When Laura Davis Gross talks marketing, messaging and branding, you take diligent notes and jot down everything she says, verbatim.
When she talks work-life inspiration, you simply listen and take it all in.
As the former SVP of marketing at Wanderlust—the company known for gathering tens of thousands to participate in sunset yoga classes and other wellness festivals around the world—Gross knows a thing or two about designing and executing events that give new brands an edge in the marketplace. In addition to Wanderlust, Gross has also worked as a coordinator for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, a digital marketer for Coach … and even served as interim CMO for HeyMama.
Throughout her corporate stints and consulting gigs, she identified a gap in the market: startups with small budgets would sacrifice a ton of cash to hire the best agencies only to get farmed off to junior staff. So, last year, she and a colleague from Wanderlust launched Family Meal, an agency that serves as the initial marketing arm for emerging brands. They designed Family Meal to operate more like an internal creative partner—and less like an external consultancy—for these fledgling brands.
In this (barely edited) Q&A, Gross goes in-depth about how she transitioned from being a VP at a beloved B Corp (Wanderlust) to launching her own shop (Family Meal) – all while mothering (two infant boys).
What was it like to resign from a high-level and coveted role?
After seeing a decade of rapid expansion at Wanderlust, I wanted to start a family and I knew I’d need more flexibility. Once I got pregnant with twins, I didn’t want my career to take a permanent backseat. But I needed a way to make everything work because I have to work—it’s not an option. I was transparent with Wanderlust that this is what I wanted. They even came on as a client.
How did you find the courage to take the leap into entrepreneurship?
The worst-case scenario is if I fail, then I’ll have to find a new job. But if I don’t try, what kind of example does that set for my kids?
What makes Family Meal different from the thousands of other marketing agencies out there?
You can’t succeed as an emerging brand without a well-supported marketing and communications team. But new businesses pivot constantly so they need a head of marketing and creative that knows the ins and outs of their business and can ensure a level of quality and integrity.
So Family Meal is not a catering company?
No, it’s not!
How did you and your partner come up with the company name?
When Ryan and I worked at Wanderlust, we were part of the opening team at Wanderlust Hollywood, a 10,000 square-foot restaurant and wellness center. It was the first time I ever worked on a restaurant, and the executive chef introduced us to the idea of a family meal. Each week, our entire team including cooks, cashiers, managers, event staff and construction workers would gather for a fresh-cooked meal. We would sit to talk about food, life and the excitement of the grand opening. It led to bonding and camaraderie, the very kind that that my partner and I hope to build between emerging brands and their audiences. Our goal is to give emerging brands a seat at the table.
Talk about the tactical steps and processes of leaving a cushy job to start your own agency.
We started building Family Meal in 2017. My business partner Ryan and I moonlit at Wanderlust until we felt comfortable about taking the leap into Family Meal. For me, that meant building and making sure I had a 3-month savings cushion for my family.
I was able to launch Family Meal with infant twins, while managing a large team and a demanding full-time job. I figured out a way to build a cushion for myself while taking seven months to figure out what Family Meal would be. If I can do that because I’m that passionate about an idea, maybe you can, too. At the end of the day, everyone has extenuating circumstances.
Working on branding campaigns and designing startup events sound fun. Tell me about the less glamorous side of building a business.
While I’m hyper-organized and Type A, I am not a math person. Initially, we kept our books in Excel sheets then signed up for a basic version of QuickBooks.
By February 2019 we quit our corporate roles to run Family Meal full-time. As we started ramping up with more clients and contractors, we needed to upgrade to a more robust version of QuickBooks.
Our company is structured to work with as many as 20 contractors, so we can nimbly build teams for clients then scale down once those projects are complete. So streamlining finances could’ve been a real burden.
Give me an example of how you keep your finances streamlined.
We have a nonprofit client that had brought us on board for a new marketing campaign. But once we started putting production calendars together, it turned out to be a much larger undertaking. We needed to exponentially scale the team to accomplish goals. It could have been a stressful situation but we were able to hire freelancers, get their deposits, and set them up on QuickBooks invoices. To get my folks paid on time while reconciling them with my P&L statement is a huge help.
Payroll could really be a burden if we didn’t have the ability to streamline with QuickBooks. Its invoices widget on the dashboard shows me everything we owe so we are rarely stuck with an aging invoice. There’s also a Profit & Loss widget that breaks out how we’re performing monthly, quarterly and yearly. I check QuickBooks multiple times a week because we’re constantly looking at how we’re projecting against our goals for the year.
And how is 2020 looking for you?
Here I am a year later, and our business is 80% booked for 2020. When it comes to home, I am there for the twins’ pickups, drop-offs and weekends. Because I run my own business, I am able to be the parent who can be there for sick days and when my kids need me most.
This article is sponsored by Intuit QuickBooks, the leading accounting software for small businesses around the world. With 4.5M subscribers worldwide, QuickBooks empowers self-employed individuals and small businesses to improve their financial lives, finding them more money with the least amount of work, while giving them complete confidence in their actions and decisions.