Sheila Marmon of Mirror Digital on never giving up in the face of challenges, and coming out of 2020 stronger than ever
What made you take the leap to start your own business?
As a junior media executive at a major corporation, I was working on an array of exciting product launches. My work was primarily focused on the areas of digital innovation OR multicultural markets. I decided to marry these two passions and focus on how innovation in media could help leading brands reach people of color on digital media platforms; hence, Mirror Digital was born.
What was your background prior to starting your own business?
I was fascinated by different media business models – and continue to be. Before I launched my own business, I held a number of functional roles in the media and publishing industries from finance, to operations, to strategy. I really loved the work I had the privilege to be involved in and learned from amazingly talented professionals who taught me so much – especially female leaders. The women I worked for really pushed me to learn and take on stretch roles that helped me grow. Without those years in Corporate America learning from some of the best executives in the business (who just happened to be women), I do not think I would have been as prepared to launch and grow the thriving business I have today.
Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
I grew up in an under-resourced community in Los Angeles and even as a child, I felt like what our community needed was more jobs and I wanted to help fix that. At Mirror Digital, I am intentional about hiring young, diverse professionals – many who are from under-resourced communities – and training them to be successful in our industry.
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?
My business operates at the intersection of the advertising technology industry (“ad tech”) and multicultural marketing. There are very few people in the ad tech industry who look like me , and I was surprised by the lack of support I received when first launching my business – especially given my professional experience and educational credentials.
What is the accomplishment you are the most proud of to date?
We work with some of the world’s most recognized brands as a trusted partner to help them build their businesses by tapping into the multicultural growth markets. Mirror Digital has been a pioneer in helping brands understand how to reach and authentically connect with multicultural and trendsetting communities across digital platforms. In doing this work, we have helped support a thriving, independent marketplace of diverse-owned media partners who share unique voices and perspectives.
When hiring for your team, what is your go-to interview question? Please share any hiring tips you can share from your experience?
I always ask people which aspects of their previous roles they liked most and liked least? I find that helping prospective talent identify their passions and incorporate those elements in their day-to-day roles helps keep them motivated. This has been critically important for millennial and Gen Z professionals.
How has your business or industry been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?
When COVID initially hit, we saw an immediate pull back from some of clients in categories hit most dramatically impacted such as theatrical films and retail. It took a moment for everyone to adjust to the new normal and assess how they would be able to continue to do business during the pandemic.
What’s next for your business? What can we expect to see over the next few years?
Today Mirror Digital operates a digital publisher network, a social influencer network, and a programmatic marketplace that reaches over 30 million Asian, Black, and Latinx consumers each month. We’ll continue to grow our reach and surface the newest, most relevant multicultural voices in digital media. We’ll also build on our innovative solutions for our brand and ad agency partners to help them speak and connect with these audiences in effective ways.
What is the biggest lesson you have learned in 2020?
Don’t give up! We faced some challenging moments and some folks around me were questioning whether I could pull the company through. My team came together as a collective to help us survive the roughest moments of 2020 and we have come out stronger than ever.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were first starting your business?
My plan was to operate as a venture backed start-up. I did not expect the headwinds I experienced as a black woman trying to raise money in 2012. Fortunately, the market seems to be much more receptive to diverse founders – for women, people of color, and for women of color. My company has perpetually been under-resourced, which always requires us to be twice as creative and work twice as hard.
How have you managed to stay grounded this year?
When things get tough, I always look at the great perspective and give thanks for my health, my family, and my friends. My team laughs because when people are getting a little too stressed about work, I tell them “stop and take breath, we are not curing cancer – everything will be okay.”
Do you believe in work/life balance? What are some of your best tips?
I believe in work/life integration more so than work/life balance. The path I chose as an entrepreneur inherently demands a lot from me. Consequently, I am intentional about working with people I like and partnering with friends to pursue opportunities whenever I can. That way, at least I spend the long work hours with people that I want to be around.
What are your top 3 tips to stay productive each day?
I map out my high priority list of tasks I need to address on graph paper at the start of each week as my “do or die” list. There are so many things that can pop up and demand my attention as an entrepreneur, I have to carve out time to do the important things that drive my business, even when they are not the most pressing things at the time.
I live by my calendar – if there is something I need to do or somewhere I need to be, my team puts it on my calendar. This helps keep me organized and makes sure I don’t miss things.
I time block my email responses – I set aside time to respond to outstanding emails and hold them all in drafts until I am done. This way, I don’t get responses coming end distracting me from the other emails I am still crafting to send out.
What does being an Entreprenista mean to you?
Being an Entreprenista means celebrating female founders who are launching and growing businesses on their own terms and following and amplifying this path in my own life as a model for the next generation of female business leaders.