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Successfully Pursuing the Side Hustle, with Mara Lecocq

Successfully Pursuing the Side Hustle, with Mara Lecocq

Episode 81: Successfully Pursuing the Side Hustle, with Mara Lecocq

Have you heard of the story where your daughter or young girl in your life is a “badass robot engineer?” Well look no further because Mara Lecocq, Founder and Co-Creator of Secret Code, has the solution. After years of working in tech and noticing the lack of representation for young girls in the industry, she decided to take action and create the customizable story that puts all girls at the forefront. In this episode, Mara discusses her tech journey, the importance of equal representations for girls of all races and how she started her successful side hustle. Her journey has led her all over the world inspiring her work and mission to bring tech to girls everywhere.

Episode Transcript

00:00 Speaker 1: Welcome to the Ellevate Podcast: Conversations with Women Changing the Face of Business. And now your hosts, Kristy Wallace and Maricella Herrera.


00:12 Kristy Wallace: Hello and welcome to the Ellevate podcast. This is your host, Kristy Wallace, joined today by Maricella Herrera, and we are really excited for today's guest, Mara Lecocq, who is sharing her stories about creating a side hustle that's not only propelling her career forward but having an impact and helping to inspire future generations of young girls. So we'll get to that in a minute but, Maricella, how are you doing today?

00:44 Maricella Herrera: I am doing great. I'm a little bit exhausted, but I'm doing great.

00:51 KW: We have had a very busy, busy few weeks, but that's great, actually. I love being busy, sometimes, to a fault because then you eventually... Your body's like, "Stop being so busy," and you end up in bed for a few days with a cold. But you know...

01:07 MH: Yeah, speaking of cold, I'm kind of worried about sitting next to you right now. [laughter] I know all your kids are sick.

01:13 KW: Yes, everybody is sick. I've tons of energy right now 'cause I think I had like 14 packets of Theraflu in the past 20 minutes. But we're gonna be...

01:20 MH: I would be passed out...

01:21 KW: And coffee. And coffee, way too much coffee. But it's cool, we're all good. Yeah, so, I'd love to hear about Mara's story of side hustle. It's something... I was recently on a panel with some other panels, obviously, who were talking about this whole notion of side hustle and how you can make extra money, find meaning and purpose, test out some ideas you have on the side while doing another job. And it's something we've been hearing more and more about. And interestingly enough, not just from a younger demographic, but many of our members who have been working for 30, 40, 50 years, and they're trying to think, "Okay, what's next? What's next in my career? What's the next thing I'm gonna do?" And they're creating a side hustle. It's a great way for them to test out some different ideas, to get their feet wet before they really fully embark on a new adventure.

02:22 MH: There's some research that came out, and also research we've done, that shows that women who are starting companies are actually older, on the older side of the spectrum, that are the people who are starting companies faster and at faster rates. And that stems from a side hustle many times, when you're testing out ideas, as you said. I was actually thinking right now, I've never had a side hustle.

02:47 KW: Oh yeah?

02:48 MH: Yeah.

02:48 KW: On the panel I was on, one of the panelists said she's allotting time every month for her employees to pursue a side hustle.

02:55 MH: We're doing that now?

02:56 KW: Are we doing that now? I don't... We totally came up at our retreat, it was an idea not, I think, necessarily tied to a side hustle, but setting aside time for emotional, and physical, and mental well-being. So definitely something we're going to explore as we continue as a company to really value our employees and their contributions and try to create a culture and a workplace that supports the whole human.

03:23 MH: The whole human.

03:25 KW: And something that we think is very important.

03:27 MH: I do try to set time aside, and especially in the last few months, I've tried to commit more to taking some time to... Honestly, just for my mental health, to do something that is either running or exercising or just sitting and being, without trying to do stuff, and that's important. The side hustle, I haven't done, which is interesting, but I guess it's because usually when you do a side hustle, it's something you're passionate about. And I'm really passionate about what I do. So it just kind of all gets mixed in. I'd say, maybe writing would be sort of my side hustle.

04:08 KW: That would be a great side hustle. Also something to continue to have an impact in the things you're passionate about. You also are underselling your jewelry-making skills.

04:20 MH: That's true. I haven't done that in ages.

04:20 KW: And you could make us some Ellevate Elle-Birdy...

04:26 MH: Birdy? Some birdy stuff?

04:28 KW: Yeah. [chuckle] I don't know. I'm just throwing out some ideas. I think there's lots of potential.

04:32 MH: You said something to me yesterday that... I think it was yesterday, yesterday or Friday, that I wanted to bring up because...

04:44 KW: Oh. [laughter] I'm thinking, "Oh, God, what did I say?"

04:45 MH: It was a good thing. You said you were trying to be a better person.

04:50 KW: Yes.

04:51 MH: And it kinda clicked with me because I have been saying I'm trying to be better, just period, better. I'm trying to take better care of myself, etcetera. And it's funny how this notion of just trying to be a better person or being better doesn't get talked as much in terms of your goals as, like, trying to make more money or trying to get a promotion or trying to do all those tangible things. But can you imagine how much more powerful that would be if people were just really trying to be better?

05:23 KW: Yeah. I mean, I think part of it for me was the... Not just the time, but the emotional exhaustion that goes into drama. And also thinking about my role in drama. And not that I'm a big drama person.

05:40 MH: No, you're not.

05:41 KW: But I'm very aware of "people in glass houses shouldn't throw stones" and just respect and love yourself. And support others as they need it, but respect and love others for who they are. And it's sometimes hard, particularly, with families and business, and it's easy to want everybody to think about things the way you think about it, or to do things the way you think that they should be done, and then just imagine what type of world that would be if everyone was the same. So just trying more to appreciate and respect others and to appreciate and respect myself.

06:22 MH: That is awesome. And I just wanted to say it because I thought that was great, Kristy.

06:26 KW: Well, thank you. Oh, I love our little chats on the podcast. [chuckle]

06:30 MH: It feels like that's when we get time to chat.

06:32 KW: I know, right? It is. All right, well, so we are going to get to my interview with Mara. And before we do, I know we did ask our community if they had a side hustle.

06:44 MH: We did.

06:45 KW: And what was the response?

06:46 MH: Sixty three percent of them said they do. And this is an old poll. I'm pretty sure if we asked again that number would be higher.

06:54 KW: I bet it would. We should ask again.

06:55 MH: Yeah.

06:56 KW: We'll share the results. So 63% percent have a side hustle. If you are thinking about having a side hustle, let us know. We want to hear from you. Email us at Also, if you have any questions about starting a side hustle, we'd be happy to answer them. Or share your side hustle online on Twitter, we are @EllevateNtwk, and we'd love to hear from you. So now, it's onto my interview with Mara. And a little teaser for next week's episode, we have a special, special, special two guests that are going to have a lot of fun with us on the podcast and share some great insights and advice. So make sure you tune in next week when we have the hosts of the Two Old Bitches Podcast on The Ellevate Podcast.


07:57 KW: Mara, thanks for joining us here today on the Ellevate Podcast. You and I met at an Adweek Panel, and I was so excited to meet you because your story is amazing, and everyone in the audience was blown away by what you were doing. And so now, I get to share that story with the Ellevate Community which is great. So we always start off, just tell us a little bit about how you got to where you are today.

08:24 Mara Lecocq: Sure. Well, first of all, thanks for having me. It's interesting to see that the reaction of the public was pretty positive because when you're speaking about stuff, you're just in your own world. So it's nice to get that feedback.

08:36 KW: After we paneled in, you were like, "What did I say? I don't remember." But, apparently, it worked. All right, here we go.

08:44 ML: Yeah, so I was born in the Philippines. I left when I was 14, and then I spent the next 14 years in Paris, and the next two years in Toronto, and the past four years in New York. In my career, I've been in advertising for 12, 13 years now. I started at an art school, a few art schools in Paris, and then moved to traditional advertising. I've always been very fond of digital and technology, as I was pushed into technology when I was a baby in the '80s. But I was also pushed into oil painting, so I had double profiles.

09:20 KW: Technology and oil painting. You're gonna straddle centuries and just stay right there.

09:27 ML: And I think, it's no mystery today that I'm a digital creative director, and you can just trace it back to when I was five years old.

09:35 KW: And what is a digital creative director, for those who don't know?

09:37 ML: Oh, yeah. So in advertising, there are creative directors, and they come up with or manage creative teams to come up with ideas for clients who have business problems that can be solved with campaigns, and digital creative directors are the ones who specialize in digital campaigns. So traditional creative directors would do TV spots and print ads; and digital would do websites, digital products, interactive installations and things like that.

10:09 KW: So going from the Philippines to France to Canada to the US, those are four areas that, in the past year alone, have really undergone quite a bit of social and political turmoil change. How has that helped to define and to create who you are today?

10:35 ML: I think it's helped me be really open about everything and to never have preconceptions about anything because I'm half-French half-Filipino, and I understand what drives the Filipino culture, what drives a French culture, and you don't speak to these cultures the same way if you wanna get something out of people. And that sounds very manipulative, but if you just...

11:00 KW: It's about communication.

11:01 ML: Yeah, yeah. It's like, in the Philippines... Also my personality kind of switches depending on who I'm talking to. And thanks to that... In the Philippines, you don't talk to people on the street the same way you talk to a rude Parisian in a bakery. So it's kind of helped me adapt to all sorts of situations, and I would say also adapt with different genders and ages and just be really accepting of where people come from.

11:35 KW: So the panel we were on was focused on side hustle. And there is this whole emerging market and dialogue around women, particularly, who are creating side hustles. So secondary or tertiary opportunities to make money is a big driver of that, but then also to really, I think, realize your passions, to take advantage of your skills, to really find that meaning and purpose within your career. And you have a side hustle, and I am so excited about this. And can you share a little bit about The Secret Code?

12:17 ML: Yeah. I created Secret Code with a team of four people. It's a personalized children's book that stars your girl as a tech hero. And the way it works is that you personalize the name, the skin color, the hair style online, so it looks like the girl you wanna inspire. And two weeks later, she receives a book in the mail about her story as a badass robot engineer. And the goal is to make a male dominated fields like technology fun and aspirational for girls at an early age in their formative years.

13:01 KW: Something that I loved is there's parents who are in the book, and you can customize them as well. So you can have two moms or two dads, mom and a dad, and how they look. And so it really is about creating that world, that relatable world for your daughter.

13:08 ML: Yeah, yeah. I've always been passionate about underdogs. And coming from a mixed-race family, I've never seen myself in children's books. I remember admiring a lot of children's books where there was a cool blonde or redhead princess, and it always made me feel like I wasn't represented, and I was a second-class citizen. And. Consciously, since I remember, of all my Barbies, my favorite Barbies were my blonde Barbies, and my mean Barbies were my brunette Barbies. I can't even explain why, but just seeing that a lot of the amazing heroes on TV or in children's books were a certain type, unconsciously, it impacts your perception of what a hero looks like. And so, same goes for families, and it's a reality that, in publishing, they do wanna make money, and it's a risk for them to create a story about a mixed-race family or a same-sex family because it's gonna probably alienate other types of parents. So I'm sure, in publishing, they do wanna do that, but they're like, "Well, this won't sell as much as the standard family", so.

14:23 KW: Well, that was... It was Cheerios? That came out with one of the first advertisements where the parents were mixed-race.

14:31 ML: Yeah.

14:31 KW: And they got a lot of praise for it and a lot of backlash which is interesting 'cause when you think about the world around us today and the composition of families and just the demographic shift of it's just not all white people, right?

14:51 ML: Totally.

14:52 KW: And why is our media not reflective of the reality of the world in which we live? What are we trying to hide from? Or what are we trying to... Why are we trying so hard to control a narrative in one direction?

15:05 ML: Yeah, and it's definitely a risk they took. And I think it did amazing publicity for them 'cause, as we all know unfortunately, bad publicity is also good. And in advertising, the reason why you see all these standard looking ideals is because they don't wanna distract people from the message. So if there's something slightly distracting from the product they're trying to sell, it's bad for them. That's their thinking. So it's amazing that Cheerios did that because it's gonna set a standard, a new standard, where it's gonna be normal. So I can't wait for that.

15:43 KW: Getting back to The Secret Code, I see that even with my kids, my girls look pretty average, I think, you know little blonde-haired blue-eyed. But many of our friends don't have that same experience. And so we've been really fortunate in the sense that when we go to see our friends and all of their books, they really try to have books and stories that are reflective of what their children look like, and I love it. I want my kids to read that. And I'm buying them books that are showing different versions of kids because it's not everyone just looks like they do, right? And we have to be more explicit about what are the images we're showing kids, what are the stories we're telling them, and it shouldn't always be boys that are the hero, and it shouldn't be girls that are the princesses, and it shouldn't be everyone is blonde-haired and blue-eyed. And you want to to be able show kids a world that is real. And back to I'm fortunate because many of the stories my kids can see themselves in it, but there's... The vast majority of population can't. So you're really creating such change and such positive impact by helping parents and helping kids to create a story that reflects who they are.

17:10 ML: Yeah, thanks. Well, yeah, it's very fulfilling for sure. On that, I just remembered lesbian moms who told... Gave me feedback about the book. They were so happy to see a book about two... About a girl's cool adventure story with two moms without "a weird sperm donor backstory baked into the story."

17:32 KW: Yeah.

17:33 ML: Yeah, just normalizing it, is my goal.

17:36 KW: So what was the catalyst for getting started with this project? Am I demeaning it by even calling it a project, I mean, by this amazing work?

17:50 ML: Yeah. I was one of the rare female creative directors in advertising. There's 11% of creative directors who are female. And I was tired of being that, and I was also tired about how people struggle to find people like me to get into these roles. And I also realized that, of course, it's hard to find women in these roles because they're not socialized to want to aspire to these roles. And I sort of looked back on what made me wanna get into technology and creative, and it's my dad who pushed me in technology when I was a kid. So at age 6, my dad taught me how to dismantle a CPU, at age 12 he bought me a book on how to code, in 1995, when people barely had internet, I was the first kid in school to create a website from scratch and code. And so, by the age of 18, I already had six years of website experience. So I was able to get into the best schools and get into the best workplaces, etcetera. And fast forward, okay, I'm a technology and creative leader.

18:58 ML: So I wanted to offer that to kids, too, and sort of democratize access to inspiration that way, with access to role models that they look... That look like them and making it easy for them to get excited about technology. And the second trigger was I was looking for a present for a little girl, I went to a bookstore, and I thought, "Okay, no-brainer, it's gonna be easy." And I was really appalled by the variety of princess and fairy stories in 2015. It's come a long way since. But back then, I asked the lady, "Do you have girl power-y books?" And then she gave me two awesome books about an engineer and another one about a princess who's also a knight, and both of them were blonde girls. And I was like, "Cool. So what do you have for little Asian and black girls?" And back then, there were a lot of stories that focused on cultural differences versus potential, and I was like, "Why don't they have the awesome blockbuster adventure stories that the others have?" And I didn't also wanna hate on authors 'cause I also get it, like, "You want to create a story that looks like you, too." So I was like, "Okay, why don't I just make something personalized to make everyone happy?"

20:16 KW: So can you tell us a little bit about what your typical day is like? 'Cause I'm always interested how you manage a side hustle and life and work and everything else that's going on.

20:28 ML: So I'm lucky to freelance two days a week at an ad agency. Initially, I was interviewing at this agency which I really loved, and they loved me back, and I told them, "I'm so sorry. I can't do this. I have a side hustle. I can only give you two days a week." And I thought that they would say, "No," but they said, "Yes," So thankful for that 'cause I know it's not easy. But I think there's something to say about... Kind of, if you have nothing to lose, people find that attractive. [chuckle] I don't know. And so three days a week, I work on Secret Code, and I just do everything like anybody who's starting a company. Just from emails, PR, customer service, site updates, UX design, everything. Accounting, law.

21:23 ML: And yeah, so a typical day... Well, a typical day on my side hustle days? Yeah, it's... There's nothing typical. Sometimes, I get really motivated, I'm like, "I'm gonna work out at 7:00 in the morning." And sometimes, I'm in PJs 'till 4:00. But I'm still working, but, you know. And then I have like... I'm in my... Slouched in my couch, working six hours and I have a backache and then I'm like, "Oh, I need to work out again." So it's like a cycle. But yeah, I just love this lifestyle of variety. I think the world today is going towards that. Like, when you see the success of ClassPass, a lot of people don't wanna do the same thing, like go to the same gym all the time, and I really enjoy switching gears from corporate life to side hustle life. But that will also change, and I'm looking forward to that.

22:13 KW: Well, it's also the evolution of the employer as well because you're very fortunate that you went to an agency and said, "Hey, listen, I have other passions, and I can give you two days but not five," and that they said, "Okay." And clearly, they value you and your work, and there's that mutual respect. But being able to create that type of opportunity for yourself is not something that all professionals have the opportunity to do.

22:42 ML: Yeah. I think what's important is to still have that experience. I hear a lot of young girls who are like, "Oh, your story's so inspiring. I wanna do the same thing." It's like, "Oh, how long have you been working for?" Like, "Eight months." It's like, "Okay, I've worked for 12 years to get to this." So, I can't predict the future, but I do encourage anybody early in their career to just suck it up for 5 years, 10 years. I mean, 10 years sounds like crazy today, maybe, but at least 5 years. And then meet the right people, make the right connections, and also really learn from others and from old-school brands 'cause by learning that, you'll to be able apply what works and what doesn't to your own business.

23:25 KW: Well, and I think another part of working for a bit is the financial security.

23:31 ML: Yes, true.

23:33 KW: Being able to... You know, money is opportunity. So, if you have the money to support you while you go out and start your own business and try new things, even being able to have money enabled you to... Gave you the opportunity to go say to your employer, "I only wanna do two days." And if they said, "No," it's not like, "Okay, Well, I'm on the street. I have nothing." You're able to give yourself the opportunity to fail, and give yourself the opportunity to succeed.

24:04 ML: No, absolutely. Yeah, it definitely helped. I think a lot of people will save towards buying a house or an apartment, and I decided to, of course, correct that initial plan and just do this instead. And I know, probably, my dad would be worried. But I believe that something's gonna happen out of it, and it's just a different way of envisioning your life.

24:29 KW: So what advice do you have for our listeners that are thinking about a side hustle?

24:34 ML: I feel like a lot of people over think the end result without just jumping into the journey. And for me, I've always been doing stuff on the side, like I've done 15 different blogs. And I think that these are good muscles to flex before doing something that you feel really serious about. And I'd recommend just doing something in your own space 'cause you're the first one to be aware of a problem you're facing, and you're the best person to solve that problem. So even start around you, I think, is the most effective way to be successful at your side hustle. And if not, at least, it will lead you to meeting new people who will lead you to your next adventure. So just, basically, just go for it and don't over think it.

25:27 KW: I love that advice. We hear from our community, our podcast listeners, all the time. And one thing that we always hear is, "Well, everyone on the podcast seems like they just have it together, and they had the confidence and they did it. But I," podcast listener, "I'm scared." And so, I wanna know what's the last thing that really has scared you because I think it's important that we all recognize that none of this is easy, and we all have equal opportunity to pursue our passions and our dreams. We all get scared sometimes.

26:05 ML: So there's two things. There's things that scare me. Actually, it's gonna sound really stereotypical, but public speaking. [chuckle] I have been public speaking for so long, and it's still the same thing. I still feel like my heart is in my throat, and I can't talk. But every time, I just go for it, and it's thrilling. But I wish there was a solution to that. But what I love is also hearing about really powerful people, like I'm friends with the wife of somebody powerful, and she told me, "Oh, my God, he's so nervous with public speaking." So I love that. Oh, this... Seeing this powerful white dude being scared, I'm like, "Yes. I'm scared, too."

26:51 ML: And then there's other things that just... The regular disappointments like things that make my heart sink every so often, and it's meeting people who don't get back to you for things or failing at accelerator applications or not getting the attention that you think you might deserve and feeling ignored. That really is a tough part of the job 'cause I think having a side hustle and coming up with idea and just putting it out in the world is almost the easy part. And then after, just sustaining it and keeping your head high and not going into this roller coaster of emotions of feeling really high and being depressed, and going high again and being depressed again, and annoying your friends 'cause you're talking about the negative things that are going on. And yeah, it's tough. [chuckle]

27:46 KW: I think hearing you categorize that a lot of the things that make your heart sink are the things that you don't have control over.

27:56 ML: Yeah.

27:56 KW: Right? And so you can create your project, and you can put it out there, and you have control over that. And public speaking makes us all very nervous. But it's still something you're in control of, accepting those opportunities or not, but people not getting back to you and people saying no, and a lot of these moments that are so important to your business, but that no matter how much work you put into it, someone may not get back to you, and someone may say no. And it's kind of being able to roll with the life that you can't control and doing more to control the things that you can.

28:35 ML: Yeah. Yeah, I love that observation. This weekend, I actually... I saw Norma Kamali on a panel, and she said something so awesome that really helps me see it from a different perspective. She said, "I've had so many no's in my life that no's don't feel like anything anymore to me." I was like, "Oh, that's cool." Like, it makes me wanna get more no's. [chuckle]

28:58 KW: Yeah. It's like, "Okay, I'm gonna get to that point some day." Yes, just keep saying no. Let's practice, let's practice.

29:03 ML: Yeah. [chuckle]

29:05 KW: But no's can turn into a yes in the sense that, maybe, it helps you change your pitch or redefine something or go in a different direction that opens up a whole world of yeses.

29:23 ML: Totally. I certainly agree.

29:25 KW: Yeah. All right. Well, thank you for joining us today. This was so great.

29:28 ML: Yeah. Awesome. Thank you so much.


29:31 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, That's ELLEVATE And special thanks to our producer, Katharine Heller, she rocks. And to our voice-over artist, Rachel Griesinger. Thanks so much and join us next week.


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