Jaclyn Johnson

founder of create & cultivate

Portrait by Jessica Bordner Photography. Featured photos courtesy of Create & Cultivate.

Jaclyn Johnson is, to put simply, an absolute boss. The blogger turned CEO / conference creator / event planner extraordinaire has established herself as a leading pioneer in cultivating a community of women entrepreneurs. She’s the founder of Create & Cultivate. Create & Cultivate—a movement around entrepreneurship and being a woman in the modern digital world—has quickly become one of the nation’s must-attend conferences. Read on as Jaclyn shares her incredible story of triumph, her insights on dealing with competition, and how she’s been able to stand out in a crowded conference industry.

Can you share a little bit about your journey leading up to founding Create & Cultivate, and perhaps the reason you wanted to bring an idea like this to life? I always knew that I would strike out on my own. I didn’t know when or how. But after working for CondeNast and putting in time (and work) in NY, it was time for a change. I moved to California, I worked for a company here, and was actually let go from that position. But you know that saying about doors. When one closes, open your own. Or at least, that’s how I like to look at it. I was one of the OG bloggers and ran Some Notes on Napkins, but quickly realized that I wanted to be on the other side. I wanted to do the creative, marketing work. So I founded a company (No Subject). That was my first company and it was during that time that the idea for Create & Cultivate came about. I wanted real talk, how-to advice from other female entrepreneurs. I wanted to be able to connect in a meaningful way with women who had done the damn thing. So I came up with the concept, started small, and quickly realized how many other women there were like me. Smart, driven, and passionate, but hungry for more information and community.

“But you know that saying about doors. When one closes, open your own. Or at least, that’s how I like to look at it.

Past event: Atlanta 2016

Starting a company after being let go from one is a big leap. Was this at all a difficult season in your life, or have you always been able to be an optimist about these things and pave your own path? Any transition is difficult, but I’ve definitely always been of the onwards and upwards mindset. The point of challenges, i.e. being let go from a job, is to learn from them, not allow them to bog you down. I’d say I’m more of a realist with just the right amount of optimist. I knew I had to work. I knew there was a space for my idea. I could have allowed being let go to determine my self worth. To question myself. Instead, I proved my worthiness.

Create & Cultivate has gathered some of the most notable speakers and bosses for its past conferences. Can you share a piece of advice for getting in touch with hard-to-reach people, even if it’s just to build relationships? Email, email, email, followup, and lean in on your contacts. You need to explain (quickly) who you are, but then get into the gristle of why they should be a part of experience. Including past speakers usually helps. People see bigger names attached and they are more willing to jump on board. In the beginning it’s hard to get a “big” name. But there is always a get. There is always someone who says yes, and that person is your gateway person.

“I’d say I’m more of a realist with just the right amount of optimist.

Cultivating and building a community is no easy task. What are some of the challenges you’re currently facing in your work, and how are you finding it best to minimize these challenges? I think when you fill a hole, like we did with Create & Cultivate, it’s natural for other people to follow suit and want to fill that hole with you. That freaks some people out and they get buried by that stressor—the fear that competitors will close in around you. In those moments it’s important to remember why you started. Believe in yourself and that your work is good and meaningful. And that doesn’t preclude others’ from being so as well.

You’ve done incredibly well at establishing C&C as one of the nation’s must-attend conferences. In such a crowded conference industry, how have you found it best to stand apart? We want to propel conversation and help women advance their careers. But we also want it to be beautiful and feel beautiful. So many of us are visual learners and are inspired as such. There’s a reason that Instagram and Pinterest kill it. Creating something that was both intellectually stimulating and visually inspiring was a crucial part of the C&C puzzle. It’s like Pinterest crossed with TED Talks. It’s inspiration for years. 

Being behind the scenes and so closely involved, have you noticed any particular trends in challenges that women entrepreneurs seem to be facing? Everyone is different because everyone’s business is different. I will say that ours is a very creative community and sometimes the first and hardest step for a creative is putting their ideas into action. We can all come up with a ton of amazing business ideas but it is quite different to take it from ideation to realized. I think a lot of women who attend the conference are looking to answer the “what’s next?” and “how?” questions. Most of the women who speak at the conference have found a way to answer that question. It’s a matter of doing, instead of saying.

So, beyond sparking a 365 day conversation, what’s next for you in the coming years? I bought a house. I’m getting married. Our office just moved. The pieces are always moving, I do my best to keep on moving with them.

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