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.
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).’