Capturing Lightning
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Ally Varady

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“Women have just as
much a place to run businesses as men.
Women have just as
much a place to run construction sites and, frankly, I think we're
good at it.”

Ally Varady, co-founder and partner at CV Partners

Ally Varady is a co-founder and partner at CV Partners, a New York-based owner’s representative firm specializing in project management for developers, individuals, and the luxury hospitality and retail communities. Here she reflects on the growing pains and big decisions that come with success, and the satisfaction in stunning jobsite catcallers to silence.

What was your initial vision for CV Partners?
When [my co-partner] Sarah [Carter] and I sat down to discuss our new company, we started with a name and our core beliefs. We describe ourselves as producers in the construction and development world, but we didn't want to be limited to just that. Maybe we’ll want to develop a new product or try a new market. We don't know what the future will look like. We’re still relatively young. So we settled on CV Partners. It’s simple. It’s the first initials of our last names. We liked the idea of the term “partners” for a few reasons: We didn’t want to limit ourselves to one field, we have been friends for years and feel this is an equal partnership, and we also liked that it wasn't “girly.”

After quickly settling on a name, we grabbed a notepad and started listing our core values. When we started brainstorming, we said the same words in the same order. The first words were honesty and integrity. We are both incredibly honest people, like, inherently and incapable of lying. [Laughs] Some companies don’t want the present whole truth. They sugarcoat things to get business or make easier decisions. But we agreed we will always give our honest opinion, every single time. Our second value is excellence. We want to be the best in what we do. We want to be involved in every aspect of each project. We want to be more thorough than our competitors. The third value and one we can be better about is having fun and enjoying the process. We work incredibly hard and that’s important, but we need to remind each other that, no matter the time we put in, the work is always there. We need to be mindful of that. When we sat down and talked about our vision, we were blessed that we already had these core values outlined. We’re great friends and we’re having fun with CV Partners, all while doing great work. 

What drew you to that vision personally?
In terms of what got me here, I graduated from college in 2011. I studied communications and public relations. I interned in fashion and entertainment PR in New York City during school. After I graduated, I moved to NYC permanently to jump into PR. I think so much of my identity in that first year as a working adult was largely tied to other people's images. I worked in talent publicity. In that, I waited on hand and foot to cater to celebrities. It only took a short amount of time to realize I wasn't happy doing that. After that realization, I was hired by a general contractors and owner’s rep firm. This is where I met Sarah. She was the COO of the company. We took to one another immediately. She also gave me every opportunity to learn the industry and jump in to help run projects. I applied what I learned pretty effectively, and was eventually assisting with running the business. After almost five years, we both decided to take the leap and start our own business. We had our initial discussion right after we made this decision. I think my past experience working to build others’ names made it important that Sarah and I focused on our own and being our best. We chose a name that reflected ourselves and the two or three guidelines that we stand for, and everything else fell into place from there.

Did you have any fears about becoming an entrepreneur?
We made the decision to leave and start our own business very quickly. I don’t think I even had the time to think about what scared me. I think I was more excited than anything, but a little fearful, I’m sure. It’s hard to say what those fears were—like total failure or finding out we made a mistake by going out on our own? None of it came to the forefront either way. I wasn't afraid because it was unknown, and I don't think I had to time to quantify what I was really afraid of. I think my generation is fine with trying things and possibly failing.

What has been your greatest struggle in founding CV Partners?
I think the biggest struggle was our first two or three months because of some opposition to us starting our own company. To me, that was the scariest time. I think one struggle we’re currently dealing with is if and how we want to grow for the future of CV Partners. We are incredibly blessed with projects where we are working with some of the best architects, developers, and builders out there. We keep getting new and amazing opportunities, but there are only two of us. Part of our pact is that we won't take on projects we can’t work and do properly. So we’re facing the, “Do we continue to grow and take new opportunities, or remain the two of us and focus on what we can grasp?” challenge. It’s a great struggle to have, but we keep thinking about it and—while compared to those first few months—it’s definitely the greatest challenge we’ve faced.

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“Shit happens. Mistakes
happen. You learn
from them. Your next job
will be better. Dwelling
on mistakes is useless.”

Ally Varady, co-founder and partner at CV Partners

What has been your biggest sacrifice?
I don’t think I’ve really sacrificed that much. I’ve had an enormous amount of support, so if I have to change plans or give things up to accommodate work, my friends and family are understanding. There are times when I lose sleep over work, but I don’t think it’s really a sacrifice; I think it’s more me loving and caring about what I do.

What has been your biggest failure?
My personal biggest failure is related to a specific project, so I’ll be vague. In one of our first months of business, I missed something that was completely obvious. It did work out, but it brought enormous stress and took time and resources to resolve. I work in the construction industry and, no matter how many experts you have, things go wrong. If they didn’t, I wouldn’t have a career, but I still have a pit in my stomach thinking about that mistake I made more than three years ago. But I know I’ll never make that mistake again. One benefit was learning to admit when I’ve made a mistake—going to a client and saying, “This is my fuck up. This is what I’ll do to help ease the loss. This is what I’ll do to fix it.” Even with that being said, I do still get a pit in my stomach thinking about that one.

What has been your greatest triumph in your founder’s journey thus far?
This is kind of two parts. The best feeling is definitely when developers or architects or colleagues refer us to new clients. It just reminds us that hard work pays off, and reminds us why we do what we do. And on a superficial level, I just turned 30, and before that I was nominated by a friend for the Forbes 30 Under 30 list. Once that happened, I reached out to several of my clients, colleagues, and engineers to write something about why I should be on the list. Ultimately, I didn't make the list, but it was really nice to see that nearly every client, friend, and colleague I reached out to immediately responded that they would be happy to [write something up], and they all submitted nominations. Even though I didn't get on the list, it was such an honor that so many people were willing to tag onto the nomination.

Did anyone in your life try to dissuade you from becoming an entrepreneur?
Not really. I’m super lucky to be doing this with Sarah and obviously we supported each other. Our friends and family are also incredibly supportive. 

Who in your personal life has been a constant source of support?
Sarah. She is one of my closest friends and confidants. She has been since I met her eight years ago. Being able to call her and talk through project issues, life issues, or just to rant—she is my saving grace. I should give her some of my salary as a therapist fee. [Laughs] She has been by my side since day one. My parents and brother are also a constant source of support. They challenge me, push me, and they listen. 

Tell me about your work-life balance.
Some days are better than others. I’m typically up and emailing before 7 a.m. and often go well into the night. Meetings and site visits take up most of my week. I’m pretty good at taking a break to work out or clear my head. I’m pretty liberal with leaving early on Fridays or not responding to emails during the weekends. Sometimes I’ll respond or have a meeting on Saturdays, but I don’t mind. I keep a good balance, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t days where I’m up driving at 5 a.m. to a site or emailing while in bed at night.

Did you ever come close to giving up?
Nope. I really enjoy it. Even in heavy stress or even in that one mistake, quitting never crossed my mind. I just think, “How do I get through it and how do we make it better?”

What would make you feel as though you accomplished what you set out to do with CV Partners?
I’d relate this to my triumph response: getting referrals and translating that to hard work into success. I think if we branched out our services in the future, that response may change, but right now I love what we do and how thoroughly we’re doing it.

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned as an entrepreneur?
Shit happens. Mistakes happen. You learn from them. Your next job will be better. Dwelling on mistakes is useless. I’m also learning that even if you work 60 hours a week, there is always more to do, so you have to learn balance. Maintaining health and happiness is so important, and really the only way you can succeed.

Tell me about your experience as a female entrepreneur.
I am a woman in a predominantly male industry. I think there are real benefits to this, but some also drawbacks. There are times where I’m catcalled when approaching a jobsite. Then they see me walk up, greeted by the GC [general contractor], and they go silent. That is kind of funny and satisfying. People look at Sarah and myself and see young women, and there are always times when people don’t take us seriously. We’ve had contractors ask if we’re part of the marketing team or interior designers. But that perception doesn't last long once were in project meetings. We prove pretty quickly that we know what we’re talking about. We’re not little girls and we should be taken seriously.

On a bright note, I’m noticing more female engineers, female tradesmen, or other young women in meetings and at jobsites. It’s exciting to watch. Women have just as much a place to run businesses as men. Women have just as much a place to run construction sites and, frankly, I think we're good at it.

This interview has been lightly edited from a phone conversation for clarity. Capturing Lightning is a project from Woden, a strategic storytelling agency in Philadelphia that helps organizations articulate who they are and why people should care. To learn more about how to tell your story, visit us at wodenworks.com.