It’s Female Founder Friday, and I am delighted to introduce you to woman entrepreneur, Michelle Heath. Michelle is the founder of Growth Street. A company that delivers the know-how to grow. They work with businesses and brands to identify and close the gaps to move the needle. Their clients are looking for new ways to grow by pushing the edges of where they are today to get ahead for tomorrow.
Growth Street partners with their clients (ranging from startups to Fortune 500 companies) and share their know-how to unlock new ways to grow through branding, marketing and experience. They offer a variety of different services including interim/fractional CMO, business and brand strategy, program execution and TalentED™, a new coaching and talent development offering that gives businesses a new way to invest in building high-performing talent.
So, if you’re curious how and/or why a woman would leave high positions (and role as a glass ceiling shatterer) at Fidelity Investments, Manulife Financial, J.P. Morgan and E*TRADE to launch a startup while she quested for work/life balance, don’t miss Michelle’s amazing startup story and savvy advice below!
What inspired you to create your company?
Growing up, I was lucky to have two amazing parents as role models. My mom was a school teacher, who somehow juggled being home for my sister and I, cooking dinner, shuttling us around and keeping everything organized. My dad put himself through school at night while building his career during the day as a manufacturing engineer. He is the smartest, most curious and ambitious person I know. When I was a teenager, my dad decided to leave the corporate world and start his own consulting business aimed at helping Fortune 500 manufacturers optimize their plants and operations to save time and money. I watched my dad grow his business through the ups and downs of his journey – there were a lot of them! And, I learned what it meant to take risks, how to listen and build relationships and the value of helping businesses and brands.
I always had the ambition to run my own show, but I kept it buried down inside. It would come out every once in a while, but there was always a reason not to do it. One of the big reasons was trying to figure out the mythical “work-life balance.” As my career was taking off, there were so few women leaders, never mind women entrepreneurs. As I got to the top and looked up, I remember saying to myself: “How can I possibly keep going up and be a great mom, never mind starting my own business?!” Most women dropped out because it was that hard. Plus, I worked in the finance industry, which was notorious for being male-dominated. What I didn’t realize at the time, was that I was part of breaking the glass ceiling. There were lots of other women choosing to be leaders and start companies and have big careers and, together, we seeded the change for women to come after us. I always tell the women I mentor – “You can have it all. You just have to go for it.” I never look at it as sacrifices. I look at it as I prioritize my time. My kids come first, always. That’s not a sacrifice, that’s a priority I have made. It doesn’t make me soft or less of an executive or take away from my ability to help my clients. In fact, I believe it makes me even more productive, because I have to be really good with my time and getting everything done and done well so I can focus on my family.
And in terms of inspiration for starting my own business, in addition to my dad, I would say there are two types of entrepreneurs. The first decide the need to start a company and go in search of a problem to solve. The second decide they have a problem to solve and start a company. I’m definitely the latter. I saw a gap in the market for businesses looking for innovative ways to grow and decided one day after a long run along the Charles River in Boston, that I was going to fill that gap. I didn’t have a perfect business plan or grand idea of all the details, but I knew that I needed to go and do it – for myself. Six years later, Growth Street continues to help brands uncover new ways to grow and I feel incredibly lucky to be on this journey.
What was your biggest obstacle and failure in going from idea to business?
Being an entrepreneur is not for the faint of heart. There are times when you’re clicking on all cylinders and times when you feel like the sky is falling. I recently read an article about how many entrepreneurs suffer from anxiety, depression, and other painful mental and physical conditions but they rarely talk about it. It’s important that, as entrepreneurs, we see ourselves as a community and share our stories and talk about the bumps in the road – it can be a lonely journey. Moreover, there is also evidence to suggest that drug, alcohol, and opioid addictions are on the rise among entrepreneurs. With this in mind, I think more needs to be done to help people that are struggling with addictions and we also need to raise awareness of the different treatment and rehabilitation options. I think that if people are able to learn more about the types of help and support that are out there, we might be able to tackle this ongoing mental health crisis.
One way I get through the bumps in the road is by reaching into my network. I have spent decades growing my network – people I have worked with, worked for, met at networking events, met through friends or other colleagues – so many different people. I’ve found that surrounding myself with positive, ambitious, creative people smooths the bumps in the road. Being able to talk through a tough problem or brainstorming new ideas or just have a mini therapy session (ha!) keeps me going. My dad has been an incredibly important mentor to me and is Advisor #1 when it comes to solving problems for my business. I’ve also found having an inner circle of people you can trust and that have your back – your tribe – makes a huge difference in your thinking and energy.
I’ll also say that women need to support women. I can’t tell you how many experiences I’ve had where women fall short and don’t help each other. My going in assumption is always – I will help you. I don’t ask for anything in return. It’s just who I am. I’ve been disappointed by women who are caught up in the game or their ego or being competitive and it is just such a disservice to what we’ve tried to build for the next generation of women. Do you know how many women I have reached out to asking for help have never responded? Asking for help is hard. If a woman emails me asking for help, I always respond. It is my way of giving back and I feel strongly that our ecosystem of women founders needs to make more time for each other. At least respond to the email!
The last thing I would say is that self-doubt is the killer of entrepreneurship. Not everyone wants to buy what you’re selling. Not everyone will like you. Not everyone will help you. Not everyone will see your value. Not everyone will follow-up when they say they will – or even at all. That’s not about you, that’s about them. It’s easy to get caught in the swirl of negative feedback. I have to keep reminding myself it’s not personal. It’s tough because with me, what you see is what you get. My personal energy goes into everything I do. But, I can’t let it get to me or it will take me down. Persisting is the name of the game.
What are you afraid of?
Number one, I’m afraid of spiders. Ha! And, number two, I don’t want to regret anything. I don’t want to get to a point in my life where I look back and say, “I should have done this or that.” There are lots of things to be afraid of and, being an entrepreneur is hard work with risks and sometimes it can be hard to see the reward. But I always look at it this way, “What if I don’t do this or try that…will I regret it?” And most of the time the answer is – go and do it. I don’t want to regret not trying it.
Ooohhh, that’s a great question! I made myself a promise when I started my business to try to embrace “carpe diem”. I’m a super-planner, so my tendency is to want to look way ahead and have everything mapped out. But, I don’t have all the answers and I’ve found that I sometimes need to roll with what’s happening and enjoy the ride.
What is a life or business hack that you recommend to help other female founders?
Find your tribe. Being a female founder is tough and can be a lonely road. Surrounding yourself with people who will lift you up and support you is paramount to your success and happiness. I’ve been so lucky over the past 20+ years of my career to have personal friends and business colleagues who are my tribe. Many of the women who started as business colleagues have become great friends and we’ve known each other for decades thru the ups and downs. Your life changes and your tribe changes, that’s tough too. People you thought were your friends and support really weren’t and you’ve just got to keep swimming. Take what you can from it, but don’t dwell on it – just move on from it.
If you had a theme song what would it be?
Female founders do a terrible job of patting themselves on the back or speaking up and celebrating success. We’re always on to the next thing and often gloss over success and downplay it, which sucks for us all. Founding a company is HARD. It’s not like a 9-5 job where you can go home and turn it off and take a two-week vacation and don’t check email. You’re always on and there’s a constant feeling like there is more I should be doing and trying. It’s tough to turn it off.
I guess if I had to pick a theme song it would be Katey Perry’s, “Roar”. There is something about having the eye of the tiger and the fire to and desire to speak up and go for it. I also think the song is a powerful message for women, where for so long we didn’t have a voice, now you can hear women roar. And, if you know me well, you know I speak my mind!
Please share your best piece of advice for aspiring female founders.
Find your tribe.
Ask for help.
Quit the self doubt.
Don’t just think it, do it.
Speak up and roar.