Like a Boss

One CEO’s 4 Tips to Spark Innovation

by Arianna Schioldager

Leura Fine’s online platform is turning the interior design business on its head. Here’s her advice for women rewriting the rules — in any industry.

5 Min Read Time

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Leura Fine, CEO and founder of online-only interior design company Laurel & Wolf, spoke at a pop-up event hosted by Marriott Hotels and Create + Cultivate at the recently renovated Wailea Beach Resort – Marriott Maui in May. On everyone’s mind: How Fine built a team of 60-plus employees and a network of 300,000 registered users in less than two and a half years.

Fine’s platform promises to revolutionize the design business by connecting customers with designers entirely online. Users can navigate to the site, input some information about their space and for a flat fee per room, connect with an interior designer. At the end of the design process, users walk away with everything they need to complete their space, including design plans and a purchase list.

Fine, who has been featured on the Forbes 2016 30 Under 30 list and whose business was named one of Business Insider’s 25 Hot Los Angeles Startups to Watch, took a break from Maui’s stunning ocean views to let us pick her brain about innovation and the lessons she’s learned from startup life.

1. Use digital tools to save people time.

“A lot of things that used to be done in person don’t need to be done in person anymore,” says Fine. “As a designer I worked on projects all over the world, where most of the time I wasn’t there. It’s 2017 — you don’t need to glue fabric samples onto a board.”

The same holds true for most businesses.

“We prefer to communicate digitally,” she says, “and time is our most valuable commodity.” These forces are shaping innovation as we know it, so the more you can leverage the internet to make things easier, quicker or simpler, the greater chance you have to unlock new value in the marketplace.

2. Make space for innovation.

Meetings and calls can take over your life. Don’t allow this to happen.

“In the last six months, I have really focused on paring down my meetings,” Fine says. “I felt like it was getting to be too much. I never had alone time and therefore never had time for the creative strategy.”

Fine encourages the approach with her team, as well.

“I’ve been a big advocate of talking to our team about how we spend our time. They meet with their managers or peers, but they should also block out time on their calendars to have alone time, to work through the big problems or how they want to structure something.” That’s when ideas flourish.

When you’re launching a company, it’s easy to get caught up in the desire to meet about everything — the day-to-day of blocking, putting out fires and tackling issues. “But you have to force yourself to step away. That’s how you figure out what you’re going to be doing in the next quarter.”

3. Don’t limit yourself.

If you have a great idea, then you should build it, whether your background is in engineering, design or finance. All of those skill sets are needed to scale a business and get an idea off the ground, and you can find the talent you need to fill your personal skill gaps.

“I was an interior designer who had an idea for making interior design affordable to everyone and to allow interior designers to do what they love. Turns out what that idea translated into is actual software. My vision for how all these things would come together was through tech.”

4. Pay it forward for innovation’s sake.

Innovators have an obligation to help the next generation follow in their footsteps. For Fine this means modeling opportunities for girls.

“We need young women in middle school and high school to be thinking, ‘I want to be an engineer, a CEO, a chief financial officer.’ We need them thinking of those things now,” she says, “so they can put themselves on the path to get to those jobs.”

Fine continues, “I couldn’t name a single female CEO as a little girl, and I never would have thought it was my dream. If we promote women at the top of all of their fields and make the world aware of what they do, then we create a generation of girls behind them inspired by that leadership.”

Marriott Hotels partners with Create + Cultivate to profile local women entrepreneurs who are bringing their ideas to life where they live and to create a space to foster the ingenuity of an inventive class who know that success is never final.