From The Trenches: Interview with Lena Strothe, CEO at Wrangle
We’ve all worked a gig we didn’t like or burned the midnight oil for something we didn’t truly believe in. We’ve cashed paychecks without passion, keeping our eyes open for a way out. For some of us, if we’re not careful, this becomes a way of life.
Others get up one morning and say ‘enough is enough’. It’s that moment of giving into inspiration, to think new ideas, and starting new things. The climb ahead becomes enough.
Meet Lena Strothe, Co-Founder, and CEO at Wrangle, a Members-Only Network For Creative Professionals
And if you’re really inspired, you go for it and start a new company. That’s what Lena Strothe did when she started Wrangle, an online platform that allows people to easily connect to jobs in the entertainment industry. She started this with Cofounder and CTO Philip Brown in 2017, and hasn’t looked back since.
LAStartups (LAS): Tell us what inspired you to say ‘to hell with it’ and start your own company?
Lena Strothe (LS): I’m not sure it was one ‘to-hell-with-it’ moment, but rather an accumulation of frustrating moments working as a producer. I’d often get calls at 9:00 PM saying something along the lines of ‘We need a full film crew in Austin tomorrow morning at 7:00 AM.’ and I’d spend my night scrambling and sweating to find the right people and make it happen. At some point, I started to question whether there might be a faster, better way to handle things… and I couldn’t find one. So that was where the initial seed of this idea came from. How to connect professionals faster in the film business. And that’s what Wrangle is, a connector of jobs to people in creative fields.
LAS: So connecting people who needed stuff made with the people who make the stuff?
LS: Exactly. It’s something I really cared deeply about. Wrangle really came from a place of wanting my own life to work better and wanting more opportunities for myself and my friends and the people I care about. As a producer, it can be really, really frustrating trying to find professionals on short notice. That’s what sparked everything.
LAS: Tell us a little bit about your journey in the film production world.
LS: This industry is my life. My parents are both journalists, they were both working in media. So I grew up around that and I studied film production. Then I figured out that I was unemployable everywhere except LA, so I moved here. I worked in a lot of different departments and had a ton of different roles, and really grew to love entertainment, production, and marketing, any kind of content creation, really.
In general, it’s really difficult for freelancers to find new clients and new opportunities. And, and on the flip side, it’s really expensive for clients to find professional freelancers. So my thought with Wrangle is we remove the pain point on both sides. Yeah there are job boards and yeah there are staffing agencies, but we wanted more than that. So we built an invitation-only community, where every user that comes on board is vetted. We’re building that network of professionals that agencies and productions can rely on.
LAS: Okay, but a lot of people have ideas. What they don’t have is the drive or the technical acumen to actually make them materialize. Why are you different?
LS: I needed change to happen for myself as much as anything else. And then I was super fortunate in finding a technical co-founder, Philip Brown, who is an amazing software engineer. I met with him a couple of years ago and I pitched him on this crazy idea, probably in a state of desperation based on my own circumstances. And, amazingly, he just said ‘okay, let’s do it.’ And so that’s the point where I knew, okay, now I have someone who can really help me build this thing. And it became real.
LAS: How did you find your technical co-founder and CTO, Philip Brown?
LS: Well, this is a very unique situation, I think because Phillip has been my friend since kindergarten. We’ve known each other since we were six years old. He is pretty much as good a friend as you will have in life. So we have a really unique origin story.
This allows us to be really honest, because we know each other so well and speak a common language, and there’s no real ego involved. I mean, we spent all of high school together and we know who each other really are. So I’m really, really lucky in that respect because I didn’t have to find that person. We sort of found each other and we just made the partnership work. I love the marketing side. I love the creative side. I love finding professionals to work with. I love the workflow aspect of it. He likes to focus on what he does best, which is being an amazing engineer, really great on the technical side. It’s a relationship that I was really lucky to find, but one that I know is pretty unique.
LAS: How do you communicate in the language of engineers?
LS: Just be curious. I think that’s probably the best thing that you can do and I wish more people were really interested in what’s going on technically. I’m fascinated when he sends me a screenshot of the code that he’s working through or he’s like, this is what our bugs look like. And he actually gives me something to understand, wow, that’s a lot to dig through. That’s a lot of code. By seeing it, I can appreciate what he’s up against.
So I think like the best advice I would have: just to be really curious, because the tech team most likely wants to share a lot of that stuff with you. Plus, I want to understand what the process is down the line.
LAS: So tell us your biggest challenge right now.
LS: You know what’s funny is, we’re in the midst of a redesign that’s based on my mother. My mom is my favorite beta test user. She’s admittedly not tech-savvy. She’s wonderful but very impatient and very blunt. Because she’s a producer, she’s a journalist, she’s really good at looking at stuff for us. So every once in a while I’ll send her something and ask her to, to try it.
The latest thing that she looked at was our hiring page. I sent her that and she was very confused. She sent me a long email about it. And so I talked to the team, and we’re like, okay, we need to make this work for someone like my mother. It should be intuitive enough for her to use it. That’s the current headache and a fun puzzle that we’re dealing with at the moment.
LAS: So your entire redesign is driven by your mom? Classic.
LS: Yep. If my mom does not get frustrated by it, and she can make it through, then we’re good. She is our guiding light (laughter).
As I said, that’s my life. You know, my family, my friends, everyone that I’ve worked with all come from the entertainment industry. And so I want to make something that works for them. And I really want to show this to people that I respect who I’ve worked within the industry and have them find it helpful. That’s really where my passion comes from, making something that this whole industry can really love using.
LAS: For builders, there’s always the tension between releasing your MVP (Minimum Viable Product) and releasing something that is outrageously good and has all the bells and whistles. How do you deal with that?
LS: That’s definitely a big question. And one that I think we’re always reassessing. It’s never finished, right? It’s just time. It’s just time for it to go live. That’s what we realized. Both me and my partner are probably leaning more towards the side of waiting and wanting it all to be perfect. But especially now with this pandemic, we knew how many freelancers needed something like this to pick up extra jobs.
So we decided to launch it a little bit earlier than expected, and just start collecting feedback and building on that. And if we can get some people to work along the way, that’s great. I think it’s an ongoing question, the question of ‘when to release’.
LAS: What’s the next big milestone for you?
LS: What we’re refining right now is search. We do have a basic search function on our site, where you can find a certain job title or search someone by name. But we really want to make that a lot better. We want it to be more region-specific, or based on what kind of projects you might need someone for. Phil has informed me that this is quite an ‘interesting problem’ as he likes to call it. So that’s something that we really want to refine going forward.
LAS: Are you guys bootstrapping this, or how’s the financing working?
LS: We’ve taken no money, not even from friends and family. I think we’re open to VC money once the business model is proven. But I think this whole time we’ve just told herself, let’s see how far we can get doing it ourselves. Let’s see how far we can push our progress. That way going forward, we think we can really provide a huge value to future investors if we decide to go that route.
LAS: What’s happening in the media landscape out there, from your perspective, that excites you as a content producer? Is there a platform that’s engaging you more than you thought it would?
LS: So far I have ‘The Office’ on rerun (laughter). I do think that a lot more writers and content creators are getting their shot and getting into these pitch rooms. And what I’ve heard is places like Netflix and HBO give the creatives a little bit more leeway in making decisions. I think that’s something that really draws filmmakers to those platforms versus maybe a more traditional studio.
LAS: What about TikTok?
LS: I decided like everyone else I should see what the hype is about, and let’s just say it sucked me in for longer than I would have liked. I love that people don’t have to ask permission from the gatekeepers anymore, which I think is such a big sea change It’s a really cool time, and TikTok is a great example of that.
LAS: Is there a book or a movie that inspires how you approach business?
LS: What I’ve been reading recently is this book by David Whyte called ‘The Three Marriages’. It focuses on the different things in life that require attention,, and how we sort of balance these things out. The various marriages we have in our life, to our work, to our passions, to our relationships. So reading that has been a real joy for me.
LAS: What piece of advice would you give to the aspiring bootstrapper?
LS: I don’t know if I’m in a position to dole out advice yet. But what I learned over the past three years is how much of a mental game this is. It can grind on you to juggle two jobs and keep on schedule. To have people tell you that it’s not a good idea. And a lot of it is working through problems by yourself. You know, it’s just you on your own in a room, trying to solve something. I think I really underestimated that element. So prepare for that.
But also remember you’re building something from the ground up. That’s so cool. You get to decide everything. It’s a super creative pursuit.
LAS: How do you get through the tough times?
LS: I’ve surrounded myself with good people, including my business partner Philip. It’s been really great being able to bounce ideas off of him and work with him. He will listen to all my crazy ideas and crazy issues. Find people that will support you.
LAS: Do you have any last aspiring words for people out there who want to go out there and build?
LS: I would just say, don’t be intimidated by starting a company. Because I was for a really long time. Just go for it, you know, make it happen. If you have a good idea, if you’re passionate and do the work, it can definitely happen.
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