Even when I’m sure I know the answer, I always try to ask first rather than assume.
Hope Horner is CEO and founder of Lemonlight Media, a company that produces and distributes branded video content at scale. Hope is a three-time entrepreneur who has been featured in Inc., KABC, Extra!, and other publications, highlighting her successes in the Silicon Beach community over the past decade.
Where did the idea for Lemonlight Media come from?
After previous work at ad tech companies, we realized that the small- and medium-sized business market was massively neglected in relation to digital marketing. Their only solutions were Groupon and Yelp, both of which had often negatively affected their businesses more than they helped. While Facebook and Google have attempted to simplify their advertising platforms, it was still over the heads of many local business owners who grew up in the days of print media and coupons.
Over time, their businesses began to suffer as online content became more and more necessary to thrive in today’s ecosystem. But who was there to help them? Most agencies focused on the national brands with big budgets and big teams. We decided we wanted to offer this niche group simple, affordable digital advertising solutions, so we went in search of the most effective form of advertising. There was no surprise when video marketing came up as No. 1.
So Lemonlight was born. Our mission is to create high-quality, affordable video content for our customers and help them use the content to connect with more customers.
What does your typical day look like, and how do you make it productive?
As the CEO of a growing startup with about 25 people on staff, I still wear many hats. I attempt to “bucket” my days by department.
After checking in with each department and answering questions (so many questions, always), I dive into department-related tasks, which vary by day. Monday, I put out fires, play catch-up, and check in with staff. On Tuesday, I focus on partnerships and business development. I reserve Wednesday for Lemonlight marketing, and Thursday is dedicated to production and marketing on behalf of our clients. Friday, it’s down to finance and administrative tasks. I attempt to stay focused on that department, meeting with relevant people in it. Then, I’m usually answering more emails and taking more calls until around 7 or 8 p.m.
On a typical day, I check emails soon after I wake and try to tackle any urgent matters. Ideally, I go to the gym. Usually, I spend an hour or two answering emails from my house, then go into the office around 10 a.m., where I try to catch up with my co-founders on the focus for the day, what’s going well, and what challenges we’re facing.
In past six months, I’ve implemented 30-minute one-on-one meetings with department heads every week. These are scheduled into my calendar and happen like clockwork. I was always wary of too many meetings, but this has actually streamlined our communication and mitigated (some) of the questions and random check-ins throughout the day.
When I have a lot to do, I work from home because we have an open office environment, and I sit right in the middle, which can be distracting.
I also feel better when I meditate each night and work out each morning. Finding balance is hard.
How do you bring ideas to life?
When I have a new idea, I usually grab a plain white sheet of paper and just start jotting down my thoughts and connecting them. I write down every thought related to my new idea. After I have a “brain dump,” I begin organizing it, usually in an Excel document. I keep moving things around until it creates one cohesive picture of my idea and the elements needed to pull it together. After I can easily explain it, I share it with the appropriate people.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
Naturally, online video excites me. All of the static advertising that you see will slowly evolve to include movement (i.e., video). There’s been a major shift in the past five years, and it will evolve exponentially faster in the next five years. Videos are the closest thing to “real life.” People connect to a video more than they do a single image. Videos tell a more comprehensive story and evoke more emotion. I’m genuinely curious to see all the innovative ways videos are incorporated in the future, and I’m excited to be a part of that evolving trend.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as a founder and CEO?
I use a desktop and a laptop pretty much all day. All the items on my desktop are related to the things I “should” be doing; all the things on my laptop are
“fires” and things that need immediate attention but fall outside of the department breakdown by day. This allows me to stay focused on the proactive elements that are required to grow our business. I also make sure to get enough sleep.
What was the worst job you ever had, and what did you learn from it?
In college, I worked at Banana Republic for a few weeks. This was the most challenging job for me. I thrive in work environments where I have the opportunity to make a quantifiable impact. Here, I was paid an hourly rate regardless of how much I sold, and the only challenge I had the opportunity to tackle was getting people interested in the Banana Republic credit card. In my first two weeks, I signed up more people for a credit card than any single person had in an entire month, but the reward was nil. I knew immediately that I needed to work in a sales position.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
What a loaded question! Nothing? Everything? If I were to start Lemonlight over again, I would certainly apply everything I’ve learned in the past two years right away. One of the most important elements would be our hiring process. I’ve learned a lot about hiring and the most important elements for certain roles. I would have liked to apply those lessons earlier in order to get the right team on board sooner.
As a CEO and founder, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
When something goes wrong, I ask questions. Even when I’m sure I know the answer, I always try to ask first rather than assume. This applies to customers, the team, and my co-founders. When I ask questions, I often learn more about why a decision was made, which immediately helps me understand where things went wrong, the motive of the people involved, and why they made the decisions they made, which gives me a more complete picture.
By approaching situations with an open mind and asking questions, I can decide how to solve the immediate problem, prevent it from happening again in the future, and build better relationships. If I immediately accuse and reprimand, I lose the opportunity to learn more.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
We grow a little before we’re ready, which is so uncomfortable! The goal of business is to find a happy balance between supply and demand. To grow, you have to increase demand; however, because our efforts may or may not be fruitful, we do not grow supply until we need to.
Often, that in-between stage — where demand is greater than supply — is really uncomfortable, as it pushes people outside of their comfort zones. We all work together to find a new homeostasis and hire more people when needed. As soon as we even back out (and often just before), we drive demand again, which slowly leads to sustainable growth over time.
What is one failure you had as a CEO and founder, and how did you overcome it?
I raised a modest amount of money for a startup I had in my early 20s. I really had no idea what I was doing and naively spent the money much more quickly than I’d led investors to believe I would. When I ran out of money, I was in an extremely uncomfortable predicament because I didn’t want to be honest about my mistakes. Eventually, I had no choice — I had to come clean. Most investors were more upset that I had misled them and less upset about the lost money. I learned the importance of transparency, which is a core value in our business today.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Yelp for Business Owners: Vendors and agencies rate business owners and marketers on how much they liked working with them.
Right now, Yelp offers consumers a way to review businesses, but as an agency, I’d like to know more about some of the clients we work with before we engage in long-term relationships. It would also hold clients accountable to a certain level of professionalism. Vendors could offer a discount or a perk to clients with great reviews or a certain rating.
What is the best $100 you recently spent?
It was Abbott’s Pizza for a surprise lunch for the team on a Monday afternoon. We’d just had a challenging week of changes, so the surprise lunch reinvigorated the team and built camaraderie.
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
We use several, but my favorite is HubSpot. It does a great job of integrating several parts of our business funnel, including prospecting, outbound and inbound marketing, sales, and reporting. It offers a large suite of features that are easy to use and highly impactful. HubSpot’s unlimited customer support is also a huge benefit.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
“Delivering Happiness” by Tony Hsieh is an easy, fun read. In it, he really drives home the idea of being willing to sacrifice it all for something you believe in. He also focuses on customer happiness. If your customers aren’t happy, your team isn’t happy. If your team isn’t happy, you won’t be successful.
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
I love podcasts. Personally, my favorite is “The Startup Chat” with Steli Efti and Hiten Shah. I like their podcasts because I can jump around to the episodes that are most relevant to me at the time. Each episode is about 20 minutes long, which is perfect for a short car ride or workout. They offer easily digestible, tangible advice that adds perspective.
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Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.