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Sara Rotman

Founder, CEO & CCO (“Boss Lady”) / MODCo Creative

 

As the CEO, CCO and “Boss Lady” of MODCo (which stands for “My Own Damn Company”), Sara leverages strategy and an eye for beautiful aesthetic to create and redefine iconic brands. Some of her most recognizable successes are the creation and launch of the Tory Burch and C Wonder brands, as well as working with Vera Wang across brand extensions including Vera Wang Lavender Label, SimplyVera, Vera Wang White and Vera Wang Love. Additional clients have included True Religion, Century 21, Nina Ricci, Theory, Jack Rogers and Carolina Herrera. MODCo is the only creative fashion advertising agency that is exclusively female owned and run.

Not content to simply run her own agency, Sara founded LOQUITA, a full lifestyle brand identify appealing to a sophisticated, edgy, independent audience. Sara legitimately established the brand within the fashion industry, ultimately reaching gross sales in excess of $2M.

Prior to forming MODCo, Sara’s professional experience ranged from Sony Music to Saatchi & Saatchi and RDA International, where she was the Creative Director for brands such as VH1 and Broadway Video. It was during this tenure that Sara found her niche working in fashion, beauty and entertainment.

MODCo’s key to success is developing cross platform approaches to branding, while understanding how to sustain brands for the long-term. Sara believes that a strong brand strategy is crucial to securing longevity in an ever-changing media and technical landscape – and that strong brands make strong businesses.

Q: In 1996 you founded branding agency MODCo from your living room. How was the first year?

I started MODCo (as a DBA) in 1996; we then opened our first office in 2000 and upgraded MODCo to a corporation. I was freelancing on the side and working full time at an agency, until 1999 when I went full-time on my own.  

Working for myself, I thought that I’d be free to organize my schedule as I pleased. I guess that was true, but in classic business owner form, organizing my schedule as I pleased meant I’d make my work a priority above all else. With plenty of work to do, I found myself working day and night, literally turning on my computer on my way to the bathroom each morning and sometimes finding myself working until well past noon before even brushing my teeth or getting dressed. The siren call of my computer and the work that awaited never left me – I’d come home from late nights only to “just check my email” – and end up working ‘till the sun came up. It is interesting to note that all of my successful business owner friends have similar stories. 

During those early days, I arrived at a lunch wearing flip-flops, pajama bottoms and a puffy down vest from my high school days – my dirty hair piled high on top of my head in a tangled bun to meet friends who literally forced me out of the house.  They quite correctly intervened, encouraging me to adopt some non-negotiable-outside-the-home office routines daily, so I’d be forced to get dressed and speak to a few people to stave off the Hugh Heffner-like life I was slipping into. And that was some of the best advice that I’ve ever received.

Q: Here we are, 17 years and $90 million in annual revenues later. Looking back, would you change anything? Is there something that you would have done differently, knowing what you know now?

It’s hard to say, but I think it would have been making an effort to be more business savvy and politically astute earlier on in my career. I was quite the rebel in the beginning, and was so relieved to be away from the rigid corporate structure, that I didn’t realize how difficult my passions for good work potentially appeared to clients who might have been nervous or insecure about the creative process. Finding a way to make a client feel comfortable and trusting is a much more reliable route to getting good work produced (without having it be diluted). I do wish I had understood this earlier in my career; it would have saved me a lot of trouble and probably would have saved some pretty damn good work that got “edited” over the years. But you live and you learn.

Q: What’s the thing that you’re most proud of regarding MODCo? Why?

Our independence. We don’t have to ask anyone for anything. I love that. I also love the fact that there is no work in MODCo’s history that I am not wholly proud of. I can’t say that about the time I spent at big or medium-sized agencies. That fact alone makes me excited to come to work each and every day.

Q: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome since being an entrepreneur? What did you learn from it?

Keeping the lights on when everything is going badly and knowing that I am completely alone and that no help is coming. There have been more than a few dark nights in my career when that fact slapped me hard across the face. It doesn’t bother me anymore, but it took damn near 20 years to be genuinely comfortable knowing I will survive and thrive no matter what.

Q: Do you have a set of rules that you never break?

- I never let work go out the door that I wouldn’t be happy to have produced with my name on it.

- Say please and thank you.

- Teaching is harder than doing, but necessary for survival.

- Learning how to get the best out of your people and encouraging them to be independent in their thinking is vital.

- Missing deadlines is not acceptable ever and will result in immediate termination.

Q: If you had to share just one piece of advice with someone who wants to start his/her own business, what would it be?

Get very comfortable with discomfort. This is something that I talk about a lot, and I think it’s the most difficult thing to learn and the most powerful tool in an entrepreneur’s arsenal. 

Q: What do you do when you take some time off?

That’s just funny. Time off doesn’t really happen. But I do play as much polo as I can in between conference calls and returning emails.

Q: What do you do for inspiration?

I seek out beautiful things, which I often find in nature. For me, inspiration derives from truly being able to disconnect even for a brief moment, and then quietly recognizing what your mind is open to in its refreshed state. It’s amazing how differently things appear if you are refreshed vs. mentally exhausted. I also try to speak to people who are doing interesting things that are completely foreign to my experience, or see the world differently from the way that I do.

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