Amanda Slavin: CEO and Founder of CatalystCreativ

Amanda Slavin had every intention of being a teacher. Receiving an undergraduate degree and a Master’s in Curriculum and Instruction, her path seemed set – teach and connect with students daily by keeping them engaged. Instead, she ended up in marketing. And she just so happens to be really, really good at it.

“Brand marketing and education do not naturally connect for most people,” Amanda admits. “But when brands see the results of the two combined, they understand the value of adding that extra layer of educational methodology.”

As one of the coveted Forbes ’30 Under 30 for Marketing and Advertising’ and CEO and founder of CatalystCreativ, an experience studio that connects millennial consumers and brands through ‘customized curriculums,’ we more than believe her. Clients from NPR to Coca-Cola and Zappos agree with Amanda too, relying on her team’s experience-based tactics to connect with their audiences in big ways. CatalystCreativ isn’t about old school advertising, it’s about transforming it.

Before we discuss your current role, let’s back up a bit to your college career at UCONN. I saw you obtained both a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in the education field. What inspired the transition to running your own business later on in your career?

While I was studying to be a teacher, I also was running my own “business” on the side. When I was 20, I started throwing parties in New York City on the weekends and when I was home in New Jersey. This led me to work in nightlife and hospitality after I graduated with a degree in education. After five years of working in events and marketing, I wanted to combine my skills in education, and also events and marketing to impact the world, but I didn’t know exactly what that looked like. Soon after, I met [Zappos Founder] Tony Hsieh at Summit Series and was invited to come to Vegas and create educational experiences as a part of his revitalization initiative. This is when I realized that opportunities like these don’t come up very often, and so I jumped at the chance to start CatalystCreativ.

What did you learn in your early jobs that helped prepare you to launch your own experience studio at only 26?

I don’t think I was prepared, and I have learned a lot over the past three and a half years. I was lucky enough to have many jobs prior to starting CatalystCreativ, but I don’t think anything can really prepare you to be an entrepreneur. I learned through waitressing to always do what is right by the customer. After working as a camp counselor for 10 years, I learned how to be patient and loving toward even the most difficult “clientele.” From a phonathon at UCONN, I learned the importance of building rapport in closing a deal. Some of the most important lessons came to me when I was a teacher. I learned the value of listening to people before you talk to them, as well as how important it is to differentiate your message for all types of learners. I applied that knowledge in nightlife and hospitality when building the events and marketing department over five years ago in NYC. I learned so much with that job. I learned to ask for what I deserve, not work myself to the bone, how to answer every email within 24 hours, and how to always go the extra mile for every single customer.

Amanda Slavin Quote

How would you describe CatalystCreativ and its impact?

CatalystCreativ combines the learnings of education, brand marketing and events. We’ve never been a traditional agency. We call ourselves a studio because we apply our creativity and develop curriculums and lesson plans to transform the way brands advertise. Advertising is the biggest opportunity to educate; brands and influencers just need the right curriculum to educate their consumers properly. We implement social media campaigns, physical experiences and graphic design and branding all with the intention to create a larger “ROI” (which we have recoined “Ripple of Impact”) in the world. It’s one thing to create a hashtag that goes viral, but it is another to create a lasting experience that deeply engages millennials to do something and make the world a better place.

What is the culture like at CatalystCreativ? How important was culture to you as you were building your business? Did it come early in your thought process of building a business, or did the culture create itself?

The culture has changed over the years. At first, I felt it was really important to hire as many people as it took to fulfill a need, rather than really evaluating how these new hires could affect the culture. The hiring process was more so based on skills, vs. culture. CatalystCreativ’s culture is unique in many ways in that it’s a remote company, so everyone who works for CC works in whatever city they choose. Technology is not the same as physical connection, which makes it difficult sometimes, but we try to see everyone in person every quarter.

We also run on a system called Holacracy, which helps tasks get accomplished in an efficient manner. Holacracy is about roles and accountabilities instead of titles – meaning everyone wears many hats (like in any other startup). In Holacracy, all these hats are transparent and everyone knows what everyone else is working on at any given point of time.

What is a typical ‘day in your life’ like?

I try to get nine hours of sleep each night. People think this is crazy, but I barely slept for six years in NYC, and I think it’s the right thing for my body to sleep as much as possible! I wake up usually between 8 and 9 a.m. depending on what time zone I’m in. I start my day by checking emails, and I then have phone calls or Google Hangouts with the team. I travel a lot either for in-person meetings with our current clients or to meet with potential clients and pitch them new ideas. I meditate later in the day. Then, I will usually ride my bike to get something to eat with my boyfriend. And if I am home, I stop a few times a day to play with my puppy. I usually find myself in Las Vegas, New York City or Los Angeles, but I also frequent San Francisco!

What is your favorite aspect of the business to be involved in?

I really love coming up with creative ways to engage millennials around impactful experiences. The creative part of CatalystCreativ is my favorite element. When I can use my creative side to come up with ideas and then watch them become implemented by our tremendous team, I feel honored and excited to be a part of the start-to-finish equation.

Amanda Slavin Quote

What qualities do you look for when building out your team? What skills can our readers hone to be the kind of employee a boss wants to promote?

I look for someone who is self-sufficient, a self-starter and entrepreneurial. I respect and honor team members who go the extra mile, who fix something without pointing out it is wrong, and who are solution-oriented, passionate, considerate people who are generally nice to be around. I also like those with a sense of humor and who do not take themselves so seriously.

Do you believe in work/life balance?

I think work/life balance is crucial. I threw myself into work so much for so long and lost a lot of myself in the process. I lost sleep, I didn’t take care of my body, and I worked myself to utter exhaustion. Now, I find it very necessary to take the time to decompress and spend time with those I love. I also try not to bring my phone at all when I am going out to dinner or on weekends!

We hear you have quite the Girl Squad. How often do you spend time together, and when you do get together is it for work, fun or all the above?

I have the best group of girlfriends in the world! I love them and they are my inspiration and my chosen family. We all travel a lot, but we keep each other accountable to be our best selves (and even love the versions of ourselves that maybe aren’t our best). We text a lot and FaceTime a lot, and we always make sure to show up for each other’s birthdays, baby showers, weddings and any other momentous occasion that is important to any of us.

What advice do you have for a reader who wants your job?

Don’t be afraid to take two things you think are an unlikely combination and connect them to make them both better. Brand marketing and education do not naturally connect for most people, but when brands see the results of the two combined, they understand the value of adding that extra layer of educational methodology in the way they advertise to their customers.

After Hours graphic

Person I’d love to grab coffee with:

Amy Poehler

You’ll find these three things on my desk right now:

My two phones, lip gloss, a bottle of water

My go-to office outfit is:

Comfortable, colorful pants and a big sweater – (I work from home a lot!)

You can find me lunching at:

LA= Cafe Gratitude, Vegas= PublicUS, NYC= Cafe Gitane

I can’t live without:

My puppy, Chaz

My favorite way to unwind is:

Taking a bath (but trying to spare doing this in CA!)

I feel my best when:

I am riding my bike with my boyfriend, eating at a new place and trying a new experience.