Get Inspired: Meet Leura Fine of Laurel & WolfOct 12, 2015
As a company born out of the desire to inspire the next generation of change-makers, we're constantly inspired by those who carve out their own path in life. It's our pleasure to introduce Leura Fine, founder and CEO of Laurel & Wolf. Leura combined her interior design expertise and innate entrepreneurial spirit to create a unique company that offers professional design services that are accessible and affordable to all.
Why did you start your own business?
I grew up in a very entrepreneurial household. My dad was a business owner, my grandfather has owned his own companies, and I always had this idea that I loved working for people, learning from them, and growing. When I left my design firm I thought, “Okay, I’m just going to start a simple interior design business that can grow slowly over time and make a great living at.” But, when I got the idea for Laurel and Wolf, I knew I had something that could be so big and so all-consuming. As soon as I started working on the business, I realized that I wanted this kind of a life, but it wasn’t even until I started on it full-time that I found out how right it felt. This was something that was really exciting to discover.
In one sentence, what does a day in your life look like?
Total chaos. No day looks alike from my perspective. I do spend a lot of my time on similar things— I meet with people internally, I meet with people we’re trying to hire, I still do a lot of our business development type meetings, but honestly, every day is totally different. I think if you had to describe in one sentence what it looks like, I would say, chaos. Organized chaos.
People often say art and commerce don't mix, but with an e-commerce based art business, you clearly turned that myth on its head. Why do you think creativity is an important ingredient for launching a successful startup like Laurel and Wolf?
Well, I think that interior design is something that is totally reliant upon having a great creative eye. Most people don’t have as much money as they would like to have— or as much money as they’d like to spend— on designing their space. Whether we are living in apartments, or first homes, or even second homes, there are always different types of restrictions around what we can and can’t do; whether it’s budget, lifestyle, or needs. I think that creativity, and how it relates to art, is not just about how to make something that is unattainable or outside of the box, or different.
Designing, specifically for interiors, is all about matching form and function, and blending the beautiful with the functional. Merging how you want to react or interact in your space with things that excite and inspire you will create a sense of confidence and calm in your space. For us, the business couldn't be successful without an immense amount of creativity because it’s all about bringing together the exact needs of the clients and the fun aesthetic or decorative aspects of it. It’s very personal.
How do you balance your work and creative pursuits? And what advice would you give to entrepreneurs for carving out “me time” without guilt?
I think it’s a challenge to carve out time for yourself when you’re an entrepreneur because your business is all-consuming. I’m pretty lucky in the fact that I like to wake up early, so a lot of my creative time or quiet time is in the mornings. I’ll wake up and I’ll spend some time reading, brainstorming, or writing. For me, that’s a nice outlet. I also tend to do a lot of that when I travel, even for work. Planes are a nice place to get in quiet time. My investors and my significant other have taught me that true down time is critical for success in terms of rebooting. So I have started trying to intentionally carve out a weekend where I take off and only check emails for an hour in the morning and in the evening. During the day, I leave my phone in the room, go out into nature, swim, horseback ride, check out museums, go antiquing, and just totally take my mind off of work. I think that’s been really important because every time I do take a little down-time, or true time to refresh, I think I have much better perspective on the business when I come back to it.
So looking back, is there anything from childhood that you’ve carried over in your career and/or what inspires it?
Oh my gosh, I think everything from my childhood is carried over into my career. I was a professional dancer, did theater, created sets, and was in show choir. I was always obsessed with fashion, architecture, textiles and theater. So I grew up in a super creative environment and was lucky that my parents actually let me express myself. I was constantly making custom furniture or painting murals on my walls, so a lot of that has carried over into my professional life. Running a business and being comfortable in front of large groups of people certainly helps. The fact that I grew up onstage and had to learn lines and perform in front of large audiences certainly makes pitching to 20 people in a boardroom a lot less intimidating. So, I think that my background, how I grew up, and the kinds of activities I was involved in, have all helped me immensely in my professional career.
When you’re in need of new ideas or a well-deserved break, where do you go, and what do you do for inspiration?
I love to travel. And when I travel, I love participating in cultural activities like live music, live theater, art galleries, and art museums. Also, I’m pretty active, so I love the ocean, being in the water, scuba diving, swimming, surfing, and sailing. I also ride horses. For me, there’s no happier place than when I’m on a horse, galloping across the countryside.
I also love food. I always do a ton of research before I travel for the best places to go and eat, whether it’s the most authentic cuisine, or the coolest young chef. When I prepare for a trip, I always plan the activities that I’m going to do, and where am I going to eat. I’m not someone who can go and lay on a beach for 8 hours.
How does technology fuel your creativity and your business?
I think what’s incredible about technology is the access that it’s given us. From a creative perspective, to a political or a lifestyle perspective, it’s really interesting to find bloggers with a new and unique point of view. I think outlets like Instagram and Pinterest have just been exceptional for the amount of content that we are able to consume and have readily available at any given moment. Just the other day, I was trying to design something for my own home and I went on Pinterest, searched “industrial-style art studios”, and had thousands of images to choose from, which was pretty incredible. I think that technology gives us a lot of access to great information that fuels creativity.
What resources would you recommend to someone starting a creative business?
For most companies, there are a lot of great tools out there. Slack is definitely one of my favorite tools that we use as a company. It makes me feel connected and it’s an easy way to streamline communication. Slack is also great for the fun, random stuff that we get to play around with and experience as a company. Depending on what your company is doing, there are a lot of different plug-and-play software options available that make getting your creative vision out into the world easier. Today, more than ever, it’s easier to get a creative business off the ground.
Three surprising lessons you would share with aspiring entrepreneurs who are setting out on this journey.
It’s not as scary as it seems. Especially in the earliest days, it’s most terrifying to get something off the ground. You just think, “I have to climb Mount Everest.” The anticipation is much worse than when you’re actually in it. I think you’ll be surprised at how resilient you are. I think that a great business is built off of celebrating the wins along the way. I think that a great business and a great entrepreneur will be able to look at what they’re not doing well, will be able to take feedback, as hard as that may be, and do it better. Whether that feedback is from your employees, your clients, or anyone. I think that you’ll find that you’ll be more resilient and tougher than you think you might be. The surprise is that you’ll get it wrong more often than you’d like to admit, and as long as you get it right 51% of the time, then you’re winning. There is definitely a process of trial and error and you have to be willing to consistently push the edge of the envelope in order to build something truly great.