Jiffy Iuen – Founder of Frank Collective

Let people know in writing, in person, and in front of other people when they are doing a great job.

Jiffy Iuen is founder and creative partner of Frank Collective, a bicoastal branding and content company that helps emerging brands disrupt the marketplace in innovative and compelling ways. Prior to starting Frank Collective, she was a content producer at BBDO New York and an executive producer at RadicalMedia. She was responsible for developing and producing projects that fell outside traditional categories. As a result, she has created and produced content on a variety of high-profile digital and broadcast platforms.

Jiffy is an Emmy-nominated producer, as well as an executive member of Women In Film. She currently lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two dogs and racks up frequent flier miles toggling between the two Frank Collective offices in Brooklyn and downtown Los Angeles.

Where did the idea for Frank Collective come from?

I loved my work, but I hated my job — I had no balance, no reward, and no hope that I could break through what I perceived to be a thick, opaque, triple-paned, no-girls-allowed glass ceiling. And I came to a scary realization: Even if I changed companies, the job would still be the same. And that seemed terrible because I’m great at my job, but I’m not a great employee. I’m not a political animal — I’m rather a mix of creative thinker, problem solver, initiator, and doer. I like to get smart, sometimes impossible, things done.

And that insight was it. I decided I could just start the company I wanted to work for. I would create a business that would be filled with passionate people, work with brave new brands, have open communication, reward nimble thinking, and pay attention to the small stuff that people care about. We wouldn’t bullshit clients or talk in lingo. We would be a group of frank people who collaborated to pull off something fun, smart, and different.

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

It starts the night before. I write, with a pen and paper in a notebook, my to-do list for the next day. And then I put down work an hour before I go to bed so I can clear my head. (Insert sleep. I can sleep like nobody’s business on cue. If this were a special skill question, that would be my answer. But it’s not, so moving on.)

I get up early. I empty my inbox. I make coffee. I start responding. (I do a lot of responding in my day.) I have a lot of calls and meetings and brainstorming and operational stuff that all compete for a part of my day. I occasionally look at my list from the night before and add things to it or cross things off.

My best way to be productive is to delegate to other people and then hold those people responsible to do those things. My next best way to be productive is to just look at a GIF of a skateboarding hamster or take a minute to call my husband or have a long lunch with my team to listen to what’s new in their lives. Taking breaks is super productive, not just for the creative mind, but for a little intellectual landscape change.

How do you bring ideas to life?

It takes a village. There are great visionary leaders out there, but they have to have the right partners and team to really pull something amazing off. I put a lot of faith in having an office that works like a creative meritocracy — I’m surrounded by a great group of smart, inventive, and creative people. It’s an amazing resource to be surrounded by a team that can both generate ideas and make them happen. You can’t have an ego that gets in the way of that, and you can’t be afraid to kill your darlings. Set your mind to it, get really excited, don’t be afraid to fail a little, then have a process in place to help you achieve it. The greatest brand tagline of all time: Just Do It.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

I’m excited by the shake-up of the broadcast network model because it takes the power away from networks and allows for more diverse programming like “Transparent” and “Catastrophe.” I’m ready to cut the cable cord, and I love the emergence of original content now being created by Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, and HBO NOW.

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

I always think about what I want to create next and how I’m going to scale my business. The choice I’m making today is a step toward what I want to grow into in six months, a year, or even five years from now.

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

For 34 days straight, from 4 p.m. to 4 a.m., I worked on an interactive marketing campaign in a secret edit bay for a major company while still doing my day job. It was uninspired and grueling, and it lacked creative integrity (direction by committee). In the end, the project got scrapped and never saw the light of day. I wanted to quit every day but was told not to because it would change my career. It did — it made me realize I never wanted to put up with that shit again.

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

That’s like asking a parent to put the 6-year-old back in the womb — hindsight is 20/20. I embrace the choices I made because they got me to where I am today. The failures have taught me more than the successes. I’d probably do everything the same.

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

Stay connected to your staff and your company culture. If you don’t, they will disappear. Give reviews on a regular basis, more than once a year. If there’s a problem, address it immediately and follow up.

Let people know in writing, in person, and in front of other people when they are doing a great job. Let people know in writing, in person, and in private when they are losing the thread. If you have a great employee, ask her what she wants and try to give it to her. If you have a bad-fit employee, try to fix it. If you can’t, let her go. Be honest and fair with people. That goes for both staff and clients.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Before I founded Frank Collective, a colleague told me not to spend any money until you have to, especially on overhead. It’s great to be optimistic for the future, but it’s harder to pivot if business doesn’t climb the way you expect it to. Keeping low overhead costs allows you to throttle back on spending more easily. That one piece of advice has been invaluable.

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

We hired someone who was a friend and ended up being a bad fit. We tried to make it work for a year, but my partner and I finally determined it would be best for everyone to let that person go. We are very familial, and it was a no-win situation.

As a result, we lost additional staff who didn’t like our decision. It was a really horrible company growing pain. From that point on, I realized that our communication with managing staff had to become more direct and more timely.

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

There should be a consignment store chain for designer maternity wear and kids’ clothes. There should be brick-and-mortar shops in family-friendly neighborhoods, as well as an online option. I don’t even have kids, but I’ve watched all of my girlfriends go through the inevitable expense of maternity and unused kids’ clothes.

What is the best $100 you recently spent?

On a wedding gift for one of our employees. She didn’t expect it, and it was a great way to show her that we value her, both as a person and an employee.

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

The OpenTable app — it makes my life easier. It doesn’t try to do more than it should, and it does exactly what it’s supposed to do. I’m also a big fan of KAYAK. It’s a great resource to find everything travel-related, and there are no sales tactics. Although Slack can be a great tool if managed correctly, I’m falling out of love with it because it’s like a phone that never stops ringing.

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

Rather than a book, I’d like to recommend a conference: 99U. It’s where you’ll find out about a lot of really powerful books and hear some amazing insights.

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

Jane Goodall’s lifelong commitment to understanding the emotional and cognitive intelligence of chimpanzees is so inspiring to me. Her research changed science, but more than that, it touched everyone in how they view animals as relatable and valuable beings.

Jon Stewart. I miss him. He has an amazing ability to talk about important and divisive subject matters and create real awareness and change. And Amy Schumer because she’s breaking stereotypes of who women are and what they can be (and I think she’s pretty hysterical).


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