Pivotter Series: Founder Avery Roth on Ambition, Motivation, Productivity

In the Pivotter Series, we explore the themes of ambition, motivation, and productivity as experienced by high-performing women.

Avery Roth

Founder and CEO – The Startup Consulting Group, New York City


What are some of the most important things to know about you?

I was born in NYC and I live here now. But in the 35-year interim, I’ve lived in a variety of other places, including London, Sao Paulo, Barcelona, Paris, and Miami. I’ve had many jobs, ranging from hedge fund investor to photographer, have travelled to > 40 countries, and speak five languages. All this to say that I’ve had the privilege of collecting best practice from many different sources. And, I think this is what gives me unique perspective in my advisory to startup founders. i.e., I have the chops and experience to provide sound business advice, plus the creative inspiration to propose out-of-the box solutions.

What does ambition personally mean to you - what place does it have in your life?

Ambition is a burning fire that drives one in pursuit of success, and I’ve had it as long as I can remember; my family likes to tell the story of how, at the age of 4, I would play Broadway show tunes on the piano, my feet dangling far above the floor, my curly head craning back to bask in the applause. Nowadays, I’m less motivated by external appreciation and more motivated by personal development. In taking on myriad challenges with success, I remind myself that I am capable and strong, and this is how I earn my own respect.

Do you think our culture perceives “ambition” to be a dirty word for women? Why or why not?

    I think it depends who you’re talking to.  The early adopters of feminism, including empowered women and the educational institutions that churn them out, would probably insist that women’s ambition is valid and appreciated. Liberals and global citizens are also more likely to have open-minded views about the role of women. But the wider populace across America and many places around the world still values traditional gender roles as a means of promoting the family unit. The key to increased appreciation of ambitious women is to install these women in key leadership roles.


    Please share one of your current, important goals (can be personal or work-related).  

      I intend to write a book about the future of the work, laying out a blueprint that individuals and organizations can use to successfully navigate the new economy.

      Why is this a goal and how did you realize it was something that you wanted to work on?

        While leading my remote company, I’ve experienced many challenges. On the personal front, I’ve struggled with isolation, time management and structure. As a leader, I’ve found it is really tough to deliver a quality product to clients while managing a decentralized group of employees, all of whom have a portfolio of competing new-economy responsibilities. I became intrigued with the complexity of these challenges and decided that I had the right experience, toolkit, and voice to take on this problem.

        What’s your plan for achieving it?

          My first milestone will be the creation of a hypothesis and will be the natural output of my reading, conversations with leaders in the space and analysis. I think this phase will take the longest because it requires research and deep problem solving. My goal is to create a table of contents by January 1, 2017. Once I have the bones in place, the rest should flow. I’ll set up a writing cadence so that I can knock through the volume of writing and will eventually work with a coach or two to help me hone in on the “sexy” ideas and create a catchy name for my framework. Stay tuned for the book!

            What do you do if you are having a hard time defining goals?

            I check in with myself and have an honest conversation about what it is that I really want in my life. Once you know your true north, goal setting becomes logistical. The hardest part is figuring out what your personal direction should be and who the person is that you want to become.

            How do you stay motivated to fulfill your goals and sense of ambition, and what do you do when you get stuck?

              If I struggle with motivation or momentum, I take a moment to reaffirm my mission. If you’re pursuing goals that are in alignment with what you truly want for yourself, this should be straightforward. On the other hand, if you find that you are continually struggling, take some time to think about whether your mission has changed. A good exercise for going deep on this is vision boarding. It will allow you to focus in on the priorities in your life and create an action plan that you are excited about pursuing. Another great tool is journaling. Whenever I feel any sort of angst, I turn to my journal and am able to work out the ”why.” I find that most problems are usually not about the “how” (tactics), but the “why” (purpose).

              What is one tool/trick/lifehack/resource/service do you use to stay productive?

                I check my email and Facebook as a reward for doing other work. For example, I incentivize myself to bust a move in the morning and get out of the house quickly by only allowing myself to check email once I get to the office. I’m trying to move toward blocking certain times in the morning and evening for email and forcing myself to be offline at certain times, too, so that I can make sure I’m as productive as possible.

                What activities do you do outside of your full-time gig (whether that’s work, parenting or something else)? How do you find time to do it? How does it make you more successful in your full-time gig?

                  I run daily and find that the mental discipline extends to my business. By facing down the cold, wind and rain and knocking through my desire to hibernate, I’m also building up the mental muscle that allows me to be more structured with my time, be more discerning about who I allow into my calendar, and have more confidence asking for the fees that I know I am worth.
                    What would you do with an extra 15 minutes a day?
                    Love this question! I’d probably sing at the top of my lungs or knock out a few rock songs on the drum kit! That’s because my mission is not just to do good work, but to also have fun on the journey.