How to lead a successful startup: Erin Bury, 88 Creative

While rank is synonymous with the military and C-level is synonymous with corporations, hierarchy and startups go together like oil and water.

In a startup, titles aren’t used as an outlet for ego boosting.  Instead they’re what you get printed on business cards to initiate the right conversations at meetups and meetings.  In essence, startup companies don’t need bosses, they need leaders.

As part of the StartupTO series, we’ve dug into learning more about the city’s brightest startups, the incubator landscape and even asked a Microsoft VP about what it takes to rule in a corporation. For this latest post, I wanted to ask one of the city’s most reputable startup leaders all the nitty gritty questions we’ve all been pining to know.

Erin Bury Linkedin

Erin Bury is the managing director of 88 Creative, a Toronto-based creative communications agency specializing in digital marketing, public relationsand design. Founded in 2010, they work on technology, lifestyle, and real estate projects, specializing in branding, website design, and print design. Formerly the managing editor at BetaKit, Erin was notoriously retweeted by Oprah and named one of Marketing Magazine’s top 30 under 30 marketers.

I asked Erin 10 quick-fire questions on how to lead a successful startup:

1) What do you have to love doing to be a successful startup leader?

I think you have to be committed to having a positive attitude and a positive mindset. When you’re leading a team, you set the example for the culture, the tone, and the attitudes in the office. If you’re pessimistic, negative about clients, or unpleasant to be around, you’ll create a toxic work environment. You also have to love being in front of people, whether that’s presenting to your team, presenting to a potential client, or speaking in front of hundreds of people at a conference.

2) What do you spend most of your day doing?

I spend an equal amount of time working on client projects, everything from website redesigns to social media contests to PR campaigns, and on internal projects like new business pitches and managing our team.

3)  What do you have to do really well to be a ninja managing director?

I have to think big picture, while also managing the day-to-day. On any given day we might have new business meetings, client meetings, proposals to work on, and projects to manage, but I also have to think about things like our revenue targets, the efficiency of our team, and our long-term goals, as well as what we’re doing to build our brand and reputation and attract new clients.

4) What kind of tools help you the most when managing people?

We use a few tools that have been really helpful. The first is 15Five, which is a weekly feedback tool that helps you identify challenges and opportunities from your team. The second is Freckle, which is a web-based time-tracking tool that’s much more intuitive and easier to use than the legacy systems. The third is BambooHR, a cloud-based HR management system that allows you to track employee details and manage vacations and sick days. We also use Insightly for our team CRM system – it helps us track incoming new business requests, and assign them across our leadership team.

5) How do you stay humble and motivated to succeed?

Staying humble is easy – when I’m Oprah-famous maybe I’ll get a big head! I’ve always been really motivated to succeed because my parents were extremely hard-working and showed me the kind of career you can build if you’re willing to put in the work. I always say my ultimate doom is complacency – staying in a job because it’s easy. I’m always looking for roles that challenge me to move outside my comfort zone, whether that’s joining a startup to build it from day one, launching online publication BetaKit, or now turning 88 Creative into the best creative communications agency in Toronto.

6) What is the one piece of advice you’d like fellow startups folks, entrepreneurs and future CEOs to know?

My best piece of advice is to surround yourself with like-minded people who you can turn to for advice, help, or just to vent about your challenges. Whether you get together every month for dinner, or just email back-and-forth, make sure you have an inner circle who you can turn to, because building a business can be very isolating, and no one should feel like they’re going through it alone.

7) You’re notorious, in a good way.  How did your grow your personal brand?

Growing my personal brand wasn’t really a goal of mine – my main goal was to grow the brand for Sprouter, the company I joined. By attending events, hosting community events, writing blog posts and industry articles, networking with people online, and just generally working to grow the community, I ended up growing my personal brand. While it may not have been on purpose, I quickly realized the value of having a great personal brand, and now I actively work to maintain and grow it, and I also encourage my team members at 88 Creative to build their own as they launch their careers.

8) How do you find and keep your great talent like your staff at 88 Creative?

I’ve found most of our team members either through referrals or through social media. Since we are a very digital-focused agency, I love finding people through our blog or social media accounts. We’ve also used the OCAD job board to find graphic design talent, since they have such a great pool of graduates. In terms of keeping people happy, I think it’s about recognizing their efforts, saying thank you, and rewarding them with not just money, but new opportunities and roles. Also we have a pretty great office culture – free snacks, drinks outings, an annual cottage retreat, and flex days that people can use for vacation or whatever they want.

9) You recently took part in Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network (DWEN). Why is contributing to initiatives like this important?

I think it’s important to connect with like-minded people, especially in the startup space when everyone is looking for exposure, investment, partners, or some other type of help. Usually I connect with people in my local community, but I love  Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network (DWEN) because it connects female entrepreneurs and media from around the world. Through the DWEN events I’ve connected with founders from India, Germany, Australia, France, and other countries, and spent time in Brazil, India, Turkey, and Germany learning about their local startup communities. It’s also been a great opportunity to learn from industry leaders – this year alone the speakers included Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian and Girls Scouts of the USA CEO Anna Maria Chavez, who used to work in President Clinton’s administration.

10) What special know-how do you bring to DWEN and 88 Creative that you’re most proud of?

I’m a storyteller, whether that’s telling an entrepreneur’s story in the media, telling our clients’ stories through social media, or telling my own story at events. I think my specialty is finding the most compelling part of a startup’s story – usually that’s the origin story, but it can really be any interesting angle with which other people would resonate.

Thanks again to Erin for taking the time for this interview.  If you’d like to follow what she’s up to, check her out on twitter:

Erin Bury on  Twitter
If you know a scrappy leader like Erin or someone stand out in the startup scene in Toronto, share them with us. We’d love to tell their story and ask all the questions you’ve always wanted to know the answers to. Reach out to me directly via my personal blog or on Twitter.

Ashley Huffman
Ashley Huffman
Startup, technology and girls in tech evangelist. Can be found behind the scenes at Nano Magnetics Ltd getting things done. Professional @Nanodots builder and Guinness World Record holder. Fan of life hacks, Scrum and WOW, in no particular order. Self proclaimed Twitter addict.

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