Advice On Getting Started With Your Unruly Idea, From A Founder Who's Done It
Musician and GIRLSCHOOL director Anna Bulbrook went from festival-circuit superstar to founder with a mission. In this week's "Shortlisted," she dishes on what it takes to build a super ambitious mission from the ground up, and why there's still plenty of glory in the humdrum tasks of building a business.
You may know her as the rockstar who played violin behind Kanye West or the powerhouse string section behind that iconic "Sometime Around Midnight" chorus circa 2008. In the decade since, Anna Bulbrook has added "founder" to that list of accomplishments as well, as the mastermind behind GIRLSCHOOL—a music festival with a mission, working to celebrate, connect, and lift women-identified artists, leaders, and voices. Hell yeah. (And psst: the next one is going down February 2 through 4 at the Bootleg Theatre in Los Angeles; sign up for updates here and mark your calendars.)
In her experience as a musician, there were a handful of questions that dogged Anna, and that eventually inspired her to build GIRLSCHOOL: "Where were the women in music? Why weren’t there more of us on stage at major music festivals? Or on the radio? Or getting cool support slots?"
And so she made her own space. Since then, she's spent her days turning GIRLSCHOOL into an ambitious, inclusive community bringing together musicians who are committed to raising the profiles of female and female-identifying artists. And while there comes a day in every founder's life when she realizes her schedule is going to be filled with infinite more minutiae than originally planned, Bulbrook has come to love it:
"Because these mundane tasks are all for a community whose potential I believe in more than anything in the world, that basic stuff feels satisfying on a level I didn’t know was possible outside of, you know, playing the best festival set of your career."
So what tools does Bulbrook use to keep her energy and enthusiasm barreling forward on a day-to-day basis? She shares her tips below.
"Do you have an idea? Are you curious where something will lead? You don’t need to know everything yet. Just fucking start."
"No product on Earth can replace the fundamentals: drinking lots of water, getting quality sleep, sweating daily, meditating, backing off sugar and alcohol, not being a smoker—the most fundamental of which is feeling safe and centered in yourself.
But now that I’ve said all that, I do love Eminence Organics Stone Crop Whip. It’s as close to magic as a face lotion can get."
"NPR’s How I Built This is inspiring if you run your own business, or want to run your own business. I love hearing about the spectacular risks and insane faith that all of these mega-successful founders have as they build companies from nothing into behemoths. And I love hearing about the failures—some of which are gigantic—that they experienced along the way. If you listen to enough of them, you also start to see that there’s no profile for what a tremendous leader looks or acts like.
Also, if you are a music nerd, you need to listen to Song Exploder. Now."
"First: A great haircut. I feel swaggy as hell when my bangs are razor-sharp and my hair looks like a perfect blonde wig. It also makes all my clothes look more interesting than they actually are.
Second: Big shirt, small pants as a lifestyle. These days it’s an oversize, white collared shirt by unisex brand 69 US, high-waisted but formal short-shorts by Swedish workwear brand Hope, black ankle socks, and black platform brogues by Monki, which I have been living in. (Read: trashing them.) Plus a bomber jacket or sweater, because hey, it’s California 'winter.'"
"I just finished reading Ottessa Moshfegh’s twisted, funny, and perfectly-written Homesick For Another World, and her novel, which I found to be even more wonderfully twisted, Eileen.
I’m also re-reading Difficult Women by Roxane Gay. She’s one of the very best fiction writers, essayists, feminists, and Twitter-ists around."
"Also, I make a lot of lists."
"Instagram. I love seeing what the people who inspire me are up to, and I love figuring out how to be creative with the limited tools that Instagram offers."
"I’m very unnaturally blonde, so Kerastase’s Oleo-Relax Serum is the only thing that stands between my hair looking like a fright wig versus actual human hair."
"Can I answer this with a 'yes?' I love platforms, because they provide the comfort and functionality of flats and sneakers, with the height and polish of heels.
I bought myself a pair of Marsell platforms in the holiday sales this year that make me feel like a chic Edward Gorey character. I also currently live in a pair of last-season black patent platform brogues by Monki."
"When I give myself the gift of working my body out every day, all other systems seems to balance."
Words: Eva Grant
Photo: Charlotte Patmore