DKNooooo, Why?!? Sex, power, and exploitationRead More
We're all familiar with the laborious job search. In a world where ROI reigns king, should we value someone passionate about many possible careers, or focus only on the traditional candidate with one perfect dream job in mind?Read More
Claire Buyson Perez is the owner and general manager of Lakwatsa Bubble Tea based in London. We first met at the Duke of York Square market, and as much as I adored the divine nectar she calls “taro bubble tea,” it was Claire’s warmth and personal journey that kept me coming back. I took her business card, knowing I could learn from her wisdom and even more from her unique career path.
She agreed to have a conversation with me, and we scheduled a meeting after work at Boys’N’Berry, a juice bar and café in Fulham. When I arrived to prepare, it was closed. Little did I know, it was the perfect set-up for Claire’s explanation as to how she conceived Lakwatsa. At a coffee shop just down the road, she shared her experiences, advice, and some perspective on the definitions of "success" and "failure."
I hear a lot of people talking about not wanting to work for anyone but themselves, but i think many are scared of the risk or intimidated by the process. When did you decide to open your own business? How did you make that dream come to fruition?
Oh yeah, definitely. So, I’ve known from the age of 14 that I wanted to own my own business. I just knew it. And so, when I went to college, I took business and finance because I knew that I didn’t know what I wanted to open. I was one of those ones. Do you know how you get those types of people who are like, “I know I want to be a lawyer, I want to be a doctor, I want to be this…” They have that set goal. I never had that. So I thought, “Let me just take business.” And so I did a business plan, for like a nail shop when I was 16 straight 17, and it was when I went to university that I did business management. During university I was working in Benihana. So that’s where I got the experience with working in bars, restaurants, cafes – and I loved it. I absolutely loved it. I loved the buzz of meeting people on a day-to-day basis, speaking to people – like, I’m seriously a people person. And I love food. I absolutely love food. And now I just have this passion for food and drink. And so, I thought to myself, “That’s what I want to get into.” I knew from in my area – I grew up in Ladbroke Grove – there wasn’t really a place where you could hangout that was non-alcoholic and that was, like, a chill spot. You know? It was either like a pub, which you just had to like, drink, and the atmosphere is different when people are drinking. Or it was like, a sit-down restaurant. There was nothing in-between. And if there was a coffee shop it would close at six – like we just experienced today!
And that’s the problem.
And that was the problem. So, I found a gap in the market. And I thought, “Okay, that’s where I’m heading towards.” And so, I started to writing a business plan.
Was that still before you knew exactly what you were gonna do?
That’s still before I knew exactly what I was gonna do. I was still at university, I was still working in uh – so, the last restaurant job I had was at Benihanna. And it was very, sort of an upper-class restaurant here. So a lot of influential people used to go there. It was such a cool place to work actually throughout university, but not only that, I made a lot of contacts. Which is what I mentioned earlier, so a lot of businessmen went there, and, you know, I would just strike up conversations with them and what not, and I started collecting their business cards. And I was really supposed to collect them for the restaurant, but I was doing it for myself as well. And you just kind of become friends with these people because they become regulars and you chat to them on a regular basis. So, I was already ripe for business and then during uni, I went to America on holiday. And I went with a bunch of friends and we went to LA and it was my first time there and it was the first time I tried bubble tea. And I thought to myself, “What is this amazing drink with like, chewy bits at the bottom?” We didn’t have it here. Or, if we did, I had no idea like where to get it and whatnot. And then I thought to myself “Okay, that’s it I’m going to open my bubble tea lounge.”
Oh my gosh you must’ve been so excited when you figured it out.
I was, I was like, “That’s it, it’s gonna be a lounge, it’s non-alcoholic, so it’s bubble tea,” but obviously it was so far ahead because I was still at university. So, I just just started adding to the business plan as time went by and whatnot. And then going back to Benihanna, one of the contacts that I made – I sort of told him what my situation was and he was like, “Well we so happen to have a vacancy at my investment company.” And I was like, “Really?” and He was like, “Yeah, it just popped up. The vacancy just popped up so send me your CV.” And I just thought nothing of it. And then the managing director of the company called me for an interview and I went. I think it went well, and it must’ve because they called me for a second interview, and then I got the job. And so, I worked there for seven years. I was executive PA to the chairperson and then I was also sort of a project coordinator and then I ended up doing project management so I sort of worked my way up. We went to places like Turkey, Egypt, LA – it was crazy. It was such an amazing life but something was missing. And I wanted to own my own business. So, I just wasn’t happy. So what I did was, I brushed up the business plan and then I showed it to my boss and I basically said “I have this idea – you’re going to think I’m crazy – but bubble tea is going to blow up in London. It’s going to blow up like crazy I know it. You know I tried it for the first time in California, it’s all over Asia – obviously – it’s an Asian drink. It’s all over America, it’s all over Canada, and it’s all over Australia. But we need to sort of enter the market while it’s fresh.” So, I showed him my business plan – he was really intrigued – and then he basically said, “I want you to show this to some of our clients, just to see what they say.” So I had to – do you know what Dragon’s Den is?
Okay, so Dragon’s Den is this TV show here, where three successful businesspeople –multimillionaires – are on a panel –
– we have Shark Tank.
That’s it. I felt like I was on that show. So we were literally like in my boss’s office and they were like sitting all around in a circle on the sofas and I was just there presenting my ideas to them. And I was super, super nervous, but because I was so passionate about it, I think it shone through because I was really like passionate and selling my idea and whatnot. So I did that and then they took the business plan away and they were asking me about the figures, and obviously I had a projected profit and loss, and how much we think we can make and whatnot and they went away. And then, shortly after that, they all decided to invest. So not only my boss and the other guys, but the other guy that was sitting in on the meeting was like, “I want in on this too.” So all three of them invested.
I really couldn’t believe it. So, that’s how I got the investment. And then, it was just all about turning it into a reality now. So, I had this vision of what it’d look like and I kind of knew where I wanted it to be. Because I grew up in Ladbroke Grove down by Portobello Market and Notting Hill, I was looking around that kind of area. Basically, I had this idea in my head – I wanted it to be really sort of organic-looking and rustic and, so I sat down with this design company, and basically got my concept into reality and into a plan that they could build and we had like swing seats and swing benches inside the shop and everything was made from reclaimed wood – it was such a cute space. A really, really cool space. And we had free wifi. We had like an iPad juke box on the wall where people could choose their own music as well.
So how did you make the decision to leave that space?
It was a bittersweet decision because I didn’t want to leave, but my landlord raised the rent. Not only did the landlord raise the rent, but the council raised the business rates as well. When we entered the space, it was £35,000 and then by the time we left – which was only three years – it had gone up to almost £60,000. Independent, cool, quirky businesses cannot survive in London, because of greedy landlords. And what takes over the space are High Street, mainstream shops like Pret A Manger and Starbucks and McDonalds, and every High Street starts to look the same and it’s really sad because a lot of people closed before me. After I left, three more independent businesses left. So, I decided to sell – sell the lease on the property – which was so difficult for me. Because I had put my life, blood, sweat, and tears into that. I’d got all my life savings as well into that – I had the investors too. I really thought like I’d lost everything. So it was a bit of a down time for me when I sold the business which was in 2015. I made money on the property and – but, I was just like, really disheartened, you know? But what seriously picked me up and what kept me going was the fact that I was still getting messages and comments from all my customers saying, “Please, please, please can you open up somewhere else?”, “I haven’t had bubble tea since you shut.” Honestly – it was like bringing me to tears.
Of course. You probably really needed that.
I did. And that was the main reason why I opened in the first place – to make people happy. And to make people happy through food and drink. That was really what got the concept and the idea going from when I was a teenager. And it’s what’s kept me going throughout. And it’s what brought me sort of back-up and gave me that inspiration and motivation again when I had lost it. I did still have ideas and even though I had sold the restaurant and the café, I didn’t close the business down, so the business was still open and running but obviously I just didn’t have a location. So I just thought, “What can I do?” So I was doing events anyway while I was at the shop and I thought “Why don’t I just increase that and just pop-up? I’ll do a pop-up.” So, we became London’s only pop-up bubble tea bar. So, we are literally the only pop-up bubble tea bar in London.
So, you’ve seen some highs and lows along the way, and some high-highs and some low-lows. How do you, personally, define the terms ‘success’ and ‘failure’?
Success – each person perceives success in a different way. For me, success is achieving what you wanted to do when you first started. I didn’t think like this in the beginning, though. When I first started the business I thought, “Okay, the only way I’m going to be successful is if I’m turning over sort of a multi-million-pound company. And I have like branches all over London and all over the UK and whatnot.” But that perception of success has changed totally in the past few years, because I’ve also felt like I failed. In a sense, it’s changed because I saw both sides to it. I felt like I was successful because we were busy, we were doing great, we were on all the social media sites, we had every food blogger writing about us, we were in Vogue, Marie Claire, the Times, Metro, and for me, I felt like even then I didn’t feel like that was the crazy-most-important thing. I think this might sound a really cheesy, but it was really about moments like this where you contact me because you love the taro, and you love something that I’ve created, and your friends love it too, and you’re from America and you’ll go away and you’ll remember that.
Failure to me is giving up. Failure for me is just, like, ugh, this is going to sound like such a cheesy quote, but it’s like it’s not how many times you fall, it’s just how you go on from there – it’s how you pick yourself back up. And you know, I was there – I’d lost it. But then, it’s how you move on from that particular situation. Not only with business but with everything, you know? With life.
I’m wondering, based on what I’m hearing, would you say it’s almost necessary to feel like you’re failing at some point? Or that it’s okay to feel like you’re failing?
Oh yeah. 100 percent. Because it’s those challenges that make you not only stronger, but more resilient to whatever situation comes your way. Because I’m telling you – owning your own business is no easy feat. You are going to work the hardest you have ever worked in your entire life. You’re going to have no life for the first part. Your relationships and your friendships are going to be tested because of all these things. So it’s hard, it’s honestly hard. So it has to be a challenge and you have to feel like you’re failing a bit because it allows you to stay on top of things, and on top of things and stay ahead of things as well. So I feel like, it’s important for you to experience that part of it as well. And most people in business do. Richard Branson, for example. He’s one of my business role models. He started from nothing and now look he’s got like, global domination with Virgin. And he failed at two businesses before he became a massive success. You just have to remember that when you fail in something else, the greatest have failed in so many ways. But it’s not failure. Failure is a bit, sort of like a negative word – something just hasn’t worked out. But it just wasn’t for them.
How do you feel about taking risks? Because obviously you’ve had to take a lot, or perceived risks, to open your own business. I think a lot of people of my generation are encouraged to seek the safest, most secure career paths, but that doesn’t leave a lot of room for creativity, or to go out and take risks. So, what advice would you give to people afraid of taking career risks?
Well, when I first started the business, the one thing people were saying to me was, “You’re very brave.” And I didn’t know how to take it. I think it was like an indirect way of saying, “You’re crazy.” Do you know what I mean? Because for me, I would say, take an educated and calculated risk, if that makes any sense at all. Like, you can’t just be like, “I have this idea, it’s not proven, but I just think it would work, so I’m going to take that leap.” So the first thing I would say is obviously be passionate about what you want to do – that’s number one – because if you don’t like what you’re doing, it’s not going to last. And if money is your main goal then forget about it – it’s just not going to last as well. So you have to be 100 percent passionate about it and you have to do your research, and your due diligence, and come up with a great business plan, and know the right people, and still have some sort of security. And get people’s opinions about it too.The thing was, I was doing everything on my own. And that’s another thing I would advise people: If you can, do it with someone. I’ve done this 100 percent on my own. From getting investors, to planning it, to building it, to maintaining it for three years, to losing it, to building it back up again in a different concept, to now. I’m still doing everything entirely on my own, and it is so hard.
But you must be so proud.
I am. I am. Obviously, when you haven’t reached where you want to be, it’s hard to look at yourself and say, “Right, you’ve done it.” You know what I mean? I’m kind of hard on myself like that as well. But yeah, you need a good support system. And if you’re going to take a risk, take a calculated and educated risk. Don’t be silly and stupid about it. But, 100 percent, if you can’t stop thinking about it – like, I read this quote the other day – it was kind of cute, it was a bit cheesy, but it was cool. “If you can’t stop thinking about it, don’t stop working for it.”
I like that. And all of this brings me to my final question for you. You’re a female entrepreneur, and in the past entrepreneurship was associated largely with men or male domination. What advice do you have for other women seeking to enter the entrepreneurial world?
I would just say if you have an idea and you have a passion, just go for it. And know that your gender is not a factor. When you’re entering a very male dominated world, like I did – like, I was working in the investment company, and everyone was a man. You know? But you just have to know your worth and know that you know what you’re doing and you’re smart and you can do it just as well as any man could. Just have that sort of attitude about things and just go for it, and don’t even see that as a factor. Don’t even enter into anything with that attitude because that will already affect the way people perceive you in a sense, do you know what I mean? If you have something – if you have a goal, if you have an idea – just 100 percent go for it and go quite hard, and don’t see your gender as anything, really. It’s just a gender.
Is there anything else that you would like to add?
I think the only thing I would add is have something that drives you. And always remember that. For me, what drives me is my family and wanting to create a good life and a better life, not only for my family now, but my future family. And that’s what keeps me going. Because, like I said, starting anything on you own, going into sort of running your own business, is so tough. And you’re going to meet a lot of challenges and you’re going to want to give up along the way. I had a situation where the person that was supposed to help me like a partner left, my friends weren’t really there so much, my husband was 5,000 miles away – so it’s a very lonely life. I definitely would say it’s a very lonely life owning your own business, especially if you’re doing it on your own. So, just always remember why you started it and it has to be something that will continue to drive you until the very end, really.
Thank you so much.
I started following @CleanEatingAlice almost three years ago, when I really needed more positive role models. I began by visiting her page every once in awhile, and soon, I just couldn’t stay away. Alice’s positive messages and direct responses and interaction with her followers appeared so genuine, and her advice was always effective.
When I reached out to her for this project, it was surprisingly difficult to get in touch. After over a week from my original, heartfelt direct message, I hadn’t heard anything back. Alice is currently rebranding from Clean Eating Alice to simply, Alice Liveing, and I began questioning her authenticity – was she really ignoring the message of a follower asking for help with a school project, when her career was made possible by her Instagram followers? When I saw a sponsored post for Herbal Essences next, I couldn’t help but write a blunt comment about how I felt – in the midst of this rebrand, and following a simple request, I was questioning whether or not her persona was authentic. Within minutes, I received a hurt direct message from Alice, and a promise to help me however she could. In the conversation that followed, I realized that Alice was either being smart about her image, or she really was just busy and inundated, and trying her hardest to stay genuine. Either way, such an interaction revealed one of the unique problems facing Alice in her career, and all social media influencers and their admirers: how do you stay authentic in a world and a career dominated by social media?
Alice answered this question, as well as how she arrived as an influencer in the first place, while sharing her very relatable experiences and delivering important wisdom and advice.
You're still early in your career, but you've already experienced many different types of work. Where do you mark the beginning of your career? How did you get your start?
I started blogging to document my own personal lifestyle change around three years ago whilst I was still studying at university. I attended Bird College in South London where I studied professional musical theatre and whilst as a student, I never really saw my blog as a career as I was using it more for personal reasons than as a platform with which I made a profit. On graduating university, I then went straight into a job touring the UK in the musical “Annie,” and I would say that it was at this point things really started to take off with my blogging career too. Whilst I wasn’t earning money from my blog at this point, I definitely shifted my focus to providing a combination of educational content rather than just documenting my own journey.
From your stories and posts, it's clear that you're a passionate person. Whether in your day-to-day life or your career - what motivates and inspires you?
I’m inspired and motivated by the people that follow me most. I feel that having been at a complete low in terms of body confidence and desperation as to what to do when I began my own journey, I can really empathise with people who find themselves in a similar situation. For that reason, I will never lose motivation to helping people begin their own health journeys and debunking a lot of the rubbish that still crowds the wellness industry.
What has been the greatest influence on how you've decided to shape and mold your career?
I think my own journey has really shaped and influenced how I want to progress my own career. I feel that I can really empathise with the people that find themselves in a similar situation to the one I was in, whether that’s my clients or my followers, and that means that I can therefore tailor my content to be specific to those people.
What was it like when your online following began to transform you from blogger to influencer? Was there a point when you saw a tangible growth in followers? How did you grow your followers?
I think when I started to see myself in the press I realised that my blog was really growing beyond what I’d ever imagined it would. I never set out to get followers, in fact my Instagram was initially my private food diary that I’d rather no one saw, but after a few positive exchanges with people online I realised that there was a whole community of people that could help me stay motivated and so I made my page public.
That being said, my desire to grow my followers has never been my mission. I enjoy the fact that I keep my page very real and similar to the day I started and I don’t try and be something I’m not for likes or followers. Organic growth is key for me, so I just keep doing my thing and hoping people still enjoy it.
Amassing such a huge following on a medium known for blurring the lines between "real" and "fake" in more than one sense seems like a great challenge. How do you remain authentic?
I believe in showing both the rough with the smooth. It’s nice to share nice photos, and I do enjoy creating a beautiful photo, but I also like to show that life isn’t always perfect too. With the introduction of Instagram stories and lives, Snapchat and such like it’s been far easier to show a true reflection of my life beyond beautifully edited photos and I think this has been a welcome and positive progression.
What's your greatest career challenge?
Juggling everything and finding time to have a life too! Being self employed means that I can essentially work 24/7 and I find it very difficult to switch off sometimes.
What do the terms "success" and "failure" mean to you?
Success = health and happiness, security and fulfilment. Failure = feeling unfulfilled and not achieving things I’d really hoped to achieve
What do you think is the greatest challenge for women regarding social media? What's the most advantageous aspect of social media for women?
I think women can be challenged beyond social media, but social media amplifies the desire for perfection. It can feel as though everyone you follow has the perfect life causing some to suffer serious anxiety. I have many clients who idolise people on social media which in turn makes them feel totally inadequate.
I do believe there are positives to social media too. I love the sense of community that I feel from Instagram and it was one of the main reasons I continued on my own journey.
What's the greatest risk you've ever taken? Would you take it again?
I gave up a career in theatre to pursue my career with blogging and personal training. It was a huge risk, and I was terrified, but I would definitely do it again if I was given the option.
What's the best advice you've ever received?
Never a failure, always a lesson. Take a positive from each wrong turn instead of focusing on the negative impact of it.
What do you think is the most important quality(ies) for people to cultivate and develop as they venture out into the world?
Ambition, tenacity, inquisitiveness, compassion, empathy and hard work.
What's your greatest advice for women starting out in their careers?
Have confidence in everything you do. You are good enough, and you can achieve anything you set your mind to.
What do you hope your legacy will be?
I hope that I leave a legacy of being the girl who showed that anyone can achieve something they set their mind to. I’d written myself off as being untalented, I was desperately unhappy and I had no idea where my life was going. From a little self belief I secured my dream job in a musical, wrote three bestselling books and created a career I never thought I could.
When I first stepped foot into Alison Palmer’s class in London, it wasn’t your typical classroom. In fact, it wasn’t a classroom. We first met on the steps of Saatchi Gallery in Chelsea to view a selfie exhibition. I knew then that she wasn’t completely conventional, and as I learned more from and about her, I admired her bold nature, adventurousness, and intensity. While Alison’s expertise is apparent in her job title alone - senior vice president of strategic planning and strategic client relationships international for AMEA, APAC, LATAM at WE Communications - her charisma and confidence are radiating.
On her suggestion, we met at the quaint Narrow Boat Pub, overlooking a canal in her Angel neighborhood, where she spoke candidly about her voyage from America to London, from politics to comms, and all of the learning and wisdom that followed.
You hold kind of a unique position in the women I’ve talked to and have reached out to in the process of this project, because you’re not native to the UK - you moved here. How did you find your way to London?
So, I’ve been slowly moving east. As you know, I went to school in Boston, and that actually played a big role because I did the BU summer abroad program and got introduced to London and fell in love with it. After graduation, I really wanted to work in politics and so I graduated early to go and work on the Clinton campaign where I was given a pretty prime role. And after she lost, I went into political consulting and crisis strategy and comms. Which, then, as part of that agency, they offered me the opportunity to move over to Europe and grow their European presence, which is basically, come over here, do really big shit for clients, and win a lot of pitches. They moved me. And it was supposed to be a year stint, and I fell in love with it.
Why communication? You said you wanted to start in politics.
Yeah, well, I believe in it – which is such a hokey term in today’s age – but I believe that if companies actually talk about what they do, what they stand for, who they are, consumers are going to be smarter, have more options, and be able to live better lives. And that started in politics because I believe in the need for the state to serve the people, and the only way for that to happen is for them to have an education on what to vote for and campaigns are meant to do that. Now, have I lived and breathed on the dark side of comms? Absolutely. I’ve done crisis, I’ve done other things, but all in all, I believe in it. I was a philosophy major. It comes from there.
You said, there’s a dark side and you’ve witnessed it. How do you stay true to who you are when it’s easy to follow a vein that’s inconsistent with what you believe is right?
I think I’ve been really lucky in how I was brought up. I always tell this because I think it helps people understand who I am. I come from a family of lawyers. So, public speaking, making an argument, deep thought, were not things that were taught to me but were just very natural to how my family functions. I never once had a problem speaking up. Now, I think what I’ve learned the hard way sometimes, but I also was taught from a very young age, is you’re part of a team, you need to do your role, and sometimes your role is to shut up. Because it’s not about being argumentative or being right, it’s about saying, “have we thought of it this way?” If I’m being really honest, if I’m really against something, I’ll work until I find a way that I like better. So there’s been times that I’ve sat and said, “I don’t think that’s right, I don’t think that’s right, I don’t think that’s right,” and so I’ll go and I’ll do the analysis to come up with the next idea and say, could we do this? But yeah, there’s been times that I’ve seen things happen and I go, “I don’t think we should do that.”
Do you think there are elements in communication that would or could change if people were willing to do that extra analysis, dig a little deeper, or take that extra step?
Yeah, but it’s about you having access to the right people to make those decisions, because if you’re sidelined and you’re just trying to put smoke in mirrors that gets found out. So I think I’ve always felt that if companies were smarter about comms they would be smarter in the long run. There’s a lot of push right now to programmatic marketing and “how do we show sales?” and “how do we show every marketing dollar spent equals this?” I’m terrified of that, because I think the relationships and the role the brand plays and the role comms plays is valuable perhaps not in numeric dollars, and if we just get so focused on that we are all going to get transactional, and that’s when bad shit happens. When you’re working just for the vote, I mean, I always go back to my political start, and when you’re working for the vote rather than working for the people, you get led astray. When you’re working for the sell rather than for the long term relationship and what that can mean, you’re going to start to do stuff that really erodes the trust and erodes the right decision-making.
So, staying in this vein, what do you think, right now, is the most important quality or qualities for communicators to possess?
Creative thinking, guts, and care. So, creative thinking – I don’t just mean that in the “oooo big C creative.” I mean that in terms of how do I need to think about this? What angle to I need to come from? What don’t I know? Who should I talk to? Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. It’s always been in the comms world to come up with the next BIG idea – which I’m on a personal vendetta against – because it means shit, that’s transactional, it’s a stunt. So I think you need to be creative in terms of how you come up with a solution which could be as simple as a phone call or could be as big as a massive stunt. I think care because of the diligence that’s necessary and also you should care about what you do. And then guts to take this industry to a new place, because there’s a lot of it going into digital and a lot of it going into other agencies and I think that’ll be a shame because that means that we start putting channels at the center of what we do rather than the audience at the center of what we do.
Well that brings me to the question I’ve been dying to ask you. What do you think – and I know this is the term you hate – but what do you think the “next big thing” is in comms? Where do you think we are going?
I’m actually pretty afraid that the relationship between the consumer and the product is going to get further away. Like VR, you know, that’s really cool, but like, when I tried VR it was a floor of a house, and they told me, “This could be selling real estate!” And I’m like, yeah, but what about walking down the street to feel how quaint it is? Or going to visit the local pub? Or life, you know? So it’s not just how everybody talks about, “Oh, social, we’re losing our human connection.” I’m like, there needs to be a connection between what people buy as well or it’s going to become so transactional, and suddenly you lose all of the power that this mass choice has given people. The second, and what I think is coming next, is that with this whole rise in digital is that people become so obsessed with it, that again, they use it as the focus and the function rather than as the tool.
We’ve talked a bit about what scares you. Now, what inspires and motivates you and how do you sustain that motivation in spite of all of those scarier, more negative factors at play?
I love, love solving problems. I love it. I get such a high off of it. And that’s basically what I do for a living. Whether it’s building an agency – so, how am I going to get more money? How am I going to make the board structure? Da,da,da,da,da. There’s a client, what should be your platform? What’s wrong? How do I have to do that? Or, you know, talking to clients. How do I get you to like me? I like that. I am a shiny object person, right? I’m like, “ooo, the glitter.” I love the Tate Modern for that reason, because I walk in and I just feel cooler and I’m like, “what could we do with that?” So, my basic answer to that is I like it, I believe in it, I like solving problems, and I like solving problems in a way that at least gets whatever tiny bit of creativity I have out into the world. And I didn’t want to be a lawyer.
How do you sustain that inspiration and motivation?
Well you’ll get a company that you think is so boring. And, it’s true – I’ll give you an example that’s just happened over the last few weeks. There’s plenty of people going out there and doing really bad things with water, and with oil, and all those kind of things, and we just did a massive pitch for a company that basically runs all of the machinery for major water plants – desalination, de-watering – stuff that I don’t know shit about. It seems so cut-and-dry and boring. But then you take a step back, and you figure out my problem was: how do I make this jump? How do I make this something I’d wanna work on and exciting and all that kind of stuff? And we were in the final pitch against one of the biggest agencies there is out there, and we should not have been in that room, and we started with a video that had Bruce Lee in it. How do we connect those things? That’s where it gets cool and fun.
I hear your passion for your career, but what are some of your greatest influences on how you’ve decided to shape and mold your path? Has it just been the “universe” or are there particular moments, influences, or mentors that have helped you decide, “This is where I want to go next”?
I’ll start at the beginning. I think I’m equal parts my parents, which is really interesting if you meet my parents. One is a 5’3” blonde pixie who has more energy. When they pick me up from the airport after flying 12 hours, she’s not allowed to come near me for a minute because that’s too much energy. And then my father is 6’3” um, stoic cool guy. He was a surfer, I hear stories about him going down to Mexico every once in awhile, but he’s like this very golfing-playing-lawyer now. Both of them instilled in me, like, you’re not going for a job you’re going for a career, and in that, you need to get ready to do the work. It’s actually one of the reasons I got my first job, because I said it in my final interview and they’re like “Well, what about long hours?” and I was like, “Well, I’m looking for a career not a job so it’s not a problem.”
I think I’ve always been very lucky that people have taken the time to speak with me and mentor me and give me the opportunity, and I hope that at every juncture I’ve risen to it. I think I’ve just learned a lot also from listening and hearing people. I did a lot of work with Richard Edelman and, you know, when I turned down Richard Edelman’s offer to be his chief of staff he looked at me and he said, “I understand why, but I want you to know and what I want you to remember when it gets hard is that I think you’re amazing, and never forget that I think you’re amazing.” And that means a lot.
Wow, definitely. You’ve said - and I see it in this conversation – that everything you do has a story to it. I think right now, considering everything we’ve talked about and everything going on in the world, storytelling is increasingly important and unimportant to different people. In your opinion, what is the significance of storytelling?
There’s two answers to that. The first is the hero’s journey. The hero’s journey has everything, you know? And, it’s true and we all want a hero, no matter how big or how small, we all want to be one. And you don’t get it every time. You gotta put out a product story, I get it. But that’s the power of storytelling – to grip you, to teach you a lesson, to give you joy, to make you think, and so yeah, that’s why I think it’s important.
The second element to that is much more in my day-to-day job. An analog world is straight. It’s literally a single plane that’s literally what analog is and what it means. In a digital world, digital at its very core is essentially slices – lots and lots and lots of little slices, okay? You have one IP address that’s right next door to next door to next door until finally, you’re on the other side of the world. We live in a world of slices now. That’s not a bad thing or a good thing, it’s just what it is. But to take people from one slice to the next slice to the fourth slice, to the eighth slice, to the hundredth slice with you, that doesn’t – you cannot possibly give them a deal at every slice. You have to create a journey for them. You have to get them to say “You screwed up today, but I’m willing to listen to the next chapter.” So I think in a digital world, coming up with creative storytelling that people can get bite-size is huge, because it’s the only way you’re going to get them to listen to the next chapter. Otherwise, they’ll leave you. Our attention spans are too short.
This project is another effort in storytelling. I’m talking to three – hopefully four – women in London as part of an applied blog series about work, success, failure, power and risk. Anything else you’d like to add?
I guess what I would add to that as a female – and it’s something that I deal with a lot – I cry when I’m frustrated. And everybody tells you not to cry at work – and don’t – try your best not to cry at work. But if you think that crying at work is the worst thing you can do, God, you’re going to have a long career. There’s, I mean, we’re more biologically prone to cry, the way that we process information is different, our triggers are different – so by no means am I saying sit at your desk and cry, but there will come a point in time where you need to go, “I just have to go to the bathroom right now.” And I believe in letting it out.
Alison, thank you so much.
This month's blog series features wisdom and experiences from intriguing women taking off-beaten and bold paths to success – whatever that means.Read More