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Women in Business Q&A: Leura Fine, Founder & CEO, Laurel & Wolf

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Leura Fine

Featured on Forbes' 2016 30 Under 30 list, Leura Fine is the founder and CEO of leading online interior design service Laurel & Wolf. Driven by the desire to connect clients and designers through a digital platform, Leura launched Laurel & Wolf from her home dining room in 2014. Two years later, she has a rapidly growing team of more than 60 employees and a marketplace of more than 1,000 interior designers.

Born and raised in Alabama, Leura grew up with a passion for design;; she began her career at a top design firm and then started her own company, Leura Fine Interiors, before ultimately launching Laurel & Wolf.

Named one of Business Insider's "25 Hot Los Angeles Startups to Watch" and featured in notable publications such as Forbes, TechCrunch, Inc., Refinery29, and Elle Décor, Laurel & Wolf has disrupted the traditional model of the interior design industry. As the company's hands-on leader, Leura transforms the way thousands of people live, work, and love through the power of great design.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
My path has been one rich with diverse experiences and, although it has certainly not been traditional, it has led me to where I am today. I am a Jewish southern girl who grew up in Alabama and moved to Montreal to study at McGill University. After graduating early, I then moved to Los Angeles where I worked for a world famous Burlesque dancer, built a career as an interior designer and continued to then launch a tech company, of course now known as L​aurel & Wolf.​

I was also born blessed as I have exceptional parents who taught me with enough hard work and dedication I could do anything. They supported my every endeavor and helped me not only believe that the world was mine for the taking, but also that "normal" was "only a setting on a washing machine." There was no value placed on being like everyone else and I think this belief that unique is beautiful is what helped me through so many transitions in my life and makes me a stronger leader today.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Laurel & Wolf?
My previous career as an interior designer is what inspired the idea for Laurel & Wolf. More importantly,

I learned from my previous experiences that in life and in business you must evolve or die and most people inevitably follow the status quo. They are structured the same way, they have the same office environment, they think about growth in the same manner, and they are ultimately afraid to rock the boat. For me, it is truly exhilarating creating a business that looks to the future while simultaneously changing the future for so many people. The passion and drive I have for the design industry and for life finally has the opportunity to thrive through Laurel & Wolf.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Laurel & Wolf?
A major highlight is definitely my team! I love coming to work everyday and feel beyond blessed that I get to work with such incredibly creative, intelligent, and dedicated individuals. As far as a greatest challenge goes, when leading a startup, you are faced with obstacles on a daily basis. No matter what the challenge may be, I believe the most valuable takeaway is learning from these experiences in order to evolve and grow as a leader.

What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?
Oscar Wilde said: "Be yourself. Everyone else is taken." I love this quote because I believe that staying true to who you are is incredibly important as a woman in any industry. In your career, it is critical to embrace your strengths and your weaknesses and learn how to leverage them to the best of your ability as opposed to trying to conform to what you think someone in your field should act or look like.

What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
Determination, focus, and hard work matter more than anything. You can have the best idea in the world but if you don't know how to execute, then you don't have anything. You have to always be pushing forward if you want to win.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I certainly aim for work/life balance although I don't know I would say I've fully achieved it. More than anything, having friends and family who are understanding and supportive of your endeavor is critical when you start a company. I do try and make time to be active, enjoy the outdoors, cook, travel and have days where I only check my email once (or twice). I think aspiring to have a balance is more than half the battle! Just like any other goal, there are times when it is easier to accomplish than others.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I have no idea to be honest. I think every individual has different challenges (either personal, societal or both) faced at work and some of our greatest challenges can simply exist in our head. It is possible certain insecurities arise as a result of what we've been exposed to or perhaps our upbringing; however, this doesn't mean we should allow them to surface and it definitely doesn't mean they cannot be overcome.

My perspective is definitely skewed as I've gone to work in an era where space was already created for me to thrive as a female professional. I appreciate the hard work and tremendous challenges faced by women who came before me and my hope is to continue to expand the conversation until we no longer need to address this question or deal with sexism or any type of prejudice in the workplace. I'm incredibly proud of Laurel & Wolf and fellow founders as we have successfully created empowering, diverse, and equal opportunity places of employment.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I don't know that I've ever had one specific mentor but there are many people I've admired greatly and gotten to spend time with. More than formal mentorship, I believe listening to people's stories can dramatically impact your career and your decisions. The best stories are the ones that tell the story of failure. It is fascinating to see how people not only overcome obstacles but also rise above and succeed.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Historically, I have always greatly admired Golda Meir. She was brilliant, dedicated, tough, and not afraid to go after what she wanted and what she knew was right. She was a revolutionary and a visionary. Contemporary females I admire are Martha Stewart and Shonda Rhimes. They have both taken traditionally female traits and interests and created empires out of them. They are also both self­m​ade women, which makes me respect and admire them even more.

What do you want Laurel & Wolf to accomplish in the next year?
Our long term goal is to create a global design brand. While we can't accomplish that in the next year, we are focused on continuing our rapid growth in North America and continuing to transform people's lives through the power of great design.