My purpose is to elevate the life experience by creating experiences and places for people to enjoy with those who matter most to them. This influences not only the projects that my companies deliver for our clients, but also how I lead my teams and prioritize time with my family and friends.
As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Amanda Stone.
Amanda Stone is an entrepreneur, consultant, micro investor, and mom of soon-to-be three daughters. An outside the box thinker, Amanda co-founded A&M Agency nearly a decade ago and launched her second business, Palmingo Pools, earlier this year. Amanda thrives on being invited into the magical worlds of her daughters, date nights with her husband, sharing moments with family and friends, and exploring fresh paths and business ideas.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
Growing up, my parents owned and operated a small business in Oklahoma. My mom has always been endlessly loving and supportive while my dad has always encouraged me to think outside of the box and see what’s possible instead of simply what is. Between the two of them, I felt safe creating a life and career on the road less traveled. Entrepreneurship, a sense of urgency, and endless optimism are woven into my identity.
I wanted to work for myself since I was a kid, though my childhood aspirations of being a dolphin trainer in Oklahoma were a bit too outside the box. Over the years, I found my niche in the events industry, sought out as much experience as I could during my time at Vanderbilt University, then co-founded A&M Agency months after graduating. A&M Agency helps companies foster deeper, more authentic connections between people and brands through events and high-touch marketing channels. We funded the business through sweat equity and developed our people-centered values and processes over time through each experience.
Leading the team through a pandemic in the events industry released any sense of fear in me, which gave me a renewed sense of vulnerability and drive. You could call it FOMO! I was more afraid of wondering “what if” than of trying and failing. With this mindset, I launched Palmingo Pools to bring dreamy backyards to life with small pools that can be enjoyed more days of the year. Now, I’m investing my time and energy in both businesses while also stepping into other opportunities for consulting, speaking, and micro investing. Ultimately, the entrepreneurial path energizes me and also enables the mobility and flexibility to enjoy more time with the people who matter most to me.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Starting a business is a leap of faith that’s followed by many more at each transition point. When I was laying the foundation to launch Palmingo Pools, I knew that my skill set and past experiences were transferable and relevant, but learning the nuances of a new industry would be endless. Each day, I’ve taken a small step or a big leap that has pushed the bounds of my comfort zone further and further. Overtime, my comfort zone has expanded and I’ve accumulated new buckets of knowledge that I can draw from in the future. Each new experience is only new once, then it becomes familiar and over time, grows into an area of expertise.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I co-founded A&M Agency in 2012, I had a full time job as a project manager and producer for a corporate event production company. I was so self-conscious about my two worlds colliding, despite my employer being aware that I was dabbling in side projects. I can only imagine how sketchy I came across! One day, a vendor I worked with through A&M Agency popped into the office of my full-time job and I literally fled the building. By not being fully transparent, I may have missed opportunities to learn, grow, and collaborate.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
While I’m embedded in the entrepreneurial community and some seriously brilliant friends, the most influential people have been my parents and husband. Growing up with my parents’ support and encouragement to think outside of the box set me on this path. The year I co-founded A&M Agency, I met my husband. Our minds work very differently, yet we complement each other well and offset each other’s blindspots. We’ve rubbed off on each other over the years and we now approach challenges from more well-rounded, diverse perspectives. Whether we’re workshopping an idea or I’m sharing a peek into my day, his take unlocks a new layer of awareness within me.
Early in 2021, we were setting off on our first trip without kids since becoming parents. We were talking about investment strategies in the height of the Reddit mania around meme stocks. He looked at me and said, “this sounds cheesy, but the best investment I can make is in you.” He sees all of the highs and lows behind the scenes, yet is endlessly confident in my ability to lead and grow.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?
In general, the women around me tend to be more in tune with the facets of their lives and intentional about how they invest their time, energy, and focus in each. Many women are drawn to entrepreneurship with the goal of being their own boss opposed to achieving hypergrowth status. Ultimately, entrepreneurship can enable work-life harmony — the notion that contentment in each facet of our lives can elevate the other facets — as long as our expectations, goals, and drive align with our purpose, passion, and boundaries. Otherwise, entrepreneurship can be all-consuming and lead to frustration, discontentment, and even burnout.
While I’m fortunate to be surrounded by many fellow women founders, most have not sought investment. Similar to my businesses, many women founders self-fund or rely on sweat equity to get their businesses off of the ground. In my experience, plenty of women are founding companies, but fewer are scaling them above and beyond the million dollar mark. In many cases, women aren’t intimidated by the investment process or unaware of their potential, but steer away from relinquishing control over their day to day lives. Realistic expectations paired with opportunities and resources can help foster a more sustainable rhythm and mindset.
Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?
I’ve never been one to blindly adapt to norms instead of pushing deeper into the “why” or “how.” As an entrepreneur, I’m anchored to being content with where I am while being open to what could lay ahead. Many people get caught in the trap of comparing themselves and their businesses to peers or even unicorn companies. We need to broaden the way we think about entrepreneurship and encourage business owners to measure success on their own terms, not only benchmarks set by others or society. Otherwise, we may be discouraging a lot of badass women with micro businesses that may be around the corner from that special spark or a brainstorming session away from their next big idea. Even if these women simply pursue a career that brings passion and contentment to their lives, we should honor that as a measure of success.
While we’re broadening the definition of entrepreneurship, we should also modernize the picture of investors. The most financially successful people that I know didn’t just accumulate wealth through entrepreneurship, but through multiplying their money through investment. Historically, non-traditional and riskier investments have been reserved for those who have already achieved a certain level of wealth. The emerging popularity of crowdfunding has opened the door to non-traditional investment opportunities for micro investors, like me, who are exploring this space earlier in our careers. Entrepreneurs certainly have the stomach for strategic risk.
This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?
Women should become founders because of the uniquely deep, rich way in which we experience the people and world around us. Generally speaking, we tend to be in tune with the needs of others, which serves as the foundation for incredible leadership capacity. In my opinion, the most effective — and enriching — leaders are servant leaders and the leadership tendencies of many women naturally sway in that direction.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?
Despite owning a business for a decade, I still picture the quintessential founder as someone who sacrifices sleep, well-being, and any sense of happiness from other sources to devote all of their time and energy to getting their business off of the ground and into hyper growth mode. While it isn’t always rainbows and sunshine, entrepreneurship doesn’t have to be all-consuming either. It’s possible, and more sustainable, to launch a business with boundaries that promote work-life harmony.
Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?
Not everyone is cut out to be a founder and that’s perfectly ok. I have so much respect for entrepreneurs, but I share the same respect for people who are self-aware and honest about the career path that’s right for them, their contentment, and their goals. When we operate in strengths-based roles and optimal-fit environments, we can conserve more of our time and energy for the people and things that matter most to us instead of exhausting ourselves by constantly putting on a front. The qualities that have contributed to my success and sanity as a founder are servant leadership, vision, intentionality, vulnerability, and the sheer will to push through, deliver, and provide for my teams and myself, even when the road feels tough.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, what are the “Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder?” (Please share a story or example for each.)
- The ability to see what’s possible instead of simply what is.
- Five years ago, a realtor told me that we could never have a pool at our current home because the house is built into a slope. This sparked a fascination within me that ultimately led to my second business, Palmingo Pools, that makes dreamy backyards real for more homeowners.
- The discipline and self-control to make decisions and take action purposefully.
- As a founder and especially a woman founder, I’m very intentional with my time, energy, and focus. I often think through decisions through a retrospective lens. How will I feel about each decision down the line? I also approach each project and task with intentionality, pursuing the most effective and efficient path forward.
- The ability to let go and lean into the unknown, despite risks and discomfort.
- Some leaders feel like they need to have all of the answers in order to maintain authority. Others make assumptions or gloss over blindspots instead of engaging other people and resources to offset their knowledge gaps. Being real, open, and transparent is not only more effective, but it’s also more fulfilling.
- The sheer will to keep pushing day after day, even when the circumstances feel tough.
- Entrepreneurship isn’t the easiest path forward, but it’s part of me, just like being a mom, wife, daughter, and more. I have unwavering optimism that I can work through or around each challenge to keep pushing forward.
- The force that anchors, drives, and guides us.
- My purpose is to elevate the life experience by creating experiences and places for people to enjoy with those who matter most to them. This influences not only the projects that my companies deliver for our clients, but also how I lead my teams and prioritize time with my family and friends.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I hope that my road has encouraged others to take agency, embrace vulnerability, and pursue what matters most to them in pursuit of contentment. Many people think of their baseline as neutral, but I strive to help those around me adopt an elevated baseline of contentment. If more people can lift their spirits from neutral to content, and help others to achieve the same, then the world could be a better place.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Grand gestures can be overly daunting, which inspires helplessness instead of hope. Similar to crowd funding and micro investing, I believe that the most good and the greatest impact comes from more people doing a little better, being a little kinder, opening their minds a little more, and looking out for each other in this life and world that we share together. Whether we’re tackling issues from climate change to international relations to COVID-19, the more people who come together, see beyond themselves, and take action for the greater good, the better. This is how we can elevate the life experience for ourselves and others.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Word on the street is that it’s best not to meet your heroes, so I’d rather grab donuts or tacos with my family!
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.