V18. The Collective (of Us): BOLD Broads * Jess Peterson of Mighty Oak*

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Bold Broads highlights women founders and creative [read: BADASS] small business owners about how they really deal with the ups and downs of running a BOLD business. These women share honest wisdom and tough lessons to support you in collectively making good shit happen in your own women-led startup or small business. Meet Jess Peterson of Mighty Oak, a creative studio that specializes in hand-made animation and design.

Let's meet her, shall we? 

1. STARTING A BUSINESS IS HARD AND SOMETIMES LONELY. WHAT THE F*CK MOTIVATED YOU TO START YOUR OWN BUSINESS?

To be honest, after leaving a full time job for a new opportunity, I was let go. And like a bad break-up, I decided to have some "me" time. I didn't want to jump right back into a job that wouldn't suit me. I often found myself wanting to improve operational practices and systems for coworkers, and so I was going to take a moment to think about how a better business could be set up. 

I applied for a small entrepreneurial grant through the city, and got it. This allowed me to try starting my own 1-person company. I barely knew what I wanted to do, but my optimistic stubbornness convinced me that I could figure something out. While I hadn't realized it at the time, I always had an entrepreneurial spirit. I sold mixed tapes on the playground in 2nd grade, wrote and produced plays in the 3rd grade, created a curriculum to teach diversity and inclusivity in 10th grade, and led the Events committee at my university. So the idea of starting something from scratch didn't worry me -- I was excited to try it! 

Did I mention I am really stubborn? My first attempt at business wasn't scalable, and I knew it. It was one of the hardest points of starting a business -- being honest with myself. Though I had the support of my husband and family, I felt confused and frustrated about my decision. Why hadn't I figured it out?? But stubbornness and a bit of self-awareness took over. I reflected on what I was naturally good at -- what came easy to me, and what I really enjoyed doing most. And I thought about the kind of team I'd want to be surrounded by -- amazing creatives who could take my ideas and vision and make them better. So my motivation of "I'll show them" very much turned into a "look at them go" moment for me. Now, my motivation is creating opportunities for other creatives to find what they're good at, and feel great about the work they do.

2. HOW DO YOU STAY MOTIVATED TO KEEP THRIVING IN A CREATIVE SPACE WHERE EVERYONE SEEMS TO ONE-UP EACH OTHER?

I haven't experienced this in my industry. It might be because we're so niche already, but I'm actually really excited for our friends when they win a project over us -- at least it went to someone cool! 

While it's necessary to understand your competitive landscape, I don't spend too much time trying to 'one-up' other companies. On the contrary, I want to collaborate with them! Because at the end of the day, I know the work we do is unique and special. I know what a great team we are to work with. We might not be the right fit for everyone, but with an 83% customer return rate, we're clearly doing something right. We stay motivated by the work -- and I find myself feeling grateful that enough companies are willing to pay us good money to make art all day. I mean, how lucky is that?

3. SUCCESSFUL BUSINESSES ARE OFTEN QUIETLY SUPPORTED BY A COLLECTIVE OF WOMEN MENTORS, FRIENDS AND BUSINESS OWNERS. WHAT COMMUNITIES AND RESOURCES HAVE BEEN MOST PIVOTAL TO YOUR OWN BUSINESS SUCCESS?

Absolutely -- couldn't do what we do without an amazing women around us. We go to animation nights for female animators, attend brand and design events for women in the industry, and even host nights of our own. This is how we've grown our team and forged fantastic business partnerships. 

I'm also part of a secret breakfast club for female founders, and it's full of some of the smartest women I know. I'd be lost without them. We talk about hiring processes, investment strategies, and money -- my first meeting was the first time I met women who brought in over a million in revenue. I was blown away because they made it seem so possible. It changed my entire outlook (and pricing sheet) immediately.

4. NO BULLSH*T; WHAT'S THE MOST CHALLENGING PART OF RUNNING YOUR BUSINESS? AND EQUALLY IMPORTANT; HOW ARE YOU WORKING TO OVERCOME THIS?

This answer changes on a weekly basis. But right now, it's about taking the right risks. It's easy to make it up as you go when it's just you, but when you have a team relying on your decisions, things change. You need to be strategically planning for the future, thinking about how this affects those people, and getting buy-in from partners. It's a big responsibility but necessary to grow. So this is (one of) the things that keeps me up at night. 

Thankfully, I have a strong network of female founders around me, and am currently in an MBA program to become better informed about how to make those operational decisions. It's comforting to know that the questions I have are similar to many other founders -- it's like we're all on a journey trying to make sense of a crazy map.

5. SHARE THE MOST HELPFUL PIECE OF ADVICE YOU'VE EVER BEEN GIVEN.

The most helpful advice really came out of words unsaid. I started picking up on compliments that I would receive doing certain things that seemed easy to me. Meanwhile, I wasn't receiving the same accolades for the work that I was trying so hard to do. I started to put the pieces together -- the stuff that seemed so easy to me was only easy because I was naturally GOOD at it. 

Making that realization immediately changed my goals and increased my confidence. I put efforts into collaborating with people who complimented my skillset rather than duplicated it. This was a game changer for me and my business.

BOLD BROAD BONUS***FAVE APP OR WEBSITE?

Instagram has been the most helpful app for my business, hands down. It's where we meet great animators, and how brands and networks find out about us. It's just the best -- don't you agree?


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Jess Peterson is the CEO & Creative Producer of Mighty Oak, a creative studio that specializes in hand-made animation and design. Since launching in May 2015, their series of commercials, gifs, and editorial videos have been viewed over 100 million times, receiving acclaim from the ACLU, Huffington Post, and BBC. Recent clients include Netflix, NBC, Airbnb, GE, Nick Jr, Samsung, Conde Nast, West Elm, and The New York Times. 

A sucker for imagination, Jess’s background in production and communications design have served museums, major musical acts, global brands, and tv networks alike. She's offered workshops and panel discussions on entrepreneurship and branded content at venues such as General Assembly, Etsy's HQ, Brooklyn's Northside Festival, and on Capitol Hill.