A Lifelong Entrepreneur Shares Her Most Valuable Leadership Lessons

by Dora Wang on May 27, 2015 8:00:00 AM

A Lifelong Entrepreneur Shares Her Most Valuable Leadership LessonsRebekah Campbell, entrepreneur and founder of Posse, learned one of her first lessons in business leadership at the age of 7.

She was selling flowers from her house, but she couldn’t get cars to stop by and didn’t make a single sale. Her mother helped her out by buying some balloons to make her stand more noticeable. It worked, and young Campbell sold all her flowers the next day. She ran to tell her mom — who calmly and quickly gave her a bill for the balloon investment.

From this, Campbell learned that business has costs before it has profitability at any stage (or age).

Creating Your Own Opportunities

Campbell’s lessons continued as she grew up. At 13, she attended a birthday party at a local restaurant and was bored by the clown that was entertaining the guests. The very next day, she called the restaurant owner and sold him on reasons why she should be the new clown. She was hired instantly and loved the job.

If you don’t take initiative and ask, she learned, you won’t ever get.

As a concert promoter in the music industry, she ran into an obstacle when was unable to sell enough tickets. Campbell rolled with the punches and thought outside the box. Instead of sticking with her tried-and-true posters and ads in music publications, she took to email and enlisted the fans themselves in selling tickets on commission. The concert ended up selling out.

Campbell took her challenge not as defeat, but as a lesson: if your methods aren’t working, don’t be afraid to change.

New Call-to-action

Leading a Company Through Change

Campbell founded her company Posse in 2010. Originally a digital music promotion service, it’s since evolved into a social search engine for sharing favorite places with friends and receiving recommendations about experiences from others. This kind of pivot isn’t something you can predict when you start a company — but staying open to opportunities the way Campbell did is the only way to survive and grow.

But this wasn’t the only change Posse made, nor the only lesson Campbell learned as its CEO. Here are just a few pieces of wisdom from her experiences:

  • Caution when outsourcing development: Since Campbell can’t write code, she outsourced Posse’s early-stage development to India. She quickly learned one of the main drawbacks of this approach was the importance of having employees obsessed about the service. The developers were just writing the code according to the specifications, but what they were creating at Posse was so dynamic and innovative that it required many decisions during the development process. And if the developer is not invested in solving the customer’s problem, the decisions won’t be optimized around that.

  • Trust your vision: On the other hand, if you’re the founder but cannot code, ceding the vision to a technical team can challenge your confidence in how the product should work if someone tells you “it can’t be done.” But Campbell conceived the concept, stuck to it, and found a team that could make it happen exactly the way she wanted it to.

  • Hire slowly: It took Campbell quite a while to find the right CTO, but when she did, she thinks that it was the best thing that has happened to Posse. She’s also relieved that she didn’t jump the gun and hire someone who wasn’t right for such a key position. With a small team, she willingly sacrificed rapid growth to find the right team member.

  • Fire fast: Campbell admits that they are ruthless at Posse when a new hire doesn’t fit in. In fact, they let someone go who was a good coder but did not embrace their culture within the first two weeks. Now, whenever she gets a gut feeling, she knows that she needs to act on it — without hesitation.

  • Harder interviews: Campbell admits that she likes people and wants applicants to do well, but previously she didn’t screen as stringently as she should have. Now she’s much more skeptical and tougher, and she even conducts exercises with the applicants. They’ll usually hold at least three interviews, if not five, before making a decision. In addition, she now looks for the holes in the applicant rather than for the good spots. She notes that this is much tougher, but the results speak for themselves — they have a much stronger team today.

  • Quarterly performance review cycles: During quarterly performance reviews, everyone writes down their contributions and concerns for that quarter. Campbell really likes this approach because everyone is always thinking about what they’re going to be able to list under contributions, and they can focus on working towards that.

  • Emphasize strengths and don’t obsess over weaknesses: Campbell likes to focus on individual’s strengths and leverage those instead of trying to improve employees’ weaknesses. At Posse, they eschew detailed action plans that focus on how to round out an employee’s weaknesses and instead plan around how to focus on something at which they excel.

  • Spread ownership: Everyone at Posse receives stock options so that they gain a sense of ownership. In addition, Campbell tries to be as inclusive as possible when it comes to strategic planning and brainstorming. She admits that this method is more challenging, but she thinks it’s worthwhile if everyone buys in.

  • Model transparency: Campbell also shares with her management team her own quarterly contributions and company concerns. She always speaks first in these meetings and finds that the more open and vulnerable she is, the deeper the team digs to truly get to the heart of issues.

All of these lessons are valuable on their own, but they all point to one core principle: adaptability is one of the most important leadership qualities you can have. From selling flowers to being a clown to promoting bands to starting Posse, Campbell learned some critical lessons on being a better leader and embracing change. By keeping her eyes open and her focus on opportunities instead of obstacles, she was able to find ways to make her company evolve and thrive.



New Call-to-action

author avatar

This post was written by Dora Wang

Dora is an employee engagement researcher for TINYpulse and managing editor of TINYinstitute. Having grown up in Texas, she is now firmly settled in Seattle, where she spends her free time reading comic books, wrangling her three cats, and (of course) rooting for the Seahawks.

Connect with Dora