the PRTech company to another level. Her experience as a business unit leader and management consultant is about as extensive as it gets, and from a personal standpoint she has taught me a tremendous amount about personal and professional boundaries.
Bragging rights: Beyond her leadership at a few of the largest tech firms in world, Judy is helping to oversee all major projects at AirPR - from a platform that allows users to measure business impact of PR efforts, to using AI to discover trending narratives, to a new influencer and journalist intelligence product. And in the past year, the company has seen its customer base and revenue expand significantly.
Why she loves her job: "What I love about being a leader is the ability to apply creativity and innovation in order to solve a problem in a unique way. I also love to hire and work with super smart teams, collaborate with customers, and build the processes and systems to scale a thriving business."
Joy Gendusa: Small Business Marketing Advocate
Joy is the founder and CEO of PostcardMania, a direct mail advertising and graphic design company that serves almost 80,000 clients in 350 industries. Despite the rise of digital advertising and the global recession of 2008-2009, Joy was able to keep her company in strong financial shape by diversifying her client base and offering services that other companies in her industry can't match.
Bragging rights: In 2005, PostcardMania earned a spot on the Inc. 500 list of fastest-growing companies in the United States, and it now boasts an annual revenue of almost $50 million. And over the past year, the company has invested in new printing technology that will allow it to increase volume, speed, and efficiency.
Why she loves her job: "I love being an entrepreneur because my business is helping other businesses (especially America's backbone: small business) succeed at marketing. This enables them to grow their revenue, expand, and hire more staff. A thriving business landscape equals a thriving economy - and in a thriving economy, we all win."
Candice Bruder: Health and Wellness Innovator
Candice is the founder of Pure Sweat + Float Studio in Nashville, Tennessee, and I've watched her quickly build one of the city's most thriving niche businesses in under one year. Prior to opening the studio in May 2017, she was a senior vice president of PR in New York City specializing in positioning, launching, and promoting businesses in the luxury lifestyle, travel, entrepreneurial, and real estate fields. While commuting between Nashville and New York for work, Candice discovered float therapy as a way to reduce her increasing stress from her hectic and demanding schedule. It was then that her business concept to combine infrared saunas and float therapy was born.
Bragging rights: Candice is already on the way to opening a second location which will also be the first franchise. Now other aspiring entrepreneurs can create their own communities of wellness and connection through the Pure Sweat + Float Studio platform.
Why she loves her job: "I get to integrate my passions and ambitions within a business dynamic that is invigorating, impactful, and meaningful. I've received tremendous joy contributing to the local wellness community, and it teaches me daily how balance and self-care are vital components to a happy and successful life. Plus, I love that I no longer have to 'ask' to go on a vacation."