- Maira Genovese is the founder and president of MG Empower, an influencer marketing company.
- She operated from a coffee shop, earning less than $30,000, before selling it for millions last year.
- Here’s Genovese’s story, as told to Insider reporter Ryan Hogg.
This as-told-to article is based on a conversation with Maira Genovese, the founder and president of influencer marketing agency MG Empower. It has been edited for length and clarity.
Throughout my life, I have become used to starting over. I have quit my job twice. The first time I moved from Brazil to the UK with no English, to study fashion and eventually work as an intern for Alexander McQueen, making £14,500 ($18,200) a year.
The second time, I quit a £92,000 ($115,900) salary at fashion brand Value Retail PLC to begin
agency MG Empower three months after giving birth to my child, and with no savings.
Five years later, with more than 70 employees, I would sell all my shares in MG Empower to Amyris Inc. in a multi-million dollar deal.
Pitching for Chopard and Dior over coffee
Every day for 18 months, I would work from a UK coffee chain, Costa Coffee, that was located inside the Odeon, a UK movie theater group, in North Greenwich, London.
Since COVID-19 hit, remote and hybrid working has become widespread. But in 2016 it really felt like I was out on my own, there were very few places to work and a cinema cafe really was the best option.
I budgeted myself £30 ($38) a week for costs, ordering one or two coffees and a pastry each day while managing influencer clients and pitching to companies. I made £20,000 ($25,100) in revenue in my first year but found the non-committal nature of working there invigorating.
I think simplicity during this time was the key to my success on a low income. I was cautious not to plan too far ahead or overcomplicate my services.
I would use Costa as a base of operations between 10 am and 3 pm, and limited my activities, pricing structure and range of work to account for a disruptive environment. Working in a cinema cafe, there were kids, and parents, and a lot of people going in and out.
When you’re pitching for a new client, they want you to feel confident, they want you to have a structure, and I didn’t have any of that. But that was the only place I could go, so I had to make it happen.
I spent any money I saved to travel across Europe to meet with and pitch to potential clients in person, as I’m still convinced it is better than meeting virtually, and it was easier than inviting them to Costa.
But on reflection, I think the cafe surroundings left me too focused on scaling quickly.
The first year I was so focused on getting clients and money in, that I forgot to focus on all the elements of the business that were even more important. Now I understand that the revenue is a consequence of the service that you offer. For me, that included a good website and finding a unique selling point for my services.
When was it time to move on?
I eventually landed my first major client, the jewelry company Chopard, after a year and a half in Costa. Soon, Dior, Flannels and Bumble followed. I knew I couldn’t continue to grow without more space.
The influencer market was growing really quickly and is now a multibillion-dollar industry. I realized I was part of a small group at the beginning of something big and I had to grow to keep up.
But credibility was as much a factor as scaling up in my move, as I felt I couldn’t invite clients to a cafe and worried it would damage the quality of my work.
The structure of the cafe for the type of clients I was getting wouldn’t be sustainable for the business. If you’re working with big brands and they ask ‘where is your office?’ I am going to have to say ‘oh Cafe Costa in North Greenwich.’
I rented my first premises after the cafe in north Greenwich for £600 ($755 dollars) a month. With new clients and one employee, I grew my revenues from £20,000 ($25,100) in my first year to more than £200,000 ($251,600) in my second year.
I took lessons about cost saving that I learned in the cafe with me as I scaled, as well as an appetite for risk moving to shared office space in central London to attract employees and clients before I eventually sold the company.
The cafe is a perfect place to start a business. It allowed me to try new things, keep costs down and avoid being tied down while I looked for opportunities. But once you are confident that you have a good business plan and are growing revenues, you need to take the risk that it will work out.
When I decided it was time to have an office, it was a risk but I knew it was time to take it.