In their new book Work Wife, Erica Cerulo and Claire Mazur make the case for female friendship as a powerful force to drive business. Best friends since college, the duo founded the e-commerce and content platform Of A Kind in 2010 to showcase the work of emerging designers and have grown the business to include a popular newsletter and podcast. Cerulo and Mazur use their experience as supportive and complimentary colleagues as a prime example of Work Wife success —and also feature other entrepreneurial duos such as the founders of Food 52 and the fashion site Go Fug Yourself. In addition to these first-hand accounts, the book offers a trove of workplace wisdom on topics ranging from dealing with finances to accommodating motherhood to how to have productive disagreements.
Why did you write Work Wife?
CM: Erica and I have been friends for 17 years and business partners for nine years. Through all the ups and downs in our business, the thing we’ve always been proudest of is our partnership and the way it’s anchored in and improved by our friendship. We think there are powerful lessons in understanding the ways in which our personal relationships at work can inform and improve our professional relationships.
You spoke to “work wives” in a broad range of fields—from food to media to sports among many others. How did you choose your subjects?
EC: It was really important to us to represent work wives with different backgrounds, in different fields, of different ages, and in different places—everyone from the women behind the Call Your Girlfriend podcast to Olympic volleyball players Kerri Walsh Jennings and Misty May-Treanor. We wanted to explore both what these duos and trios of women had in common—and how their approaches diverged. There isn’t one way to form and nurture a relationship like this—it’s all about landing on what’s right for the women involved.
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Claire: "I go through jars of Soom Tahini (founded by three sisters in Philly!) at lightning speed."
Stereotypes abound about women being competitive and unsupportive of each other in the workplace. Why do you think that is?
CM: For such a long time, there was a sense (and, in a lot of cases, a reality) that there was only room for one or two women in leadership positions at a given company. That creates a breeding ground for competition. As we’ve made (slow-but-steady!) progress toward putting women on more equal footing in the workplace, there’s more opportunity for collaboration and cooperation. Work Wife tells the stories of 15 duos and trios of women whose professional relationships have thrived because of their willingness to be their authentic, vulnerable, compassionate selves with one another.
Who are some “work wives” you look up to and why?
EC: There’s no duo more iconic than Oprah and Gayle (call us!).
In one sentence, what does your company Of A Kind do?
CM: We give our greatest discoveries the audience they deserve.
Why should people care about your company and what you’re doing?
EC: We’re building a brand that’s rooted in authenticity that we think—hope—really shines through. We convey this in the products we sell and the stories we tell, the newsletters we send and the podcasts we record. It’s all about conveying that there are people—us, the team at Of a Kind, the designers we work with—behind the brand.
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give other women looking to start their own business in your space?
CM: Spend time thinking about how you’re going to reach people. It’s harder than it seems, and that’s one of the things that surprised me out of the gate. We were lucky to have amassed a decently-sized Tumblr following when we launched, but platforms go in and out of relevancy and making sure you’re not relying on just one is important. I’ll never forget when Gmail introduced their Promotions tab and all of a sudden we couldn’t rely on the stellar open rates we’d always had for our newsletter.
We hold ourselves accountable to each other’s high standards, and we’re both better for it.
What’s one thing that makes your life easier
EC: Having two partnerships—with Claire and my husband Thomas—that ground, support, and balance me.
What is the best thing about having a co-founder?
CM: We hold ourselves accountable to each other’s high standards, and we’re both better for it. Erica is extremely intentional and deliberate. If she says she’s going to do something, she does it. She’s made me better at being the same way because I know that I’m representing both of us and I don’t want to let her down.
What is the most challenging thing about having a co-founder?
EC: The biggest challenge is that the working world isn’t built for partnerships like ours. As much as companies laud teamwork and managers encourage collaboration, they evaluate people as individuals. The strength of a relationship like the one we have is that the “we” is prioritized over the “me.”
Describe an instance when you “failed forward” with your company?
CM: In 2012, we were trying to think of ways to keep promoting our annual post-holiday sale. We had had already sent out a handful of marketing emails promoting it and didn’t have the budget to try other channels. Instead, we sent a newsletter called “10 Things We’re Doing Besides Shopping Our Sale” that was just a list of things we were feeling excited about —a nail polish color, an interesting article, a new music video, etc. It got such a positive response that we’ve continued to publish a “10 Things” newsletter weekly ever since. It’s now a calling card and a revenue-driver for our business.
How will you know when you’ve made it?
EC: Because ambition can be both an asset and a liability, I’m trying to be better at just practicing contentment. (Definitely easier said than done!)