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Name: Julie Crabill

Business: Inner Circle Labs 

Industry: Marketing & PR 

Location: San Francisco, California, U.S.

Reason for starting: After a decade in the business, I saw that PR and marketing people did better work when they truly loved what they did. They naturally played favorites and no matter what they were “assigned” to do, they always pushed harder, accomplished more and made more of a business impact for their clients when they were focused on a client they loved. Whether they loved the business, the product, the space or even the specific executives/entrepreneurs, they naturally rallied around the stories they had a personal passion to tell.

So, we started out with the mission to hire the best people and let them pick the projects they loved and wanted to work on. It looked very “rose colored glasses” to my mentors but it’s worked. Clients and prospective clients respect our honesty and discerning nature. Media trust us more because they know we have a high threshold for clients to pass before we take them on. Beyond this vision, I’ve always been passionate about building teams – and Inner Circle Labs is built with its team at the core. Their needs come first and we work hard to deliver on them and evolve the culture to meet their desires. Then, we focus on helping the media community. Aiding their needs even when it isn’t in service of an immediate client directive/need. Lastly, we focus on clients. I know putting them third seems counter-productive since they pay the bills but without a satisfied, passionate team and a strong, engaged media community, no one would want to hire us anyway.

Related: Read about another PR & Marketing pro here.

How do you define success? I always like to focus on the quantitative and the qualitative. First, there are obvious metrics any business person should set, track and work toward: revenue, profit margin, team growth, client retention and organic growth, etc. Then, there are the harder to define and track but as important, if not more, qualitative success metrics. Happiness, enrichment, experiences, time with family, travel/seeing the world. I personally try to set personal goals on this front annually. I also work with my team to help them define what personal success (beyond the work stuff) looks like for them. I remind them that true success has to be a combination of both sides. If they only focus on the professional, they may succeed short term but will ultimately burn out. If they only focus on personal, they won’t be able to sustain the lifestyle they want to have. Finding the balance is critical. So at the core, success is balance.

Biggest success: Building a successful business over the last five years and staying true to our vision of only working on passion projects throughout. We’ve grown to a company of 16 people and have worked with hot startups and major international brands alike. I always had a dream of working with Zappos – they are just one of my favorite companies. When I left my last agency job, I pretty much wrote that off as impossible. Why would such a big brand ever work with an upstart agency, right? Ironically enough, we now work with Zappos on two segments of their business. A personal dream come true and a reminder that you should never limit your potential based on some bias of what is likely/possible. You can do anything if you work hard, explore your passions and never stop hustling.

Ironically, when I started in agency PR, I always wanted to start my own agency. As I got closer to that being a real possibility, my desire waned. It became very clear to me that it’s a thankless job – it’s hard to engage and keep an awesome team. Clients are hyper-demanding and generally hard to please. Media can be fickle and their industry is changing so quickly that everyone involved has a hard time keeping up. So, I sort of got “fat and happy” – I made a good living working for someone else, it was safe, it was easy. Then, a career defining moment happened. My job changed drastically while I was away on my honeymoon. I wasn’t part of the decision and had to deal with the aftermath when I returned. At the time, as many women will echo when telling their story of something similar happening to them, it sucked. I felt lost and empty. As it turns out, this change drove my decision to leave and start my own company and it was the best thing that could have happened to me. I finally saw that I could control my own destiny – that I could make a good living doing what I really loved to do – that I could help others follow their passions and grow their careers and businesses. Leaving a good job during the economic uncertainty of 2010 was like jumping out of a plane without a parachute – but it changed the game for me and I’m so glad I took the leap.

What is your top challenge and how have you addressed it? Finding time for myself since having my son two years ago. He is without a doubt the best thing I’ve ever devoted my time to but like many working moms, I have a hard time balancing business, personal health/enrichment and time with him. Frankly, I’ve been ignoring myself and my needs since he was born. I’m currently addressing it by taking baby steps toward some of my personal goals. Trying to carve out time from the work day to get some exercise. Making a point after the baby is asleep to stop checking email and read a book.

Related: Nurturing Expecting Employees Before and After 

Who is your most important role model? I am lucky enough to have a supply of smart women as mentors. Sheri Benjamin, my first boss and the first person to give me a shot in this business 15 years ago, is still a role model to me to this day. Her business instincts, smarts, talent building and knowledge of the industry have made her an indispensable ally. Beyond Sheri, I look to many of the female business leaders who I am lucky enough to know as mentors. I meet up regularly to share ideas and re-energize with Candace Locklear of Mighty, Barbara Bates of Eastwick, Kathleen Gratehouse, Emily Borders & Carol Carruba of Highwire, Elisa Camahort Page of BlogHer, Nicole Jordan of Radix Collective and many others. I also count my team among my most important role models – from the amazing women just starting out to my VP, Audrey Jacobson, they inspire me every single day to be bolder, try something new, think differently and never give up.

Twitter   @iclabs

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