This week I interviewed Mallory Rowan who built a global multi-six-figure e-commerce business on a student budget when she was 22. By the age of 27, she had built three six-figure businesses, as a result, she is a frequent speaker on brand building and entrepreneurship. She has worked with organizations including Shopify, Lululemon, Uber, and many others. Read on to learn about her journey and lessons learned around working sustainably.
I’m going to kick off with a question about the topic of burnout because it frequently appears in your work. You talk pretty openly about the toll that building a business took on you. You say that you want to help others build without burnout. Can you talk us through a bit about how burnout shaped your entrepreneurial journey and the work that you do today?
Yes, totally. One of the upsides or downsides, however you want to see it, of starting a business early also meant that I ended up burning out really early, so I had a pretty young experience at that. When I burnt out, I was just doing too much overall. I feel like it was really prime hustle years in terms of the culture around hustle. This was when Gary Vee was getting really big. Everything was about struggle now so you can win later. I was also in the sport of powerlifting which is a lot of have the energy drinks for your workouts and all that.
I was competing in powerlifting, I was building a business, I was still working a corporate job and in school all at one point together, and then traveling a lot for my business. Finally, my body was just like we can’t do this anymore, you got to slow down. It really gave me the opportunity to press pause on some stuff and figure out what it was that I actually wanted and why I got into business in the first place, and really ask myself those questions so I could restructure how I approach my business, and then take those skills and apply it to other entrepreneurs that I saw because I started having so many people come to me saying, hey, I think I’m going through what you went through, and now I see what you’re doing now and I want that
Something that brought us together was social media and you’ve definitely utilized social media to grow your brand, grow your businesses along the way. How do you think about the content that you share on social media? Do you have pieces of advice for those of us who maybe don’t need to or don’t currently use social media that aggressively to grow our brand and grow our business?
Yes. I love social media because it’s a broke entrepreneur’s best friend. It’s like such an opportunity. We’re seeing it now on TikTok with like teenagers starting their businesses and really having them take off. There is so much power in social media. Especially if you are someone that doesn’t have a budget, it’s a really great way to give your business that kickstart, to find your community, and it’s a great way to engage in existing communities and then build your own little subculture of your brand. I think there’s so much opportunity for anyone that’s on a budget. I think there’s a platform that fits everyone. Whether it’s TikTok or Clubhouse or Pinterest, or even LinkedIn, maybe in Facebook, whatever it might be, there’s so much opportunity there.
Then the second thing I would say, especially for people that are in more of that personal brand space is just remembering you get to decide what your relationship looks like with social media. A lot of people get into that. Like what should I post? How much do I share? Do I need a business account and a personal account? You get to make those decisions and it really is whatever you’re comfortable with. If you can set those clear boundaries from the start, you can really dictate what that community looks like.
I always say I have a very kind community online. I don’t get trolls or hateful comments in my DMs because, for the most part, we’ve set a standard of what this community looks like and what the conversation within that community looks like. Getting really clear about how you want to approach social, both from a business and brand perspective, but also from a personal and removing that emotional element of the likes and the validation from it and seeing it more as a strategic part of your business,
You had a somewhat quintessential solo entrepreneurship journey, but now you’ve grown into somebody who has a team and over the years, you’ve managed individuals. When you look back at your journey personally as a leader, where do you think you changed and evolved the most?
Oh, that’s a great question. I think I definitely am very like type A, A+ plus student, give me the rubric and I will crush it. I think when you are that way, it’s an easier road at the beginning to be a solopreneur and to go in fully on your own, but there’s actually a really beautiful process that happens when you start to bring in teams and you start to hire because you can see how there are people that have really complementary skill sets.
You can also learn that like, hey, we don’t have to be super obsessive or anal with the small, small details in a PDF document that only you are going to notice. It gives you an opportunity to actually say, hey, how can I help this person? How can I bring this person along? Then along the way you also realize, wow, there are certain areas where this person is just way better than me at it and letting go of that pride or whatever you might feel around it of having to be able to do all and teach all. It’s really nice when other people can take over those tasks and they get to enjoy that responsibility.
The biggest thing I’d say is making sure that it’s always mutually beneficial too. For someone that is more of a perfectionist, the tendency is to give away the task and then say, “Oh, I could have done it better,” so you take back the task. Whereas I love doing exercises like writing out instructions in a document or recording a video and giving it to that person and saying, “Okay, I want you to do this task, based off this instructional video. If you screw up, it’s not your fault, it is a reflection of my document and it’s great feedback for us.”
I think it’s a really great process to shift that responsibility of not going like, “Oh, they didn’t do it, right. Why didn’t they do it right?” It’s saying, “Okay, something in my instructions weren’t clear because of how I think versus how someone else thinks, or maybe this thing was more obvious to me,” and then it’s an opportunity to better support them and help them along the way and it turns into more of a, “Okay, I can see how my instructions were misleading,” versus, “Why did you do it this way?”
One thing that I definitely want to talk about is risk-taking. I think when I look at your background and some of the content you share, you’ve taken a good deal of risks in your life to get where you are today. Did you have a process for weighing the pros and cons of taking a certain risk that you were considering at the time?
Yes, I actually just talked about this the other day online. I think that a lot of entrepreneurs are actually more risk-averse than people think. I think we’re just wired a little bit differently that we see risk in the opposite thing of what most people see, so they see this risk as going for the thing, whereas, for me, it felt riskier to stay in a corporate job and know that I probably wouldn’t be happy with that and I probably wouldn’t enjoy my everyday life.
For me, it feels less risky than entrepreneurship looks and I think what happens too, is we look at someone’s full story and we go, “Oh, my God, you were a student and you started a business, and then you quit your job.” When you break it down into those micro-moments of the day-to-day, what that looks like is going from 1000 in revenue to 2000, and you’re slowly working up, so it doesn’t feel like one day you just went all in.
Even when we started, we put $1500 each in to come up with a brand with this really amazing graphic design team because we knew that was going to be so important to our business. That was one of the riskiest things we did and from there, we really built our business always to stay profitable. For me, I always joke, I’m actually a pretty low-risk entrepreneur because I’m not putting millions of dollars into physical locations or getting investors’ money. I always say, “Okay, let’s take that little risk that has the reward in it, and let’s always keep it safe.”
Even this morning, I had a conversation with my partner of, “How much cash do we have in the bank? Okay, if we want to do this this year, what does that look like?” It’s worth always going through a step-by-step process of breaking down what can feel like a really big risk and looking at the numbers of it and taking those baby steps of the small investment first. I just hired, for my current business, I just hired a virtual assistant like a month ago but the timing made sense. Even this morning we had that conversation of, okay, what does it look like to up her hours? What does it look like to up her hourly rate? Just breaking it down into those small details I find really helps. Then it doesn’t feel risky, it feels more calculated.
One thing that we hear from a lot of listeners is that people are interested in routine or different ways that you organize your time. You’re working in a lot of different spaces with a lot of different people. You don’t have a physical space so I’m assuming almost all of the contact is remote. Are there certain things you do to organize your day, organize your week? Anything that has allowed you to keep all of the balls that you’re juggling up in the air at a given time?
Yes. The biggest, I’m a big book person, so I would say The ONE Thing by Gary Keller, and I forget the co-author but it was a really great book for me. It was something I was using the concept in general before but really what it comes down to is what is that one thing that will make everything else easier or unnecessary? We tend to start our days with a 10 bullet to-do list. We look at it and there’s that thing that feels really big or maybe it’s scary. We don’t know how to do it or it’s going to involve some emotional work. We do all the little things around it and we do that dance, and then the end of the day comes, and then that thing’s still on the to-do list for the next day.
It’s really looking at like what is the one thing? Can you actually basically tear up your to-do list and start with a one thing to-do list? Then once that thing is done, then you can have your sub-list of, okay, what do I do now? That has been really helpful because it catches you and it forces you to also ask are the tasks that I’m doing in my business actually moving the needle. Always think what is the thing I have to get done today that’s actually going to move the needle, that’s going to grow my business, it’s going to have the impact. It helps us get away from those moments of fixating on our website too long and just designing things or doing those little tasks when we have a really big important task sitting there.
I think that is the biggest thing is really looking at what’s the main thing I got to do. Then I actually find get that out of the way and you can end up doing more things on your to-do list when you approach your to-do list that way because you’re like, ” All right, well, I got to rip off the band-aid,” so you do it and then you have space for these other tasks. At the end of the day, if those tasks don’t get done, I would compare it to journalism with an article. Journalists write the most important part in that first paragraph and then the details get less important as we go through because in the olden days, if it got cut out of the newspaper, then they could just cut off the bottom of the article and it would always be okay. It’s the same way you would operate your to-do list.
I want to switch gears and talk a little bit about some of the companies that you work with. You’ve worked with some incredibly innovative companies. When you’re preparing for a meeting or a first interaction with a company that you want to work with or a company that wants to work with you, how do you get prepared for that meeting and how do you get mentally ready to have those conversations?
I think the most underrated thing is to just be super professional. I think we live in this really weird in-between space, so for me, a lot of the brand partnerships I do are using content creation. That’s what the partnership is coming down to is, hey, we want you to create some content, we want you to post it to your audience, we want you to talk about this thing. Social media can be that really casual space, so I think where a lot of people go wrong is they just start with a really casual conversation. They just slide into the DMs of a brand they want to work with. Whereas if I’m going to slide into a brand’s DMs, I’m going to ask questions like, hey, this is who I am, this is what I’m looking to do together. Who would be the best person to contact via email?
It sets a very different tone and then you can get a name or the right contact email, and then you can send that email and say, “Hey, Lauren. I was talking to so and so on the Instagram account and they recommended that we connect to discuss this partnership.” I think coming into it with more than, “Hey, let’s work together,” I love to come into it knowing what I want out of it because it also helps guide that conversation. If I just say, “Yes, sure, let’s work together,” I want to come in and know what I want to do with that. Do I want to do photos as a post? Do I want to make a video? What do I think would resonate most with my audience?
I want to go in with that game plan, so if they say, hey, we’re open to anything, I’m ready with that answer. It makes sure that it’s a really consistent brand experience on my part. Also, just that professionalism of coming in with ideas is super appreciated and that’s where I tend to have recurring brand partnerships because they had such a great experience working together, even just in terms of my follow up, answering things, and it’s someone they can bet on and trust that, hey, this person’s not going to be a wild card and go do something that doesn’t match our brand values or anything like that.
If you were going to bring somebody new onto your team and you could snap your fingers and give them a few traits right off the bat. Do you have some that come to the top of mind that you think are incredibly important to be successful in your industry or in any industry?
Yes. I just went through, as I mentioned, hiring a virtual assistant and it was an interesting process because I was balancing those traits of someone’s a stronger writer, someone’s more organized. What is it the things that you need? I think the biggest thing is looking for what are the traits that complement you the most. Like someone else might need a really organized VA, but maybe you are the person that’s super organized and you actually need someone that’s super creative. For me, the traits, I definitely think the first one would be I guess initiative, but that sense of ownership.
The person I ended up hiring, I’ll tell her about, okay, we’re going to have to do X, but she goes and makes the observation that for us to do X, we also are going to have to do Y, and then Y is going to impact B. She’s already gone ahead without me saying that and saying, okay, here’s the list of things that I’m going to do, and really notices the domino effect of a single project. I think that initiative and the flip side of that initiative is also bringing creative ideas to the table.
I guess that would be my second one is I like a creative person. I generally am a creative person but I love a good brainstorm and I don’t do well sitting in a room, brainstorming with a wall by myself, but the second I have someone else that’s creative, it’s like magic. Definitely, creativity is a big one for me and then communication. We are constantly in communication. I think also as a startup, entrepreneur, small business, whatever it might be, the reality is is things move fast. It doesn’t mean that we don’t have boundaries but I think being quick to communicate is really important.
Even if she’s not going to be available for a certain day and she knows I have a lot going on, she’s really quick to give me that heads up. Always keeping that communication and on both ends. When I am looking to add a project, I always lead with, “Hey, what kind of capacity do you have this week? Do you feel like this is something you can take on?” It just helps really have that open conversation and it’s so helpful when the other person handles that the same way because then we don’t have any letdowns or miscommunicated expectations, it’s super clear from the start.
Well, that is a wonderful spot to shift gears to the final two rapid-fire questions that I get to ask all of our guests and question number one is this if you could describe your leadership style in just one word, what would that word be?
It’s so funny because when I first hear it, the word that comes to mind is “flowy” and I’m like, is that even a word? I don’t know but I think it’s really just, for me, I’ve always led by just doing what feels right and going with my own flow and I think I’m a very fortunate person that that’s how I’m able to lead, but really just rolling with the punches. I think it’s something that we don’t see enough people doing. We think that there’s all these rules and when you can show up and say, hey, let’s just throw the rules out the window and see what feels good, that’s how I like to lead.
All right and you built your first business at 22 so the final rapid-fire question is this, what is the best piece of advice that you have received along the way?
One that’s always really stuck with me is actually a toothpaste quote and it says a tube of toothpaste can last for weeks, but so can a nearly empty one. It’s that idea of when you are a new entrepreneur, when you have that little budget, whatever it might be you can squeeze that little bit out and you can make it last. You can get that last little inch, but if we go and we give ourselves too much to start off with, we’re going to blow through that the same way that we could squeeze through that last little bit of the tube.
This interview has been edited for clarity.