Feb. 15, 2022

How Lauren Rieckoff is Building Brands, Seizing Opportunities, and Nurturing Relationships Ep. 57


Starting in the late 90’s as a Casting Associate for Sex & the City, Lauren pivoted to the agency world in 2002 and joined Creative Artists Agency, becoming one of the first female Agents in the New York headquarters. Following a 14-year tenure at the intersection of global Talent + Brands, Lauren left CAA to build a multi-disciplinary agency with a focus on constructing indispensable strategies for the people, the brands, and the institutions changing the world.  

According to former Google Chairman Eric Schmidt, "I’ve worked with Lauren for many years. She has an unusual knack for putting the right people together to solve almost any problem imaginable."  

Lauren's unique approach is rooted in her philosophy of applying the principles of traditional talent representation to emerging business models. She focuses her team on a new level of client service representation - one that breeds influence and values the power of storytelling above all.

Where to Find Lauren Rieckoff

Website: https://www.wilyfoxx.com/


Lauren Rieckoff Tech Tools

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Transcript
Lauren Rieckhoff:

As a female led and owned business, to be able to say that we have a partnership that is truly 50 50, and it feel that is so full of kind of old school, male dominated industry to say the least makes us feel really good about what's to come.

Natasha Miller:

Welcome to FASCINATING ENTREPRENEURS. How do people end up becoming an entrepreneur?

How do they scale and grow their businesses? How did they plan for profit? Are they in it for life? Are they building to exit these and a myriad of other topics will be discussed to pull back the veil on the wizardry of successful and FASCINATING ENTREPRENEURS? My Memoir RELENTLESS is releasing in March of 2020 to go to OfficialNatashaMiller.com to put your name on the waitlist.

And I'll let you know when it's available. The bonuses for buying the book are pretty enticing. They hope you love them all. Also let me know if you'd like to be on my advanced reader team. I'll send you all of the details. Lauren Rieckoff started her career as a casting associate for the show Sex and the City, she then worked as a talent agent at CAA before co-founding the client service representation from wilyfoXX we talk about seizing opportunities, spinning them into gold and the realities of running your own business. Now let's get right into it.

Lauren Rieckhoff:

Are there words to describe being 21 years old in New York city, literally running a at the heels in the shadows of Sarah, Jessica Parker and Kristen Davis and the brilliance of Michael Patrick King.

We had a secret key to every special bungalow that the city had to offer every underground, cool like, "Oh, I thought that was just folklore. Oh, it actually exists." And we get to go there because we're shooting a scene there. It was such an exciting, I think cultural moment, because to be a part of a show at a moment when it was really just reaching kind of fever pitch was very exciting.

But it also upped the anti of being young and out of college and recognizing that, "Oh, there is a line of people like around 50 city blocks that would kill to take my place." They would do it for free and if I'm not going to take advantage full advantage of just soaking in everything I possibly can.

Then what am I doing here? And so I would go to the table reads on the fifth floor of Silver Cup Studios, and I would just listen to how the directors talked to the actors and how the writers would kind of correspond. And I thought, wow, this is like a masterclass in communication. And then I would go on set and I would sit with like all the grips and the gaffes and the ADs and the ADDs and I would learn about how each of them had such a specific job to do. And they executed it to perfection and it was very much like, you know, what time, like when "It's okay, great. Ready? Roll camera. Here we go." And then boom, this one does this, this one yells that, that one's quiet on set and magic happens.

Natasha Miller:

How did you know at that young age? How did you have the wherewithal to know? This is a moment in time. It's special pay attention, watch and learn.

Lauren Rieckhoff:

I think because I joined the series when it was, I was there for seasons three, four, and five. And I actually got my job because I had gone to an audition, sought out the casting director and said to her, "Look, I'll work for free I'll intern for you.

I just love the stories that are being told. And if you need help I'll book extras all day long."

Natasha Miller:

Did you audition as a character?

Lauren Rieckhoff:

Oh no, I just went because at the time the village voice was our go-to Bible for us young folk. And I flipped through the pages of the village voice. And I saw that there was this audition happening and I thought, well, there's going to be a casting person there.

Let me go meet that person. I always liked the idea of casting. So as life and luck would have it, she needed an intern. I said, "Cool, I'll do it." And then two weeks after I joined Sex In The City, Season 3, the casting associate who worked for the casting director moved to L.A. And there was an opening and she's like, we're in the middle of a season.

I don't have a second free to find somebody. So Lauren, you want it I'll pay $500 a week. I was like, "What? You know, this is incredible."

Natasha Miller:

While the show was going, how far out were you casting?

Lauren Rieckhoff:

It was like a sixth month shooting. We'd usually do around 20 episodes. We'd shoot two episodes at a time and we would shoot those two episodes over two week periods.

And then there would be a little bit of downtime in between. It was crazy because again, by Season 3, this was a hit, this was a bonafide hit for HBO. There were a line of ladies outside my office and one by one, they would come in and drop their drawers. And I had to take a photo of, of their rear-ends.

Did I know then? How firmly it would continue to sit in the cultural site geist? "No, of course." I was just a smitten young girl, trying to literally like eat up every moment that I could. Good.

Natasha Miller:

So you moved on from there to help launch CAA and you were one of a handful of women. What was that experience there that informed you of your current and entrepreneurial endeavor?

I have a feeling it started giving light to the potential of something for you in the future, maybe not.

Lauren Rieckhoff:

No, of course I would be doing a major disservice to my incredible colleagues at CAA if I didn't clarify slightly, I was there at the very beginning of creative artists agencies, New York office. So I don't know how much actual building I did, but when is again, serendipitously after season five.

We all kind of knew the show was going to last one more season for Sex In The City. I thought, let me look around and see what kind of jobs are out here. And I was introduced to the one lone agent who had left Los Angeles, who had moved to New York City who was looking for kind of a right hand assistant, but you know, a junior agent to come in and help basically run the brand commercial, the endorsement side of the business from New York.

As life would once again, decide to kind of interject where I didn't think it would. I was called by a headhunter who said, look, you know, the person that you met at CAA they want you to come back in and they looked at your resume. They really think you could be great for the job. And so I jumped on the subway and walked into his office.

He goes, this opportunity in front of you right now. Nobody gets this. Like-

Natasha Miller:

Can we selling you?

Lauren Rieckhoff:

He's like "I can promise you this, whatever you do after CAA, like if you're here for three months or 30 years, it'll have been worth your time."

Natasha Miller:

I want everyone to know what CAA is because it's in our lingo, but it's Creative Artists Agency and it's in Hollywood. That's where it started and then they were opening this New York office.

Lauren Rieckhoff:

The great talent agencies of yesteryear were primarily based out of Los Angeles, you know, in proximity to the studios and the movie business. Right. And yes, of course, back in the day, William Morris agency had the thriving New York office, but that was primarily dedicated to Broadway, but it wasn't until this particular agent, a guy by the name of Peter said to the partners at CAA like, look guys, the agency business maybe for TV film, whatnot is here in Los Angeles. Great. But in New York, that's where Madison avenue is. And if we're going to be at the forefront of building brands and opportunities for our clients outside of their core business, I think we need to be there. And of course the leadership at CA was like, yeah, totally get it.

And I thankfully didn't just walk away from what turned out to be an incredible 15 year journey.

Natasha Miller:

Let's talk about the business model for wilyfoXX, how you're creating strategies for your clients. And I want examples. I don't need names. Names would be fine, but what is it that you are doing? I love it. And I want everyone to know about.

Lauren Rieckhoff:

It built out from this idea that I had thought about it for awhile. I had been an agent for at that point about a decade, and I found myself becoming more and more excited by and inspired by the rise of the founders world of these innovators that were truly changing the world. And I found that every kind of, whether it was a company that I was really impressed by, you know, for example, a colleague and I, at CAA we were representing rent the runway.

They were changing the share economy, you know, something that sounded kind of gross to people six months earlier, like, "Ooh, sharing clothes. That's gross." Turned into the most brilliant idea that frankly completely revolutionized the entire retail industry and fashion and how people view ownership versus experience and what social media and technology had to do with that because of

desire. So many people had to be showing themselves in a new, fresh way every day. So there was the companies like that, that I was just like, this is completely taking over the share economy. That's fascinating. There was a trio of founders who started a movement in fashion. For emerging designers, which is how I met my now co-founder.

And as she was putting together the backing for this movement, through her role at American express, I was representing the founders and together we realized everything that we both care about is rooted in collaboration. We also both really loved the longterm vision. We both get really excited by the minutia, the granular details that really puts things together.

And so after many years of kind of crossing paths and working here and there on projects, We found ourselves at the CES conference in Las Vegas. And we said, Hey, maybe we should look around and start something that is unique to what we're most inspired by. And that's culture, collaboration, partnerships, intimacy with people.

Everything we cared most about is relationship-based and what we valued most were relationships that we had nurtured through our careers. And so after a couple of late night drinks and then a couple of phone calls the following week of like, so do you still think, should we. Like, are we going to have a healthcare plan?

Like, what are we going to do here? Like we got kids to take care of, but ultimately we said, look, let's give this a whirl. I found that if I could represent exactly the kinds of people that I wanted to represent, there would be no limit to kind of the energy. And enthusiasm that could go behind that.

Versus when you're in more of a corporate culture, obviously it's important to be a very good colleague and therefore you get pulled into a number of things that you might not be excited by, and then you're not giving your all to.

Natasha Miller:

So tell me about wilyfoXX. What is it that you guys offer to your clients?

Lauren Rieckhoff:

So when we start wilyfoXX in 2017, we opened our doors as a multidisciplinary consulting advisory, which is a mouthful. Basically, all that means is that we had areas of expertise across all different verticals of business from PR and communications, to marketing, to digital, to business development, everything with kind of the overlying halo of strategy, thought leadership, so on and so forth.

So, at the time and, and now I think many people were starting similar type consultancies and agencies where you didn't have to pick a lane to us. It didn't feel modern to say we are just PR when frankly, I knew nothing about PR, but I knew a lot about deal-making and partnerships and building businesses and the marriage of brand and talent and philanthropy.

So we basically said, okay, you know what, we're not going to pick a lane. We have expertise. What can we do though, to make sure that when we do have these clients, that we can build teams around them to service them, because of course there is a very clear limit to our areas of expertise. And so we loved the idea of bringing in, again, collectives of people across different areas of the business.

So we started out WPP was our very first client. And within the WPP world, we were immediately deployed throughout the different agencies to basically be kind of big thinkers. And I want to say-

Natasha Miller:

First of all, what is WPP?

Lauren Rieckhoff:

WPP is a conglomerate that owns a number of advertising agencies, media buying agencies.

It's kind of one of the biggies. A lot of people know of them through J Walter Thompson, which they own and Ogilvy and things like that. So in the advertising world and the media buying world WPP is just known as "look there fantastic at what they do", but they have a bit of an old school mentality. And I think they were looking for some fresh eyes and ears to come in with some new thinking.

So within probably the first month of us kind of being deployed throughout the different agencies at WPP, we sat down and we were asked to join a meeting within an Americana legacy denim brand. And the name of Lee Denim and Lee was about to turn 130 years old. And Lee was finding that a certain competitor was eating their lunch at every opportunity.

And didn't really know how to break out of the rut that they had gotten in. But what they did was they came to us with a very small problem. Initially it was, we want to do something at New York fashion week, maybe like an editor event or a luncheon. And Karen and I looked at each other. And they told us their budget and it was a significant budget.

And we were like, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. There is no way because look to do anything at a place where you're not necessarily invited to, you have to be doing something that is making an impact on the industry itself. You can't just kind of like want to glean off of what they're doing. And for New York fashion week, there's so much noise and so much clutter and brands think it's just the greatest place to play.

But frankly, most people are tuning out. So we said to them, give us a week, we'll come back to you before Christmas. And we want to present an actual strategy across collaborations, partnerships, designers, philanthropy, scholarships, and we can literally take this budget that you were thinking about spending on a lunch.

And get a good six to eight months out of it, of real impactful work. And that without us really knowing it became something that we are now to this day, so passionate about, which is taking a brand, whether it's one that has what we love Americana brands with legacy and heritage. Been built, but need to evolve, taking it and finding a way for them to refine their rightful place in this cultural world and making sure that they're using or understanding the tactics that are needed to speak to a completely different generation of consumers.

Natasha Miller:

I love this. You're like a life injected.

Lauren Rieckhoff:

That is in its purest form. Then the highest praise that we could get is if we are brought in and together, my partner, Karen and I, we build a team that basically is going to just take this brand that everybody feels a little stagnant and the teams that are, you know, all over the country are a little bit like it's a nine to five I'm punching in, punching out and it actually becomes, what do you guys want to do?

Like what excites you? And then making sure that we provide areas of bandwidth and expertise and resources to bring them to life. Okay.

Natasha Miller:

So co-founding owning and running your own business after working for other companies forever. What has surprised you on the positive side? And of course, what has surprised you on the not so positive side?

Lauren Rieckhoff:

You know, it's funny. I want to say it was maybe like six or eight months after Karen and I had officially launched the company and we had put our roots down in lower Manhattan and opened our office doors. And we had a great team with us and we were finding that business was coming to us at a more of a rapid pace than we had anticipated.

And it was exactly the kind of business that we were most excited by. And I remember again at that six month mark, there was a week, a full week where I would wake up in the middle of the night. I couldn't wait to get out of bed. I couldn't wait for it to be the morning so that I could literally stop off, get my cup of coffee at Gregory's and then get to the office and sit with Karen and keep talking about what we're doing.

And it kept happening that whole week. It was so weird. And so now, and again, it still absolutely happens, but I was so surprised that like, that's not just a feeling for kind of like your younger self when you're bright eyed and bushy tailed, and you're just out of school and you're like, this is really exciting.

It was a new found kind of excitement. Just randomly reading an article like 15 years ago about Jennifer Anniston. And it was at like a low point post Brad breakup and everybody thought she was this like depressed woman. And she's like, no, she's like sometimes I just lay in bed and I can't wait for it to be the morning because I'm like, oh my gosh, "I can't wait to get my cup of coffee and see what script I'm going to read today."

And that always stayed with me that like, you know, people are motivated by other things outside of maybe just like your personal life. And so what has absolutely been so surprising is that feeling.

Natasha Miller:

I have that feeling right

now and it's mind blowing. It's so exciting. And it just lets you know, that there's potential for the future to have something just wonderful happening. And it isn't relegated just to youth or twenties or, or whatever. Okay. So now what has surprised you the realities?

Lauren Rieckhoff:

The reality? You know, I mentioned it earlier. Because it's something that I still may be struggled with slightly, which is the lack of kind of immediate bandwidth when putting together projects executing on things.

I was really fortunate as was my co-founder to always have groups of people around us to help us do the best job possible. And. When you are in the process of running your own business and every dollar counts and every body that is hired to help you has a very specific role and you don't want to distract them from what they're supposed to do by asking them, oh, can you come help me do that?

It's a heavy load and it just requires tremendous organizational skills, which I continue to strive to have. I check out your kind of techie recommendations and what everybody else uses. And that's very, very helpful, but I think that, um, it's hard to feel like sometimes you have to do so much by yourself when you know that if you just had a little bit of help on something, You could go so much farther.

Natasha Miller:

Okay. So one of the things that I expected you to say, what you didn't, which I want to say out loud is when I'm talking to my team, we really talk about gross profit. In my core business, we never talk about top line revenue ever in about every quarter. I like to show them what's underneath gross profit, because I don't want anyone thinking that a million dollars in gross profit is all going to pocket.

Lauren Rieckhoff:

Right. Exactly, to Natasha just so women and money.

Natasha Miller:

So I'm like, yeah, here's the reality. It's payroll taxes. It's bonuses. It's benefits. It's the lawyer. It's the attorney. Every time you want something fixed and sales force. It's that, it's this, it's that. And the look on their faces are like, oh my God. And like, yes, thank you.

That is what my reality is. Again, I would never ever change it. However, if you go and have a real talk with a new entrepreneur, someone who has never done entrepreneurship ever before, and you roll out. Step-by-step everything that is not on the rosy side. I don't know how many people would be like, yep.

Sign me up.

Lauren Rieckhoff:

Right. That's what I mean. We all laugh about it. And now my gosh, I think our worlds look, you and I were connected through a Female Founders Collective of women who won't want to be there for each other and help empower other women who are going through similar things. And I feel like I've been in countless rooms and encounter zooms where we talk about that in particular like, well, if we knew now what we knew then, but thank God we didn't know this thing.

I'm glad I was a little bright eyed and bushy tailed when it came to starting our own business. And thank God, Karen was willing to jump in the deep end with me and she was a little bit more practical. I was a little bit more like we can do anything.

Natasha Miller:

That's great. You need that duality. And that leads me to my next question is how do you and your co-founder Karen split the duties of running the company?

And I think I can guess, but I just want you to tell me you're the creative.

Lauren Rieckhoff:

What do you think?

Natasha Miller:

I think you're the creative dynamo thinker. Like I'm going to tell you something in you're like 5 seconds later. "Yes." And, and then we're going to do all this other stuff and then Karen's like, bring it down to reality and logistics.

And this is how it's going to all play out, my guests.

Lauren Rieckhoff:

You are definitely very, very close. I would say though, that it's funny, you know, Karen and I always say we're two sides of the same coin. So in a lot of ways, we're incredibly different. And again, those differences are what complimented. It's so important to us both to make sure that each other, that the other is taken care of.

I think that that was. Uh, really kind of strong principle that we both had in previous work relationships, but it vacillates a little bit. There is no, this one is the creative. This, this one is the brilliant that this one is. I mean, Karen is far and away, much more brilliant about putting together strategies and designing.

Thought leadership, roadmaps and things, but then she's also got this impeccable taste level that is also, she's very thoughtful about it. Whereas the true Scorpio in me is kind of impulsive and very much exactly the way you just kind of mimicked like this. And I love this and I'm so excited and it's wonderful that Karen will absolutely bring me down to earth.

But at the same time, that's why we work well together because the clients have both of that. And like I said, sometimes she's the one that's like, this is so great. This is what we're going to do. And I'm a little bit more like, I don't know. I feel like we've already done that. Let's try, you know, so it's really symbiotic.

It's also really a part from, I think, a marriage between a man and a woman or a man and a man, a woman, a woman, a co-founder relationship is as intimate as a relationship can get.

Natasha Miller:

So the last question is what is your strategy for growth, whatever that may look like to you? What is it for next year?

Lauren Rieckhoff:

Well, this is one of the things that wakes me up in the middle of the night.

Right now, this is one of many things, but Karen and I were able to take a beat. We were incredibly fortunate to have our clients very much lean on us and stick with us during the pandemic. And we were grateful to be able to do the work that we love to do and be able to do it from really anywhere. But like everyone else, there was plenty of time to sit and think and something that we thought a lot about was we came into this.

Together wanting to be a part of building things that were impactful. And I say things because it really truly can be anything, a brand, a philanthropy, immediate entity, a production, a film, whatever, an article of clothing, like it can be truly anything. And what we found was that we were. Getting a little bit too, kind of brought into the servicing of the clients, to the detriment where we hadn't let any time be allowed for what we think is so crucial, which is just like to think, what do we want, what do we actually want?

Like, let's get, we tell clients this all the time. Like we're pulling you off the hamster wheel, stop being reactive. We're going to be proactive. We're going to force you to not look at your phone or your computer for two days. And we're going to make you just like, think about. But we weren't following our own advice.

So during the pandemic, we had a number of times that we would just come together and say, what do we really want? We were like, we kind of want ownership over some of the stuff that we're building. We love the servicing side of the business. We actually really love it. But I'll be darned. There are a lot of really brilliant entities that are being created, that we are thankful to be somewhat on the ground floor in and offering advice and expertise where we can.

But we also recognize that if we had some capital to invest and opportunities to create deeper inroads, where there was an equity and some of these brands and companies and things like that. Well, that was really the right move for us. And so we've been incredibly lucky to partner with a business leader who is run, what we've always deemed to be the most, not only one of the most kind of respected and admired M and a advisories and kind of, as we always call them, just like our financial, you know, he's a financial architect in how he views.

Putting people and relationships and capital together to make magic. We were having a very casual zoom about one thing in particular. We wanted to bring to him and it evolved into a, you know, wilyfoXX has their hands in so many things that are so modern and relevant, especially on the entertainment side, on the music side, on the media side.

Whereas some of the deals that this particular M&A was focused on had been very much in kind of consumer retail. And while the deals were absolutely massively significant, they tended to play in beauty, consumer retail, things like. We had the opportunity to come in and actually say, yeah, what about this?

What about this? And then it was okay, shall we do this together? And when the answer was, yes, then the next question was, and it will be 50/50. And the answer was, yes.

Natasha Miller:

Wow.

Lauren Rieckhoff:

To the races we go.

Natasha Miller:

That's more than a piece of equity.

Lauren Rieckhoff:

That's not necessarily the equity that we'll take in, in the companies that we build, but the work that we do together with this firm, you know, our two firms hand in hand, just because they've been around doing this side of the business for 30 years.

And just because we happen to have certain access that it is appealing. It doesn't matter that he's a gentleman that is kind of sitting up in the beautiful office on Madison Avenue. And we're the crazy girls running around downtown. Um, it's 50/50, and as female founders and as a female led and owned business, to be able to say that we have a partnership that is truly 50 50 in a field that is so full of kind of old school, male dominated industry to say the least makes us feel really good about what story.

Natasha Miller:

Lauren gave us an inside peek into the creative and exhilarating world of working with Sarah Jessica Parker and the Sex In The City production team, how she was able to be fully supported at CAA and how she's optimizing wilyfoXX for growth in 2022. For more information, go to the show notes where you're listening to this podcast.

Want to know more about me. Go to my website, OfficialNatashaMiller.com. Thank you so much for listening. I hope you loved the show. If you did, please subscribe also, if you haven't done so yet, please leave a review where you're listening to this podcast. Now I'm Natasha Miller and you've been listening to fascinating entrepreneurs.

Lauren Rieckhoff Profile Photo

Lauren Rieckhoff

CEO

Starting in the late 90’s as a Casting Associate for Sex & the City, Lauren pivoted to the agency world in 2002 and joined Creative Artists Agency, becoming one of the first female Agents in the New York headquarters. Following a 14-year tenure at the intersection of global Talent + Brands, Lauren left CAA to build a multi-disciplinary agency with a focus on constructing indispensable strategies for the people, the brands, and the institutions changing the world.

According to former Google Chairman Eric Schmidt, "I’ve worked with Lauren for many years. She has an unusual knack for putting the right people together to solve almost any problem imaginable."

Lauren's unique approach is rooted in her philosophy of applying the principles of traditional talent representation to emerging business models. She focuses her team on a new level of client service representation - one that breeds influence and values the power of storytelling above all.