A former stripper who discovered burlesque while building her startup has released an unconventional guide to business revealing how she applies the lessons she learned as a showgirl at work.
Paulina Tenner, co-founder of UK-based financial services firm GrantTree, trained as a burlesque dancer in London after becoming ‘exhausted’ by the 24/7 pace of her early years as an entrepreneur.
‘I desperately needed a creative outlet – the more outrageous, the better,’ she recalls in her book, Laid Bare: What the Business Leader Learnt from the Stripper.
‘During one of my lowest points, I remember walking from Piccadilly Circus towards Charing Cross in London (most likely to another business meeting) and getting a glimpse of a fabulous burlesque show rehearsal through the door of Café de Paris, a well known cabaret establishment, which I passed on my way. Suddenly and with piercing clarity I knew: I needed to become a stripper myself.’
In a two-year period, Paulina performed burlesque across three continents, developing a number of acts that tantalised and teased audiences.
‘Being a stripper taught me more lessons than I could possibly imagine, a lot of which I’ve been able to apply to my business life,’ she continues.
‘It also fed into my development as a leader. It helped me reclaim a different way of relating with my feminine part and therefore a different way of being and acting in the world. I became more open-minded and, at the same time, more whole as an individual.’
Here, FEMAIL shares some of the eye-opening advice offered up by Paulina in her book…
Paulina Tenner, founder of UK-based financial services firm GrantTree, trained as a burlesque dancer in London (pictured on stage) after becoming ‘exhausted’ by the 24/7 pace of her early years as an entrepreneur. She shares her advice in an unorthodox guide to business
‘Company culture is like a stripper’s a**s’
‘In many ways company culture, no matter how evolved, is like a stripper’s a**e – pretty and exciting if shown in the right light and framed by sexy or desirable objects,’ Paulina writes.
Like a performer who shimmies their pert derrière on stage, only a business owner knows exactly how much work has gone into honing and crafting a company culture.
The two also present a unique challenge: they are difficult to keep in shape as they get bigger.
She continues: ‘Well-cut underwear is essential as it can do your a**e a big favour (quite literally saving your a**e!) as opposed to highlighting its shortcomings.
‘Many strippers wear a G-string with straps of sequins (or satin, or lace) hanging around the buttocks and down the side of the upper thigh for the final reveal to showcase all the right curves.
‘Some strippers wear barely-there nude fishnet tights which don’t come off underneath stockings or other garments which do.
‘All in all, there are quite a few tricks one can use and a company with a good culture, just like a good a**e, can remain attractive as it gets bigger.’
In a two-year period, Paulina, pictured, performed burlesque across three continents, developing a number of acts that tantalised and teased audiences
‘Being flat-chested isn’t a bad thing – it helps you stand out’
A stripper with a ‘swell set-up’ is one with a curvaceous figure who looks ‘stunning in a wide variety of get-ups and outfits’, Paulina writes.
But there are benefits to being a flat-chested performer, or one with an athletic physique, like her, because it helps you stand out.
She continues: ‘The same goes for entrepreneurship or building a brand in business – not being afraid to stick out from the crowd really counts.
‘A great stripper isn’t a one-trick pony – just like the best companies’
Paulina writes: ‘During my burlesque career I developed about ten different acts, one or two to be staged at one show only, and performed on three continents.
‘This is likely to be one of the most fulfilling factors of a successful stripping career – it takes you places, both physically and mentally.
‘You learn to read different audiences, just like an entrepreneur might uncover and learn different markets.
‘You then adjust your acts according to both what’s in the demand but also, and even more importantly, which parts of you you want to showcase, celebrate, or have a good laugh at.’
In a similar way, a business leader must be willing to respond, grow and adapt in line with the market and the shifting shape of the business.
‘I would go as far as to say that startups that survive have found a way of standing out and being noticed and remembered by their audience, and their supporters.
‘This kind of courage goes hand in hand with being a true innovator or disruptor in a given industry. Some companies can create enough of a storm around their product or activity that a whole market suddenly appears, seemingly out of nowhere.’
‘There is nothing better than nude – at work or on the stage’
‘Obviously, as a showgirl you’re absolutely guaranteed to get more enthusiasm sporting it,’ writes Paulina. Nude is equally as desirable in business.
According to Paulina, the notion of being ‘nude’ in business requires a ‘complete internal transparency of information, financial and other’.
She writes: ‘In other words, everything is accessible to everyone inside the company, from payroll to financial forecasts and amount of cash in company bank accounts in real time.
‘After all, if you expect your people to handle important decisions to do with clients, culture and even the company’s future, why wouldn’t you give them access to all the information they can possibly have?
‘Nude takes the belief that people are wired to do great things given enough trust and space to develop and express their mastery to its extreme. As such it’s the purest form of open culture.’
Despite the apparent benefits, nude is also a ‘scary’ prospect for most companies.
‘A lot of leaders are terrified for those who report to them to know too much, mostly because having access to information that is only exclusively available helps them hold more power,’ she continues.
‘If your company is in that position and looking to implement some principles of open culture, the priority will be to empower its people and create space where they have autonomy, can take ownership of resources they have and, because of this, let their mastery shine.’
Paulina, pictured, told how lessons she learned as a stripper are helpful to business leaders
‘Learn to set your own pay like a showgirl’
Like many showgirls and up-and-coming cabaret acts, Paulina received minimal payment in exchange for her talents when she was starting out.
However, in time, showgirls who stand out from the crowd and have an ‘impeccable brand’ can command wages in line with ‘what they feel they are really worth’.
Paulina has taken a similar approach at her company, GrantTree.
She explains: ‘At GrantTree people are expected to determine the monetary value of the work they do on a regular basis. Establishing self-set pay in the company has been our ambition ever since Daniel and I read Maverick! by Ricardo Semler.
‘These days, with roughly 40 people in the company, like not many other businesses in the world, we practise full financial transparency.
‘This means it’s clear how financial decisions are made, what resources the company has, how they are deployed and exactly who is accountable for exactly what.
‘This is supported by holacracy, which provides a framework making it easy to check what roles given people hold and what responsibilities these roles have assigned to them.’
Laid Bare: What the Business Leader Learnt from the Stripper, £12.99, John Hunt Publishing, by Paulina Tenner, is out now