Meet Lauralee Sheehan, Founder & CCO at Digital 55

(Photo Credit: @Justin Wu)

Each week, Female CoFounder features a female founder in the community. Follow along each week and learn from different founders and their journeys.

FcF: Tell us about yourself? 

Lauralee: I’m a true blue entrepreneur and forever rebel-artist. I came from very creative roots, growing up in the film and music industry and currently, I am founder and Chief Creative Officer (CCO) of Digital 55. These days, I’m immersed in interactive digital media and complex storytelling and at the end of the day, I think that’s what it really comes down to for me, innovating, exploring, having critical societal conversations and sharing knowledge and experience.


FcF: What is Digital 55?

Lauralee: Digital 55 is a collective of award-winning designers, developers, researchers, and content producers working together to create unique, innovative digital interactive media products and learning experiences. 

We work with various not-for-profits, government agencies, and companies on research, user experience, design, development, content architecture, learning experience design and strategy, and digital interactive storytelling. What makes us most unique is our rebel spirit, rooted in interdisciplinary arts, such as music, film, design, learning, and experiential builds. We are pretty much obsessed with the intersection of creativity and tech with the purpose of supporting equity issues, human rights, and social justice.

- Above: Lauralee (left) & Kaila, Content Producer / UX/UI Designer & Research (right) - Photo Credit: @Justin Wu


FcF: How did you come up with Digital 55?

Lauralee: My digital career really started from being a musician and playing in a band. We started doing all sorts of modular development and experience design and it iterated into a hardcore digital career – thus, Digital 55 was really born out of an indie rock band!

Everything we do always looks super cool, modern, and fresh. Still, our true value is that we call ourselves rebels with a cause as we believe in designing for good and digging into complex subject matter that is changing society. With our unique interdisciplinary background, we can disrupt and intersect different thinking to design content in a way that traditional media companies don’t usually do.


FcF: That’s so cool that prior you were a former musician! What were you able to bring along with you into building Digital 55? 

Lauralee: I think unending fearlessness is something that came with me from my music days. Also creating vibes that are a mix of high art, street cool and poetic storytelling. That definitely comes from music. I’ve actually been writing music again in a new project, Jo Ryder so that’s been great for me as an entrepreneur because it brings me back to my roots. It keeps me grounded and also excited to create, explore, be curious, take risks — I get this surge of badass energy writing music and this new project is making me feel very creative these days as we dive into exploring digital audio-visual art and the modern human condition!

FcF: What were the first 3 steps you took after you knew you wanted to pursue building Digital 55?

Lauralee: 

  1. Asked for Funding : You don’t have to liquidate all your personal assets and every worldly thing you own to start up. Depending on the country, province or state, and city you live in, there are a number of grant and loan opportunities available for small business owners. Don’t be afraid to do some research, ask around, and get applying! It can feel overwhelming at first, but accessing funding early on can set you up for success in stabilizing and growing your business as well as give you the freedom to seek out projects you love. Especially for female entrepreneurs, we all know the stats, they ask for and receive less money than their male counterparts.
  2. “Set up” (and that never really ends): Website, social, government business registration and the list goes on. In the first year of your business, you can expect to tinker with things a lot. You will change your website, your branding, your business model, the way you write contracts, the way your business is registered, your style as a leader, and so much more. Trust that launching a business is an ongoing process and as it grows, you will have to throw away the concept of “done” and stay on top of what growth and change means for you. Try to enjoy the process and stay curious!
  1. Started a growth team: Starting a growth team early is essential. Whether you’re experienced with managing a team or not, it’s a whole different ball game when it’s your own business on the line. This new position comes with its own share of interpersonal challenges, but curating, supporting and doing work with people I connect with professionally, personally and creatively is exciting to see as the team grows!


FcF: Can you elaborate more on what you mean by starting a growth team? How is this different from growing a team? Do you highly recommend founders in early stages to start a growth team? 

Lauralee: I am no expert here because I’m thinking about a growth team for the first time and because Digital 55 has been growing so insanely rapidly. I do think there is a difference if you curate and trendcast what knowledge, expertise and talent you need before you need it. I also think that with a growth team mindset, you have the opportunity to think outside of replicated industry trends when it comes to roles or positions. You can look at some of the interdisciplinary thinking that might help your company be more in tune with all the different needs that people have in terms of your audience or customer base. You might also get to colour outside the lines and give opportunities to individuals who are not the usual suspects, and in turn, have diversity of perspectives and experience within your company.

FcF: What do you look for in finding your cofounder or people to work with? 

Lauralee: I'm a Solo Founder but deem my growth team to be key collaborators and integral to not only the growth of the company and the impact of the work we can do, but also to the company culture. I always look for individuals who might have an interdisciplinary background and who can lean into collaborative models of thinking, building, testing and iterating.


FcF:  In your interview with the Financial Post, you mentioned that “women still have to go to greater lengths to prove themselves investors”- what has been helping you to stay on course as a social-driven company and to prove to investors while fundraising? 

Lauralee: Your business numbers always speak volumes so investing in your financials early is important. I started working with an accounting firm and business advisor almost right out of the gate because although that can seem like an expense to put off until later, you can drown early without that expertise and support. I was also able to form relationships with key financial institutions that were able to support the business in early stages and before they might have ordinarily done so. And the reason I was able to do this was because I found out what I needed to do, got all my paperwork in order and figured out and secured funding in a series of stages so that now, it’s much easier to secure larger scale financing for the company.  


FcF: And just one more question following from your interview with the Financial post. It is eye opening to us that about 90% of media content companies in Canada are not owned or operated by womxn, and even the content creation and delivery is not owned by womxn. What are your tips to other womxn founders/creators who are facing similar situations in a male-dominated industry and less social-driven?

Lauralee: Right!!? That stat is mind-blowing and crazy to think about really. There’s a bit of a fighter mentality in working to change that and we know it happens in many other industries too. The way I think about it is one small step at a time. I think about advocacy and sustainability for my team, collaborators and the work we do so I focus on action-based change-making. This translates into things such as putting ourselves out there for big and scary opportunities because if we are not in the ring, we are not able to participate and even though there are a lot of no’s, every yes is a valuable yes and one step forward. I also think that participating in thought leadership is key to helping make change. This might not translate into money in your business bank account on paper but in the long run, time spent on thought leadership is an invaluable way to be part of the change.


FcF: What advice do you have for other women who have a start-up idea or side project idea?

Lauralee:  Just get started! People think they need a certain amount of money in the bank, a certain amount of product or a 40-page business plan before they can get started when really all you need is $100. Sometimes you have to go with the MVP model or minimum viable product. You can’t spend all this time and money perfecting this thing that people may not even want.

FcF: How can the Female CoFounder community help you?  

Lauralee: Even though I’ve started other businesses and gone through the startup phases before, the scale of Digital 55 is next level and beyond my previous experience. Objective and industry focused expertise is vital for success beyond scale and growth for long-term business sustainability. Looking at impact investing models would be a super valuable conversation to have.


FcF: How can people contact you?

Lauralee: We’re on all the social which you can find on our website. Also, check out our first original content series Filter on Instagram!

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