Maira Genovese is founder and president at digital marketing agency MG Empower. Born in Brazil, she started her career in fashion advertising for brands including Alexander McQueen before packing it all in to start her agency in a coffee shop. We sat down with her to talk faith, fashion, influence, language, cafe-based agency creation – and the great British pub.
Hi, Maya! Tell me a little bit about MG Empower
I’m from Brazil, but I’ve been living in London for 16 years. I founded MG Empower in 2015 as a talent management agency. In 2017, I changed the business model to become a digital influencer agency to support brands with the new way of doing marketing through influencers and creators.
How did you get into the influencer world?
My background is in fashion marketing and advertising for luxury brands such as Burberry and Alexander McQueen. In 2014, when I was pregnant with my son, I started seeing the rise of social media. Facebook was huge; Instagram was becoming very popular (at the time just as a photo app). Creators were starting to use their platform to promote brands in an organic way. I thought, ‘this is the future of marketing. The future will be the creators. They will be the advertisers.’
So when I was pregnant, I dedicated my time to not just looking after my baby but also studying influencer marketing. I had the vision of starting my own consultancy. Some brands were trying to understand how to engage with influencers – for example, Jimmy Chu was one of the first brands that I supported.
I’m guessing the ‘MG’ in MG Empower refers to your initials from those consultancy days?
Yes! And ’empower’ because we’re here to empower people – for our clients and our team to empower people to get their dreams. But there’s another story too. I’m very religious; I’m Christian. Sometimes I say the ‘MG’ can also stand for ‘my God in power.’ I truly believe in the power that God has on our lives. It can be both.
How did your time in fashion prepare you for social?
Well, back in Brazil, I used to work in finance for American Express. I moved to London to get into the fashion industry and work with luxury brands. I had to step back a lot – the fact that I worked in Sao Paulo didn’t have much value when I moved here. So I started from the beginning. My first job was at Alexander McQueen as an intern. I did internships until my first permanent job at Sergio Rossi.
So when you started the agency, you had experience in starting over from scratch?
I literally had to start over. I didn’t speak English, not at all. I could say: “I’m Maira, and I’m looking for a job.” That’s all.
So I went to English class. But to really learn, I needed to actually practice, and I didn’t have any friends except Brazilians. So I got a job in a pub – I thought that in a pub I don’t really need to speak English; I’m just serving pints.
It was a very local pub. Every day, the same clients come in at the same time, drink the same drink, eat the same food. But they were so kind with me and I started to really learn English. And they’re like, ‘OK, so we’re here, we can help, we’re going to be talking to you.’ That pub, I can tell you, is where I actually learned English, not in an English class.
I still love to create a diverse culture of language. We have people from Greece, Italy, Brazil, France, Africa. I want to show people that no matter where you are, no matter what language you speak, you have an opportunity. If you dream of London, you have a career here.
Has the fashion industry stayed with you at all?
Fashion has changed a lot in terms of attitudes and behavior. When I was working in the industry, there were a lot of egos. The titles are important: if you’re a director, you have a certain level of respect. It’s very difficult to navigate – and add to that luxury brands, luxury clients. What I learned, and I apply very much here, is that it doesn’t matter what title you have, you always have to be kind with everyone. In fashion, sadly, I’ve been through experiences where people were not kind – the fact that I’m from Brazil: ‘Oh, she’s not even from here; what’s she talking about; she doesn’t understand the market.’
But in agencies, to retain your employees, or to empower your employees, you have to have that culture of kindness and empathy.
OK, so how do you start an agency in a coffee shop?
Well, it was the Costa inside the Odeon cinema in North Greenwich. I went there with my bike and my newborn baby and my laptop just to get some fresh air – when you’re a new mom and spending all day at home, you need to get some fresh air.
One day, I just decided to quit my job and start this business. That cafe was the place that gave me the courage to actually do it. It became my office every day. I worked there for a year, until I got enough clients to have office space.
Has that coffee shop mentality stayed with you?
Well, mistakes are important. At the coffee shop, there was constant testing and learning. I made a lot of mistakes. I was approaching friends and influencers to work with me, but I was not necessarily in that field. But if you don’t make a mistake, you’re not going to learn. The important thing is to keep trying.
If anyone’s thinking about it, would you recommend coffee entrepreneurship to them?
To be a founder with integrity, you have to have guts. You have to be resilient. You have to believe in what you’re doing. The industry is so competitive. How are you going to make it? How are you going to get clients?
I’ve had so many people say to me over the years to ‘just give up.’ I never let anyone come in my way, but I’m a good listener. I’ll listen to what they say but I won’t change my mind. I always knew what I wanted. You can’t let anyone tell you that your vision won’t work.
Make sure that you have the resilience to go through a lot of pain. To grow is very painful. But don’t let that pain or your mistakes block what you want to achieve.