It Girls | JENNIE & CLAIRE
A few months ago I got the warmest email from Jennie that was filled with such love and light. Claire touches on it in her interview but entrepreneurship can be a lonely road. Every now and then I get something beautiful that reminds me why I chose to create this platform. I absolutely love that it connects me to so many incredible women. Please read every word of this interview.
Names: Jennie Armstrong and Claire Biggs
Ages: Jennie - 29, Claire - 28
Job Title/Company: Founders of Lore de Force
Education Background: We both graduated from Louisiana State University (LSU) with Mass Comm degrees. Jennie also has her master’s in International Law and Public Policy from the American University of Paris, in partnership with University of Oxford. Claire has her MAT in Secondary Education with a concentration in English from LSU.
1.Tell us a little about who you are.
C: Can I cheat and tell you about Jennie and she can tell you a little about me? Jennie is the human version of a pep talk. She is the single most inspiring person you could hope to run into at a party or just walking down the street. She’s also the best hype woman you could hope to have in your corner. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wandered up to her at an event only to hear her say something like, “Oh, Claire is the best writer I know” and then I have to jump in like, “SHE’S BIASED!” But she genuinely believes that so I let it slide haha.
In terms of the nitty-gritty stuff, Jennie has a background in communication, tech, public policy, and a million other things that would take too much space to list here. She’s worked all over the world, and it surprises exactly zero people that she’s doing what she’s doing now. She’s pretty fearless when it comes to pursuing her goals (and she’s got a lot of those). If she wasn’t working on Lore de Force or on some other venture full-time, I think she’d be a yoga teacher who runs a bookstore that also sells crystals and offers coaching for women looking to run for office. We were joking the other day that she could die happy as long as she could accurately be described as a “dynamic woman who contained multitudes.” That hopefully gives you a good picture of who she is. Is there any doubt why I’d want to go into business with her?
J: OMG Claire is right - I tell every person I meet that she is the best writer I know, because she is. I am the very lucky recipient of her first drafts from things like NaNoWriMo (or insomnia). I still think about this one short story she sent me when we were in college, and that was 8 years ago.
Beyond writing, she’s one of the hardest working and most dedicated people I have ever met. When she puts her mind to something, she is unstoppable. When I told her in 2014 that I wanted to quit my job, start a consulting company, and travel the world - her response was “I’m in. What’s our next step?” Can you understand why I feel like I’m the luckiest human in the world to have her as my partner?
When Claire isn’t inspiring me with her workouts or making me laugh (she’s also the FUNNIEST person I know), you will find her lifting up every woman in her life. I can say with confidence that every friend of Claire’s would describe her as the most thoughtful and caring person in their life. I am in awe of her unlimited capacity to love and be there for others.
Based on everything I’ve told you, it probably won’t surprise you that before Lore de Force, Claire’s background was in media (she’s bylined for places like MTV and Marie Claire - maybe you’ve heard of them??) and doing ridiculously important work for nonprofits.
Also, for the record: Claire will die happy if everyone would just go ahead and adopt the Oxford comma, k thanks.
2. What sparked your interest in starting Lore De Force?
C: We met in college when Jennie was working for a student-run organization called Tigers Against Trafficking. She had just started and one of her responsibilities was answering the emails that came into the info@ email account. I sent one in asking how I could help out, and we met at the LSU Student Union. We bonded over a love of activism and travel and stayed in touch. Since we were in the same small college, we got the chance to work together a few times. We both graduated and moved away and stayed in touch, but we met up again in 2014, which is when Jennie ran a somewhat-ridiculous idea by me: quitting her job and becoming a full-time nomadic entrepreneur. I was like, “Done. I’m in. Sold. How can I help?” It took us two years to quit our jobs and another six months to get the first version of what would become Lore de Force off the ground. If you trace what we do now back to the beginning, it’s all pretty simple. We wanted to build really cool stuff together, but we wanted our work to have a purpose. We weren’t just interested in making money; we wanted to make a difference. It’s weird to say that this is a differentiator in our field, but it’s what draws a lot of clients to us, which goes to show that—even though some people cringe at the thought—being super honest on our website has helped our business haha.
J: I spent the summer of 2010 working for a nonprofit in Greece. In the nonprofit world, you are always worrying about money and fundraising because there’s no sustainable source of income. The following summer, I traveled to Kenya and Rwanda with this billion dollar real estate company that built schools and housing for girls there has part of their give back initiative. That was the moment I was introduced to corporate social responsibility and I knew two things right away: 1) that I wanted to help nonprofits think and work more like businesses so that they could be more sustainable and make a bigger impact and 2) I saw that money was power, and I wanted to break into traditional systems, change them from the inside out, and introduce the one-for-one model in industries that would traditionally just cut a check once a year for the publicity.
I’m so proud that Claire and I have done exactly this in our careers and at Lore de Force. I still get fired up when I see a client we worked with that now has giving as a core part of their business model making a significant impact in their community while also growing their business.
3. Who are you most influenced by?
We’re pretty lucky in that it’s a long list, and it keeps growing. Some of them are “bigger” names people would recognize like Shonda Rhimes or Reese Witherspoon, because what they’re doing in storytelling is important. There are also writers like Liz Gilbert, Cheryl Strayed, Dr. Brené Brown and Glennon Doyle that are on it. Recently we’ve added women like Arlan Hamilton and Rachel Cargle because their voices and their work have had a huge impact on our own personal growth.
There are also women popping up in the news cycle like Dr. Ford who remind us that we have an obligation to step forward and be brave when it’s not easy and even when the personal cost is high. It reminds us what’s at stake and what we have to come back to when we’re making business decisions.
If we’re concerned with our legacy, which we are, we have to keep coming back to what matters to us and how we want to see the world improve. Everything comes out of that. We want to be the kind of women we’d put on our list. It’s about modeling the behavior in work and in life. Claire has a keychain with #WWCBD on it: What Would Claire Biggs Do? It reminds her that she has to hold herself accountable to the best version of herself too. Jennie has her affirmations and her goals on sticky notes all over her desk/notebook and the inspiring words of other women on her desktop and phone background.
Plus, if we ever need a reminder of what we’re aiming for, we can always look at each other and go, “Oh, duh, OK. Just keep working as hard as she is and stay as focused on your goals as she is.” That’s true of most of the people, especially the women, we’ve chosen to surround ourselves with; the thing we’re most proud of is the friends and mentors we have in our life.
4. What was your first job and how long did you hold that position?
J: Does selling Mardi Gras bead animals I made in 4th grade count?! My first “real” job was cleaning houses on weekends when I was 13. I then worked under the table as a busser and server at a fancy wedding and reception hall when I was 14. As soon as I turned 15, I was so excited to work “legally” and I got a job at Sears as a cashier. I worked throughout high school, college, and grad school, and have never not had a job.
C: My first official (AKA legally-recognized) job was as a hostess in an Italian restaurant at 15, and I worked there on and off until I was 18 years old. I came back after college and waited tables briefly, which I loved and hated in equal measure, but it fit my weird ideal work schedule. I stayed up late writing for myself and on freelance projects, slept in, went to work around 3PM, worked at the restaurant until midnight, and started writing again.
5. Can you share one of your proudest achievements with us?
J: The day I quit my job and leapt into the unknown to start Lore de Force. For someone who has struggled with imposter syndrome, I’m so grateful that 27-year old Jennie believed in herself enough in that moment to go after her dreams, despite the huge risk (and lack of a safety net - while we’ve always been profitable, I had no savings in the beginning and had to put early expenses on a credit card, plus I had/still have student loan debt).
Something I’m ridiculously proud of since launching LDF is the moment we walked away from a huge professional and monetary opportunity because the client wasn’t aligned with us. Underneath their messaging, they didn’t have core values we could get behind. We didn’t have anything else lined up in that moment, so it wasn’t an easy decision. That said, we’ve been lucky that whenever we’ve turned something down, something else that IS right for us has always shown-up.
C: Personally, I think it’s any moment I could look at and go, “Past Claire would lose her shit if you told her this would happen.” From working in New York to getting my first steady writing gig with MTV Act to working for TWLOHA, it’s the things that felt so far from impossible they were almost sacrilegious to hope for, if that makes sense. That goes for travel, too. Anytime I take myself somewhere I never thought I’d see, I try to sit in the moment and remind myself what an accomplishment that is.
Professionally, we ran an ecommerce store for 6 months and had people tell us they felt less alone carrying our products. I’ve definitely cried over that haha. I was also so incredibly moved when people donated to RAINN through our ecommerce site (they were our giving partner). Being able to also financially support She’s the First through Lore de Force is definitely near the top of the list if not at the very top of what I’m proudest of at this point in my career. But honestly, it’s pretty much that we get to do this and that we’ve been successful on our own terms.
6. What were your initial goals with your work? How have they evolved?
J: My initial goal was to be my own boss, work from wherever, and be able to travel sustainably. I knew I wasn’t cut out for a life where I worked a 9-5 and got 2 weeks of vacation a year - travel has always been a core pillar in my life. It’s now been two years and Claire and I have exceeded our wildest dreams in terms of what we initially set out to do. We’re in the middle of asking ourselves “what’s next?” A lot of what we’re planning revolves around bringing what we do to a larger audience and making it more accessible to folks who are just getting started. A core value of ours is the economic freedom of women, and we’re exploring different ways we can contribute to that through our work.
C: Oh, man. I was so naive. Goals? My only goal was to work with Jennie and not have to take another traditional full-time job again anytime soon. Could the bar be any lower? Honestly, they haven’t changed that much haha. I’m much clearer on the path, if that makes sense. I’m much more confident in the work I’m doing. I’m more adventurous with what I go after and what I suggest for Lore de Force (like, why don’t we sell MFM-inspired merch that supports RAINN?). It all comes back to that single-minded focus of figuring out what my legacy is and doing cool shit with Jennie. I’ve always prioritized freedom so making sure that we have the freedom to live and travel like we want has been and probably always be a goal on my list.
7. What do you think is the most important life skill you learned through your work?
J: SELF-CARE IS EVERYTHING. When you are an entrepreneur, you are your business. There is no separation. Your business is only as healthy as you are. You have to take days off. You have to learn how to set boundaries. And most importantly, you have to deal with your bullsh*t. For me, that looked like getting very uncomfortable and coming face-to-face with my scarcity mindset and victim complex. All of the issues you have personally will become issues in your business unless you get honest with yourself and are willing to do the work. Learning how to have compassion for myself in the midst of all of this is the greatest skill I’ve gained.
Oh, and learning how to say NO and to stop saying “I’m sorry” so much.
C: I’m the friend who, even before going into business for myself, would always tell everyone, “Don’t sign that non-compete clause! Have someone look over that NDA! Protect yourself!” It’s not like I didn’t know how to advocate for myself or ask for money; those were hard lessons I learned early in my professional career. That said, that is just taken to another level when you’re in business for yourself and with another person. I’ll negotiate so much harder because I know Jennie is working with me. I’ll draw very firm lines in the sand and call out red flags much faster now. It’s really helped me...I don’t know how to explain it except to say that it’s helped me trust my gut and lean into my power as a businesswoman. We’ve made some mistakes; I’ve made some mistakes where I’ve discounted my feelings. But I’m also proud of the way I’ve handled a lot of situations, and I hope I carry that into the rest of my life.
Also, let me just say that learning as much as I can about taxes can’t hurt haha.
8. Where do you hope to be in five years?
The very simple answer is: building cool shit with each other, traveling as much as we can, giving back in big ways, and doing things we thought would be impossible. So basically, doing exactly what we’re doing now but on a scale that would feel laughable if we got a preview of it today. We feel like we’re just getting started.
9. What is a typical day like for you?
J: Because I’m constantly on the road, carrying “home” with me wherever I go is really important, and my morning routine creates a feeling of being at home no matter where in the world I’m finding myself.
I’m an early person, so I love to wake-up, immediately meditate using the Headspace app, then grab a cup of coffee and get a few hours of work in. My first break of the day is when I cook (or pick up) breakfast while listening to The Daily podcast. Then I’ll do my morning journaling/affirmation/gratitude exercise and get back to work. The rest of the day will be more work (which looks different every day).
Because I start early, I try to end my day at a reasonable hour (I hate working at night) and unplug for the rest of the evening - you can find me teaching myself something new, going to yoga or the movies, cooking, in bed reading, or out DANCING.
Claire and I always joke that because I’m a morning person and she’s a night person, there are only a few hours in a day when neither of us is online. The only thing consistent day-to-day in our very unpredictable lives is that we work A LOT.
C: Right now it looks like working late. I texted Jennie the other day around 6PM and said, “Why am I so tired?” She had to remind me that we had been working really long days and hadn’t taken any time off in a while and that the majority of people in traditional jobs get off at 6PM so of course I’d be tired. Because of the season we’re in it looks like working late and then waking up when I have to for a call or meeting or by some time that I think is the latest I could reasonably stay in bed. Jennie always says I’m so put together, but that’s because I feel better mentally when I get dressed in real clothes and put on makeup. It’s more of a mental thing for me. So I’ll get up, brush my teeth, put on makeup, and get dressed. Then I’ll work from home until it’s time to break for lunch or go for a walk or go to the gym. Then I’ll go back to work until it’s time for another break. I usually take a longer break in the evening since I stay up and work late. When I’m traveling, which I’ll be doing over the next two months, it’s pretty much the same. I work a lot more in airports during that time though.
10. What was the biggest obstacle you’ve faced so far in the process of pursuing your goals?
J: I have been underestimated a lot in my life. I am small and energetic and feminine and straight passing. I’ve lost count of the number of times a man has called me “sweetie” or hit on me at a professional event where I’m trying to advance my career but they only see the women there as potential dates, not their peers. BUT I DIGRESS.
I am also smart and fierce and strategic and a huge asset to my clients, but I felt like I needed to minimize the parts of myself that society told me would contradict these facts. So for me, it’s been about stepping into my true self, being unapologetically who I am, and believing that people would still hire me and see my value, not in spite of, but because of everything that I am.
I used to do certain things or portray myself in a way that I thought would help me “fit in” to our society’s normative standards of what it looks like to be a leader because I didn’t see a lot of successful women showing other parts of themselves. I always wanted to know why men could talk about sports and still be seen as high brow and intellectual, but the second a woman expresses interest in a “female” topic (!!!! don’t get me started on this), she is discounted.
I knew if I didn’t start showing up, the narrative (and society’s perceptions) would never change. I made a decision to not sacrifice and to not settle. The clients who work with us love us exactly as we are, and we are never performing or feeling like we sold them on a version of ourselves that isn’t true.
At the end of the day, we’ve encouraged everyone in our life to embrace who they are and to build a business that reflects their whole, true selves, not just the parts that they think the world wants to see.
C: I can’t just name one because there are too many and because I feel like people don’t talk about these things enough. First, there’s the loneliness aspect. A friend who’s been in business for six years and who’s one of the smartest and most successful businesswomen I know called me the other day and talked about how lonely she is and how she’s not doing enough and that’s just proof of how isolation toys with you. It’s very, very easy to feel like you’re alone and have those negative thoughts take over. Jennie and I have each other, and it still feels like we’re alone sometimes because we work apart fairly often. Also, I come from a place where most people don’t do what I do or even understand it.
If you have a money scarcity mindset like I do, that’s also a huge thing you’ll have to navigate when times get lean. I wish I had known going in how much that was going to affect me and my anxiety.
Finally, because we were friends before we went into business with each other, we have to navigate a personal relationship at the same time as a professional one. Although it makes the professional work so much more rewarding, it adds its own level of difficulty that probably isn’t there for people who “just” have a business partnership. The obstacle is how difficult it is to figure out how to maintain the friendship and respect that while also doing what’s right for the business. I always turn to Jennie and go, “Oh, God, I’m so glad we’re in this together.” And then I’ll turn around and go, “Also, I’d never go into business with anyone else I know.” That sounds harsh, but it’s true right now. We have a very rare partnership, and I know we’re successful because of our friendship, but that doesn’t mean it’s not without its struggles.
11. What is the best piece of advice you have received?
J: My ex, who is still a close friend, always reminds me to have FUN. As an entrepreneur (and someone who has suffered with anxiety my entire life), a big meeting or a decision we have to make can feel like life or death. He always reminds me to have fun and to be myself, because otherwise, what’s the point? At the end of the day, I’m comfortable with my “worst case scenario,” so shaking off the fear and having fun allows me to step into those moments with confidence, not nerves.
On a personal level, Claire once said to me that “any day can be day one.” This was during a road trip we took where I was in the process of creating a fresh start following personal trauma and the shame I had from my own mistakes made following that. The point behind what she said is that you don’t need a new year or a Monday or any other milestone to give yourself a fresh start. Any day can be the day you decide to change your life. I ended up getting a “1” in my moms handwriting tattooed on me at the end of that trip and I always place my hand on it when I meditate.
C: This isn’t necessarily advice, but it’s something Jennie told me once that has helped me so much in terms of reframing experiences I’m dreading. To set the scene: We had a big meeting earlier in the year. Jennie and I were both nervous leading up to it, but on the drive over she said something like, “Just remember: future Claire and Jennie are already finished. The meeting went really well, and they’re sitting at that Mexican restaurant celebrating over chips and queso.”
It really took me out of the moment of anxiety I was in and relaxed me. Right, we’re almost there. No matter what happens, we’ll be done soon. We also always, when things get tough, go, “Well, what’s the worst case scenario?” We know what that is for us, and we can live with it. We’d start over and start building again and it’d be OK. So that’s something that grounds me.
12. When do you get your best ideas?
C: Late at night! I know I’m on the right track when I start to make myself laugh or feel like I’m in a groove or in the zone or in a state of flow. I’m my hardest critic so if I feel like I’ve nailed it, I know I’ve got something worth showing to Jennie or our clients.
J: First off, when Claire gets into her late night flow, the world needs to WATCH OUT because her writing and her ideas are next level. I will literally wake up the next day and be in awe. I’ve known her for 8.5 years and I still don’t know how she does it - she has magic in her bones.
My best ideas come whenever I’ve “emptied” my mind of 1) anything bothering me and 2) all of my nagging to-do’s, which is a big reason I meditate and do morning pages. I can’t get into a state of creative flow unless I feel clear. My ideas come at the weirdest times, and I’m always scribbling down notes in my phone or leaving myself voice memos. My brain is always connecting dots and visualizing new things.
13. Can you share with us one time that you failed and what you learned from that failure?
C: I can’t get into too many details, but for me it was anytime I didn’t listen to my gut when I sensed a red flag and made a decision out of fear. Those decisions ultimately cost us money and time and heartache. Granted, I’m grateful we had those experiences early; I know I won’t do that again, and I think that’ll serve us better in the future...but I still can’t think back on those decisions without feeling a bit nauseous.
J: I’m one of those annoying people who doesn’t view anything as a failure. Every mistake has been a learning opportunity to grow. As a recovering perfectionist, this mindset has been really important for me to adopt. Just because you’ve made a mistake doesn’t mean you’ve failed. It means you tried. You will make a lot of mistakes as an entrepreneur - my best advice is to be gentle on yourself and to not give more weight to your mistakes than your wins.
14. How do you unwind?
J: I unwind by going dancing, reading, or working on a creative project. I also love to make playlists on Spotify that tell the story of something going on in my life. As someone who is very goal and outcome oriented, it’s been really important to embrace new hobbies or learn new skills without a goal attached to it. Teaching myself guitar is a great example of that.
I am often described as the most intense/energetic person someone knows. I’ve been this way since I was a kid, but as an entrepreneur, it’s not sustainable to put all of that energy into work 24/7. Because of that, I quickly learned how important it was to unplug and channel that energy into other activities... AND TO NOT FEEL GUILTY ABOUT IT.
C: During the workday, I’ll go on a walk outside or take a break and scroll through Tumblr. I try to go to the gym, but I don’t really look forward to that haha. I’m always up for a movie so that’s really the thing that brings me joy. I’m also the friend who constantly texts, “WANT TO GET LUNCH TODAY?” because I definitely start to feel that isolation that comes from working alone.
15. What would you tell someone else who is interested in entering your field?
So often we hear from people who say, “Oh I could never do what y’all did!” The reality is that’s true for some people. That might come down to skillset or time or a lack of opportunity or life circumstances.
But there are some people who could do what we do and who are just stuck or who are convinced that they don’t have what it takes. You have to give yourself permission to take that risk because it’s rare that someone else will give it to you. Figure out your worst case scenario situation. Can you live with it? If so, go for it. Try it out. Also, just know going in that it’ll be 100x harder than you think it will. That said, it’ll (most likely) surprise you with how rewarding it is too. We wouldn’t trade what we do for the world.
16. What do you hope people take away from your story?
You don’t have to compromise on your values or change your voice to succeed. We’re not interested in doing business with people who would ask us to do those things, and we’re not interested in building a legacy that would come from that place. We don’t ever want anyone to think we’re superhuman or that we haven’t made mistakes.
We talk about our privilege and mistakes and trauma because we want to paint a real picture of what it has meant for us to get to where we are. I hope that people look at our stories and think, “Wait, if they did that, maybe I can do that too.” We want people to have the freedom to live the lives they want, and we hope our stories are proof that it’s possible to do just that.
17. Anything we missed that you would like to share?
We cannot tell you how much time and how many headaches you’ll save yourself if you figure out your accounting and money stuff early on in the game! Find an accountant you love and trust. Decide on the financial and legal stuff that will make the most sense for your business ASAP. Get a business credit card that will get your points or cash back (...we JUST did this haha). Step back and think about how you can take control of your finances beyond just earning money.
Also, hire smart people and don’t be afraid to fire people who aren’t working out. You’re the boss so lead from the top down and model the behavior you did or didn’t see from previous managers.