Co-Founder, CatalystCreativ & CatalystU
Amanda, one of your agency's specialties is helping brands drive engagement with their target community or customer. What experience and training has made you uniquely equipped to do this? How do you do it differently than your agency peers?
When I was getting my Masters in Curriculum and Instruction in 2008, I decided to focus on studying engagement. I wrote my thesis on how to measure what engagement looked like as it pertains to learning. I then applied this understanding of the 7 levels of engagement, shortly after to the hospitality industry, opening restaurants all over the country, and realized that whether you were trying to garner the attention of a 6 year old or a corporate client, it all came down to engagement. When I started CatalystCreativ in 2012, with Robert Fowler and Tony Hsieh, our intention was to use this understanding of engagement and help clients transform the way they thought about connecting with their customers. We used this strategy in helping start-ups develop relationships with their customers, and big corporate clients deepen their relationship with their customers over the past decade. After “selling fish” for years, we decided to teach our clients how to fish instead and created our own learning platform, CatalystU which is all about teaching how to apply this understanding of engagement to grow your business.
Who have been/are some of your favorite clients and why?
I’m on the advisory board of HubSpot, because of the work I have done with engagement and it has been such an honor working with HubSpot in such a collaborative way. I released a book all about my thesis, called The Seventh Level right before COVID (October 2019). I was 8 months pregnant with my son and it was quite a journey to release a book while pregnant right before the world transformed before our eyes. My favorite thing about working with HubSpot was that we were able to take my thesis and my framework and turn it into a robust curriculum all about how to use HubSpot tools. We released that curriculum for free to 1500 professors as a part of their Education Partnership Program. The teacher in me was so excited to teach the world about a whole new way of connection. HubSpot is the type of company that goes the extra mile to delight their customers, and I was so honored to be a part of that in such a hands-on way. I also loved working with Zappos for this reason. They always went above and beyond to engage their customers and their employees. We worked with them to understand what engagement looked like with their employees using my framework. This allowed them to make informed decisions about rolling out new programs because they knew what was working/not working with their internal customers (their employees).
What is the hardest part about being your own boss/having your own business?
I absolutely love to work, and this passion and commitment to working hard has always been a driving force for me. I always thought working hard equals success, versus working smart. I felt very lonely often, and like a lot of the burden of the business fell on my shoulders. I would take on the stress and allow for it to interfere with my personal life in so many ways, because I was so passionate about my work. I really didn’t know where I began and where my company started. After being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes out of nowhere when I was 30, I was forced to make changes in my life. I went from working around the clock, to having physical boundaries that made it impossible for me to work the way I once did. This transformed my relationship to work. I realized that after 15 years of working on my craft and understanding this nuanced approach to connection, it wasn’t about how many hours I put in, but the years that I had spent gaining the knowledge needed to help people. It was the time I put in to being an expert in my field that I was being paid for (years in the making), not necessarily the time I was providing as an output.
How has having a family changed your approach to your work?
I had my son January 2020 in Mount Sinai West on the Upper West Side, in NYC 2 months before COVID. I had just launched my book and was planning to jump back into work after 3 months and spend the next year promoting the book and building out the brand of my framework, now that it was front and center versus our company’s secret sauce. This dramatically changed when COVID hit. We were living in NYC with a newborn, and as an immunocompromised person I did not feel safe in my own home. We ended up leaving with our then 8 week-old for what we thought would be a 2 week escape from what we thought was a short-lived problem. We never went back to our house, my dad moved us out, and we ended up in Airbnbs for the next year. Because our company, CatalystCreativ was heavily focused on events, I was thrusted back into the company while struggling with breastfeeding, managing my blood sugar with insulin needles, and working full time to try to bring in enough revenue to save the company in 3 months. All of the lessons I listed above were thrown out the window, and I had little to no time to process anything, I was going along with the motions just to make sure my company stayed alive.
Once we got through this patch as a company, and my son was finally latching after 3 months of exclusively pumping, I raised money for my business, transitioned to a product focused company, transitioned out as CEO to chairperson and totally changed my relationship to work. I realized that while a services based business was wonderful for the past 8 years, I was not scalable and that time and energy, even over money, was my greatest resource. Spending the first two years, being with my son and working around his schedule, versus the other way around has been completely worth every minute. Before my son, I had a miscarriage and that was the first chapter for me to grow and evolve, my son took that to a whole new level for me, and now that I’m pregnant with my daughter, due in March, I’m already learning the importance of creating space for the people I love, while also working in a sustainable way. How do you expect things to change - for you and your family - when baby #2 arrives?
OH! What a question! I think I thought I knew a lot before my son arrived, and he taught me that no matter how many books I read, or advice I sought out, it was going to be a learn as you go type of experience. I have been told however that having 2 kids who are 2 years apart can be very difficult in the beginning and then gets a lot easier when they can start to play with each other. I am hoping that we can potty-train my son before our daughter arrives, so that is a change. My husband and I have been living a post-pandemic, transition lifestyle where we both work and take turns with Logan, I think what will change is a more sustainable lifestyle where we ask for help. We have had no real help for two years, and I think what will change is the ability to rely on others to support us.
Do you feel like traditional gender roles have been something you've been challenged by now that you're a mother?
Yes, but I feel this has always been something that has always been challenged for me. My husband is the type of man that has always supported my dreams and my career even more than his own. He and I are equal co-parents and both entrepreneurs. We have supported each other throughout a lot of ebbs and flows as it relates to both of our careers, and we have realized after 8 years that the way you win a race, (in this case a marathon) is not by competing against each other but realizing you are a part of the same team. Sometimes, it’s on him to take care of Logan more that day because I have more phone calls, and sometimes it’s on me to take care of Logan (especially when I was breastfeeding for 18 months), and for him to take on more work. I’ve always felt like I never fit into the boxes I have been told I was supposed to fit in, and I had to find a partner that loved me for that, and did not try to fit me into a box that never was intended for me in the first place.
What are you and your partners' distinct strengths when it comes to family life and how do you best divide and conquer?
My husband and I both love to teach; I mentioned I have a Masters in Curriculum and Instruction and briefly was a teacher. My husband taught all types of action sports, from skating to surfing. I would say he definitely is way more physical than me as a teacher. He also has a lot more energy than me because of my type 1 diabetes, and I have an interest in voraciously reading every book possible about parenting because that’s the way I learn. We are very different but complement each other well, although that has taken years of working together and figuring out these strengths before parenting. I have learned a lot of ways to deal with my son when he is throwing a tantrum or whining or not able to express himself; I have taught my husband ways to listen to our son and give him the chance to share what he is feeling even at the young age of 22 months! Logan was having trouble walking and my husband would work with him every single morning, and take him to playgrounds every day helping him practice and teaching him how to strengthen his legs and his confidence. He always does mornings at I then help as soon as I wake up, and tend to take over during afternoons. We are amazing co-parents but also had to remember we are in a marriage before we became parents. We had to make time to not just watch TV every night and to spend quality time with each other so we don’t just fall into the “parent trap” of forgetting who we are outside of the parenting roles.
Who are you closest friends and supporters in this chapter of life + why do you think they play that role so well?
I have a wide variety of friends from all different parts of the world experiencing all different chapters of life. One of my best friends is in London and has 3 kids and she has been my rock throughout every aspect of every pregnancy, including my miscarriage. She is the type of person that never makes me feel bad for asking “stupid” questions and has inspired me to advocate for myself as well as believe in myself and not worry so much. My other oldest friend, since I was 8 years-old, has a son who was born 3 weeks after my son in the same hospital! Him and his wife are such close family friends to us, and we work together. He has been a part of my life in every chapter, and it’s been such an amazing gift for us to be in a similar chapter together, and have our sons get to form their own friendship over the next 30 years! I lean heavily on my parents and my sister, as well as my 97 year-old grandma and also my husband as I have mentioned a lot in this article. I also have a lot of friends that do not have kids that really help me with perspective as they remind me of who I am outside of being a parent. One of my closest friends who chose not to have kids is in her 50s and just became a CEO and we get to talk about all of the experiences I have had as an entrepreneur over the past 10 years and how that has shaped me, but she has been a big part of my child’s life, and so she gets to see all parts of me. I have so many beautiful friends that I am so lucky to have a part of my life, from one of my closest friends who sends me her maternity clothes all the way from Michigan to my friend who drives 2 hours to see me from Brooklyn just to go out to dinner, I’m lucky to have so many people that play a different role in my and my child’s life.
If there is one thing you could change about pregnancy, what would it be?
After having a miscarriage, I feel like a healthy pregnancy is the best thing I could ever ask for and I wouldn’t want to complain about anything BUT I will say with my 2nd pregnancy, unlike my first pregnancy, I became SO pregnant SO quickly. Aspects of my body that took months to change in my first pregnancy happened within weeks, including my severe lower back pain, I think if I could change one thing about pregnancy it would be removing that lower back pain that I know so many pregnant people know what I am talking about!
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