Rachelle Kuramoto has worked as a brand and content strategist, writer, and market intelligence professional for 20 years. She is an experienced and award-winning professional who balances creative and business acumen to projects, primarily in the B2B sector. Her objective in every engagement is to articulate what makes the client distinctive and sustainable in their market and with the stakeholders who matter most.
Rachelle launched her career in the late 1990s in the technology practice of Ogilvy Public Relations, where she helped known and startup companies to build and grow their online presence. Since then, she has advised some of the most respected and innovative companies in the world across a host of sectors, including healthcare, technology, financial, transportation, media, education, and energy.
Rachelle has had the opportunity to lead brand and content strategy endeavors for enterprise brands like Cox, Worldpay, The FreshMarket, and SWIFT Transportation. She has helped to launch and grow notable startups including Magic Leap, Roadie, and Greenlight Card and has supported numerous not-for-profit entities such Waymark (Formerly Kids3), Mercy Care Atlanta, Bearings Bike Shop, and The Drake House. When she’s not hard at work, Rachelle is an active volunteer who serves on the boards of the Alliance Theater and 48in48. She’s a competitive marathoner, adventurous cook, mom of two (and a dog), and wife to a fellow entrepreneur.
Shantel: Hi Rachelle. Welcome to the Imagine More Podcast.
Rachelle: Hey there. Thanks so much for having me on.
Shantel: Yeah. We are excited to learn more about your entrepreneurial journey, what makes you imagine more, and everything business. And to kick things off, do you mind sharing with our listeners a little bit more about Watchword.
Rachelle: So, Watchword is a three-year-old, give or take, brand content firm. And so, I know that's a little bit of a different moniker. We do three things really, really well. We do branding, writing, and research. And we do all of that from a content focus. And so, as a team, we are a group of really specialized, experienced writers and we've translated that into the capacity to write just about anything. But also, to think on a brand level with companies. And so, a lot of what we do entails creating positioning and messaging for companies that's really, really targeted to their audience, that really helps them stand out in noisy marketplaces, and that really helps to take the things that they tend to rally around internally and put it into the marketplace in a way that others will understand and care about. And so, that might be helping to cultivate core values and then describe how strategy is built around those core values. Or it might be naming a new product in a way that's really evocative for a set of key audiences. And the research piece of it is just that we are all lifelong learners and we really believe that particularly in a creative field, setting strategic context is just absolutely paramount to the success of really any campaign or task.
Shantel: I love that. Did you ... is there a certain kind of niche or industry that you serve best as well?
Rachelle: That is a great question. So, I started doing what I do in the late '90s. And my job at the time was running editorial and market research for the technology office here in Atlanta. And what we were doing this, bringing blue chip companies into the internet. And so, at the time, the internet was emerging technologies ... and I know I'm aging myself ... but since that time, I have found that we live very, very comfortably in the technology space and even in emerging technologies, in AI and machine learning and neuroscience and different things that require a high learning curve in order to be able to articulate it to a broader marketplace. And so, I would say that that's an area that we've continually excelled at for a long time. And I've brought writers in who are very capable of doing that kind of work. And then, outside of that, just generally, we work very comfortable in B2B. Not to say that we don't do any consumer work, but it takes almost a change management mindset to do B2B well and that's something that I feel like we are very comfortable and very capable of doing.
Shantel: That's great. I'm interested to hear, so coming from a more corporate background, when did you make the switch? Was there a defining moment that you decided to go out on your own?
| LOVE WHAT YOU DO, SUCCESS WILL FOLLOW |
Rachelle: So, I think I was probably always destined for that. I grew up the child of an artist and so, yeah, the ultimate entrepreneur. And my mom kind of helped him run the business. And I was raised with that mantra of if you love what you do, success will follow. I fully thought that that was a career path. And honestly, it really has been. I was actually supposed to go to work for Accenture as a consultant when I graduated from college and ended up being offered a position to stay at the university that I was attending which was Lake Forest, to study for two more years with Dr. Maya Angelou and so, that was this opportunity to just go and do my own thing. And I had a job around that and I think that probably that was where things really took the turn and I realized I can pursue my passions here. And so, I spent two years digging in and writing and came out and realized that I wasn't quite sure what to do with that because masters in literature with a focus on African American's women's literature and a business degree is just a weird combination. And so, that's where I took that corporate turn for a little while but it didn't last all that long. And even while I was there, I was very much an intra-peneuer. Always kind of thinking about things I could be doing for the company and our clients that didn't already exist. But it wasn't until I became a mom that I really realized that a big piece of being an entrepreneur for me is having control over my time and my drive. And so, that's really, I think, where that decision was put firmly into place. And the journey since that time has been a bit iterative but I think it's gotten me where I am now and I'm feeling very fortunate to be where I am now.
Shantel: Okay. I would love to dive into the mom piece. I have been struggling a little bit with this thought of how am I going to be able to do ... I'm not a mom yet, would love to be one day and would love to be the best and most present person I can be ... but also, feel like I can't necessarily or don't want to give up this business side of things. And I'm fascinated with the thought around time management. I feel like I am not managing my time well right now and I'm curious ... rambling, sorry. There's some quote and it's like you'll do anything to own your own business but then you end up working 80 hours a week instead of 40 because you're passionate about it. So, have you been able to set really clear boundaries of I'm not going to work after this time or how do you shut off the business piece? That was a very, very long question of my internal struggle there.
| INTELLECTUAL BALANCE |
Rachelle: No, and I think you just said it exactly right. That is an internal struggle and it is an eternal struggle. It's really, really hard. And I am going to be the first to admit that I am terrible at it. I am a bit of a workaholic. So, I have two answers for you. One personally is that I don't shut off the business. I love the work that I do. I love my team. I love my clients. And I'm very fulfilled in working. Where I do draw strong, thick black lines around my life is there are certain hours of the day that belong to my children. I have two teenagers so they don't need me much but when they do, I want to be there for them. So, usually that is right around the dinner hour and it's really important to our family. My husband is an entrepreneur as well and he has made the same commitment. Whenever there's the opportunity for our kids to be at the dinner table, we are all at the dinner table. And I love to cook and I love to have my kids in the kitchen with me. And so, that is a time of the day that is really precious that I do not answer my phone. If I'm in the kitchen cooking and my kids are doing their homework and we're having a conversation around the dinner table, that is the only place that I am. And then, later in the day, they go and do their homework and I go back to work. And it's usually a pretty late night but at least we've had that time. And that's really special.
The second part of the answer is to something that you said about looking toward having a family and not knowing how to bring that into the current schedule that you're keeping. One of the reasons that I left my position in corporate PR was because it was lots of hours and it was lots of travel and it was lots of stress and it was lots of answering to others. And I realized that I was not going to be able to be the kind of mom that I wanted to be and also have that career. And at the time, there wasn't the option to have both, or at least not one that I was able to find. And so, I made the decision to go be a stay at home mom. And I realized pretty quickly that I wasn't great at that, that I needed to have some intellectual balance. But one of the reasons why I decided to start Watchword is to be able to provide really, really smart and talented and committed individuals, moms and dads, the opportunity to have what I couldn't find. And so, it's been interesting. The team that has grown around this company has done exactly that. We have one young mom who had a baby a couple months ago and has continued to work as she has felt capable of and she's doing great work and we're only giving her what she can handle. And another who is planning to have a child and we're already putting plans in place for what does life look like afterwards? And I give them all the freedom that they need to decide how much they can do and we just make it work, because it's possible to make it work, and they are wonderful. And it's working well. So, maybe a little idealistic to think that balance can exist but I am committed to helping do my part.
Shantel: I love that. And I appreciate you letting us get on the tangent and for the listeners listening in, a little bit of a therapy session there. So, you recognized pretty early on that writing was a big passion of yours. And as you've grown the business, are you still actively playing a part in that role or you were in a different job description now that you're not tapping into the writing quite as often?
Rachelle: That's a great question and it's actually something that I've been talking about today with someone else as well. One of the exercises that I have found really, really valuable as someone who is building a company, a small company, particularly one that is services based is I love to be a producer. Right? I love to write. I love to name. I love to message. I love to do those things that I got into this business to do. And I want to continue to do a lot of them. But I'm only one person. And so, there's an exercise that is basically listing out the things you love, the things you like, and the things that you loath. And kind of cross listing the people on the team or around you who could take on the things that you loath, help you with the things that you like, and maybe support you in the things that you love. And I try to do that exercise when I'm thinking quarterly about where are things. It helps me to put my priorities to the most fulfilling kinds of production work and to create the space for actually working on building this business. So, what that looks like mostly for me right now is I'm highly involved in the strategy work that we do with our clients. I'm highly involved with the brand level work that we do with our clients. And I am always a last pass for any of the writing that comes out of our team.
Shantel: I appreciate you sharing that exercise. I think it's something that could be really powerful for teams to do as well and see this person loves writing blog posts, this person doesn't. I think that's a powerful exercise. Do you mind sharing one or two things that are top on the loath list that you are trying to actively delegate?
Rachelle: Yes. I loath white papers. I loath them. And I've done so many of them and I probably shouldn't say that into the world because technology companies need white papers. But what I have found is there is a member of my team, for example, who she is really good at them and she's really good at turning them into eBooks that are super digestible. And another member of our team who is a part-time college professor and man, she can write with an academic voice like nobody's business. And so, it was being able to plant that flag and say I don't like these. And quite frankly, I'm probably not the best person at them because I don't like them that opened up the door for someone else to step in and say you know, I'm pretty darn good at these. So, that's probably the one main example that I would go.
Shantel: That's a good one. I typically hear accounting but knowing a little bit about your husband's career, is that something that he's helping with?
Rachelle: Oh yeah. I'm terrible at bookkeeping. Yeah. I mean, it's funny because when you asked that question I immediately went to client work. But as far as running the business work, yeah, no, I'm not very good at bookkeeping. But fortunately, I have a really, really good bookkeeper living under the same roof.
Shantel: That's great. Switching gears a little bit to having that entrepreneurial energy every day in the house, is that something that you think that the kids are starting to feed off of that and starting to think entrepreneurial? Are there conversations around the dinner table about the companies that they're going to start as well?
Rachelle: That's a great question. We laughingly say that we are completely screwing them up and ruining them from ever being able to be hired. But no, I think they look at us and I think that what they see is not so much this title of entrepreneur but more of this, this is what being passionate about your work looks like. And I'm really, really grateful to give that to them. And as far as how that's becoming and translated into their world, one of them is 16, almost 17, and the other is just 14, but both of them teach music lessons, for example. And our son, who now is driving and needs money, as he looks at okay, well how am I going to do that? He's not so much thinking about well, maybe I'll go scoop ice cream, he's thinking okay, maybe I can get some more drum students or do something like that where I've got some control over my time and I can make $30 an hour and not $8 an hour. So, I do think that maybe it's worming their way into their psyche a bit but my hope is no matter what they do, their takeaway is just love it. Be fulfilled by it.
Shantel: That's great. Did you grow up in an entrepreneurial family and always knew you wanted to start something?
Rachelle: I don't know that I always knew that I wanted to start something but yeah, it was a very fluid entrepreneurial environment. My mom stayed at home and helped my dad. He built an art business that was ultimately contracted to another much larger business. And so, I watched that happen. But I don't know that I was ever really paying attention to it because it was a skillset that I did not have at all. He's an artist. I can't barely write my name. And so, I don't know. I think I did realize probably that being told what to do was something I was not real comfortable with, and that probably came from him.
Shantel: Yes, that's right. And I think the interesting paradigm or the job roles of the creative, maybe loathed all the business type things, but that's where your mom complimented him really well and was able to support for the business.
Rachelle: Oh, for sure. oh my gosh. It's like you were looking in our windows. She is absolutely brilliant at organizing and thinking strategically when it comes to maximizing the use of your finances and things like that. He was really lucky to have her involved in that regard and we've been really lucky in learning from her in that regard.
Shantel: Growing up in that environment, did you ever consider bringing on a business partner or a co-founder to help fill the gaps of things that were either on the loath list or things that you weren't super crazy about or super comfortable doing initially?
| LEARN SOMETHING IN EVERY SITUATION |
Rachelle: Oh golly, I still think about that. Being a sole entrepreneur is kind of a lonely gig. So, I'm always thinking about would I be better for my clients and the people on our team if I had a partner? That's a checkpoint that I'm regularly touching. I will say, I did have another company a number of years ago and had two co-founders, so there were three of us, and it was not a good experience. But I think that it was ... there were some unusual factors there that just made it not work. And what I took away from that was it took me far too long to have the courage to walk away. And so, there's an ability to learn something in every situation and what I learned was while I'm comfortable in this situation, I'm going to continue to touch base on that question of a partner but if the situation ever did present itself and the partnership wasn't working, I think it would behoove everyone just to dissolve and try to figure out what situation would work better. I tend to take a fairly fluid look at that situation.
Shantel: That's fair and an interesting perspective when you're starting something new. I wonder if that played a piece in I'm going to hold it near and dear. I will start it initially because of the experience in the past.
Rachelle: Mm-hmm maybe. Yeah.
Shantel: What do you do when you're feeling drained to recharge? What pumps you up?
Rachelle: I think that time with my family is certainly a big one for me. Not everyone's fortunate enough to say that they have two teenagers who actually like them. And so, I really delight in that. And I have a great marriage. I absolutely adore spending time with my husband. He's the fun one in the family so that is always a great way to recharge. And I am a very dedicated runner and so I find that spending that time early in the morning by myself often outside listening to a podcast and just thinking is a way that I'm readying myself every single day.
Shantel: Are you an early riser runner or a snooze and then run?
Rachelle: I'm very disciplined. I'm not a snooze button kind of gal. I am very, very disciplined in getting up. My clothes are laid out the night before and even the dog knows what the sounds are and the two of us are up and out. So, I have to because if I stop and check email or something like that on my way out the door, I'm not going to get out the door.
Shantel: That's fair. I love hearing about people's routines. So it sounds like early riser, run, get ready for the day, and then not even check emails until the office?
Rachelle: Oh no, no, no. I check emails as soon as I'm in from my run. Yeah, no, I'm usually in from the run, grab a coffee, check emails real fast, and then get to the office. And kind of have my game plan laid out. I spend time on Sunday evenings planning out the week. What's the one big thing for each day and then, I keep a color-coded calendar thanks to a suggestion of a friend and colleague who is much smarter than myself. And so, I build that out at the start of the week. And in the morning when I come in from my run, it's a quick check of the email to get a temp check and a check of the calendar to see what the priority is and how the day is going to lay out and then, I'm ready to go.
Shantel: You're my type of girl with the color-coded calendar. I love that. I don't know if you're referencing Jeff as a friend of ours.
Rachelle: I am.
Shantel: I can get a great visual of internal meetings or external versus client meetings. I love it. A good tip.
Rachelle: Yeah. He's full of good tips.
Shantel: Yeah. Yeah. Reference his podcast. We'll have him on again soon, I'm sure. What is next on the horizon for Watchword? Where do you see the brand going?
| LONG-TERM RELATIONSHIP |
Rachelle: You know, that's a great question. I think that we are really starting to pull on the string a little bit. And so, by that what I mean is over the last couple of years, we've had a lot of clients who have seen us as writers or a lot of clients who have seen us as brand folks. And not necessarily someone who can help bring something into the world and then continue to keep it alive and keep it growing. And so, what I see next for the company is more of those long-term relationship kinds of engagements where we are a true, true partner for a long, long time for our clients. So, that's one. The other one is just doing more executive ghostwriting. We've done a few books over the last year and that is something that is just so awesome and fun and with so many executives being advised to put their books into the world as a way to extend their thought leadership and the presence of their brand through that written medium or the digital medium, we're an awesome partner in doing that and it's something we really, really enjoy doing. So, those are probably the two big pillars.
Shantel: That's really exciting. I'm always curious if the executives sit down to write their own book or if they do get some help because that sounds like such a daunting activity with everything else on your plate. Or especially for perhaps business owners or executives like me who don't love to write, how to manage something like that.
Rachelle: You remember that loath, love, like list. That is a great way to start. And we have some who they really like to put their ideas down and they really hate to wordsmith. And others who really like to write but just need a last pass editor who's got a really eagle eye and a big red pen. And others who just need to be talked through from the very get go. It really depends on what they love and where they feel confident and we become that partner and that voice, wherever the starting point might be. It's a really great way of building relationships and we're really privileged to be able to do it.
Shantel: Absolutely. Well, if I hear of anyone that would like to start a book, I will certainly pass them your way. Do you intend to start partnering with publishing agencies or is that a service offering that you would do as well?
Rachelle: That's a great question. We have not thus far done that. Typically, by the time that someone comes to us, they have a lot of those nuts and bolts figured out. That's more an agent and some of those processes. Not to say that we don't have the capacity or some of those relationships, we just haven't been asked to necessarily do that.
Shantel: Well, interesting, that's good to know. Okay. A couple more questions to wrap things up. The first being is there a podcast or a book or some sort of inspiration that you've been drawing a lot from recently that's just getting you really pumped and excited?
Rachelle: Oh wow. I think probably the podcast that just gets my brain swimming is How I Built This. I just take something away from every single one of those interviews. So, that would probably be the big one for me there. And then, as far as reading goes, I'm the worst possible person to ask because I read constantly and in lots of shapes and sizes and so, I'm hard pressed to find one thing that I would say inspires me more than another. But How I Built This is going to be where I'm going to plant that flag.
Shantel: That's a good one. Have you heard of the app, Blinkist?
Rachelle: Yeah, Blinkist is great.
Shantel: It's great. Just a quick 20-minute audio or a few slides to read just the book. I mean, certainly you don't get everything but ...
Rachelle: No, but it's great. It's perfect parking lot reading if you're waiting for something. Like I'll just pull up and like ha, I just reread Good You Great.
Shantel: That's great. How can people get in touch with you and learn more about your company in hopes to work together?
Rachelle: Oh gosh. I think that probably our website is probably the easiest way to find us. We're just WatchwordBrand. And LinkedIn. That's probably the easiest. Hello@WatchwordBrand.com will always get to me and it's much easier to spell than Rachelle. So, go to our website or just Hello@WatchwordBrand.com is going to get us. So yeah.
Shantel: Perfect. I have one more question. Where did the name come from?
| A RALLYING CRY |
Rachelle: So, we love naming things. And so, the pressure to name your own company you'd think would just be hyper, hyper high but here's the thing. What we exist to do is to help companies to create content that resonates with the audiences that matter most to them. Right? And that always starts inside. And so, that always starts with what is our rallying cry? What is that one or two things that really get us aligned and excited and passionate and working hard. And another word for a rallying cry is watchword. And so, when I was really kind of thinking about what this company should be, that just felt right and thus far, it has proven to be. So, a watchword is a rallying cry and it's what we do.
Shantel: I love that. Thank you for sharing. Thanks so much for carving out the time as well. We really appreciated all of your insight and knowledge.
Rachelle: Well, this is an absolute delight. Thank you so much for having me.