A-Team Spotlight: Dria Knows Best

Dria Murphy knows that there’s no forward momentum if you keep looking back. Murphy, the founder of Alise Collective, a PR and branding company, is a fearless entrepreneur who left her native California for New York. With only a small loan from her parents, her outsized ambition made up for her lack of funds as she seamlessly shifted from corporate life to startup, and from freelancer to founder. Murphy never hesitates, taking risks and making bold moves to build her high-octane New York life today. We first met Dria during the early days of her company when we worked with her to conceptualize and execute our collaboration with Surf Lodge. These days, however, Murphy transitions between helping clients—like Google—connect with their audiences and building relationships with people. Her schedule may be busy, but she never forgets to take an invigorating Bari studio class. Alala talks to Murphy, who tells us about her journey, what keeps her going, and reveals why women need to be kinder to themselves.

Alala: Tell us how you got to New York?
Dria Murphy: I was born and raised in San Francisco, and I went to Santa Clara University, which is in California as well. I was just always interested in fashion, but I was drawn to public relations because I was always connecting people. To get my feet wet in the fashion PR world, and to see if this was what I really wanted to do, I spent the summer before I graduated college in New York. I was fortunate enough to get an internship at Giorgio Armani and another at Bottega Veneta. Those experiences solidified my desire to pursue this path. Then I graduated college, got a small loan from my parents and moved to New York, even though I didn't have a job lined up. I just went for it.
Alala: How did you manage that uncertainty?
DM: I don’t usually talk about this, but the day I moved, I had an interview at an agency called Paul Wilmot Communications. They were looking for a freelance fashion assistant, and I actually got the job that day; since it was freelance, I started the next day. I was lucky to have landed a job the day I landed in New York. It was right before fashion week, and they were doing 12 shows that season, so they needed to have all hands on deck. I started with that and went from there. I was there for maybe six months.
Alala: What came next?
DM: I wanted to go in-house and wanted a full-time position. So I became the PR assistant at Calvin Klein, where I helped manage the men's and women's departments. Then, I went to Ralph Lauren and then, to Topshop. Topshop was where I really got into the digital aspect within fashion. At the time, they were really on the forefront of incorporating shoppable runways, Google hangouts, blogger outreach––that whole thing. It was so interesting to me, and they were so innovative in that way. That's what convinced me to take a risk outside my comfort zone and to take my next opportunity at a fashion tech startup called Keep. I learned about the tech space. I learned about the startup space. And I learned how to build a team. I learned about different industry elements that I never would have experienced if I didn’t work at a tech startup.
Alala: It’s not atypical, but transitioning from a very structured environment to a startup must have been a little intimidating.
DM: In a sense, yes. It was obviously so new and different, but I think I was ready for that challenge. It definitely motivated me, and I was so interested in learning more about the space. I mean, I like to joke that I walked into the company in heels, and they were like, ‘What's that?’ It was a totally different culture, which was a great experience in itself. I really felt like I was always learning because there were so many new things that we were talking about. It was a world that I didn't even know about.
Alala: Did you also join a startup because you saw that technology was the future?
DM: Definitely. I saw how fashion brands were trying to figure out the digital space. I just knew that I wanted to learn more. I didn't have much experience in the digital side of things, but I was interested in a new way of thinking, and I was interested in being part of something that may or may not grow into a big company. That's always the risk you take. It was just a great experience.
Alala: Most startups just don’t scale fast enough to support its staff. Some fold, but in your case, you were laid off from Keep.  What lessons did you learn from that experience? 
DM: It’s a cliché to say, but I really think everything happens for a reason. In that moment, it was so hard to suddenly hear that it was my last day. I took it personally, but ultimately, it was just how it happened. It was a hard learning experience, but it was what  gave me the push I needed to start my own thing.
Alala: What was the eureka moment that sparked the new business idea?
DM: I don't think I necessarily had that moment. I had gotten laid off on a Thursday, and that Saturday, I had a pre planned event for Keep at the Surf Lodge. I still did the event because it was the professional and the right thing to do. It was great because the next week, I started consulting for The Surf Lodge.  As luck would have it, that opportunity at The Surf Lodge allowed me to work with Google that summer—my first client—which is an incredible thing to be able to say. At the time, I still didn't know what my company was going to be called. But I decided on a company name very quickly, and the rest fell into place.
Alala:  Starting your own firm is no small feat. But you did it to set an example to others that you can build your own company and can build a life for yourself without answering to anyone. This is very inspiring...
DM: Yes. I think it’s not only the fact that you are your own boss. I think being able to choose the people and brands you work with is just so incredible and really motivates me every day. I've created a specific lifestyle and aesthetic that’s representative of my personal brand. And to be able to really choose to work only with clients that align with my personal brand makes me feel very lucky. I started to only take on clients that I really felt a connection with. Staying true to myself has led to my company’s success. And I couldn't think of doing anything else because this is my true passion.
Alala: This seems to translate to the output of your work, which makes your firm unique. What else?
DM: I'm not just doing one thing for these clients. I'm incorporating an overall experience that connects these brands to people in a meaningful way—whether it’s a press story, or an event, or a curated gifting, or a social media presence. It’s also about having this very clear aesthetic that is about community, wellness, and empowering females. In fact, female founders and top female executives, directors, etc. make up a large part of my client base. It also happened very organically. I like to work hard for these women because they are turning their dreams into reality. And being able to collaborate with them is rewarding.
Alala: What rules do you live by?
DM: I do think that women need to be kinder to themselves. It really is important, and it’s something that I need to be reminded of myself. I need to take my own advice, because it's so easy to just keep going and still not think you're making enough money, that your company isn’t big enough, or that you don’t have the best client yet. I think women need to at least tell themselves like, "Good job.” You know?
Alala: You live a very active life and always on the go meeting people.  Why is this important?
DM: I think I'm constantly thinking bigger in terms of outreach and how we can work with bigger brands. I think the energy in New York City keeps me going too. Everyone here is so open to meeting—that's really what drives me. It just leads to so much collaboration and always sparks new ideas. It really is true that the city never sleeps, and I have to force myself to actively stay in.
Alala: Like most entrepreneurs, you have big dreams. What are you really working towards? Why do all of this?
DM: That's a loaded question. [Laughs] But really, I'm doing it for me, and I really enjoy my work. I also get to learn from a lot of people, and that is really powerful. Owning my own business was never really on my radar, and I kind of love that everything has happened so organically. It really showed me that this was meant to be.