The world would be a bleak place without entrepreneurs. Everything we take for granted – from cellphones to paper to sliced bread – was invented by innovative men and women who dared to change the world. In honor of this special day, we sat down with our CEO and founder, Susan LaMotte, to learn about her journey as an entrepreneur: what went into building exaqueo, the obstacles she faced, and how she maintains work-life balance.
Why she left her job to start exaqueo:
Susan was always a hard worker. Before she graduated college, she already had 16 different jobs. With a Master’s degree in Human Resource Development from the George Washington University and an MBA from Vanderbilt University, Susan has spent 20 years doing culture, brand, talent, marketing, and communications both in-house, at brands like The Ritz-Carlton and Marriott International.
So, what compelled her to leave her job and start a business?
“Starting your own business is not an exercise for the faint of heart,” she remarks, “you have to be really excited and motivated about what you’re doing.” Susan left Marriott in 2011 because she saw a gap in the market she wanted to fix. As the Senior Director of Global Employer Brand and Marketing, she had been working with multiple partners to help build Marriott’s employer brand. “But I couldn’t find just one partner that could do exactly what I needed them to do. There was a niche in the marketplace to build a full service employer brand experience firm that could do everything. But also one that could operate like a consulting firm and not like an agency.” Susan explains that one of the challenges she faced when working with agencies was that they are very focused on the creative work and on growing your account. They don’t tend to have experience in navigating change management or gaining the support of stakeholders and colleagues.
Beyond her industry insight, she has an entrepreneurial spirit. “I have more of a builder mentality,” she notes. “I thrive most in organizations and settings where I’m creating order from chaos and building something from the ground up.”
Naming the company:
There’s really no word like “exaqueo.” When Susan was thinking of a name for her company, she wanted a name that “really defines the business, the spirit of it, and what it is.” exaqueo (ex-ACK-we-o) comes from the Latin word, ex aequeo, which means “on equal footing.” She wants to help her clients elevate that equal footing. Every organization comes to the market with similar opportunities, but it's how you define yourself that makes all the difference. (<--Click to tweet this!) “I firmly believe that the purpose of an employer brand is to help an organization authentically stand out,” she shares.
In the early days, Susan didn’t realize that the name would cause a hiccup: apparently, any word with the letter “x” in it goes straight to spam. “You learn little lessons like that along the way.”
The most important lesson she’s learned:
“It sounds really cool to be an entrepreneur. But I think if you’re starting your own business from the ground up you’re doing everything in the beginning yourself—you have to care deeply,” Susan contends. “You will encounter roadblocks, like trying to sell to people who don’t understand what it is you do or don’t see the value in it. If you don’t inherently see the value in what you do, you won’t grow. Any entrepreneur needs to be able to grow and scale their business.”
And that’s an important distinction to make. Entrepreneurs and business owners are different. True entrepreneurs have to build everything from scratch themselves, and, take all the risk if the business fails. Susan explains that one quality that defines an entrepreneur is “someone who wants to grow their business,” as opposed to a business owner, who might be content with the size of the business. “Both of those are admirable directions, but being an entrepreneur requires a certain type of personality, focus, and energy.” (<--Click to tweet this!)
What the future holds for exaqueo:
Growth. Susan’s vision for the company is far-reaching. “We want to continue to grow and serve clients. We want to get deeper into delivering different types of activations and creative experiences for our clients. We really want to push the guardrails for what employer brand is.” And on top of continuing to help people understand what employer brand is and why it’s valuable, she has set high growth goals, too from revenues to the client base exaqueo supports.
The culture she’s established:
Values are a big part of company culture. To help people understand exaqueo’s values, Susan has developed work rules. “It’s really easy to build values,” she asserts. “I can say, ‘one of exaqueo’s values is transparency,’ but the challenge is that everyone manifests what transparency is in different ways.” So work rules make it clear what transparency is; they define the value.
For instance, one of exaqueo’s values is “seek to understand.” Susan explains that, “in practice, it means we don’t look to place blame on anyone. When something goes wrong, we fix it right away, but then instead of placing blame we seek to understand.” The team does this by asking questions like “How did it happen? Why did it happen? How do we prevent if from happening in the future? What can we all learn from it?” This spirit drives the team “to work collaboratively together and recognize that we’re all human, and to think about what we can learn from other’s mistakes too.”
Women in the workplace:
As an entrepreneur, CEO, wife, and mother to two kids, Susan definitely knows what it means to navigate the work world as a woman. “I’ve had over 32 or 33 jobs now in my 43 years. I appreciate the value of working. It’s important for me to be a role model for my kids in this way, and I have a very supportive husband,” says Susan, “but I think every woman needs to make the choice that’s right for her. There’s really no one answer.”
But for those who do wish to pursue the balance of work and parenthood, especially as an entrepreneur, Susan hopes to be a role model: “to show that if you want to do it you can, but also to show that it’s not easy. Especially with kids and a full-time working spouse, it’s an arduous journey some days, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
In order to maintain work-life balance, Susan says she sees it not as balance, but integration. One thing she does is protect her calendar. For example, every day from 5 to 8 p.m. is family time. She makes it a point not to take meetings at that time so she can pick her kids up from school, make dinner, and spend time with family. If she still has work to finish, “I get back online later. And that’s my choice to do that. That helps me integrate things.”
Her advice for aspiring entrepreneurs:
“I think the biggest piece of advice I would give is really think through your plan,” she advises. It’s one thing to just start the business and see how it goes, but it’s another to know where you’re headed and what your mission and vision are. (<--Click to tweet this!) “The other piece to that is doing competitive research,” Susan continues, “Who would you compete against? What’s the need your solving for in the market? Unless you can describe that in one sentence, it makes it really difficult to be successful with a new business.”
Read more about Susan LaMotte here or get her full resume over on LinkedIn. Learn more about exaqueo, our mission, and our values by visiting our “about” page. Interested in joining #teamexaqueo? View our current openings here.
Alicia Sun is the Marketing & Communications Associate at exaqueo, an employer brand experience firm building employer brands and the talent strategies that drive them through research, consulting, and creative and digital execution. Contact exaqueo to learn more about our employer brand innovation, workforce research, and recruiting strategy offerings.