An Interview with the Founder of Campaign Greenhouse, Kathryn Poindexter
One of the downsides to being politics-adjacent in Tennessee is having to maintain relationships with people who either support policies or candidates that you are spiritually, emotionally, and physically opposed to. But the upside is knowing the people behind the scenes. The people busting their humps to get better candidates on the ballot, and ultimately in office. It should come as no surprise that a lot of these people are women. And one such woman is today's bitch.
Kathryn and I were introduced via a mutual friend who, rightfully, knew that we would hit it off. We met at a conference and left 8 hours later with the determination that we were, in fact, sisters from another mister. It is an offense to the female friendship gods that we do not live in the same state. Take your time reading this one. There's a lot of gold sprinkled in these long answers. Meet today's bitch, Kathryn Poindexter!
What is your job title and where do you work?
I’m the Founder of Campaign Greenhouse – campaign management tools and coaching for new candidates and races with small budgets.
When did you first learn about this field of work? How did you know it was what you wanted to do?
I got a job after college running a door-to-door fundraising canvass for the state PIRGs. I had no idea what I wanted to do besides that I wanted to make a difference, and I wanted to be in charge. Having some autonomy and ownership that early in my career was super attractive to me, and the people were great. I stayed with the organization for 6 years and built a network of relationships that continues to be one of the most valuable assets I have.
What is the best piece of business advice you’ve been given?
Know when to throw money at a problem. Money can solve a host of problems, and it’s often the easiest solution. It’s easy to operate from a scarcity mindset, and I was extremely budget conscious for awhile. But being penny-wise means you can miss opportunities to make great financial decisions by spending a little money up front. Finding the right balance is a lifelong lesson.
Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned or that helped improve the way you work?
- We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it
- Don’t borrow trouble
In other words, doing the right work at the right time. In my day-to-day life, this means adopting a prioritization strategy where I build things when we need them now, but with an eye to the long-term so we don’t have to build them again. I learned this as a consultant – when a client asked for something, if I could answer their question in a way that created a resource I could use for other clients in the future, it felt like a better use of my time. For example, if someone asks how much something costs, instead of just answering them, why not spend a teeny bit of extra time making a price sheet?
As with all things, it’s a balance. On one end of the teeter totter, you can get caught unprepared and have to scramble or produce inferior work. On the other end of the teeter totter, you can spend a bunch of time planning or producing stuff you’re never going to need, or that you have to re-do later anyway. The sweet spot is surfing somewhere between the two.
What would you do with 2 more hours a day?
Sleep! I just got diagnosed with narcolepsy, a disorder that means my brain handles sleep cycles differently. I need more sleep than neurotypical people do. I need it more frequently, and I have less control over where and when I fall asleep. It’s a disorder I’ve had since middle school, but am just now figuring out. Getting the diagnosis has been pretty cool – it’s explained a bunch of stuff and given me permission to try some new coping strategies, like getting a lot more sleep, building naps into my schedule more aggressively, and letting myself drink as much coffee as I want. But the answer is still always sleep.
What is your greatest success, or something you’re most proud of related to what you do?
As of this moment, Campaign Greenhouse is a core team of 8 people, an outer ring team of almost 100, we have candidates in 8 states, and we have our first win under our belts. I’m both unsurprised and incredibly proud that we have made it this far. We are trying to solve a host of big civic problems all at once in a fairly complicated and revolutionary way, and it’s starting to take off!
But I’ve been working on this since 2013, when I started it by myself, did lots of planning, and ran out of time, money, and emotional ability to hear no. There are still plenty of days that I bang my head against a wall and berate myself for not finding some nice boring job – but the fact that I’ve been able to push through the loneliness and doubt, highs and lows of expectation, disappointment and cash flow, and still show up at work every day, is a real accomplishment. (There are definitely days when I just can’t show up and I let myself have those too.)
And it’s super important that I remember to be proud of myself fairly regularly. I spend plenty of time in rooms full of men who feel more comfortable than I do taking credit for success, and my ability to appear capable, accomplished and successful next to them has real implications for my ability to make the deals I need to be successful. It’s a vicious cycle and I try to stay on the sunny side of that loop.
How do you decompress at the end of the work day?
Sleep is probably the answer to this question too. My other priority besides work is relationships – I try to spend enough time with my large and lovely chosen family, especially real downtime where we don’t have to be anywhere and we can just talk and laugh. Being outside is real medicine for me and I am actively trying to spend more time outside.
What’s a fear that keeps you up at night?
Can’t answer this because then I would have to think about my fears. I have spent many years building coping tools I need to handle fear – the most paralyzing force in the universe. I count primarily on compartmentalization – my fears live in a file room, each in a locked (and neatly labeled) drawer. They’re always accessible, but I don’t have to interact with them until one of them starts to rattle its drawer and then I deal with it in a therapy session. I started EFT tapping with a therapist about 3 years ago, and it been a monumental tool to add to my life. My close friends have remarked at how much growth they have seen in me since then. It’s a little weird, but it’s worth checking out.
What is one thing everyone gets wrong about what you do?
Strangers often think because I work in politics, I want to discuss politics. Nope! It’s still one of those off-limits topics, along with money and religion (and I’ll add in food and child-rearing). I usually respond with a big smile and say, “Well, if I answered that question I’d be legally required to charge you $250 an hour!” It’s not quite true, but it conveys the message effectively.
What does self care look like in your life?
I’ve been looking for the keys to self-care for awhile – the one or two power pieces that when in place, make everything else feel easier. I think I’ve identified one – a clean house. When my apartment is in order I’m more relaxed, I’m getting more sleep, I’m more likely to work out and eat something healthy and feel generally better about life. So I’ve started throwing money at that problem – in addition to a house cleaner, I send out my laundry and I hired an organizer to help me de-clutter and create places for everything. It feels like a life hack, like I’m cheating the system. It’s delightful and it makes me happy and sometimes I just giggle when I think about it. It’s also an easy first expense to give up, which gives me some needed flexibility in my budget.
What helps when you’re stuck? Do you have a motto or quote that inspires/motivates you?
Audre Lorde said, “When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.” The idea that fear is irrelevant is really freeing. It doesn’t actually matter if I’m afraid; it’s a totally normal part of both life and business, and it’s not a piece of information that I need to factor into decision-making. It means I don’t have to worry about figuring out how to NOT be afraid – that seems much harder. There’s room for the fear to stay, but it doesn’t have any power.
Are there any women who helped pave the way for your success?
So, so many. I feel quite closely connected to a huge cohort of women in my industry. I visualize us tightly linked at the elbows and moving forward together. Without the email groups and social media support and happy hours and hugs and tears and “that’s effed up” and “I see you, girl,” I can guarantee I would not be where I am. I would have been unable to get out of bed at least half the time. Then there are the business deals that come with that huge cohort, I’ve done pretty well prioritizing connections with women in an industry full of men. There are the almost exclusively women of color who do the invisible work to support my life – the amazing concierge at my apartment building, the people who do my laundry, the team who cleans my house. And Greenhouse specifically is built on this amazing group of highly accomplished women who have individually said, “I want to help” and are each doing pieces of the work that has to get done. One friend of mine is doing scheduling for me while she’s on parental leave from her job. It’s been a really critical resource.
Lastly, and most important, what is your favorite TV show and what is your favorite snack?
I’m so behind on TV. I am waiting for Grey’s Anatomy to come back; it’s an old favorite and I always make time for it. I also really like the Mireille Enos Peter Krause show that’s happening. Homeland, in spurts, when I can handle the stress.
Favorite snack. I want to say nuts or avocado but I have to be real and say just cheese, always cheese, forever cheese.
All photos courtesy of Kathryn Poindexter