3 Surprising Keys to Career Success

Tech entrepreneur shares startup success in Iowa

Originally posted by Lauren McGoodwin

Emily Steele
Emily Steele, Hummingbirds CEO

Meet Emily Steele, a successful Iowa-based tech entrepreneur, who’s sharing the three things that have had the most influence on her career success, impact and stability.

What started as Emily’s love of sharing local coffee shops turned into thousands of local influencers sharing their experiences and the brands they love in their own city.

There are many influencers out there with thousands or hundreds of thousands of followers, but how do many of us make decisions about local businesses? When deciding where to get your hair done, where to eat dinner with your family, or what breweries have the best happy hours, we often turn to our friends in the community.

Hummingbirds, as Emily calls them, are micro-influencers who typically have about 1,000 to 2,000 followers. They are the same people you might bump into at the farmer’s market or grocery store.

Hummingbirds’ business model is perfect for smaller businesses looking to engage in hyper-local, community-based marketing—and it was born from Emily’s own experience building a business in her home community of Des Moines. Here are her three secrets to success.

1. Location: Where Your Business is Born

Emily Steele with a Hummingbird influencer.

“It’s foundational for me,” Emily explains, which is a great word to use when describing where to put your— and your business’ — roots for longevity and success.

Having attended college in Des Moines at Drake University, Emily spent her college career connecting with the people of Des Moines. Many of these people would be integral to Hummingbirds down the line.

But doesn’t a huge city like New York or Chicago arguably have more people to connect with, and, theoretically, more potential connections to help create success? Well, not necessarily.

What huge, expensive cities have in resources (people, buildings, restaurants, museums, etc.), they can lack in real, personal connection and dependable community-based support.

“[In Des Moines] there is an entrepreneurial energy that has really blossomed over the last five years,” she explained. “It’s that sense of community and pride and people really advocating for and supporting fellow business owners and entrepreneurs.”

While Emily is an Iowa native, she shared that her peers moving to Iowa from out of state have noted that same feeling of community and support. Then, of course, there’s the elephant in the room. How does the cost of living in Iowa compare to a place like Los Angeles?

How does that contribute to personal and professional success? A lower cost of living translates to a lower mortgage, lower salary requirements and an easier place to start a business that costs less than coastal cities. Emily also explained that the lower cost of living allowed her to take bigger risks in her business.


  • Business-Friendly Environment: Emily found that filing an LLC, moving toward being a C corporation status and setting up payroll was much easier in Iowa. 
  • Incredible Local + Distributed Team: With local and remote workers, Emily created a distributed team that brings a business you wouldn’t normally find in Iowa. 
  • Burgeoning Culture: As small business owners start and grow their businesses in places like Des Moines, the culture inevitably grows and blossoms. With an emphasis on local support and community, it can flourish without the sense of competition that might exist in bigger cities. 

2. Networking: Focus on Giving

Emily Steele at a networking event.

“Networking is such an art and science,” Emily explained.

She started the largest women’s networking group, FemCity, in Des Moines. In this group, she prioritizes giving. Instead of using networking as a way to steamroll conversation to talk about yourself, her group prioritizes helping others first.

In fact, Emily met one of her closest friends through this networking group, a local photographer. A few years later, she saw that the three or four introductions she made resulted in a local business that blossomed through word of mouth and community support.

Pro Tip: When it comes to attending local networking events, Emily’s best advice is to break into a circle of three or four people with a friendly face. Networking events in smaller cities can be way less intimidating because there is an emphasis on local events, community and genuinely helping one another.

3. Purpose: Purpose Above All Else

Purpose is the foundation of a successful career — and it’s the core of Hummingbirds’ work culture

“Purpose is what motivates me to get to work, to make a difference, to stay up later and to work.”

Sometimes, purpose means reevaluating, reflecting and making tough adjustments when your work gets off track.

Hummingbirds exists to amplify local businesses by getting out there and supporting the community.

Emily said great Hummingbird content is shared internally, providing real-time evidence that the work is making a difference. Finding ways to celebrate wins, big and small, is a huge driver and motivator.

These small connections, even over Slack, create a stickiness or “emotional velcro” on your team.

In Conclusion: We Do Work-Life Balance

One of the most important things Emily Steele created when laying the culture groundwork at Hummingbirds was real boundaries.

“You’re not going to impress me if you email me at 5 am.” Emily means that there are no rewards for staying late, working on the weekends or generally participating in the hustle culture that can be more prevalent in large, competitive cities.

If you want to learn more about living in a state like Iowa, check out the Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA) and Hummingbirds, Emily Steele’s community-first influencer platform.

This story originally appeared on Career Contessa’s Blog. This post was written as part of a paid partnership with the Iowa Economic Development Authority.

Published June 14, 2024

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