By Katherine Poythress
Denise Gitsham and Sheena Tahilramani help companies develop their brand, their marketing and their message for a living, but only recently did the partners at 7 Second Strategies realize the importance of putting the same amount of energy into their own brand.
They launched 7 Second Strategies in late 2012, and the company based in both San Diego and Pasadena has grown so fast that it’s been tough to keep their sights set on the original mission and message.
Fresh out of a three-month entrepreneurship boot camp in Los Angeles for 30 or so woman-owned businesses sponsored by the Tory Burch Foundation and Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses organizations, the duo said they are ready to work on crafting their own business strategy as carefully as they do the strategies for their clients.
The real winners when a business has its longterm game plan together, Tahilramani said, are the employees and the clients.
We sat down to talk with Gitsham and Tahilramani in the offices of one of their clients, San Diego-based tech startup TakeLessons.
Title: Principal, 7 Second Strategies
Education: B.A. in government and legal studies with a minor in American history from Bowdoin College in Maine; one semester at Wellesley College in Massachusetts; J.D. from Georgetown University Law Centre.
Work experience: Political and communications work, law and lobbying.
Family: Two dogs
Likes reading: Business magazines and leadership books.
Title: Principal, 7 Second Strategies
Education: B.A. in literary journalism from U.C. Irvine; M.S. in journalism from Columbia University
Previous jobs: Political and communications work.
Family: Single, no children
Likes reading: Inc., Entrepreneur, Forbes and related magazines
Q: How did you first learn about the Tory Burch Foundation and Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program?
Sheena: I initially learned of this program because one of the advisers is former U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, who I knew from my work in D.C.
When we started the company, we realized that there are all sorts of other things you have to do to be successful. It’s really easy to get clients and pay the bills and create a job for yourself, but if you’re truly interested in creating jobs and driving economic growth, you really need to create a road map of where you are and where you want to go.
We are really good at the work of public affairs, but not all the other elements of creating and building a successful company.
We wanted to learn the nuts and bolts of running an actual business, and that’s how and why we applied for the program.
Q: What did you get out of the program?
Sheena: The Tory Burch cohort is all woman-owned businesses, and all sorts of businesses.
It was nine different modules, starting in January and finishing up on May 16, with an eight-hour class once a week and often a four-hour class on Wednesdays.
We all learned everything, from what type of leader we are to identifying operations and processes in our businesses. There was training on the different financial resources out there that you can take advantage of. We got a primer on all of the business basics, and we now have a better foundation to make this a sustainable company.
This was a huge opportunity for us to become a legitimate company.
Q: What was the most valuable take-away for you?
Sheena: What was really valuable was this idea of working IN the business versus working ON the business. People like Denise and I get so busy working in the business that it’s hard sometimes to work on our vision and our values and what our goals are.
I realized that we do branding for our clients every day, but we need to take a step back every now and then and work on our own branding and messaging. This particular program gave us some perspective in that arena.
One of the deliverables for the class is a growth plan. We addressed the growth opportunities, the key points we needed in order to get there, and some metrics we could use to measure our success, along with the next steps for growth.
We now need to take those next steps.
Q: How do you know when you need to take a step back and work on your strategy?
Sheena: Ideally, I think it’s a great idea to have a growth plan before you start your business. Sooner rather than later. And then you want to keep revisiting it.
Denise: We had one before, but I don’t think we knew what we were doing. We were basically just checking off boxes. That’s why it’s really important to meet regularly, quarterly, and make sure you’re measuring your progress. The irony is so huge when you’re able to brand the heck out of your clients and have a strategy for them but not for yourself.
Q: We’ve talked a lot about knowing your mission and your identity. What would you say yours is?
Denise: One of the things that I think distinguishes us from all other public relations firms is that if you want to take your company to the next level and you need to win, that’s what we’re here for. We look at every client as a campaign, and you either win or you lose. We take the principles of political campaigning and apply it to public affairs.
We look at your brand and what you stand for, whether it’s a person, a company, an idea or an issue. Whatever it is that you’re trying to change public opinion on, we look at all the external elements and make sure your brand is well-defined and something that the media can easily pick up on.
This article originally appeared in the San Diego Union Tribune print and digital edition on May 25, 2014.