Genna Franconi is a co-founder and managing director at Trade School, an integrated content shop and full-service production studio in Atlanta. Trade School helps clients like The Home Depot, FedEx, and SharkNinja scale their approach to content creation.
I had the opportunity to interview Genna recently. Here are some of the highlights of that interview:
Jill Griffin: You were days away from signing a lease on a 30,000 sq ft office space when COVID hit. How were you and your teams able to pivot so quickly?
Genna Franconi: I would love to pretend there was a specific pivot strategy that we executed flawlessly as soon as the pandemic hit, but the truth is that we just did what everyone was forced to do last year: make thousands of little decisions with the information we had and white-knuckle our way through it. At times we were cautious and played defense, other times we were bullish and proactive. It was less pivot and more “bob and weave.” It was a really interesting time to be a leader because there was no rule book to reference, no mentor who had lived through anything like this before. I watched progressive companies to observe how they navigated their way through, but took just as many notes from my daughter’s first grade teacher as I watched her master the virtual classroom with such empathy and innovation. She set high expectations for the class, but made sure each student met them in their own way and that no one was left behind.
Griffin: And you’ve doubled in size since then. To what do you attribute to the growth?
Franconi: Our team. It’s one thing to build a company. It’s another to convince a bunch of talented people to do it with you, and then three weeks later, watch the whole world tilt on its proverbial axis. I think we felt a collective resolve and tremendous responsibility to weather the storm together. Someone once told me that when it rains, there are two types of animals – those who stand still or hide under trees and those who run straight into it to get to the other side quicker. Trade School is full of rain runners. We were strategic in the types of new business we pursued, fought hard to defend our current accounts and tried very hard to show up for each other while we got to the other side.
Griffin: The pandemic has disproportionately hit women in the workforce, especially working moms. You’re a mom to three children and running a new agency. Tell me about some of those challenges and how you’ve overcome them.
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Franconi: By now, we’ve seen all the tropes of kids in the background of Zoom calls and the day-to-day insanity, but the invisible emotional toll of this year is what I’m very much looking forward to leaving behind (along with every other mother, working or not). On a macroeconomic level, I shudder to think what the pandemic has done to the decades of progress women have made as they’ve left the workforce in droves. I hope there is enough federal and corporate investment in gender parity improvements to lessen that blow, but the current landscape is both maddening and heartbreaking.
The logistics rodeo, the multi-tasking, the thousands of decisions—some of which truly seemed like life-or-death—wore women down, emptied their tanks, made them scream into a pillow, and oftentimes forced them out of the workforce.
Being a mom and being a leader have a lot in common; there is an incredible privilege and burden of being in charge of so much and so many. You know how you’ve heard those stories of mothers who are able to lift entire cars off their children in a primal moment of adrenaline-fueled rescue? To me, the pandemic has been a year-long “lifting of the car” for mothers, teachers, healthcare heroes and essential workers.
So I’ve reminded myself along the way that it’s not always going to be this hard, and tried to focus on what an honor it is to lead and protect.
Griffin: What’s your single best advice to working moms to get through the pandemic and come out on the other side?
Franconi: Finding ways to literally and figuratively exhale were a lifeline for me. I did the same walk around my neighborhood every single day—I called it my “prison yard laps.” Sometimes I drove around alone in my minivan blasting music. Two of my closest friends and I sat six feet apart on one of our porches every other Thursday to commiserate and laugh (and cry) together, even when it was below freezing outside. And on days when the virtual learning, the constant meetings and barrage of horrific news reached a boiling point, I would literally lie under my bed and just take deep breaths in the dark quiet. Each of those respites allowed me to give myself some grace and muster the grit to keep going, as a mom and a leader. So my advice would be to find whatever it is that makes you ready to crawl out from under the bed, and do as much of it as you need to.
Griffin: I understand you’re pretty candid about your own experience with imposter syndrome. Talk about that and how you’ve been able to overcome it.
Franconi: I’m pretty sure I’ll never actually overcome imposter syndrome, but I have learned how to harness it. I actually use a tactic I’ve borrowed from motherhood. My 3 year old and I have similar defiance issues, and the only way to get her to do something is to tell her she can’t. So I take the things I hear in my own head—“You have no idea what you’re doing;” “You don’t belong in this meeting;” “You are too young/inexperienced/busy being a mom/[pick anything] to have this job”—and pretend someone (usually someone I strongly dislike) is saying it to me instead. And then it all becomes fuel, and I wish my invisible opponent good luck.