Emmy McCarthy Consulting-Stichting Amsterdam Mamas
January 2018 | Sofia Simeonidou
I wish Emmy was portable so that I could take her with me everywhere to show me the way and make things better. She's not portable (yet) but she's real, and she's around. Honest and most inspirational.
Everything we talked about is here. One of the few times I didn't want to leave anything out. You'll understand why.
Emmy, could you tell me a few things about yourself?
I’m Emmy McCarthy and I’m a community builder. Everything that I do seems to lead back to community one way or another. I’ve been building communities across Europe since the year 2000 - my latest being Amsterdam Mamas - I started doing this way before Facebook, MailChimp, and even MySpace was popular. I do it because I genuinely believe that we as humans are better when we come together. We all suffer from isolation and loneliness at various points during our lives so bringing us back together within a community is a good thing to do.
And what do you do for a living?
I’m the founder and managing director of Stichting Amsterdam Mamas, a not-for-profit foundation. When I’m not working for Amsterdam Mamas I work on my own consultancy for small business owners. I help them to get clear and get focused and take action. It can be really overwhelming running your own business but it doesn't have to be this way if you put the right systems in place, the right support, and the right strategy.
Finding the things that work for your business can take a really long time so what I do for my clients is just shorten the learning curve for them a bit. I help them start focusing on the next thing that's going to move their business forward. My hope is that by helping business owners to create businesses which are sustainable and scalable I am also making a small needle shift in getting people earning more, contributing more to the economy, and doing more within their communities.
When did you realise that this is what you wanted to do?
I consider myself an accidental entrepreneur. I didn’t ever plan to do this, I’m not really a risk taker and having my own business always felt risky. I started as a small business consultant in 2004, I specialised in HR, and employment law back in the UK. I took on Amsterdam Mamas in 2010, just after I’d had my son. That was my first business.
So you were a consultant before Amsterdam Mamas?
Yes, and I already had a lot of experience working with CEOs and founders, I already knew what it took for other people to run their businesses, I just never applied it to what I was doing. As Amsterdam Mamas grew, more people wanted more of my time to talk about their businesses. I found that I had really missed consulting when I was spending so much time making other people’s businesses better. But that’s also a difficult thing, when people say, “I just want to pick your brain. Can we have a coffee?” and then I would spend the coffee time working on ideas for their business. It didn’t feel good. I see a lot of people fall into this trap and trust me when I tell you that you should stop doing this for free. If people value your advice then it is worth more than a coffee. You can still help people out, it’s good to give back, just be aware of how much you are giving away and make sure that it doesn’t compromise your own business.
When did you realise Amsterdam Mamas was about to develop into what it is today?
Well, I started this with a friend and from a closed group of friends soon we went up to 60 people. For me personally, it was very important from day one, being a new mum in the city and looking to find my people. But then there was a tipping point where we suddenly went from 60 to 173 just overnight. And I thought, “There’s something happening here, this is filling a gap that people need.” Now we are 14,000 so I think that maybe I was right!
I call this the “Harry Potter” method. It’s how you know if this idea is the right thing for you to pursue. When JK Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter novels, sat down to write about Harry Potter, that day he was created, he walked into her head fully formed she saw his whole story: who he was, how it began, how it ended. All she had to do was fill in the journey in between. I think it’s like that for a lot of us creative entrepreneurs, that’s when an idea feels right when we can see the end of the story. We don’t know all the bits in the middle but we believe that we can get our idea where we want it to be. That’s exactly how it was for me with Amsterdam Mamas. I knew what it could be. Everyone I talked to back then told me, “You’re crazy it’s just a few of mamas in a Facebook group.” But I kept saying, “No, the city needs this. They need somewhere that is trustworthy, that is responsible, where there’s peer to peer support information for parents to connect.” I think it was also important that I never saw Amsterdam Mamas as “my” thing, it was always OUR thing, something we were doing for the city, for our families. The city needed it, the community needed it, and we just had to put the pieces in place to make it happen.
From your experience do most entrepreneurs and freelancers have something in common?
They are all creatives. I believe that every business owner is a creative, even if they don’t consider themselves an artist or a designer. They have created something where there was nothing and for that reason, I’d call them all creative entrepreneurs. I also think there’s an element of resilience in all of them, a willingness to pursue freedom because ultimately freedom is what all business owners are going for. But to get there you need to develop resilience and resilience is like a muscle. You have to flex it, and you have to practice it and you have to be willing to fall down and get back up again.
But you can’t wait to be lucky. There’re so many people out there who are doing the work every day but they still can’t make it a success.
And that’s a differentiator.
You can’t be an entrepreneur if you’re not creative. You can’t be an entrepreneur if you aren’t resilient. I wouldn’t completely discount luck either because there’s an element of being in the right place at the right time. But you have to have the willingness to do the work, to keep going when things are hard. Sometimes it is just a lucky break, an opportunity that you see that nobody else sees and that you walk through to find it. But you can’t wait to be lucky. There’re so many people out there who are doing the work every day but they still can’t make it a success.
Are you intuitive?
I think I’m highly intuitive. I like feeling my way through things. I’d rather sit still and listen than rush in and start doing before I know what’s going on. I think there’s huge value in being quiet and consistent, in pushing what you believe to be right. I know it’s not always the popular option. But there’s absolutely no point being a substandard copy of someone else.
Do you collect things?
Yes and no, I like to have sets of things but I don't specifically collect anything. As a child, I used to collect badges, the buttons with the pins on the back.
What do you laugh about?
My family, American sitcoms. General absurdity.
What do you spend your money on?
Too much! I love anything Apple and gadget related. Good restaurants, food.
Water or Gin and Tonic.
Being an entrepreneur, is there something that makes it difficult for you?
I think time will always be the biggest challenge. Before all the business stuff I do I’m a wife and I’m a mum, There are many things I want to do with my life and you only get 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You can create as much money as you want, but you can’t create any more time. Time is the biggest restriction.
I genuinely believe that every single person who’s running a business has the potential to change the life of another person
I’m very happy running the Change Maker programme in my consultancy right now. I love the Change Maker programme and I love the people who come into it. A big plan for 2018 will be building more of a community element around the programme. We’ve been running the programme for 2 years now, I’ve had a lot of people through the programme and I’d like to do more to connect those people to each other. So they can get support from each other as well as from the things they’re learning through the programme.
For me, there’ll be more talking, more getting up on stage, more getting up in front of audiences, and encouraging other people to build the life that they want through running their own business and through making a change in their community. Because I genuinely believe that every single person who’s running a business has the potential to change the life of another person, and I think that’s a critically important part of running a business that gets overlooked far too often. There’s too much focus on what do you want out of it, and not enough focus on whose life are you changing with your business, who will this impact? How will the work you do affect society? I’d like to see more of this conversation happening with entrepreneurs next year.
When we start, many of us start because we want to make a difference in other peoples’ lives. But I guess somewhere along the way we forget that?
Year one you’re learning everything, you’re falling down, you’re getting up. Year two or year three it’s when you realise this is something now. I find year two is when people focus on money, can they make enough to make their business sustainable. And around year three is when you start realising that success doesn't happen overnight and that you have to define what success means to you and how your business affects the world around you.
If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?
Right here in Amsterdam or by the sea.