Full Course Founder Lauren Fernandez on positive affirmations, work life balance, and entrepreneurship

Welcome to another episode of The Female Founder with Bridget Fitzpatrick, Co-founder of ASBN and the CBT Automotive Network. The Female Founder is a show all about helping women grow their businesses and reach their full potential. Each episode will highlight inspiring stories and advice from female entrepreneurs to help you build and grow your business. This show is designed to inspire and motivate other female founders to be the best entrepreneurs they can be.

Today’s guest is Lauren Fernandez, a highly successful attorney and founder and CEO of Full Course, a restaurant investment group that is dedicated to helping new and emerging restaurants grow their brands.

Transcription: 

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Lauren, thank you so much for joining us today.

Lauren Fernandez:
It is absolutely my pleasure to be here. Thank you for having me.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Well, let’s jump right in and talk about Full Course and what you’re doing to help small business owners.

Lauren Fernandez:
Yeah. Many years ago, almost seven years ago, I left my role as the general counsel of Focus Brands, which I didn’t realize it at the time, but ended up becoming the transition from my law career into full-time entrepreneurship, and set up a consulting practice, but was truly looking for a restaurant brand to invest in. The short version of that story is I ended up becoming a multi-unit franchisee of Chicken Salad Chick.

Lauren Fernandez:
When I founded Full Course, almost two years ago, and we were in the middle of a pandemic, and the mission then was a little different because we had to pivot everybody else and support the industry during that time. But really fundamentally is the same. We are here to serve those independent restaurant owners, to guide them and show them the playbook to sustainable growth that leads to value for their businesses, and we do that with our capital support, but we also do that in leaving them in control of the business and coaching them to be excellent brand leaders, excellent franchisors, and developing for them so they can focus on what they do best running their business.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Absolutely. Now you’re helping that way, the transition from the corporate world to the franchise world and now running your own business. How did you prepare for those transitions?

Lauren Fernandez:
I think it’s … You have to be … I’m a student perpetually and I don’t mean school, although I’ve done plenty of that, two postgraduate degrees, and it was a very humbling moment. I always said, “I’ll take the degrees down when they’re paid for, I’ll take them down off the wall when they’re paid for.” Thank God we had such success with our restaurants. I was able to do that. But just the idea of hanging up what you say you do, your identity as any kind of worker out there, someone says, “Oh, you’re at a cocktail party.” And they say, “What do you do?” “I’m an attorney.” It’s just easy.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Right.

Lauren Fernandez:
Right? But when you’re out there and you say, “I own a restaurant.” People are like, “Okay.” The irony of that is, the return on investment on my law degree was phenomenal in ways that are not necessarily quantitative, but there sure is heck was a quantitative ROI on my time as an entrepreneur. I think that you have to let go of the ego attached to those degrees and what that prestige of that field does of those jobs and those corporate things.

Lauren Fernandez:
So I think that’s number one, is you have to have that humbling moment where you go, “Okay, I’m going to go into this new experience and I’m going to learn from everybody.” I learned more from our managers and our units about restaurants than I’d ever learned operationally while I was sitting in my chair as a general counsel. Right?

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Yes. Yeah.

Lauren Fernandez:
I think letting go of the ego and the humility is very important. I also think you need to be financially smart. It’s not necessarily intuitive to people jumping from W-2 to 1099.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
For sure.

Lauren Fernandez:
And so talking to a good financial planner who can help you understand what that looks like, including healthcare costs and all the things that go with it, having a plan is I think always a good way to alleviate some of that anxiety and get ready.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Definitely. Now you’re in three industries that are very heavily dominated by males, legal, private equity, as well as the restaurant business. Have there been any challenges that you’ve faced that you’ve had to overcome that you can share with us?

Lauren Fernandez:
Yeah. I think there’s two ways you can play that. You can be the woman who tries to play the guy’s game. You can go golfing and you can be in the same country clubs, and you can try to get as close to the access to where those pockets of influence and spheres of influence exist. And they are very gender charged. It is what it is. Or I think you can lean into how you’re different. I think thank goodness in this day and age, there’s more latitude to be able to be accepted for being different as a woman and having a different point of view, having the ability to lead with empathy.

Lauren Fernandez:
Unfortunately I think early in my career and I’ll own this, I shrink behind a lot of my opinions, even when I was paid to give them as counsel, because I was labeled as too opinionated or God help us, bossy. Right?

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Yes. Yeah. We’re called names because we’re assertive.

Lauren Fernandez:
And you can’t escape the gender bias that’s attached to that. I am very authoritative in my opinions, I’m also very expert at what I do. That’s what I’m paid for. You cannot like the opinion without slapping a gender bias on top of it. Let’s have a discussion about the opinion you don’t agree with rather than trying to mitigate me and put me in a corner as a woman. I think unfortunately when certain people get backed into a corner and feel defensive, that is going to be their immediate reaction. I don’t know that’s universally true, but when it happens, I just found that the best tool, and this was just me and my personality, is to disarm with humor.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Yeah.

Lauren Fernandez:
I just call it out and I would make a joke about it. I also don’t have any issue being different. I don’t wear black suits to finance conferences. I wear blazers that are cool and sharp and fun. But they’re going to stick out in a crowd. I’ll wear that orange blazer, I’ll wear a green one, I’ll wear a pink one, just to remind you there’s a girl in the room. Because I don’t really see the benefit to me personally of cowering down of mitigating my point of view of not speaking my truth. I think so much of my power is in that I’m a woman and I have a different experience, and shame on me if I don’t bring that to the table, what kind of example am I setting for my kids?

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Right. You don’t have to act like a man to be successful.

Lauren Fernandez:
I don’t think so, and I think that’s really what I like to lean into. We are different. And I think that’s why women belong in the C-suite. We belong on boards because that point of view and that personal experience, you cannot avoid that it has gender attached to it, and it does influence our point of view when we’re sitting around the table guiding and shepherding companies, period.

Lauren Fernandez:
Goodness, I think as we move forward as a society, hopefully this will get better. But at this point in time right now, you need that level of diversity on your boards and in your C-suite to make sure your company is successful or else I’m sure you’re going to have a blind spot somewhere.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Right. Right. We have a long way to go still.

Lauren Fernandez:
Right, we do, we do, but it’s getting better.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
It is, it is.

Lauren Fernandez:
Right? I am as a human being very pragmatic about this, but I’m also super optimistic, and I like to encourage and celebrate the companies that are doing this. I was in a board interview last week, and at the end of the call, they said something to the effect of, “We’re working hard to be diverse and inclusive.” And I said, “Guys, you don’t have to explain that to me, I understand. That’s why we’re on this call right now, and I am appreciative that even though I am more than qualified, I am sitting here on this call with you today because you were thoughtful about making sure that you interviewed a wide pool of candidates to create a balanced board for your company. I wanted you to know that I personally appreciate that regardless of whether or not you choose me. Thank you for that. Thank you.” We should celebrate the small wins.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Right. Exactly.

Lauren Fernandez:
We should. We should.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Now, your team is all remote, and you’ve been doing that for a while. How is that working, and how do you maintain that team environment?

Lauren Fernandez:
Yeah. We do regular retreats, both with our clients and in person with the team. So that’s really critical. We have a very flexible work environment. Part of that is my experience as a restaurant operator. I was never in the office, I was always in my car always driving around. So it seems ridiculous to have my ops person constantly coming into an office, that made no sense. Our chief people officer is in another state as well and we work with clients all over the United States. And so, if she needs to get on a plane and do a site visit to meet with folks face to face, she does it.

Lauren Fernandez:
Some of our team is central to Atlanta, but that’s not necessarily a requirement. So for us, I think one, we have check-in meetings once a week. We start our week like that. And so while that may not have been my normal leadership routine, when we were in an office, I find that to be very helpful, so we can keep tabs on what everyone else is doing because there are some synergies and overlaps where we need to be aware.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Yes.

Lauren Fernandez:
That’s number one. I think two is the retreats. And three, I have a high level of trust and confidence in my team. I don’t hire anyone who isn’t more expert at what they’re doing than I could ever be. And I trust them to do their jobs. So they help us write their job description. We put very clear rails on what they’re expected to do. Do we always get it right? No, but we’re also humble enough to make those kinds of changes when we need to on the fly.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
That’s great. Great. Now, you have a very successful career, a beautiful family, and you give back to your community, how do you keep from becoming overwhelmed, or what do you do when you become overwhelmed?

Lauren Fernandez:
Which is like pretty much every day. Let’s call a spade a spade. No. So first and foremost, I give credit where it’s due. I have an amazing support system. I got the loving nudge to build Full Course and the daily support for it from my amazing husband, who is the most phenomenal father and partner. So I have that. We have a phenomenal nanny. But for me, it’s yes, we have these systems in place to help us balance out our life so that when I stop working, I can check out and go spend time with the kids.

Lauren Fernandez:
In a perfect world on the days where I’m a little stressed, I give myself permission, literally permission to take a time out. Right? Since I now have a toddler, I’ve learned to embrace the 30 minute meditative now.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Yes.

Lauren Fernandez:
So, my go to is probably meditation both in the morning to set the tone for the day. And if I start to feel a little panicked, overwhelmed, anxious, stressed out. Because look, I am living my dream right now. There has never been a role for me that’s been more aligned to my talents, my skills and my true north. But it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t cause me stress and anxiety sometimes.

Lauren Fernandez:
So, I think having some toolbox, I have my anxiety toolbox, if you will, and it always starts with meditation. I also really love a good walk, the science has proven that forward momentum coupled with meditation actually is a phenomenal way to bring your stress down, your heart rate down, and not as exercise per se, but more as a meditation.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Right. And we talked about … we have a very similar morning routine that quiet time with yourself in the morning you were talking about, I think we have a very similar morning routine with, like you said, meditation and exercise when you can. We also talked about don’t beat yourself up when you can’t do it.

Lauren Fernandez:
Oh my goodness.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
There are going to be times that you just can’t get to it, whether have a sick child or-

Lauren Fernandez:
Like this morning.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Right, exactly. Right.

Lauren Fernandez:
Yeah. I mean, like in a perfect world, I’m up at 5:00, I’ve worked out, I’ve done yoga, I’ve put the coffee on for my husband, and everything goes swimmingly. But the truth is, everyone posts about that stuff and you see it and you just feel the moment of shame. And yet we’re so critical of ourselves, and I love using my time in the morning and I’m not joking, I do it when I’m brushing my teeth and I’m standing looking the mirror, three positive affirmations every morning.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Great idea.

Lauren Fernandez:
And if you get out of that habit, write them on your mirror.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Great idea.

Lauren Fernandez:
Right? For me right now, juggling so many different things, it’s about permission to let something drop or to ask for help.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Yeah. Is there anyone that you listen to that inspires you on, whether it be a podcast or high performance coaches or anything like that?

Lauren Fernandez:
Yeah. I’m a huge fan of Mel Robbins.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Love her. She’s great.

Lauren Fernandez:
She actually came-

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
That’s great.

Lauren Fernandez:
Into Atlanta and did a presentation here right around the time that she launched her first book. And I had an opportunity to meet her.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Nice.

Lauren Fernandez:
And I just really love her energy. She’s also a reformed attorney, so I can deeply relate to her story and her deep anxiety, her struggles with anxiety. And I really, really love her approach. So she’s one of my favorites. Absolutely.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
I love her too.

Lauren Fernandez:
Absolutely.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
She’s great. But you talked a little bit about your support system at home, but you also have a professional support system, I think you call it your lifeboat.

Lauren Fernandez:
My lifeboat. Yeah.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Can you talk about that a little bit?

Lauren Fernandez:
Yeah. I’ve spoken about this publicly before I wrote a couple of articles about it, and I cannot remember nor credit who it was who originally said this, but I said to another newly minted general counsel years ago, I said, “Okay, look, you really need a lifeboat and you need to make sure you know who to call if you have a high-level HR question.” I rattled through all the major areas, I said, because you’re not an expert at everything nor should you be, it’s okay, and I thought about who my people were in my lifeboat and that day I sent them all a note. I just want you to know I am so grateful, you’re my person, whenever I have an issue on this, you always pick up the phone. If there’s anything I can do to ever repay the favor, know that I’m here for you.

Lauren Fernandez:
And that was my unofficial board, if you will. Even when I was an in-house counsel, you phone a friend. Right? And years later, I am now finding myself in a similar position where we accumulated, and thank God they were willing to donate their time, a wonderful advisory committee for Full Course. So we have a subject matter expert in every seat.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Nice.

Lauren Fernandez:
For me, that is just so huge because we lean on them, not just in quarterly meetings where we give them an update, but we lean on them for their expertise. Some of them are our trusted vendor partners, and we can use that moment to say, “Hey, what do you think about this?” And it’s their professional opinion, yes, but there’s a deeper care and concern for our purpose and mission at Full Course.

Lauren Fernandez:
I think for any entrepreneur, for any woman who’s coming out, we struggle sometimes asking for help, and what we don’t think about is that’s a two-way street. Right? So you can find a lot of people out there who are willing to help you and you can help them back. Those are some of the most fruitful and amazing relationships that we have. They’re my lifeboat 2.0.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
There you go. There you go. Now you’re in the process of hiring, and as a small business owner, it’s difficult to let go of some of the tasks and things that you have to do every day, but you’re doing it, and I think you do it well. Can you talk to us about that?

Lauren Fernandez:
Yeah. So, every Sunday night and now almost how fast things are moving, almost every night before I go to bed, I reset the next day with a list of things I need to accomplish. Bigger projects live on a separate list. This is the daily blocking and tackling. My first task to myself, because I am terrible at this is, can it be delegated? What on this list can be delegated? Who on our team or in our extended network can do it better? Have I asked them? Why not?

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Yeah, those are great.

Lauren Fernandez:
And so, that is a way for me to filter my time to my highest and best use to the company. It is a way for me to start peeling back the layers of the many things that I do, and start giving that area of responsibility to someone else.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Now, what characteristics do you think it takes to be an entrepreneur?

Lauren Fernandez:
Oh wow. Okay, I’m going to go to risk aversion first, because a lot of … I go, “Oh my gosh, lawyers and accountants are so risk averse.” I’m going to actually challenge that. I think professionally, a lot of us are trained in those roles to be excellent risk spotters. Right? And so, I think it’s not necessarily about avoiding risk, it’s about managing and mitigating risk. So, I think you have to shift your mindset a little bit, I don’t go looking for risk all the time in my company. I just acknowledge that it’s there and we mitigate or not, and then we move on. So, that’s an acceptance level that I’ve had to get okay with.

Lauren Fernandez:
I think number two, I saw this meme the other day and it said, “Behind every entrepreneur is a fantastic partner with a W-2 salary.” And I Googled a little bit, but again, back to the financial plan, I think one of the things that’s really important is that, understand, yes, there is some entrepreneurial risk in this, but don’t ever let it overlap and creep into your family’s finances. I hold that as separate, and I make sure that there’s a wall there. We make sure we’re okay on this side, and we make sure that the entrepreneurial risk stays on that side. And to the extent that you can do that, I think that level of planning is very important.

Lauren Fernandez:
I also think a lot of folks miss scalability, and there are … We are in a gig economy. There are so many ways that you can have help for your company before pulling the trigger on full-time employees, 1099, part-time, vendors, outside vendors, there’s remote vendors in other countries. And so, I think a lot of entrepreneurs do too much themselves for too long, and if you’re at the point where you think you’re spinning more than five plates, it’s already too many.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Right.

Lauren Fernandez:
Right?

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Right.

Lauren Fernandez:
I love the metaphor and the visual of the four burners on the stove, and you have to take care of yourself on one of those burners, your health, your welfare, and your family needs to be one of those pots probably.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
That’s right.

Lauren Fernandez:
What are you going to fit on the other two burners?

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Right.

Lauren Fernandez:
And so, at some point you got to take some of those pots off the stove and get a second stove. Are you going to lease that stove, are you going to borrow it? Are you going to buy it? Right. There’s a number of different options. So I think without that framework of thinking, especially women, we keep our mouths shut and we keep on keeping on, we work weekends, we work nights, we work longer, we work harder-

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
That’s right.

Lauren Fernandez:
Before we’re willing to ask for help or go find it. And I think that if I was going to give one piece of advice, it’d be delegate, delegate, delegate, and understand you can delegate to folks who are not necessarily full-time employees for you.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Right. Right. Very good advice. I’m going through that right now, actually. Now, for those women that are watching that are thinking about starting a business right now, what advice would you give them?

Lauren Fernandez:
Yeah. Again, start building that lifeboat we talked about. Right? So you need a good financial person, you probably need a good lawyer. Right? You need someone who’s done it in the industry who can help you avoid the major pitfalls. I think another thing is we’re highly secretive about things.

Lauren Fernandez:
One of the things I learned for many years as being an intellectual property attorney is, you can build fence around it all day long, but eventually the cat’s going to get out of the bag, the horse is going to leave the barn. People are going to know about it. And so, unless you have a highly protectable intellectual property like a patent on something, and then you’re going to pay to defend it later by litigating against other people to keep them away, the chances are, people are going to find out about it.

Lauren Fernandez:
So you should do your homework, go and research who your competitors are, find out who can be a good mentor in that industry and learn, ask those questions, ask what mistakes to avoid. Because I think for some of us who have the label of serial entrepreneur, I’ve set up and started and sold several businesses.

Lauren Fernandez:
So for me, I know how that’s done, but for someone who doesn’t, you can go to your local chamber of commerce, you can go to the small business association, they have wonderful courses on how to start your first business. I think there are equally as many opportunities out there for women in minority owned businesses to get grants, to get free education and to get subsidized loans, which I think most people are not aware of.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Right. Great advice. Now, what is next for you and Full Course?

Lauren Fernandez:
We are in the middle of a $20 million fundraise.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Great.

Lauren Fernandez:
Which we hope to close by the middle of December, is the target right now, because the next fund is already on the way. So, we have two clients that will be announcing very soon who have come through our process and who are ready for investment. We’re very, very happy about that. And the pipeline is stacked with a bunch of amazing brands that I’m excited to share with the world.

Lauren Fernandez:
It’s a process, we put a lot of love, time and energy into building our brands the right way so that when we put capital in and we go to development, wheels don’t come off the bus. And a lot of that is investing in people. So I am so excited to share these folks with you. So you can see their hustle, you can see their determination, you can taste their food.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
That would be great.

Lauren Fernandez:
And really feel the energy behind that we do because it’s something special. It really is amazing.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
That is so exciting. You’ll have to have them back on the show with you to talk about that. That’ll be great.

Lauren Fernandez:
Yeah. We certainly should do that, because it’s a lot of good eats. I’ll just say that.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Well, thank you so much for joining us today. This has been great. You’ve offered a lot of great advice that I know will help the female founders that are watching. So we really appreciate it. Thank you so much.

Lauren Fernandez:
Thank you. Thank you for having me today.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
If you’d like to hear more from Lauren, check out her segment on Atlanta Franchise Today with Leslie Kuban, where she talks about knowing if you’re ready to franchise your business. Thanks everyone for watching.


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