Emma Isaacs: Inside The Mind Of A Business Chick
When Emma Isaacs bought Business Chicks a decade ago at age 25, she had it all worked out. The networking group would be a side charity project to the small recruitment business that she had acquired at age 18. But she had underestimated the powerful combination of her entrepreneurial skills and her new venture’s untapped potential.
Business Chicks is now Australia’s largest business community for women with over 35,000 members (five percent are men) and sell out annual events that feature some of world’s most extraordinary entrepreneurs. Its launch in the U.S. last year was so successful that Emma relocated her family there as she continues riding a wave that will only get higher.
Emma talks to woman with drive about building a magnetic brand, the unhealthy obsession of women entrepreneurs and the most powerful statement she heard this year.
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If your 18-year-old self was shown your life today, what would she have thought?
I hope she would be impressed! I hope that she would be able to see that with hard work and determination you can achieve just about anything. I hope I would have made her proud by ticking off a ton of things on her To Do list, from moving overseas to raising an amazing family, to building companies and doing work that makes a real difference in the lives of others.
Business Chicks features some of the world’s biggest names on its panel of speakers. How do you build a brand with that kind of power and magnetism?
It starts with understanding why you are doing what you are doing, and why it matters so much for you and your team. If you can keep coming back to that, it is easier to make decisions and build a brand.
For me, brand building is all about doing what you say you are going to do, repeatedly and consistently. It is about deeply caring about your cause and your customers. I will always drop everything to support and serve our members in whichever way I can. Our speakers are also our customers and we are blessed to have worked with people like Sir Richard Branson, Julia Gillard, Sir Bob Geldof and Jamie Oliver. They have supported us for many years in Australia and now in North America.
What inspired you to take Business Chicks to the U.S. and what milestones have you reached there so far?
I had been working on Business Chicks for nine or so years and was really happy with how everything was going. We were still in growth, we were profitable and we had a really strong team but personally, I felt I had hit a ceiling with my skills. I am an entrepreneur and not a manager.
I was also starting to think about where our growth would come from. Business Chicks speakers like Diane von Furstenberg, Arianna Huffington, Rachel Zoe and Seth Godin had all told me, “We have nothing like Business Chicks in America” so I suppose I had always had them in the back of my mind.
A few years ago I was on Necker Island for a Business Chicks event and Sir Richard Branson asked me, “Em, is Business Chicks in the States or Europe yet?” and I said, “No” to which he said, “We have got to help you with that.” Having people believe in what you do is everything, and encouraged me to seriously consider taking the brand to the U.S.
We had strong proof of concept in Australia and I had a hunch that American women would be drawn to our values. I spent some time going back and forth to the US (while pregnant with my fourth child) and we eventually launched the business there in July 2015.
It went so well that I moved my whole family of a husband and four kids under six to Los Angeles and we have been busy building since our arrival. We have held over 30 events Stateside so far – they sell out each time. There is a lot of interest in the brand, and we are confident we have a massive opportunity on our hands if we execute well.
How do you run a business remotely without working around the clock yet still staying on top of everything?
I never stay on top of everything! And I am totally fine with that. We are all too hard on ourselves and we all strive for unrealistic expectations. I just try and do my best each day, knowing that my To Do list will never get shorter. It is quite liberating when you realise this!
That said, my situation is unique in that I have offices in New York and Sydney and I have teams in those cities plus Auckland, Melbourne and Los Angeles. We set up weekly communications structures and meetings with all the teams and somehow, it all works.
When I wake up, my New York office is already online so it is straight into it, and then New Zealand comes online in the early afternoon and then Australia after that, and I could be working until late at night but I try shut down and switch off at a reasonable hour each day.
What important conversations should women entrepreneurs be having today?
We need to stop obsessing over balance. It just makes women feel less than they are. I know I have no balance and that is the way life just is for now. We can have it all, just not at the same time. While my business is at this stage of growth, I cannot have the social life I would like. For now, it is about growing the business and spending time with my family. Everything else falls to the side for the moment, but it will not always be this way.
How do you deal with things that go pear-shaped whether at home or at work?
I have worked hard on building resilience and am very good at letting the small stuff go. I was gifted with a deep level of perspective when my daughter was diagnosed with cancer at the age of four. She underwent chemotherapy and it was emotionally grueling to watch as she had operation after operation and test after test and needles stuck in her little arms and chest for months on end. Once you go through that, day-to-day problems just do not seem significant any more. People tell me I am very calm and very pragmatic so I suppose that is how I am able to deal with stress and the responsibilities I place on myself.
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Pick one parenting lesson that you can apply to business.
Focusing on the important stuff. It is important I am there for stories, for one-on-one quality time and for cuddles. It is not important that I make the beds, unpack the lunch boxes and repack their bags. It is the same with business – focus on the important things and get others to do the bits that take up the time you could spend elsewhere.
Who made the most powerful statement you heard this year?
I liked what Nigella Lawson said at a recent Business Chicks event. She said the best piece of advice she could give was “Do it now.” I loved that. It resonated with me because I think we put off a lot of stuff through fear or self-doubt or by just being disorganised.
You have 30 minutes with one of the world’s biggest influencers. Who is this person and what are you talking about?
Years ago I was invited to a party with Bill Gates. We ended up speaking for hours. We did not talk about market share or business strategy or competitors or operational efficiencies. We talked about family. About places we had travelled to. About things that upset us that we wanted to change. That is what I would talk about because really, when it comes down to it, that is all that matters.
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