Founder to Founder: Two Female CEOs Get Real with Each Other

Susan Tynan, founder and CEO, Framebridge 

Susan Tynan, founder and CEO, Framebridge 

Jaclyn Johnson, founder and CEO of Create & Cultivate and Susan Tynan, founder  and CEO of Framebridge first met at Create & Cultivate DTLA right before they hopped on stage together. But they vibed immediately. 

There are commonalities that bond entrepreneurs and startup founders. A deep understanding of the hard work, sleepless nights, and putting it all on the line. So the two decided to have real talk and share it-- because that's what we at C&C are all about. 

JACKIE: I like to jump right into things. I think most entrepreneurs do. So can we talk founder-to-founder for a moment about the hard moments? The ones where you know you need to pivot, but you have no idea what direction to turn? What do you do in those instances?

SUSAN: You can turn to a lot of people for advice - and I do - but, at the end of the day, the hardest decisions are yours alone. It's important for me to anchor myself in the basics of the business and review, "Why did I found Framebridge? What are we providing customers? How can we keep getting better? What type of organization did we want to build?" I work through most issues by reviewing the fundamentals. Then the answer usually emerges. And I SoulCycle! A 45 minute loud-music workout sorts out a lot for me, too.

JACKIE: Totally. Everyone always talks about needing to answer the ‘WHY,’ in a simple but compelling way. Sort of like an elevator pitch to yourself. It’s definitely not easy in the moments when you can’t answer that.

SUSAN: What are some other big challenges of running your own company that took you by surprise? Was there one big piece of advice you wish you had earlier?

JACKIE: There were SO many. Everyone warns you, this will take over your life and you will work harder than you’ve ever worked before, and there’s a part of you that doesn’t believe it entirely. And maybe if you did believe it, you would never do it. I imagine that’s how people feel about their first kid. Lack of sleep and nonstop travel are both tremendously challenging. So is feeling like no one will ever care as much as you do-- and the truth is, they won’t.

I wish someone had told me to get everything in writing. And I mean everything. You live and learn and sometimes that means losing money because you thought spit and a handshake were binding. Newsflash: They’re definitely not.

JACKIE: What was the most surprising part of starting a business for you?

SUSAN: I was surprised by how many people thought I was nuts to try. I left a great salary and a career that looked pretty linear. But what if it doesn't work? So, what? The truth is, I cannot imagine a way I could have grown more personally than by starting this business.

"I left a great salary and a career that looked pretty linear. But what if it doesn't work? So, what?"

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JACKIE: What was the hardest?

SUSAN: The hardest time - by far - was the period just before we launched. We had raised some money and we had made some big bets - on a warehouse, on our custom packaging, on our site design. And, yet, we didn't have customers! That felt terrifying. Now, everything is based on what we know our customers want. It's much easier, at least psychologically. What has been harder than you expected? What has been easier?

JACKIE: We've never raised money and that’s been both a blessing and a stressor. We’re not beholden to investors, but that also means I’m responsible for making this thing work. Me? I have a company and employees and this amazing community of women who turn to us for career advice… that’s the best feeling, it’s also the scariest.

Jackie (center) and Susan (far right) on panel at CreateCultivateDTLA. 

Jackie (center) and Susan (far right) on panel at CreateCultivateDTLA. 

JACKIE: Let’s shift for a minute from scary to fun. Because this world is fun. You have an idea. The idea starts to take shape, becomes a business, and before you know it, that one idea has snowballed into something HUGE. What was the moment like for you when Framebridge went from idea to reality?

SUSAN: So, the truth is we have no time for reflection. I try to force reflection on other team members so I have a chance to reflect too. Just this week I made Tessa, our Creative Director, take a moment and say - "We're shooting a TV ad - in real life!!"  And, on Cyber Monday last year, we blew away our sales projections and we all went out together. I'll always remember that night, being with that group, and celebrating together. What was your turning point or moment that made you decide to take your idea and turn it into a real business?

JACKIE: I looked around and I didn’t see want I needed. That’s where almost all entrepreneurship is birthed from. I was running (No Subject) and felt a little lost, a little confused by all the moving parts of business, especially those where I was a novice. I started Create & Cultivate as a side project. The response was so overwhelming that I knew it was going to be something big, IF, and this is the big IF, I was willing to commit. Things don’t blow up because they stay a side hustle. If you expect people to get something out of your business, service, whatever it is, you need to be willing to put your heart into it. You can half-heart a side hustle, sure, but if you give it your whole heart, you give yourself the opportunity to create something bigger.  

I think that’s also so important to point out. Committing to your idea gives you the opportunity, it doesn’t mean you will succeed. No matter how hard you work. That’s advice I wish I had early on too and I think is important for our community to understand.

"Committing to your idea gives you the opportunity, it doesn’t mean you will succeed. No matter how hard you work."

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SUSAN: In a short amount of time you have managed to create an unbelievable community of likeminded women from all over the world. For some young entrepreneurs it can be intimidating to network - any advice on making connections that last?

JACKIE: I think it’s intimidating to network because of the feeling of impostor syndrome. The feeling that you don’t belong or you haven’t earned your seat at the table. That comes and goes in waves. Make connections last by believing that you have something important to say and that people want to listen. But also, make sure you’re adding to conversations. That will keep you top of mind. Everyone has impostor syndrome. At least all of the female founders I’ve spoken with and the ones who move through fear are the ones that move the needle and make connections last. 

SUSAN: Well, for sure, I relate on impostor syndrome and the isolation of being a founder. It's weird because you signed yourself up for it, but then you have so much responsibility and no one to turn to. Framebridge employs 120+ people (including 100 more seasonal employees) and they are able to take trips and buy houses and grow their families because of Framebridge. That's incredible.

JACKIE: Speaking of seats at the table, how do you feel when you walk into a boardroom or a huge meeting? Do you feel influential? Powerful? Like you’ve earned your chair?

SUSAN: Good question! I've gotten so much better at these meetings. I'm talking about my business and I know the most about this business and I truly, deeply believe in it. So, it's easier to be confident. And I always play pump up music before I go in (Lose Yourself, Eminem and the mellower Adventure of a Lifetime, Coldplay). And, cheesy, but true, I always do a power pose or two in the elevator.

JACKIE: Cheesy is necessary sometimes. We love a good AM jam around here. And power pose is strong. That’s something that produces actual results. I love a good pep talk too. 

Framebridge at CreateCultivateDTLA

Framebridge at CreateCultivateDTLA

JACKIE: So we do a lot of “real” talk at C&C because it’s important for women to know they aren’t alone, but it’s also important for them to know about the exciting and "everything is possible" side of owning a business. What are the good moments for you? What makes it all worth it?

SUSAN: Customer stories get me choked up. Because I dreamed that if we built this, people would frame special items and they do - things that make them proud or happy or make their friend laugh. I truly get a kick out of each customer who thinks of a creative thing to frame.

JACKIE: I know, I get inspired by conference attendees and women we meet through our platform. That was the whole point-- to create a strong social network of women helping each other. There's no feeling quite like it. Speaking of social what do you think is the future of social? Where is it heading?

SUSAN: Well, I think the coolest thing about social is that it self polices. You have to produce good content. I think that will continue to be the case and maybe even get more competitive. It's very cool that it's not like you can blast out your message without providing something in return -- you have to actually earn your following!

"The coolest thing about social is that it self polices. You have to produce good content."

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JACKIE: I also feel like you have to earn your team. It's not easy to create a solid, well-oiled unit. How did you go about assembling your team? Do you have any hiring advice?

SUSAN: I knew the first members of my team from other companies. So, we liked and respected each other and we're loyal to one another and we have fun. And, now, I try to recruit people who want to work really hard and have a lot of fun. I've realized we only have room for people genuinely excited by what we're doing and people willing to roll up their sleeves. It's tough to interview for those qualities, but we're getting better at teasing it out.

SUSAN: What are your thoughts on hiring friends and family? Do you recommend keeping business separate from your personal life?

JACKIE: Yes, separate. It’s hard to be boss and friend. It’s hard to be friend and employee. There are exceptions of course and every team is different, but instead of making employees out of friends and family, you should hire employees and make a family out of your team.

"Instead of making employees out of friends and family, you should hire employees and make a family out of your team."

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Be sure to catch Susan on panel when she joins us on panel for a second round at CreateCultivateATL!