Annalee Hagood-Earl: My Founder Story

Annalee is the Founder and CEO of Bash Creative, an event strategy and organization company based in San Francisco, California. Celebrating her 10th anniversary as an entrepreneur, Annalee shares her journey, the unexpected wins and hurdles along the way, and shines light onto the untold truths about success.

Annalee’s Story

Annalee’s enthusiasm for hospitality and event production traces back to her childhood. 

“Event production and creating, engineering experiences, dealing with people, creating a beautiful space, wonderful food has always been a passion of mine. It comes from my family,” she says when prompted to recall how it all began.

Following that passion of hers into college, she obtained a bachelor’s in Recreation, Parks & Tourism with an emphasis on Special Events from Cal Poly SLO. That took her to a career in hotels and luxury brands such as Pebble Beach and Starwood Hotels. This experience laid the foundation and built an understanding of how organizations, people and hospitality should be done. When the excitement of the work was eventually overshadowed by the long hours, sometimes up to 15 a day, Annalee reached a breaking point. She knew she needed a change. This, along with some encouragement from her friends and family, prompted her to gather the courage to leave her job and look for employment elsewhere. 

“I discovered there might be a world outside of hotels and decided to leave, perhaps through somewhat misinformed ideas of how much it would cost and what life would be like on the other side. But I had hit such a limit that there wasn’t another option. After talking to several people about whether they would bring me in as a contractor or whether I could work for them part-time, I figured that it would be totally viable. “

Annalee never intended for this move to be the start of a company and life as an entrepreneur. She was only looking for a temporary income stream to bridge the unemployment gap until she felt ready to look for another job. But sometimes the universe has a different plan and presents us with opportunities when we least expect them. 

“Once I left, I learned how much my reputation precedes me, how much my clients wanted to continue working with me. Even the company I worked for at the time, Starwood Hotels (now Marriott), brought me back on in a contract capacity because they saw the value in the work I did. It all started to take off a little faster than I had anticipated. All this led to the inception of Bash Creative.”

Benefits, hurdles and more

Starting her own business a bit unexpectedly, Annalee didn’t have a chance to reflect on what hurdles she might encounter or what unexpected benefits might come her way before she established Bash. However, 10 years down the line, she easily comes up with a list. 

“I gained control of my life, of how I want to live it, of what hours I want to work, the type of business I take on. I’m able to be true to myself and my values. These have been a massive benefit of being a Founder. 

“Additionally, once I got past the hurdle of making enough money, it came to me not only as a salary but also there was an added profit distribution when we had good years. I’ve never been great at the paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyle, so having the ability to save and have lump sums of money afforded me a bit of financial freedom. Granted, on the flip side, as an owner, you’re the first to get a hit if your company hits a financial challenge. You cannot take money away from your employees. You have to cut yourself first. I’ve had that happen twice in the last four years. However, since we’ve done well in the past, I’d been able to plan for that. You definitely need to have a nest when you’re a Founder. You cannot rely only on your paychecks. 

“As far as control, I think one of the hurdles that I felt when I was an employee was that even though I did really good work, my employers didn’t love the fact that I questioned process and procedure, I questioned authority, I always tried to find a more efficient way to complete a task. I wasn’t afraid to speak up, which now being on the other side, can be really annoying. So all the things that make me a good Founder made me a bad employee.”

Building the life we truly desire, one that fills our cups doesn’t come easy. There is a great amount of resilience and consistency needed to get there and maintain that position. We have to overcome the distractions and find time for our work and our company. Consistency is key. But a dedicated team with the same vision who supports the Founder is an inevitable step on the path to lasting success.

“The main hurdle is that it took me a while to get to where I am. There was a time when I was beholden to the company every hour of the day. I couldn’t take a vacation and switch off. That lasted easily for the first five years. But being able to bring in a team to support me was a major milestone. I took three weeks off this year and almost never checked my email. When I returned to work, It took me an hour to catch up. Not only was everything okay while I was gone, but I got handled! That was a major accomplishment.”

Downsides of success

We tend to see success through rose-tinted glasses. Annalee however is not afraid to share what lies on the other side, what people tend not to think about. For her, a downfall of being a Founder is the certain level of loneliness it brings. You are making most of your decisions on your own. You are leading a team, and as the leader, you often don’t have a sounding board. While the position tends to instill respect or even awe in others, they no longer see you for all of you. They see your achievements, your development or identify you with your role, creating a wall that needs to be broken to feel truly seen. And this is what Annalee, along with most Founders, had to face. This solitude and misunderstanding led her to create Follow the Founder.

“My friends and family hold me on a pedestal because I’ve accomplished so many things. Even though this is true, I sometimes feel like I don’t connect in certain ways with people anymore. I still feel very connected to that girl who started the company ten years ago. And while I am told by many I’ve changed significantly over the last ten years, I still don’t see it all the time. I created Follow the Founder because this could be a very lonely place for someone. But there are a lot of us. If we could build a network of Founders that can speak to each other, mentor each other, and remind each other of how much we have accomplished, it might take the edge off that loneliness a little bit.”

When asked to list the five most important things about herself, Annalee says:

“I’m very sarcastic. I love a good laugh and bringing joy into the daily experience. I’m obsessed with travel and I use travel to gain perspectives. My friends are my family. I am a foodie and will try everything three times if not more.” 

One piece of advice

As a seasoned entrepreneur, leading a successful company, with ten years of experience behind her, Annalee advises new entrepreneurs and those who aspire to start their own businesses:

“Planning for success more than failure is absolutely necessary to achieving success. Once you hit the momentum, you are too busy thinking about steps you need to take to maintain that momentum. The statistics show that most companies fail between three and five years after being founded. This is because they haven’t laid out their path to success. So before you begin, ask yourself, can you actually handle success?”

Discover more inspiring stories, advice, and mentorship and become a part of a supportive and welcoming community by joining Follow the Founder. You can also find us on Instagram @followthefounder. 

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