My friend Meg, whom I went to PR school with, began an internship at this small agency after we graduated PR school. Over the years she told me about planning amazing high-profile client events, the travelling she did for work and the growth that the agency was going through.
That little agency is called Yellow House Events, and my friend Meg is now the Director of Operations. The mastermind and bad-ass entrepreneur behind it all is Grail Noble. Grail is a calm, cool and collected boss. I’ve wanted to interview her for at least 5 years now, and I’m so glad the time has finally come!
The single key trait that I believe sets apart successful people is that they don’t work to make a boss happy. They work to make themselves happy. They set their own goals and strive to achieve them. These people work hard whether you (or any boss) is there or not, regardless of what incentive you give them, theirs comes from within.
Mahsa: Tell me about Yellow House Events and how the idea came about?
Grail: I had worked for big corporations and knew that long term, I would build a better, sustainable career if I ran my own business. Although I was in my 30s, I watched as people 45+ were let go by corporations and found it difficult to land new jobs at their pay level (particularly women). My real “aha moment” came when I was 33 and was about to have a baby. We had bought our first house and we were painting the walls. That feeling of it being ours not a rental and being able to paint it whatever colours we wanted was empowering. I wanted that sense of ownership and freedom in my work life. Although having a new born is not the best time to start a business, it meant I could spend time with my baby and choose my own hours to start with. That was empowering and as it turned out, allowed me to build a sustainable and successful business at a pace that worked for our growing family.
Mahsa: Did you always want to be your own boss?
Grail: I guess you could say I did. I was always an entrepreneur at heart. When I was 7, I stocked a cupboard in my room with chocolates and cigarettes (yes it was the 70s and yes they sold to minors if they knew you and your family!). I knew my parents and their friends would pay a premium if they ran out of these essentials during a party or after hours and charged accordingly! My allowance was my “seed money” and the business kept me well stocked in candy of my own and movie tickets!
Mahsa: What do you look for in potential employees? What trait does a person need to have to be successful in the events industry?
Grail: Self management and self driven while being a team player. And niceness. The single key trait that I believe sets apart successful people is that they don’t work to make a boss happy. They work to make themselves happy. They set their own goals and strive to achieve them. These people work hard whether you (or any boss) is there or not, regardless of what incentive you give them, theirs comes from within. A true drive to do well. But that trait must be paired with caring about others and being a team player. Everything we do, every project we assign is in teams. When one person isn’t aligned with making their colleagues and the company look good regardless of who gets the glory or made a mistake.
Mahsa: Did you have mentors in the early stages? Do you have a mentor now?
Grail: I don’t have one single mentor but have a group of advisors and other female entrepreneurs I go to for advice, guidance and experience shares. Some are friends of mine who are also business owners and some are part of a formal Forum I belong to within and organization called EO (Entreprenuers Organization). Our Forum meets monthly and we talk about business, seek input and experience shares and learn from each other.
Mahsa: What advice do you have for someone who wants to make their business stand out and become successful?
Grail: 1) Find your differentiator (hint it is not your product or your price). 2) Remember that regardless of what you sell, whether it is a service or a widget, people buy from people they LIKE and respect. Build a brand around that and make sure you have a core value that all your employees can articulate and that they use as a filter for everything they do. 3) Build relationships with your customers and your vendors. You are nothing without either of them.
Mahsa: What’s the most important thing you have learned in your career so far?
Grail: Do the right thing. This is actually our core value at Yellow House. It covers and guides everything. (and it is perhaps a better articulation of “trust your gut” because there are times when your gut might be telling you not to do the right thing).
Do the right thing for your customers (make good recommendations and/or make good products).
Do the right thing for your business (make good, smart decisions)
Do the right thing for your colleagues (be fair and a good team player and support and hear them)
Do the right thing in the world (morally and in your heart and be clear on what greater impact you are making).
Mahsa: How do you balance work and personal life?
Grail: That is a choice. I strongly believe that you can have a successful, fast growth company and a happy and healthy home life. You have to compartmentalize and it helps to have support at home (which I do). With a business, your work is never “done”. You just have to set a time, shut your laptop, push back your chair and walk out knowing you have done what you can for that day. Our mantra at YellowHouse is WHPH (work hard, play hard). You have to have balance. So if you work hard, you have to make time to play within the same day, or you will eventually fail. I make sure I change gears, go out, do something different after work, spend time with my family or go to most of my kids sporting events because it gives me a much better break than “getting to bed early” so that I can just go to work the next day again.
Mahsa: Let’s change direction a bit, where’s your favourite place to travel?
Grail: I have a soft spot for Jamaica. We go every year if we can and my family and I think of it as a second home. We love the music, culture, food and vibe.
We also go to a family cottage in Georgian Bay every summer and have a deep connection to the rocks, trees, fresh water and the beauty of Canada. Such meaningful time is spent together there.
Also, I am South African, so obviously that is a fav as well. It’s a much longer flight, so not as easy to go as often. But once Africa is in your soul it never leaves you. South Africa’s diversity of people, landscape, wildlife, political views, food and wine is epic! We also try to do an annual trip to Europe (Greece, Portugal, Italy, France are all places we love).
If my husband and I are looking for a quick weekend get away, you can’t beat Miami. Short flight, great food and art scene, beautiful sandy beach and great American-Latino feel to it too. New Orleans is a great weekend trip as well and we love the music and passion there.
(as you can see I am passionate about travel, so hard to pick just one)!
Mahsa: What’s one thing every kick-ass woman should have in her closet?
Grail: Something that makes you feel powerful. And something that makes you feel pretty. Women don’t need to push femininity aside to kick ass!
(Oh and one pair of shoes that are both stylish and comfortable. No one can kick ass with sore feet!)
Mahsa: What are you most proud of?
Grail: My team, the culture we have built, the fun we have and the way we always find a way to be creative and find solutions. I am proud of the work we do and the way we do it. I am also proud of my family – I have two boys who are good athletes, funny, smart and nice and my husband and I love hanging out with them!
Mahsa: What are you three most-visited websites right now?
Mine (Yellowhouseagency.com) – I am always looking at it to see what we can refresh
Various news aggregator sites – you have to be current to stay on-trend and ahead of the curve
TED Talks – mentally addictive!
(I would add a forth in the spirit of being very honest and that is Facebook. I love seeing what people are up to and their pictures. I know some people are critical of it, but as someone with friends all over the world, it makes me feel connected to family and friends and at least once a day gives me a laugh. Dogs on skateboards and cats on bicycles are funny!)