Julie Shen

Founder of Springstead

Julie Shen is the founder of Springstead, an advisory and consultancy practice that works with purpose driven founders, businesses and organizations to develop, launch and grow their initiatives. Springstead turns ideas into results through strategy, business development, project execution and capital opportunities. Julie has 15+ years of experience incubating, developing and launching profitable new businesses for startups and organizations like Conde Nast and HBO. She has scaled a digital media network to 75M annual downloads, a DTC business to 1M paying subscribers in Year 1, and negotiated deals and partnerships with an impact of >$200M. She is passionate about supporting female founders and facilitating an environment for them to flourish in.

Where did the idea for Springstead come from?

There is tension between SPRINGing forth with change and innovation while staying STEADfast and rooted in our values – that tension is where we make progress and do our best work. The concept of spring forth while staying grounded represents my philosophy in life and in business. I am passionate about innovation and nothing gives me more gratification than working directly with founders and early stage startups to bring their ideas to concept, and concept to execution. I founded Springstead to focus on the mission of helping builders build thriving businesses that have purpose, so we can broaden the impact that we’re making in our communities.

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

Anyone who’s ever been in the corporate world knows that your calendar is not truly your own – meetings can overwhelm your days while you’re constantly playing catchup with your actual work. One of the biggest benefits to leading my own practice is that I have control over how my day is organized to maximize productivity. I reserve Mondays for minimal to no meetings so I can flow into the week with structure and set myself up for success. I am the most productive in the mornings so I reserve that time to do work – this means no distractions, slacks, calls, meetings, social media, etc. unless absolutely necessary. Early afternoons are when I interface with my team, clients, and community. I find that the energy of interacting, speaking and being with people gives me the refreshed boost I need from the afternoon lull. And while it can change week to week based on project and business needs, I aim to find my way back to this schedule to help keep me focused and organized.

How do you bring ideas to life?

One of the reasons I love working directly with founders is that no one is more passionate, creative and determined to bring their ideas to life. It’s my role to help them set strategic goals, and focus and direct their energy towards avenues that most effectively deliver results towards their goals.

At Springstead, we believe that an idea worth pursuing needs to have purpose, value and impact. We bring those ideas to life in methodical, incremental phases: Identify > Pilot > Iterate > Launch > Iterate and Optimize > Grow and Diversify.

What’s one trend that excites you?

Blockchain, Web3 and NFTs. The immense potential of decentralization and digital ownership makes me extremely excited for the near future.

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

Prioritizing my time on things that deliver value and results towards the business. This allows me to drown out the noise, and sort out what I need to push to the front of the line and what should be deferred until a later time.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Being courageous is not the absence of fear, but recognizing that fear and persevering anyway. Growing up as the only child to immigrant parents, the things that my parents placed importance on – education and profession – became my dreams. I did not dare to dream bigger. While I excelled at building businesses for others, it never occurred to me that I could pave my own path, build my own business and be my own visionary. Looking back, I realize that I was held back by the suspension of belief, and also by fear. Fear that I was not good enough, that I was not smart enough. Now I know that I’ll never be rid of fear but that’s not the point of having courage or pushing forward. I can leverage that fear as an indicator to what I need to do and I can use it as a call-to-action for me to show up for myself.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

My 17-pound mini-goldendoodle, Lola, has the best doggy breath ever!

She also happens to be the Chief Cuddles Officer at Springstead.\

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

Recognize the resistance that shows up when you are on the precipice of making a change, striving for betterment, or achieving a higher purpose. The resistance tries to keep you safe and sheltered, but that leaves you unchanged and stagnant. The resistance shows up in the slippery forms of self-doubt, impatience, anxiety, procrastination, fear… and so on. Use that resistance as a lighthouse on a dark night – the more you feel yourself resisting something, the more it’s an indicator that that’s what you need to pursue.

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

The success of my business is built on relationships, excellence and performance. But what drives new clients to put their trust in me is that I nurture authentic relationships with them over time. I’m not in the business of selling my services, I’m in the business of providing value. I’m not here for a quick activation, I’m here to be a long-term partner. I give without the expectation of getting and I give before I receive – that is how I build trust and demonstrate reliability.

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

I fail everyday as a human and an entrepreneur. I’ve failed small and I’ve failed big. Failure is the byproduct of trying – of stepping outside of your comfort zone and persistently pushing through your resistance.

Steven Pressfield said it best in his book, “The War of Art”: So you’re taking a few blows. That’s the price for being in the arena and not on the sidelines. Stop complaining and be grateful.

When I fail, I try to fail forward and upward so the failing was not for nothing.

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

A puzzle exchange or trade-in program! My family and I love puzzling but once we’re finished, we don’t use it again – it’s a shame to have single-use puzzles. Quick side story: a 1000 piece puzzle would take my husband a few hours, at most, to finish. While he maintains his innocence, we recognize that it’s because he’s a competitive player in a game that’s meant to be a leisurely pastime. One time, I went to make tea for 5 minutes and came back to find him deep in concentration and head slumped in hands, with the entire edges of the puzzle completed.

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

A membership to a female founder community. Although it cost more than $100, it is the best money I spent on myself and my business. It has given me a place of belonging and a platform to connect with like-minded women. Through the community, I have met some amazing women who I truly respect and look up, and whom I would call my confidants.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

I cannot survive without Calendly. Having an automated method to schedule meetings has freed up a lot of manual back and forth.

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

Burn Rate by Andy Dunn. It’s a courageous, touching memoir about Andy’s experience founding and building Bonobos while dealing with mental illness. It’s honest, raw and fearless. A human story at its best.

What is your favorite quote?

Just do it – Nike

Key Learnings:

  • The tension between springing forth with transformation while staying rooted in our values is where we make progress and do our best work.
  • Leverage the discomfort in fear as an indicator to what you need to do to push yourself forward. Use it as a call-to-action for you to show up for yourself.
  • Failing is a gift. The gift of you putting yourself in the path of opportunity – that you chose to step inside the arena instead of staying on the sidelines.
  • While puzzling is a leisurely pastime, you just may find yourself in an encounter with a competitive player who can’t step away from the puzzle until it’s completed. There is humor and joy in that.