Erin is the managing director at Eighty-Eight agency.
What is your morning routine?
My morning always starts around 6:30 a.m. with me wanting to cry because my alarm has gone off. I typically run on the treadmill (or outside if the weather is nice) about three mornings a week, then I get ready and fix my trusty smoothie. I’m usually at my desk by 8:30 a.m., unless I have an event or if I’m working from home. I use the first half hour of my day to get caffeinated and clear out my inbox before starting on the day’s to-do list.
On weekends this routine is very different. Saturdays I usually read the paper with a coffee, just like I imagine grandpas everywhere do, and Sundays are my productive days. I’m at spin class every Sunday morning trying to work off the pizza and junk food I eat every Saturday.
Tell us about your career path.
I knew from a young age exactly what I wanted to do when I grew up: I wanted to go to journalism school like both of my parents, and I wanted to go into marketing and communications like my mom. I attended Carleton for journalism, got a job at a mid-sized PR agency in Toronto, and then kind of sat back and said “now what?” Luckily I was connected with a young entrepreneur named Sarah Prevette, and she hired me to work at her new startup, which changed my life. It introduced me to startups and entrepreneurship, to the passion entrepreneurs have, the problems they try to solve every day, and the difference you can make as an early employee at a small company.
I worked for Sarah for about five years, first running social media, PR and events for her entrepreneur social network, which was acquired by Postmedia in 2011. Post-acquisition we launched BetaKit, a news site covering startups and technology, and I ran the site for just over two years. Our entire team was then laid off by Postmedia, and again I found myself wondering what I was going to do next. I knew I never wanted to work for a big company again, and that startups were my passion.
That’s when I connected with Eighty-Eight which at the time was a very small social media agency looking for someone to come in and grow it. The role matched all the things I love doing – managing a team, growing a brand from the ground up, and working in a small company and with entrepreneurs as clients – so I said yes. Almost four years later we’ve grown revenue about 40 per cent every year, we’re 14 people, and we’ve worked with startups like Giftagram, inkbox, and Flixel, all the way up to brands like Yellow Pages, Sony Pictures Television, and Torstar. We have an amazing team that’s like family to me, and I couldn’t be happier to be where I am, despite the bumps along the way.
I also launched a new company. It’s a bike wine tour company in Prince Edward County, where I spent my summers as a kid and where I just bought a house. It’s amazing to say that not only am I a small business owner, I’m also an entrepreneur who saw a gap in the market and decided to do something about it.
What challenges do you or women face in your industry?
There’s a lot of discussion around the challenges women in tech face, but I’ve always been surrounded by powerful women, and I’ve never found my gender to be limiting. My journalism class was almost all female, the first PR agency I worked at had mostly female employees, I worked for a female entrepreneur, and now 11 out of 14 of my own employees are female. My role models and mentors have included strong women like my mom and Sarah, so I always had the mindset that I could achieve anything I wanted.
I really respect what organizations like Future Design School are doing to encourage more women in tech. They’re teaching the next generation of girls about entrepreneurship and design thinking, and I’m sure we’re going to see more women in tech because of their efforts.
What advice would you give to young girls who want to be the NEXT you?
First, consider either becoming an entrepreneur or working for one. Being a part of a small organization provides so many advantages to new grads: you get your hands dirty in every aspect of the business, you see firsthand results, and you work alongside passionate business owners who are trying to solve real problems. It was inspiring for me to work alongside Sarah and see how passionate she was about her idea, and it made me want to be equally as passionate in the future.
Next, focus on your personal brand. A great personal brand can help with so many things, like standing out from other applicants when job hunting, building your company profile when you do find that job, and building your business if you become an entrepreneur. My personal brand has also resulted in opportunities like joining Speakers Spotlight, and having a monthly Financial Post column and a weekly CTV segment. From the day you graduate, try to figure out what your personal brand will be, and focus on building it every day.
My final piece of advice is to take risks. When I called my mom and told her I was leaving my cushy PR agency job at the height of the 2008 recession to join this company with zero certainty, she said something that’s stayed with me to this day: “Do it. Take risks now, you’re young. What’s the worst that could happen?” Others told me I was crazy to leave during a recession – or to leave a bigger company at all – but I’m glad I didn’t listen to them, because taking that risk was the best decision I’ve ever made. While I know entrepreneurship isn’t for everyone, risk-taking should be, especially when you’re young. Whether it’s launching a business, quitting your job to travel the world, or taking on a new job, now is the time to do it.
How do you separate work life from your personal life?
I’ve never had a 9 to 5 job where I leave and don’t think about work until the next day, but I will say I’m a firm believer in downtime and vacations. When I leave the office on Fridays, I don’t touch my work again until Sunday afternoon. Friday nights and Saturdays are my sacred days when I recharge, hang out with friends, and veg.
And I always take vacation. I’ve been lucky enough to travel to places like South Africa, Turkey, Dubai, and Brazil over the past few years, and I firmly believe vacations help you reset and recharge. You’re not creative or productive if you’re exhausted and burned out. There’s this idea of “hustle” in entrepreneurship: if you’re not working 24/7, you’re somehow less of a founder. I call BS on that. You can work your butt off and still relax by a pool for a week each year.
What inspires you?
I’m inspired by entrepreneurs who are passionate about their businesses. I’m not a born entrepreneur, so I really respect people who are idea machines. I also love working with entrepreneurs to grow their businesses. One of my favourite entrepreneur clients is Jessica Watson, the founder of PonyDry. It’s a hair sleeve that lets you wash only your roots instead of your full head of hair, saving you a ton of styling time. It’s a genius product, something that she dreamed up as a busy mom who hated washing her long hair.
She came to us with the dream of being on Marilyn Denis, and I’m happy to say that since we started working together she’s been featured everywhere from Cosmopolitan to The Today Show to Chatelaine, and she was in the Grammy’s gift bag recently. Seeing how passionate she is about growing her business, and feeling like we actually have an impact on how much it’s grown? There’s nothing better.
When you’re off the clock, what are your indulgences?
I have so many indulgences, it’s hard to choose. I have a weakness for bad TV. One of my favourite guilty pleasures is the Fast & Furious franchise. I also love pop music. I love wine, particularly on Friday night while watching said bad TV. And my biggest indulgence is junk food. I was the kid in high school who ate poutine every day for lunch, and people always told me they couldn’t wait until I was 30 and fat. I still absolutely love junk food, but I limit my intake and work out to compensate (and thankfully Abigail from That Clean Life makes sure I eat healthy throughout the week). My dream is basically eating a pizza while drinking wine and watching The Bachelor – don’t judge me.