Why Ellen Coule Turned Down Events with Kim Kardashian to Be Her Own Boss
Ellen Coule helped produce high society fundraising events for the likes of Kim Kardashian, Suze Orman, Dwyane Wade, and Pauly Shore. But she felt a calling to leave the glitz and glam for something far more grassroots. I caught up with Ellen to learn about her story on why she turned away from events with Kim Kardashian and opportunities from Russell Simmons to become her own boss instead.
Ellen Coule is founder and president of LadyBoss Social Club, hosting online and offline events where female entrepreneurs and creative women connect, collaborate, and change the world together. She’s also the founder and creative director of Coule Company, an agency that helps thought leaders produce content strategy and socially responsible events.
Kay Makishi: Some people dream of working with Kim Kardashian and the A-list celebrities you’ve worked with. What exactly was your working relationship with them and why did you decide to leave that role?
Ellen Coule: I was born and raised in West Palm Beach, Florida and started volunteering to work at high society fundraising events in Palm Beach when I was 14 years old. My work ethic quickly got me into higher and higher roles, dealing face-to-face with models, celebrities, and billionaires.
When I was young, it was so much fun to be in the same room as these people. But I started to fall out of love with the glitzy parties because I felt that too much emphasis was put on superficial things that didn’t matter – and a lot of money was spent to produce such grand events.
I wanted to figure out how to fundraise and create awareness campaigns at a high level without spending a ton on production. I had an amazing opportunity to work with Russell Simmons on his philanthropy projects, but I declined it. I wanted to create my own thing that was more authentic to what I wanted to see in the world, and I had enough belief in myself to know that something better would come of it.
I wanted to create my own thing that was more authentic to what I wanted to see in the world
Kay Makishi: You have two companies now. Ok, let’s start with Coule Company. What inspired you to start it?
Ellen Coule: My sister had emergency brain surgery a few years ago, and that’s when I realized that life is too short to be doing something that my heart wasn’t fully in. I also wanted to help care for my grandfather and have more time to be present with my family. So in 2015 I quit my corporate job to start my own agency, and my former employer became my first client!
Kay Makishi: Sounds like an ideal transition. Can you walk us through how that discussion went with your former boss?
Ellen Coule: The discussion with my boss was really easy because there was no alternative in my mind. I knew what I had to do. And my boss was well-aware of what was going on at home. At the time, we thought my grandpa had maybe two months left to live, so there was no way I was going to miss that time with my grandfather. I told my boss that I’d love to continue supporting his company but I needed to work from home so I could spend time with my family. I asked what they needed and could use from a remote worker, which led to my former boss becoming my first client. And my family was so fortunate that my grandfather lived for almost another year after that point. I am so grateful that I got to spend that year with him.
Kay Makishi: Could you tell us more about your process of making that leap into entrepreneurship? How did you prepare for it?
Ellen Coule: I wanted to be an entrepreneur since I was a kid. I always had fun ideas and projects that I wanted to turn into businesses. But after college I fell into the corporate world and was really happy there. But I had this ping that came up over and over again, and I knew I wanted to do my own thing. After my sister’s brain surgery, the message became so clear I couldn’t ignore it. The biggest thing was preparing myself mentality to wear all the hats, and also figuring out how I needed to price my services in order to have a profitable business. I had to consider operational expenses, taxes, contractors to help facilitate projects, how much I want to make, and how much time I wanted to take off. I didn’t want to work 45 hours a week anymore. I wanted to work 15 and spend extra time with family. My mom is a CPA so I got feedback from her and learned that I have to prepare my non-negotiable minimum rates and decide how much I needed to charge based on that.
Kay Makishi: How were the first few months?
Ellen Coule: Lonely! I went from a corporate office of over 100 friends, to either working from home alone with my two cats or working from my 95-year old grandpa’s kitchen table. Connecting with other female entrepreneurs through Facebook groups was my saving grace, but I really needed more of an in-person connection. That’s actually what inspired LadyBoss Social Club. It started off as a monthly potluck my girlfriends who were also local business owners. We were all hustling 24/7, so I thought we needed to do something fun to keep us motivated. And I really just wanted to introduce all the amazing women I knew to each other!
Kay Makishi: What were some of your challenges in the beginning and how did you overcome them?
Ellen Coule: I did not have any structure to my days at first, so I’d work the weirdest hours. I saw what it was costing me to not have structure or personal time. My boyfriend was also asking to spend more evenings together and I felt guilty being busy all the time. I overcame this by asking myself: What would my ideal schedule be like over a day, a week, a month, a year? And what are all the activities I’d like to fit in ideally? Then I figured it out from there like a puzzle so I have enough time eating meals (not in front of a computer), for hobbies, and spending time with family.
It was difficult to find customers at first too. I asked myself: What would this look like if this was really fun and easy? Posting online and social media wasn’t fun for me at the time. What WAS fun was having genuine conversations with people in person. So I started going out to more events and connecting with people in person. Doing this really helped build my client-base, which is around 95% referrals.
What would this look like if this was really fun and easy?
Kay Makishi: I like how you focused on your strengths and what brought you true happiness which, in turn, helped grow your business. What advice do you have for others wanting to start their own businesses?
Ellen Coule: I have two pieces of advice:
One: Start by tuning in to exactly what kind of life and world you want to create for yourself. That’s going to be best compass to what you want to do, how you want to do it, and who you want to do it with.
Two: Put yourself in a community of support. Even if you’re a solopreneur, know that you are not alone and that so many people want to have your back. I create lots of space for family and social time now.
When my grandpa died, I was very depressed, and my coach told me: “It’s okay to cry and wallow, but every third time you find yourself crying alone, reach out to someone.” I live by that!
I needed to go through the challenge of processing my own grief alone, but it needed to be balanced by enrolling trusted friends into my process so I could receive the love and support I needed.
So if you’re not being supported, get in a position where you are asking for the support you need and allowing yourself to receive it. And don’t forget to support others, too! Ask people, “How are you really doing?” It’s important to give ourselves permission to be vulnerable.