Amanda Slavin – Founder & CEO of CatalystCreativ

I love to work so much that it has gotten in the way of my relationships and my health. When I find myself throwing myself too fervently into my business, I take a step back and do something for myself.

Amanda Slavin is a Millennial and Generation Z expert and the CEO/Founder of CatalystCreativ, an experience studio focused on helping cities, brands and institutions flourish by developing educational and inspirational strategy, along with on and offline campaigns to engage Millennials. CatalystCreativ is backed by Zappos CEO and venture capitalist Tony Hsieh as part of the Downtown Project. Slavin and CatalystCreativ have worked with brands spanning from NPR, Dell, Ekocycle and Starwood Hotels.

Slavin earned her Masters in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Connecticut’s Neag School of Education and wrote her thesis on the impact outdoor community has on engagement, creating a metrics of engagement. She has used this foundation of understanding engagement in her approach to grassroots marketing and business development. Past experience includes overseeing partnerships with Axe/Unilever and Madison Square Garden, as well as creating and spearheading a 16 week activation for LVMH’s launch of Moet Ice in 2010, overseeing and activating a 16 week launch of events, tastemaker dinners and experiential marketing.

Where did the idea for CatalystCreativ come from?

My idea for CatalystCreativ actually formed over time in different pieces and started as a side project. After receiving a masters in education, I ended up in marketing and events in the hospitality industry. As I rose through the corporate ranks through the years, I felt disconnected from a part of myself and wanted to pursue avenues that I was truly connected to.

Initially, I decided to bridge my expertise with events with my passion for philanthropy. I started a nonprofit event series through the restaurant group I was working at, where we would donate a different restaurant’s services to a different charity every week to help with their fundraising goals. This eventually led me to other experiences that were side projects – working at an event called Summit Series as a contract producer, helping to produce a nonprofit music festival called Global Citizen, and producing TEDx Big Apple.

I then realized that there was a common thread to all these experiences. I was combining what I learned as an educator (i.e my masters thesis on engagement, my understanding of inspiring and educating) and integrating that into experiences. Through Summit Series, I met my business partner, Zappos’ Tony Hsieh, and CatalystCreativ became this amalgamation of creating experiences that matter, that inspire and transform individuals.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

I spend my time mainly in Vegas, but also frequently travel to LA and NYC every month, so I try to stick to a basic schedule regardless of time zone. I usually wake up at 9AM wherever I am. A typical day in each city varies, but for the most part, I take phone calls or in person meetings for new business/partnership development.

Since the entire CatalystCreativ team works remotely (and in various cities across the country), communication is very important to the way we operate. The CatalystCreativ workplace is built on holocracy, which has proven to help us make the most of our days!

In between, I play with my dog Chaz, go out to dinner with my boyfriend and best friends (I LOVE TO EAT), and research a TON; I am usually reading 5-10 articles a day from numerous content platforms to educate myself on what is happening in the world.

How do you bring ideas to life?

This is usually a process! As I mentioned above, I am researching all day, every day, so this helps me come up with ideas. I usually draw them out on a whiteboard or notebook (‘A Beautiful Mind’ style) and translate all of this into a Google Document. Then, the team gets on a call and adds more ideas. Afterwards, Lindsay and Evelyn, our copywriting and communications staff, works on turning the copy intro client friendly copy. Robert, (CatalystCreativ SVP), and I then will work on a budget and determine what actual activations we will implementing. Mike, (Creative/Graphic Design), will afterwards turn it into a deck for the client. Once the client approves, then it is a whole other process of sourcing vendors, creating more meticulous budgets, and coming up with production schedules.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

A big trend I’ve spotted as a Millennial expert is that this generation in particular is focused on spending our money on experiences over ‘things.’ (Personally, I love to eat and travel – and usually travel so I can eat!). This has transferred over into the workplace, and I’m excited to see that the new Millennial-oriented work environment is transforming to include the freedom and flexibility to work where you want. As I mentioned above, all of our employees work in different cities, from NYC to Atlanta to Vegas and LA. It keeps our employees happy!

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I meditate every day, usually as a break in the middle of the day. Sometimes I am exhausted and forget, and have to do it before I go to sleep, but I still do it. I have found that this habit centers me and anchors me to myself wherever I am in the world.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

I feel that every job has taught me something invaluable and has allowed for me to make an income, so I don’t think of any job has being awful. I do remember one experience when I was waitressing. It was my first week, and it was supposed to be a “dead” shift. It was me and only one other person for a huge two story restaurant. Out of nowhere, it got completely packed and I panicked. I couldn’t keep up with the orders, and I actually spilled drinks everywhere. I received the best advice that day. One of my customers said, “If you act like nothing is wrong, we won’t know anything is wrong.” I would have to learn that lesson again and again, but I now know that being calm, cool and collected no matter what happens is crucial in the service industry.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

I would bring on someone who was an expert in money and finance earlier on. As an entrepreneur, I learned early on that it’s crucial to always hire people who are smarter than you in different aspects of the organization and can do something you cannot. I learned this the hard way, after starting out hiring someone to handle the financial side who had little knowledge of the area and it actually ended up setting my company back a year as we navigated issues neither of us were familiar with.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

The one thing I do over and over again is always go back to working on myself. I am a workaholic and I love to work. I love to work so much that it has gotten in the way of my relationships and my health. When I find myself throwing myself too fervently into my business, I take a step back and do something for myself. This can mean going out to dinner, getting a massage, going to a therapist, going to a healer, reading a book NOT about work, etc.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.

One strategy that helped me grow my business was studying trends in my industry and being open to change. When I started CatalystCreativ, we called ourselves a “community design firm,” but no one knew what this actually meant. We were constantly struggling to define what we actually did. After about two years, I realized that the value we provide to people is not just the execution and the final product, it is also the ideas that we provide in coming up with the final result. We changed from a “community design firm” to an “experience studio” focused on designing experiences for brands. We were always doing the same thing, but I had to be open to changing our communication strategy so people actually understood what we did!

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

I hired the wrong person early on, and I knew they were the wrong fit after about a week of hiring them, but I was too afraid to let them go. I ended up allowing them to stay for about a year, until something happened that was out of my control that forced me to fire them. I call this the “expired milk syndrome.” If your gut tells you someone is wrong for the organization, do not keep them there, thinking it will just get better. I tried that and it ended up making the company “sick.” Looking back, I would have been more communicative and honest from the getgo.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

A majority of my time is spent on ideation, so I have so many business ideas that I end up never acting on! The most recent one came from a Facebook post. I recently asked my friends for recommendations in Bali, and ended up getting 35+ people answering where to go, what to do, etc. I thought of an app that integrates with Facebook API and connects with the world map. It then allows you to save your friends recommendations, linking to a map as well as deals within the area you are traveling.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

The best $100 I recently spent was on a massage. I was in Philadelphia to give a talk at a conference, and had traveled. I found a massage place nearby and got a Swedish massage – the masseuse couldn’t believe how much tension was in my body, (probably all of the flying). I felt so much better after it, and since I was getting on a plane the next day, I felt like it was absolutely worth it.

What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?

I use Captio to save notes, Google Drive for all things for work, Zoom for conference calls, Box for storage, notes on my iPhone, and of course Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. I also use Venmo obsessively.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Marcus Aurelius, The Emperor’s Handbook translated. It is the book that I read before starting my company; I feel that it is a perfect balance of personal and professional knowledge that you can learn from such an unbelievable leader.

What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?

Osho (read all of his books)
my dear friend Stacy London, (read her Refinery 29 blog)
Life is Beautiful :
My dear friend Justin Baldoni’s show- My Last Days


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