Jaclyn Johnson, founder of Create & Cultivate, gives us her best advice for female entrepreneurs
Until I had attended Create & Cultivate, I associated the word “conference” with back-to-back meetings in cramped rooms and a quick break for a (not very tasty) lunch. Jaclyn Johnson, founder of the conference and online platform, came up with a formula that allows room for thought-provoking panels featuring everyone from celebrities to CEOs, combined with a healthy dose of cocktails, shopping, and free makeovers. Career building has never been so empowering and Instagrammable.
At Create & Cultivate’s Seattle conference, Johnson told me that when her best-laid plans went awry, it led her to entrepreneurship and the development of a platform to help other women who are starting their own businesses.
"I was rising the corporate ranks, I got transferred from New York to Los Angeles, and then I was laid off shortly thereafter. And I was crushed because I was always killing it at my career and that was my thing," Johnson recalled.
In a brand new city where she didn’t know anyone, Johnson began sending cold emails offering her marking services to professionals in the lifestyle and fashion industries. She never expected this side hustle to grow into a business — and Johnson says that attitude is actually a key part of her success.
"I never overthought it, and that’s really key. I liked what I was doing and figured I'd see what happened," she told me. "Once things took off, I took it so seriously and was obsessive about the brand. But it's one of those things that I think if people are so obsessive at the beginning [of starting a business], they overthink it and it backfires."
Like almost every young entrepreneur, Johnson found herself struggling to navigate business logistics like contracts and payments. A crucial component of Create & Cultivate (both through its conferences and its online platform) is providing entrepreneurs with the advice and tools that Johnson knows firsthand are critical to success.
Thanks to the diversity of the panelists, women in myriad industries are on hand to offer advice, tell their stories, and answer questions.
Seattle’s roster included Mandy Moore, Issa Rae, Yvonne Orji, Zelda Williams, Brooklyn Decker and Whitney Casey, along with content creators and social media influencers.
"We curate each panel," Johnson explained. "We like to have local people like Molly Moon in Seattle, and a mix of people form a variety of industries and people who have things that are relevant to say in the moment. Our last conference in New York City was about five months after the election. We had Gloria Steinem and that conference took on a more political tone than usual."
Although the panelists vary greatly depending on the conference, one thing attendees can always count on is killer networking opportunities. (I say this as someone who is currently sifting through at least 20 business cards from women I met during my day at the Microsoft Campus.) Johnson considers this to be the most rewarding aspect of Create & Cultivate.
"A lot of people come to Create & Cultivate at pivotal moments in their lives. I know people who met their business partner here or made a brand deal here," she said.
After leaving Create & Cultivate, I felt inspired and ready to step up my game. But this inspiration wasn’t derived solely from hearing success stories. At the core of the conference was a sense of honesty about being an entrepreneur — and I felt reassured that my own struggles aren’t a sign that I’m just not cut out for this, despite my best efforts.
"I can't say I have a work-life balance. I really think it's a myth," Johnson told me.
That was a refreshing reminder.
I’m certainly not the only one who vacillates between thinking I’m either working too much or too little, and worrying that I’m either having too much fun or forgoing a social life altogether.
In a similarly honest manner, Issa Rae (writer, producer, actress of Insecure fame) spoke about how failures can turn into successes — and, if we’re not making mistakes, it’s a sign we’re playing it too safe.
"I can’t go a day without failing. I think where I thrive is knowing I’m not gonna make that mistake the same way again," Rae said during a panel."
Other panelists spoke about how the vast majority of people in creative fields don’t have straightforward career paths — and that’s more than okay. Not every career needs to be linear, and comparing our paths to those of our friends and former classmates is futile. There will be pitfalls along the way.
"There’s no perfect you-shaped hole in the world that you’re supposed to run through," actress and producer Zelda Williams assured us.
It’s no secret that women are often hesitant to negotiate for higher salaries at corporate jobs — and the panelists at Create & Cultivate drove home the point that we should never underestimate our own worth.
"Whatever you think you're worth, double it," one panelist advised to resounding applause.
And it’s not just about our money — it’s about carefully selecting how we spend our time and where we use our skills.
Women are often quick to say “yes” to everyone and, although this can be a positive quality in certain scenarios, it can backfire for people who are self-employed.
(Yes, I’m speaking from the experience of overcommitting, a struggle that many people can relate to.)
"If you're not saying no at least a few times a day, you're not moving forward," another blogger advised.
Just like we don’t have to say “yes” to everything in our personal lives, we need to value our work — and certain projects or clients simply won’t be the right fit. Johnson emphasized the importance of being able to make these decisions quickly.
"Being able to make decisions quickly is the sign of a true leader," she said.
And, of course, women supporting other women benefits all of us.
In fact, Johnson told me that she didn’t have a mentor figure when she launched her own business — the support came from her peers.
"My peers became my mentors. Some were a little ahead of me or a little behind me, and we'd just ask each other questions about how to go about certain things, like accounting."
Above all, Create & Cultivate is about female empowerment — and that means empowering both ourselves and others.