We're walking tall today for today's edition of Walk a Mile in Her Shoes with Heather Meeker, the founder of MeekerQuinn, a communications, marketing and branding consultancy supporting growth and innovation for both established and emerging companies. With over 15 years of experience in the startup industry, Heather's got an insider's scoop on what it's like to work with PR agencies while working at a startup, why proving your own business model is an ongoing challenge for business, and why it's time women in tech stood up for their stilettos.
Hillary Gadsby: What motivated you to become the founder of your own company?
Heather Meeker: I had a 15 year career working with both startups, as well as established technology companies. I definitely preferred startup life, and was working with a company called Whrrl as their Director of Marketing and Communications. When Whrrl was acquired by Groupon in early 2011, I decided it would be the right time to try consulting on my own. I started working with companies both in San Francisco and Los Angeles. After a few months, one of those companies - textPlus - offered me a full time position as their VP of Communications and I took it.
While I was grateful for the full time job, I kept traveling from my old home base of Los Angeles to San Francisco to meet with startup founders and attend tech-related events. What intrigued me the most is that these founders had great products - but very little knowledge about how to market and promote them. I realized there was a huge opening in the market to bridge the gap of providing startups with integrated communications, branding, marketing, digital and growth initiatives - and do so in a way that would best accommodate startup founders through becoming a part of their team and an extension of their company.
Additionally, my experiences working with PR agencies while at startups sucked. You have a meeting with a senior VP to sell you on their agency and close the business, and then a 22 year old recent college graduate handles your day to day business - unreal. And hours? Once you pass their threshold, you are cut off. Speaking to agency folks after 6 PM or on weekends? Forget it. The whole structure is completely counter-intuitive to startup life. My business partner (Carol Quinn) and I wanted to structure a consultancy that matched the needs of startups by living their life and working their hours.
HG: How does MeekerQuinn stand out from the crowd in generating lasting buzz about their clients?
HM: We believe the product speaks for itself. People won't use a product they don't like. And the press won't write about companies and products they don't like either. So, we always start by evaluating the product/service and ensure it's something we would personally use. We don't represent clients that don't fit into this scenario.
From there, we evaluate the company as a whole - whether they are looking to launch for the first time or are already in the market. How is their brand image? Messaging? Social media presence? Marketing communications? What updates are coming to the product to make sure it's a Minimum Delightful Product vs. Minimum Viable Product? It is only after aligning all of these initiatives and making sure the product is ready for prime time that we begin media and influencer outreach.
That means media relations and PR is not our sole focus - it's the result of being as prepared as possible to come into the market and announce who you are to the world in a way that will capture people's attention. We strive for media and digital awareness that positions our clients uniquely in the market as a differentiated leader. That awareness then leads to customers/user acquisition, which is the primary goal for our clients.
HG: What has been your biggest challenge in business to date and how did you solve it?
HM: I believe our biggest challenge has been proving our own business model. We are a startup, just like our clients. MeekerQuinn is taking a distinct approach in the market -- much different than anyone we know -- so we had to make sure this model worked for the companies we represent. The good news is that we just launched in March of this year and have an awesome group of clients -- business is fantastic.
HG: What kind of shoe are you most like and why?
HM: Well, the old LA Heather would have said a stiletto for obvious reasons, but since I moved to SF, I would say a high heeled, tall leather boot. Why? I cover a lot of ground. I'm comfortable, but still stylish. And I'm warm. 🙂
HG: What advice would you have for aspiring entrepreneurs looking to start up their own communications firm?
HM: I would say go for it! Just make sure that you evaluate the market like you evaluate your clients and come to market with a unique angle or service that you provide. Let clients pitch you as much as you pitch them. Only work with products you personally would use or benefit from. And find a great business partner if you can -- I sure did and it has made all the difference.
HG: As one Stilettogal to another, Jorge Cortell has been making the rounds on Twitter stating that women who wear stilettos are stupid. Your take on the situation?
HM: It seems like every month there's a sexist male in tech coming out with some stupid commentary about women. This time, women who wear high heels aren't smart. I am so sick and tired of this mentality, which I have experienced personally. Just because a woman in a male-dominated field (of many poor dressers and groomers, I might add) looks nice, doesn't mean she's an idiot. Quite the opposite. Most of the successful women I know take great pride in their appearance, high heels or not. There's a point where we have to say "this MUST stop" and that time is now. Ben Parr wrote a great piece about the fact there are men in tech who genuinely believe women just aren't as smart or don't have as much to contribute as men. That's just sad. It's time that us smart, successful women in this male dominated field stood up for ourselves. And in the meantime, keep working hard to prove our worth - not for them - but for us.