Today our female founder is Carrie Osman - Chief Provocateur at CRUXY&CO. Carrie has such passion for her work and a real belief in the impact that she has. I left the interview immensely energised and I'm sure you will feel the same after reading.
Lets start by talking about your background.
I come from a family of absolute business machines. From such a young age, I have been fascinated by business, it was always talked about at the dinner table. I remember overhearing discussions from age 6 upwards and I was going to client dinners with my dad’s American clients by age 7. At 12 I had told people I was going to run businesses; as if that did anything for my street cred at school! Everyone else wants to be an astronaut but ‘Carrie wants to be a business owner.’ I would sit in a restaurant and think to myself, ‘Why do they do that?’, ‘Why don’t they do that?’, ‘Why didn’t they make that choice?’. I guess that was always me.
I went to uni and did politics because I loved it. I didn’t know I wanted to go into politics but I enjoyed debating and the challenge. I did a lot of economics as well which I really enjoyed. I left to do an internship with Peter De Savary then went off traveling, came back, and worked for another guy launching a hotel. I loved hotels because they’re the ultimate in customer experience. A hotel can’t be high end and then not know someone’s name when they walk through the door. I loved all that.
I then had the conversation with my parents; they said, ‘ok it is proper job time’. My Dad told me to apply to Mars’s fast track grad scheme. I looked at it online and I thought there was no way I would ever get the job. But, I thought I would go for it anyway. I ended up applying and getting through and then being offered a role there. I was one of 12 on that scheme and it was an amazing learning experience. I then moved up through the marketing department relatively quickly. Within marketing there is business management so I began to own the P&L and ended up running the dog brands in the UK.
I was then moving on into another role internationally. I had a conversation with my coach; she asked me ‘what do you really want? You don’t seem that excited’. At that time I was just reflecting on where I was going, I was turning 30, and thinking ‘oh, is this what I really want?’. I guess I never really wanted to work in a corporate. I went and did it and I learned a lot but it wasn’t what I really wanted; sitting in meetings, the political nature of discussions, the way decisions are made.
Of course, you drive what you can, I believe everyone is in control. We should all take responsibility but, to a certain extent you’re in a massive operation, just a cog in a machine, you are not the machine. At that point I thought about what I really wanted. When I turn to look back on my life I want to know I have done something of my own. I read all the blogs such as ‘ten things you need to be an entrepreneur’ and I thought ‘oh god I am definitely not going to be good enough’. But, I suppose they talked a lot about relentless energy, a lot about how nothing is ever good enough for you, you are the kind of person for whom it doesn’t matter what you do, you are always annoyed with yourself. I was like ‘god yeah that is definitely me’. I then just thought, if not now, when? If not me, who? There might be 20 other people who could do this better than me so maybe I should have waited another 5 years but if I didn’t do it, I never would have done it.
Starting the business
Once you’d decided you were going to quit your job what was the next step?
I find it a really weird way to explain it but I have this amazing feeling of ‘it’s on me’. I know for some people that is the most stressful feeling in the world but, I think that if it’s all on you, it’s all on your shoulders. If you work hard, if you care more, if you believe more, if you give everything you’ve got and it doesn’t work then so be it. Just the feeling of your family being so proud of you for taking that jump and knowing that there is a big corporate job out there somewhere that you could slip back into and that would be fine if necessary. That would be 6 out of 10 but it would never be a 9 or 10 like running your own business is.
How did people react when you told them you were going to leave?
I definitely get the feeling that people think ‘oh so you failed in the corporate world, so you decided to do your own thing because you obviously can’t cope with it’. Of course, it’s not like that. I think people will just find it completely bizarre that I made that choice. One of the things I sensed from people who were quite senior from different areas of my life is that they tended to fall into two groups. There were the people who said ‘oh my god it is so amazing and you’re doing it at the right time and I am so proud of you’. Then there were the group who, it was almost like they wished they had done it themselves. So when they were talking to me they said things like, ‘you need to watch this, you need to watch that, are you sure it is the right time? I think you should go and do another big job for another 10 years and then you will be ready.’ I just thought to myself ‘you have never done it and the reality is that you’re just relaying back to me all the reasons that you told yourself not to do it’.
What was the first thing you did when you knew you were going to start a business?
There are some things that I believe about business that some people believe in, and others really miss. I wanted to stand for something and be really different and not be afraid to be different. In business, don’t be afraid to stand out from the crowd completely because the people who are attracted to that will just gravitate towards you and there will be enough in the world to make you a lot of money. There are a lot of people who believe what we believe at Cruxy which is to completely raise the bar, don’t copy what the competition is doing, shake things up, change is the only constant.
We have created a vision, created a why, and we bleed it through everything. All of that stuff was the basis. Through the Marketing Academy I was on we were invited to a pitch for a business and I literally went along thinking ‘I don’t actually know what we’re even offering’. We had done a little bit of work for a couple of businesses but we had never done a pitch like this. We went along with these little notebooks and told them to jot down three words about the brand that they have today. It was really hilarious. That was really good because we had done other bits of work but that allowed us to sharpen up and realise that ‘this is what it is really going to be about.’ We had the view that the likes of Bain and the McKinseys of the world took the approach of numbers, analysis, massive decks of 300 slides and eventually saying, ‘these are the choices you should be making’. They’re very good at what they do and obviously people make a lot of money doing this. Their customers are able to say to their boss or to the shareholders, ‘well, we have Bain/McKinsey’s strategy and they said we should do this so we are doing it’. We are clearly not in that place with Cruxy; at least not yet anyway.
I then flipped to the other side, to all the marketing agencies I was working with. A lot of them never really understood the reality of the business, they never really understood the P&L, they never really got that it’s not really about an idea, it’s about what we stand for as an organization, and how that carries through everything. Working with them and then working with big consultancies, I thought there is a gap in the middle which is the potential to understand the numbers, understand the P&L, completely see what the triggers for growth are within this business area. But, also doing it in a way that is creative, different and not just the standard way of, ‘here are your 200 slides which have charts on, which all configured differently’. That’s never going to be me. It boils down to combining the data with an understanding of the numbers but with a creative punch, not being afraid to say what you think, not afraid to have an opinion. Intuitively in the market, it just feels like there is a gap here.
CRUXY&CO - The Story so far
Talk me through where you are today with Cruxy.
We have had 16 clients. We founded in November 2013 so we had a first birthday party in November 2014, it was a really nice celebration of our first year. We’re in a solid position from a P&L point of view, but we are pulling everything into this year. I have not started the business to earn a really big salary in the first two/three years and then not be able to invest in bringing people on board. We have a Chairman, who is actually my dad, he is amazing - he does all of our invoicing, detailing, accountancy, and legal work which just means that we can focus on the work, which is fab! Poppy has come on board as Chief Instigator, so she focuses around new business and managing clients, making things happen. Brandon then does all of our design projects from actual kick off all the way to delivery, making sure everything is working brilliantly and we have the right people in the right places at the right time. He is great from that point of view, he has a very different background.
Poppy has been living in Australia, and has just come back. Brandon is a Canadian but did his MBA in the US. I really believe in having a diverse team. There are four full-time and then we’ve got an intern on board at the moment. I think there is a role for a lot more companies to have interns but to do it in a way where they don’t necessarily pay much but that they train them. We’re very open about that; we say, ‘look we are not going to pay you loads, but we will give you one-on-ones every day, we’ll give you these methodologies and you borrow books’. Everyone who has ever been in those jobs has said ‘this is so life changing’.
The plan is to bring on board another full-time person. If we get to a place where we are 8+ by the end of this year, we would be in a really solid position. Obviously it is about doing it at the right time and scaling in the right way. We are quite fussy about the clients we take on; this is one thing I have learned and will definitely stick with. We have 16 clients today and have had the most amazing ride, learned so much. It’s been an absolute roller coaster.
When I started Cruxy, I emailed a guy called Hugh who does these cartoons. (see @gaping void). They’re amazing cartoons all about entrepreneurial culture and I have always been a fan of them, especially when I was at Mars, being a pirate inside of the big organization, so to speak. I emailed Seth Godin as well and I thought there is no way they are going to reply. Both replied to me. Seth Godin replied to me saying ‘Go Carrie, go, go, go! Makes me so happy to hear this, this is awesome, just give it everything.’ I had read so many of his books so to have that as an email was just amazing. Hugh also responded, I said to him that I can’t wait to commission Cruxy cartoons one day. When we have an office in New York, when we have the office in London, when we are growing in the right direction, of course. To just get these emails back from people; I can’t believe that they take the time.
My favorite quote in the world is ‘strategy is the art of sacrifice’. We were quite broad in the beginning, we thought we could do anything; we were saying what we could do rather than what we were or what we stood for. Say no to the three things that are just ‘fine’ to just take the one thing that is awesome. Everyone knows you should do that but no one actually does it. Take a look at your ‘things to do’ list, underline the things you don’t feel excited about and then circle the things that you think are going to change the game for your company and then just do the circles. Once you have done the circles, review the list again and if you think any of the things underlined could become circles, great, do them next.
What do you think is your biggest challenge in setting up Cruxy?
I really think it is people. I believe so much in culture; cut the business open and it bleeds what you are. You shouldn’t really need your values on a wall; you shouldn’t really need your vision. Obviously we do believe in ‘why’ and we believe in that bleeding through everything. In theory you should sit with someone from Cruxy and they should be challenging, curious, sharp and they should make you think differently. Finding people who live that is unbelievably difficult and I never really realised just how difficult. You have to find people who hold themselves accountable in their standards, not looking at someone else to set where their standard should be. Of course, I am always there, and I am always going to challenge their thinking but I don’t want to be there saying ‘guys come on!’ they need to drive themselves, their passion needs to drive them.
I have spent so much time talking to companies that are tech and fintech and their customers don’t buy them for the tech. They buy them because they genuinely buy into everything about that company. They think their customers buy them because they have better tech but maybe in a year their tech won’t be better. Maybe in a year someone else will come along. What is going to make their customers stick with them? In theory, if you are that rational, you just believe customers will always go to the better person, the cheaper person, the tech with more benefits.. We know there are things about businesses that we all buy into that are not that great for us but we still buy into them. That’s what I want to help people create and that’s what I want to do for Cruxy.
Day in the life
What is your average day like?
I’m not so good in the mornings but I am normally working by about 7.45am. Every day is so different. It will be anything from meeting up with the team, project planning, and if we have just won a new client, working out how we are going to execute the plan; who is going to take what. There might be a kick off meeting for 2 hours together, then it will be running to meet a CEO for lunch. Then it will be going and seeing a current client, having a session with them on the project and getting some feedback on a specific area. Most evenings during the week are networking, client dinners, or maybe something more informal.
Final Thoughts & Advice
What is the biggest piece of advice that you would like to give someone if they are looking at starting up their own business right now?
Jump. Until you jump, you’ve still got stabilizers on and everything seems fine. All the time I think - what’s the worst that’s going to happen? It is very powerful to keep remembering that. The best that could happen is Cruxy is worth £10 million and then we’ve got an amazing list of clients, we’ve transformed the clients we’ve worked with, inspired people along the way, created an awesome culture and lived the dream. The worst that would happen is that we tried, we did okay but it didn’t gain as much traction as it should have. I will have learned more than I ever have anywhere else and it will be the spring-board for the next thing. Surround yourself with good people and go and do it.
Interviewer - @Carrie_loves_
Interviewee - @HineLC