THE ABC OF TARYN WILLIAMS: AGENT, BOSS, CEO

She may have started a suc­cess­ful mod­el­ling agency at age 21, but it hasn’t all been cover shoots and red car­pets for Taryn Williams. Here’s how the for­mer model taught the world to take her se­ri­ously.

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Be­hind the glam­orous world of mod­el­ling, where sashay­ing into par­ties and be­friend­ing celebri­ties sounds like a reg­u­lar Fri­day night, is a woman who un­der­stands that’s just a frac­tion of what the in­dus­try re­ally is. Taryn Williams, a for­mer model who started her own agency at age 21, knows it’s ac­tu­ally a lot of hard work.

“I was un­der no il­lu­sions that the world of mod­el­ling was en­tirely as glam­orous as it seemed. For starters, one of the mo­ti­va­tions for run­ning my own agency was to im­prove mod­els’ work­ing con­di­tions,” she says of her first busi­ness, WINK Mod­els.

Laser-fo­cused on the ‘why’ of the busi­ness, she built WINK as a re­sponse to the in­dus­try’s bro­ken sys­tem. “It was com­mon prac­tice for mod­els to be paid late, not in full, or not at all,” she ex­plains. Taryn used her own sav­ings to boot­strap the agency and in­stilled a com­pany pol­icy that mod­els were to be paid within seven days, re­gard­less of whether the client had paid the agency—a pol­icy still in place more than a decade later.

As she de­vel­oped the busi­ness, she iden­ti­fied in­ef­fi­cien­cies in the model hir­ing process and re­alised that tech­nol­ogy could ad­dress many of the is­sues. This led to devel­op­ment of the in­dus­try’s first app. “It al­lowed us to in­te­grate pay­roll, ac­count­ing and live web up­dates. It re­moved the key de­pen­den­cies in the busi­ness, and we thrived.”

While the re­sult­ing ac­co­lades have been nice, Taryn takes more pride in hav­ing grown a na­tional busi­ness from her ini­tial $30K, with a tal­ent list of 650 peo­ple and a turnover in the mil­lions. And at that point, she handed over the reins to her man­ag­ing di­rec­tor.

BEST FIT FOR­WARD

In the devel­op­ment of the WINK app, Taryn hit upon an idea that would then be­come her next busi­ness, theright.fit. Her sec­ond startup, launched in 2016, is a mar­ket­place where brands can source cre­ative free­lancers and in­flu­encers. “The plat­form em­pow­ers a wide ar­ray of tal­ent in­clud­ing mod­els, in­flu­encers, ac­tors, pho­tog­ra­phers, stylists, videog­ra­phers and make-up artists to con­trol their ca­reers and build their brands on­line and makes it easy and cost-ef­fec­tive for brands to cre­ate im­pact­ful cam­paigns,” she de­scribes.

If the plat­form sounds like a threat to WINK Mod­els, you’d be cor­rect—it cur­rently has ten times the tal­ent on its books. But it’s all part of the en­tre­pre­neur’s modus operandi to lead the in­dus­try.

“No busi­ness is im­mune to dis­rup­tion,” says Taryn. “As an en­tre­pre­neur, it is my duty to en­sure my com­pa­nies are con­stantly evolv­ing and build­ing. I see a place for both.”

Although theright.fit is still in its fledg­ling years, it has al­ready be­come a lead­ing player in the in­flu­encer space as a match­maker for tal­ent and brands. The in­creas­ing use of in­flu­encers is a trend Taryn saw com­ing at WINK, hence her strong ad­vo­cacy of this seg­ment.

The early suc­cess of theright. fit saw Taryn named B&T’s ‘Tech’ cat­e­gory win­ner in its 2017 Women in Me­dia Awards. She has now set her sights on in­ter­na­tional ex­pan­sion in the com­ing year.

AP­PEAR­ANCE VER­SUS RE­AL­ITY

While the story of a model-turnedCEO mak­ing it big on the tech scene is in­spir­ing, the nar­ra­tive is a care­fully honed one. Very early on, Taryn found she had to dis­pel false as­sump­tions to es­tab­lish her­self as an en­tre­pre­neur in the eyes of the busi­ness world.

“Stereo­types about mod­els are en­trenched in the busi­ness world,” she says, cit­ing the as­sump­tion that she’s the brand am­bas­sador

rather than the boss, to her busi­ness be­ing a hobby funded by rich par­ents. “Whether it was be­cause I was young, fe­male, or a model—or all three—it was dif­fi­cult to con­vince peo­ple that the busi­ness’ achieve­ments were the re­sult of my own hard work. Peo­ple saw me as a model first and an en­tre­pre­neur sec­ond, if at all.”

The re­al­i­sa­tion led Taryn to tell her ori­gin story in her own words, some­thing she ad­vises all en­trepreneurs to straighten out be­fore they en­gage with oth­ers in the in­dus­try, cus­tomers and the me­dia. “The worst thing about be­ing un­der­es­ti­mated is that you can get locked out of con­ver­sa­tions, or even busi­ness deals. Tak­ing con­trol of the nar­ra­tive is cru­cial,” she rec­om­mends.

But there’s a flip­side to be­ing un­der­es­ti­mated, she ad­mits. “The best thing is when you prove them wrong and achieve your goals be­cause you backed your­self. That’s the se­cret to be­ing a suc­cess­ful en­tre­pre­neur.”

Taryn’s three top tips for en­trepreneurs: 1. Set your­self a scary but ex­cit­ing long-term goal, “one that you abide by and never lose sight of”. It will help you be­come more re­silient. 2. Build a strong in­dus­try net­work. “You’ll be­come bet­ter ed­u­cated and bet­ter con­nected, plus good networking helps you be­come bet­ter known, which means peo­ple are more likely to take you se­ri­ously.” 3. Don’t be afraid to chal­lenge the sta­tus quo. “Whether it’s through tech­nol­ogy, ideas, sys­tems or peo­ple, look at your in­dus­try and ask: ‘What can be done to im­prove ef­fi­ciency?’ and ‘How do I make it hap­pen?

Taryn Williams is an award­win­ning CEO and founder of The Right Fit (www.theright.fit).’

Taryn Williams

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