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Incredible Women series: Annie Auerbach

Updated: Jan 19, 2020

It is with great pleasure that I launch a new series on the blog, celebrating 'Incredible Women' - finding out more about the career and life paths of inspiring female entrepreneurs, writers and business women to hopefully inspire your own journey...

My first interviewee is Annie Auerbach, author and co-founder of Starling, a cultural insights agency, who help brands like Google, Nike and Unilever understand trends and cultural change so they can stay relevant. After working flexibly herself for 20 years, Annie wrote her first book, FLEX: A Modern Woman’s Handbook to inspire other women to reinvent their work and life so it suits them, rather than conforming to the outdated structures that exhaust and deplete us. Below I ask Annie about her own career path, what she has learnt along the way, her struggles and life lessons...

What did you want to be growing up?

A vet. I love animals and read the James Herriot books religiously. The closest I have come to being a vet is having a dog. She’s called Missy, she’s very sparing with her affections, when she cuddles me I feel like Christmas has come.

Who was your work role model?

Honestly I don’t think I had one which is why I launched my own business with my partner Adam Chmielowski. I wanted to invent a working culture that was kind, fun and flexible, whilst being relentlessly interesting and constantly pushing for excellence. I didn’t see that anywhere – it was always one or the other.

How did you find your career path? What inspired you into that industry?

Happy accident which makes sense with 20/20 hindsight, but I’d be lying if I said it was a considered plan! My degree was in History, then I worked in journalism writing about lifestyle trends, and now my work focusses on change and how things might be in the future. I’ve gone from the Past to the Present to the Future! And genuinely, I don’t believe we can really understand the cultural moment we’re in, or the signals of how things might change, unless we look backwards. Adam was also a historian, and so much of the work we do is about timelines, trajectories and journeys.

What do you struggle with?

I struggle with different things at different points of the month to be honest. Writing the body chapter of my book FLEX taught me this – you can divide your menstrual cycle into four quarters or seasons. It helps you make sense how you feel and how you can tweak your arrangements so you are on the front foot. When I’m approaching my period (Autumn), I struggle with self-doubt – I’m over analytical, I give myself a hard time, I second guess, I’m a restless sleeper. When I’m in Spring and Summer, I have fewer struggles - I’m productive, I feel inspired. I take on too much, which I rue later in the month.

What has been your proudest career moment?

Launching Starling and writing my book. I’m mega proud of both.

FLEX is a culmination of everything I’ve learned in my professional and personal life. I’ve distilled all the incredible advice from the flex pioneers I’ve encountered along the way into a manifesto for change, peppered with practical everyday tips.

What things have you learnt along the way?

· Family is pretty much everything – if the kids are OK then life is OK. So go home, switch off and be present.

· Love your friends. Life has ups and downs, it’s richer when you’ve got people to share it with.

· Work with people you trust and respect.

· Celebrate the good stuff if you are going to fret over the bad stuff… often we only do the latter.

· Care deeply about what you write and create. But wear learning lightly – nothing worse than someone ramming their intelligence in your face.

· Be brave and interesting, be on the right side of history, even if what you say is awkward and hard to hear.

If you had been anything else, what would it have been?

A radio presenter. An unscratched itch!

What has entrepreneurship taught you about yourself?

That I’m less stressed when I’m in control. Weirdly, I took my work home and felt more overwhelmed when I was working for someone else and their politics permeated my life. When it’s my business, I switch off on the weekends, because I’m in control of the work and the (lack of!) politics.

What’s your favourite business app?

Google drive – an amazing collaborative suite of tools. We use google docs, presentations, hangouts constantly. It enables flex and forces us to build and hone ideas.

Favourite book you’ve read this year?

The Wonder Spot – smart, funny, emotionally raw. Packed with perfect one liners. I want to write like Melissa Bank.

How do you unwind?

Walking up hills, having baths and watching Succession.

Finish the sentence: “my business allows me to….”

Live a flexible life with fewer compromises and get paid for being curious.

What do you think you bring to your business that’s unique?

A low boredom threshold for words / ideas which I’ve seen a hundred times before and an urge to create something fresh.

What has been the most profound piece of advice you’ve been given?

From my dad – read the question carefully and sock it to them baby. Precision and fearlessness – a winning combo.

Follow Annie on Twitter here, and you can purchase Flex - The Modern Woman's Handbook here

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