Leah Hacker is the founder of Rebel & Co, a fast-growing, remote-first firm based in Austin, Florida, and Seattle. Leah is a mom of two and has an interesting backstory: she previously was a medical professional working with ADHD patients and those who were deemed "difficult" before transitioning into research and strategy.
Her firm Rebel & Co. is a next-gen research & strategy firm that delivers profitable, sustainable growth for the world’s most ambitious companies. Partnering with companies such as Morgan Stanley, Tecovas, iDonate and Proof Analytics—they help brands solve complex, mission-critical business questions that help them identify who their customers are, where to find them, what they need, and how best to deliver it.
Q: What’s your background, and what are you working on?
My background is a bit non-traditional in the agency space. I studied psychology in college and really focused on behavior. I specialized in ADHD, honing in on how to create systems that give way to the desired behavior. So over the years, I’ve adapted that knowledge of fundamental human behavior principles, and systems we create, to a business context—connecting consumer behavior and business outcomes. Before starting Rebel & Co, I worked with agencies in various roles, building research and strategy teams, creating new services, launching new brands and products, and evolving business lines and companies.
Right now, I’m focused on two mission-critical things for Rebel: designing an exceptional experience for our clients and creating a strong culture at Rebel for our teams, which are largely remote.
Q: What motivated you to found Rebel & Co.?
Over the years I’ve worked with businesses of all sizes, from Fortune 50 to VC-funded, scrappy startups. Regardless of size, I would watch as businesses would chase “shiny” ideas—ideas that looked great on paper, sounded super sexy in a headline but offered zero value in the marketplace. Clients and their agency partners would value the “move fast, break things” motto and pander to the loudest voice in the room.
Over and over again, businesses would churn out ideas and executions only to watch the work fall flat when it hit the consumer population, compounding the lost time and money with a poor experience for their audience.
As a researcher and strategist by trade, I knew there was a better way to approach innovation and that there was an urgent need to change the rules that companies use to innovate, scale, and grow. Rebel was built on the belief that the “move fast, break things” philosophy is doing more harm than good in today’s market, leaving businesses with unrealistic expectations of growth and brand experiences disconnected from the humans they serve. Sustainable success comes from delivering value to the end-user; in that, the voice of the customer is central to disrupting the status quo.
Q: How have you attracted customers and grown Rebel & Co.?
We’re super grateful to say that our growth has been entirely organic. Our clients are the best. They stick with us for a long time and even refer us to their own network.
Most recently, we’ve begun to step out and put an emphasis on our own marketing, thought leadership, and having conversations with new partners and across new industries.
Q: What’s your business model, and how have you grown your revenue?
We partner with ambitious high-growth, mid-market, and F1000 brands to move them from point A to point B. We provide clarity in the most ambiguous parts of brand evolution, and in today’s market, there’s a lot of ambiguity.
We offer custom research and strategy services that answer the following questions for brands:
How do we capture both today's and tomorrow’s customer?
How do we differentiate and get ahead of the market?
How do we future-proof our business?
How do we evolve our business without alienating our base?
How do we create new ways to offer our services?
How do we deliver consistency across all of our touchpoints?
Rebel partners with brands as an extension of their internal teams, giving them the ability to move quickly from strategy through implementation. Our research provides actionable insight that eliminates the guesswork and time spent in rework. Our strategy is scalable and designed to help our clients make powerful moves in the market, both today and tomorrow.
Q: What are your goals for the future?
I’m excited about what’s in store for Rebel as we grow. We have a number of things on our roadmap, including raising a venture fund to invest in underrepresented founders and startups rethinking their industry and creating a media brand focused on telling captivating human stories. More on both of those to come. Stay tuned!
Personally, I have two teenage daughters; one is leaving for college in the fall and the other is learning to drive. Balance looks a bit differently in this stage of life, so I’m learning to do that as well.
Q: What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced and obstacles you’ve overcome?
There’s a learning curve when you hear about Rebel for the first time. Innovation is a buzzword that means everyone comes to the table with their own context of what it means for their business. And the agency world doesn’t make it any clearer. We have design agencies, market research agencies, and strategy agencies—each delivering a portion of the process of innovation, but never tying it together effectively. Business leaders are accustomed to this segmented approach from their agency partners.
Our approach is contrary to how the industry as a whole operates and flies in the face of convention. It is both our greatest strength and biggest challenge -- how do we create an entirely new category and redefine how businesses evolve? It’s probably our favorite challenge to solve.
As a founder and CEO who is leading a new team, one of the biggest challenges is learning to get out of my own way. Every stage of growth for Rebel has required me to learn a new way to lean in, and at the same time, how to step to the side and let my team run. It’s a constant balancing act that requires lots of self-awareness and personal growth. This is an area that I’m in a constant learning-mode, a perpetual student of the people around me —how they work and how I can best show up for their success.
Q: Have you found anything particularly helpful or advantageous on your entrepreneurial path?
Being an entrepreneur is all the things in one—it’s scary, unpredictable, wild, gratifying, exhausting, exhilarating, frustrating, and fulfilling. It’s often a lot to process and sometimes, as the founder, it can be lonely. When Rebel began to take off, I did three things that have helped me walk this path:
No. 1 First, I hired to my weaknesses. I looked for a team of senior leadership that was amazing at things I was naturally bad at. This delivered enormous value to me to have other voices in the decision-making process that were experts in their field. For the first time, I didn’t have to know everything. And for the team, it provided other people to lean on and learn from.
No. 2 I built an advisory board of seasoned CEOs and business leaders in industries different from mine with an expertise that was different from my own. I reached out, invited them to coffee, and began to build a relationship with them. I rely on them to bounce ideas off, offer me a different perspective, provide guidance on navigating new terrain, and help me level-set my expectations on the process of growing a business.
No. 3 I blocked out time on my calendar. I learned early on that if there’s an empty space on your calendar, it will be filled—either by you or someone else. So, I block out time on my calendar each morning for working out and meditating which helps me start my day with the right perspective and a clear head. A few times a week I block out times during the workday to provide me some time to go heads-down on internal or project work. And I block one weekend day to work on all the things I couldn’t do mid-week.
The more Rebel grows, the more I lean into these three things. They’ve created a great structure for me to scale forward while providing a really strong safety net.
Q: What’s your advice for female founders who are just starting out?
First off, if you just took the leap, big high-five your way! It’s a big deal and you should be proud of yourself.
My advice to female founders: spend time early on getting really familiar with your target audience and your competitors. Understand the market you want to play in and how what you bring is uniquely different. This will help you define your value proposition and your goals as you move forward.
Never underestimate the power of “flying under the radar.” One thing I see companies do all the time is wasting the unique opportunity that being new brings. There’s a small window of time that you can test out your brand, test your messaging, and make mistakes with little to no pushback because no one is paying attention. It’s one of the most valuable stages of a company’s growth, because once the window closes and your brand is in the public view, not having those things down can be damaging. Use that time to your advantage.
And finally, you’re going to have these moments where you wonder if you can do this, you’ll doubt yourself, and you’ll have days where you want to quit. All of those things are normal and are part of the journey. But, you can absolutely do this. Ask for the price, remember to say no—so you can say yes, and never, ever underestimate the power of showing up consistently.