When you ask Meredith Fineman if she is successful in life, she will tell you that she isn’t, and won’t be until she doesn’t have to set an alarm to wake up at a certain time each morning. But, if you look at Meredith’s accomplishments, I think you’ll have a different answer. Meredith founded her first company, FinePoint, in 2011 and has since used it to teach women and young girls how to brag about their achievements. One of the things that makes Meredith so skilled at PR and self-promotion is being a writer. She has written for Harvard Business Review, Forbes, Fast Company, Entrepreneur, Marie Claire, The Washington Post and so much more.
When Meredith isn’t running her business and writing for the top publications in the country, she’s fighting for women’s rights. She’s founded two renowned humor sites for women, Fifty First (J)Dates and Girls Aren’t Funny and co-founded Hillary Scrunchies, a scrunchie line dedicated to promoting feminism. As if that wasn’t enough, Meredith’s latest project, consign + co™ promotes great style with a sustainable focus.
I spoke with Meredith about her experiences since starting FinePoint, her passion for helping young women and her advice for aspiring entrepreneurs.
Why did you decide to start FinePoint? What have you learned from starting the company?
FinePoint has looked very different over the past seven years. I started it seven years ago because it was way before this phase of millennial women entrepreneurship and I quit a job I didn’t like and I needed to pay my rent. People are like, “Oh did you have a business plan? How did you decide?” I’m like, “I was very unhappy and I didn’t have a plan B.” But then it just morphed into something much more intentional but it began to better blend digital strategy and public relations. I sort of saw a missing cohesive offering because this is when I was trying to decide between digital and public relations, but then realized they didn’t have to be mutually exclusive. Many years later, FinePoint is really the only small shop to go from more digital to more traditional, which is that I started this with the idea of it being really strategy-heavy, but people still wanted The New York Times, they wanted NPR, they wanted The Wall Street Journal. So, I took it in the direction of a more traditional PR firm and ran campaigns for a number of years. It naturally evolved into sort of a PR shop, but I decided that I didn’t really want to be running a PR shop, A, but, B, that I was noticing a cohesive offering, which is that of individual representation, media relations, press and personal brand. I’ve always built myself, yes, as an entrepreneur but also as a speaker and writer and sort of [have] done a lot in personal branding. I’ve been a freelance writer for 12 years so people were watching me do that and wanted that as well and I realized that I became the go-to for individual representation, which happened naturally. I actually started to realize that people didn’t know how to talk about themselves and particularly to that point it was extremely difficult and very complicated for certain societal and personal reasons for women. So I took FinePoint in this direction of leadership and professional development, as it meets PR. So I represent founders, individuals, and women in positions of power, and it’s all about bragging and visibility and voice and yes some press, but also figuring out who you are, who you want to be and what’s holding you back from bragging about yourself or getting to the next level when it comes to visibility.
I’ve been knocked on my ass a couple of times. There have been small lessons and some big ones. Small ones: make sure your accountant knows what they’re doing; make sure your bookkeeper knows what they’re doing. I’ve been fucked over many times because I didn’t get the right people so that’s just a lesson for everyone. People want to skimp on taxes and get them done on TurboTax. I promise you it’s worth the money to get a human. One other thing I very much learned is that it is the most successful people that will make the time for you. The true marker of success from what I’ve seen is that someone who is at the tippy top of their career understands the value and power and grace of reaching back to people who aren’t as successful as they are. And you will waste a lot of time with moderately successful people who will be assholes. The stark difference that I see whether it’s someone insanely successful, they are the gracious people, they are the ones who have time for you, but then you’ll get introduced to someone who’s moderately successful and they’ll say something like – it happened to me, a woman similar in my field said to me, “Oh I’m booked up for the next 6 months can you just tell me what you want.” And that would be a big marker of who’s truly successful.
What is the biggest misconception people have about entrepreneurs?
I wrote a very popular article about this called The Myth of The Sexy Entrepreneur. We have this trope of the sexy millennial and I really hurt myself trying to live up to that, and primarily I mean monetarily. I just wanted to run with the entrepreneurial Joneses and be at all the sexy conferences, and do all the cool shit that looks good on Instagram. It’s not that sexy. There are little parts of it that are sexy and look sexy, but it’s very lonely and it’s very hard. It’s not hard in the sense that, I mean for me, I’m just someone who thrives working for themselves and being very self-motivated. It’s the complete lack of stability. It’s just a roller coaster in the sense that it’s a lot of highs and lots of lows. Someone once pointed out to me though that at least in your career from the X and Y axis, it’s going up and to the right so your latest valley is higher than your previous valley, but it’s still shitty. The loneliness is really hard, figuring out how to put those boundaries in your life, figuring out how to have a full life while also sort of being intrinsically tied to what you do. Seven years later, I work on trying to work normal hours. It’s funny because if anything people want to get away from office jobs and 9 to 5 life by being your own boss and that might work for some people but for me the pulling all nighters and working on the weekends, that will just burn you out really quickly, at least for me and I would say other women. I know tons of like dude entrepreneurs who can afford to not sleep and just drink Red Bulls for weeks on end but it’s going to be really hard to take care of yourself while doing it and you have to be very cognisant of it because nobody is going to be able to do that and put those boundaries there but you. There’s always more work you could be doing, always. I often feel guilty and I’m like, “Ugh, everyone else is up earlier than me, ugh, everyone else is up later than me.”
You’re passionate about helping women and young girls. Where does this passion come from?
It comes from my watching how difficult it is for women to talk about themselves. I’ve seen the whole trajectory. It actually started not with young women. It started with some very powerful women who couldn’t talk about their experiences, who I would book on TV and they didn’t want to go on because they thought they might not be the most qualified when they certainly were. I was watching that from the tippy top and then a step down from there is watching it among my friends and I would have to hop in and play publicist. I was just noticing how hard it is to speak for yourself. Then I just saw young women that wanted to work for me and, you know, in PR you don’t get a lot of guys, but the few that I did, just seeing the differences in what they were saying in talking about their professional experience was so staggering. It was all basically the same difficulties just at different levels. I realized it’s sort of a systemic issue and one bit PR, pitching yourself, figuring out how to tell a story and make it sound good. The audiences I speak to just keep getting younger and younger and it’s all the same issue, you know, “I don’t feel comfortable with what I’ve done, I feel like an imposter, this person took credit for X, Y, Z project.” I’ve had young women ask me if their dreams are too big and someone told them that so they maybe should stop trying or that I should lie about where I went to college because the fact that I went to an Ivy League school and worked really hard to get there, might seem obnoxious. It’s way deeper than that and, for me, I’d like to go even younger and figure out, I mean, there’s so much research about what age girls and boys start to differ in confidence levels. This happens to just be a particular facet where I found a solution that was in an industry I was working in.
What advice do you have for other women who want to be entrepreneurs?
There are going to be a lot of people who tell you you can’t do it. And it’s really going to hurt. I’ve had people tell me I’m not cut out for entrepreneurship, or that I was better off getting married (sad but true). Use that as fuel, not a reason to stop.
What pushed you to fix it?
It’s a very large issue. I think I was struggling for meaning in what I was doing. I didn’t find PR to be as meaningful as I wanted it to be and I found this kernel of something that I realized could help people. It’s a huge issue. The questions people have after talks I give just makes me want to die. One girl was like, “I’m a child of immigrants, I don’t have any connections. Where do I even start? Will I be successful?” People ask me crazy shit. It just felt good to help people with this common thread and I just thought, “Oh, ok, maybe it can be part of my business.” But it’s a huge systemic issue and it’s just an angle that people haven’t taken. There are a lot of people teaching women to ask for money. In this case, you’re asking for visibility, you’re asking for recognition, you’re asking for words not dollars. It’s just slightly different. And it’s through talking through this concept dozens of times a day, I’ve been pitching this for 4 years straight so it’s certainly an uphill battle. It felt good to do something that makes a difference.