What is your name, age, and location?
Adelaide Lancaster, 31, work in New York, live in Philadelphia. Although my family is relocating next spring and we aren’t sure where yet!
What is your profession?
I am proud to be an entrepreneur! My business, In Good Company, is the first of its kind community, learning center, and workspace for women business owners. We are located in Manhattan and support 300 entrepreneurs and their businesses.
What did you study in school and what degrees do you have?
I studied Sociology/Anthropology and Educational Studies at Colgate University. I have a B.A. from there. I also have a M.Ed. in Counseling Psychology and a M.A. in Organizational Psychology – both from Columbia University.
What was your first job?
I went right from undergrad to graduate school, so many of my ‘first jobs’ were various internships. I also taught preschool to help support myself while I was in school. I wasn’t very good at it! When it came time to graduate from counseling psychology program (I was also in the Organizational Psychology program) I couldn’t find the kind of job that I was looking for. I wanted to be a career counselor for women who were deciding what direction to take their career. Most of the positions available were in schools and there was very little counseling involved. The other larger organizations either required a lot of ancillary HR work or were working with more at-risk populations. So since I couldn’t find the job I wanted, I decided to create it! I started my own career counseling practice and consequently became an entrepreneur. That practice evolved over a number of years and through several iterations to later become the business I have today. The decision to start my own thing was one of the best I ever made. That doesn’t mean it’s been easy, but it has been rewarding.
Who or what inspired you to break into your current line of work?
I began my journey as an aspiring therapist. However, I realized in graduate school that I really didn’t have what it took. Despite a deep interest in why we all do what we do, I am limited by a pathetically small emotional taxonomy, if you will. My more feeling-oriented and extroverted classmates ran therapeutic circles around me.
Luckily though, I found my professional home in the Organizational Psychology class. I enjoyed thinking about things such as organizational culture, behavior, and effectiveness. It was ultimately a book – Small Giants by Bo Burlingham – that convinced me that there were really interesting opportunities working with small businesses and entrepreneurs. At that point I had a small career counseling consulting practice. I began to take on more entrepreneurial clients and soon became hooked. Around then I met my now business partner, Amy Abrams, who had a lot of entrepreneurial experience and together we built a larger practice around working with entrepreneurs.
Name/describe what has been your most rewarding project so far?
This last year I had my first book published by a fantastic publishing imprint. The Big Enough Company: Creating a Business that Works for You helps entrepreneurs to achieve success on their own terms. I want entrepreneurs to get the absolute most out of their experience of entrepreneurship and to get the rewards they are looking for. It’s actually astoundingly easy to build a business that doesn’t give you want you want. I believe that anyone can be an entrepreneur and that there is no one right way to do it. That’s why I included interviews from more than 100 businesses in the book to demonstrate all the creative ways that people have achieved business and personal success.
Name/describe one incident when being a woman has helped your career?
I really think that being an entrepreneur has made me challenge myself and live up to my fullest potential. Every other career I considered would have made me leave a large part of myself at the door. I’m certain entrepreneurship would have appealed to me regardless of gender but I might not see it as the only option – which I do given my desire to spend time with my kids and create meaningful and challenging work.
Name/describe one incident when being a woman has hindered your career?
I think that being a woman eliminated some of the more corporate career options for me. In my opinion I had to leave too much at the door and success hinged on my ability to “act like a man.” I wasn’t willing to make those compromises. I’m grateful to be an entrepreneur and I wouldn’t have it any other way but I do think it’s hard to grow up thinking that you can be anything you want and later realize how hard it is to have the same access and treatment as men.
Who is your role model or mentor (alive or dead)?
I have dozens. I look to a lot of people and businesses for inspiration and guidance. One of my mentors right now is Terry Gross the NPR anchor on Fresh Air. She is such a skilled interviewer and is able to have a meaningful, intelligent, and thoughtful conversation with anyone. What an amazing talent to have. I learn a lot listening to how she crafts conversations and from the kinds of questions she asks.
If you could give one piece of advice to a woman starting out in your field, what would it be?
I would tell them, and anyone who wants to become an entrepreneur, that success is about satisfaction, not size. It’s easy to get caught up in the numbers game or buy into the “bigger is better” view of success, but the truth is that being an entrepreneur is a lot of work. Given the investment that you make (time, money, energy) you better enjoy the work that you’re doing. It’s not worth it to compromise on the things that are important to you just to make your business a little bigger. Instead, start with your needs and build your business to suit. In my mind, that’s the opportunity of entrepreneurship – the ability to create meaningful and rewarding work on your terms, not someone else’s.
Check out Adelaide’s book: The Big Enough Company: Creating a Business that Works for You
In Good Company’s Facebook page
Follow In Good Company on Twitter: @ingoodcmpny
Follow Adelaide on Twitter: @adelaidenyc
– Interview by Elena Rossini