Pure Entrepreneurship: A Q&A with Catherine Juon and Linda Girard

Think of Catherine Juon and Linda Girard as the female version of The Odd Couple. The two young
women are very different in temperament and style but have successfully played off each others' strengths to grow one of Ann Arbor's most promising start-ups – Pure Visibility.

Catherine is more of the left side of the 5-year-old firm's brain, focusing on the day-to-day operations and bottom-line thinking that is integral to making Pure Visibility such a successful business. Linda is more of the creative, big-idea type who is always pushing the envelope of the company's right cerebral lobe. Together, the two have created a complementary (rather than competitive) leadership team at their search engine optimization firm.

They are also the poster children for what makes downtown Ann Arbor's entrepreneurial eco-system so dynamic: Young professionals who have turned entrepreneurial aspirations into 14 high-paying, high-tech jobs (they help clients figure out the math of Google searches). They are both strong women leaders who show that business acumen, creativity, and civic leadership are not limited to those with Y chromosomes.

They are also bosses who like to laugh, traits that are reflected in the cheery atmosphere of their downtown Ann Arbor office.

Pure Visibility just celebrated its fifth birthday. What is one of the hardest business
lessons you have learned in that time?

Linda: You can ask 100 consultants 100
questions, but what it comes down to is making the decision and listening to what you
think is the right answer. We have hired consultants, but if we had given ourselves
enough time we could have figured it out on our own.

What's one of the oddest lessons?

Linda: Always have a spare pair of shoes in case you break a heel.

You could set up your business anywhere. Why in a pricey location like Ann Arbor's iconic 201 S Main St building instead of a cheaper suburban office complex?

Linda: This is Ann Arbor. The heart of downtown. It's awesome here. There is so much energy here. To me if we're going to be in the Silicon Valley of Michigan we have to be in Ann Arbor. Google is here. They saw it. Although, we were here first.

Catherine, you are more of the operations side of the business complement to Linda's big idea perspective. Has there ever been a crazy idea that Linda came up with that prompted you to roll your eyes at first but turned out to be a winner?

Catherine (laughs): One of them was this space. My first inclination was to look at the airport office plaza where we could get really cheap space. Linda came in and said, "We need to be downtown." It made sense for us to stretch ourselves a little bit financially to do that. We have had people choose to work here because we're downtown. That was really important to their personal values.

Were there any loser ideas and how did you deal with it as partners?

Linda (more laughs): Sometimes we'll do a team breakfast and I'll try and do something extravagant, like making pancakes in the office. It doesn't always work out. You're trying to make
pancakes and they stick to the pan and everybody is waiting and hungry. You're hoping to bring this big, beautiful breakfast and all you have are these wimpy pancakes. That's a lesson learned there. Order out.

I was thinking of something more related to the way you do business.

We try to move past the loser ideas. I compare it to sailing where you might not tack in the right direction but you go a little bit this way and a little bit that way. Sometimes the things that are right for you early on aren't right for you later on.

You work in a field dominated by young professionals, a demographic that is reported to be frustrated with both the state and Ann Arbor. Has this affected you or your business directly?

Linda: No. They are coming out of the woodwork.

Catherine: With all of the educational institutions around here, there is no shortage of young professionals.

Both of you have a recommended reading list of business-oriented books on your website. There are literally thousands of these books on the market. Do these books create an over-reliance on the wisdom of people hoping to hit the bestseller list over actual experience?

Catherine: I would love to sit with Bo Burlingham all day but he doesn't live here. The next best thing is reading his book. A lot of times it's a confirmation of a direction you want to go, especially if it's a little contrary to traditional wisdom. It's nice to have that second voice saying "You're not the only one out there who is crazy."

Catherine, you have blogged about the importance of K-12 education in making Saline a desirable place to live and fueling the area's economic engine. Entrepreneurship is usually taught at the college level. Do you think we should be introducing business education earlier?

Catherine: The sooner you teach it the better. They just have so much energy and ambition that they're ready to learn about business as soon as we're willing to teach it.

Linda: They're probably already learning on their own. Why not give them a way to experiment? My daughter is seven and is already asking me about starting her own business.

It's almost like how it's easier to learn a foreign language when you're younger.

Both: Exactly!

Catherine: We start kids in sports and music when they're little. Why not start them in business when they're little?

People often talk about the changes Michigan needs to make to be competitive in the 21st Century. What is something we already do well that gives us an advantage in the new economy?

Catherine: If you look at our heritage you'll see Henry Ford was more than an automotive guy. He was an inventor and an entrepreneur. If we look at ourselves as a state of inventors and entrepreneurs then we can do a lot to support those individuals.

People have complained that unless you want to buy something Google is becoming less useful since businesses are dominating searches because of search-engine optimization services like yours. Are you afraid your business is compromising the very search engine it relies on?

Linda: No. Not at all. We're trying to help businesses that are relevant. Google's primary focus is to make sure it's providing the most relevant search results possible.

It would seem that searches are more commercially oriented than information oriented?

Linda: There is a mix of commercial and informative information. It's still relevant information.

Jon Zemke conducted and condensed this Q&A in person and on the phone. He  is the News Editor for Concentrate and its sister publication Metromode. His previous story was Electrified: A Q&A with the Founders of Current Motors

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All photos by Doug Coombe


Catherine Juon and Linda Girard at the 201 S Main St office of Pure Visibility

Linda Girard

Catherine Juon

Catherine Juon and Linda Girard gaze into the crystal ball at Pure Visibility

Time for Rosie the Riveter to take on website optimization