On the extensive list of reasons one could lose a job, having too much ambition doesn’t immediately come to mind. Most higher-ups would even consider this sense of initiative an asset. And yet for Jaclyn Johnson, CEO of Create & Cultivate, it was this gusto that cost her her first job out of college.
“The reason I was let go from the company was because I was too ambitious. I had a lot of ideas, things I wanted to bring to the table, and, as a major corporation, they were not receptive to those ideas.” Johnson told Ladders at The 2019 Create and Cultivate Summit this Saturday.
Johnson was only 24 when she lost her first job. By the time she was 28, she had sold her first business, No Subject, and launched her second multi-million dollar company, Create & Cultivate. Johnson’s expedient rise to power is one of many cases in which we are seeing females at the top today. And, according to recent findings, companies would be wise to capitalize on this trend. A recent report by S&P Global revealed that companies with female leaders often perform better on the stock market than those led by men.
The years leading up to the apex of Johnson’s media empire were a whirlwind of navigating socio-political gymnastics, incessant rejection and, ultimately, building a powerhouse network that would actualize her media platform. Ladders sat down with Johnson to hear it all.
Why do you think that big companies often sway away from bold ideas?
“It’s just the nature of a large-scale company — they don’t want to take as many risks, which is standard for a large corporation. My expertise, and what I was really good at was better suited for being my own boss.
I saw it as a lesson — what I couldn’t apply there, I would apply to my future company.”
How did you mentally recover in the immediate aftermath being let go?
“It took me about a month to recover. What you would traditionally do is send out emails within your network. I did that and ended up getting clients instead of jobs. I started freelancing for a bit, got busier, got an office, got my first employee, and started a company.
I like to tell this story because it’s a very relatable experience. It’s relatable to be fired or laid off. It’s so important to reflect on the ‘why’ of it all. Take the time to process things. Always prioritize self-care.”
How did you facilitate your network to start your freelancing career?
“Being laid off is interesting because you didn’t actually do anything wrong. I got my things in order and started slowly networking and attending events.
That’s how I got my first client after the layoff. My former boss John Foley, the CEO of Peloton now, was the one who got me my first client. At that point I had no idea what freelancing was like. I had always had 9 – 5 jobs.”
Tell me more about the ideation process behind Create and Cultivate.
“I had my own company ‘No Subject’, a marketing and PR agency for 8 years and about 4 years in I realized as a young female founder, there really wasn’t a lot of inspiration online for entrepreneurial women, nor was there a community online that had all the necessary know-how of how to build a company and career as a woman.
I decided to throw an event called ‘Create and Cultivate. The first event was in Palm Springs. The main idea was just to create a space for women business owners and creatives to come together and share ideas. It made no money. It was just a total side project. It was only when it started gaining so much more momentum than my actual business at the time that I thought I should really double down on promoting it.”
How did you juggle between your current business and launching a new business, Create & Cultivate?
“I was the CEO of both companies at once. I had different staff from each company working in the same offices. Eventually, one of the companies was acquired. During the acquisition, I was part-time at both companies for a full year. So far, I’ve really own been a full-time CEO at Create & Cultivate for 3 years.
I find down-time and alone time to be so important. After a major conference, I decompress by laying in bed, watching Netflix, and doing nothing. That to me is true recovery. I love not having to talk to anyone. So much of the boss’s role requires you to be around your team constantly. Finding quiet time is so important.”
How do you not let competition dissuade you capitalizing on an idea?
“My friend Maxie McCoy said that ‘race-horses race with blinders on’. They don’t have to look at their competition, they look solely ahead of them. When you’re building a business to get caught up in what everyone else is doing. You need to just stick to your own data and analytics. Yes, you do need to pay attention to the competition.
But, it’s so much more important to do what aligns with the company’s mission and focus on its trajectory. You always have to have your point of differentiation. For us, that’s being the go-to-place for the career working woman.”
Is a brand image malleable? How and why should you alter your brand?
“Your brand image can change over time. Our initial tagline was an ‘online, offline event series for female entrepreneurs’. People emailed in saying that they had a full-time job and side-business, but wouldn’t consider myself an ‘entrepreneur’.
Women did not call themselves entrepreneurs, even though they had businesses. That single word was so triggering for our audience. So we changed the tagline. It became ‘the platform for women to create and cultivate the career of their dreams.’ We haven’t had an issue since.”
Why is it that women tend to balk at the connotation of ‘entrepreneurship’?
“Women associate ‘entrepreneurship’ with success. When most think of entrepreneurship they think it means that you already have a successful business, discounting the title of Entrepreneur if their own business isn’t what they’d consider being a success. Business lingo can be isolating, and polarizing at times.”
Is a reputable salvageable once it’s been damaged? How can you redeem it, if so?
“There’s a lot around ‘cancel culture’ right now. This means that people call out companies, moments, and ventures they find no longer relevant and label them as ‘canceled’. Some it is very warranted. As a society, we love to see people succeed, but also love to see them fail. There’s a lot of anxiety amongst female entrepreneurs to be perfect.
A lot of male discretions get overlooked. Female entrepreneurs get called out on stuff that is one-sided. They don’t even get the chance to respond. Everything is fixable at the end of the day, depending on the gravity of the situation. We have to remember that everyone is human.”