Jocelyn Brady, Founder & CEO, Scribe Story Studios
by Fundid on July 29, 2020
Jocelyn Brady was born on an arctic tundra, raised on an active volcano. Homeless at age 7, homeowner at 30. She welcomes big changes! She supports visionary change-makers making bold moves. Like starting a literal movement, stepping into a new role, or sending teams on new missions. With a lifetime of extremes—and an obsession with neuroscience, psychology and human behavior—she is uniquely suited for facilitating the change you want. We chatted with her recently about her journey as a #femalefounder. Get to know her below!
Q: If you could explain yourself in a couple of sentences, how would you do that?
A: Oh man. I even read the interviews and thought, that's a really difficult question. Hopefully I think of something good on the spot!
I'm driven by curiosity. I love meeting new people and learning about new people and ideas. I'm fascinated with neuroscience and behavioral science, why people do what they do. I think that drives a lot of why I do what I do, to find out the “why.”
Q: Tell me more about your business and your role.
A: I'm the founder and CEO of Scribe. I started it 12 years ago with the notion that I was going to make a living with words and stories. So my role is... Well, it's a small business. So as CEO, it's thinking about everything all the time and figuring out who's better at certain functions than I am. As an owner, leader or CEO I think your biggest job is to find people who are smarter and wiser and more talented than you are. That’s how you stay sharp, and keep growing and getting better at what you do.
Right now, we’re working on our trademark for Story Science, which is merging the things that I love—how the mind works, how we make decisions based on the stories we're hearing. A blend of cognitive neuroscience, behavioral science, psychology and expressive writing. I've spent my career digging into that, helping people articulate the stories they need to get the results they want. That could be anyone from a startup founder to a global sales leader to someone launching a new career or movement. So for example, and this one is a true story: The chief marketing officer of a bank came to us and said, “I don't just want to rebrand the bank. I want to change the banking industry.” And she came from tech--the banking industry was largely new to her. So it was just helping her figure out okay, what does it mean to change an industry? What's the story of that? What's the vision of your success? And then how do we communicate that to your teams? And then how do we develop a story framework for your brand to communicate to your clients? How do we get this from your brain out into the world and get people hooked through story?
Q: How did you get into this business? And what was the moment you decided to do it?
A: This is a longer story, but I got quit from my first real job at an agency and it was the same week as my 28th birthday. By “got quit” I mean I was fired but the leaders wanted me to say I quit. And I’m like nope, you gotta fire me, you gotta tell people the truth. Anyway that day or the next day I decided, well, I guess I'm starting a business. I applied to register a business. The first name was the stupidest name. It was Histoire, the French word for story, which is like, if you see this word, it's the dumbest thing to call a business unless maybe if you’re in a French speaking place. You see “Histoire” here and think, what is this? How do you say it? Is it history? What do you do? Then I had a little lightbulb moment just a couple days later of, “Scribe” and was so delighted that the name was available. I started my company and also applied to an MFA in creative nonfiction writing at the same time.
And to back up a bit, I guess the first moment I realized the potential of being a writer was when I was first published at the age of nine. I wrote a fictional poem about my not-yet-dead grandmother, but I wrote about it as if she were. I guess I had a macabre imagination as a kid. The poem was published in Highlights magazine and I remember seeing that poem in print. It was a moment of, wow, you can put something out there that stays. It's not just something you say to someone. It's not just a journal or diary entry that’s hidden away. It’s something other people can see and that maybe changes them in some way. People you may never meet, in some other time and place. It’s a form of time and space travel. And so I always loved writing. It wasn't until college that I really discovered you could do more than journalism and writing books and novels or poetry for that matter. Literally everything we do requires words to communicate. And there was also the whole thing of how the hell do you make a living at writing that was on my mind. It’s not like you can just be a paid novelist off the get go.
I discovered copywriting in my undergrad years as an English major. I just decided then I'm going to get into this. I'm going to be a writer, and writing copy seemed like a fun sort of challenge that also happens to pay pretty well. I figured it could help support me and it would make me a better writer across disciplines. Copywriting really helps you hone your chops in short form writing. Expressing big ideas with simple and few words.
And that’s really how Scribe started. Figured I would figure it all out as I go.
Q: So what was your first year like?
A: Hard. I was working in the second bedroom of a rental house I was living in—cold concrete floors, really bad light. I remember thinking, if I can just make enough to eat a sandwich this week, great. And it was a slog, man. I signed up for all those online job bid sites, where you can hire creatives and designers who are pretty much always underpaid, and I would take anything I could get. I thought I'll write a press release. Yep. I'll write a website, a brochure, a white paper, anything that has words on it. And I quickly realized some of the things I really did not like to do, but kept doing them because, again, I wanted to eat a sandwich. I was determined to make this work. So I was just barely scraping by financially and just keeping my head down. And also again, because I had started my MFA program, when I wasn't writing for work, I was writing for school. So it's constantly, just all work, no play. I had to learn how to create some boundaries. To create space to play and just be.
Q: Did you ever get burnt out writing so much between your job and school?
A: Oh yeah, all the time. It was hard. It's such a tough thing. When you get into doing something that you really, really love, how do you keep it as something you love without it becoming a slog? Or how do you keep it work that fulfills you rather than just a job you're doing for money? Because I think you need both. You can't always love every single moment. Sometimes the most satisfying things can be challenging or painful even. Sometimes you need to create just to create and sometimes you need to create in exchange for money. I just remember having to write a 2000 word essay at the same time I have three probably 700 word stories to write for Microsoft. And it was so tough. But there was at least a difference between the writing, each a different kind of audience and having different purposes. The sheer amount of all this writing definitely helped me chisel my skills really quickly. I just needed to also learn to stop and take a look around once in a while.
Q: So was there anyone in particular that inspired you or encouraged you to become a business owner?
A: The two women that worked at the agency, the one where I got quit, they started their business in their twenties calling themselves accidental entrepreneurs. And, I guess, because I was in my twenties when I was suddenly unemployed, I figured, well, if they can do this, I can do this. That was one of the first memories I have of, oh, you could just start a business.
And my dad. He’s always lived his own way. He's also a writer. He writes haiku. And he was always encouraging me to, as he says “dance while the muse still plays”, to keep writing as long as I’m alive. He’s super proud that I've decided to be a writer. Both my parents are--and both of them are two wild roses in their own rights.
Q: So how do you define success for yourself, both personally and as a professional?
A: Oh, success. I guess I'd say, am I learning? Am I doing everything I can to do the best work, to remain curious, to keep asking helpful questions and not be restricted by my fear of perfectionism? Just remembering that done is better than perfect in creative work. It's more of, did I follow through on what I said? Am I learning something even if it's unpleasant? Am I remembering to maintain perspective and give my mind time to play?
Q: And what has been the most important skill that you've developed to be a good business owner?
A: Don't get too comfortable. Perspective and perseverance and adaptability are key. Know that things are going to constantly change. Learn how to reframe when things don't seem to be going your way. See threats as opportunities and just keep going. And give yourself some time to slow down and enjoy what you create.
Q: How has COVID impacted your business?
A: It's funny timing because late last year I decided I was going to rebrand and update our website. People who didn't know us assumed we were “just writers” as in you'll write our blogs and, more of a content shop. But we’ve never been good at order taking or cookie cutter delivery. We do tons of strategy and coaching and consulting. Every creative project is to us an opportunity to make someone smile or be curious or tap into their sense of wonder. And that takes digging, asking questions, supporting someone’s best ideas to come out. Not just oh, here’s a brief, do your little writing thing.
I also knew that I loved facilitation, I really love facilitation. Several years ago we started doing workshops on brand voice, storytelling. And so late last year I decided it was time to take us more in that direction. To stand as Scribe Story Studios, where we shift our main focus to supporting your storytelling skills development versus telling the story for you. It’s more of helping people understand and get better at how you tell stories to yourself, to your teams and to the world. Besides, when COVID hit, all the projects that I thought we would have vanished and because some of those projects were remnants of what we were doing, more writing-for-you type of projects, I was relieved.
I did have a moment of, should I be scared? I have no income. I have nothing coming. Should I be terrified? Should I get a job? Oh my God. And somehow it's been amazing. I started my company during the recession of 2008 and it felt like perfect timing. And now, again, I feel like it's perfect timing to start stuff, and see what works and just be creative and tenacious and reach out to people. Explore what else is possible and create it. So I think it feels like a really great restart.
Q: It's funny how timing works. So have you ever thought about quitting? If so, can you tell us a story?
A: God. So many times. Let's see.
The first time I hired an assistant, it was so difficult for me. This is a control issue, which maybe a lot of small business owners have, as you feel you have this baby you created, and then it's too much to handle on your own. Once you start growing you need to ask for help. I started hiring contractors and building teams and had multiple clients and I couldn't handle it. At first expanding for me was just building the skills capabilities based on what clients needed—adding a pool of talented strategists and writers. Then it was outsourcing financials so I got a bookkeeper and that helped ease a lot of the numbers burden. And eventually, I needed an assistant because all this back and forth with calendaring and project management skills that went along with that, I just needed to outsource.
So I got a remote assistant and then was BAM! facing my own trust issues because with an assistant it’s so personal. You hand over your passwords. This person starts to manage your calendar and see your emails and see everything, have access to everything. So I was like, okay, I can relinquish a little control. I was a little uneasy. I just tried to create confidence in myself and in this person. But that fear creates tension if you don’t address it and if you’re not really honest with it, and you have to really learn from it.
This assistant had a lot of stuff happen to her right around the time, like within a couple of weeks. So she stopped showing up. She stopped answering her emails. And when she did get back on task, she started misspelling my name to really big C-levels and sending the wrong files and that was really embarrassing to me. So I'd correct her and say hey if you have a thing with spelling, just let me know and that's okay. We can make that work. But it kept going on and getting worse. It felt really sloppy and I was just like, okay, this can't happen. It came to a head where it was a lot of things happening at once. Multiple proposals and big budget projects and a lot of back-and-forth communication with clients. And with all the ball dropping I realized I can't rely on this person. There's too much at stake. There's huge deals in. So I started taking over.
I remember staying up for two nights until dawn and I was just fixing proposals and fixing budgets and rectifying bad emails and doing all this stuff I hated, now 10 times as much as before having an assistant. I let her know this isn't working out. And she just started spinning, sending messages about how unfair I was being. I questioned myself a lot. Was I being clear enough? Was I being a control freak? How did I contribute to this situation? I thought when I was going through that, is this worth it? This sucks. I can't live like this staying up until ungodly hours fixing all this shit. It was one of the moments where it's like, what am I doing? There's got to be easier ways.
Q: It's hard. Especially, when you have those walls built, around trusting someone. And then it's a bad experience. How do you trust someone again? Have you trusted someone again to be your personal assistant at that point?
A: Oh yeah. Then I found this gal who I absolutely love, Rochelle. She worked with us for about four or five years. But with COVID we just didn't have enough work. So she's actually just got this amazing thing lined up for herself in Los Angeles. She's going to move down there next month. So that's exciting. But she was just a complete 180 from the experience before. Just like a best friend. And we remain friends. Even the process of talking through how we couldn’t sustain her salary through COVID was such a healthy dialog. I remember her saying, “You're going to keep being successful, and who knows what will happen? We could be collaborating again in new and better ways” and that was just so … uplifting. I thought it would feel more tragic. I think we tend to fear the ends of things and project how sad it is based on our past narratives, you know, how relationships ending can be so gutting. But it was more of a metamorphosis, a reminder that good changes and growth are coming.
Funnily enough, I met Rochelle because of this mutual director friend—sometimes I do film producing, writing, or if people ask me to play a bit part. So this mutual friend of ours, asked, do you want to work on this episode with me and Rochelle? I was like, yup.
When I met Rochelle in person I was just coming off of this bad experience with the assistant who was driving me crazy. I needed help. I ranted all this and asked Rochelle, are you interested? She was looking for a new gig. And I just imagine her thinking this lady Jocelyn seems crazy, and “I don't know if I want to work with her. In this short film we’re making, Jocelyn is playing a character that convinces us to drink our own urine in the desert. Maybe it's close to home for her?” But Rochelle was so polite and thoughtful and said “Let me think about it.” And so we went on to write and film the episode, got to know each other better.
And for that filming process, we got five people in a car who didn't all know each other, and took a roadtrip to film on location. We went to the Grand Canyon, Death Valley, Goblin Valley, and had a blast. I remember getting out of the car and plopping on the ground in the desert and made snow angels. And by the end of that trip, Rochelle was like, yeah, I want to work with you. You’re my kind of weird. So it worked out.
Q: So what makes you want to keep going when you feel like quitting? Or what do you do when it feels hard to be a business owner?
A: I try to remember that I love this. And that it comes with ups and downs and the only thing I can change really is my perspective. So I remind myself I’ll get through it. I can't imagine not being able to create my own reality. And never say never, but I also can't imagine going into an office working for one employer. I'm not necessarily a great employee. I think I'm a great collaborator, not a great employee. I'm mouthy and opinionated and ask a lot of questions, like “Why are we doing it like that? What if we tried another way?” That can be super irritating to people who have a set way of doing things, of running their business, and wanting to maintain a kind of order that works for them. When things feel tough running my own show, I try to remember that, the “why am I doing this?” And the answer is because I get to create the life I want.
Sometimes that's super hard. Everyone goes through hardships. But running a business has a special set of challenges because there’s less of this illusion of certainty. In a traditional job, you got this salary and healthcare covered and all that. You don’t have that same sort of mental buffer as a business owner. The flipside is you’re not tethered to something that’s making you miserable. You get to decide what’s next and what’s acceptable. So when I do feel like quitting or when it is really, really challenging or I'm worried about something like money coming in, I just try to sit with that discomfort. Acknowledge that that's okay. You can be scared. You can feel like shit. You can be angry. Sit with it, and then remember why you're doing this and keep going forward.
Q: So it sounds like you may be in the middle of a pivot right now, but what does the future of your company look like?
A: More coaching. More story facilitating. Helping people build their storytelling skills and their self-awareness so they can understand the stories they’re telling themselves--and how that impacts their life.
We actually just got an RFP in to take a global sales team through a storytelling program. It’s a program called the Behavioral Science of Storyselling and I'm so, so excited. I hope this one works out. If it doesn't, it's great to be forced to make a proposal that organizes your thinking around something you’ve wanted to create. And this would be in collaboration with a friend of mine and just an amazing person, Jeff Kreisler. He is a behavioral scientist, comedian, started as a lawyer, has an interesting journey himself and also creates his own way.
So I’d say the future is more collaborations with people like that and meeting a lot of people all over the world who are excited about storytelling, excited about learning how their mind works, excited how to rewire their own brains, and rewrite their narratives.
Q: Congratulations. That's exciting. I have my last question for you. What would you want to learn from a community of other women business owners?
A: I am always curious about these questions from others’ perspectives. The questions you're asking, how do you get through hard times? How do you decide to keep going? I think we all benefit from being reminded that we have so much in common as human beings, and as people in leading your own thing. It can feel really lonely. We all want to feel seen and understood. So it’s understanding, how do you keep your head up? And how do you release and acknowledge and share when things do suck in an honest way so that people can see that that's real and it's okay, and we get through it.