As part of my series about the “Five Things You Need to Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Kenetia Lee, Founder and CEO of PopUP CleanUP which started in 2016 a hip niche commercial cleaning company offering best-in-cleaning crews to maintain cleanliness at the hottest events, festivals, races, and concerts, in Greater Los Angeles. PopUP CleanUP offers pre-event production set-up/cleaning, cleaning during events, and post-event cleaning in any indoor or outdoor event space. Our roster of events include the 2017 Los Angeles NBA All-Star Games, 2018 ComplexCon in Long Beach, 2019 Blast Pro Series and Los Angeles Marathon, working with clients like Nike, Adidas, Facebook, PopSugar and Lululemon to name a few.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
About 2 years before I bought into a commercial cleaning franchise, I had been saving my money working as a traveling salesperson for a skincare line. I didn’t know I would start a commercial cleaning business until fate brought me together with a gentleman I met in NYC. After sharing with him my aspiration of starting my own business, he opened my eyes to the potential and opportunity of commercial cleaning. It took me months to say, “Yes,” but after some soul searching, fact finding and my family reminding me that my grandmother who passed away several years ago was also in the cleaning business, I committed to the journey.
I quickly learned that the commercial cleaning business in California was quite saturated and leaned on my experience of being backstage as a makeup artist for many years in the entertainment industry and thought, “with so many event happening in and around Los Angeles, they all need cleaning,” and PopUP CleanUP event cleaning was born.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
I was so eager to make a mark for the business; I took on an emergency cleaning job for one of the Oscar gifting suites without a full scope of work or a signed contract in place. We completed the work and went above and beyond the call of duty, but only got paid for half the work. While this may not seem to be funny, it was one of the best lessons I could have learned early on to never get swept up in the hype before taking care of the business. Every time I sign a new contract and take a deposit, I smile!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
If I can only choose one person I’m grateful towards who helped me get to where I am today it would be Joy Holmes. Joy is my SCORE mentor. We started really working together this year. Although, two years ago is when Joy and I attempted to work together and she wanted me to provide her data and financials and I got so frustrated I didn’t come back to her until a year later. The second time around, she insisted on the data and financials again, but this time instead of me running away, I kicked and screamed the whole way through it, and she guided me through understanding the businesses financials, patiently explained how to gather and then analyze the data so that I could make sense of my business. What I love about her is that she doesn’t back down, even if I try and squirm my way out of doing something, she keeps me accountable for what I say I am going to do.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
When the company first started, my vision was to continue and expand my grandma’s legacy, it still is today. My grandma bought a one-way train ticket at the age of 18 from Philadelphia to California, stopped in Chicago and never left. Before she passed away she gingerly shared with me that she was happy I decided to move to California to finish her journey. When my family reminded me that my grandma ran a cleaning business, I knew she was whispering in my ear. The purpose of the business was to make an impact in the lives of those in my community by providing them with second chances and opportunities to grow and develop personally and professionally, something I always remember my grandma doing with each of her children and grandchildren.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
This year has been the most uncertain and challenging of times. We lost more than 60 percent of our business and most of our clients have reduced their services due to people working from home. On top of that most of my workers felt the weight and burden of George Floyd’s and Breanna Taylor’s murder. So, I decided to put together an initiative called #PopUPforthePeople where we would donate our services to small businesses and churches in our community to get them the cleaning services they needed. We had volunteers working alongside my workers to bring cleanliness and joy to our community. We were able to have my workers be the team leads on these projects, make some money and generate goodwill. A win-win-win for all.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
Oddly enough, before the pandemic hit I was so frustrated by all the hours I was putting into the business and not really ripping the financial benefits that I wanted to give up, and out of the blue a person who spoke at one of the chamber’s I belong to send me an application to apply for the Minority Women’s Entrepreneur & Leadership Program at USC Marshall School of Business along with a full scholarship. I applied last minute and never thought about quitting since, even in the midst of the pandemic and social unrest. The curriculum renewed my faith in my purpose and challenged me to pivot in such a way that will allow me to scale my business and expand the personal and professional development amongst other small commercial businesses. Dr. Davidds and the cohort were the lifeline I didn’t know I needed to push through these challenging times.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
I would say the most critical role of a leader during challenging times is to hold the vision, while at the same time re-engineering the core service/product to fit the current needs of the marketplace.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
Foster an environment where it is safe to share. Get into storytelling mode. Encourage the team to share their stories of how they have overcome. Highlight with small successes often…..and cute pet photos!
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
The best way I know how to communicate difficult news is from a place of compassion and empathy. There are things that are not personal, but this doesn’t mean people will not take them personally, so allowing space for people’s humanity always works for me in communicating difficult news.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
Truthfully, I didn’t understand planning until this year. The plan is just a road map, not the final destination. A leader with a plan has a better chance of weathering the unpredictable storms in business and life because it keeps you focused in the present moments.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
The ups are the natural outcome of downs.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
The most common mistakes I’ve seen other businesses make during difficult times is to cut their marketing, not invest in their staff’s development, and broaden their market. To avoid these, I would say narrow the focus market, dig deep into their needs, market to that and develop your staff to meet that need.
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
During a difficult economy, I feel my best strategy is to invest more time and energy where I get the most business. Really assess who my best clients are and who brings the business the most profit margin. I look for new business with them and how to serve them more, better or incentivize them to refer us. It is also easier to talk with them and they tend to be my biggest cheerleaders which helps keep my spirits high and motivated.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Narrow your market focus. With so much uncertainty, narrowing my market focus helps bring consistency and stability to my clients, they know what they will get and my workers are clear on how to provide what the clients need.
- Invest into Developing your team. People who come to work for me invest their time and energy in helping me grow my vision of the business, it only feels right to invest back into what supports me. It comes back 10-fold in unexpected ways, but mostly in how my clients rave about the service they get.
- Hold your Vision. Every day I make it a practice to meditate, which is a great mindfulness practice that helps to calm and center me. I use a few minutes of this time to remind myself of the vision I desire to create with my business. Overtime and through difficult times and happy times the vision crystalizes and becomes reality.
- Lean into your WHY. When I was thinking about quitting, continuing my grandma’s legacy pulled me through. Knowing there is something beyond myself doubt and worry that is bigger than myself worthy of attaining makes the good and the bad all worth it.
- Don’t panic, push. Push yourself to get outside your comfort zone. The first time my SCORE mentor requested my projections I panicked and ran away from my fear of numbers. The second time around the same fears came up, but this time around I pushed through and got really uncomfortable until they became second hand. Building different muscles only makes you stronger and more resilient.
Can you please give us your favorite” Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
If you Get, Give. If you Learn, Teach. Maya Angelou
This quote to me is the nature of life. It is a statement without judgment, but of action and the give and take of it all. What I give I get to keep and what I teach I also learn. My life I feel is woven by these threads and is rich in experience because of them.
How can our readers further follow your work?
Check us out at https://popupcleanup.com