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From financial services to global community leader.

Cate Luzio is the founder and CEO of Luminary, a global professional education and networking platform created to uplift and up-skill women through all phases of their professional journey. Members are comprised of a multi-generational and intersectional community of individuals, entrepreneurs, corporations, and organizations including JP Morgan Chase, Unilever, Verizon, Indeed, MasterCard, Spotify, Power Map, BlackRock, Yelp, and more. Before starting Luminary, Cate spent two decades in financial services leading global multi-billion dollar businesses.

“While everyone likes to use the word pivot for us, we didn’t pivot… pivot means we changed directions, we didn’t change directions. We adapted to the environment and what was happening. Our core mission never changed, how we delivered it evolved.”

Cate LuzioFounder and CEO, Luminary


[00:00:00] BWF SEQUENCE Cate Luzio RAW 2: Welcome to Building While Flying, a Sasha Group podcast where we interview business leaders about how they tackle challenges, stay resilient, and navigate ever-changing skies. Welcome to Building While Flying. My guest today is Kate Luo, founder and c e o of Luminary, a global professional education and networking platform created to uplift and up-skill women through all phases of their professional journey.

Members are comprised of a multi-generational. And intersectional community of individuals, entrepreneurs, entrepreneurs, corporations and organizations including JP Morgan, chase, Unilever, Verizon, indeed, MasterCard, Spotify Power Map, BlackRock, Yelp, and more. We’re giving them all shout-outs. Before starting Luminary Kate spent two decades in financial services leading global multi-billion dollar businesses.

So that’s the formal introduction. I’m sitting with a friend. Yeah. Which I don’t get to do most of the time on this podcast, so it’s really exciting. I’ve mentioned that I’m a Luminary member before because we’ve had the pleasure of interviewing luminary members for the podcast, which is a conversation you and I had had a few years ago.

but we haven’t had you on. Yeah. And so it was time cuz we’re approaching a hundred episodes. Wow. But so excited to have this conversation with you. So I am not only a member at Luminary, I am a.

Founding member. Yeah. Which means I signed up before there was something to really sign up for . There was nothing. I met you when you were in your building process, so really appropriate for Building, While, Flying, and I was so sold on your vision, but more importantly, I was sold on you and your ability and my.

That you would bring that vision to life and that it would be sustained. And here we are, fast forward a few years and you were absolutely right and I was right. And I’m also on your advisory board. Yeah. So full disclosure for everyone, those are my connections to Luminary. I can still picture that first meeting we had at Vayner in the office.

I was like so excited to be in Bayer’s offices and. And meeting with you. And full disclosure for everyone that’s listening, the reason I was meeting with Maribel was because I was trying to recruit her to, to come and work for us who who didn’t. And it was a great conversation. But that led us to our, our first Chief Impact officer, who’s on our advisory board as well now.

You know, people don’t realize the power of a network. Yeah. And what that can do. And this is a great example. Yeah. And it was a nod to people within the Vayner organization also saying there’s something here. We love you Maribel, and we’re not saying you should go. Right.

But we also don’t wanna keep this opportunity from that case. It’s a match. And it wasn’t for me, but it was for one of the unicorns in, in my network. So I’m so happy that that worked out. Before we get into Luminary specifically, let’s talk about your journey. Hmm. I mean, you were, and still are, right? Like you accomplished so much in the banking industry.

Talk about that, but also talk about what called you to be an entrepreneur. Yeah. You know, I was reflecting on this the other day because I was, I was actually looking at the millennial generation and Gen Z and. There is this idea I’ve gotta get there faster. Right? And I didn’t think about it back then, but I was that way when I started.

So I started in banking. I did not start my career in banking. I got recruited into it. So was a little bit behind the eight ball when I got the job offer because, Everybody else had been in banking by that point, as far as my peers, seven years five, seven years. And so I just knew I had to learn everything I could.

I had to work really, really, really hard and I had to build an intensive network because I had to tap into that network to. . And to understand, you know, this whole world of banking that I had no background in. I didn’t understand. I, I didn’t even understand why I was being recruited into it.

As many women do when they say, oh, I don’t think I’m ready. Mm-hmm. or I can’t do this, and that really led to. A very accelerated, almost 20 years in corporate investment banking for three of the largest banks in the world that, you know, bank of America, JP Morgan, hsbc. Those two, that Bank of America, that JP Morgan experience you know, over 15 years was like, wow.

Talk about learnings, talk about building my background. But I was really able to be entrepreneurial In those roles. And most people would say, well, how They’re huge banks. Yep. But the businesses that I ended up building and rebuilding and closing and starting, allowed me that. And at the same time, tapping into the infrastructure and the people and the network.

But I didn’t realize that at the time. You know, you see that reflecting back. Absolutely. Absolutely. And I think both Bank of America and at JP Morgan, it was, I got a lot of opportunity to build what I wanted and my managers saw my vision and saw my dedication and commitment and also my investing in talent and building these businesses.

Yeah. That they were like, you have influence. You’re a leader. People want to work for you. By the way, you also are great with clients. Yes. And your teams are so that really, again, now looking back, that was that entrepreneur I didn’t even know. And so even February of 2018.

I still hadn’t written the business plan for Luminary. If you would’ve said, Kate, you’re gonna build your own company. I would’ve laughed at you . Just like I would’ve laughed at you when I graduated from college, and someone would say, you’re eventually gonna be a banker. Right? Yep. That was just not in my path.

I had never even considered any of those options, and here we are. I love that the concept of intrapreneur. Came up. Right? It’s in your description. You just brought it up in conversation. For those who may not know what that is. Mm-hmm. , you wanna describe? Yeah, I think, and people don’t really know because they think I work in a big company, or even if I’m medium sized company, I just have to do the status quo.

It’s my job. Yeah. One is, can you make your job and your business, if you’re leading a business, you know what you want of that. Entrepreneurs like being an entrepreneur, building your own business, building your brand inside of a large company. Yeah, and. I do think are a lot of people that say, well, I can’t do that when these companies are so big.

Well, part of that is culture too, and part of that is bringing new ideas and you may not feel that you’re entrepreneurial or entrepreneurial, but when you bring new ideas, And the company gets behind that. You have this incredible opportunity, but also responsibility, right, to show others that you’re doing that.

And that’s how I think of that entrepreneurial, like I’m building inside a company if anyone’s ever worked at a startup. Right? I was just about to say, that’s what you’re doing. We think about it the most when we think about startups because you are going into something where there isn’t a process or a system, like you’ve gotta create it.

You are working side by side with whoever the founder. of that company are. So you very much are building, but really any role where it’s a new function, it’s a new department, you are an entrepreneur because you are building something that was not there. Yeah, I’m there when I started. So Bank of America acquired, the bank that I started in banking with was bank called mbna.

And when I started. . I was in my late twenties and I, I remember I moved to Mexico City to start a joint venture bank. Like I’m 29 years old and I’m sitting there. That’s entrepreneurial, right? And I had to do everything and I had to work with incredible teams. And, but that was really, when I think back now, one, I was very young and that was a lot of responsibility.

Yeah. And clearly they, they thought I could deal with it and handle it. But also just having, unique experience to, to literally build something from the ground up in a giant organization. Yeah. So let’s talk about luminaries. And I’d love for you to describe what the original vision for Luminary was and what it was when you first literally opened the doors and what it is today and what that journey has been like.

Sure. So I took, I took all of those, those wonderful and sometimes not so wonderful experiences, in my, in my career. , and I should have mentioned that before banking, I worked at a startup in tech and before that I was in nonprofit. So, I really wanted to create, this is pre pandemic, so everyone listening, a physical space that brought women.

as well as men and all genders into a community that you could learn from, that you could share knowledge, that you could create new networks. Right. We tend to have these isolated networks. Right? Your friend group, your mom group. Yeah. Your people that you work with. How do we actually create just incredibly diverse networks?

And so I wrote this business plan. Everything would take place in New York in this incredible space. You could work here, you could meet here, you could learn here. You could have a glass of wine here. You could do your makeup here. You could get a workout. the goal was to advance women in the workforce.

And by the way, we can’t do that without. men Yeah. So we need that. And regardless of your professional journey, so I didn’t wanna silo women, we get siloed so much, right? It’s like you’re an entrepreneur, you’re a millennial, you’re a banker, you’re a C-suite. No, no, no. Let’s like remove all of that. Level the playing field when you walk into the space.

Originally it was everyone’s welcome. It’s why we don’t have an application process for a reason. I don’t wanna create another barrier. Yep. To entry. We were doing, as you know, a lot of events, workshops, programs every single week in the physical space. We also have corporate members, so their employees, if they were in the New York area, could participate.

Take advantage of all of that learning and develop. and the pandemic hit. We went well, online, overnight. And while everyone likes to use the word pivot for us, we didn’t pivot, right? I’m a, I’m a athlete. I played basketball for a long time. In my mind, pivot means we changed directions. We didn’t change directions, we adapted to the environment and what was happening and our core mission never changed how we delivered it.

Right? Evolved. And so, Now we’ve become both an in a physical community as well as a virtual community around the world, and that gave us an opportunity to have a bigger reach, more impact, create more diversity. But then also for our corporate members, it didn’t mean their employees had to be in New York anymore, right?

They could be anywhere in the world. But when I look back to, our original business plan, the words digital and virtual don’t even make an appearance. Really? That’s amazing. So going from in 2019, we’re complete physical community to now we are actually.

Only 30% of our members are in the New York area now, so th those other members are LA and Houston, and London and Paris, and Tel Aviv. And it’s really remarkable because I never had that digital component mm-hmm. , especially in this day and age. Right. I, I was so focused on. In-person connection like many of us were.

Yeah. And well, and I think still are because yeah, we are seeing, yes, everything went online. But what we hear is people are tired of that. don’t want online. It’s clearly still working. Yeah, for Luminary. So why is it still working for Luminary? So I think one is people still want great content, right?

I think because we do not do any prerecorded. It’s all live all the time. You can really engage, you can ask questions, you can interact in the chat. Yep. And even when we host something in person here in New York, We livestream it so that that virtual community can feel like they’re part of it. They may not get the food or the wine right, but they’re getting that and we purposefully and intentionally facilitate that chat online so that people feel connected.

I think the other thing is, They want convenience and flexibility, right? People’s lives are different than they were. Well, they’re not different, but we manage them differently than three years ago. So you have a childcare issue, an elder care issue, you don’t feel good being able to access that content and that programming is a real unique convenience, and I don’t see that going away.

I do think that behavior and engagement can ebb and flow. But we’ve, we’ve watched that, right? So we’re not gonna put on a bunch of virtual content in August, nor are we gonna do a bunch of physical content, right? Because people wanna go on vacation. Yep. They’re taking a break. The same in December, it’s holidays.

Right. So will do, you know, very select programming, but I think it’ll be interesting to see the next couple of years, especially now. Even though people have, you know, I’m using air quotes, but return to office, people still have a lot of hybrid Yeah. Environments. And I think that convenience and flexibility is important.

I was gonna say to me, the other thing that is different is that it’s all held together by a community. Right. And so most programming involves members, right? Right. It’s members first. Members first. As opposed to folks coming to Luminary and saying we’d love to present to your members.

It’s actually. The programming is driven first and foremost by members. There’s a continuity and a consistency to the people you interact with, even if it’s online. So I am one of those people who’s now hybrid and doesn’t come into the city every day. And yet, I’ll walk into the space and there are people who will introduce themselves because they’ve seen me on a virtual right event, even though we’ve never met in person and.

that continuity, that like you may be shy and not introduce yourself the first time you see someone, but the second or third time you’re more likely to do that. Yeah. So to me, it’s also part of the reason that you’ve been really successful in online programming. Yeah. And we encourage that, right? I, if I am leading a Zoom, or I’m on a Zoom, I’m like everybo.

Or even if it’s you know, hybrid where we. People in the space or, and online is introduce yourself in the chat. People wanna know you. The other thing is, I really don’t care if five people come to an event or 500 I want impact. So if those five people walk away with something, a new connection, new content, new skill advice.

Then I’ve, we’ve done our job, right? I’m so not concerned with eyeballs, and I tell this to all of our corporate members when they’re like, well, how many people? I said, you know, it doesn’t matter the point. If I look out at any conference, half the people are normally on their phones. When I look out at Luminary, if there’s 50 people there’s no.

phones People are, or they’re taking notes. Right. That’s, that’s impact to us. Right. And that’s what we measure every day. So I’ve said it on this podcast, I’m always trying to get folks to focus on their audience. Right. I think it’s very common for people to go very broad. Yeah. If on paper I look at the luminary audience, it’s really broad.

It’s pretty much women. Mm-hmm. and allies of women. Yes. and there’s so many layers within that, right? Like you’ve got corporate members, you have entrepreneur members, and they’re at different stages of their careers and they are different roles. And then you have all the personal intersections, right?

All the identity intersections. Mm-hmm. within that, how do you successfully serve an audience that is so, So number one, it goes back to that members first. We really listen to the community, so we’re taking in feedback and input all the time. What programs do they want? What kinds of activations, experiences, the content, the themes, the topics.

That comes from the community that is not Kate Luo and our team sitting in a room and saying, this is what we’re doing. That’s why I didn’t take on investment. I didn’t want someone telling me what we had to do for a community that we’re building. So, so much of that is feedback that we get and then, Thinking through, okay, what’s also happening in the world at the same time.

Then you layer on heritage months. Then you think about the sensitivities that whether it’s women in the workforce, job loss or job reduction or workforce reduction. We’ve gotta kind of layer all that. I heard a member once say there’s a program for and so. Whether you’re coming here to advance or navigate your career, whether you wanna learn about how to better navigate mental health, whether you’re looking for, you know, a financial therapist and some advice, right?

Or you just wanna connect. We do not have to always have one person in mind. And I think as a collective, as a community, we’re much more powerful that way. And it’s really interesting when you think about our corporate members, so. Yes, they all want professional development that they’ve work in big companies, but when you actually look at what they’re taking advantage of, cuz we obviously will look at the data, right?

I would say it’s 50 50. Some are thinking about, well, I need to understand how do I develop my personal brand or how should I use LinkedIn, right to, yes, I need core leadership skills and then everything in. I love that. There are two things that came to mind in your response. The first is you bootstrapped this whole thing.

Yeah. And you were very intentional about doing that to your point, right? You didn’t want anybody telling you how to change your vision. Like you had your vision and you wanted to build it according to your vision. Despite that, you did build an advisory board. Yes. And so talk to us about, The decision to bootstrap.

At what stages did you decide you wanted an advisory board and what role has that board played? Sure. So, we’d like to say for anyone out there, especially women, women of color, 70%, if not more, have to bootstrap. They have to use their own savings. So we like say stiletto strapping because it’s harder and it is hard.

I had the privilege of working for 23 years prior to starting luminary and saving money, right? I, I’m a saver. I’m a Gen Xer, so I’m a cash hoarder. and so when I wrote the business plan, and said, okay. And I remember talking to my boyfriend and he was like, yeah, this is great. Like you have something.

And I said, well, let, let’s do the financial projections right, to see how much it’s gonna take, right. To run this always add 20% because you just, there are lots of things that you never think of that are gonna come in and happen, but I realized when we did that, that actually I could self.

And what did that give me? So yeah, it’s taking a huge risk. Mm-hmm. cuz it’s my money. But it gave me incredible flexibility to make the decisions I wanted to make, who to hire, what to pay them. The kinds of programming that we do. What the space would look like. We didn’t need an application process.

All of that allowed that flexibility, but it also allowed me to make quick decisions, right? I didn’t have to go to someone and say, what do you think about this? And can we do this? And that really served us well during the pandemic. If I had taken on investors and I had raised capital, I wouldn’t be here.

So that gave us a lot of flexibility. It also gave us a balance sheet, no debt. And that’s really important for someone building a company. And for many people, they say, well, you took this race and it’s your own money. You know what? I wanted to run a profit. and sustainable company. Never say never.

There may be a time when I look at taking on strategic capital. Mm-hmm. , But we’re four, we’re four years old and you know, I’m very proud to say that since that initial capital injection to build. I haven’t put another dollar in. Amazing. So in that response, you really demonstrated how your corporate background prepared you to be an entrepreneur.

Yeah. To found luminary. and laser focused on expenses and the numbers. Yeah. Because I think there are a lot of, Hey, we’ve got a great idea. Hey, we’re gonna throw all this money at paid social. what are the numbers? What’s the return on investment for everything we do from your time to your dollars?

And part of, and I’ll answer the second part of that question you had was, I also knew that it shouldn’t just be me making all of these decisions. I wanted it yes, to come from the community, but I wanted to surround myself with people from all different backgrounds and representation and, and experience to say what did they think or what else could we be doing?

But they also had to have a vested interest in the community, right. And understanding who we were. It wasn’t just, Hey, let me pick someone because they can make introductions. Actually, it started. Who is in the community, and then would they be good representation for us? Mm-hmm. to bounce ideas off of.

It’s almost like a group of mentors. and advisors that they’re not making decisions for the company, but they understand, and you know this, you know where we’re at financially. Yep. What our growth looks like, the challenges we’re facing, who we’re hiring. And really we do this, we brainstorm a lot about what’s working and what’s not.

And then I’m able to take that back to our team and talk about, you know, board perspective, you know, feedback, et cetera. Yeah, I think you’ve taken that idea of mentors. There isn’t an entrepreneur that I work with who doesn’t have mentors, right? Like I have conversations with folks all the time and they’re like, you know what?

This sounds great. Let me take it back to my mentors or the people that are like my check-in space. And they don’t always have a formal role, you’ve. Formal role for folks, and you’ve put expectations around that, right? Mm-hmm. , we have to be members of the community. Right? It’s just a different way to think about how you can structure your own sounding board.

Absolutely. Because entrepreneurship is hard and, and it’s so isolating. Yeah. And you, I, I tell this people all the time because you know, and you know, you guys know this social media. is not a great representation every day of what an entrepreneur or anyone by the way goes through. And it’s really hard.

It is a constant mental struggle every day. I don’t care how good you’re doing, it’s hard. And by the way, the board, it’s not just, we meet quarterly. Everyone on that board I have a relationship dialogue with, right? So I can come to you and say, okay here. Or you can come to me and say, how are you feeling?

That’s really important for any entrepreneur. And by the way, entrepreneur, I use as a kind of a bucket, solopreneurs, micropreneurs whether you have a co-founder or not. You have to have this, and it can’t always be your spouse or your partner or your best friend or your mom. In my case, . It’s gotta, you’ve gotta have a network that, that you can tap into to get you out of that negative head space.

It’s hard, and I think a lot of times people don’t ask or think of it because they think they have nothing to offer. Right. But. there are So many people out there who would be willing to guide you or be a sounding board without anything in return because they believe in what you’re doing or they believe in you.

Absolutely. And are invested in that relationship and so, I would love for people to take that away. Like you know, you asked me, and I was so happy to sit. I, I think I’ve, am I the oldest, like in terms of tenure on the advisory board? Yeah. I am. You and Allison. Yeah. But no, but on the board, but as far as members, yeah.

But you are the, yeah. And it’s, I, to me, it’s how I give back to this community that gives to me mm-hmm. . And so I want people to really take that away. You don’t know until you ask, and I guarantee you there are people out there willing to give you advice and listen and give you feedback without needing anything in exchange.

Whether you’re in, you know, corporate, you’re in government, et cetera, nonprofit, or you’re an entrepreneur, don’t surround yourself with the same people because what founders tend to do is surround themselves with founders.

Great. I have a great founder community, but they’re also in it every day. Right? They’re in the same, they can’t get out of it. So I have to tap into my network. That’s also not in the founders space because by the way, they’re gonna give me great advice. They’re gonna kind of, what’s happening in the. In their world.

So it, it goes back to everyone needs a very diverse network so that you’ve got diversity of representation, diversity of thought, experience, background. And, and I say this to, I do a lot of mentoring of, of young women and, and girls. You know that you can never start too early. You answered one of my questions already, which was, you know, what were the things you weren’t so prepared for?

And it sounds like the, the big one is no matter how hard you think it’s gonna be, it’s harder. you agree with that? It’s, it’s, it is so hard. I mean, you know, and on my best days it’s hard. I think also depending on, and most, you know, I tell people when I, I teach a business plan bootcamp multiple times a month.

You’re you, if you are an entrepreneur, you have taken the biggest. Risk of your life, but that is the biggest risk, right? So, you’ve gotta be prepared that there are gonna be insane ups and downs. And I, my my younger brother is an entrepreneur and I remember when he started his company, he had two partners.

And I would kind of make fun of him because I’m like, I thought you were an entrepreneur and you could manage your own time. And and he would talk about he had to work all the time. . Now I understand and I have so much more respect for him as an, as a person, as a, as a leader, as a, as a business owner, because it’s so hard, and I think I struggle with this, is you also have to find time to pat yourself on the back.

Yep. And I think many entrepreneurs are extremely focused, type A, you know, always going after the next thing, and I am one of those. So really trying to find that time. And when someone says to you, wow, you’re doing a great job. Don’t just kind of move beyond it. Yeah. Really accept it and someone’s, it’s just like your boss would say, right?

Hey, then you’re like, oh, my boss thinks I’m doing a great job. If someone tells you that as an entrepreneur, really accept it. And, and kind of tuck that away for those bad moments, because there will be plenty of them. So that’s the hard part. But clearly there’s something that keeps you doing it.

So what does it give you? What is the reward? What is that feeling? Keeps you coming here and showing up every day. It, it’s funny, I feel like the, like the, my lowest moments a member, I’ll see a member, I’ll be on a Zoom and someone will, will talk about the impact of the community. And it’s not about Kate, it’s about luminary and, and the community.

So whether it’s someone will say, Hey, it’s my first month of being cashflow. I’m like, and they’re like, it’s thanks to the training and development and the resources at Luminary, or I got a promotion or a raise, or I got the courage to leave my job and think about something else. I’m coming back into the workforce.

Those, those stories which are constant, that’s what keeps me here. It. It’s impact and you know, we have so much work to do as a, as a, human race. Yes. And it can get overwhelming. Right. But I, I look at the, the women and the men and the non-binary folks that are part of the community and, and I see the impact.

And so that’s what keeps me going. because what’s it all for if, if we’re not having impact? I love it, and I think that’s a perfect place for us to stop. Thank you so much. I could keep going for hours. I don’t think everyone will sit and listen for hours, but hopefully this is just the first conversation we’re having.

I think it’d be great to revisit in a couple of years when you’re further. The path. Fingers crossed. See where we are. You will . Thanks for having me. Thanks Kate.

Thanks for joining us for Building, While Flying today. I hope you learned as much as we did. We’ll meet you right back here next time for another flight.

Welcome to Building While Flying!

This weekly podcast is brought to you by Sasha Group. We’re the consultancy meets agency arm of the VaynerX family of companies. We help ambitious companies build strong brands that flex with the times through strategy, branding media and marketing.

In ever-changing times, businesses and brands have to shift and adapt. And across all sectors, there is an air of experimentation. Business owners are trying new things out in the wild;  building the plane while flying.

Our pilots, Katie Hankinson, Mickey Cloud, Maribel Lara, and Joe Quattrone will be talking to a diverse range of business leaders and founders. They’ll explore how these guests tackle various challenges while staying resilient and committed to growth. Through these real-life examples of strategies put into practice, we hope to inspire you to experiment and develop your own strategies as we all navigate these uncertain times together.

Navigating entrepreneurship with a community.

Cate Luzio is the founder and CEO of Luminary, a global professional education and networking platform created to uplift and up-skill women through all phases of their professional journey. Members are comprised of a multi-generational and intersectional community of individuals, entrepreneurs, corporations, and organizations including JP Morgan Chase, Unilever, Verizon, Indeed, MasterCard, Spotify, Power Map, BlackRock, Yelp, and more. Before starting Luminary, Cate spent two decades in financial services leading global multi-billion dollar businesses.

In this episode of the Building While Flying podcast, Cate joins Maribel Lara to share more about Luminary and her experiences as an entrepreneur. Cate gives some insight into her professional journey, adapting to her environment, and why being an entrepreneur is so hard.

In Flight Topics:

  • How banking made her entrepreneurial
  • The evolution of Luminary’s vision
  • Being a business fueled by its members
  • The isolation and constant mental struggle of an entrepreneur
  • Why hearing stories from members makes it worth it
  • …and more!

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