In this episode of the Sales Hacker Podcast, we have Alexandra Schrecengost, founder of Culture With Us, which brings DEI-based immersive experiences to hybrid workplaces. Join us for an eye-opening conversation about delivering high-quality employee experiences so that even young companies can sign major clients.
If you missed episode 219, check it out here: A Holistic Approach to Compensation Structuring with Scott Barton
What You’ll Learn
- You don’t need to be perfectly qualified for every opportunity
- The importance of getting started and having a plan
- Giving yourself permission to be successful
Show Agenda and Timestamps
- About Alexandra and Culture With Us [02:48]
- Key insights from starting and building a company [12:58]
- Dealing with Imposter Syndrome [15:10]
- How Virtual With Us secured large enterprise clients early and quickly [16:46]
- Why business leaders need to do more than “try hard enough” [19:15]
- Hybrid vs. fully remote workplaces [25:05]
- Paying it forward [28:33]
- Sam’s Corner [31:02]
Show Introduction [0:00]
Sam Jacobs: Welcome to the Sales Hacker podcast. Today we’ve got an inspiring entrepreneur and CEO, Alexandra Schrecengost, from Culture With Us, bringing DEI-based immersive experiences to hybrid workforces and activating employee engagement.
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About Alexandra and Culture With Us [02:48]
Sam Jacobs: Alexandra Schrecengost founded Virtual With Us in 2020, and Culture With Us in 2021, supporting corporations through cultural programming, DEI initiatives, and food and beverage entertainment to improve human connections. With more than 18 years of experience in wine, spirits, hospitality, and luxury public relations, Alex focuses on community building via event marketing. She’s been featured in Wine Spectator, The Today Show, Online Vogue, Ebony, and more.
She lives in New Jersey with her husband and their identical twin boys and enjoys traveling, reading, and dancing.
We’ll start with your baseball card. In your words, what do these companies do?
We’re a high-end inclusive hospitality service program, focusing on virtual and hybrid event experiences, curated corporate gifts for global organizations, team building, and employee retention.
I started in July of 2020 as all of the hospitality folks were furloughed during the lockdown. My husband was struggling to maintain his contacts. I was trying to figure out a solution. How can hospitality folks work from home?
We also saw the cultural component. There’s a struggle around diversity, equity, inclusion, understanding what that is, and being respectful of different cultures. We provide innovative programming around that. The business started around that model.
We value foundational strength, a beautiful meal, delicious wine, spirits, or coffee, and building those important relationships to drive business and revenue.
Johnson and Johnson came to us in 2020 and said, “we love your mission and we need your help.” They had an initiative for women in leadership to have guest speakers like Oprah and Serena Williams talk about their strengths and triumphs, issues with regard to civil rights, re-imagining culture, and being a woman in business.
I didn’t know how we were going to go beyond the US. We built our initial infrastructure around this Johnson and Johnson initiative. We were able to connect over 2,200 women in over 60 countries and bring them together as thought leaders to discuss breaking that glass ceiling and understanding culture authentically.
Bringing in a new generation of professionals and openly speaking about stresses at work, mental health, your family, and growth within your organization was genuine and impactful.
I love food and drink, and the idea of bringing people together and getting to know each other. I went into hospitality, working with the French Culinary Institute, brands like Stoli, Hendrix, and St. Michelle Wine Estates, and learned the back end of entertaining clients in a restaurant. What goes into building out the mixology and cocktails? What is the chef saying to their staff? How do you speak to people with regard to food and initiatives for spirits and wine? How do you reimagine it?
I wanted to drive hospitality in a new way. I wanted to work with corporations instead of going DTC. I saw people in hospitality not having work, close friends of mine who I’ve worked with for many years, and things happening within the industry regarding the civil rights movement.
It drove me to leave corporate America and launch this business to build a new type of work culture to support globally distributed and diverse workforces, and reimagine it to ensure that everyone has a seat at the table.
Key insights from Starting and Building a Company [12:58]
Sam Jacobs: What are some of the key insights that you’ve gleaned as you’ve built a company from zero to where it is today?
Alex Schrecengost: You have to have your vision, and it has to be very clear. Learn to adapt to any working environment. I launched during the pandemic, during global supply chain stress. There’s a war overseas, there’s a civil rights movement going on. You have to be fluid and nimble.
Different risks lead to a variety of paths and it’s a difficult market right now. The conditions are insanity. I’ve needed to think quickly on my toes.
As a woman, there’s extra pressure within a startup industry. You have to be incredibly buttoned up. I’m a first-time CEO, a woman, and a mom; are they going to believe that I can do it? You have to take those risks regardless.
Dealing with Imposter Syndrome [15:10]
Alex Schrecengost: I have constant stress and always do the “just breathe” moment. My motto is ‘do everything with a purpose, build on that, and think strategically.’
I may be completely wrong, and have to change things in a day, a week, a month, a year, but this is the route I’m going to go. It’s having confidence with the worry. That was something I had to work on. You have to be okay with your decisions.
How Virtual With Us secured large enterprise clients early and quickly [16:46]
Sam Jacobs: Your client list is impressive, particularly for a young company. How did you manage those relationships? How did you close those deals?
Alex Schrecengost: Really knowing the people within the organization, and having a vision for what they could do.
Many of these orgs were in the process of adding DEI to their programming. We positioned ourselves as the leaders of culture and inclusivity. Building confidence and showing them what we could do.
We had challenges. But it was persistence and zeal that continued to get us business. We’ve strategically marketed and built our brand through a number of publications like Fast Company, INC., and Fortune. This is how we’re charging forward.
Why business leaders need to do more than “try hard enough” [19:15]
Alex Schrecengost: People feel if you build it, business will just happen. That’s not true. There’s a lot of work, strategy, sales, and operational structure that goes behind it.
You have to build a strategy for growth. There’s only so far you can go with not taking no for an answer.
You should always have confidence but make sure that you have tactical breakdowns of how you’re growing your business, and what it looks like in 2-5 years. These larger corporations, B2B, HR, diversity and inclusion leaders, chief revenue, sales, and field marketing, are our buyers. How is their business impacted? You can’t just go and say, “I’m not going to take no for an answer. I’ve built this and I’m going to continue trying. So people are just going to come.”
Sam Jacobs: How have you adjusted your strategic plan as you push ahead?
Alex Schrecengost: I wanted to show sustainability and growth trajectory. The hybrid model is here to stay, as it allows organizations to reach more people to drive their sales and revenue, it’s bringing that in-person and virtual component together. I saw that 30% of organizations worldwide are doing hybrid and it’s projected to grow. This is a $14b market, and they’re still utilizing Zoom, what does that look like for us?
We’re looking to expand our global footprint. We continue to build out this hybrid structure for organizations and teams. It’s about helping them with their flexibility. How do ensure that culture is key when not everyone’s in the office? You build it.
We’ll have a technology platform to allow teams to connect all over the world. We’re continuing to look at the ecosystem, and we’re evolving. How do we become relatable and dependable on an ongoing basis? How do we inspire engagement?
Hybrid vs. fully remote workplaces [25:05]
Alex Schrecengost: If you look at folks who are just coming into the workforce, they need visibility in front of senior management, they need professional growth and development, guidance, and mentorship. When you’re a recent college graduate, building that network where you don’t have a network at all, you need to be able to establish that.
On the other side, it allows for flexibility to have a work-life balance. There’s a lot of confusion. Folks were saying, come in any three days, but then you’re on Zoom or Teams anyway because no one actually coordinated. When you have distinct scheduling, there’s an opportunity to provide that balance where you can work from anywhere.
There’s great flexibility in the hybrid model. Even prior to the pandemic, we were going to a hybrid model eventually. The pandemic forced everyone to be virtual, and then it forced everyone to rethink how we can do this.
Paying it forward [28:33]
Sam Jacobs: We like to pay it forward: books, mentors, people that had a big impact on you. What are the ideas and people that you think we should know about?
Alex Schrecengost: My mentor who’s been with me since I graduated college, Amy Wilkins, the senior VP and then chief revenue leader for Martha Stewart. She helped me with building my self-strategy and taught me the importance of collaboration and lifelong learning. I admire her work ethic. She’s now the CRO at the Smithsonian.
She’s been such a wonderful mentor for me and helped me throughout my professional growth.
Sam Jacobs: What’s the best way to reach you?
Alex Schrecengost: Alex@VirtualWithUs.com. I’m open to collaborating, chatting through strategies, and expanding my network. I’m happy to introduce you to our sales team and showcase our capabilities.
Sam’s Corner [31:02]
Sam Jacobs: Loved that conversation. I’ve interviewed lots of people from diverse backgrounds, and the thing that they struggle with is not imposter syndrome, which we all struggle with. It’s saying, ‘I may not be qualified for this, but I’m just going to do it and I’ll figure it out as I go.’ That’s a good quality to have.
Start something and have a plan. You still need experience and wisdom. Be looking for the moment when you finally can say, I’m as qualified as anybody else. I have every right to success.
Wherever you are, whatever you look like, that doesn’t matter. What matters is believing in yourself. Raise your hand for that job that you think you may not be qualified for. Take a chance on yourself and give yourself permission to be great.
If you want to reach me, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and pre-order my book, Kind Folks Finish First, The Considerate Path to Success in Business in Life.
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