Cate Luzio – Founder & CEO of Luminary

Episode 150

What a powerful conversation with the awe-inspiring Cate Luzio! Cate is the Founder and CEO of Luminary, the premier NYC space and membership hub for people looking to grow their professional development and network. She shares valuable learnings from her 20-year journey from the banking industry to starting her own company after recognizing what was missing for people like herself and finally, how she managed during the pandemic. If you’re looking for inspiration and empowerment, it’s time to check out this episode on #TheKaraGoldinShow

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Cate Luzio 0:00
There is nobody better to take a risk on and bet on than yourself,

Kara Goldin 0:05
I am unwilling to give up that I will start over from scratch as many times as it takes to get where I want to be, I want to just sort of make sure you will get knocked down. But just make sure you don’t get knocked out knocked out. So your only choice should be go focus on what you can control, control control. Hi, everyone, and welcome to the Kara golden show. So join me each week for inspiring conversations with some of the world’s greatest leaders. We’ll talk with founders, entrepreneurs, CEOs, and really some of the most interesting people of our time. Can’t wait to get started. Let’s go. Let’s go. Hi, everyone, its Kara golden from the Kara golden show. And I’m so excited to have my next guest here. I have Kate luzio who is not only an incredible entrepreneur, but also an amazing human and friend. And we got to know each other on this list that we are a part of. So that was really, really fun. And she is just got an amazing story. She actually like me came from a totally different industry. She wasn’t in the space that she’s in now. She was in finance and banking, investment banking, at an amazing locations, including Bank of America, JP Morgan HSBC. And she actually spent 20 years there and then decided I’m going to go reinvent myself and do something incredible, which she did. And she started an amazing space in New York City called The luminary which we’re going to get to hear a lot about and I think that there’s so many things that I feel like Kay can talk to us about not only switching industries, but also entrepreneurship, you know, women in the workplace. Also just challenges of, you know, what happens when you run into a pandemic, and, and, you know, all those kinds of things. So anyway, welcome, welcome. Welcome. I’m so thrilled that you were here, and really, really excited to have you here. So thank you for coming on. We’re having Yeah,

Cate Luzio 2:25
this is great. I’m so excited, Kara.

Kara Goldin 2:27
Absolutely. So just going back to kind of where you started. So you grew up East Coast, East Coast, New Jersey, Jersey, girl, yep. Jersey girl. Awesome. I was laughing at your social media the other day that you just got your driver’s license reinstated. So you were you were living all over the world and lost your license, and you got it back. So

Cate Luzio 2:54
congrats. 29 years, literally, almost like two weeks to the day of when I first got my license. And the funniest part is that in New Jersey, you get your license when you’re 17. My mom drove me to that because I couldn’t drive. And my mom drove me to this appointment. So yes.

Kara Goldin 3:13
I what I will say is never let your driver’s license expire ever. It’s so true. In fact, I was just saying, My, my passports are all are all expiring for my whole little crew. And I was saying we gotta just get on that not allow that to, you know, become a major issue, especially in today’s day and age. And who knows when things are open when they’re not open? Exactly.

Cate Luzio 3:37

Kara Goldin 3:39
Talk to me a little bit about your career. So you grew up in New Jersey. And then what was the what was the first job for Kate? Mike? Well,

Cate Luzio 3:47
so I had I grew up in New Jersey. My dad was an FBI agent. My mom’s a teacher and I have a brother on each side. So I tell people I wasn’t raised like a girl. I was raised like a competitor. I was sandwiched in between the middle and from a very early age. It’s like, you know, as soon as you can work, you’re going to get a job. And that’s just what you did. Right? It also taught you the value of $1 and work ethic and so my first real job where I was actually getting, you know, a paycheck was footlocker and I was drawn to footlocker because I was an athlete and I wanted to get discount on shoes on sneakers. So that is it. And then I ended up throughout high school, kind of triple jobbing it. I worked at footlocker, I worked as a lifeguard and I also worked in a bakery on the weekends because my father was like, Listen, we’re gonna pay for your college, which is a huge privilege. After that you are on your own. So start saving now. Good for him. Great

Kara Goldin 4:37
advice. super great advice. And so you graduated from school. Did you always know that you wanted to go into banking? Hell no.

Cate Luzio 4:47
It was the last thing I would have ever thought of. I was a political science major at University of Maryland. I had studied abroad and loved International. I really thought I was going to go work for the State Department or or even follow my dad’s footsteps and at the end Yeah. And then when I graduated was like, Wait a second, I don’t want to do this. I did a bunch of internships in the political realm. And then it was the internet boom, the first internet boom that you were a part of as well, right? So a lot of these younger kids don’t realize that there, there was one, the original internet boom. And so I was working in a nonprofit. And you know, there were Hi, all these internet startups in the DC area. We’re hiring young kids. And so I got a job at a great startup little little company in Northern Virginia. And then, long story short, I went to China with them didn’t know anything but learned a ton came back, after working there on and off for two years decided to get my master’s degree at night. I couldn’t afford to quit my job because Georgetown’s tuition was so expensive, and so worked at the startup continued to do my masters. And then when I was graduating, the bank recruited me. And I remember thinking, are you kidding me? I don’t even know how to balance my checkbook, please don’t look at my credit score. And they said, Listen, we can teach you all the technical stuff, we love your background, and you’ve gone to great schools, blah, blah, blah, just come and try it. And lo and behold, almost 20 years later, I was still in banking. That’s wild. So

Unknown Speaker 6:15
which was the first bank that you worked at?

Cate Luzio 6:17
So the first bank was a bank called mbna. Many people will remember it as an affinity credit card company very focused on consumer. Within two years, not even less me working there. I was set to move. I was moved to Mexico, it was launching a new bank in Mexico, a joint venture, and then Bank of America bought us. So I went from working at a 10 person startup to a 22,000. Back, employee bank to bank of america was at the time over 200,000. And so very quickly got ingrained into that really big corporate culture. I spent many years at BFA, mainly in Latin America, I was recruited to JPMorgan, in the beginning of the financial crisis, moved to London thinking I was going to stay there for two years, stayed there for seven, and then was recruited by HSBC stayed there for a couple of years, and and then decided that I was going to, you know, do something more stable. And that was entrepreneurship.

Kara Goldin 7:16
That’s, that’s awesome. You mentioned somewhere in my research that you mostly had male mentors, in the baking industry, all of them at Wow, that’s, that’s wild. Now, how did you find your mentors? You know, I

Cate Luzio 7:31
have to say that I really think there’s a lot of this, they found me. And for the sheer reason of I was visible, I raised my hands, I was out there with, you know, taking risks. I was one of the people sort of saying give this to me, I’ll try it. I want to learn and not thinking so much about making mistakes just around Hey, I got to learn everything I possibly can. And I think some of that shone through when I first got into banking, because I didn’t have the financial background that my peers did. I came in many years after that, or so a couple of years after that. And so I felt like I had to learn faster, learn more and work really hard. And I think that was just picked up on and that I got shit done. Yeah. And so the guys, my mentors, my sponsors like that, and there was just like, I’m just going to get it done. And I’m going to do it in a way where I’m building stakeholder ship and navigating the firm and making connections. And so I think that was that there was a lot of that they found me. But listen, I wasn’t a shrinking violet. Right. I was voicing my opinion around the table. I was asking for more opportunities I was out there talking about let me do more. And I think they saw that. And so I think it was I always say it’s a little bit of a push in a poll. And I just I also had bad managers and men, you know, bad guys in my life. But these particular there’s about five of them in particular that and they’ve stayed my mentors, that I still trust and lean on. And and you know, that many women in senior roles either. Yeah, when I started, there still aren’t, but there were less. And so you really also had to know who had the influence and power within the firms that you work for. And it was, it’s important to have that

Kara Goldin 9:23
it’s so interesting hearing you talk about this, because one thing that I we hire a lot of people right out of school, and oftentimes, what I see is that, you know, you’re you’re not getting sort of the structured kind of environment, which is good and bad, right? And I feel like I’ve worked in places that are super structured super buttoned up where you have to communicate and I think banking, you know, we could say there’s a lot of bad in banking or whatever they get they but I think that the one thing I think Think that you really learn in some of these corporate cultures, like the one that you worked in is, you know, communication, even if it’s over communication, right, and sort of like very buttoned up very, you know, not just texting, Hey, what’s up? You know, thanks a lot kind of thing. Right? It’s like dear Kara, or things like that, and you can never go wrong. Would you say that? I mean,

Cate Luzio 10:25
absolutely. I think the, you know, you learn a level of professionalism, understanding your audience executive presence. And and then also that that structure, that end framework, you also can understand what does that career path look like? Right, maybe you veer off of it, but you you certainly have and this is an for lots of parts of the finance world. And, and I really liked that structure, people will tell me like, You don’t seem like you could had a boss, I actually thrived in a corporate culture. Because I think the fact that I was an athlete growing up, and I was a great student, and I liked that you’re doing a good job, or here’s your feedback. Now go do better. Yeah. So working in a smaller company, being on an entrepreneur, you don’t necessarily have all that. I think it’s it’s the sooner companies can put that assemblance of that in place, the better especially for young talent.

Kara Goldin 11:23
I love it. So you decide to leave after 20 years you decide to recreate yourself, there’s probably a lot of people listening, especially ones that are, you know, really trying to rethink their careers. And can they actually go do something as you know, I wrote a book on daunted that you so kindly have interviewed me on a few different platforms for but I feel like, there are people that put up walls in front of them selves to say, I can’t possibly go do that. Because I’ve been in this industry, that’s sort of like a dream that I would go and open up a workplace like luminary. But I think that that is something that I always like to bring on guests who can actually share their story. Like, why did you do it? And overall, I mean, how did how did the idea come to you? And how did you do it?

Cate Luzio 12:19
Yeah, you know, I think there’s a couple of lessons that I’ve learned. And a lot of it comes from those mentors that I mentioned, and certainly my father and my parent, my mom. But number one is, you can always go back, right? So whether you move within a company and industry or go out and do something completely different. If you’ve built up a resume, if you built up a reputation, and you’ve and you’ve shown results, you can always go back. And so there was one of there was part of that, right? The other thing is, there is nobody better to take a risk on and bet on than yourself, right? I am not going to not succeed, right? I may fall down and pick myself back up millions of times, but I’m going to continue to grow and learn and get better and, and if this company doesn’t work out, I can do something else. You can always

Unknown Speaker 13:09
go back. Yeah,

Cate Luzio 13:10
you can always go back. And so I think

Unknown Speaker 13:12
for me,

Cate Luzio 13:14
I have just because of the way I was raised, there’s always been that inherit, like, take a risk, and you know yourself better than anyone else. And so many people will think, oh, you had this idea, you know, Was this your side hustle. I’m not a side hustle person. I’m like, all in. So I had to, I quit the the I quit banking, as I say, or I left banking, who knows if I’ll ever go back. And it really, there was no idea in my head to start a company, I was thinking I was gonna go work for another company and do a completely different role. And two months later, as a woman and you know, this Kara, you can join tons and tons of women’s events. And I was like, This is not working. I’m not meeting new people. I’m getting exposed to the same people. And I don’t want to just have inspiration I want to actually learn and I wrote a business plan. And nine months later, we opened our physical doors. 14 months later, we hit a pandemic. And now we’re a global, digital, you know, platform for women with also now having our physical space in New York. And if you would ask me in March of 2018, when I when I created that business plan. The reason I I wrote that business plan was I said, There’s got to be a better way to convene, and invest in and build women without excluding men, right? And so luminary was we want to build a community. We want to give programming and content so that women can actually determine create their own definition of success versus what everyone else is telling them. And we work we decided very early in that business plan. I wasn’t going to just work with individuals like you and I, I was going to work with companies, because that’s where you can move the needle. And you and I coming from big companies and industries, that’s where a lot of the talent is. And they leave. And so we’ve got to invest in them much earlier before we say they’re senior. And that’s particularly women.

Kara Goldin 15:19
Well, I love the content that you have to because it really is about being a lifelong learner. Because it’s, it’s it I mean, that is so important. And I think it’s something unfortunately, I, I’ve spoken a few college campuses and in business schools, and really been kind of hammering this home that I think it’s something that people don’t think about that basically, you’re graduating from school or, you know, undergrad or business school, and then you get into the workforce. And then suddenly, it’s like, you know, you come in at a certain level, and your goal is to get to the next level. And that’s what you think about all day long. Instead, it really is about learning. And you need to be even learning when you’re a CEO, you need to be learning when you’re 20 years in an industry, right where you’ve got to go. And if you feel like it’s really not interesting to you anymore, or you’re tapped out on on this or whatever, why not go and reinvent yourself immune, it’s what I did with the beverage industry, and sort of what I was passionate about around health. And, you know, this whole new world opened up to me that I just hadn’t really thought about or cared about, frankly, you know, for for many years, I was always kind of healthy. So I thought, you know, this is what I do until I wasn’t right. And when you start to really care about it, so, so did you. What was so you wrote the business plan, you knew how to do that. And then how did you raise the capital?

Cate Luzio 16:43
I didn’t raise any capital? No, no, none, zero.

Kara Goldin 16:46
That’s amazing.

Cate Luzio 16:48
Back to that lesson, my dad, you know, I talked about my dad saying save, save, save. So. And also, you know, I have I worked really hard in my career and had the privilege because I say this all the time. Not everybody can self fund and their business. But I’m not manufacturing anything. Yes, I have a huge space. And that’s a big capital. But I saved a lot of money. And when I wrote the business plan, and I, you know, I’ve built businesses that JP Morgan and HSBC and Bank of America, I knew how to build a business, I had infrastructure around me, but I knew how to build a business. I said, Well, wait a second, I know this is going to take that much longer. If I tried to go out raise money. I also know being a banker, what all the goods and the bads are. And I decided, you know, back to that risk taking, I understand what I want to build, I understand being a woman in the workforce. And I want to build what I think women are looking for. And I think a lot of people that I would have talked to, and I know this, but a lot of them white men wouldn’t have understood. And so went through, built my financial projections and said, I’m going to do this on my own until I can’t, and hopefully the business will be pretty quickly self sustaining and not ended up happening. And so yeah, no debt. And and really, when the pandemic hit, that was so pivotable pivotal for us, because I didn’t have to go and talk to a board, I have an advisory board, I didn’t have to go talk to a board, I didn’t have to go to my investors and say, here’s where we’re at. I could really be nimble, the team could react quickly, I can make tough decisions. And we have the quiddity. And we had no debt. I’m not saying it’s not hard, it’s still hard. But we were able to rethink and adapt to the situation versus there’s kind of this monkey on my back telling me I’ve got do this XYZ, I think the last thing that I would say is the reality is I didn’t want to grow for the sake of growing, I wanted to grow a sustainable and profitable company. And that’s what we’re doing. And that’s on our terms. And I could actually listen to my customers and continue to deliver what they wanted versus what someone was telling me I needed to do.

Kara Goldin 19:00
I love that. No, that’s so, so super great. So, obviously the pandemic hit, you know, and and what, so what do you see? I mean, hopefully we’re coming out of it now and and obviously, you’re in New York City where you know, it’s an urban environment what what are sort of your crystal ball projections for for all you know, we we had to shut down for a couple of months because of the lockdown here in New York. And that allowed us honestly silver linings, we knew we needed to continue to be there for our community that we had built this far and the corporate members that we had.

Cate Luzio 19:38
So going online for us was incredible. It accelerated our growth dramatically. Great, and we will always now have a virtual on a digital platform. And now we have members around the world. But I know that people want to come back right and and but they want it on their terms. So because we work with so many companies Is there is a big, you know, I guess discussion happening right now like, Are people going to come back full time? Are they going to want hybrid? what we think is events like we knew them, cara, the 500 person events, the 200 are not going to come back for a really, really long time, I think you’re gonna see small events start popping up, I think companies are going to try to do more to bring in their employees back into the office, create some sense of team building. But I do think everything that we’re hearing from all the companies that we work with, and even the small business owners is that there will never be a I have to be in the office five days a week again. And if there is if that’s your requirement, people will likely leave, they want some type of flexibility. So we’re also seeing more and more of our members and our corporate members coming back into the luminary space, whether they’ve been vaccinated whether they just want to get out of their apartments, right. Like you said, we’re in an urban city, very small quarters, people have been I don’t know how moms and dads have been doing it in the city. I really don’t. Because I can barely sit on a zoom at my apartment with my boyfriend. And we’re in the same room in the park and you know, charter because it’s so i think i think you’ll slowly and surely see that I think New Yorkers by nature want to be out and as warmer weather comes, you know, but we still have to remember that that’s we’re still in a pandemic. Yeah. So I think the I always say just being ready to adapt to whatever comes, you know, and come out with you come out swinging, because, you know, we’re all in this together, and the playing field has been somewhat level.

Kara Goldin 21:39
Yeah, I totally agree. So would you say like, I mean, you talked about having online events and and really having an online content play, that’s not going to go away? Do you think that that was kind of the biggest lesson, when you look back on on that time that you, you know, nobody that I know really actually predicted a pandemic? Maybe you’ve got some scientists out there that will say, Oh, they totally did. But I think nobody that I knew really did. I, one thing I talk about a lot is that the and I talked about in my book, The 2008 2009 financial crisis, right? That was incredibly hard. I mean, not only for me, personally, and for so many other people, but as a, as a small business owner, I felt like I had a knife in my stomach, like through that whole thing. Like it was just it was a nightmare. And I sort of compartmentalised it as Okay, that was a really challenging time, I’ll remember it, but I’ll try not to remember it kind of thing, like, and I didn’t really know what lesson I learned from it. And then when the pandemic hit, the first thing that I said to my CFO was, I gotta have two years of money in the bank, we did raise money. And, you know, through the course of our 16 year run, and it was, I remember 2008 2009, the reason why it was so scary, was we didn’t have enough runway and money in the bank, and I will never go there again. And if I can help it. And so I said, at the end of March, when the world or the US was shutting down, I said to my CFO, we’ve got to raise money, and you need two years worth of capital, and he said, everybody’s been sent home, we’re on virtual, this probably isn’t going to happen. And I said, we cannot allow something like zoom to prevent us be our wall. That’s a platform. It’s a tool. It’s a technology play. And so we went out and raised money, but that was because of that really challenging time that really scary time. So what I always encourage people to do is look for your scary times. Right? And what did you do? What did you do? Wrong? What did you wish you would have done? Would you say that having an online presence was was yours? Or what? What would you say to that? Yeah, you know,

Cate Luzio 24:11
I it’s funny, because in the if I go back to my business plan, we didn’t even talk about digital. Right? It was all about this in person experience and convening. And I think, you know, lesson learned, being able to serve impact, help more people is always better. I don’t think it was a mistake that we didn’t have that because I really needed to focus. I mean, we were 13 months old, when the pandemic hit, we weren’t that you know, you know, super established and, and we were we’re still finding our way we’re still developing who we are and the brand but I think for me, it was the first thing we did was was listened to the community and listened to are those are our customers. Right? I think the second thing I did was, I knew I could because I watched companies through the financial crisis because I banked them. Go through them. hardest times And to your point that cash is king. Right? So we my coo is incredible. And I literally sat down with every expense. This was even before our doors were shot and said, we’ve got to call every single vendor and renegotiate our contract from American Express to our landlord, right. And with the exception of one, they all renegotiated without

Kara Goldin 25:26

Cate Luzio 25:27
And so, you know, that gave us a cushion. Obviously, we went through PPP, and then really had to redefine know, what are those other revenue streams that we could tap into? And now we lost 80% of our revenue in the three months that we were shut down. Wow. And so it was it is It was hard, it’s still is hard, because you’re, you’re still building, and there’s not a safety net behind there. So we, you know, as a team, we had to be really nimble and really think outside of the box around what we could do to continue to build the company while also sustaining. And, you know, I say this all the time. It’s not just about getting a check, right? There’s so many grants, and that’s wonderful. But you have to know what to do with that check. If you’re going to continue to sustain and then build your business. And so we got that PPP and said, All right, this has got to go to our employees. But we’ve also got to figure out how to make this last a long way. I also have a great team who, you know, none of this happens, like, you know, I’m alone. And they have been just, I mean, stepped up to the plate every single day.

Kara Goldin 26:38
That’s awesome. I love Love, love hearing that. So you guys are in New York City. And how has New York been in terms of supporting you as a small business? Yeah, you know, I

Cate Luzio 26:51
think it’s been interesting. There are so many businesses that have gone out of business. And we’ve actually said, we’re surviving. So give the help to the companies that really needed especially restaurants. And I’ve sort of deprioritize I’ve actually been saying how much how much more can we support the small businesses in New York and so love it, you know, we created a fellowship program that’s now global. And I actually think that this is a turning point for New York. And we’re going to come out of this stronger like we did 911 and, and hopefully rebuild these businesses back better than they were before.

Kara Goldin 27:30
I love it. I mean, just in comparison, I’ve talked to a few other San Francisco and Bay Area companies as you know, San Francisco has been hit very hard. Yeah. And, and you know, it’s, it’s interesting, I was just talking to my friend, Julie Wainwright from the real real, yeah, she pulled out of the Bay Area, and, you know, really felt like she had been supported by New York and New Jersey, way more than California. And, and just, if you guys want to listen to her podcast, I had her on a couple of months ago. And it was really fascinating because she talked about in our during challenging times, it’s really important for the cities and for the states to kind of step up not necessarily monetarily, but trying to really kind of hear out small business owners at all levels of small businesses and at all levels, right, because they’re different problems for different industries. And it’s not just about the mom and pop shops, definitely those need some, some help as well. But I think it’s also the people that are, you know, kind of running real businesses and some of the issues that are real challenges and checking in with them. And anyway, it was just it was she ended up moving her California part of her business to Arizona. And like there are states, whether it’s Texas or Nashville, not that Nashville is a state, but Tennessee or whatever it is. People are like some of these states are showing up.

Cate Luzio 29:06
I totally agree. And I think I you know, no offense to New York, I think they have to do better. Yeah, right. I do. And I think that they can, as we as we head into an election right later this this year with our mayor, I think there’s a real opportunity to run this city like a business and support the businesses that are bringing in a huge amount of tax revenue and economic, you know, dollars as well as recovery. And if you don’t get the community and the small businesses that opportunity, you will lose like we know this, right? Every small town in America, we’ve seen it so New York has to really step up and I’m hoping that however the mayoria election turns out we get a we get a mayor that’s out there and really talking on behalf of small businesses as well. Governor?

Kara Goldin 30:00
Yeah, I absolutely love that. And totally, totally agree. And, you know, as I always say, there’s, there’s a big space between the unicorns and, you know, the, the one to 10 people that are that are there. And in that business, there’s this other group that sort of gets forgotten, especially during, you know, easy times hard times. And so you have to check in with those people and really see what’s going on. Because those, they may be public companies as utilizes or whatever, but it’s like, it’s real pain points. And, and I just encourage all cities and states, if people are listening, that it’s just really, really critical to check in on that, but

Cate Luzio 30:42
all the way down to paid leave and everything that we’re discussing about return to the office. Well, I mean, it’s not just and we love our partners like JP Morgan and Verizon and others, it’s also about businesses that don’t have huge budgets that don’t have, you know, big benefit plans. How do you think about return to the office for safety? How do you think about pay leave? And, and, and everything that, you know, we’re trying to solve by public policy, which we should employers and city governments and state governments have to start working together as well?

Kara Goldin 31:13
I totally agree. Well, Kate luzio So, so thrilling to have you on, there are so many little nuggets in this conversation and where can people find you and find luminary? Yes. So

Cate Luzio 31:26
you can find luminary on social at be a luminary. So it’s literally at the luminary and then our online website is luminary dash NYC calm Don’t let the NYC fool you. We’re now global. New York City’s just our headquarters and then for me, you can find me at Kate luzio or whether that’s LinkedIn and Instagram. It’s all the same. And Kate’s with the CCA t Liu z. I Oh, that’s awesome. And everyone come back and visit us for amazing founders and CEO interviews every Monday and Wednesday now and we are thrilled to have great people like Kate on Please give her five stars and great reviews and all the rest of them too. And we will see you soon. Thanks, everyone. Thanks, Kara.

Unknown Speaker 32:12
Thank you.

Kara Goldin 32:15
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