In Conversation with Stephanie Biegel of Key

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Describe your business in a few words?

Key is a Fan Relationship Platform where Talent, Teams, Brands and Entities can take back control of their data and monetization to build deeper connections with their audiences.

What made you take the leap to start your own business?

After many years of working at startups, I felt passionate about building my own business from the ground up. The inflection point for me was the opportunity to work with my best-friend, whom I had worked alongside and looked up to for many years with the ad tech space. There is nothing more rewarding than building a business with a friend and having the opportunity to learn, grow and experience the ride together!

What was your background prior to starting your own business?

I started my career in the wild world of talent/entertainment, working at United Talent Agency and Platinum Rye Entertainment in Los Angeles. When I moved back to the Midwest, I fell face first into the Ad Tech industry and spent over a decade working with top brands to drive and support their media/marketing strategies. Most of my time was spent as a consultative seller, helping to foster unique and meaningful relationships with my clients, while driving results against their business objectives. My tenure in the advertising sector helped build my foundation and awareness for the power of data, brand partnerships, and strategic technology.

Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?

I’ve always enjoyed a challenge, and in my career, I’ve continued to push myself to evolve and grow as a dynamic individual in whatever I pursued! One thing I continuously reflect on is what filled my cup; I always have my hands in multiple endeavors, ensuring I deliver against my passions and fuel my drive.

Take us back to when you first launched your business, what was your marketing strategy to get the word out and did it go as planned?

Building a business never goes as planned. We launched an interactive tech platform in February and had never imagined that COVID would change the world in a way that virtual was no longer a nice-to-have, but instead a necessity. Our “marketing” strategy was to be agile, nimble, continue to innovate and offer the platform to whomever could benefit from it. With that, our plan was always to empower Talent to be their own marketing engine. Our mantra has always been to give back control to Talent, so the marketing was never really about us or our technology. Instead, we focused on the Talent/Teams/Brands and promoted their ventures tied to Key. They have worked hard to build loyal communities across existing platforms, so we advised them to meet their Fans where they are already engaged. This resulted in more authentic and organic messaging and drove increased adoption of the Key platform.

We always learn the most from our mistakes, share a time with us that you made a mistake or had a challenging time in business and what you learned from it?

This answer may seem like I am cheating (because I am), but after reflecting on my entire career the mistakes are too many to count! However, I don’t look at them as mistakes, I see them as stepping stones that led me to where I am today. I am grateful for learning opportunities in the past and look forward to the (hopefully small) mistakes in the future that will allow me to learn and grow.

What is the accomplishment you are the most proud of to date?

I would consider myself a calculated risk taker, and I am most proud of being confident enough to trade a comfortable situation for excitement and growth. I had an incredible job, an incredible career in the Ad Tech space but I wanted to expand my experiences and build something new. It’s easy to stay comfortable, but I wanted more, and I am proud everyday of taking that leap and building Key with my co-founder, Evan Wayne. As I reflect on this first year of launch, there have been twists and turns but the personal growth I have experienced could never have happened if I didn’t dive in!

When hiring for your team, what is your go-to interview question? Please share any hiring tips you can share from your experience?

When you are building a company, every single hire is essential. You are building a FAMILY and each new hire not only has monetary and business consequences but culture implications as well. Evan and I have always believed in working with great people. This means surrounding ourselves with people who have grit and grind, but most importantly enjoy coming to work each day. Anyone can have the right skill set, but not everyone is the right fit. I always try to connect in an interview on a personal level, to truly understand WHO the person is, not just WHAT they are capable of doing. A few of my “favorite” interview questions: 

  • What inspires you? 
  • What do you like to do outside of work?
  • Tell me about a time when you felt like a hero at work?
  • If you were interviewing me for my job, what would you want to know about me?
  • If you could have any superpower, what would it be?

How has your business or industry been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?

COVID-19 drove our business in unique ways, but of course impacted our trajectory and intended go-to-market plans. While we had “plans” for a slow roll-out in February, we quickly realized that our new plan was to get this platform into the hands of those who needed it. We had originally intended to focus on a few key verticals, and soon, our platform was adopted by countless individuals across a wide variety of sectors. COVID changed the business model for virtually every vertical that Key works with (culinary, music, fitness, sports, etc.). Key gave Talent the ability to connect in this new socially-distanced world.  We had to stay nimble, agile and innovative as everyone navigated this new normal. Within months of launch, hundreds of virtual/livestream platforms hit the market, so we had to be thoughtful and pointed in developing unique differentiators.

What’s next for your business? What can we expect to see over the next few years?

Expect to see more of us! In our years of working with brands in the advertising space, we have identified a unique opportunity gap: brands have an abundance of tools and information at their fingertips that Talent does not have. Brands have the resources to understand their audiences, garner rich data and insights and activate media accordingly. Key is built to be the essential tool to provide the same value and data access to Talent! In the coming year, you will see us doubling down on our data offering and continuing to evolve the way Talent/Brands/Entities capture, communicate, connect and activate these rich audiences.

What is the biggest lesson you have learned in 2020?

Live in the present, take things day by day, and embrace gratitude…always.

What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were first starting your business?

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. When starting a business, you can’t be expected to know everything. It’s ok to lean on others, to ask questions, and to learn from those who have done it before! There is also no “timeline” for success, so understand, when starting out, that the ride is just that…a ride. Enjoy it and give yourself grace to experience the twists and turns as you figure out the right path for the business!

How have you managed to stay grounded this year?

While it may sound cliché, I have truly leaned into a gratitude practice. Any time of the day, I focus on how grateful I am to be on this journey, with the team at Key, in my personal life, and beyond. For someone like me who is a control freak, this year could have derailed me. Instead, I have found so many silver linings in the opportunity to “slow down” and focus on what matters.

Do you believe in work/life balance? What are some of your best tips?

I actually think balance is a dangerous word and at times, as it can be something unrealistic to strive towards. I like to instead focus on optimal fulfillment. Am I doing something every day that fills my cup? Life is often about finding your way through the imbalance. For me, it’s the lifestyle practices that keep me grounded. I try to meditate for at least five minutes every day (#workinprogress). I commit to starting my day, at least 5 days a week, with a workout to get myself focused and ready for the day ahead. I have leaned into my side hustles, as fueling my passions in different ways helps me deliver my best self for Key! I practice self-love, self-care, and truly listen to what my mind/body/soul needs. The commitment to self is the most powerful balance practice out there in my opinion!

What’s something our audience would be surprised to learn about you?

One of my favorite things to do is to travel alone. I have named these trips “alonemoons,” where I truly lean into what I want to do, what I need, the time with myself! You end up having the most incredible experience and meeting the most inspiring people! It allows me to recharge and reconnect in the most unique way.

What are your top 3 tips to stay productive each day?

  • Start your day with warm lemon water. 
  • Commit to a workout to get your mind and body ready for the day ahead.
  • Set daily intentions, it feels really good to look back at the end of the day at your accomplishments. Sometimes the “little” wins are the most fulfilling.
  • *Bonus, do something you love EVERYDAY!

What does being an Entreprenista mean to you?

It means stepping into my power every day. Being inspired by other Entreprenistas along the way, and continuing to learn, grow and challenge myself to be the best version of me I can be. It’s about celebrating my wins, my team’s wins, the wins of inspiring women leaders around me and to learn from the lessons of those who have paved the way!

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