These First-Time Founders Share What Gave Them The Inspiration to Take the Plunge
Editor’s Note: Inspire Me is a series in which entrepreneurs and leaders share what motivates them through good times and bad, while also sharing stories of how they overcame challenges in hopes of inspiring others.
It can be scary to leave behind a good job you’re comfortable in to make the leap into entrepreneurship.
For Yadira Harrison and Shannon Jones, friends and co-founders of newly-launched boutique marketing and business strategy firm Verb, the fact they have each other to rely on and find inspiration in has made all the difference during those moments when the responsibility of being the boss can feel overwhelming.
Harrison and Jones met when they worked as VP’s at the agency Civic Entertainment Group. After working successfully together for several years on accounts like Airbnb, they began to think about their next steps.
“[The question was] what did we want our trajectory and growth to look like? We weren't seeing that perfect dream role out in the market,” Jones recalls to Entrepreneur. “There's a lot of freedom in being the owners of our own business. We don’t have to get a sign off or blessings from senior leadership [before making decisions].
In January, they launched Verb. They already have offices in both Los Angeles and New York and serve a client roster including Amazon, Nielsen, Lyft and SundanceTV.
While running your own show definitely comes with its perks, there also drawbacks, one being the added pressure to constantly execute. And working with big-name -- sometimes demanding -- clients can add to the stress.
Finding inspiration in everything from Pinterest to art exhibitions, the co-founders say there is one question that helps them when they feel creatively blocked. “Every now and then, throw everything you do know out the window and ask ‘how would I do this totally fresh?’” says Harrison “Let's just start new.”
Harrison and Jones shared the unexpected places they find strength as they grow their business.
This article has been edited for brevity and clarity.
What are some of the day-to-day pain points and long-term goals that require you to seek out inspiration as you run your business?
Jones: When we are looking to come up with a new campaign is the point in which we’re looking for inspiration to get our creative juices flowing. We're looking for creative inspiration in non-traditional places. Often, we find that there's something happening in one space that is applicable to another, and that's what helps things break through. We might approach a visual artist and say we want you to do an interactive installation. They may never have worked with brands before, but bringing in those types of partners is key.
And my teenage nieces. As you get older, you sometimes forget that you're not necessarily the target demo for every campaign you're working on. And younger people are on such a different wavelength. More than any publication, talking to teenagers about how they spend their time [helps us stay ahead of trends].
What is a quote that inspires you?
Harrison: "A sword in the hand of a coward is useless." It definitely speaks to a lot about this particular part of my life and this wonderful adventure of entrepreneurship. You have to be fearless. You have to know that all the skills, experiences, all the common sense and book smarts -- that's you're sword. If you're going to be fearful and not do anything about it, then what's the point?
Jones: My favorite quote is "what's the best that can happen?" So often our default is “what's the worst that could happen?” And we've found that trying to find the positive in situations has been tremendously helpful for us. Seeing how it has impacted our employees, has been the biggest eye opener of how our energy and our attitude sets the tone for the whole team.
What is a book that inspires you and why?
Harrison: Why Not Me? By Mindy Kaling. She puts things in such a very positive way of being brave when it comes to how she thinks about her career, the projects she goes after and what she creates. And she says, “why wouldn't I? Why can't it be me?” I always go back to that.
Jones: Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday. In the marketing a space, it can be a very ego-driven space, especially when you start winning awards and accolades. I think that understanding ego is the enemy, whether there's tension on a project, approaching people and asking for help or getting support or resources, you should just keep your ego in check. You can't control someone else's behavior, but you can control how you react to it. And it usually leads to a much more positive outcome for us.
Was there someone who told you you could launch the company? Who really encouraged you?
Harrison: My sister really encouraged me. She talked me through it. She wanted me to make sure I understood all the risks that are associated with it, but also all the positives that are associated with it -- how it can change the trajectory of not just our lives but everybody we come in contact with that works with us.
Jones: My husband was a big proponent of this; he has been for years. You're leaving a very senior level position with a nice salary; it can be a huge risk and it does impact your family as well. It was huge to have his unequivocal support for this endeavor.
Who is a woman that inspires you?
Harrison: My aunt. She always had a business. I respected and loved that about her. She was honest with me about owning a business, and what kind of statement that made, especially as a woman.
Also, my mother. My mother is my everything. She is a fighter, she’s funny, charismatic and whip smart. The third is [a little] cliche, but it's true. Oprah. When you're thinking about what you want and about female empowerment and what that looks like as a company and as a brand, you think about Oprah. She was a big piece of what pushed me into this direction with Verb.
Jones: My godmother. From early on, I can remember her being just a badass executive. She worked in the marketing and advertising space, and she was the first person I heard being a six-figure earner. That even being a possibility, I never saw a glass ceiling of a black woman being able to make six-figures or be a C-level executive.
What inspires you at work?
Jones: I think what's inspiring is the faith that our team has in us, leaving [established companies] to come full time with us. It may feel like a risk because it's so early on, but I think that their faith in us and hearing how they talk about Verb is inspiring. We feel like we are building something really special.
Are there lessons from earlier bosses or mentors that you think back on when you need an extra boost or bit of encouragement?
Harrison: My old boss at Macy's, Amy. One of the main things I have taken from her is asking for what you want. So many people walk into rooms hoping for something, wishing for something and they don't ask, and then they wonder why they did not get it.
Jones: An old boss taught me about working smarter not harder. I was very young in my career and was staying late every day, and he said, “I'm not impressed by that, that could just mean you're inefficient.” Really thinking through the process, the resources that we need, how we maximize our team and our time has been tremendously valuable for us, especially a growing team.
What has inspired you to be a better person?
Harrison: My friend Erica. She is the one who always says to me that I have to take the high road. Sometimes you want to be petty, and she always brings me back and centers me. She tells me, “you need you to be the light in the room, you have to be an inspiration and you need to leave people forward.”
Jones: My husband. He works in the music business, which can be a tricky space to navigate. But he always is worried about equity for everyone. He feels like scarcity is not the place to operate from. He always operates from a place of abundance and that what's for you, is for you. That really inspires me to always be a giving, loving person.
For those women who are looking to start a business or have begun one and are feeling discouraged, what advice do you have for them to keep going?
Harrison: Just start. For us, it was about immediate action. With preparation, once you get started, I think you amaze yourself how fast your business can start to grow.
Jones: Sometimes people will set these unrealistic benchmarks of where they should be or what should happen by a certain date, but you just have to keep going.