Our team is always striving to become better entrepreneurial leaders. We learn from books, podcasts, and most importantly, from our clients and TGG teammates. Recently, six of our team members were recognized for their tremendous growth and recognizable leadership, and were promoted to new roles:

Each with a unique path toward growth as an entrepreneurial leader, they took some time to share stories, advice, and lessons learned for those who are on their own journey.

Sara Valasek

Senior Director, Lean Growth

“Sara deeply cares about her clients and their needs, going beyond what is expected of her. Clients fall in love with Sara and trust her with their most difficult challenges, knowing that Sara will strategically think about the best approach to tackle them. It has been really inspiring to see Sara in action, balancing empathy and strategic thinking in each one of her engagements with clients!”

– Fadia Perez Cruz, VP of Lean Growth

What practices do you use when mentoring others in becoming entrepreneurial leaders?

It can feel very overwhelming to keep up with the constantly changing business landscape. Also, being an “entrepreneurial leader” seems like a classification that is out of reach for some. I have a bit of a mantra that I am constantly saying to myself, my co-workers, and clients: “How do you eat an elephant? The answer is one bite at a time.” Reminding ourselves that becoming anything different than we are takes time, patience, and a commitment to practice. I’ve also found that when we can connect our work back to the consumers we serve, finding the energy to becoming anything new reignites a sense of purpose and clears a path for tremendous growth and progress.

 

Sarah Shiffman

Strategist, Lean Growth

“Sarah embodies the courageous mentality at the core of TGG. She boldly takes on every challenge that comes her way and hustles to get the best possible results from herself and others. Most importantly, her approach is always rooted in deep empathy for both the clients we work with and the consumers they serve. Sarah has a keen sense for the heart behind people’s motivations, and a talent for speaking directly to it.” – Dennis Furia, Senior Director, Lean Growth

What are you doing to ensure you continue to grow and develop as an entrepreneurial leader?

I love to surround myself with people who are not only good at their jobs, but are wonderful people. I learn the most through collaboration and relationships, so my growth often happens from observing others, working with others and being challenged by others. I never really saw myself as an entrepreneur before joining The Garage Group, but having been here for a year, I know that I am most entrepreneurial when I am confident enough to just try – taking time to invest in myself and in the relationships around me. The best way I set myself up for any entrepreneurial endeavor is to invest in those around me and to care for myself. That way, if the (inevitable) failure/barrier/challenge comes, I’m strong enough and supported enough to pick myself back up and try again.

Molly Baldwin

Strategist, Lean Growth

“Molly is a powerhouse at TGG! She is grace and action, diligent and thoughtful, intuitive and persistent. All grounded in a kind soul. Molly jumps at new challenges and is quick to contribute in whatever way is needed. She is fantastic at her work and she excels with people. Her very real and humble approach make her outstanding at connecting with clients, co-workers and the consumers we all serve. Molly is the teammate we’re all excited to have who supports us, teaches us, and laughs with us all.”

– Sara Valasek, Senior Director, Lean Growth

Do you have any advice to others who might be experiencing challenges as they work toward adopting and maintaining a growth mindset?

Put yourself out there. Do things that make you uncomfortable. Make a point to raise your hand and speak up in those moments that you previously would have shied away from. Talk about your failures, but highlight the fact that you tried and the identify optimizations for next time. All of these things make it easier to be vulnerable in the future.

Finally, if you still don’t feel comfortable challenging yourself to new ways of thinking, you’re probably surrounding yourself with the wrong people. At TGG, we support growth and curiosity not just in what we say, but in the actions we take as a team. I’m constantly surrounded by people that showcase agility, hustle in smart ways (and not at the expense of a successful outcome), and operate with an open mind–the keys to maintaining a growth mindset.

 

Justine Daley

Director of Growth Hacking

“Justine is an amazing and critical part of our team, enabling current and future growth. She came in just under a year ago and has taken everything we do on the marketing front to the next level, and has extended us into strong new spaces. And, she has a strong vision to keep pushing TGG forward as we look to continue to grow. As many of you know, she’s not only active at TGG, she’ll be AMA Cincy’s President next year, and is always looking to add value outside of this place.”

– Jason Hauer, Co-CEO

Which of The Garage Group’s values do you most align with in your leadership style? I have always felt most aligned with “Connection” which encompasses operating with an external focus and open hand. I grow most when I am looking externally and learning from the experiences of others. I recognized this at a very early stage in my career; I worked previously for a small, niche-focused company, and I knew that in order to bring new ideas in and learn more than just my industry, I had to go outside of my office and speak with people who were doing very different things than me. I was lucky enough to be in a work environment that supported this external learning. This enabled me to strengthen my Associative Thinking muscles, quickly applying external learnings to my own strategic challenges. I’ve been able to consistently do this through my volunteerism with the American Marketing Association – Cincinnati; I’m constantly learning from other members and through my contributions to the organization itself. I’m also constantly trying to soak up as much as I can from my TGG team; everyone is so strong, in different areas and from different backgrounds. Thanks to my TGG teammates, I really feel like I live up to that phrase “You learn something new every day.”

 

Megan Milar

Senior Director of Operations

“Megan’s role has continued to grow, as TGG has grown. Megan never shrinks back from a challenge and handles complexity, breadth, and depth with humility, energy, and strategic solutions. In the past year, she’s built a strong culture among her team and formed and led TGG Operations, increasing our discipline, ability to measure and track our progress, make well-timed hiring decisions, build and sustain our culture, and care for our team and our clients well. We are honored to have her strength and strategic thinking as a key part of our leadership!”

– Ann Thompson, Co-CEO

You’ve likely experienced some challenges on your journey toward becoming an entrepreneurial leader. What advice do you have for people on their own journeys?

Journeys are full of seasons. It’s important to be able to adapt to those seasons with ease and to have a growth mindset around the challenges faced during that time. One particular strategy that I apply in both my personal and professional life is to stay closely connected to people who are a season or two ahead of me. For instance, this year I intentionally met with professionals in a relevant position as mine in other small companies that have experienced high growth. I’ve been on a mission to uncover what’s ahead and to learn from their success and failures so we’ll be ready to reapply when the time comes.

 

Renee Murphy

Senior Director, Lean Research

“Renee has been a pioneer in the field of lean research before it was even termed “lean.” Her practical approaches challenge the traditional market research industry, and give truly actionable insight for teams. This past year, Renee’s role evolved to include building a Lean Research Bootcamp program to equip new TGG Associates, and to help client teams that want to learn and apply these approaches. Her humility, focus on learning, and relentless pursuit of the best approaches continue to elevate her contributions and her stature in the industry.”

– Ann Thompson, Co-CEO

What motivates you? How do you translate that when leading a team?

In October 2017, when the focus of my role changed, I had a significant perspective shift. For more than 10 years, I had been doing the research. I had the opportunity to train and come alongside other research practitioners in those 10 years, but last October I shifted to coaching and scaling research instead of being the doer. Instead of being motivated by seeing a great finished product that I got to do, I’m now motivated by seeing others empowered and equipped to conduct lean research with excellence. I’m motivated by getting to pass on the things others have taught me over the years. Herding Tigers by Todd Henry has been a really helpful resource for me in this transition in mindset.

We’re excited to introduce our newest Director, Lean Growth, Heather Christman. Heather hails from a prolific higher-education background. She then led business development at PeopleFoundry, a startup focused on helping other startups recruit and retain top talent. She spent much of her time at PeopleFoundry interviewing VC’s and startup founders, developing incredible empathy for not only founders of companies but those operating as owners of brands, categories, and more. Read her blog and learn more about her journey to embracing her entrepreneurial spirit.

“Have you ever thought about being an entrepreneur?”

I chuckled and promptly said, “No.”

Five years ago when I was finishing my Ph.D. program and thinking about my next steps, I was introduced to Todd Utersteadt, Founder and CEO of From Founder to CEO. I distinctly remember him saying, “You have an entrepreneurial spirit. Have you ever thought about being an entrepreneur?” I immediately replied “no.”  

My associations with the word entrepreneur were akin to words like “gambler” and “starving artist.” So I jumped back into something that was comfortable and safe – I was given the opportunity to build and lead a team at Miami University’s Career Center. Within months of working to quickly reshape the relationship between universities and employers, we secured a grant from the state of Ohio for $750,000 to serve as seed money for fueling internship creation for Miami students in local businesses. We had to quickly find ways to spend the money and build partnerships with businesses locally.  

I had recently connected with the Cintrifuse team to grow employment opportunities for Miami graduates in the startup space and was drawn to the hustle, creativity, and boldness of the vision that existed at Cintrifuse in the early days of Startup Cincy. I saw startups as ripe for net new internships but was told by people in the ecosystem that startups didn’t want to take risks on hiring students. There was a perceived problem that they were costly and time-consuming to ramp up. When we received the grant, we suddenly had the resources needed to solve the cost issue. The only other thing we had to do was solve for the ramp-up time which led me to connect Miami’s Institute for Entrepreneurship and Armstrong Interactive Media Studies programs.  Mark Lacker, a faculty member in the Institute for Entrepreneurship became a good friend and colleague. Mark, an entrepreneur himself, helped me understand the hustle and pain points of entrepreneurs and how we could be a part of solving those.

We brainstormed how we could collaborate to drive internship growth across the Cincinnati startup ecosystem and deepen institutional ties to make Miami the premier partner for Cincinnati’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. Within months, we engaged new stakeholders, built collaborative approaches to programs that were historically disparate, and got new internship programs and offerings up and running. 

Within three years, we had partnered with startups to build nearly 100 net new internships in Cincinnati, built new partnerships nationally with organizations like TechStars, and expanded the reach and scope of Miami University into Cincinnati’s startup ecosystem. We also leveraged our new relationships to reimagine what the student experience at Miami could look like by bringing in partners like Cerkl and Tarek Kamil to help us better understand and reach our target consumers through customized communication. Our goal was to continue to leverage our startup connections to move the needle on rethinking what higher education could be. It was fast, it was exciting, and it was fun.

For me, those days were the start of me rethinking what it meant to be an entrepreneur.  I realized there are entrepreneurs all around us. Some start their own businesses, and some leverage their spirit to build pockets of innovation within the walls of established institutions.  It was through this experience and connecting with people like Todd, Mark, and Tarek, each of whom have become a part of my mentoring ecosystem, started to shape what I knew about being an entrepreneur and pushed me to embrace my own entrepreneurial mindset.

Each day, I draw on three main lessons from them:

Get s#!% done. So often we are bogged down by a fear of failure and the “what ifs” that we are held back from converting new ideas to reality. My ecosystem taught me that trying something new, failing fast, and pulling from lessons learned to build the next iteration was far more important than getting it “perfect” on the first try. I often observed that the success of my mentors was the result of getting s#!% done, holding on to the wins, learning from the failures, and starting again. Embracing this component of what it means to be an entrepreneur helped me seek out people with a similar spirit and look for and build work environments where this is encouraged and rewarded.

It’s all about learning. My mentor ecosystem is made up of people who approach each day and opportunity with a “what am I learning?” mindset. Learning was always something I valued but it wasn’t a “True North” for me in my career. By framing work in the context of “what am I learning?” my mentor ecosystem taught me that it is much less frightening to take risks, be courageous, and think boldly about each idea, day, and opportunity. I now approach opportunities less fixated on where I will end up and more concerned with what I will learn that can help me have impact or drive change daily.

Being uncomfortable is exciting. I love to master knowledge – to know as much as I can about something. I also love being comfortable – financially, intellectually, and otherwise – or so I thought. My entrepreneur mentors taught me that being comfortable is actually quite boring – I never understood how stir crazy it actually made me until I met these three. I learned that when I am comfortable I don’t take risks; I settle in and start to become complacent. I hate being complacent. I love driving change and challenging people to think outside the box. I learned from my mentors that entrepreneurs embrace the discomfort and the unknown, and it drives them to try new things, grow, and build. I found that for me, being uncomfortable was exciting, and in some ways a more comfortable way for me to be.  

I have honed my entrepreneurial spirit and leveraged it to drive change and be my best self in all aspects of my life. Maybe I am still not ready to be an entrepreneur starting her own business, but I can’t ignore my entrepreneurial spirit.

You might remember Amber Hallmann; she interned with The Garage Group before she careened into her final years at Miami University. When she left TGG that summer, she didn’t just take away new knowledge, new friends, and a newfound respect for coffee. She also took away the beginnings of now what she’s defined to be her personal brand/ mantra. We’re so happy that Amber has “jumped in” here at The Garage Group full-time as an Associate Strategist, Lean Growth in Chicago. Learn more about her personal mantra and how it aligns with TGG values.

Jump In. It is something said often, but the message is aspirational to me as a young professional. Every morning and evening for 16 years I jumped into a freezing cold pool for swim practice. As I got older and entered the professional world I was no longer jumping into pools, rather, experiences. Being in new places, with new people sparked my curiosity, inspiring me to do everything I could to learn and gain experience–such as interning at The Garage Group.

As I jump back into TGG full-time, I realize more and more how much my values parallel with those of The Garage Group, especially when it comes to hustle, growth, and impact.

Hustle: Once you jump in, you’re all in. As a company, we jump into projects with the goal of creating truly disruptive innovations, and we will not settle until we have something valuable. We commit to our clients, and no matter the constraints or timing, we ensure great outcomes. When I started as an intern there were only seven people on staff, so everything stemmed from collaboration and hustle. This environment allowed me to jump into multiple roles, projects, and opportunities for learning and growth. Since my internship we have tripled the size of our team. Yet, this approach has not changed, which made me even more eager to jump back in.

Growth: With iteration comes development. As TGG grows, we evolve our process to better fit the needs of our clients. Having a growth mindset and being adaptable to the process is essential and an important attribute at TGG. As I looked to develop my learnings in school I became very involved in creativity and innovation. Leading Igoodea Creatives allowed me to share creative thinking methods, but also taught me how to adapt the process based on the need. From an organizational and process standpoint, adapting was critical to create new value.

Impact: Every jump comes with a splash, an impact. The Garage Group and my fellow coworkers strive to make an impact on our clients, on the development of each other, and TGG overall. Often times, impact is seen as having a widespread effect, and although a large positive impact is great, I believe these larger impacts stem from smaller interactions. Through my experience interning at TGG, studying at Miami, and now entering Chicago as a young professional, many people have impacted me and shaped my growth. I am so thankful for the professors who pushed me, the friends who supported collaboration, and my parents who helped shape my values. Through these impactful relationships I have been inspired to mentor and collaborate with others in everything that I do.

Rooted in both my brand and TGG’s is the innate need to do valuable work and impact those around you. It is so rare to find a team that genuinely cares about the outcome of their work and the impact they are making professionally and personally. TGG’s values directly align with who I am and the brand values that I carry with me.

Interning at TGG and having the opportunity to surround myself with people of all ages and experiences with an innate desire to create change was a unique experience that only made me crave it more. As I “Jump In” to the launch of TGG’s Chicago office, I am excited about the splashes we will make together, and I cannot wait to see the impact we’ll continue to have on our clients.

We’re excited to welcome Senior Director, Lean Growth, Courtney Bott full time to The Garage Group team in Chicago! She’s done it all, from leading teams at Procter & Gamble and being on the forefront of digital marketing strategy at Scripps to jumping in head first as a college professor and at a startup. Courtney took some time to reflect on her humbling experiences and a poem from her former field hockey coach kept coming to mind.

Read her reflection on the grit and humility it takes to go from Bigco to startup, and lessons she’s learned along the way:

If you think you are beaten, you are.

If you think you dare not, you don’t.

If you think you can’t win and you know you can’t, it’s almost a cinch you won’t.

Heart pounding, these familiar words – words I recited daily with my Morris Knolls Field Hockey teammates – raced through my head.

For out in the world you’ll find, success begins in a fellows will.

It’s all in the State of Mind.

No, I had not returned to the playing field and daily five mile training runs…the runs we completed before practice even started each day. Nevertheless, I was exhausted.

For many a game has been lost, before even a step has been run

And many a coward has fallen, before his work has begun.

I was experiencing the pain of growth. The discomfort of uncertainty. The sinking feeling of doubt that comes with impending failure. Two years ago I left the comfort, security, and familiarity of over a dozen years of Bigco career experience at Procter & Gamble and Scripps and dove head first into what I like to call “trial and error bootcamp”. While in my corporate roles, I’d like to believe I was a fairly forward-looking leader, full of grit and walking the “work like a startup” walk. However, leading marketing for seed stage direct-to-consumer food startup Wise Apple (no longer in operation) and teaching Digital Marketing to undergraduates at Lake Forest College in the department of Entrepreneurship were two humbling experiences that have revealed that talking about working like a startup and actually learning a new way of working are two very different things. 

Think big and your deeds will grow.

Think small and you’ll fall behind.

Think that you will and you will…for its all in the State of Mind.

The decision to join a startup full-time was exciting, but not easy. I knew hard work was in my DNA. The lack of perceived security was not. I’ve always been attracted to the energy of founders and entrepreneurs, however, despite my curiosity, I was aware that my education and corporate training equipped me with a mindset and resources that would no longer be available. Working at P&G, I was accustomed to having access to the experts, reliant on methodically gathered data and a generous dose of perfectionism. Working on a small team at Wise Apple as we launched a new brand and business for back-to-school 2017 was an all-out sprint for eight months. In that time, I worked around the clock; I tapped into every bit of knowledge, used every skill, and leveraged every experience and relationship I had in my arsenal. I wore many hats. Despite the sweat and hustle, it STILL didn’t work out. (BIG shout out to all you founders who are putting your dream to the test!)

The decision to teach on the other hand was easy; I loved school and being in educational environments. The reality of standing in front of a stadium-style room full of 20-year-olds sharing my passion for Empathy Maps and discussing the particulars of ads that follow you around the internet was…well, it was a new experience for me. Translation: BEING a marketer and knowing how to do stuff is different from teaching marketing. Even for an extrovert with no fear of public speaking, it’s daunting to create original content and put yourself to the test of iPhones, mid-afternoon naps and got-ya questions twice a week for 14 weeks straight. Key Learning: Spring break is designed for the adjunct professors who started the semester blissfully ignorant to the learning curve of becoming an educator. (Huge props to all the teachers out there!)

In hindsight I might describe the past two years as a chaotic mashup of awkward teenager meets a polished corporate strategist. As I’ve learned, there is a yin and yang effect to periods of dramatic change and subsequent growth. At times I felt right at home. Other times I was a total fish out of water.

For the game doesn’t always go to the bigger and faster man

The game sometimes goes to the man who thinks he can.

The State of Mind, adapted from Walter D.Wintle

Awkwardness aside, I emerged with a hands-on MBA-worth of learning about how to squeeze the juice (out of yourself and every last minute), creating from scratch, digging deep to figure it out, and rolling up your sleeves to make s**t happen. Throughout my career and life, I’ve been grateful for my Coach Trish Colvin who shared The State of Mind with me back in high school. While the daily five mile runs have fallen by the wayside (for now!), the poem has stuck with me as a reminder to step into challenges with belief in what is possible. While learning a new way was hard, I’m lucky that years of hanging out with entrepreneurs from Newsy, Midroll, and aspiring entrepreneurs from The Brandery inspired me to jump into the new experiences of working for a startup and teaching.

Which leads me to what’s next. As I get started with The Garage Group, I am humbled by my experience outside the walls of corporate America. I’m excited to bring what I’ve learned and experience back to Bigcos serving as a bridge between the corporate world and startup world. I look forward to being around a team full of leaders committed to fostering a growth mindset organization. And for our clients? WARNING: I’ve gotten pretty comfortable (dare I say good?) at hacking together rough systems and processes, balancing gut instinct with just enough data, and seeing what the real priorities are to direct efficiency and energy. I hope to share my experience and learn alongside each of you soon!

We’re already missing our courageous summer interns, Lizzie and Turner. They were absolute rockstars when it came to jumping right in to learn at The Garage Group. Guided by their curiosity, they dove head first into both client-facing and internal projects. They were quick to add value before, during, and after client sessions, taking on a learn-as-you-go mindset. Lizzie and Turner also wrote a couple blogs, both together and individually (check out Lizzie’s blog on music & creativity, and Turner’s blog on teaching creativity). We wish Lizzie and Turner the best of luck as they finish out their final years at Miami University! Check out their reflection from their time at TGG:

We’re Lizzie and Turner (better known as Tizzie around the office), and after spending the summer interning at The Garage Group we wanted to share the top things we’ve learned. We spent a lot of time learning the processes, the correct lingo, as well as the ins and outs of the office culture. Beyond that, we’ve come to realize that The Garage Group is always on-brand. So we decided to show our learnings through the lens of how The Garage Group lives out their brand. We have detailed the things we’ve learned that will influence our future in life, business, and school.

Chipotle (Approach): We’re suspicious that one of the The Garage Group’s hiring requirements is a fierce love of Chipotle. At The Garage Group, Chipotle is an on-brand source of fuel and a metaphor for our work. Like Chipotle, our work is customized, organic, and (of course) GMO free. The Garage Group is unique in that it has various ingredients it can use to serve its clients. Like how a hungry customer would go down the line at Chipotle creating a bowl specific to their tastes, The Garage Group crafts a new approach for each challenge it faces from its tried and true methods. Let’s say the rice is like The Garage Group’s define phase, the base on which all things are built. The protein is what gives it flavor–the explore phase where ideas can run wild. Finally, the toppings (cheese, salsa, guac, queso) are the Build, Test, Learn phase of our process, where creations are refined to perfection. But not every client needs guac. Some just need the substance of a lot of creative ideas, so we give them double barbacoa. We spent the summer learning how to customize our Chipotle order, but more importantly how to tailor The Garage Group tools to a client’s specific needs. But Chipotle is not a buffet; it takes a team in the kitchen to make the food, and a thoughtful interaction with the customer to make the perfect burrito.

Foosball (Collaboration): Foosball and The Garage Group have more in common than just their mutual love for one another. Strategy is required in both foosball and when approaching problems. A cornerstone of that strategy is to work in teams and collaborate often. Collaboration is necessary both internally at The Garage Group and externally with clients and the startup ecosystem. This summer has illustrated how to approach and collaborate on problems in a strategic and authentic fashion.

Lärabars (Authenticity): One of the most important values The Garage Group holds is authenticity. It’s so important that the team eats it nearly everyday because — as we all know — you are what you eat. Lärabars are all about authenticity. They are all natural and only use a handful of simple ingredients that they proudly display on the outside of the packaging. The most humbling trait shared by The Garage Group-ers, and taught to us, is being true to yourself and sharing all you can with those around you.

La Croix (Ambiguity): What is that taste? Did someone put a single pomegranate seed in my drink? Is this actually water? Despite being exposed to it all summer, we still aren’t totally sure what’s up with La Croix. It’s a little uncomfortable, and very unclear what exactly this stuff is, but The Garage Group makes it work. One of the amazing things about being an intern here is dealing with ambiguity. Not knowing exactly what’s happening and what we’re doing every second at work has been an exciting experience. It’s given us the freedom to build new things, to test them, and to learn. We haven’t learned how to deal with ambiguity this summer, we’ve learned to embrace it and use it to propel our work in new directions.

Alexa (Feedback): Amazon’s Alexa is the most difficult employee at The Garage Group. She is stubborn and requires constant coaching, but the TGG team treats Alexa with a shocking amount of respect and understanding for an inanimate object. Feedback is an important aspect of human work at The Garage Group, too. The team is always willing to give great feedback and insights, regardless of how busy people are. As we’ve worked on various projects, we’ve been able to iterate with each piece of feedback. Iterating and understanding why changes need to be made has helped us understand the why behind everything, a critical component to success at The Garage Group. Not only have we learned how to grow from feedback, but we’ve learned how to give it, and when to seek out our coworkers’ input.

This summer has given us an amazing place to try things, fail, and develop meaningful relationships. Through The Garage Group’s approach, collaboration, authenticity, feedback, and  ambiguity, we feel more prepared than ever for whatever challenges we take on next. The Garage Group exemplifies an entrepreneurial company culture, and we are sad our summer came to an end so quickly. We are leaving this internship with a better understanding of the world and what we want in our future. It’s nice to know anytime we order at Chipotle, shoot a goal, taste a Lärabar, drink La Croix, or get in an argument with stubborn AI, we will reflect on our time here and all we have gained from this experience.

Tizzie out!