Ten lessons in ten years


By Lindsey (Walenga) Grosso

The last decade has transformed us. Communicating on behalf of economic development organizations, nonprofits and visionary leaders across the state, and leading Siren, together with Adela Piper, has brought so many lessons.


If you run a business, want to become an entrepreneur, or are simply wondering what kind of brutiful challenge entrepreneurship can be, read on for key lessons we’ve learned along the way:


Year: 2012. Lesson: Start before you are ready. Ten years ago I was a communicator by trade, not a businessperson. When we signed our first contract, we focused on doing good work, and didn’t know the first thing about building a successful company. What did we know? That we wanted the freedom and thrill of going out on our own, and we knew that we trusted each other, as friends and colleagues. Our blissful ignorance allowed us to jump right in, fearlessly. We quit our jobs, landed our first contract with our former employer, and we were off! We weren’t ready, but we started anyway.


Year: 2013. Lesson: Having babies and running a business at the same time is hard, but possible. I had my daughter 10 months after we started Siren and Adela became pregnant with her first the following year. Between us we brought four babies into the world in four years, and experienced three losses, while growing this business. It was a beautiful time of growth, triumph, and healing. We believed then, and still believe today, that we could do anything. We make it all work because we have each other’s backs. We were able to take time off because we were there to support each other and keep the ship pointed forward.


Year: 2014. Lesson: As a founder, no one is as committed to your mission as you. When you’re a founder your business is part of who you are, and even the most dedicated employee can’t share that commitment. The best way to ensure you have the energy and the strength to get through the hard times (there will be many), is to find a business partner who will give their blood, sweat, and tears, too.


Year: 2015. Lesson: C-Suite involvement is critical for success. Around this time we partnered with Community Choice Credit Union and helped grow their assets from $500M to $1B in less than three years. We deployed a community-centric M&A communication strategy in lock-step with the most effective chief marketing officer we’ve ever met. He was an effective team leader who was committed to our work and together we excelled. As a result we now require C-Suite leaders to be engaged, because when clear communication is a top priority for leaders, progress is much stronger.


Year: 2016. Lesson: Building a strong company means having the right team. As our business and our clients’ expectations grew, it became critical to hire the kind of team members who could earn our client’s trust. After some trial and error, we learned the importance of telling employees the whole truth about what we needed, asking tough questions, and letting them feel uncomfortable when necessary. People who are willing to grow in service of our mission are the right people.


Year: 2017. Lesson: Lean into your strengths. As the public relations and marketing lead for Detroit Startup Week during 2016-2019 we discovered a unique strength at Siren: The ability to align the needs of stakeholders while performing major media campaigns. We call this stakeholder relations and no one is better at it than us. We listen to stakeholders’ needs, practice reflective listening, gain alignment among often competing priorities, and translate all of it into content that meets everyone’s needs. Communication strategy done right serves stakeholders, the clients, their audiences and the media all at once. We do that.


Year: 2018. Lesson: Strong revenue does not guarantee profitability. In 2018 we posted a 0.8% profit margin, which was wildly frustrating given our revenue growth and how hard we were working. But that was part of the problem – working too hard for every dollar. It was time to get serious about our own wellbeing. We learned that managing our capacity and standing for our value allows us to better serve our clients. We now monitor utilization rates, profit margins and billable time in a way that ensures we’re at our best for every client we bring on.


Year: 2019. Lesson: The only way to ensure something will last, is to let go. After seven years of running the company, it was time for a new era of leadership. After many brave conversations, and wisdom from our advisors, Adela and I redefined our roles at Siren. We went from simply “co-founders” to the C-Suite leaders Siren needed. As we leaned into our strengths, I became CEO and Adela became chief marketing officer. At the same time, we redefined our strategic communication process to better resonate with our ideal clients. These two moves allowed us to build a stronger foundation for the future that is still working today.


Year: 2020. Lesson: God laughs at your plans. As 2020 began we were poised for our strongest year yet, until March 2020, when the whole world stopped. Like so many businesses, we lost a lot (over $200,000 in revenue) that year. But we’re nimble and we thrive on change, so we pivoted to providing crisis communication services during the pandemic and managed to still increase our year-end revenue and profit over 2019. It was a hard-won victory.


Year: 2021. Lesson: Follow your true North in life and in business. In late 2020 and into 2021, we hired business coaches with the intent of spurring growth. The business growth came, but only after inner growth that took us to whole new places. Adela’s inner growth showed a strong pull northbound, and we listened. In 2021 Siren opened our second office, in Marquette. We became the only strategic communication firm on both of Michigan’s peninsulas, and stepped more fully into Siren’s purpose: to strengthen organizations and communities across the state through clear, powerful communication.


Year: 2022. Lesson: Success is not a place you arrive at, it’s a mindset you adopt. Ten months into our tenth year, we know very clearly that there is no yellow brick road. Not in entrepreneurship, not in communication, and not in life. Your life’s work is not supposed to be easy. We started this year with a stacked roster of clients and a great outlook as the economy thrived, but by mid-year budgets were being cut and the Great Resignation got real. Rather than clinging to the way things are “supposed” to be, we are embracing the way things actually are, and continuing to roll with the tide.


After a decade in this business, I am sure of a few things:

  1. I’m so glad we didn’t listen to people advising us not to be equal business partners. Adela is my best friend, and our partnership is one of the accomplishments I am most proud of in this world.
  2. Every time I get frustrated with something happening “out there” I have to look inside and own my shit, before I can help anyone else improve.
  3. Change is constant, and I am here for it.

After ten years, 10+ big lessons, and a million hard moments, this is the only question that matters: Is it worth it? The answer for us has always been yes.