The Truth Behind Starting Your Own Business, with Cate Luzio
Episode 152: The Truth Behind Starting Your Own Business, with Cate Luzio
After her 18-year banking career, Cate Luzio, Founder and CEO of Luminary, saw that it was time to pivot and shortly after, started her own collaboration hub for women. On this episode, Cate joins us to share the highs and lows of starting a business, how she came up with the idea for Luminary, and the emotional difficulties and loneliness of starting a business. She also shares some of her tips for entrepreneurs such as the importance of building a great team, rethinking work-life balance, and how her team only has one meeting a week.
00:12 Kristy Wallace: Hello and welcome to the Ellevate Podcast. This is your host, Kristy Wallace, with my co-host, Maricella Herrera.
00:19 Maricella Herrera: Hey, Kristy.
00:20 KW: Hi, welcome back.
00:22 MH: Thank you.
00:23 KW: You have a good trip?
00:23 MH: I did. I did. It's always good to... I saw old friends. I saw some friends from college. It was just good.
00:32 KW: So when you go on trips, do you completely shut off from work, or do you stick with your email and watch things and work?
00:44 MH: I want to say I switch off. I want to say that I'm a good example for people and switch off, but I know I don't. I try to be quiet but I am looking at stuff, which is a really bad habit.
01:00 KW: I don't know if I agree. Maybe I do. So I have to say I'm really proud of the culture we've created here, and you've been a big driver of that at Ellevate, which is being really respectful of people's time when they're out of the office and making sure we're not tying them on Slack or email, which is great. For me personally, I always look at email and whatnot because I don't wanna come back into a hundred different things. But it really depends on your job and the type of work that you do because sometimes that can be stress-inducing as well, and so it just causes more anxiety when you're trying to relax. But if you're able to do it without it having a negative impact, I think it works for me.
01:47 MH: Yeah, I do it too because I don't want... I feel more stressed of coming back to everything. But it is nice. When I can, I do try to disconnect, especially when I'm at the beach because I love it.
01:58 KW: Yay. Well, our guest today is someone we also love, Cate Luzio from Luminary, and Luminary is a new partner of Ellevate. Luminary is a co-working space in New York City for women, and they're doing some great things. Cate's story is inspiring and we're excited to partner with them to bring some of Ellevate's content and programming, some of the thought leaders in our community into the Luminary space to create more community, to create more impact and to really help all women get ahead. So it's exciting to have Cate on the podcast this week and to hear from her.
02:39 MH: Yeah. You all will love her story and what she's doing with Luminary.
02:46 KW: Yeah, that's cool.
02:47 MH: Very cool.
02:47 KW: Excellent, excellent. Well, we'll get right to it. So here is my interview with Cate, and we'll see you back here next week on the Ellevate Podcast.
03:07 KW: I'm really excited today to welcome to the Ellevate Podcast someone whom I greatly respect and admire, and then also just think is a really cool person that I like to hang out with. So Cate Luzio, who is the founder of Luminary, and I am honored to have you here with us today.
03:28 Cate Luzio: I am very excited to be here and I think you're pretty cool as well.
03:31 KW: Yay. [chuckle] Well, it's funny because... So for our listeners, Cate's Luminary is a co-working space for women, right? Is the best way to describe it?
03:42 CL: Yeah, it's a collaboration space for women. Co-working is one of our amenities. We're really focused on the professional woman, their career acceleration and really helping them thrive in a community of like-minded professionals.
03:57 KW: So with that, and to give you some, our listeners, a broader context, Cate and I were connected a while back, and obviously Ellevate is focused on community and networking. Cate's built this amazing company and we've started to see our lives just constantly intersect because the space in New York City is such that it's so many women and founders and business leaders that are all clamoring to support one another and to amplify our messages and to pool resources to do greater good. And so it's great to have Cate on the podcast, but we got to hang out the other night and someone texted me earlier that they had met you, and it's just this intersection of worlds which is exciting to see it's...
04:45 CL: No, it's really unbelievable. As someone who left almost 20 years in finance last year and thinking that was my network to see in a year's time from when I wrote the business plan to now being open, the unbelievable connections that are made amongst women across all industries, if you actually really put your hand out and say, "Let's work together and support one another." So the network of women, whether they're female founders, freelancers, creatives, bankers or those literally sitting just in that 9-5 corporate world, it's just been really eye-opening and so pleasantly surprising to me.
05:30 KW: Yeah. I agree. I mean, there's a lot of rhetoric around how women can be catty or don't support each other, and I worry just every day dismantling that and showing that that's not the case.
05:43 CL: Yeah. I mean when you and I first met, remember we had this conversation as I started socializing about my business, and people would be, particularly men by the way, would say, "Oh, you're competing with Ellevate." And I'm like, "Actually, no." We're a physical space. We do programming. We support women and they're an amazing community of women that do a lot of events and engagement and there's a real opportunity to collaborate. And we have that one conversation. It was like, "Great. Now let's lay out the plan."
06:11 MH: Yeah, let's get this done.
06:12 CL: Exactly.
06:13 KW: So share with our listeners a little bit about how you even got to this point because it's not... I would imagine, a few years ago or five years ago, 10, really a year where you thought you would be.
06:27 CL: You know, I had a really great career in banking. I was in corporate investment banking for many years, but my career didn't start there. I was a Political Science major. I really thought that that was my path, and I ended up graduating from college in the original internet boom. I love saying that to some of the younger kids. Like, there was no Google when I graduated from college. And I ended up going and working at a startup tech company and decided I wanted to go get my masters after spending a lot of time in China, in International Relations. And then when I graduated, I got recruited into banking. It was literally that simple, and I thought, "I'll do this. This sounds pretty cool. I can learn a lot."
07:09 CL: And 18 years later, I was still doing it after three countries and moves and some pretty amazing roles. But in a conversation that I was having with my mentor at the end of 2017, not really about what was next, but just about I wanted to continue to learn and grow. He sort of said, "You're not gonna do it in banking. You've done it, you're great, but why don't you think about what else is out there," and I had never thought about that. Literally, in the 18 years that I had been... Because I was focused on my job and my career. And one of the things he said was, "You're super passionate about people and clients, and of course, selling," because I was a banker, "but on the diversity side, and you do all this great stuff for women, and you are so laser-focused on that. There's gotta be some way for you to marry all of those together." I walked away from that thinking, "Whatever, that was great. I have a career." And three weeks later, I just could not get that out of my head, and I made the decision to pull the plug. That was December of 2000, December, January, so 2018. And then I had that, oh-my-god-what-did-I-do moment, and I've had many of those. I think we talked about that on our first meeting as well.
08:29 CL: And in the process of sort of thinking what is out there, what I recalled from my banking life was there were all these women that were looking for more. I could fill up my entire week when I was in New York or London with coffees, career . How do I get... What do I do next? And then I thought, "Well, there are a lot of panels out there and a lot of the ERGs are doing great things. But women want more. They wanna really invest in themselves," and they need to and they need to take control of their career. And so, in March of last year, all of these ideas came into a business plan. I didn't know that's what it was gonna be, and it ended up being this physical space in New York where I felt like women could come that really wanted to thrive in a community, but across industry, across levels. It doesn't matter what you look like, doesn't matter what you do, if you are focused on yourself. And not only getting inspired, but inspiring others, and working and supporting together, that was really it. And here we are. Literally, we're almost one year later from when I wrote the business plan, and we opened at the end of November.
09:40 KW: And I would love for you to share a little bit about starting a business in a what could be called a crowded landscape. Because there's WeWork and Harehub and Riveter and Coven, and there are a number of spaces geographically dispersed, but it's an important aspect of that entrepreneurialism which is forging your own path and doing things the way that makes sense to you.
10:10 CL: I think the greatest part about this is that it is a crowded landscape, but there's so much room for others. Each of the... Whether it's a co-working space, a social club, they all have a niche and a focus, and we're sort of an amalgamation of all of those. So when I think of what I wanted, as I continued to progress through my career, outside of mentorship and sponsorship, it was having these discussions with women, being able to look at programming and saying, "What do I wanna take? What kind of class? Not what my company is forcing me to do." And so when I started creating the space and what I thought, it was really built around me as a modern professional woman, whether you're a working mother, whether you're re-entering the workspace, whether you're entering the workforce or you're pivoting. And then there's this huge amount of women in the middle, and people go, "What do you mean the middle?" I'm like, "Listen. Everyone's so focused on senior women and the numbers at the top, and then we're focused on the junior women because they're the ones that we need to keep engaged, and millennials and the Gen-Zs." But then there's all of these women that are in the middle, mid-career, some are junior to mid, some are senior that no one's talking to. You pick up a paper and you read about entrepreneurship, female founder, VC, and you're like, "No one's looking after me."
11:36 CL: Now, I think there's a part of that that's up to the individual, and I always say, "Take control of your career. No one cares about it more than you do." So Luminary is part-coworking, part-social, part-classroom because of the amount of programming that we do that's focused on the professional development, part-wellness because we have a fitness studio. We, as women cram as much as we possibly can into a day. So let me create a space where you've got all of that but you've also got this amazing opportunity to connect and continue to build your network with other like-minded women.
12:10 CL: And that's really important because I think women get intimidated when they walk into a room or a space or a conference, our vibe, our whole ethos is about welcoming. It's a reason we don't have an application process. We don't wanna be exclusive, we wanna be inclusive. And so that's the crowded space or the saturated... I think it's... The fact that all of these are popping up means there's a need, and one of the things that we're doing is we're collaborating with some of those spaces. So we've got a reciprocal relationship with The Coven in Minneapolis, The Emery down in South Florida, The Assembly in San Francisco, and we're announcing one in the beginning of March in the DC area. So it's about collaboration over competition. And that's not saying I'll never be in any of those cities. Right now, I'm focused on building my community, our community in New York, and then working with all these other amazing spaces.
13:12 KW: Yeah, absolutely, what has been the biggest lesson you've learned?
13:20 CL: No one really prepares you for the roller coaster, emotionally, of this. And I was trying to explain this the other day. It's hard. If you're in, I call it the side of cocoon of corporate America, and not to say that there aren't risks there, but you do have a safety net, you have a salary, you have benefits, you have all of this kind of stuff built around you and you have an infrastructure. When you kind of rip the band aid off, which is what I did, I didn't really think a lot about it. I mean, I quit, I had two months, I wrote a business plan and I opened up in November. That was super accelerated. The highs are so super high, and it could be the next five minutes later, the low is super low. That's a tough lesson that I've learned. And also I think patience. I am not a patient person. I think part of being a banker is you just go, go, go sell, sell, sell. And for me, when you're building something you really have to let it take time to build. And so, reminding myself of that meaning, for my goals, but then as I now have built this team around me and making sure that I'm reminding myself that I need to be patient with them and certainly for the business growth, 'cause it does take time...
14:43 KW: Something I see a lot, starting businesses is you're spending so much time in the weeds, with the business and growing it. You spend so much time externally with if it's press or partners or potential customers. You're just, I would imagine, I mean, I follow you on social, so I know you're running pretty thin. How do you take time out for yourself?
15:09 CL: So I'm not a big believer in the concept of burnout. I think if you're really passionate about what you're doing, you just get it done. People would say, "Well, you weren't really passionate about banking." And actually I was. I didn't leave the banking industry 'cause I didn't like it. I actually loved what I did, I loved my team, I loved building that business. I think I was just ready to build a business in a different way. I love to travel. Part of the opportunity I had in my career was the travel. I manage 72 countries globally, so there was always this opportunity to go and meet my team and clients. People would say, "Oh, you're traveling again, don't you hate that?" I thrive off of that. And so for me, it's about immersing yourself in a different culture or country. I think the other thing that I really like to do, I try to work out as much as I can; that doesn't always happen. I love to read, and that kinda takes me, and not a bunch of business books, but really read and get into someone's head and that helps me sort of step out of what I'm in. I'm not a big relaxer, so that's kind of hard, but I've never been... I'm not a big sleeper either. Yeah, I know it's bad, but I think it's hereditary. My father was an FBI agent and I never saw him sit down. And I honestly think that and my brothers are the same. We were just not big relaxers. I know that's not great for work-life balance, but I don't think there is such a thing.
16:30 KW: Right it's a personality. I'm the same way, which is when I... So I'll... A random side story, which is that I did dry January and didn't drink during January. And...
16:44 CL: Good for you.
16:44 KW: Yes, my husband kept saying we should do dry something. And I said, "I have had three kids. I've had enough dry time." But I did dry January and what I learned about myself during that time was, I couldn't stop moving. I couldn't relax because the only time I actually was giving myself the time to sit down on the couch or socialize was when I had a glass of wine in my hand. And without that, I just... There was no... I didn't know how to stop. Because I'm the same way, it's if I'm home I'm cleaning something, moving something, organizing something, doing something on my phone. You just don't know how to just sit there and...
17:26 CL: Manage the downtime. You just don't... 'cause you're not used to having it.
17:30 KW: No.
17:30 CL: I think, ironically, I put in... So one of the amenities we have at Luminary is free wine on tap, right? Who doesn't like a glass of wine? I don't drink wine, which is very odd because I put the wine in. I think because so many of... Again, it is so social, but... So what's nice for me is like I'm not drinking there. I mean it's great to have a glass of whatever, but everyone's like, "Oh, have a glass of wine." Im like, "Oh, I don't really drink wine," but I know everyone else does, so that's great. I think also, for me, the idea of downtime is probably spending time with my boyfriend, my partner, and just kind of being present, versus checking email. Its really interesting, as a banker, and I think it's probably everyone, but in that particular field, I was always on my BlackBerry, always. If I wasn't in a client meeting, it was just you're on 24 hours a day.
18:27 CL: And even now as an entrepreneur, you're on, but I realize that most people don't live that life. Like, on the weekends, no one emails me back, which is nice. It's a nice break, and I was not also used to that. It's like, "Wait, they're not responding in less than three minutes," so it's kind of nice to see the other side and how people prioritize. It's all really personal, right? The work-life balance thing, people always ask in that life, in this life. I'm like, "Listen, it's whatever works. Every day is different, right? I don't have kids, but... And you have kids, so you have to manage around that." Everything is personal and it's how you prioritize. I once hear... I might have said this to you, we as women, and I know men too, have a lot of balls in the air. Some are glass and some are rubber. You just don't want the glass ones to fall, so you let the rubber ones fall and that's how you prioritize.
19:22 KW: I agree, I just... All of this, every time I speak in an event or meet someone, the first question is the balance, the integration whatever. And one lesson I personally learned about myself was being willing to let things go. I think that's an important lesson to learn as a manager, as a business leader, but also as just as a human being is we try so hard to do everything and you don't have to do everything. You just need to learn how to, "Okay, I trust someone else to run with it or it's not important." And when you run a business, you can say, "Okay, what are all the things we're doing, what's driving the KPIs, what's really driving the business and what's not and how do we get rid of what's not working?"
20:12 CL: Absolutely.
20:12 KW: And it's the same with your life.
20:14 CL: No, and it's funny, because I, again, going back to that corporate life, I lived my life in meetings, and meetings, to meet to meet to meet, and I always say, "Meetings are there because people don't wanna work." Because the next meeting you have then it's like, "Let's recap." And so one of the things when I decided this was my business and I self-funded, so I have nobody telling me what to do. I said, "We're gonna have one meeting a week. Team meeting, and that is there like a round robin. So we're gonna go around and we're gonna discuss." And of course, there are actions that come of that, but for me it was, "This is the routine I want our team to fit into." Sometimes it's an hour and sometimes it's four hours, but we're gonna have one a week and then everybody sort of individually meets and I have a great team, and it allows people to actually do their job and make progress.
21:12 CL: And so that was really important to me. It's a whole new world. I think I've had to let go a lot more than I would have in my last 20 years, which is very interesting because I had such a huge infrastructure around me. But I think when you're an entrepreneur, there is so much more at risk and so you hold on tightly because you're afraid, if you're not controlling it, "Oh my." But I think that's why, first and foremost, building a great team is so important. That you know that your quarterbacking, but you know what? Tomorrow they might be quarterbacking or they're the running... I'm using a football analogy, but that's really so important for me is having the right team around you.
21:53 KW: Yeah, so you're a woman who is surrounded by people all the time. You talked about your great team and the community and partners. Do you find yourself lonely?
22:05 CL: Very lonely. [chuckle]
22:06 KW: Yeah.
22:07 CL: It's really hard. I mean, listen, I think you and I, again, talked about this. I think there needs to be a support group for female founders. Like a real legitimate support group where we actually come together, and there probably are, and I think we create our own when we meet one-on-one, but it's really, you take a lot on your own shoulders whether you have investors or not because it's your company, and it's really hard to explain to your friends or your peers that aren't in that with you, even your family, they don't get it. They're like, "Oh don't worry, it's all gonna work." or "Oh, this is fine. It's all gonna work out." And I think it's really, it does get super isolating. You're in your own thoughts all the time. And whether it's, "I have an expense. I have... My heating doesn't work," whatever that is, it's constantly in the back of your brain, and people don't talk about it enough, they just don't. And we're on Instagram, and it looks great, but by the way, I'm smiling and then I'm thinking, "Oh my god, I have a thousand more things to do before the end of this day."
23:13 CL: I think part of that is we need to start talking about that more. And that's why I say the roller coaster, the highs are super high and the lows are super low, but it's... We have to start communicating that more so people see that. I do it with my team. I'm very open with my team. If I'm having one of those, I'm like "It is not a great day for this reason." And that I think has helped them learn to understand how I work. Remember, I could have hired a bunch of bankers, but that's not what I needed. I had to go out and hire a marketer, I had to hire a community, I had to hire a COO and programming. Those were not people, those were not roles that I was used to hiring for. So this was a whole new world for me. So obviously, there's growing pains and there's all of that, but it's like learning... They need to learn my personality, I need to learn theirs, and so sometimes I'm maybe sometimes too open, but I feel like that's better because they know then what's in my head.
24:11 KW: Yeah. I always say I like to over-share.
24:14 CL: Me, too.
24:15 KW: And sometimes I'll over-share, and then afterwards I'm like, "I cannot believe I just did that."
24:21 KW: But that's, I mean, it's just being...
24:23 CL: Authentic.
24:23 KW: Yeah. And vulnerable, and saying, "Yeah, I'm leading this business, but I don't have all the answers," or I don't always know the next step or the next direction. And that's why you surround yourself with great people.
24:36 CL: Absolutely.
24:37 KW: And good peers and advisors and just people that you can talk to.
24:45 CL: And confide in and...
24:46 KW: Yeah.
24:46 CL: Commiserate with every once in a while. [chuckle]
24:49 KW: Yes. Alright. Thanks, Cate, for being on the Ellevate podcast.
24:53 CL: Thank you for having me.
25:00 KW: Thanks so much for listening to Ellevate. If you like what you hear, help a girl out. Subscribe to the Ellevate Podcast on iTunes, give us five stars, and share your review. Also, don't forget to follow us on Twitter @EllevateNTWK, that's Ellevate Network, and become a member. You can learn all about membership and all the great things that Ellevate Network is doing at our website, www.ellevatenetwork.com. That's E-L-L-E-V-A-T-E Network dot com. And special thanks to our producer, Katherine Heller, she rocks, and to our voiceover artist, Rachel Griesinger. Thanks so much and join us next week.
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