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124: How these two executives left Hollywood to become podcasters who highlight passionate women with Amy and Nancy Harrington

In this week’s episode, I speak with sisters Amy and Nancy Harrington founders of The Passionistas Project Podcast.

A podcast where they speak to amazing women you probably haven’t heard of, who are making a huge difference by following their passions.

Listen on to find out how Amy and Nancy become podcasters to highlight passionate and driven women who are changing the world.

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Show Notes:

Debbie:

Hey everyone, thank you so much for joining us. I am here with Amy and Nancy. Hey ladies, how are you doing?

Amy:  

Good. Debbie, how are you?

Debbie: 

I am great. So before we get to know all of your incredible tips on how you created this amazing business and podcast, can you tell us a little bit more about you and why you live an offbeat life?

Nancy:   

Hi, I’m Nancy and my story in short form is… I started my life as a graphic designer. I’ve always been pretty entrepreneurial so, I had my own graphic design business for a very long time and then, my husband and I also started a theater back in Boston and that’s sort of where I found my love of producing. But there was one thing missing in my life at that point in which was my sister and best friend was living 3000 miles away in Los Angeles. So, about 20 years ago, my husband and I uprooted ourselves to LA. We came out here and started a new life here and I worked in advertising for a while doing Academy award campaigns for Miramax and Paramount Classics. And then, Amy and I decided to take the plunge and work together. So, that’s sort of my encapsulated life to this point.

Amy:  

And my nutshell past is that I graduated from college, moved out to LA two days later and started working in television production and about two years into my career in Hollywood, I got into visual effects and post-production and started a visual effects company at Warner Brothers called Wabbit before I got hired over at the studio, the main studio, where I became Vice President of post-production and visual effects and worked on about 200, 250 feature films, including the first three Harry Potter movies and The Matrix and Perfect Storm. I worked at Warner Brothers for about 10 years until, like Nancy said, she came out here and we both hit the wall at our jobs at the same time and realized that we would be much happier if we struck out on our own and teamed up.

Amy: 

And so, she left her graphic design job and I left Warner Brothers and we worked at a few companies before we realized that what we really wanted to do was do our own thing. So, about almost 10 years ago, we founded Pop Culture Passionistas where we started to create pop culture-related content for ourselves, for our own website, and for various clients like the Television Academy, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and the Walk of fame. And then, about a year and a half ago, we decided to start our own podcast called The Passionistas Project. So, that gets you to where we are today.

Debbie:   

You both have a really interesting story separately. And then, together you have created this incredible business that you have in a really tough industry. I think so. I don’t know if you both feel that way.

Amy: 

Yeah, definitely.

Debbie:    

Especially as women, it’s really hard for us to climb the corporate ladder. And for both of you to get out of that, be really successful in it, get out of that and then start your own thing. What was that process like? Because you both had a job that most people work for their entire lives to get and then you both just left it and started your own thing.

Amy: 

Well, for me it was pretty life-changing and a lot of people thought really crazy. When I started at Warner Brothers, it was 100% my passion. I was completely into what I was doing and I was working, the biggest movie studio at the time on the biggest movies of the time and traveling the world then, working with the biggest talents in Hollywood. And it was really exciting, but it was really hard and really stressful. Ultimately, it became a rut and I had lost my enthusiasm for it. I think I did so much in such a short amount of time, most people work on one movie every two years and I was working on 40 movies a year. So, I think I almost kind of lived a full career in the feature film industry in those 10 years. But people who work at a studio like that as an executive tend to stay either their whole life or until they get fired. And I thought I would be there forever. So, for me to go out, become an entrepreneur and not have the security of that contracted job was scary, but I’ve never looked back for a second with any regret because now, Nancy and I have really found our passion, which is this podcast and supporting women in what we do. I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.

become podcasters

Nancy: 

For me, it’s actually kind of the opposite story. When I moved to Los Angeles, obviously, I needed to have a job. So, I had left behind a business that I had built and clients that I had groomed for a long time and I left all that behind so, I was starting over. And the easiest path to that for me was to get a real job – nine to five job. Unfortunately, it ended up not being a nine to five job, it ended up being a 7:30 am to midnight, one o’clock in the morning job for six months a year while the Academy Award campaigns were happening. It was extremely stressful, our biggest client was Miramax and Harvey Weinstein. And although I never personally dealt with him, I don’t have any stories to tell, I do know that he was really demanding and it made the job very stressful. I was dying to be able to leave that job and go out on my own again ’cause that’s where I feel most comfortable. So, I did that for a couple of years and then, fortunately, the stars aligned and Amy was ready to leave too. We took the plunge together and never looked back. It was a very different path for me.

Debbie:   

Your story together is really crazy and I’m gonna keep saying this: you both lived a really incredible life before you started your business and now you’re living it even more because now this is yours. You’re full charge of it but how did you both prepare to leave this incredible job that you had, this incredible business that you had and to know that this was some things that you really wanted together, especially as sisters, right? Because it’s hard to start a business with people that are close to you because it could really damage your relationship sometimes. How did you prepare for that?

Nancy: 

Well, I think we never really had a doubt about it. We have literally been best friends since Amy was born and I’ve never trusted anyone more. So, that part of it… I never questioned. I knew that Amy would be there, that we could rely on each other and it, frankly, made it easier. I think the harder part was probably the financial end of it. Just making sure we were stable and we both had been able to build up our finances and have a little money in the bank. So, that part of it was sort of taken care of. And personally, for me, I was able to hold on to a client from the ad agency that I was working at. So, I had a little bit of income coming in while we made the transition. Like I’ve said, I have a very entrepreneurial spirit, so I kind of didn’t have any doubts. I knew one way or the other we’d work it out. I guess preparation for me was more about finances and making sure I was in a secure place that I wasn’t putting myself and my family at risk.

Amy: 

Yeah. And for me, I didn’t really have time to think about it one way or the other. There were major shifts in the structure at the studio and my job was secure but the department structure was changing and I didn’t want to be a part of the new direction. So, I had this moment in time where I either had to agree that this was what I was going to do with my life or I had to get out and I don’t think I would have gotten out if Nancy hadn’t been there saying, “let’s do it together.” ‘Cause as she said, I had no hesitation about working with Nancy. There are five siblings in our family and I love them all. I don’t know that I would’ve jumped at working with any other one without hesitation. But with Nancy, I just knew we’re going to be fine. And the only fights with ever had in our life have been like over food when we’re traveling. Like, “where are we going to eat? we’re starving” so, we get cranky. But beyond that, we don’t really fight much. We tend to have the same perspective on almost everything. There’s very rarely a time in our business where one of us says, “I want to do this” and the other one says, “you’re crazy, that’s the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard.” Usually, it’s like, “yeah, that’s what I want to do too.” So, we’re very compatible and we have the same vision and especially now that we know what our passion is, we just know the road we’re on, what we need to do to get there and we’re really focused on the missions. So, it’s been really easy in that regard.

Debbie:  

One of the things that really stops people from setting off on their own is being financially prepared. And you spoke about this a little bit. How are you both able to do that? How were you able to financially prepare yourself to go out and start your own business and not worry about where your next meal is going to come from after you left a steady income?

Nancy: 

Well, I think one of the things is we’ve both been very practical, pragmatic people all our lives. So, while we were earning good money, we both saved. So, we both had a little bit of a cushion there.

Amy:    

We always took on clients too. There was actually about a year where we didn’t make any money. Luckily, as Nancy said, we had a little nest egg that we were okay. But once we realized what we wanted to do, which was to have our own company… Originally, we were writing about pop culture. So, once we knew… “Okay, we need to be able to carve out time to do that and we’re not going to have a steady income while we’re doing it, we’re not gonna make money off of that right away. So, we need to get some clients.” So, that’s when we started to reach out to people we knew and started to get freelance work. We started editing and doing interviews for the Television Academy. We started working for a company that does license of content and makes apps. We worked as their creative directors so, we started to build a client base that suited our interests and built our portfolio. So, pretty much every job we took on was pop culture related in some way. So that as we were trying to build credibility on our own, on our own website, with our own interviews, we could say, “Oh yeah, well, we work for the Television Academy and we do this for the Hollywood Walk of Fame.” It boosted our passion project, which was the Pop Culture Passionistas, and gave us income and credibility at the same time. So, we really kind of strategically built a client base that strengthened our personal mission simultaneously.

Nancy:  

I think one other thing financially too was that, again, we’re both very pragmatic and practical. So, we set our mind to the fact that we weren’t going to have a business where we needed to take out loans, or get investors, or rely on someone else’s money, or money that we felt beholden to. So, we have built a world where, like Amy said, we have clients that bring in money and we’re now getting to a point where we’re selling product and getting sponsors for our website and our podcast so that we would continue with this model of not relying on someone else’s money, which is very difficult for most businesses, but we’ve managed to make that work.

Debbie:  

Yeah, absolutely. It’s just having your own voice there and no one else trying to dilute it because it’s really coming from you and your building it on your own, which is really important. And you’re right, it can be really hard to do that in the beginning, but it can definitely be doable. Now, let’s talk about the business that both currently have now: The Passionistas, and how did you start this project and really get this going and off the ground because it can be really tough to market it, especially if you don’t have a lot of experience. I mean you both have this incredible experience already and speaking to different people, even celebrities in your industry. How were you able to get this going when you first started?

Amy:  

Well, when we were doing the Pop Culture Passionistas work, we love doing it and we always understood the value of entertainment and escapism and felt like that was a good thing to be doing. But we always had this nagging feeling that we wanted to be doing something a little more meaningful and worthwhile. So, we were thinking about a podcast but we didn’t want to just do another pop culture podcast because there’s so many of them out there. And then, the Me Too and Time’s Up movements really started coming to the forefront. And that’s when the sort of light bulb moment went off that we should be doing something to empower women because we’re hearing all these horrible, sad stories of women, but we knew that there were a lot of positive stories out there too, and we wanted to tell those.

Amy: 

That’s when the idea for the podcast came up and fortunately because we had been doing interviews for so long that the interview part of it was easy. Getting people to be on the show was great because we already had connections with a publicist so, we could easily reach out and get guests. And then, we also started a process that we call Nominated Passionista and every woman that we have on the show, we ask her to nominate somebody to be on the show. So, it created this amazing spider web of women that we probably wouldn’t have ordinarily gotten to but it opened so many doors for us. So, that was a really great decision that we made to do that. As far as marketing goes, we both have backgrounds with marketing because of our prior careers.

Amy: 

At the same time, while we were doing this, there was a huge shift in how marketing worked. I was doing newspaper ads mainly and newspapers were becoming a thing of the past. So, we had to learn this whole new world of social media marketing. That was an interesting journey for us and I think part of an exciting journey for us because we both are curious people and we love to learn things. We’re constantly researching, “How do we do this?” When Instagram started it’s like, “Well what’s this? How do we do that?” So, it’s been quite a bit of a learning curve for us to market this podcast because it’s a different marketing strategy than we were both familiar with.

Debbie: 

That would be the first time I’ve heard someone say they marketed their podcast in a newspaper.

Amy:  

What I’m saying is we didn’t, like that’s the world we came from and we knew how to market to do that. But when we started our podcast, those avenues didn’t exist anymore. So, we were now we needed to explore this new world of social media marketing.

Nancy: 

Although we are considering billboards. We had that conversation yesterday.

Debbie:  

That actually would be a really good way. What about right now? Are there any big challenges that you are both facing in your business and how do you usually solve them?

Amy:

Well, our new challenge, we tend to face challenges that are self-inflicted. So, we decided once we had started the podcast, and that was rolling and we felt confident that we were in a groove with that. We decided that The Passionistas Project was more than just a podcast. And we were meeting all these incredible women who were doing amazing things. And a lot of them are activists or teachers, but a lot of them are entrepreneurs who have incredible products. Of all the venture capital funding in 2018, only 2% went to women-owned businesses.

become podcasters

Amy: 

So, we decided that we were going to launch a subscription box in association with the podcast called The Passionistas Project Pack. And all of the products in the subscription box are going to be from women-owned businesses and female artisans. Our latest challenge has been, “how do you start a subscription box?” because we had no idea. We’re gonna launch the box in October and we’ve spent the last few months figuring out exactly how to do that, getting the products in line for the first box. Again, learning a whole new avenue of marketing to get the word out about the subscription box.

Every day has been a new challenge trying to put all our ducks in a row to make that happen and make that a success. And then we have bigger plans for the future, including a podcast network of all-female podcasts and live events. Someone taught us recently that you should have six or seven streams of income if you’re going to be a freelancer like this and be financially viable but they also said getting really good at each one before you move onto the next thing. So, focus right now is keeping the podcast going and promoting it more, getting more subscribers and followers on our email list and building The Passionistas Project Pack. Once that’s successful, we’ll take on another challenge.

Debbie:  

Yeah, there are definitely so many challenges that you face every day, even when you already feel like you have it down pat, something new comes up and like you ladies said, a lot of it is self-inflicted. There are so many ideas running in all of our heads and we want to do something else that’s different. It creates so many more problems.

Amy:  

Totally, but it also keeps it really fresh and exciting. Like I don’t want to go to a nine to five job where I do the same thing every day. Even when I was at the studio and it was technically in a management position, every minute of every day was totally different than the day before. And that’s what our lives are like now. We wake up every morning with a plan and then, emails come in, requests come in and everything changes. It can be stressful but it’s also our lifeblood. It’s what excites us. It’s what keeps us going.

Debbie: 

Absolutely. And it’s something that you’re really passionate about. So, every idea that comes through, it’s really, really exciting for you to actually see it come to life, which is amazing.

Nancy:  

Absolutely. Yeah. And what’s really great about what we’re doing now is it’s not only our passion that excites us, it’s these other women, we’re building this community of women who are following their passions. So, every time one of them has an accomplishment or meets a goal, we get excited. It’s like having children like we promote a Passionista all the time on our Facebook page because they’re constantly doing things. Today we promoted a woman, Melody Godfred, who has a self-love pinky ring to remind yourself to take care of yourself. And she just relaunched the rings. It’s just so exciting to see her taking her next steps. It’s really cool that our passion actually involves other people’s passions too. And that keeps it even more exciting every day.

Amy:

It’s also been fun because we’re starting to connect the women. We interviewed a woman who owns a farm and we interviewed a woman who owns a flour mill and it’s like, “Well, they don’t know each other and they should.” We met a woman on social media who want to start doing public speaking and we recently met this woman, Briony Williams from France, who is a coach for public speaking. And so we introduced them it was like, “Well, why don’t you guys talk?” We’re happy to step out of the way and just make the introductions and watch the connections unfold. So that’s, I think, one of the most exciting parts of what we’re doing that’s really just starting to gel and take off. It’s really fun.

Debbie:    

I definitely agree with you on that because having a podcast is really great and exciting, but I think what makes it really top-notch for me is the connections you make and the networking you do. And you’re right, you can help other people that you interview, hear each other out and connect with each other too, which is really rewarding in so many different ways.

Amy:

Totally.

Debbie:  

So ladies, let’s fast forward to 30 years from now and you’re both looking back at your life. What legacy would you like to leave and what do you want to be remembered for?

Amy:    

Oh my goodness. I think what we’re doing right now, I think building the Passionistas project into something long-lasting and really substantial. We both came from worlds; Nancy was a freelancer, so she worked a very isolated life for many years, I worked in an environment where I was the only woman or one of two women in a room of men almost every day, almost all the time. When we started this, we had no idea that we were going to meet so many supportive and interesting women. And to us, if we can look back in 30 years and say, “Wow, we helped all these women have a voice, we helped all these women get their product out to more people. We helped these women connect with each other and we made the world a stronger place for women to follow their passions.” I can’t imagine anything that would be better than that.

Nancy:  

Yeah. It’s funny, we always do the hashtag: #TheFutureIsFemale in all of our posts right now. And I think 30 years from now I’d like to be able to look back at that hashtag as being quaint. Like, remember the days when we were fighting for the future to be female and now we’re here and I’d like to live to see that. I’d like to be able to look back on my life and think that I had a part in the present, being female.

Debbie: 

I think there are so many women out there that are really pushing it. We’re really pushing it forward and doing so many incredible things that I don’t think it’s very far off. It’s definitely going to be in our lifetimes.

Nancy:  

Oh, for sure and hopefully in the immediate future.

Debbie:  

So is there any question that you wish people asked you more of?

Nancy: 

I think the question I like to hear the most is, “How can I help? What can I do?” I don’t always have the answer, but as Amy said, it’s great to be able to connect people. So if someone’s looking for a way to help, it’s always great to be able to say, “well, you know, this person is looking for such and such” or “this one needs you to vote for them, they’re running for something” or “this one needs you to donate a little bit of money if you can” or connecting two women with similar goals. We’ve interviewed several different women who work for homeless charities and we’ve been able to connect them. I think to me the question I like to hear the most is “how can I help?” and the answer for me is to be able to connect them to other people that need help.

Amy:

Yeah, I agree.

Debbie: 

That is a really good question to ask out of anybody because you never know what can come out of that. And you’re both doing such a great job in being connectors in your industry and in so many different people’s lives as well. So, what are you both working on currently that is really exciting to you?

Amy: 

The subscription box. The podcast is going strong enough now that we can focus on it when we need to do the interviews. The subscription box really is an all-consuming thing. And when we have to work on other projects, I always in the back of my head is the spinning wheel of “okay, we, I should be doing this. I should be writing this email. I should be looking at that catalog.” That’s really our main focus right now and we’re on the countdown, we have, I dunno, six weeks left until we officially open for sales. So, we’ve got a lot of work to do but as much as I love the podcast and that is really, I think will always be my main passion, the subscription box has become something really unexpected that I absolutely love to do and I love spending my time and energy on it. That’s the big thing for me.

Nancy: 

Like Amy said, I agree that the subscription box is definitely the thing we’re focused on. I think what’s exciting for us is that we’re promoting other women, we’re promoting female products, we’re going to have inspirational content in the box. It’s very exciting to be able to share all that information with a bigger audience. And the thing that’s really great is that pretty soon we are going to announce a giveaway. I don’t want to be specific about what that’s going to be, but it’s definitely something people should be aware of and sign-up for our mailing list so that they’ll be the first to find out about it because it’s going to be pretty significant. That’s been really fun to be planning that and to get excited about being able to do that.

Debbie:   

That sounds like a really amazing thing that you’re doing and I can’t wait to hear more about it once you launch it. Now if our listeners want to know more about you, where can they find you?

Nancy: 

We’re at thepassionistasproject.com, you can go there and find the podcast and find out a little bit more about the subscription box. You can sign up for a mailing list there. We’re also on social media; The
Passionistas Project both Facebook and Instagram and passionsproj on Twitter.

Debbie:

Perfect. Thank you so much, Amy and Nancy, for speaking with us today. I really appreciate you both.

Amy:   

Thank you so much for having us too. It was really fun.

GET THE EXTENDED INTERVIEW WHERE AMY AND NANCY SHARE THEIR 5 TIPS TO OVERCOMING PROFESSIONAL CHALLENGES.


FOLLOW AMY AND NANCY

Show Credits

Audio Engineer: Ben Smith


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