Former finance executive Cate Luzio launched Luminary, a professional education and networking platform, as a self-funded venture in 2018. Her mission was, and remains, to uplift women across industries to support and propel them to the next phase of their careers.
“At the heart of what we do is truly building that community that will lift you up and propel you forward,” Cate said. “Whether you’re sitting in Tulsa, you’re sitting in Tokyo, or you’re here in the New York area, there are so many incredible communities. Luminary is just one.”
For many entrepreneurs, finding community is a crucial part of developing your business and growing as a person. When Luminary expanded to online events, in addition to its New York City coworking space, Cate’s partnerships with other founders and companies helped the venture grow into a thriving international community.
Cate shares five lessons that helped her build her own network to propel her career, as well as the careers of Luminary members across the globe.
1. Find your community
Entrepreneurship may be a competitive path, but Cate encourages her members to use their strengths to support each other. “Since the very beginning of Luminary, [it’s been] collaboration over competition,” Cate said.
She added during the 2022 Women in Business Summit: “Look at [your] peers and say: Do they have something that you don’t have, that you likely will never have? Do you have something that they don’t have that they may never have? And can there be ways for you to come together?’”
Collaboration has made all the difference for Gwen Beloti, owner of New York’s Gwen Beloti Jewelry, who won a Luminary fellowship in late 2020. In the throes of the pandemic, Gwen said meeting a community of like-minded women helped her business stay afloat through a difficult time: “[Entrepreneurship] can be a really lonely journey, so I was super excited and grateful for the opportunity… I know for a fact my business would not be where it is today had it not been for my involvement with Luminary.”
2. Lead with your values
Cate encourages her members to make their businesses and workplaces more inclusive—ultimately, leveling the playing field for entrepreneurs everywhere. For this reason, the Luminary has no application process. Cate believes introducing one would create barriers to joining, and Luminary is committed to its core values of community and connection.
“A community doesn’t put up barriers; it breaks them down,” Cate said. “When you walk in our physical doors or you join a Zoom, you get that immediately. This is a level playing field. Yes, we’re here to get shit done and all of us to be successful in whatever definition that is for you, but we’re also here to do it for each other. We live and breathe that every single day.”
3. Measure success through impact, not volume
When COVID-19 hit, Cate pivoted her business model to virtual events, which could bring Luminary’s members together without risking anyone’s health. Many early adopters of Zoom focused on how many people they could get to log on, but Luminary prioritized the quality of the event and the impact it had on participants.
This remains her best measure of success, Cate said: “I don’t care if there are five people or 500 people at an event—I want impact. If those five people or 500 walk away with impact, they walk away with advice and calls to action, they walk away with connection, we’ve had a successful event.”
4. Think of yourself as the customer
As an entrepreneur, customer needs can play a pivotal role in helping you determine your strategy. Having spent much of her career in customer-facing roles, Cate learned early on how to understand a client’s needs. At Luminary, putting the customer first means providing forums for members to provide feedback, recommendations, and referrals.
“If you’ve built a community, you’ve gotta nurture it over and over and over and really make sure that you’re not only taking feedback, that you’re getting recommendations, and that you’re really investing in the people in the community. And I feel like that’s what we’ve done [at Luminary] and why we’re still here,” Cate said.
5. Surround yourself with people outside entrepreneurship
Luminary is all about surrounding businesswomen with businesswomen. But Cate adds that it’s also important to connect with people from other parts of your life—mentors and friends who aren’t consumed by the entrepreneurship journey.
“[Other founders] are in the same boat as you, so you can commiserate,” Cate said. “You need real advice as well, and mentorship. So tap into your network from another life. Tap into other people that aren’t just all consumed by the founder journey. You need both.”
Did you know? Yelp launched its Yelp for Business x Luminary Fellowship this fall to provide 15 female entrepreneurs with a community and suite of resources, including a Luminary membership. Read more about each of the fellows, and stay tuned for their progress over the next year.
These lessons come from an episode of Behind the Review, Yelp & Entrepreneur Media’s weekly podcast. Listen below to hear from Cate and Gwen, or visit the episode page to read more, subscribe to the show, and explore other episodes.
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