This Former Freelancer Now Leads FabFitFun, a Subscription Service With Hundreds of Thousands of Customers
In this series, Leader Board, we speak with CEOs, managers, founders and others who lead organizations to learn what makes them tick, what they look for in new hires and even where they eat lunch.
Only one in 10 women hold leadership positions, and Katie Ann Rosen Kitchens says it is her is mission to change those numbers. Kitchens, the co-founder and editor-in-chief of subscription service FabFitFun, practices what she preaches, with a staff of more than 150 employees that’s 70 percent female.
“We want to be setting the new standard of what a workplace can look like and what diversity or being a more inclusive office actually means,” Kitchens tells Entrepreneur. “It's easy to get a little bit complacent as we make those smaller strides but that means that we're still not getting to that real equality and I think being able to have those conversations is really important.”
Back in 2010, Kitchens and Giuliana Rancic launched FabFitFun as a female-focused website. In 2013, the company expanded its reach, creating a subscription box with curated products across beauty, fashion, health, wellness, technology and more. Today, not only has the L.A.-based company become a community for fans, a subscription service and an online publication, but it has cast the net even wider with FabFitFunTV, an on-demand streaming service for workouts.
Before launching FabFitFun, Kitchens was a freelancer for a variety of publications including The LA Times and Art and Living. So being a leader and learning how to manage others and scale a company has been an education for her. “I am definitely a little bit of a type A personality, and it's hard to let go when you feel like you've been able to control everything for so long,” Kitchens shares with Entrepreneur.
We spoke with Kitchens to find out how she’s successfully scaled and spearheaded one of the most popular subscription box services around, as well as get her leadership tips and tricks.
On the most important leadership traits:
“You really have to lead by example. I think it's hard to ask people to do things that you're not willing to do. We are very much of the startup mentality so [we] will always be a little bit scrappy, [and] that feeling really translates down to our entire team and it makes us a little bit better off.
“Transparency is also really important. When you are a team of five people in total, which we were for many years, it's really easy to communicate what [your] goals are. It's much harder when you pass that 100-person mark. We really want to do a good job of making sure that everyone is aligned and know[s] what 2018 is going to look like. We are a very fast paced business so what's true on Monday tends to not be true on Friday. So you have to have really good communication in order to make people feel involved and up to speed.”
On leadership style:
“I was a freelancer for most of those years. So it's really been an on-the-job learning experience. I am definitely a little bit of a type A personality, and it's hard to let go when you feel like you've been able to control everything for so long.
“We have done a really amazing job of hiring talented, amazing team members who are, quite frankly, much smarter than I am and do their jobs incredibly well, [so] being able to trust them is what has led to [our] growth over the past couple of years. It's their chance to either sink or swim, but by giving people that sort of responsibility they are able to rise to the occasion.”
On habits that help her lead:
“I am a very early riser. I love the quiet time in the morning before I go to work and before my kids get up [so] I can go through emails and send off anything that I was not able to the day before. I also try [to] be in the moment as much as possible. We all know that balancing work and family life is challenging, so I love having those two hours with my daughters and husband in the morning where I can cook them breakfast, read them a story, get them dressed and feel like I'm being an amazing mom. I think that sort of separation is necessary otherwise you're going to drive yourself crazy.”
“When we were sourcing products for the box, it was a new initiative and we were constantly explaining who we are and why we're so amazing. And I thought if we could only get to 100,000 members no one would ever be able to say ‘no.’ And then we got to 100,000 members, and then we got to hundreds and hundreds of thousands of members, and the problem changed. So now the reality is no brands other than FabFitFun are asking for a single skew of this many units. And it's really hard for even the biggest brands to take on that kind of production. It is probably the best problem to have being that we have this amount of scale. But certainly that's a challenge that we are in the process of overcoming."
On the most important traits in a new hire:
“Number one is enthusiasm. We want people who really want to work at FabFitFun. Startup life can sometimes be challenging because it is so fast paced and there is so much change. The people who tend to be successful are the people who really want to be here.
“I also think that you have to be able to speak your mind. We do a really good job of team brainstorming because you never know where the best idea is going to come from. Even if [someone] has an idea and it's not the right idea, [they] might inspire someone else to think of [another] amazing idea.
“And then experience. We certainly have a lot of young, fresh, eager talent and there is something really amazing about that but over the past two years we have invested in talent that comes with a tremendous amount of experience. People who have had 10 years in operations bring a true gravitas and understanding that somebody who just graduated college can't. It's really important to have that balance.”
On recognizing employees:
“When we were around 30 employees, two of our amazing team members decided to make a compliment box. They literally took a FabFitFun box, cut a hole in it and encouraged everyone to write compliments throughout the week. Then on Friday afternoon, we would open up the box and read out all of the compliments to each other. And I think it's very much a part of who we are as a culture, as a brand. It becomes a little bit more challenging after you hit 100 but we translated it into a new format: we use Slack and have created the Slack compliment channel so people can go in and tag someone who has done an amazing job.”
“Any time you get out of the office and [have] fun together really helps to build team spirit. Two company-wide initiatives [are] happy hours or Dodger games. We do lunch in the office two times a week. Sometimes the different teams can feel very separate from one another so we like to have these company-wide events where everyone gets to know each other. At the end of the summer we did a FabFitFun Olympics -- our wonderful HR team put together a variety of relays, hula hooping contests and balloon building situations. We are a very ambitious group and it was a good way to channel that ambition.”
“This is probably not my proudest moment but because I have two young daughters at home, I pack as much into the day as I can and I have a million meetings so I eat either at my desk in my office or in a meeting. I do not leave the office most days -- but that extra 45 minutes that I can spend with my team or getting a meeting in helps me condense my day.”
On unique office rituals:
“We're just all very kooky people so I think our personalities translate to a really unique working environment so much so that we don't need to create them. I always say that we are very much like a family, sometimes a dysfunctional family, but always a family nonetheless. I spend more time with the people in my office than I spend with my actual family, and I love them. These are people who I genuinely care about and like seeing every day. That's really special.”
On office setup:
“We actually just experienced a big change. We were previously all on one floor but we've now just taken over the bottom floor [too]. We were just outgrowing the space too quickly. It is a very open concept space. Everything is glass. It's really easy to see and communicate with the team. We always want that sort of open door policy -- [it] just makes everyone feel like they're on one team.”
On a strong company culture:
“It is a team sport. We are all one working towards unified goals. Someone else said it better than me that you think like a customer and act like an owner. We hope that that is something everybody in our company feels like because everybody has such a direct effect on what we do. The people who are writing articles, their stuff shows up on the site. Our merch team is finding the products that make it into the box. The dev team creates this beautiful website that we see every day. We want everyone to feel -- and they do -- they own a piece of [the business].
“We’re over 70 percent women. We want to be setting the new standard of what a workplace can look like and what diversity or being a more inclusive office actually means, and it's not just gender it's also ethnicity. L.A. is the most amazing melting pot when it comes to culture and having people at our office being a true representative of the city is really important to us.”
On cultural mistakes:
“We do company-wide all-hands meetings. And I think it's really important to be as transparent and communicative as possible and for a while, even though we were doing these all hands, we weren't necessarily communicating the information that people needed. We were meeting as a group but not giving them the details and the high-line goals. We really had to revisit what that structure looked like so it wasn't just a meeting to have a meeting, and [instead] an opportunity to feel like we are empowering the team and giving them the information that they need to succeed. Without that information nobody understands why they are there.”
On her biggest cultural win:
“I'm sure this is not a 100 percent true. So I don't want to give you an entirely inaccurate figure, but I don't know that anyone has ever quit FabFitFun. But certainly if anyone has quit, we could count them on one hand. And I think that's a testament to the fact that it's a pretty amazing place to work, that we are very supportive of our team and we're helping them to further their careers and enable them to become better employees.”
On her role models:
“Sheryl Sandberg is someone who I could listen to all day long. I think she has changed the way we talk about women in the workplace. We obviously know that we are making strides to better what those relationships or that equality looks like but it's not enough. It's easy to get a little bit complacent as we make those smaller strides but that means we're still not getting to that real equality. I love that she's keeping that conversation going and realizing that we're not there yet and what it means to you to get us there.”
On her favorite leadership book:
On where most leaders go wrong:
“Having been there before I think not being able to trust your employees is a huge issue. Trying to micromanage everything at every level becomes simply impossible as you grow. And also, nobody wants to be managed that way. No one's going to feel empowered if their boss is looking over their shoulder every second. We all want to be successful and we want the best for our company but in order to make that happen you have to give your team the freedom to rise to the occasion.”