At age 11, Lauren Maillian hosted her own lemonade stand, and just eight years later she started her first business, Sugarleaf Vineyards. She grew that vineyard into a full-on winery and successful company – all while completing her bachelor’s degree in International Trade and Marketing and having her son. Lauren quickly expanded her entrepreneurial experience to marketing when she started Luxury Market Branding, then Gen Y Capital. Lauren launched her brand to the public through her best-selling book, The Path Redefined: Getting To the Top On Your Own Terms, and TV show, Quit Your Day Job, on Oxygen.
Lauren received her first award in 2011 – the Empact100 Award – from The Kauffman Foundation for being one of the top entrepreneurs under age 30 in the U.S. She has been named Essence Magazine’s ‘Shot Caller’ To Watch In Business, Philanthropist of the Year by The New York Urban League’s Young Professionals, and one of Kia Motors and UPTOWN Magazine’s Inspirationally Crafted Entrepreneurs. She was also awarded Smart CEO Magazine’s 2015 Smart CEO Brava Award.
I chatted with Lauren about her journey to success, her experience as an entrepreneur and her tricks for staying centered in today’s crazy fast-paced world.
How do you define success?
I define success by being able to do what you love and being able to make money doing what you love. For me, success is ultimately where you feel as though you’re providing the most value and making the most impact while empowering yourself, educating yourself, [and] continuously bettering yourself so whenever you’re in a situation you’re able to learn a lot, and have a lot of fun, [while] making money doing it. That is what I consider to be successful.
You started your first business at age 19. Did you think then that you would end up where you are today?
No. I don’t think anyone who has that kind of ambition at such a young age is thinking about where they’re going; they’re thinking about the present moment and I think that’s what makes entrepreneurs so valued, especially now … You’re not thinking, ‘is this going to be successful?’, you’re thinking about taking the opportunity in front of you and maximizing it. That can be in a variety of ways. It can be maximizing it for a business, a product, a service, but I think that when you’re young, you’re very fearless and you’re not thinking about the consequences. You’re thinking about your idea and sharing the excitement that you have around the opportunity as you see it with other people and hoping that you can gain some sort of consensus, but I certainly don’t think it’s about – at least not at that stage in the game – is this going to be the one thing that sets me on a path for the rest of my life. And that’s certainly not how I was thinking, but it’s the spirit with which I started my career and the same spirit that continues to keep me curious and continues to keep me energized.
So, then, would you say entrepreneurship is more about passion, or business and strategy?
I would say that entrepreneurship is about both, and the best entrepreneurs are able to do both. And it has to be about business and strategy at some point, especially if you’re looking to monetize [because] there are plenty of businesses that monetize but don’t profit. So, there’s more to it than just making money, because there are a lot of businesses that make money but then they have no idea where the money goes because there isn’t a strategy. So I think that in order to be a successful entrepreneur you have to have that business plan and that strategy. You have to constantly be strategizing that passion, and that passion is going to keep you looking for what’s next. It’s going to keep your ear to the ground, it’s going to enable you to have close connections to your users or your consumers because if you’re passionate you don’t just want to put something out into the world; you want to also garner feedback, take those insights and be able to continuously iterate on whatever that particular business is. You’re constantly wanting to get better and that’s what passion brings to the table. The most passionate entrepreneurs that I know, including myself, are never happy because we’re always thinking that there’s a way we could have done it better, but it’s like, “Ok, next time.” And if we’re talking about a product, then that’s the next version. If we’re talking about an item of clothing, then that means next season. If we’re talking about whatever that particular item is, it has a cycle and I just think that the cycle is continuous for the passionate entrepreneur.
You’ve spoken at so many places for so many people, including Google, Harvard and Bloomberg. What has been one of the more memorable speaking engagements?
There have been several that have really stood out to me. I think my talk at Google on ‘Black, Woman and Genius’ was an incredible talk and a great room and a message that a lot of women of color need to hear in order to feel like they can go out in the world and take risks and be fearless, as if that’s actually going to pay off for them in the long run. I gave a talk in Dubai at the ArabNet’s Digital Marketing Conference last year on the convergence of marketing, media and technology and how it’s become much more of a collaboration between all of those and what that does for brands. I’ve spoken for EY – formerly known as Ernst & Young – to a group of their executive leadership last year as well on the power of being innovative and having your voice heard and bringing your dynamic self to work. There have been so many places [and] I don’t want to single anyone out as more important or memorable than the others, but I think every room that I speak in, fortunately, – I mean I’ve spoken at Harvard, I’ve spoken at Cornell, The SC Johnson School of Management – [there are] people who are really in the room not just because someone has asked them to be there, but because they’ve chosen to be there themselves. You know that you’re really making an impact on people.
What advice do you have for other women who want to be entrepreneurs?
Never be afraid to take the risk. Something that I talk about a lot in The Path Redefined and that’s probably easiest captured in this quote, which is “Is it worth it even if I fail?” That is the question that I always ask myself before any particular opportunity because there’s no guarantee that we’re successful, but if we know that regardless of if we fail or succeed that it is the experience of a lifetime that’s going to allow us to learn, try something knew, grow, work with incredible people, expand our knowledge base, expand our networks, create more impact, then it’s always worth it whether we fail or succeed. So if you’re comfortable with constantly asking yourself that question at every juncture of opportunity, at every time that you feel uncertain, the answer should always be “Yes.” If it’s not then you shouldn’t be doing it. So if the answer to the question “Is it worth it even if I fail?” is “No,” then run for the hills. Don’t do that. That’s not the path you should pursue. But if the answer is “Yes, it’s worth it even if I fail,” case in point; Gen Y Capital. Is it worth it even if I fail? Absolutely. I got to learn how to be an investor. I got to learn how to do proper due diligence on deals. I got to learn about funding and creating and … about fund formation and private placement memorandums and limited partnership agreements and waterfalls and fund accounting- things that I could have never learned in two years had I not done it myself in that way. I would have had to, in the corporate structure, have worked several different jobs in a few different departments to do everything from deal flow to due diligence to funding a deal, within a two-year period. Even if I was on a rotation in a venture capital firm, I wouldn’t have done and had all the responsibilities and gained all the experience that I did in that time. So that alone was enough for me. That and knowing I was working with world-class entrepreneurs and venture capitalists to really, truly create the experience of a lifetime.
In today’s world that is so focused on minute-by-minute updates, and living a life that is so fast-paced, how do you find time for yourself and stay centered?
I do that constantly. I’m big into working out. I work out every day and if I can’t work out every day I’m working out four to five times a week and they’re pretty intense. I’m a morning workout person. It’s my time to get in the zone, to feel strong, to sweat, to listen to my music- to really amp myself up for everything the day has in store for me. Between that and I just started a devotional book. So between those two things, they both serve very different purposes. The exercise is for my mind, my body my spirit and my strength you know; my overall fortitude and [it] really just makes me feel like superwoman at the beginning of the day. Then the devotional that I started reading every day- it’s just one page a day, by Iyanla Vanzant- makes me remember what’s important and that’s much more of a have your emotions in-check and make sure you feel supported and fulfilled and filling yourself with love and then go out and start the day and handle everything that you have in front of you. But do it armed with a certain level of peace- which I get from that daily devotional – and a certain level of strength to be able to handle whatever the day might throw my way- which I get from my workout.