Sabrina Horn: From Eager Entrepreneur to Confident CEO.

Sabrina Horn, CEO, HORN Strategy, LLC, has an astonishing track record and is a super achiever. She is an award-winning CEO, tech industry communications expert and advisor. In 1991 she founded Horn Group (now part of Finn Partners) which became one of Silicon Valley’s most iconic public relations firms. Her firm counselled thousands of C-level executives and their tech companies through business and marketing challenges including category creation, brand transformation, global expansion, IPOs and acquisitions, pivots, and crisis matters. Horn Group had multiple offices across the U.S, a global partner network, and received numerous awards including Best Employer and Best Tech Agency in the U.S.

After selling her company to Finn Partners in 2015 and serving as the head of the technology practice until 2018, Sabrina started HORN Strategy, LLC, 2020 in New York. “At Horn Strategy” she says, “we are focused solely on helping entrepreneurs and CEOs navigate the early and high growth stages of their businesses”. With a tagline that states: “Even successful entrepreneurs need advice, ideas and skills to scale their businesses” Horn provides executives with leadership coaching, strategic insights, and connections to funding and other resources in the technology industry.

Horn Strategy is also a content hub for valuable articles, speeches, podcasts, and interviews about a broad range of leadership topics. Most of the content is derived from Sabrina’s bestselling book, “Make It, Don't Fake It: Leading with Authenticity for Real Business Success” (Berrett-Koehler, 2021). The book explains how authentic leadership eliminates the need for the shortcuts that sabotage success. “Fake it till you make it” just doesn't work—at least not long enough to build a sustainable business is the premise of the book, which was longlisted for the 2021 Outstanding Works of Literature (OWL) Award in the ‘Leadership’ category.

Sabrina Horn: From Eager Entrepreneur to Confident CEO
Sabrina Horn

“Staying in close alignment with your core values over time protects a company and its brand, holds it close and forces realignment when problems and shifts occur”

Once upon a time
The daughter of German immigrant parents, Sabrina was raised to believe that there are no free lunches in life, and that instead, one must work hard to succeed. Sabrina took charge of her destiny, and with a clear vision, set out to achieve her targets.

With only a few years of job experience in Silicon Valley in 1991, Sabrina got the idea to start a public relations firm in support of companies in the emerging PC software market. She believed that she could provide a set of communications services that were more strategic than her competitors’. She says, “And, I wanted to build a company with a culture that I myself wanted to work in, where people could grow their careers and spread their wings – something very few agencies offered at the time.” She decided on the bootstrap funding model, trying to minimize her risk by winning clients and using the revenue stream to fund her start-up expenses.

At age 29 and with $500 in her kitty, she founded Horn Group, a PR firm that for a quarter century, advised thousands of executives through their business challenges. Their clients included the hottest tech start-ups and even a few Fortune 500 companies. Remarkably, Sabrina was one of few female CEOs in Silicon Valley in the early 1990s. She has a BA in American Studies from Hobart/William Smith Colleges, and an MS in Public Relations from Boston University.

Horn Group became one of the most enduring, iconic brands in the tech world, with multiple offices in the US and international reach. It received national acclaim as Best US Employer in 1998 and was named Top 10 US Independent Tech PR Firm in 2011. Sabrina sold Horn Group in 2015 to Finn Partners, a global marketing agency, and was appointed Managing Partner of their Technology Practice. During this time, she was also raising her two amazing daughters, Grace and Christina, on two coasts, mostly as single parent.

Sabrina’s personal career journey runs from that of the young, eager entrepreneur to experienced, confident CEO. She faced varied challenges, especially when she realized that her business was growing substantially, and she would have to step up her game from an entrepreneur managing a small team to a CEO leading a growing, viable company. “Over time, I developed a safety net of the best leadership teams, mentors and advisors.” She worked towards building a collaborative culture by being open-minded to feedback and leading with humility, which got her through some rough times. “Perhaps the toughest challenges were during times of crisis, such as the Dot Com bubble burst in 2000-2001, the attacks of 9/11, Recession of 2008-09, and the havoc caused by Hurricane Sandy. Each event affected continuity of business and caused loss of revenue and jobs. In each case, a multitude of contingency plans and pivots, ingenuity and creativity, and just pure grit got us through.”

“Never let anyone rain on your parade. Be aware that gender bias may creep into relationships, situations and agreements. Use the channels available to you to report bad behavior, get to the people in the ecosystem to try and change behavior through influence, or simply take matters into your own hands.”

Helping companies help themselves
There’s no arguing that leading and running a business in today’s tempestuous times can present new and difficult challenges that can be hard to foresee and navigate. Sabrina has personal experience in leading her company through the unpredictable tech booms and busts and has realized that a leader’s actions have a great impact on a company’s success.

The mission of Horn Strategy, she explains, is to “help other executives and entrepreneurs, especially young female leaders, avoid the obstacles and mistakes I made in growing my business.” Sabrina works with executives to help them develop contingency plans, think through different scenarios, find a path forward, and lead with confidence and courage.

The array of services that Horn Strategy offers to companies and entrepreneurs include guidance on how to navigate the critical inflection points a young company faces, suggestions on when and how to build a marketing operation that builds your company’s brand, direction on the creation of important company information including: investor decks, Board reports, media communications, messaging and competitive positioning, other marketing content and access to a premier ecosystem of venture capital and marketing resources, as well as CEO mentoring and leadership support.

Sabrina believes that a strong core set of values is central to the creation of any great brand, which will hold steady amidst fluctuating trends, buying habits and economic factors. “Staying in close alignment with your core values over time protects a company and its brand, holds it close and forces realignment when problems and shifts occur,” she states.

Sabrina has received recognition from several premier organization such as SUCCESS 125 in 2022, the PR Hall of Fame Award, 2014, Technology Agency of the Year, 2011, Best US Employer, Working Woman, 1998 and Best Place to Work, Holmes Report.

The Future
“As communicators or as consultants, we are also change agents. This is especially important within the technology industry where innovations are constantly disrupting and changing the way we live and work.”

Horn Strategy anticipates the rate of change and prospective crises in the global business ecosystem and suggests that effective communication is possible through communicating and leading with empathy, humility, and equality.

After her book, Make It, Don’t Fake It: Leading with Authenticity for Real Business Success (Berrett-Koehler, 2021) became a success, Sabrina is excited to teach a course in Leadership at Emerson College in Boston, MA in the Fall, 2022. Additionally, she will continue to support entrepreneurs through the trials and tribulations of their journeys through coaching, mentorship, providing perspective and advice as needed.

Sabrina’s advice to the communications workforce
To the professionals in the communications and public relations industry of today, Sabrina suggests that everyone should hope for the best yet always plan for the worst. “Develop multiple contingency plans for how you will navigate the ups and downs of business before they occur,” says she. Furthermore, she suggests that we must all “identify and commit to a set of core values that reflect who you are and what you stand for.”

Empowering the women workers of the world, Sabrina says, “Never let anyone rain on your parade. Be aware that gender bias may creep into relationships, situations and agreements. Use the channels available to you to report bad behavior, get to the people in the ecosystem to try and change behavior through influence, or simply take matters into your own hands.”