Kate & Emily, founders of Sonder & Tell

Sonder & tell
Sonder & tell

Think women can’t work together? Think again. Welcome to She’s My Cofounder, a series all about powerhouse cofounders who also happen to be (you guessed it) female. We’re going to be diving in with women who support and nurture each other through all things business and beyond to find out just exactly what it’s like working alongside a gal pal.

This week we caught up Emily Ames and Kate Hamilton, the super duo founders of Sonder & Tell, a content and communications agency created to help brands tell better stories. Emily and Kate were previously Editor-in-Chief and Brand Director respectively of fashion and travel magazine SUITCASE.

1. How did you become co-founders and how long have you known one another?

Kate: We’ve known each other for five years now – in fact, Facebook reminded us of that with a cringe photo from a Barcelona club a few days ago. We met in the city while we were on a year abroad from studying Spanish at university and almost immediately knew that we’d be top whatsapp contacts for life. We then began working at SUITCASE Magazine together after university. We had the best time and got to travel the world together but always had the sense that one day we’d do our own thing.

Emily: I took Kate to the weirdest dancehall party in Barcelona and she threw herself into it 100% – think I knew from then that I’d found a real catch. We shared a sweet column called La Buena Vida for SUITCASE where we would write about different restaurants, museums etc and even then (with about 4 people reading our articles) we would always edit one another’s work. At SUITCASE that relationship just grew.

2. Trust is an important aspect in any relationship, how have you been able to build the trust between you?

Kate: Because our work relationship came out of a friendship we’ve had a solid foundation of personal and emotional trust from the start.

Emily: And in terms of trusting one another’s work and process, the fact that we worked together before venturing out on our own helped a lot – we had a pretty good understanding of our individual strengths and weaknesses.

3. Disagreements happen in every relationship, as co-founders how do you manage disagreements and making final decisions?

Sonder & tell
Sonder & tell

Kate: Define your company values early on. Avoid things like ‘honesty’ and ‘integrity’ which could apply to almost anyone, and focus on the values that make your business different. Every decision you make should be a reflection of those values rather than your individual ego. That kind of thinking keeps disagreements at bay!

Emily: I think learning how to give and take constructive criticism is key in a partnership. Sometimes the best ideas come from disagreements (it forces you to think outside the box or defend your opinion) so you can’t be scared to challenge. We actually sat down the other day for ‘our year review’ (which Kate prepared a schedule and worksheets for lol) and discussed how we could work better individually and as a pair. It was quite funny sitting down just us two, but it was actually very effective.

4. What are your working styles and if different from one another, how do you bring them together?

Emily: In general, Kate’s more into structure/deadlines/schedules and I take a more scattergun approach, often working in late night spurts when Kate is probably in bed.

Kate: We’ve really grown to complement each other though – for example, I work quite independently (read: in a cave) while Emily prefers to chat things through, so we’ve made sure we make space for both ways of working. Even though we take different approaches we often end up in the same place with a creative concept – that’s when the magic happens.

learning how to give and take constructive criticism is key in a partnership. Sometimes the best ideas come from disagreements (it forces you to think outside the box or defend your opinion) so you can’t be scared to challenge. - @Emames7, Click To Tweet

5. There’s a myth that “women can’t work together because we tend to be quite emotional” and some other lies, what are your thoughts on this and what message do you have for people that hold this opinion?

Kate: It’s a pretty tired attitude and one that basically makes it impossible for women to win. When we’re perceived as emotional or petty we’re not considered great leaders, but then when we show more traditional leadership qualities (such as being decisive) our behaviours can be interpreted negatively and we’re put in the “difficult woman” box. The one-dimensional narrative of what it takes to be in business needs to change.

Emily: And if you’re an emotional person then why shouldn’t emotions play a part in business? Maybe you need frustration or anger or even rage as a motivating factor. We need a kind of landscape that encourages businesses and individuals to make the most of our differences rather than encouraging everyone to show the same traits.

Emily, Sonder & Tell
Emily, Sonder & Tell

6. What are some important attributes one should look for in a co-founder?

Kate: Honesty, energy, and adaptability are important but there’s no magic formula. The most important thing is to find somebody that complements your strengths and makes up for your weaknesses. If you’re full of ideas but don’t have the attention to detail to make them real, then look for a counterpoint who can help.

Emily: I think you need to have the same idea of success going into a business together. And like Kate said, to define your ethics and values early on. There have been a couple times where we have said no to new business because it didn’t align with our vision for Sonder & Tell (that all brands should have a positive culture) and we’ve been able to totally agree on that.

7. What makes you feel empowered?

Kate: In all honesty, as a small business, nothing makes you feel more empowered than being paid well for your work. That being said, working with brands that have an ethical or social mission that aligns with your own company values can be incredibly rewarding too.

Emily: Totally agree with Kate. We worked with Airbnb this summer on a project and it gave us the confidence to start turning down the jobs where we felt our work wasn’t being fully valued.

In all honesty, as a small business nothing makes you feel more empowered than being paid well for your work Click To Tweet

8. Podcast or book? And which do you recommend?

Kate, Sonder & tell
Kate, Sonder & tell

Kate: Otegha Uwagba Little Black Book is full of no-bullshit careers advice for women navigating the world of work. When we were starting out it helped us answer some of the questions we were too embarrassed to ask. Emma Gannon’s podcast Ctrl Alt Delete is also a brilliant source on everything from work-life blend and burnout culture to personal branding and money. We interviewed both Otegha and Emma for S&T’s community section.

Emily: In terms of a business book, it’s quite outdated now but I remember reading Thrive and thinking yes! You don’t need to measure success on how little you sleep or how little sex you’re having (I think I added that). I’m completely obsessed with relationship therapist Esther Perel’s podcast Where Should We Begin which is a live therapy session with couples. Not to do with business at all but a great insight into communication (and your founder becomes a bit like your life partner anyway).

9. Could you share something about your co-founder that you would like to appreciate?

Kate on Emily: She’s endlessly generous with her time, ideas and energy. I feel lucky to share a brain with her every day!

Emily on Kate: No one can put an idea into words quite like Kate. She says she’s obsessive but her attention to detail and drive to get things right is inspiring. (I also appreciate her collection of high necks and penchant for ruffles – mainly because her other life partner/our constant support that is Matty doesn’t, and I feel like I can fill that void).

10. Advice for those seeking a co-founder?

Kate: Looking for a co-founder begins by looking at yourself – what makes you tick, when you need help, where you come alive.

Emily: Don’t jump into it. Try working on a project together before you sign any papers.

Stylist: Christina Banjo

Photographer: Ade Adeyemi (Ultra Shot it)

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