Featured Image: Leah Casterlin (left) and Carolyn Xu (right), cofounders of Media Fortitude Partners. Photo courtesy of Casterlin.
After 18 years of working for a full-service political agency, Leah Casterlin decided to branch out. She and her business partner, Carolyn Xu, began to write a business plan and develop a business strategy before leaving their previous jobs. Their company, Media Fortitude Partners, is a media-buying agency that works specifically with political candidates nationwide. In business since January 2017, Media Fortitude has worked in 43 states and the District of Columbia. Casterlin sat down with writer Jessica Ozar to share what she's learned from becoming an entrepreneur.
Jessica Ozar: Can you tell us a bit about your background? How did you get the idea to start your company, and what steps did you take to turn your idea into something real?
Leah Casterlin: After working for a full-service political agency for 18 years, I decided to focus on one piece of what I did there and run with that. I didn’t want to leave the agency until I knew what that was going to be, and eventually I chose to do something I had been doing for a long time because I knew it inside and out.
Before starting the business, my partner, Carolyn, and I spent a lot of time figuring out where to go for potential business, and we worked out the details for our website and logo. We spent a lot more time on the business plan than we probably needed, but that was because we got a lot of business much faster than we expected. We have used some of our strategy from the business plan, but we’ve never had to revisit many of the financial projections because of our initial success.
The Challenges of Becoming an Entrepreneur
Ozar: What has been one of your biggest struggles getting the company running?
Casterlin: Before starting the business, the hardest part was taking the first step.
Knowing you want to do something, but gathering the courage to get out of your comfort zone and take a risk is just such a big thing.
Since starting the business, the hardest part has been separating my life from the business. It all blends together. Right now, especially — it’s the busy season. Things will slow after the upcoming election. Because Carolyn and I both came from small companies, we each had a hand in many of the day-to-day business dealings, like bookkeeping and HR. We felt we already knew how to run a small business. I’ve learned a lot about the financials of running a business that I didn’t know before, like better ways to file taxes. But I’m loving it. I love business ownership, and I love the freedom.
Community and Support
Casterlin: I knew a lot of people who had been in business for themselves for a while, and they helped a lot. They had already learned things that we could use. My financial adviser’s friend does business development, and he helped us figure out how to structure our pitch deck. He literally spent hours with us going over financials and goals. That experience gave us a lot of confidence.
Your mindset is so important. Of course, we had a fear of failure, but we talked positively. Talking in positive terms, even when a situation is scary, made it easier to overcome that fear.
Ozar: What has been one of your greatest successes to date?
Casterlin: We really believed we would need investors. We created a comprehensive pitch and financial documents, but we’ve been fortunate not to need them. We had saved enough for six months and were hoping at least to break even at that point, but within the first few months, we far exceeded that.
Now that we've had such a great first year, the next question is, how do we replicate that? While there are new elections every year, it’s been a big year politically.
Successfully Becoming an Entrepreneur
Ozar: When did you know you were making it?
Casterlin: When we realized we wouldn’t need investors. Also, in the last month we’ve declined new business because we are doing so well. We’ve talked about hiring more staff, but at the moment we both work from home and have little overhead costs. With another person, we would probably need to rent work space. So there are just other things to consider if we want to take on more business and more staff.