Zero To 80: 7 Tips For Success From RAW Founder, CEO
From the time she was 7 years old performing fashion shows in her living room to her sister’s karaoke machine, Heidi Luerra knew she wanted to be in the fashion design business. She just didn’t know then how big her ideas would get.
Founder and CEO of RAW: natural born artists, Luerra, 34, has the world’s largest independent arts organization with a community of more than 200,000 creatives in 80 cities, and offices in Los Angeles, Sydney, Toronto and Mexico City.
“I am most proud of the fact that we have created this organization,” says Luerra, “because we had no breadcrumbs to follow. We had to carve our own track and have been the pioneers here.”
With a new book out, The Work of Art: A No Nonsense Field Guide for Creative Entrepreneurs (written by a creative entrepreneur who has endured her share of nonsense), Luerra is taking a moment to reflect on more than 20 years as an entrepreneur moving from a fashion designer to an international organizer of showcasing events for creatives of all kinds.
Writing her book was also a creative challenge: “It is my words, my story, my recommendations.” She also profiles 15 artists in the book.
Growing up in Redding, California, Luerra moved to Los Angeles at 18 and started her own line of clothing, EveryWear Clothing, with removable trims, and selling them at swap meets. In 2005, she went to the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles.
Busy on the weekends selling her line, “I decided after two years that there had to be a better way to get items direct to consumers.” So she started a showcase, Project Ethos, and ran that for three years. Then a corporate gig working promoting and organizing events and fashion shows fell victim to the recession in 2008.
So of course, she dreamed up her own business. In March 2009, Luerra Launched RAW, which provides tools, resources, education and exposure online and offline for artists “across film, fashion, music, visual arts, hair and makeup artist, photography, crafters and tech artists.” Tech is the wave of the creative future, she says, with virtual reality and other tech innovations.
“Starting out there wasn’t anything like this,” says Luerra, “and not at the scale we are operating. Most of the art world is fragmented.”
RAW showcases host 50-80 artists at a time, attracting audiences up to 1,000 in major cities, as well as smaller U.S. communities and international cities. Artists in the showcases can sell hundreds of thousands of dollars of their work at these events.
“It’s a logistical puzzle,” says Luerra.
She says she spells out “brass-tacks useful information for creative entrepreneurs of every skill set” in her first book that took her two years to complete, and “covers topics from personal branding, budgeting, and mental health, to guidance on clearing the hurdles that come forth as you rise to steady success.”
Noting that she built this creative network from $0 at her kitchen table, Luerra offers these strategies for entrepreneurs of any and every stripe, including creatives.
Understand your why. “Know why you’re doing something and have it aligned with everything you want in your life. People get lost when they don’t know what they want. The why is a good jumping off point. My why is I want to spend my time doing something important and using my talents for good and to give opportunity to artists who would not have this chance.”
It’s going to take longer than you think. “Have the extra patience. Now everything is on demand, but for a successful career, you have to grind it out every day, fail and keep going.”
Block out the noise. “If you’re doing something original and creative, you’ll have haters, trolls and copycats. You have to block them ut and come back to your why. As a young woman leader, you can have lots of run-ins with older males who think they knew better. There is no way to move through your career without feeling the effects of it, but it comes down to focus. Have a vision and knowledge of what you want.”
Network. “I have made friends with other CEOs and founders and we put together a group of women in business. It is difficult and it is lonely at the top. There is no way to escape the possible unfortunate bias. Having a support structure is key.“
Stay focused. “Keep your integrity in tact and do not engage in toxicity. I knew what I wanted and it was intentional to be in multiple creative communities.”
Keep learning. “I had to learn a lot about how to operate a business and that learning continues. I had to learn how to be sustainable and have longevity. When you’re innovating, it’s challenging and really hard, starting from scratch and sustaining through all the ups and downs.”
Be the boss. “At first I wanted to be everyone’s friend and not their boss. It gets muddy and you can’t do that. You have to be the boss.”
Years ago Luerra dropped her clothing line in favor of full time spent on RAW. “Creating this platform for other creatives, this led to a new career path,” Luerra says.
Luerra laughs easily and often. She knows her why. “Creativity can change the world.”