The Wharton School + The School of Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania - BS in Economics
Lauren Arbittier Davis says she's been an enthusiastic marketeer since her grade school days of "hawking handmade friendship bracelets at the Jersey shore." Today, she's the founder of Alkali, a boutique marketing firm that helps small and medium-sized businesses grow with marketing services of every kind.
Before launching Alkali, Lauren honed her skills working in-house for several organizations, but always had her eye on launching her own firm. Being an entrepreneur allows Lauren the flexibility to spend lazy mornings with her 2-year-old, hold "treadmill status updates" with clients and catch the end of her preschooler's gymnastics class — all while doing something she's genuinely passionate about.
I built Alkali because I absolutely love doing marketing and I never want to stop.
The model of Alkali Marketing is inspiring and necessary in today’s world. So, why do you think so many companies are still hanging on to the traditional corporate model?
Change is challenging and scary, but it’s happening. Austin is a pretty progressive city, but we're seeing it all over. Many of our clients are using technology, like video conferencing and project management apps, to pull together really impressive virtual teams of people they simply couldn’t afford to bring in-house -- especially in the early stages of their businesses.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve encountered in starting your own business?
My husband and I are both entrepreneurs, so we had to sort the “fun stuff” out -- like healthcare and paying a mortgage without any guaranteed salary -- plus jump through all of the legal and accounting hoops. We were very careful about finding great, patient lawyers and accountants who knew how to deal with small businesses. We also “took turns” jumping ship. In fact, I moonlighted with clients on the side of my full time job for three years before starting Alkali. I was always very upfront with my employers and honest about the fact that I’d eventually be starting my own firm.
What does your job involve on a daily basis, and what types of responsibilities do you have in your position?
My days vary wildly. For example, twice a week I don’t have my nanny come till 10:30 so I can enjoy lazy mornings with my 2-year-old. I also have “treadmill status updates” with my employees at the gym twice a week -- it’s been one of my favorite working mom multitasking innovations. Some days I run from client meeting to client meeting, whereas other days, I hunker down in my home office for eight hours straight as I try to get through big copywriting tasks (everything from high level messaging and web content to press releases, brochures, case studies, blog entries and social media updates for clients). When I can, I organize my day so I can catch the last 10 minutes of my preschooler’s gymnastics class. And at the end of the month, I’m nose down in invoices. I also handle business development, which is pretty simple, since nearly 100 percent of our clients come from referrals. I usually conduct initial meetings, but other members of my team now take the first pass at our proposals before I review them.
Here’s what my day looked like today: I sped back from 6 a.m. bootcamp early to get my daughter off to her pre-K fieldtrip. My husband took everyone to preschool while I showered and ran to meet a client to go over final messaging, PR and partnership plans for an iPad app that will launch next month.
Next I headed to a video shoot to create a two-minute piece we hope will go viral in the used car sales market. Then I chatted in the car (thanks, Bluetooth) with a prospect in the lighting industry that was referred to Alkali by a client we worked with five years ago. I’m going to pass this prospect on to someone else on my team, who will create the first draft of a proposal for the company to see if we might be a good fit.
I hung up in time to head into a meeting with my financial planner, who's helping me set up a better 401(k) plan for my employees. Finally, I made it home (15 minutes AFTER the nanny was supposed to leave -- FAIL!) to have family dinner. My husband and I checked homework and helped with drum practice before tucking our girls in bed … and then I walked the dog while he cleaned up and we both got back on our laptops. I needed to work with outsourcers in India to update one of my clients’ websites, but once that was done I caught up on email, Downton Abbey and Facebook and planned a happy hour with the neighbors for Friday.
What is your favorite part of your job?
Hands down, my favorite part of the job is how much it varies. We have so many different types of clients, from enterprise software businesses to a girl band we’ll be launching this summer! And some depend on us just for messaging or copywriting, whereas others pull us in as part of their executive team to prepare for a big launch. Sometimes it literally makes my brain hurt, switching gears so much every day … but it’s also kind of a rush, making sure we're all on top of such a wide variety of tasks. And since our business comes entirely from referrals -- and Austin's a pretty small town -- we really can’t afford to screw up.
What challenges keep you awake at night?
When I have an unhappy or unsuccessful client, even if it has nothing to do with Alkali’s work, I take it way too personally. And my team does too. As much as I hate to admit it, I think as females and as moms, we all feel things a bit too deeply. We act tough, but it kills us to see one of our companies flailing, which unfortunately happens pretty often in the world of early stage startups.
Many of our readers struggle with work/life balance, which is obviously an issue you tackled head-on. For women who don’t have the option to leave their 9 to 5 job at this point, what advice do you have?
Even though I had to stay in my full time job for a while (we needed my stability while my husband was starting his business), I spent all of my spare time pulling together the plans for my future -- for years! I worked with potential clients at night, often doing pro bono work to build my reputation and general good karma. And I talked to colleagues and friends who I felt confident would hire me if they knew I was going out on my own. When I finally did pull the trigger, I had two major clients lined up who would account for about 40% of my annual revenue goal. Having this all set up gave me so much more confidence than if I had jumped ship and THEN needed to start looking for some paddles.
What are some of the rules you live by?
Do the best work you can do. Don’t sleep till you’re sure it’s great.
Be nice. Be grateful. Help people.
Always keep your priorities straight.
What qualities does one need to possess to be successful in your line of work?
Motivation. Creativity. Confidence. Humility. And really good listening and communication skills.
What one piece of advice do you wish you could tell a 21-year-old version of yourself?
Keep doing what you’re doing; this is going to be awesome. Also, be a little gentler on your back and knees.
What are your goals for growing your business?
Some people build businesses with grand plans of acquisitions, early retirement or nationwide notoriety. I realized early on that I have no interest in any of that. I built Alkali because I absolutely love doing marketing and I never want to stop. But I’ve also always known that I wanted to be a very involved parent before I even became one. My own parents were incredible role models who showed myself and my five siblings that you can love your job and be very successful at it while still putting your family first. This was my No. 1 goal with Alkali and I work every day to make it work both for me and for the incredibly smart, well-rounded and grounded women I’ve had the opportunity to recruit to my team.