female founder spotlight: cate luzio, founder & ceo of Luminary
step aside, chrismukkah, everyone’s favorite celebration is here: international women’s month! we’re so excited to celebrate all the inspirational, impactful women in our lives and couldn’t think of a better way to do this than sitting down with a woman who created a place for other women to connect, create, and collaborate: cate luzio, founder & CEO of luminary.
fun fact: in under a year, cate went from leaving an executive-level banking position and decades long career in finance to creating, funding, curating, and opening the doors of the first female-focused collaboration hub; think less traditional co-working and more perfectly curated apartment filled with people you want to meet. palace is honestly a better word; if you’ve ever been in the space, you probably want to move in and may think we do in fact live there. they have wine on tap, why would we leave? check out the space here!
can you share the “aha!” moment that made you realize you wanted to pivot your career from finance into the ‘next thing’? did you know at that time a workspace for women was what you wanted to do or did that come later?
I didn’t have an “a-ha” moment when I decided to leave banking, but I did have a “what now” reflection point after a pivotal meeting with my [male] mentor. he encouraged me to try something else and then explained “what’s the worst that can happen? you can always go back to banking.” I couldn’t get his comments out of my mind, and then I made the decision to give myself a chance to pivot.
the idea to create luminary was born two months later in march 2018. I realized that women needed a space in NYC to go to invest in their professional development (without sacrificing self-care), build community, and get work done. I created a business plan and it was full steam ahead to make it a reality; we opened our doors just eight months later in november 2018.
editor’s note: gabi + catherine moved in shortly after with the ‘side hustle’ membership. cate cannot get rid of them.
was anything holding you back from creating this? how did you work through that process?
nothing held me back. I truly feel luminary fills a gap for professional women “in the middle” – those who are pivoting and entrepreneurs looking to advance, so I just went for it.
in my opinion, preparation and execution are critical. I spent most of my career building, fixing and rebuilding businesses. writing a business plan was my first step; once that was done, I held focus groups and discussions with different women who reinforced that a place like luminary was needed. building out a 15,000 square foot space in less than eight months meant a huge hustle and having the best team around me.
your tagline for luminary is ‘come sit at our table’; can you talk to us about why this is important to luminary’s mission and to you personally?
we’ve all felt intimidated at some point in our lives. whether it was walking into the cafeteria on the first day of school, looking for someone to sit with, to your first day of college orientation or your first job, those feelings of self-doubt trickle in. whether you’re an extrovert or introvert, we’ve all had these feelings and I wanted to create a place that was welcoming, open and engaging. our “come sit at our table” mantra is important because we are inclusive not exclusive. we are a community of women across all ages, backgrounds, levels, and industries. our goal is to inspire and be inspired and build a diverse community.
you’ve built a great team at luminary; can you share some ‘how to hire right’ secrets?
building the right team around is you is so important. I look for people that want to work hard, that have passion for what they are “selling” and believe in our mission. this isn’t just a job or a company, it’s a family that’s part of a bigger community. we rely on one another and succeed when we work together. I have always said you’re only as good as your team. we win together, but we lose together too.
how would your team describe your leadership style?
my team would definitely say that I am direct and demanding, setting the bar high for myself and others; but I’m compassionate, open, energetic and mission-driven. I wouldn’t say my hiring style has changed from banking to luminary, but I had to hire a team with completely different skill sets and backgrounds. when I look at the team we’ve built, I know we have something special.
you’re a seasoned finance professional, but first time self-funded CEO; can you share a few things that expectedly, or unexpectedly, challenged you with this career change and how you navigated them?
self-funded or not, being a first-time entrepreneur is a roller coaster. the highs are super high, and the lows are super low; it’s hard to navigate the challenges most of the time to be honest. as a self-funder, I focus on execution and acceleration of results to cash flow positive, so I need to be laser-focused on revenue and expenses. I think whether you self-fund, you raise or you leverage various loan options, it’s still a ton of pressure, but that’s also what makes the success matter that much more.
what has challenged me the most is that roller coaster and the lack of infrastructure that I relied on more than I realized working for a big bank. on the positive side, I was pleasantly surprised by the number of women, especially entrepreneurs, that have reached out to see how they can help. it’s really inspiring but I still feel there needs to be a support group for female-founders. maybe I’ll create one at luminary! want to join?
can you talk to us about your decision to self-fund vs. raise money? were there different funding avenues you explored or did you always know you wanted to self-fund?
frankly, I never really explored other options. I knew that if I wanted to open luminary in less than a year, I wouldn’t be able to fundraise. It’s a long process and as we are all aware, women get less than 2% of venture capital funding. I’ve been working with and supporting initiatives focused on gender equality for many years and I wanted to walk the walk and put my money where my mouth was. not everyone can self-fund, but I had saved a good amount from my banking days and wanted to invest in this company. I continue to look at funding options and leave the door open as the business grows.
what do you consider your best pinch-me moment?
the day we had our launch party, our furniture arrived at 8:30am (161 pieces of furniture, 3 weeks late from Asia and elevator out of commission). the entire team and then some pulled together, and we kicked off our launch party at 6pm. I couldn’t believe we did it, but then again, I knew we would. that day I received flowers from someone special and the note said, “never a doubt.” I think that was my pinch-me moment that we had done it – in less than 8 months.
is there a female founder you view as a mentor?
there have been so many, but I will say the co-founders of The Second Shift, Gina Hadley and Jenny Galluzzo. they have been incredible – the advice, support, introductions to other female founders and just “get it done” attitude. I also recently met Michelle Cordeiro Grant at LIVELY and we just clicked; the idea generation, brainstorming on how to collaborate and reciprocity around introductions has been fantastic. honestly, we have several female-founders that are luminary members and they all inspire me!
editor’s note: check out our february issue if you missed our february spotlight on michelle cordeiro grant! and yes, thank you for asking, our pinch me moment is when worlds collide and founders we adore meet and click with each other – and invite us to sit at their table.
we ask every founder we meet this question, because it’s always a good story! how did you come up with the name for luminary?
after dozens and dozens of names on poster board, i checked my linkedin and had a message from a former colleague whom i didn’t know. he said that he hoped i was well and even though we had never met, he saw me as a luminary for so many. i actually googled it because i knew it meant light but when i read the definition: “a person who inspires others, a guiding light, a role model, an influencer, a leader, a legend, a heroine”, i knew. i wanted to build a community of luminaries.
cate, thank you for being a luminary for us (and so many others) + for giving us a home away from home. we can’t wait to see what the future holds for luminary [i.e. the roof deck coming in april] and for all females who get more sh*t done because of you.
*all product images, press images, and headshot images are property of cate luzio + luminary.
**this is not a sponsored post. all obsessions are 100% real