Startup Diary: From Managing 400 People & $8m, to Launching a Social Enterprise

I started my consulting practice to help cause-based organizations, individuals and social entrepreneurs – the people and groups of the world who I believe are solving the world’s toughest problems - achieve success.  But I also did it to bring more meaning to my own life.  I’ve spent many rewarding years in the private sector – some more enjoyable than others, but all up-hill learning experiences, in a good way.  After nearly 12 years in the trenches, I saw an opportunity to impart what knowledge I’ve attained and, in return, learn from and delight in the oftentimes underestimated, complex world of philanthropy.

From leading start-up-like initiatives, to launching new product offerings, to dealing with the good, the bad and the ugly of client interactions, I’ve experienced first-hand how difficult it is to properly execute a vision. 

And how especially difficult it can be to design a good, implementable strategy – emphasis on the implementable part.  As I’ve made my way deeper into understanding the management of nonprofit ventures, I noticed something:  these organizations face many of the same challenges as for-profit businesses.  They have customers (= those impacted); they have investors (= donors); they have employees (and volunteers); they have targets, risks, roadblocks, competitors and vendors. Maybe I could help. 

So, here I am.  And here’s my story – 

Getting to Know YOU

At age 24, I landed in India. I was a year into my job at Reuters (a global news and information company, now Thomson Reuters) and had relocated to the other side of the world to train data collection analysts in our new Bangalore office. I had no idea what I was in for but I was excited to be there – until I got sick and stayed sick for the next three months. 

This was my first teaching experience and, aside from not being able to hold down more than white rice, it was among the most enlightening and gratifying experiences of my life. 

There are things about other cultures that you only discover from living amongst them, and distinctions that you only realize when you are trying to teach a concept in a world so different that you can’t use any familiar metaphors or popular culture references to explain yourself.  I remember spending days re-creating the game ‘Jeopardy’ as a fun quiz of what we had discussed during the week.  I spent 20 minutes trying to explain that the hints were actually answers to unknown questions, and it was those questions that they were providing as answers – and, therefore, their answers had to be stated in the form of a question.  I finally gave up and said “Just start your answers with ‘What is..’ and don’t worry about why.”  Over dinner the following night, the analysts tried to explain the game of cricket to me, and after an hour of spirited conversation, they finally said “It’s fine, Britt. Just think of it as baseball.”  Touché. I credit my time in India, and a similar stint in Singapore, with helping me relate to people, which ultimately made me a stronger and better manager – and, I think, a better, more well-rounded person overall. 

Stress Test

Fast-forward a few years and by 27, I was managing a global team of nearly 200 people across six countries and was responsible for designing and launching an original content set that would fuel the company’s new risk management product.  I credit this experience with giving me my first grey hair. 

It was only when I described to friends what I was doing that I realized I was basically managing a start-up company – and like most start-ups, it was painful. 

We were in a hurry to meet a predetermined go-live date, with less than eight months to have teams in China, Poland and India (India by way of an outsourced vendor, which added more complexity than peace of mind) hired, trained and actively collecting data into a newly developed database.  What I hadn’t realized up until this undertaking is the value of being a doer and my ability and willingness to get my hands dirty.  I’ve oftentimes throughout my career kicked myself for taking on too much and not delegating as much as the other managers around me.  This time, I was really glad – not to mention proud – that I had the wherewithal (skills + heart) to dig in and see it through. The teams came together, the product launched, the clients signed up, and it was on to the next adventure. 

Connecting the Dots 

I ushered in my 30s with a vice president title, among the youngest in my firm, charged both with managing a team of now 300 and leading the strategy for a data set that would support (directly or indirectly) nearly every product offering at Thomson Reuters. No pressure.  I’ve always loved the people aspect of managing large teams – not so much the administrative tasks but the joy and satisfaction that you get in seeing your team (the individuals and as a collaborative) grow and achieve their own success. I’ve also always loved a puzzle, and I learned that as you move up in just about any corporate organization, you become the puzzle-master - the chief problem solver.

But my day job was becoming less and less about the content itself and more about keeping our customers happy, anticipating the market and finding revenue opportunities, writing business cases for investment to resource new initiatives and developing talent. The work was fascinating but, aside from the people aspect, I was finding it more and more difficult to see the tangible benefit of my work.

I no longer felt like an expert of anything in particular but rather a juggler of priorities, a negotiator of budgets, a calmer of angry clients.

My days were starting to blur together in an endless hustle to succeed – yet, I couldn’t define what success meant to me. 

Meanwhile, I had started spending more and more of my spare time volunteering with various nonprofit organizations. Since I was a kid, I always volunteered - Girl Scouts, charity walks, book drives, Junior Achievement, and so on. Now, I often found myself working more closely with the program directors, helping to plan fundraising events, improving membership and volunteer engagement and brainstorming designs for more effective campaigns. It was late 2011 when I was introduced to the National Kidney Foundation – through an executive training program at Thomson Reuters where we ended a week of talks on innovation in business by applying our freshly learned perspective to challenges that NKF was facing – and I made a connection. The work that I most enjoyed from my corporate career, and that I felt I was best at, was the type of thinking and experience that nonprofits could benefit from. I went in to the holiday season – a time when, every year, I would dutifully reflect on the year past and scribble resolutions for what would be different in the year ahead. As good as I’d become at the process of drafting goals and assigning objectives to myself, I had felt over the past few years that I was actually only making marginal progress. This year would be different – I knew it was time to make a change and I was emotionally ready to start a new chapter in my life. 

No More Resolutions 

I exited Corporate America managing a department of over 400 people and an operating budget of $8 million, and created The Collective Good in my living room.

I leapt – and it was both terrifying and thrilling. I had an idea of what I wanted to do with the company, and that I had a lot to  learn both about the nonprofit sector and about running a business but I knew that I was answering a calling that had been buried for years underneath what I thought were more responsible decisions. I wasn’t chasing a dream or running away from anything – I had thought long and hard about this, and was running toward something that I knew would fulfill me (whether I succeeded or failed) and challenge me like I’d never been challenged before. 

The Collective Good works with organizations in the social sector, providing tools to help program directors and boards plan more strategically and make data-driven decisions. We leverage best practices from top-performers in both the nonprofit and for-profit space, leaving our clients with an understanding of how to develop smart, accountable, sustainable program strategies on their own.

Britt Hogue spent over a decade developing and implementing business and operational strategies in the financial services sector, climbing the corporate ladder from a research analyst at JPMorgan Chase to managing a division at Thomson Reuters of over 400 employees across eight countries.

In 2012, she formed The Collective Good LLC, a consultancy that helps cause-based organizations mature their programs and achieve goals through results-oriented planning and data-driven execution. Britt leverages her experience and best practices in strategic planning, business development, global operations, metrics and analytics, and program management and evaluation to partner with nonprofit and philanthropic clients to drive social change.

Startup Diaries is a new section of our website where founders can post their startup stories in blog form, describing their entrepreneurial journey; the challenges and highlights, eureka moments, lessons learned and laughs had along the way. The idea is to build a collection of first person anecdotes from women building businesses, as a resource for other female founders. Our favourite Startup Diary blogs will be posted on our home page. If you would like to write a Startup Diary, email our Editor beth@thenextwomen.com for details.

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