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Behind the Review host and Yelp’s Small Business Expert, Emily Washcovick, shares a look at this week’s episode of the podcast.
Luminary founder Cate Luzio took a chance in 2018 to prioritize career development for women. Her vision was simple: create a physical space that unequivocally supports ambitious, motivated women, giving them unique resources and opportunities through networking. She named the concept Luminary as a nod to her goal of empowering members to be role models and influencers in their careers and communities.
When COVID-19 hit in early 2020, Cate pivoted her business model. Virtual events became the focus—they could provide relevant content that brought members together without risking anyone’s health. Instead of focusing on how many people she could encourage to log on, she prioritized the quality of the event and the impact it had on attendees to measure success.
“I don’t care if there are five people or 500 people at an event, I want impact,” Cate said. “So if those five people or 500 walk away with impact, they walk away with advice and calls to action, they walk away with connection, we’ve had a successful event.”
Gwen Beloti, owner of New York’s Gwen Beloti Jewelry, won a Luminary fellowship in late 2020 and immediately felt the value of the company’s offerings. In the throes of the pandemic, an introduction to a community of women like her was a priceless opportunity.
“The community feels real. I feel like it’s not just a space,” Gwen said. “All the conversation, all the events, they really come from a place of authenticity. Especially during the pandemic and even now, you’re looking for a community, but you’re also looking for advice. I want to connect with someone who has similar challenges and struggles and is willing to share.”
Once her fellowship ended, Gwen pursued membership status with the community—and a key factor in her decision was Cate’s vision of creating something much more than a general coworking space. Luminary’s thousands of members form unique connections with each other and external partners for their career development and well beyond.
“Luminary was really designed to support humans in a very holistic way,” Cate said. “You’re always thinking, ‘How do I advance my career? How do I build my brand or my business? How do I connect with others in a real community, and how do I continue to develop?’ And ‘develop’ means everything from your mental health to wellness to financial confidence.”
‘A community doesn’t put up barriers—it breaks them down’
Entrepreneurship may be a competitive path, but Cate encourages her members to use their strengths to support—rather than rival—each other.
“Since the very beginning of Luminary, [it’s been] collaboration over competition,” Cate said. “There is a big pie. One should not get all of it. We should all be able to get a piece.”
For the same reason, Luminary has no application process. Cate believes that introducing one could bar certain demographics of applicants, which conflicts with Luminary’s values and original purpose.
“This is a level playing field. Yes, we’re here to get shit done and to be successful in whatever definition that is for you, but we’re also here to do it for each other,” Cate said. “We live and breathe that every single day.”
On partnership and taking risks
After self-funding Luminary and its rooftop bar area, The Glass Ceiling, Cate quickly came to realize that successful entrepreneurship would require effective partnerships. It was crucial to choose partners and teammates she could rely on to help run the business as well as ground and support her during the stressful moments.
“I have a phenomenal partner in my landlord—he comes from extensive experience in F&B [food and beverage], so he owns and runs hotels and other restaurants. We found a phenomenal operator that could come in and run the day-to-day of the bar, restaurant, and events,” Cate said. “I have an amazing woman GM. I have an amazing woman head of events, and really just an incredible staff that runs The Glass Ceiling day to day where I don’t have to be in it all the time.”
Whether you’re a business owner, a founder, or just entertaining the idea of entrepreneurship, Cate has a few words of advice:
- Think of yourself as the customer. Having spent much of her career in customer-facing roles, Cate learned early on how to understand the desires of the client. As an entrepreneur, customer needs can play a pivotal role in helping you determine your strategy. “That means listening, providing forums for them to provide feedback and recommendations and referrals,” Cate said. “We really have to practice what we preach and walk the talk.”
- Surround yourself with people besides other founders. It’s helpful to tap into networks from other parts of your life—and other people who aren’t consumed by the entrepreneurship journey. “You need both,” Cate said. “You need real advice as well, and mentorship.”
- Find a community. “At the heart of what we do is truly building that community that will lift you up and propel you forward,” Cate said. Finding that community—whether you are located in New York City or across the world—is paramount to holistically developing your business and growing as a person.
Listen to the episode below to hear directly from Cate and Gwen, and subscribe to Behind the Review for more from new business owners and reviewers every Thursday.
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