I ran my marketing company from a cafe and sold it for millions

  • Maira Genovese is the founder and president of MG Empower, an influencer marketing company.
  • She ran a cafe, earning less than $30,000, before selling it for millions last year.
  • Here’s Genovese’s story, as told to Insider reporter Ryan Hogg.

This article is based on a conversation with Maira Genovese, founder and president of influencer marketing agency MG Empower. It has been edited for length and clarity.

Throughout my life, I’ve gotten into the habit of starting over. I quit my job twice. The first time I moved from Brazil to the UK with no English, to study fashion and eventually work as an intern for Alexander McQueen, earning £14,500 ($18,200) a year.

The second time I left a salary of £92,000 ($115,900) at fashion brand Value Retail PLC to start

influencer marketing

MG Empower agency three months after giving birth to my child, and with no savings.

Five years later, with over 70 employees, I was going to sell all of my shares in MG Empower to Amyris Inc. in a multi-million dollar deal.

Pitching for Chopard and Dior over coffee

Every day for 18 months I worked at a British coffee shop chain, Costa Coffee, located inside the Odeon, a British cinema group, in North Greenwich, London.

Since the arrival of COVID-19, remote and hybrid work spread. But in 2016, I really felt like I was alone, there were very few places to work and a cinema cafe was really the best option.

I budgeted myself £30 ($38) a week for costs, ordering a coffee or two and a pastry each day while managing influencer clients and pitching to businesses. I made £20,000 ($25,100) in income in my first year, but found the noncommittal nature of working there invigorating.

I think simplicity during this time was key to my success with low income. I was careful not to plan too far in advance or complicate my services too much.

I used Costa as my base of operations between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., and limited my activities, price structure, and scope of work to account for a disruptive environment. Working in a movie cafe, there were kids, parents, and lots of people coming in and out.

When you introduce a new client, they want you to feel confident, they want you to have structure, and I had none of that. But it was the only place I could go, so I had to get there.

I’ve spent all the money I’ve saved up traveling around Europe to meet and introduce potential clients in person, as I’m still convinced that’s better than meeting virtually and it was easier than inviting them to Costa.

But on reflection, I think the cafe environment left me too focused on scaling up fast.

The first year I was so focused on getting customers and money that I forgot to focus on all the parts of the business that were even more important. Now I understand that income is a consequence of the service you provide. For me, that included a good website and finding a unique selling point for my services.

When was it time to move on?

I finally landed my first major client, the jewelry company Chopard, after a year and a half at Costa. Soon Dior, Flannels and Bumble followed. I knew I couldn’t keep growing without more space.

The influencer market was grow very fast and is now a multi-billion dollar industry. I realized that I was part of a small group at the start of something big and had to grow to keep up.

But credibility was as much a factor as the ramping up of my move, as I felt I couldn’t invite customers to a coffee shop and feared it would hurt the quality of my work.

The cafe structure for the type of customers I was getting would not be sustainable for the business. If you work with big brands and they ask “where is your office?” I’ll have to say “oh Cafe Costa in North Greenwich”.

I rented my first premises after the cafe in North Greenwich for £600 ($755) a month. With new clients and one employee, I increased my income from £20,000 ($25,100) in year one to over £200,000 ($251,600) in year two.

I took lessons in cost cutting that I learned in the cafe with me as I evolved, as well as an appetite for risk by moving to shared offices in central London to attract employees and customers before ultimately selling the business.

Coffee is a perfect place to start a business. It allowed me to try new things, cut costs, and avoid being tied down while looking for opportunities. But once you’re sure you have a good business plan and your income is growing, you have to risk it working.

When I decided it was time to get an office, it was a risk but I knew it was time to take it.


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