In drinking lives, there are moments known as rock bottom—incidents so harrowing that sobriety is the only option. That moment for Laura McKowen MBA’06 came in 2013, when she blacked out at her brother’s wedding and didn’t return to her hotel room, leaving her 4-year-old daughter alone overnight.
Many people who struggle with addiction have these experiences. Few of them channel their recovery into an entrepreneurial solution. But McKowen has done it as CEO of The Luckiest Club, a global sobriety support community that she founded during COVID as an answer to lockdowns. She also is the author of We Are the Luckiest: The Surprising Magic of a Sober Life (with more books on the way) and host of the “Tell Me Something True” podcast, both focusing on sobriety in all its thorny glory.
McKowen, who lives on the North Shore of Massachusetts with her daughter, graduated from Babson’s one-year MBA program to pursue an advertising career. In her world, drinking seemed essential. While the drunk wedding was a wakeup call, it took another year for her to quit entirely.
“(Drinking) was so connected to my work. It was so connected to every relationship that I had: friendships, romantic relationships, family,” she says. “I didn’t think I would have any fun, I didn’t think I would be successful. I have no idea how to do this without alcohol. And, slowly over time, in that year, I started to see other people who had done it and meet them. It was a slow, gradual realization that there was nothing left for me in drinking and that I had to push off into a different life.”
McKowen ultimately got sober in 2014. Her new career started with a cathartic, plain-spoken blog where she chronicled those nascent, raw moments. In 2015, she spun this rawness into a podcast with Holly Whitaker, author of Quit Like A Woman, considered a modern sobriety manual. There was no grand business strategy, just candor and vulnerability.
“We literally Googled: What do you need to do to start a podcast? We figured out the technology, and we did it. That’s how everything like this has happened. I never read a book that said how to be an author or how to run a podcast or a write a book,” McKowen says. “Everything has been a product of following instincts and doing the next right thing. I call it following the bread crumbs.”
‘You’ve Got to Just Jump’
With professional expertise in brand marketing, it was exciting—and daunting—to turn the lens on herself. She built a following mainly through Instagram and Facebook, cultivating an audience that appreciated her relatability: She was a young, single mother with a powerful career. She didn’t “look” like an addict. She gave voice to other women who were privately, quietly struggling while keeping up appearances.
“At the time, it was very rare to talk about sobriety publicly and addiction publicly. And, it was very, very rare to talk about it in a non-12-step way,” she says.
McKowen hung onto her advertising day job as a vice president at Boston-based Racepoint Global while podcasting and blogging during off-hours, pitching stories to media outlets when she could. In early 2016, a conversation with an entrepreneur friend convinced her to quit her day job.
She admits that she has a high risk tolerance.
“At some point, you’ve got to just jump. There’s no perfect exit strategy,” she says. “I had overcome addiction, and I figured so long as I stayed sober, I’d find a way.”
“Every skill I ever used in my prior life played into it. Nothing was wasted, even though, if you look from the outside, it’s a complete pivot. All experience matters.”
Laura McKowen MBA’06
With six months’ worth of savings, she left her advertising career. She cobbled together an income by yoga workshops and retreats, which she spun into virtual courses on a personal squarespace website. Her most successful course generated $30,000, at which point her new path began to seem viable.
“It’s really important for people to know that I pieced together a living for several years before it became sustainable,” she says.
Today, the bulk of her income comes from courses, where she focuses on “under-the-hood” of sobriety topics such as, navigating shame, and purpose. Where she has experience, she teaches, but often brings in guest experts like therapists and clinicians.
‘All Experience Matters’
Meanwhile, the podcast fueled her connection with recovery-focused authors; she found a literary agent through simple networking. Her book came out in 2020. Refreshingly honest, McKowen says that it didn’t make her much money, even though it boosted her platform. The book’s success also garnered a better deal for a follow-up, Push Off From Here, an exploration of addiction through nine building blocks of sobriety. Her brand is not clinical nor condescending: Building blocks in this book include truisms such as “this is your thing” and “it is unfair that this is your thing.”
Her next projects grapple with issues beyond alcohol, such as love addiction and co-dependency. She knows it’s an unconventional path for a Babson graduate—yet on brand, too.
“The big entrepreneurial piece, I think, is that when the pandemic hit and everything shut down, I started hosting free online sobriety support meetings because I was freaked out, not just for other people but for myself, too,” McKowen says. I thought, “What are all these people going to do?”
She assumed The Luckiest Club recovery meetings would be a temporary pandemic fix. Instead, she was inundated by messages begging for more. She found an accessible monthly price point (less than a dime per support meeting) and now employs four full-time employees and over a dozen meeting leaders. The Luckiest Club’s success might seem like pure luck, but life experiences can be as formative as professional ones.
“Every skill I ever used in my prior life played into it. Nothing was wasted, even though, if you look from the outside, it’s a complete pivot,” she says. “All experience matters.”
Even—maybe especially—the hardest ones.
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