Lili Hall, Founder, President & CEO KNOCK Inc, on Jumping Without a Safety Net

The NextWomen DWEN Interview Series features Lili Hall, Founder, President & CEO, KNOCK Inc, a branding, advertising and design agency headquartered in Minneapolis, USA.

Lili Hall founded KNOCK in 2001 after 14 years in brand-building and business development. Throughout those years, Lili dreamed of starting a branding and design firm that would fulfil her vision of a more perfect union of amazing design talent and insightful business acumen. In 2001, she made KNOCK a reality. As KNOCK's founder and president, Lili has grown KNOCK into a successful enterprise that continually achieves proven results for clients.

We spoke to Lili about her greatest wishes and fears for her company; what she misses about working for someone else; and about looking forward to the days when gender isn't a business issue.

TNW: What was the inspired moment that led you to launch KNOCK, Inc? How did you summon the courage to strike out on your own?

LH: I was leaving a job—a job doing business development, which I really loved, but it was time to go. And I remember thinking that I knew I could get a job—I wasn’t worried about that. But what I didn’t know was whether I could start my own business. And I thought, well, if there’s ever a time to find out, it has to be now.

TNW: After 14 years in brand-building and business development, what do you most enjoy about running your own business, and is there anything you miss about working for someone else?

LH: I love how every day is completely different.

I love the work we do, and the people I do it with—everyone has incredibly high standards, and it feels great to know we’re doing great work. What do I miss? Having a day off.

TNW: How important is technology to the success of your company?

LH: Technology is everything. In terms of what we do, it’s integrated into our strategies, our marketing and retail plans, our communication and design solutions we offer clients. But in terms of how we do it, technology is crucial as well.

Case in point: There was a fire at our old office. First good thing: nobody was hurt. Second good thing: We had a great contingency plan and the right technology. All our files were backed up, onsite and offsite. We stayed connected with staff and clients to reassure everyone via Twitter. We even got to scope out the damage through our webcams. And we were in new offices within 24 hours, up and running at full capacity in 60.

TNW: Which aspect of KNOCK makes you most proud?

LH: Without hesitation, the people. My team is passionate, loyal, collaborative and truly cares about the work and our clients.

TNW: When you built your team, what are the key qualities you looked for to ensure the success of your business?

LH: I always look for someone who has the same respect for great work, but I also look for people who understand the importance of relationships. My partners clearly understand our creative mission, always pushing our product to new levels. But they also are dedicated to the concept of service, of building the collaborative client relationships that are essential to truly great work.

TNW: What has been your biggest challenge throughout the history of your company, from planning to funding and execution, and how could others learn from it?

LH: Funding was our biggest challenge, in that I chose not to have any. Every entrepreneur has to weigh what they’re willing to risk, simply because so many businesses fail.

I wasn’t willing to risk my family home. So I jumped without a safety net—and without that cushion, I really had no other option than to succeed.

If I could pass on anything I learned from that, it would be to tell a potential entrepreneur to save ahead: put away a year’s salary, pay your mortgage six months out, do a few things that let you sleep at night.

TNW: What is next for KNOCK? How do you see technology as a key growth driver?

LH: Technology has to be integrated into any business, in almost every aspect. Our next big endeavor is very much driven by technology. I’ll stop there. If I say anything more, my partners will kill me.

TNW: What is your greatest wish for KNOCK, and your biggest fear?

LH: We just celebrated our 10-year anniversary. We’ve survived two recessions, lots of changes, and it’s a big deal. My greatest wish is that we continue the success and are around for a long time.

My biggest fears center around the things I have absolutely no control over—the economy, the volatility of the world—and how they impact my business.

TNW: A topic which often comes up in The NextWomen and DWEN communities is scalability. What is your advice for entrepreneurs looking to scale their businesses?

LH: Each business has to figure out the right balance for themselves. What’s helped me most has been having really good people around me that have been through it all—great advisors and mentors that help me work through problems as they happen.

TNW: How has Dell or the Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network enabled you to grow your business? What do you see as the benefits of all-women networks such as DWEN?

LH: When you look at Michael Dell’s entrepreneurial background, it’s not surprising that Dell has put so many resources into establishing this network. I appreciate the exposure that it’s given KNOCK Inc. globally, and the incredible contacts it’s given me personally. At the DWEN event in Rio de Janeiro, the interactivity integrated throughout the event meant that I had connected with 40+ women I never would have otherwise.

TNW: If you could change one aspect of the world of entrepreneurship what would it be?

LH: As grateful as I am for all the attention given to how women’s businesses have less access to capital, or how we don’t have the same established networks—I do hope for the day when all of this is irrelevant.

I think of my daughters as adults, and want their world to be one where separate gender categories aren’t even applicable—just people pursuing their passions and building their businesses.

TNW: Is there anything we haven't asked you, but you'd like to share with our readers?

LH: I want to encourage people to be curious. The world is so exciting and it is moving fast. In order to contribute, innovate and lead you need to be curious, dig, study and observe. Be open to new ideas. Not only is it our job to meet our clients' needs, it is our responsibility to evolve our industry and move our clients' business forward. 

The Dell Women's Entrepreneur Network (DWEN) celebrates the wonderful accomplishments of women in business, whilst looking forward at how we can progress and learn from each other. Natural networkers and relationship builders, women have innate flair for entrepreneurship. With DWEN, Dell is helping women in business to expand their networks while offering technology capabilities designed to help them innovate and grow their businesses.

The NextWomen is in partnership with DWEN to bring you a series of 40 interviews with the world's most influential female founders, investors and decision makers: The NextWomen DWEN Interview Series.

Sign Up to our Newsletter

So you enjoy The NextWomen. Why not sign up to our monthly newsletter?
You get a Letter from the CEO :-), the chance to catch up with the best of our recent articles - and some extra things we throw in once in a while.

We try hard for smart reading.