Q&A with Entrepreneur Divya Menon
Divya Menon is the founder of Bad Brain, a marketing and advertising group based in Los Angeles. She brings over 10 years combined experience in marketing, legal, and creative and has worked for notable marketing agencies, including Midnight Oil, as a lead strategist. Her accounts have ranged from Disney to American Express where she is tasked with research-driven projects and the production of an actionable strategy.
Can you tell our readers about your background?
I graduated at the start of The Great Recession and job hunting felt Sisyphean at best. I worked at a bar back home in Texas for a while, but the lack of real career options sent me back to school within a year.
Even after I attained a law degree, the opportunity was limited as the recession waned. The year I graduated, a starting associate attorney in L.A. made roughly $40K annually. At that point, I could have worked for a small salary practicing law (something that made me miserable) or working in a creative field and making just as much.
I opted for creativity and eventually nabbed a job in marketing for $40K. Eventually, that shop started downsizing and I was left scrambling to put food on the table -- again. The job market was less rough, but still dismal and I found it easier to win my own contracts and work for myself than to secure a stable, in-house position. This was the birth of Bad Brain – a creature of circumstance.
What inspired you to start your business?
I am a reluctant business owner. I started this business out of a necessity to keep a roof over my head in a job market that was unkind to young talent with tangential, advanced degrees. All I ever wanted was the stability of working in-house, but that was not likely due to low salaries and hostile work environments (I have seen my fair share of awful). I felt forced to create my own career.
Now that I’ve been running with Bad Brain for a few years, though, I am growing to love it. I enjoy the freedom, of course, but more than that, I feel great when I’m able to afford the opportunity to people who have been running into an issue I did. Truth is: I don’t want anyone to suffer some of the depression I dealt with while trying to get a stable footing in this industry and I will always hire a J.D. looking to make a change.
Where is your business based?
Playa Vista, CA
How did you start your business? What were the first steps you took?
I consistently applied for contracts, solicited agencies, and worked for startups. Expect nothing less than a 90% rejection rate. Starting a business is a lot like being on a desert island – the first step is to just survive and try to ignore the agony you’re experiencing.
What has been the most effective way of raising awareness for your business?
Clients sometimes, but rarely, provide word-of-mouth. Rather, through their partnerships, which I often manage, I get work; and many of the agencies that I work with will also provide me projects.
What have been your biggest challenges and how did you overcome them?
Compartmentalizing and scaling. To take on more work, means you need more resources. Being prepared and being able to take that all in stride can be difficult, but after a while, you figure out the formula so that you don’t lose work in the process of acquiring work.
How do you stay focused?
Focus has never been an issue for me. I had an incredibly strict mother shaping my work habits during my formative years; at this point, focus comes naturally to me.
How do you differentiate your business from the competition?
Bad Brain goes deep into numbers and science in a way most small shops do not. For example, I have spent days trying to solve central limit theorem issues that arise with CTRs using Bayes averages and lower bound Wilson scores, eventually settling on a more linear prediction model. You can get this type of work with big names like Ogilvy, but you rarely see it with small, affordable agencies. At Bad Brain, given our average age, we are a little rebellious, but our intelligence skillset really sets us apart. Even our creative staff spends hours researching and reporting for clients.
What has been your most effective marketing strategy to grow your business?
At this stage, it is word-of-mouth. Advertising is fine, but the quality of prospective clients tends to be subpar.
What's your best piece of advice for aspiring and new entrepreneurs?
Frugality will keep you safe. My generation is frequently compared to the Silent Generation, who dealt with The Great Depression. After having the rug ripped out from underneath us, we make safe choices with our money. I do not, for example, have an office and everyone works remotely. I spend my marketing dollars very wisely (it helps that my forté happens to be marketing) and I only hire new people out of necessity.
What's your favorite app, blog, and book? Why?
App: Waveapps. I’ve used their invoicing system for years and it had a great UX/UI for both myself and my clients.
Blog: AgencySpy. I’m Indian, a culture that was quite affected by British culture, and British people love gossip. So yeah, AgencySpy for all their gossip.
Book: The House of Tomorrow by Peter Bognani. It’s incredibly well-written and I was a weird, antisocial kid into punk growing up, so I have a lot of love for that book.
What's your favorite business tool or resource? Why?
SAS. It’s easier than R, though less robust.
Who is your business role model? Why?
I am lucky to come from a family of great entrepreneurs and inventors. More than their advice on what “to do”, it’s their advice on what they wish they had done that I take more to heart.
What do you have planned for the next six months?
Compartmentalizing and working on my personal life. The mantra for the first handful of years starting a business is “make money, you need more money, go make money.” As you learn how to scale and continue growth, you realize that you’ve spent some really solid years working rather than making friends, picking-up hobbies, and being human. This year I want to focus on my humanity and sanity.
How can our readers connect with you?
I have social channels, but like most marketers, I rarely check my own channels – there’s no time and the last thing you want to see is more social media by the time you’re done with work.
If you want to reach me, just drop a line at: firstname.lastname@example.org and put “FemFounder” in the subject line so I know where you came from!