Britt Stromberg believes the best entrepreneurs are like choreographers: They can see every move on the dancefloor and how a team can be aligned in perfect timing and grace. A creative marketer and serial entrepreneur with a 25-year background in advertising, brand development, market research, and content strategy for consumer retail and technology companies, Britt shares what ballet taught her about resilience, rejection and leadership. Now CEO and founder of Underwire Media, Britt shares her advice for women in business: Learn to be kinder to yourself.
Melinda Wittstock: Britt, welcome to wings.
Britt Stromberg: Hi, thank you.
Melinda Wittstock: It’s great to have you on and I always want to start with: What’s inspiring you right now?
Britt Stromberg: Man, so many things are on my mind right now. Top of mind for me is really dance. I recently started dancing again and I have found a new teacher. Just being in my body at a set time every week has been mind expanding for me. Definitely that.
Melinda Wittstock: That’s so interesting. When we return to things that we love. Like, perhaps as kids or whatever and we find inspiration from that that applies to all aspects of our lives. Is that what dance is for you?
Britt Stromberg: Very much so. I’ve realized in coming back to dance that that is a form of creative expression for me. I was a ballerina growing up. I danced from age three until into my 20s everyday. Then I abandoned that. When you come back to that, you realize that there is muscle memory in your body and the lessons that you learned such as discipline, creative expression, and finding a way to use those lessons in new endeavors has been really helpful and creative for me.
Melinda Wittstock: That’s beautiful. I did ballet, too. I went to the National Ballet School of Canada until I was ten. At which point, I was also a figure skater. At which point, the founder of the ballet just looked at me one day and said, “You’re going to be too tall. Sorry.”
Britt Stromberg: Yeah, I had that issue too.
Melinda Wittstock: Sorry. Next.
Britt Stromberg: I know.
Melinda Wittstock: Something as a fifth grader, it was a really interesting lesson very early in life about you may love something but that’s a huge part of your success but you also have to have all the different components. They were ruthless.
Britt Stromberg: Yes. It’s such good preparation for being an entrepreneur because you face a lot of rejection. Knowing that you can fall back on your skills and you can try it again. When you’re a dancer and you’re auditioning, that’s a lot like fundraising. There’s always a lesson to be learned, I suppose.
Melinda Wittstock: Absolutely. What a perfect segue into challenges. As entrepreneurs, we all have those. What are some of yours right now?
Britt Stromberg: Well, I’ll be really frank, I’m starting a new endeavor with underwire and I’m starting from the beginning. Ground zero. Nothing. That hill that I’m climbing is really challenging for me mentally because you look around and you see all these other women and men who are starting things and there’s this perception that they’re doing great and they’re further along and the hard stuff is behind them. Having this infant, this new baby company, has been really humbling. We all start somewhere and we forget to realize that you have to wake up every morning and put one foot in front of the other and you have to do the really hard work of, in my case, building an audience.
I didn’t have another list to pull through to build that audience. I have good connections but you just got to do the work. You got to do the outreach everyday. It really opens your eyes to just how hard it is to build a successful business.
Melinda Wittstock: It’s really true. I’m a serial entrepreneur and every business that you start, you think that if you succeed in one they’re all going to be easy. Think again. They all have different lessons. Different timing. Different things going on. Oh my goodness. It’s always humbling at the start but I love that. Being able to go build something up and then go again. Some of them work. Some of them don’t.
Britt Stromberg: Right. That’s so true.
Melinda Wittstock: And you just pick up and go on. What are some of the top pieces of advice, like three, if you could limit it to three, that you’ve learned in your entrepreneurial career that you think all women in business and female founders really just if they had this knowledge at their fingertips, everything would be different. What are the three?
Britt Stromberg: Well number one is be gentle with yourself. I’m at the point in my career, and midlife, really, where I can look back and see my Type A go-getter self really struggling and stressing out unnecessarily because things happen naturally. You still have to do the work but you got to take care of yourself and you got to be gentle and be patient and things will happen. That would be number one.
Number two is something that I have made a point to do throughout my career, which is follow-up with everybody. Every lead that you get, even if you feel overwhelmed and you’ve got a flooded inbox; take the time to just follow up with people. I have a standard response that if I’m just too busy to think through how am I going to respond, I send that out. It’s along the lines of I appreciate your email, I can’t honor this request right now, I look forward to reconnecting in the future. Just that simple act has led to new business relationships for me. People know we’re busy and if you just take the time to say, “Hey, I’m in this struggle with you, too and now is not a good time.” That can pay dividends later on. Do that work.
Lastly, this is something very new to me, which is talk about the tough stuff because we don’t do that. We’re so outcome oriented culturally that it’s all about what have you done and what have you accomplished? That’s great and we should be rewarding and celebrating our successes but I find so much more camaraderie in other female entrepreneurs when we get down and talk about how hard this is.
Here’s a great example. I was at a big event here in the Seattle area a couple of weeks ago. There was a woman on stage who all perception of her is that she’s a successful entrepreneur. She revealed a massive failure that has happened to her. She talked about it in a way that I could completely identify with and I had such empathy for her. I just wish more of us would put up that side of us sooner than always resorting to here’s what I’ve accomplished and that’s why you should instantly like me.
Melinda Wittstock: Oh gosh. This is so true. I think the more we de-stigmatize this and connect with each other. Part of authentic connection really is being able to share the full truth. Entrepreneurship is an up and down thing. It certainly is going to force you to confront all kinds of personal limiting beliefs, all sorts of stuff. You want to be confronted with any kind of crap that you have, this is the place.
Britt Stromberg: It will come.
Melinda Wittstock: It’s humbling. Being able to find a trusted business family where you’re able to do that. I think the more women that are able to step up for each other in that way, the better. I think you and I really share a mission in that. Wings is all about really creating that safe place.
Britt Stromberg: I know. I love what you’re doing. So excited to see where you go with it.
Melinda Wittstock: You too. I just want to give you a moment before we ask how people can find you and work with you, Britt, just to say a little bit about what you’re doing with Underwire.
Britt Stromberg: Thank you for that. Underwire is a weekly newsletter. That’s just what it is right now. It might grow into something more but I really want to profile women who are on this path and I want to get them talking about the hard parts. I’m doing that. I’m starting with my close circle of female entrepreneur connections and I’m getting them to open up in new ways and I’m exploring that through the email newsletter format. It’s really been fun.
Where I go? Who knows. I am going to start doing some events. I have a yoga retreat coming up in early, actually late January 2019. That’s an opportunity to curate a gathering of female entrepreneurs who are in similar states. Mostly, I want to focus on women who are trying to scale because that’s a really tough time in a business’ life. A woman entrepreneur is pretty serious, she’s either raised money or she is bootstrapping it. The stakes are high. I want to gather women at that stage and have them feel more connected. So that’s Underwire.
Melinda Wittstock: That’s wonderful. How can people find it and subscribe to it?
Britt Stromberg: Underwire.works is my website. That’s the best place to sign up. I am also on Facebook and I’m also on Instagram @Underwire and my Instagram handle is Underwire.works. Really my website is the best way to do it. I’m still building my social presence so I’m funneling all the traffic to the website. Go there. Sign up. Then receive it in your inbox on a weekly basis.
Melinda Wittstock: How wonderful. Thank you so much for putting on your wings and flying with us.
Britt Stromberg: Thank you Melinda.