If You’re in the SF Bay Area and Haven’t Met Kate Bunina, You’re Not Networking Hard Enough.

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Kate Bunina is Managing Director at U+, a global digital product development company and tech investor, that builds startups with founders and innovations for corporations.

Though Kate has over 8 years experience building products for companies such as Volkswagen, T-Mobile, E.On, Home Credit, AXA and several other Fortune 500 companies she is all to familiar with the feeling of imposter syndrome. So much so that she invented a hack to help her move past it.

First she remembers that everyone is "figuring it out" and reminds herself that it really is all in her mind. 

"Begin by closing your eyes imagining you are separating yourself from your fear (or whatever you’re feeling) by imagining it is just an object in your head. Now imagine burning that object and placing the ashes into the trash which then disappears... Voila - you are done! This mental exercise can be repeated as needed."

Kate is also a mentor at Founder Institute in San Francisco and is passionate about mentoring startups. 

WHAT KIND OF PROBLEM IS YOUR COMPANY SOLVING?

U+ is building digital products for corporations and startups for 9+ years internationally. Corporations need to innovate to stay top of market by continuing to add new revenue streams. However they can get lost in the innovation process, as it takes different approach than just building some mobile app or software. There is a lot of testing involved, asking the right questions, and building few features first as MVP rather than whole big monster product.

 Startup Founders often share a similar dilemma - they have an idea, but are unsure of how to shape it into a viable product and execute on it. U+ covers both the consulting and product development pieces.

 Our clients are also VCs, lawyers, real estate companies, accelerators and incubators. Because of the variety of services we offer we assist them with everything from branding and websites all the way through consulting to build out of the internal platforms.

We also consult for cloud services (as we are partners with Amazon Web Services), Startups as a Whole (we have U+Ventures arm where we invest in pre-seed software startups, along with creation of “The Startup Guide” to help founders move from ideation to MVP). Also we are not foreigners to the Blockchain.

 Most of the time our clients define us as: a product development studio, outsourced innovation lab, CTO on demand, and much more.

WHAT HAS BEEN THE BIGGEST CONTRIBUTION TO THE SUCCESS YOU'VE HAD THUS FAR?

  • Making my career the priority and being persistent.

  • "Give, and it Will be Given to You" approach. I never envy people and encourage to support one another in being stellar together.

  • I said “yes” to things that seemed too hard or that I was afraid of doing.

  • I’ve been fortunate to have had tremendous support from people around me, as you can't make it alone.

  • Being surrounded by a tribe of successful inspiring people, cheerleaders, friends and family who support me and not hesitating to quickly eliminate toxic people.

DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE FAILURE? WHAT LESSONS DID YOU LEARN?

I tend to be very hard on myself, so it took some time to learn that failure is not a failure, but rather a lesson learned. In looking back at many “so called failures” they actually turned out to be some of the best possible things that have happened to me - for example, not landing one job resulted in landing another that was a much better fit.

HOW DO YOU DEFINE LEADERSHIP? OR, WHAT DOES BEING A LEADER MEAN TO YOU?

Leadership means the ability to set a goal or direction and motivate people to follow it by inspiring them even through all the struggles and every-day hurdles. 

Leaders showcase the talents of others and give them the opportunity to apply those talents. Leader solves problems, eliminates ego, is a thought leader, has empathy, but is still able to make decisions that are not going to please others but would drive forward the shared vision.

DO YOU HAVE A MENTOR? HOW DID YOU GO ABOUT ACQUIRING ONE?

Even though I do mentor a lot, I don't have a mentor per se. I do have group of powerful inspiring friends who advice and support me - men and women - and I am eternally grateful to them. I don't think I would have been as successful without their support.

WHAT SHOULD WOMEN BE DOING MORE OF TO FOSTER LEADERSHIP SKILLS?

Women need to support each other. Take responsibility and see the big picture. Not being afraid to speak up for themselves and others - especially when others struggle. Motivate, inspire, and help those around them.

Show empathy for themselves as well as others.

Don’t avoid making male allies - let’s all work together to hit the diversity goal rather than fight against each other.

Solve arguments fairly by getting all participants into the same room (if possible).

Call out people if they act unfairly.

Make the effort to understand how everything in their company works and contribute accordingly.

A leader is not the one sitting on top of the building in a glass office, but the one who is not afraid to get their hands dirty and is confident enough to delegate work and let go of overseeing every detail that is happening in the company - they trust their wolf pack.

WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOU'RE FEELING "OVERWHELMED"?

Prioritize all the tasks and projects that I'm currently working on. Take a break, go on a walk in nature, catch up with friends, go to the spa, an art exhibition, listen to music, take a nap, or read a book.

WHAT IS ONE QUOTE YOU LIVE YOUR LIFE BY?

“You better starve, than eat whatever. And better be alone, than with whoever.” ― Omar Khayyám

WHAT ARE YOU READING RIGHT NOW?

“Life With Picasso” by Françoise Gilot and Carlton Lake.

Anything from the Instaread app (you can thank me later).

Have you ever felt imposter syndrome, and how did you combat it?

Yes, but I know it is just a feeling. I battle it by either understanding that I'm simply feeling afraid of being judged or not being good enough or not delivering in the best possible way. After that realization I deep dive headfirst into the fear and swim right through it by doing the exact thing that I'm afraid of. Most of the time it turns out that I was unnecessarily stressing out.

I recommend the following mind exercise, as it is all in our mind in the end: Begin by closing your eyes imagining you are separating yourself from your fear (or whatever you’re feeling) by imagining it is just an object in your head. Now imagine burning that object and placing the ashes into the trash that you make disappear after. Voila - you are done! This mental exercise can be repeated as needed.

It also helps to allow yourself to not know everything.

We should all be continuing to learn as our industries are constantly changing and evolving. This means that the model of being at one job for half of your life is not going to be applicable anymore, because the type of jobs that are going to be here in 10 years do not even exist yet. This will mean a much more frequent changing of careers and jobs.

Just take a look at the Crypto and Blockchain space - everything is new, all the experts are experts based on an industry that is just few years old!  Based on that I'm sure that we are all going to constantly experience the so-called imposter syndrome by continuously emerging ourselves in brand new industries.

IF YOU HAD ONE TIP OR LIFE ADVICE, OR MANTRA TO SHARE, WHAT WOULD IT BE? 

I get asked this question quite often while speaking - especially at women in tech, and VC/leadership events. I think that following sentence sums it up pretty well: Be a decent human being.

ANY THING ELSE YOU'D LIKE TO INCLUDE?

1) Download our free Startup Guide - This guide walks you through how to build your startup through each stage.  (https://www.u.plus/startup-guide/idea-stage)

2) If you’re looking for a mentors to help with - How to Build Startup from Idea to Scaling or How to Innovate at your accelerator or innovation programs - feel free to reach out.

This article originally ran in the Stilobox newsletter, Sign up here.

This Female Co-Founder Brings Much-Needed Tech into the Lingerie Industry by Literally Engineering Womens’ Comfort!


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Imagine a bra that was engineered to be comfortable.

Leen Al Taher co-founded House of Anesi, a lingerie-tech startup that designs bras that are engineered to do just that. It's the first bra that actually adapts to your breast size!

Featured in TeenVogue, GLAMOUR, and Refinery29 Leen and her co-founders believe that every woman has the right to start her day brimming with confidence and are on a mission to disrupt the lingerie industry.

Place your order by October 15th using the special code "stilobox" at checkout for 10% off here

WHAT KIND OF PROBLEM IS YOUR COMPANY SOLVING?

Do you notice how different your bra feels everyday? One day, the fit is perfect and the next is a struggle. This is the problem that women face every day, as boobs are constantly fluctuating in size and shape. At House of Aneis, we believe it is up to us to make a bra that fluctuates with it! By using innovative design, technical fabrics and aerospace engineering we created the Anesi Bra. A bra that is able to adapt to breast size changes up to 2 cup and 2 band sizes, reduce back pain, eliminate red shoulder marks, and prevent underboob sweat.

WHAT DID THOSE FIRST STEPS LOOK/FEEL LIKE? (FOR EXAMPLE: THE FIRST 6 MONTHS)

House of Anesi was born 3 years ago at a Re-Engineering Fashion Competition hosted by Ryerson University. We were challenged to create an innovative product that would disrupt the fashion industry using engineering fundamentals. My team and I decided to tackle the bra design, creating a bra that would adapt to a woman's breast size changes, be comfortable and supportive. We ended up winning the competition and could not let go of why there is not a bra on the market that adapts to a women’s breast size changes!

We were set on a mission to create a change in the lingerie industry.

Initially we were so caught up with tackling the problems with  a “robotic”, “super futuristic” approach - from Nitinol wires to magnetic powder, and everything in between. When none of that worked, we realized that is not what the end consumer needed, nor wanted. Using technology and engineering in a garment so personal needed to be passive. When we made that breakthrough in the first 6 months, it felt like a massive stepping stone.

WHAT HAS BEEN THE BIGGEST CONTRIBUTION TO THE SUCCESS YOU'VE HAD THUS FAR?

The people closest to me have definitely been my greatest success contributors!

My co-founders, Stephania Stefanakou and Jacob John, who started this journey with me. Not only have I learnt so much from them in the business world, but they have also played a fundamental role in helping me grow as an individual and to learn from my mistakes. We started this mission in 2015, and you can only imagine all the obstacles we’ve faced until today. Not only have we grown closer as a team, but we are also finally one step closer to making our mission a reality.

That being said, my family and friends, who have been there for me through thick and thin, are also some of my biggest success contributors. Being a part of a start-up comes with so much emotional turmoil, and I can’t thank them enough for having my back and supporting all my crazy ideas! They’ve been the shoulder I could lean on and my cheer leaders when I needed a push.

DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE FAILURE? WHAT LESSONS DID YOU LEARN?

Oh where do I start….

This one is a personal favorite. A couple months ago I was posting a blog on the Anesi website, and I wanted to increase the font size. Simple enough, right? I did some research and found a way to do it by changing the code, and as I was following it step by step, midway through – the Anesi website just went down ……

I am not exaggerating, the whole website went down! I tried restoring it, called the support line, asked my friends, called the support line again, stayed awake the WHOLE night reading about code fixes, and nothing for a couple of days. I felt horrible. It was a massive burden that I was carrying and felt like I was responsible for fixing it on my own. Then I decided to  reach out to our website developer - my savior. He had a copy of the code saved and we were finally able to bring it live again!

Moral of the story: 1) Don’t be afraid to ask for help!  2) Always, I mean always, save a copy of your code before editing it (or just back your work up in general)!

HOW DO YOU DEFINE LEADERSHIP? OR, WHAT DOES BEING A LEADER MEAN TO YOU?

To me, being a leader is a mindset that is very linked to emotional intelligence. It’s simply being able to empower people towards reaching a goal.

DO YOU HAVE A MENTOR? HOW DID YOU GO ABOUT ACQUIRING ONE?

Yes I do! I have multiple mentors who help me grow and I can alway go to for advice.

I would say, find someone with experience in an industry you want to learn about and just ask for help. Also, always look in your network, one of my mentors that helped me a ton throughout my journey is an old friend of mine.

WHAT SHOULD WOMEN BE DOING MORE OF TO FOSTER LEADERSHIP SKILLS?

To keep it short and simple:

  • Work on your communication skills - it’s so critical in a leadership position

  • Be a team player

  • Build networks and support other women you know what they say: “Empowered women, Empower Women”

  • Read read read. Whether it’s books or articles. I personally love using Flipboard.

  • Have a mentor or someone you can go to for advice

WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOU'RE FEELING "OVERWHELMED"?

Talking to a friend is probably the first thing I do, I am the type of person that overthinks every little step and talking to a friend gives me an outside perspective that always calms me down. If that does not work, I like to write down everything I have to do on a piece of paper, then break every task down to its core, it really helps me focus on important things whilst keeping me in check with what else I have to do and how much effort it will take. Another approach I go to sometimes is going for a walk or coloring, as cheesy as it sounds, it works!


My advice is try things out and find out what works best for you. Be gentle and kind to yourself, self care is very important and I learnt that the hard way!

WHAT IS ONE QUOTE YOU LIVE YOUR LIFE BY?

“If you’re doing what everyone else is doing, you’re doing it wrong.” –Casey Neistat

WHAT ARE YOU READING RIGHT NOW?

The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell.

I also highly recommend:

-  The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield

-   Her Big Idea: The Next Generation of Entrepreneurs by Haley Hoffman Smith

-  The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck by Mark Manson

-   Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance

Have you ever felt imposter syndrome, and how did you combat it?

This is a very interesting question, and it is actually something that often crosses my mind. There are certain days when I wake up thinking “who have I become? Am I actually capable of doing this or am I just putting up a front?” When I’m sitting in a meeting and I have to lead my team, it just all feels so surreal, like I’m pretending to be someone I am not. But now I realize, that is the beauty of evolving.

It is human nature to grow everyday, and surrounding yourself with amazing people is how you learn and grow. If you do not know how to do something, observe those around and listen to what is going on in the industry. One by one, day by day, you will know enough and have your own thoughts about it. Combating the imposter syndrome is something that happens dynamically, it is that point when you stop pretending to be a leader and accept that you really are one!

IF YOU HAD ONE TIP OR LIFE ADVICE, OR MANTRA TO SHARE, WHAT WOULD IT BE? 

Don’t over think! Just do it.

ANY THING ELSE YOU'D LIKE TO INCLUDE?

There will be some many moments in your life when you will doubt yourself and not know what you are truly capable of. Take it from me, i’ve been down that road. If you are willing to try and put yourself out there, then you can do whatever you set your mind to. Self doubt is what stops most people from following their dreams, so my advice would be to stop doubting.

This article originally ran in the Stilobox newsletter, Sign up here.

How One Female Founder Used Imposter Syndrome to Her Advantage When Starting Her Company

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Jojo Aquino is a positive & high energy person that enjoys challenges & having fun. She’s a traveler who loves her work and takes it with her wherever she goes. She’s a social media manager at Piña Social Media, a company she founded, and a blogger at Traveling Petite Girl, a travel blog she created to share travel tips and guides with female travelers.

WHAT KIND OF PROBLEM IS YOUR COMPANY SOLVING?

Even though social media is everywhere, not all businesses take advantage of it, especially small businesses, so they end up missing out on huge potential markets. It turns out most business owners don’t have time to manage their social media accounts or don’t have it figured out. So what my company does is offer social media management services to relieve business owners of the burden of social media so that they can have extra time to focus on larger businesses tasks, family, health, hobbies  and etc. It offers them access to live much more balanced lives while still growing their businesses.

WHAT DID THOSE FIRST STEPS LOOK/FEEL LIKE? (FOR EXAMPLE: THE FIRST 6 MONTHS)

Creating the brand, building the website, and creating the structures for the business was easy. I’d done this many times before with all the business ideas I had that didn’t follow through. What really had me scared was the next and most important step, selling my services. I gave myself a deadline to book my first client within 6 weeks so that I could leave my 9-5 job as a secretary. I actually booked a 3-week trip at the end of 6 weeks and promised myself, “By 6 weeks, I’m leaving my job and getting on this plane. I need to have a client by this time so that I can still support myself while traveling.” (My goal was to work while traveling as a social media manager.) I messaged more than a hundred people, hopped on countless phone calls, walked into several meetings and drafted various proposals. It was a process I was really anxious about because I was doing it all for the first time. Plus, here I was, selling my services when I didn’t have any previous client work to show these people. 

It’s true when they say real growth only happens outside of the comfort zone. For 6 weeks, I was living outside of it. I was anxious. I barely slept. I got sick. I had all these weird body sensations that you only get when you’re uncomfortable. And it was all worth it. Word had gotten around about who I was and what I do that within 4 weeks, I booked my first client. Within 5 weeks, I received 2 job offers that I had to decline because it didn’t allow me freedom to travel. And within 6 weeks, I presented at a conference for 120+ entrepreneurs as a social media manager. The 6 weeks was a huge whirlwind and though it was the scariest for me, I had the most fun. It’s not fun unless you’re scared right?

WHAT HAS BEEN THE BIGGEST CONTRIBUTION TO THE SUCCESS YOU'VE HAD THUS FAR?

Aside from my family and partner being huge supporters, the biggest contributions were my travel blog, Traveling Petite Girl, where I learned how to create and market a brand through social media, the online course, Social Media United, where I learned how to set up my social media management business, and the leadership program, the Team Management & Leadership Program, where I learned the mindset & skills needed to be a leader and entrepreneur.

DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE FAILURE? WHAT LESSONS DID YOU LEARN?

I have so many to choose from! I have a few failures of business ideas that didn’t follow through but I’d like to step out of the career box and talk about one of my more draining struggles: a romantic relationship that turned abusive. I won’t go into detail (You can read the full story here) but healing and growing from a toxic relationship was a process that required a lot of self-awareness, self-love, and strength I never thought I was capable of. I learned many lessons from the experience but the biggest lesson I learned was realizing that I was much more stronger and deserving than I knew myself to be, and I was bullshitting myself when I believed otherwise.

HOW DO YOU DEFINE LEADERSHIP? OR, WHAT DOES BEING A LEADER MEAN TO YOU?

A leader is someone who is willing to be vulnerable and weak in front of others. They own up to their mistakes and failures and aren’t afraid of looking bad in front of their team. Vulnerability makes leaders authentic, humble, and most importantly, approachable; all of which are needed to inspire morale, boost creativity, and build strong relationships with their team. A leader knows they don’t have all the answers so they encourage creativity and innovation by letting their team show up and take the lead. This is the basis of how I like to define my leadership.

DO YOU HAVE A MENTOR? HOW DID YOU GO ABOUT ACQUIRING ONE?

I’ve had a quite a few. All my mentors were women in creative leadership roles. I met all  these women through networking and talked to them about what I was up to in my career and they took me under their wings. It was awesome!

WHAT SHOULD WOMEN BE DOING MORE OF TO FOSTER LEADERSHIP SKILLS?

The most direct way I fostered my leadership skills was by attending leadership programs and this is what I highly suggest. Leadership programs give structure and support to lead teams. One of the leadership programs I attended was Landmark’s Team Management and Leadership Program. It’s a worldwide program that I recommend for anyone who is entrepreneurial and wants start a business or for someone who wants to learn how to lead teams in the workplace. Actually, it’s a program I recommend for anyone who wants develop the skills to create any life they want.

WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOU'RE FEELING "OVERWHELMED"?

When I feel overwhelmed, it usually means I’ve been doing too much work, I haven’t been channeling my creativity, or I haven’t taken time to take care of my physical and mental well-being. So I’d outsource the work that can be completed by others, focus on the work that could only be completed by me, film & edit videos or design something to channel my creativity, and get my nails done, get a massage, and hangout with my friends. 

WHAT IS ONE QUOTE YOU LIVE YOUR LIFE BY?

 “I can have it all.” What that means for me is that I can have a successful career, a loving family, deep friendships, the body of my dreams, and a devoted, hot lover. All at the same time! It’s also the vision of my business: for business owners to have it all!

WHAT ARE YOU READING RIGHT NOW?

I like to read one book in the day that teaches me something and another other book on my downtime that’s either a funny autobiography or a trashy romance novel. I’m currently reading “The Four Hour Work Week” by Tim Ferris and just finished reading “Why Not Me?” by Mindy Kaling. I’m now in search for a trashy romance novel to satisfy my trashy romance fantasies haha!

Have you ever felt imposter syndrome, and how did you combat it?

ALL. THE. TIME. When I started my business, I felt like an imposter parading around as a social media marketer. I thought people would find out I was an imposter because I didn’t have any formal background in marketing. The way I combatted it was by continuing to be in action. Actually, whenever imposter syndrome hit, I used that as a signal. It meant I was expanding in my leadership or business, and I was headed in the right direction. I use impostor syndrome to my advantage and keep going.

IF YOU HAD ONE TIP OR LIFE ADVICE, OR MANTRA TO SHARE, WHAT WOULD IT BE? 

“Nothing happens when you’re comfortable.” This is what I tell myself to step out of my comfort zone. And when I feel uncomfortable and scared, I’m in the right place.

ANY THING ELSE YOU'D LIKE TO INCLUDE?

Yes! I love having a calendar handy on the lock screen of my phone so every month, I design a calendar background and include a quote of the month to live by. I shared last month’s design with my followers and I’ve been receiving reminders from them to post this month’s calendar design. Here’s the one for September 2018!

This article originally ran in the Stilobox newsletter, Sign up here.

Sasha Wallinger is on a Mission to be a Voice for Women

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During college Sasha Wallinger took a women's history course where she was inspired to make a vow to herself ~  to be the voice for women don't have the opportunity to share their voice.

Her passion for building awareness and unexpected partnerships that create authentic, intimate relationships with target audiences have yielded award winning campaigns that have impacted $250M+ sales growth. 


Sasha is an inspired thought-leader driving strategic, futuristic programs to help organizations soar. In the past she has led communications strategies at brands such as H&M & Nike. 

WHAT KIND OF PROBLEM IS YOUR COMPANY SOLVING?

I am a global communications director, who works on behalf of brands and individuals to leverage new technologies, create design collaborations, conduct market research and act as an ambassador to market them authentically to targeted audiences. While I work across industries, my specialization is with the intersection of fashion, sustainability and technology.

WHAT DID THOSE FIRST STEPS LOOK/FEEL LIKE? (FOR EXAMPLE: THE FIRST 6 MONTHS)

Starting something on your own is a lot like a marathon. There is a lot of careful planning and training involved, but some of it is just luck. My first 6 months were a long time coming, beginning with obtaining my Masters at Reed College in Sustainable Fashion Communications, and then starting my first business. In the process I met so many other incredible designers, entrepreneurs and innovators who were those beacons of light that kept me going on the journey.

WHAT HAS BEEN THE BIGGEST CONTRIBUTION TO THE SUCCESS YOU'VE HAD THUS FAR?

Listening to other strong, confident and powerful women, either in their words or actions. The ability to witness and appreciate someone breaking barriers is an inspiration like none other.

DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE FAILURE? WHAT LESSONS DID YOU LEARN?

There are too many to count. I think the only lesson to learn when something doesn’t go just how you would like it to is how to pick up the pieces and move on to the next thing. 

HOW DO YOU DEFINE LEADERSHIP? OR, WHAT DOES BEING A LEADER MEAN TO YOU?

One of the best analogies that I reflect upon, especially when faced with hard leadership decisions is that I’m constantly acting on the behalf of my teams, colleagues and peers. The ability to create a space for people to just do their work is one of the critical opportunities of being in a leadership role. I think that ethos is a huge part of being a good leader and has been taught to me by leaders I’ve had who I have the utmost respect for.

DO YOU HAVE A MENTOR? HOW DID YOU GO ABOUT ACQUIRING ONE?

Ooh, do you know a good one, because I would love one! But in all seriousness, I’ve had so many influential people cross my path, it’s hard to pick just one mentoring relationship to highlight. I tend to be driven by emotional intelligence, which for me has meant that in some of the most impactful mentoring relationships I’ve had, the person has had no idea that they are my mentor. It’s actually more about being like a sieve, absorbing the way a leader comes across, the power she yields over a room, however large or small and how she gets things done. All this results in a learning cycle that is richer for me than a structured mentorship.I have also learned just as much from those whose footsteps I choose not to follow then those whose I do.

WHAT SHOULD WOMEN BE DOING MORE OF TO FOSTER LEADERSHIP SKILLS?

 Supporting one another. It is in the constellation of stars that we all shine the brightest. If this means attending an event that a friend or colleague is speaking at, then go. If this means that you mentor up and share an opportunity with someone to make sure that they are being seen then do it. I love how  @joanigerber describes her peer network on honesty in the Women of  Forbes. She notes that her community is  guided by "empathy, trust and understanding." It resonates loud and clear with me, and those in my close circle of friends and colleagues. This is the true path towards leadership with longevity.

WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOU'RE FEELING "OVERWHELMED"?

Breathe. Get some perspective, take a walk, meditate, do yoga, or call a friend who I know will tell it to me straight. 

WHAT IS ONE QUOTE YOU LIVE YOUR LIFE BY?

 “No eternal reward will forgive us now for wasting the dawn.” - Jim Morrison, That’s the quote that I put next to my picture in my high school yearbook. I think it still rings true, about not wasting any moment, or with respect to our earth and the beings on it treading as lightly as possible while adding that unique, special thing that makes you you!

WHAT ARE YOU READING RIGHT NOW?

I can never just read one book at a time, plus it’s summer. So I’m catching up on things that I have wanted to read for a little while and adding in some light reading to break up the research I’m doing integrating sustainability in fashion with tech. My list includes:

  1. Water 4.0: Past,Present, and Future of the World’s Most Vital Resource, by David Sedlak

  2. Empire of Cotton: A Global History, by Sven Beckert

  3. Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom, by Amy Chua

  4. Originals: How Non-conformists Move the World, by Adam Grant

Have you ever felt imposter syndrome, and how did you combat it?

That’s a hard one. Having worked in PR and entertainment marketing with so many talented creatives, athletes, musicians, designers and actors I’ve witnessed first hand that there can be a feeling of “what am I doing here” that transcends the spectrum of public awareness and accomplishment. I think the ultimate cure to that moment of questioning oneself is to simply remember that we are all human and our voices have just as much power as we are willing to allow them to share.

  Sasha at the Sundance Film Festival

Sasha at the Sundance Film Festival

 

IF YOU HAD ONE TIP OR LIFE ADVICE, OR MANTRA TO SHARE, WHAT WOULD IT BE? 

Listen. Laugh often. Practice kindness and compassion. And have a really good time!

ANY THING ELSE YOU'D LIKE TO INCLUDE?

I think it’s so special that you’re doing this important work, to share with women leaders that their voices need to be heard. People can follow me @sashawallinger on Twitter and Insta and I’m on LI as well!

This article originally ran in the Stilobox newsletter, Sign up here.

From Law to Venture Capital - How One Investor is Paving the Way for Startups Who Are Shaping the Future of Cities

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May Samali is passionate about investing in people and ideas that can change the world.

From lawyer to investor, she is currently at the Urban Innovation Fund, a San Francisco-based venture capital firm that provides seed capital and policy support to entrepreneurs shaping the future of cities.

By the way, the firm is 100% female owned and operated, and has invested in diverse founders. In fact, 71% of portfolio companies have a woman or person of color on the founding team.

She believes leadership is the practice of mobilizing groups of people to tackle tough challenges and constantly pushes herself outside of her comfort zone.

WHAT KIND OF PROBLEM IS THE URBAN INNOVATION FUND SOLVING?

With 81% of Americans living in cities, and two-thirds of the world's population urbanizing by 2050, there are a growing number of challenges facing urban dwellers. This unprecedented urbanization is giving rise to startups transforming the lives of millions of city dwellers in sectors like transportation, real estate, and the future of work. The Urban Innovation Fund is a venture capital firm that provides seed capital and regulatory support to these entrepreneurs who are solving our toughest urban problems. We invest in high-growth, early stage startups shaping the way we live, work, learn, play, and commute in cities. Our $22.5 million fund has already invested in 14 startups and we had our first exit when portfolio startup Valor Water Analytics was acquired by publicly traded water company Xylem earlier this year. 

WHAT DID THOSE FIRST STEPS LOOK/FEEL LIKE? (FOR EXAMPLE: THE FIRST 6 MONTHS)

I joined the Urban Innovation Fund when the firm was first getting off the ground about 18 months ago. Julie and Clara, our Managing Partners, had just started fundraising for Fund I. My first six months at the Urban Innovation Fund were a super interesting and exciting time. As the first (and only) employee, I was actively involved in setting up our fund's processes - both in terms of how we select and vet companies, and how we work with our companies after we've invested. I had the pleasure of working on half a dozen or so new investments during that initial period. I sourced my first investment within two months of starting in my role. Building a startup fund has helped me empathize with our many founders who are also creating companies from the ground up. It's been a stimulating, challenging, and inspiring process. I'm also proud to be working at a firm that is 100% female owned and operated, and has invested in diverse founders (71% of our portfolio companies have a woman or person of color on the founding team).

WHAT HAS BEEN THE BIGGEST CONTRIBUTION TO THE SUCCESS YOU'VE HAD THUS FAR?

 Courage. Without the courage to try new experiences and challenge my own expectations of myself, I wouldn't have been able to pivot my career and land in a role that brings me so much joy and fulfillment. I grew up thinking I wanted to dedicate my entire career to law, so I spent a lot of time, energy and resources working towards this goal. I went to law school, worked with a Supreme Court judge in Australia, and slogged away at a corporate law firm for a few years before realizing the practice of law wasn't really for me. Instead, I craved working with mission-driven founders to help them bring their ideas to life and scale their business operations and impact. I eventually gave in to my intuition, even though it contradicted what I'd always imagined for my professional life. I resigned from my corporate law job, interned with startups in Sydney, applied to graduate school programs in the US, and reimagined the possibilities. I am very grateful to the many mentors, coaches, and confidants who pushed me to take this leap of faith. They gave me the confidence to enter the unknown at a time when I didn't know how things would pan out. Listening to their advice was the best thing I ever did. Upon reflection, I believe the biggest regrets we have in life are the chances we don't take and decisions we wait too long to make. Courage prevents us from these regrets..

DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE FAILURE? WHAT LESSONS DID YOU LEARN?

Realizing I didn't want to be a lawyer definitely felt like a "failure" at the time, given how much I'd invested in this particular path. However, I learnt some important lessons from this experience. I learned to follow my heart even if I wasn't 100% sure of what would come next, and to be open to change and uncertainty. 

HOW DO YOU DEFINE LEADERSHIP? OR, WHAT DOES BEING A LEADER MEAN TO YOU?

I believe leadership is about influencing change that builds and enables the capacity of individuals and organizations to thrive. Specifically, it is the practice of mobilizing groups of people to tackle tough challenges. My notions of leadership are heavily influenced by the adaptive leadership framework set out by Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky. I was first exposed to Heifetz' work at the Harvard Kennedy School, and it turned everything I thought I knew about leadership on its head. I have come to realize that leadership is a function, not a formal role. I believe it's a responsibility that we all must bear if we are to make our organizations and communities stronger, healthier and more productive. The genius of recasting leadership as a function, is that we can all lead. Indeed, we should all lead - when and where it’s needed.

DO YOU HAVE A MENTOR? HOW DID YOU GO ABOUT ACQUIRING ONE?

I have had many mentors throughout the years. Each mentor has played a different role at a different stage in my journey. It's hard to single out any one mentor, but someone who continues to push me and inspire me is Mehrdad Baghai, Founder and Chairman of Alchemy Growth. Mehrdad was a key person in my life who helped me in my transition from law to venture capital. I think there's a lot of pressure out there to find the right mentor. Similar to dating, it's become somewhat of a quest to find the perfect "one" (mentor). But I believe mentorship, like friendship, should not be exclusive to just one person. By surrounding yourself with a group of people who have a variety of experiences, insights, and perspectives on professional and personal success, you will create an inner circle of individuals who you can draw on at different decision points in your life and career.

WHAT SHOULD WOMEN BE DOING MORE OF TO FOSTER LEADERSHIP SKILLS?

We should create multiple mentoring relationships, and in both directions (serving as a mentee in some, and as a mentor in others). In addition, we should constantly push ourselves outside our comfort zone. If something scares us, it's probably good for us.

WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOU'RE FEELING "OVERWHELMED"?

When I'm feeling overwhelmed, I go back to the basics: deep breathing (Stop, Breathe & Think is great!), getting out in nature, and reaching out to family and friends. Nothing makes me feel more grounded than being reconnected to loved ones and the earth. 

WHAT IS ONE QUOTE YOU LIVE YOUR LIFE BY?

This quote from Rainer Maria Rilke really speaks to the way I view life: “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

WHAT ARE YOU READING RIGHT NOW?

I'm currently reading "Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In" by Roger Fisher and William Ury. I was recommended this fantastic book by my close friend, Alex Smith, who is a Strategic Negotiator at Google. It provides a universally applicable method for negotiating personal and professional disputes. I love the practicality of its advice and insights.

Have you ever felt imposter syndrome, and how did you combat it?

Absolutely. It's a feeling that often resurfaces. The way I overcome "imposter syndrome" it is to constantly remind myself that everyone feels it all the time. I'm not special. That realization, in and of itself, is liberating.

IF YOU HAD ONE TIP OR LIFE ADVICE, OR MANTRA TO SHARE, WHAT WOULD IT BE? 

Be open to change, and have the courage to continue to evolve!

ANY THING ELSE YOU'D LIKE TO INCLUDE?

You can follow May on Twitter @maysamali or reach her via LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/msamali/

This article originally ran in the Stilobox newsletter, Sign up here.

Instrumental to Google Play and Audible's evolution - now Chia-Lin is coming after retail as an influential founder

Roya Sabeti, Founder Stilobox (20).png

This week we're excited to share the story of Chia-Lin Simmons CEO of LookyLoo, an AI-Powered social commerce company that focuses on helping women discover and purchase clothing that fit and make them feel confident.

A former Googler she pawned her 24-karat gold jewels she inherited from her mother and sold some of her Google stock to launch her new startup.

She was named on HuffPo as one of “27 Women In Tech You Need To Follow On Twitter

In her free time, she founded the #bindersproject, which helps connect women tech founders with global funders looking to accelerate female founded startups.

WHAT KIND OF PROBLEM IS LOOKYLOO SOLVING?

Women are not always finding the right clothes that make them feel confident. Many women only where 80% of their clothes 1 to 3 times, sales conversion online for apparel is less than 10% and returns are high at 30-50%. Women are having a harder time finding clothes that is a fit and make them feel confident. Technology today just isn’t working. Many fit companies (created by men) are focused on getting the numerical “fit” right. But Look Confidence™ is more than just fit. It’s about size, shape and validation.

 This is where LookyLoo comes in. LookyLoo is an AI-Powered Social Commerce platform that helps women discover clothing that fit and they can feel confident in. Our patent pending AI (named Lucy!) is one of the first real female AI - conceptualized, built and trained by women. LookyLoo's Lucy's algorithm is a “multithreaded” algorithm - we weave together user (understanding users shapes, preferences, conscious / unconscious biases, location, etc) and styling (what is preferred look among a predictive and unpredicted cohort groups, what is considered something that "looks good", etc.) algorithms to provide insight and recommendations.

We provide recommendation that is user aware, location aware, cohort/demographic aware and a community of “native influencers” who are real women of all beautiful sizes and shapes to help make decisions on what to buy. The more the community posts and votes, the smarter Lucy gets for the individual consumer as well as help to inform brands on what to manufacture and sale.

WHAT DID THOSE FIRST STEPS LOOK/FEEL LIKE? (FOR EXAMPLE: THE FIRST 6 MONTHS)

We spent a lot of time trying to understand how women shop today and why there was such high rates of returns and low rates of conversions. Those had real economic consequences - more than $250M annually. We looked at consumer purchasing habits - how much people were buying, returning and what they were doing. We realized they had a high rate of desire to be social, to get help in decision making, which was a pattern and data that validated our hypothesis on the social experience of shopping.

We then set forth on creating the first rules around the algorithm and what it needed to do.

WHAT HAS BEEN THE BIGGEST CONTRIBUTION TO THE SUCCESS YOU'VE HAD THUS FAR?

 The lack of fear for ambiguity. I have been working in emerging technology since the 1990’s, always defining and building bleeding edge technology that I would then have to market and explain to the consumer. I have always been able to forge forward despite the lack of data and in fact am able to embrace the ambiguity as an opportunity to develop amazing products and technology. It is one of the major reasons I am successful as a tech executive and one the main reasons that I love and thrive in the technology industry.

DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE FAILURE? WHAT LESSONS DID YOU LEARN?

There has been so many failures along with the successes. One of my favorite failures is the work I did on the RedHelicopter Baby Monitor in 2016. We saw amazing technology, a marketplace of tech savvy parents coming online, interest in bio measurements and forged ahead to try to build a better baby monitor. Currently, medical science has access to the healthy heart rates of millions of adults in aggregate through the use of connected watches and health monitor products. But in the area of infant heart health, there are relatively less data. We spoke with researchers at the Mayo and Cleveland institute on this topic and was excited about making an impact in being able to track in aggregate millions of points of data on healthy infant heart and breath rate data for research.

We were excited about the data possibilities and of doing greater good but neglected the fundamental issue of price point requirements in the marketplace and switch costs. To build the amazing product we wanted to provide to parents, our BOM was too high to make it a good retail alternative for parents. Would it be worth purchasing our amazing device at $500 MSRP or feel a little less secure but purchase a monitor at $150 MSRP? Being fast moving tech folks, we build a relatively fast MVP and started speaking with and interviewing consumers. They loved the product and the idea of the product, but fundamentally was OK with feeling less happy to save a lot of money on a relatively less robust product.

We realized we had forgotten in our excitement that it was not enough to love the data and built an amazing product but that the consumer price concerns are important factors to consider in B2C hardware.

HOW DO YOU DEFINE LEADERSHIP? OR, WHAT DOES BEING A LEADER MEAN TO YOU?

I believe being a good leader is about several basic principles:

  1. Listen: always listen to the concerns of the team, both what they are saying and what they are not saying

  2. Servant leader: your job as a leader is to help clear the path for success for your team. It’s the way to maximize everyone’s impact

  3. Stretch: We all need challenges. I want to find the best person for the job that I have. But we all need to feel like we’re learning and stretching. So I need to provide stretch products that is not impossible but amazing opportunities for my employees to learn and shine

DO YOU HAVE A MENTOR? HOW DID YOU GO ABOUT ACQUIRING ONE?

I have a personal advisory board rather than a mentor. Much like companies that need a board with variety of skill sets and viewpoints to ensure a company’s success, a personal advisory board acts much in the same way. I assemble a group of different people to whom I reach out for feedback and advise when I need them in a variety of different scenarios. I often will pose the same questions to all of them, giving me a variety of viewpoints. These individuals are often senior to me, further in their career, and some are peers. They are often very different from each other in operational expertise, experience and sometimes industries. It provides me with an opportunity to look at problems from a multitude of different ways when I’m stuck on a problem.

To find them, they are often active members of my working life and I have worked with them a some point in my career. Some I reach back out to after years to reconnect and bring them back into my world. Some are already active members of my actual corporate advisory board.

WHAT SHOULD WOMEN BE DOING MORE OF TO FOSTER LEADERSHIP SKILLS?

Everyone, not just women, should be unafraid to take on challenges and risks in their career to foster leadership skills. The ability to face uncertainty, challenges is a wonderful way to build skills of resilience which is a much needed skill for leaders.

WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOU'RE FEELING "OVERWHELMED"?

I unplug completely from the internet for a few hours and read a book. I also love to spend my unplugged time with my daughter and husband to play boardgames. It’s a nice break from the email, IM, documents, etc that are constantly flowing in.

WHAT IS ONE QUOTE YOU LIVE YOUR LIFE BY?

For work: “It’s not a field of dreams people! Just because you build it, doesn’t mean they will come.” this is my own quote because I have spent a lifetime in the tech industry explaining to people why marketing is so important to the product we’re building.

Personal: “Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.” from the Dalai Lama.

WHAT ARE YOU READING RIGHT NOW?

I’m usually juggling a few books at the same time. I usually read one fiction and one non-fiction at the same time. Here’s what I’m reading now at the same time:

Fiction: I am re-reading “Winds of War” by Herman Wouk. Scary but the raise of Hitler in the 1930s in this fictional work have strange parallels to the world we live in now 

Non-Fiction: “Team of Rivals” by Doris Kearns Goodwin. I’ve been wanting to read this for a while and it feels like the right time to read about an inspiring leader who’s able to bring very different people together towards a larger mission.

Have you ever felt imposter syndrome, and how did you combat it?

Absolutely, I have imposter syndrome and more frequently than I like. It’s surprising how many accomplished women I know that suffer from this. I got advice from a very accomplished friend and senior executive on writing down what she was feeling about when she’s hit with Imposter Syndrome and being able to see it written down has helped me get it out of my head and challenge the negative voices. I also find being able to channel a more confident person to be helpful.

IF YOU HAD ONE TIP OR LIFE ADVICE, OR MANTRA TO SHARE, WHAT WOULD IT BE? 

Don’t be afraid to try and to fail. You can’t succeed without it.

ANY THING ELSE YOU'D LIKE TO INCLUDE?

I would love to see more women step into investment roles and change our industry. I would like to ask women to step up and invest in each other - invest time, money. We can’t change the problems we’re seeing in the tech industry or other male dominant industry if we don’t stand up for each other, take real action instead of talk about it. Start small, work your way into doing more.

This article originally ran in the Stilobox newsletter, Sign up here.

One Email Marketers Prediction of the Future ~ Why Everyone Will Need to Build Their Own Audience

Kasey, Founder Stilobox (18).png

It seems everyone now a days is trying to build their audience, find their tribe, or just grow their email list.

But just how do you do it?

Kasey Luck helps entrepreneurs grow their email lists and convert email subscribers into paying customers. Over the past 4 years, she has grown three email lists by over 40,000 subscribers in total and used them to effectively sell products with price tags ranging from $25 to $6,000.

She runs Bold & Zesty and leads local events for email marketers. Previously she did event marketing at the world's most active venture fund in the world, 500 Startups.

Kasey actually cold emailed me about hosting a talk on email marketing at Galvanize (which she nailed BTW).

She has extreme hustle. When she had a job she would ask her boss for a raise every time they met just to get practice.

WHAT KIND OF PROBLEM IS Bold & Zesty SOLVING?

I’m solving the problem of unfulfilled potential. I believe that the world is moving towards individual brands, and that most people have something unique and valuable to share that other people would pay for. This would make the do-ers more fulfilled because they’ll do the stuff they love, and would make the receivers happy because they are served by people who are truly passionate about what they do.

I help people like that grow their audience, which is the foundation of any business. Specifically, I teach how to build an email list, because email is the only owned channel online, and it’s simply awesome.

WHAT DID THOSE FIRST STEPS LOOK/FEEL LIKE? (FOR EXAMPLE: THE FIRST 6 MONTHS)

Honestly, it feels like first steps every new 6 months because things are moving, changing, growing so fast, it’s something new every 3-6 months.

But if I had to really answer that question, the first 3 months felt awesome - i felt like i was in a laboratory learning about people, buyer psychology, marketing, copy, etc. Building something. I would wake up at 4-5 am to write content for my blog because my morning hours are most productive.

I remember those days with fondness.

WHAT HAS BEEN THE BIGGEST CONTRIBUTION TO THE SUCCESS YOU'VE HAD THUS FAR?

My managers, informal mentors, everyone in my professional environment who I learned from. I was fortunate to be surrounded with extremely smart, driven, tireless people. Learning from them is a privilege.

DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE FAILURE? WHAT LESSONS DID YOU LEARN?

I don’t know if it’s my favorite, but it’s one that came to mind. After I graduated college, I really wanted to work for Airbnb. I found a connection through a friend of a friend to get introduced to the hiring manager, and eventually got an interview there.

It was the first “big job” interview I ever did after college. I blew it. I didn’t get to the next interview.

I decided I needed to get really good at interviewing. So I would schedule 3-4 phone interviews a day (auto-applying for jobs on LinkedIn and AngelList) JUST so I could get fucking fantastic at this.

 So by the time the next big opportunity came, I was amazing at interviews (and I got the job!)

At that time, I realized that everything in life is doable if you prepare enough. Just like in college.

HOW DO YOU DEFINE LEADERSHIP? OR, WHAT DOES BEING A LEADER MEAN TO YOU?

A leader is someone who really cares about people. Someone for whom helping people is a SINCERE passion. Someone who understand people really well. Someone who is excellent at taking responsibility for everything that happens to them and around them.

DO YOU HAVE A MENTOR? HOW DID YOU GO ABOUT ACQUIRING ONE?

Hmm, define mentor. I have many people who I look up to and learn from in specific aspects of their life. I don’t have a formal mentor. I have a life coach though! I’ve coached with him for almost a year and it’s changed my life. It’s funny that 13 months ago I’d probably laugh at the idea of having a life coach. I got him at tonyrobbins.com

WHAT SHOULD WOMEN BE DOING MORE OF TO FOSTER LEADERSHIP SKILLS?

Don’t listen to anyone except your heart. Be and do whatever you feel like. Own both your feminine and masculine traits. Always speak up. Proactively train confidence in yourself. Do what scares you - every.single.time (when I had a full time job I asked for a raise every time I had a one-on-one with my manager just to get better at it, because it was very scary. I got a raise every time). Learn about the differences in how men and women operate. Just learn practical psychology and practice it. Be you.

WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOU'RE FEELING "OVERWHELMED"?

Go to nature. Woods, lakes, hikes. By myself. Getting back to nature really shows the scale and reminds me of how small I am in this world. It also energizes me in such a way that I feel like I can take on anything!

Also traveling. But that’s my remedy for anything.

WHAT IS ONE QUOTE YOU LIVE YOUR LIFE BY?

Oooh I had so many when I was younger! But after a while they get internalized and the exact wording is forgotten. The one below really formed me, though, and I read it before it became mainstream (it’s from my favorite American writer Ray Bradbury)

“If we listened to our intellect, we’d never have a love affair. We’d never have a friendship. We’d never go in business because we’d be cynical: ‘It’s gonna go wrong.’ Or ‘She’s going to hurt me.’ Or ‘I had a couple of bad love affairs so therefore …’ “Well, that’s nonsense. You’re going to miss life. You’ve got to jump off the cliff all the time and build your wings on the way down.”

WHAT ARE YOU READING RIGHT NOW?

Shoe Dog and Expert Secrets

Have you ever felt imposter syndrome, and how did you combat it?

Omg, every day. What ACTUALLY helps is hearing from others (who I trust) that what I’m doing is bringing real value. That requires not hiding, though, and doing “the thing” even if I feel like it’s good enough, even if I can’t make myself watch the video that I just posted. But get it out there anyway, and then listen closely for constructive feedback.

What also helps is remembering this is all just a game. At the end of it we die, and all these little things won’t matter at all.

IF YOU HAD ONE TIP OR LIFE ADVICE, OR MANTRA TO SHARE, WHAT WOULD IT BE? 

To focus on your relationships as much as you focus on your career/business. Where focus goes, energy flows. For most people, if they gave even a fraction of time/dedication/learning to relationships with their loved ones as they do to developing themselves in the professional world, their personal lives would be transformed.

ANY THING ELSE YOU'D LIKE TO INCLUDE?

Over the past 3 years I have been testing countless list-building tricks and strategies (probably over 60 in total).

Some of those strategies work really well, like guest posting.

And some others are really overhyped or outdated, and need to be discontinued from the internet (like commenting on a bunch of blogs).

Here’s what I’ve found…  

There are 3 strategies that are working like a charm right now. Not many people know about them, which is precisely why they are so effective.  

I’ve described each of them and then packaged into a short PDF guide for you, which you can download by clicking right here.

This article originally ran in the Stilobox newsletter, Sign up here.

The First Cosmetics & Skincare Line for Active Women ~ Sweat Cosmetics

Leslie Osborne

Leslie Osborne is Co-founder of Sweat Cosmetics, the first cosmetic and sun care line designed by athletes for active women.

Sweat Cosmetics is high performance makeup designed to protect & enhance beauty while enduring a woman's on-the-go life. Developed, test and proven by professional and Olympic female athletes, Sweat believes in empowering active women to embrace their beauty, and encourage every woman to find their sweat.

Before becoming an entrepreneur Leslie was a sponsored professional athlete for 10 years, as well as model, trainer, spokeswoman, even meeting her four other co-founders on the soccer field.

As Chief Communications Officer, she aims to solidify Sweat Cosmetics as the preferred cosmetic brand for professional female athletes and other influential women.

You can find Sweat Cosmetics at Sephora Anthropologie, Revolve, and many fitness studios and dermatologist offices across the country.

They’ve gone on to raise over 250K via a very successful crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo.

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WHAT KIND OF PROBLEM IS SWEAT COSMETICS SOLVING?

We are the first cosmetic and sun care line designed by athletes for active women. We wanted to create products that would protect your skin from the sun BUT also provide coverage in addition to feeling good, looking good, while still being able to play well.

WHAT DID THOSE FIRST STEPS LOOK/FEEL LIKE? (FOR EXAMPLE: THE FIRST 6 MONTHS)

Crazy. We have 5 founders and the idea started 10 years ago when two of our founders were playing soccer in college. It wasn't until we all started playing professionally together where we actually took the idea and decided to start the company (which took 3 years). The first six months after launch were actually easier than the 3 years it took for us building up to launch since at that time we actually had a product:) We went through 7 rounds of testing with friends and family and that actually took a year and half! Our first fundraising round was with our friends and family when we didn't even have a product yet. One of my founders actually used her house as our headquarters (office and fulfillment center). Since we were all former professional athletes turned first time entrepreneurs, we had to use our mentors and advisors a lot pre, and post launch as a company.

WHAT HAS BEEN THE BIGGEST CONTRIBUTION TO THE SUCCESS YOU'VE HAD THUS FAR?

Two things, first, we are all former athletes and we have achieved success at the highest level possible. We are determined, motivated, hard working, goal orientated, and work very well together since we were former teammates, those skill traits have helped us get to where we are at. Second, I would say our support system- from our investors to advisors and mentors. We wouldn't be where we are without them. I will finish and say, we are also our own target market so that has helped us find success in the market.

DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE FAILURE? WHAT LESSONS DID YOU LEARN?

Ha! Oh my gosh, there have been so many! How about when we had to push back launch 3 times because of delays with manufacturers (ugh)! OR signing our first contract with Sephora and not really sure what we were doing and agreed to things we probably shouldn't have. A few takeaways are *have a strong advisory/board of directors so you can lean on them for their expertise *ask more questions and use your leverage *being okay with having to constantly pivot.

HOW DO YOU DEFINE LEADERSHIP? OR, WHAT DOES BEING A LEADER MEAN TO YOU?

A leader is someone who brings out the best and strengths in their team. Someone who sets the example and tone ALL the time. The best leaders in my life have been trustworthy, passionate, hardworking, respectful and positive.

DO YOU HAVE A MENTOR? HOW DID YOU GO ABOUT ACQUIRING ONE?

Yes! I have a few. The first one is my dad- he will always be my mentor. I look up to him in so many ways especially now being an entrepreneur since he was so successful as one. I am so lucky to have such an amazing dad. Second, Julie Foudy- she is one of the best women's soccer players and I was lucky enough to play with her on the US Women's National Soccer Team. She was so encouraging, positive, hardworking, selfless and overall rockstar, I learned so much from her on and off the field. The third mentor is one of my professional soccer team's owners I met in Boston. He is actually a venture capitalist and has had such an impact on my life. He has taught me so many life skills that I have carried over into the startup world.

WHAT SHOULD WOMEN BE DOING MORE OF TO FOSTER LEADERSHIP SKILLS?

Seeking more role models/mentors out...Also, get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOU'RE FEELING "OVERWHELMED"?

I go for a run or go exercise, that always helps. :)

WHAT IS ONE QUOTE YOU LIVE YOUR LIFE BY?

I have so many, I can't pick. Good things happen to good people."

WHAT ARE YOU READING RIGHT NOW?

Ha, I wish I had to time to read a book. I actually need to make the time. I'm balancing being part of a start up while having two babies under the age of 21 months so it's a little crazy.

IF YOU HAD ONE TIP OR LIFE ADVICE, OR MANTRA TO SHARE, WHAT WOULD IT BE? 

Have a great support system and lean on them. When people offer their help, take them up on it. Also, stay positive and continue to work hard. Good things will come...

ANY THING ELSE YOU'D LIKE TO INCLUDE?

Thanks for having me! Love being part of this community and can't wait to hear from more amazing women! :)

This article originally ran in the Stilobox newsletter, Sign up here.

An Early Airbnb Employee Sets out to Create her Own Experiences for Singles

Kati_Schmidt_headshot

Kati Schmidt is the founder of Piña Colada, which brings dating back to real life by connecting groups of six like-minded singles over great food in San Francisco’s best restaurants.

Before venturing out on her own Kati was an early employee of Airbnb working on the experiences team, after 6.5 years she decided it was time to pursue her own venture.

Though she was lucky enough to meet her partner on Tinder she realized that online dating was broken and set out to fix it. In November 2017 Piña Colada,  was born. The goal is simple, to create meaningful connections between groups of six like-minded singles over great food.


 

WHAT KIND OF PROBLEM IS YOUR COMPANY SOLVING?

Even though I was lucky to meet my partner on the dating app Tinder, I believe (online) dating is broken and can be done better. Piña Colada brings dating back to real life by connecting groups of six like-minded singles over great food in San Francisco’s best restaurants. With the concept of Piña Colada I was able to combine my passion of connecting people in the offline world and celebrating great food!

WHAT DID THOSE FIRST STEPS LOOK/FEEL LIKE? (FOR EXAMPLE: THE FIRST 6 MONTHS)

Instead of focusing on world class technology and automation or the bureaucracy of starting a business before knowing that the concept is viable, I focused on creating a pilot: the first Piña Colada group dinner. Piña Colada is still in the early days and the matching of groups and many other processes are still very hands-on and manual. My main focus is creating good content, spreading the word, marketing and sales, creating good experiences and engaging with my users before, during and after the dates to learn as much as possible.

WHAT HAS BEEN THE BIGGEST CONTRIBUTION TO YOUR CAREER SUCCESS?

I was an early employee of Airbnb and have learned a lot during my 6.5 years at the company. During my last year at Airbnb I was part of the team launching Airbnb Experiences, which connects people over authentic local activities. This mission and a lot of the learnings have influenced the curation and focus on quality I put into creating offline group dinner dating experiences.

DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE FAILURE? WHAT LESSONS DID YOU LEARN?

Unfortunately, I have been close to a burn out twice during my career. As an ambitious woman it was difficult to realize that there are limits to my capacity without risking my well being. We need to invest in self care and look out for ourselves first and then for each other. Especially working in tech here in San Francisco/Silicon Valley it can be tempting to go non stop without pausing and reflecting whether the goal that we are chasing is actually worth it and makes us happy in the long run.

HOW DO YOU DEFINE LEADERSHIP? OR, WHAT DOES BEING A LEADER MEAN TO YOU?

Leaders have backbone and are independent thinkers. They call bs when necessary even when it is unpopular or risky to do so.

WHAT SHOULD WOMEN BE DOING MORE OF TO FOSTER LEADERSHIP SKILLS?

Have each others’ back. As a female leader, even though your own path was probably pretty tough, hold the door open for all the aspiring female leaders who are right behind you. Inspire other women, refer, hire and encourage them.

WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOU'RE FEELING "OVERWHELMED"?

When I feel overwhelmed, I reach out to friends, fellow entrepreneurs or communities that I am a member of. When I share my doubts, I can count on them to remind me how I have mastered difficult things in the past. It helps when they tell me that they have been in my shoes as well and how they got out of the situation.

HAVE YOU EVER FELT IMPOSTER SYNDROME, AND HOW DID YOU COMBAT IT?

After a rather corporate career, I sometimes feel like an imposter as an entrepreneur. I was pretty comfortable at my previous job and knew what I was doing most of the time. As a solo entrepreneur, I have to figure out a lot of things at the same time: acquiring new skills and expertise, prioritizing and making tough decisions. This is very empowering but can be overwhelming at the same time.

WHAT IS ONE QUOTE YOU LIVE YOUR LIFE BY?

Just do it. I created most ideas when I had a personal problem to fix: after being diagnosed with celiac disease, I started the gluten free community glutenfreiheit.org, when I was overwhelmed with my relocation from Berlin to San Francisco in a short period of time, I created the relocation blog kaliforniakati.com and when I was single in Berlin, a friend and I came up with the alpha version of what is now Piña Colada.

WHAT ARE YOU READING RIGHT NOW?

I wish I was reading more. Next up is Trevor Noah’s biography Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood.

ANYTHING ELSE YOU'D LIKE TO INCLUDE?

Thank you! Use the code “STILOBOX” to save $10 off your first Piña Colada group dinner date. Sign up here.

This article originally ran in the Stilobox newsletter, Sign up here.

Inspirational Female Leaders Series #10~ Ritika Puri

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Ritika Puri is co-founder at Storyhackers, a San Francisco based content studio that works with startups, governments, and fortune 500s around the world.

She started Storyhackers as a side hustle and started earning three times her job-salary, at that point she decided to quit her job to become a full time entrepreneur.

She believes “We are living in a pivotal point in our world’s history. This is a year in which women’s voices are becoming louder, more valued, and more important.”


 

WHAT KIND OF PROBLEM IS YOUR COMPANY SOLVING?

My company Storyhackers has been through many twists and turns over its four and a half years in business. As we have evolved, so have the problems that we solve. Our company started as a two-person consultancy, following me spending four years as an independent marketing consultant. That was in 2013, and back then, we specialized in helping B2B companies shorten sales transaction cycles through content. We created case studies, blog posts, whitepapers, and guides to reach audiences with “the right message at the right time.”

As our reputation grew as a company, so did the challenges that we were solving. Last year, we helped a global materials manufacturer break into United States markets with a new type of solar panel, for instance. We also helped innovation teams within the Department of Defense build an internal storytelling/knowledge management program. We work with corporate accelerators to communicate tough-to-measure results to internal stakeholders. We also work with companies that are partnering with global telecommunications companies to build financial inclusion pathways to populations that lack access to financial services.

It was through these experiences that we surfaced the power of storytelling, in all its shapes and forms—through writing, media, data, video, and design—to solve problems that are turning up across media, all over the news. What surprised us was the absence of and lack of value that industries place on the value of storytelling. It is a timeless, human discipline that will outlive automation and artificial challenges.

In 2018, we scaled back our services operations to focus on a problem that we never would have otherwise seen, if it weren’t for our multifaceted client experiences. That problem is the lack of storytelling education and the chronic devaluation of storytelling and communication skills in education systems. We are solving that problem by building a learning hub  that teaches the value of storytelling as a problem-solving tool.

WHAT DID THOSE FIRST STEPS LOOK/FEEL LIKE? (FOR EXAMPLE: THE FIRST 6 MONTHS)

My first 6 months as a full-time entrepreneur were terrifying. Even though I was earning three times my job-salary through my side gig as a freelancer, I was terrified of a potential downturn—that my dream of being an entrepreneur wouldn’t last. I “felt” unemployed, even though I wasn’t, and searched for jobs every day. I second guessed myself. “Other people become successful and achieve their dreams, but I’m not one of those people” was my default mental mode.

At the 6 month mark, when my co-founder joined me, I finally stopped and embarked on a journey of learning how to believe in myself. Two years later, I hit my peak confidence after a series of prolonged, unexpected setbacks. Then, I lost that confidence. I built it up again over another 6 months and promised myself that I would never let go of it again. It was when my confidence peaked again that my co-founder and I made the decision to evolve our business, out of our comfort zone, to build what we spent every minute of our lives wishing to exist in the world—our storytelling school.

In a way, because we are starting a new education business within the context of an already-existing business, we are starting over. It’s like our first 6 months all over again. This time, the process has been more methodical, since we have deeper experience as entrepreneurs—running the whole business vs. contributing to a role at a job.

 This time, we have more knowns than unknowns, have clear product roadmaps, well-developed paths to monetization, a track record as a company, and a team of development partners from around the world, who have mastered teaching skills that we want to see exist in the world. We know how to balance the resources that we have, to a level of precision that I never knew existed.I notice that with this confidence, direction, and energy, we are moving towards a goals, more efficiently, instead of getting stuck in routines.

WHAT HAS BEEN THE BIGGEST CONTRIBUTION TO YOUR CAREER SUCCESS?

There are a few things that have helped me. Number one, I am not afraid to fall down and fail—and I am not ashamed or afraid to talk about it. If you think about what me and my co-founder are doing in terms of pure probability, odds of success are against us. Those odds look a little cruddier when you compare what we are doing with what other people do: they raise money from VCs to develop products faster and offset personal financial risk, they set sights on defined liquidity events to make clear financial projections, and they avoid competitive environments. We do none of these things. Instead, we take the emotion out of probability, a construct that is inherently humanless. We seek to outsmart probabilities by taking contrarian, less-than-obvious paths. Failure is one of three outcomes: success, nothing, and failure. None are emotional.

What we do instead is question the impact and trajectory of every decision that we make. That’s number two, and a skill that I learned through constant reinforcement from my co-founder Justin, which he learned through years of experience in healthcare partnerships, data science, and pharmaceutical research—every short-term action has a long-term consequence. We look at everything, major and minor, in terms of their relationship to the company that we want in 2,5, and then 10 years. If something sets us off course, we either cut it from our activities or justify why we are doing it. We optimize decisions for probability.

 The third biggest contribution has been my self-esteem and confidence. I didn’t have any for a long-time. When I was in the workforce, the support of my coworkers, mentors, and bosses fueled me. When that fuel went away, and I no longer had an organization to “protect” me, my self-esteem slowly eroded. Entrepreneurship is a harsh career path, and despite always receiving praise for my high emotional intelligence (EQ), there were many aspects to my identity, especially my perfectionism and intensity, that came close to swallowing me whole. I spent a year learning how to build professional boundaries and how to be happy when things were really, really shitty. Learning how to be my own source for happiness and success fuel were pivotal in pushing me to escape my comfort zone and take steeper-trajectory paths for my business. I’m only 31, and I co-founded Storyhackers just after my 27th birthday. It is imperative that I continue to generate this optimism from within.

 The fourth biggest contribution, and the one that I am working on mastering right now, is the ability to stay calm in any situation. While I rarely show stress outwardly, I absorb it. That’s a terrible way to handle things. I am reprogramming my responses to stressors, which is especially important given today’s political and sociological climate. I want to be a source of positivity and to help others navigate a challenging time in history, too.

DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE FAILURE? WHAT LESSONS DID YOU LEARN?

After receiving a promotion at my job in 2012, I blew through a $10,000 campaign budget in 2 hours. I have always felt terrible spending other peoples’ money, so telling my boss how much I wasted was not easy for me. To my surprise my boss and his colleagues pretty much high-fived me and told me to “turn it around.” So I did. I turned that wasted expense into a multi-million dollar revenue stream and new line of business for the company.

 Don’t get me wrong: $10,000 is a lot of money, and I don’t advocate for wasting resources like that like that. But I’m glad it happened. For one, it helped me see how much my bosses believed in me and valued me. The situation also taught me to see money as a transactional tool, rather than something that owns me or controls me. Instead of getting stressed or “feeling bad,” I sought to turn the waste into a worthwhile investment. I worked every day to make this vision happen. And the outcome was both lucrative and a good direction for the long-term health of my employer.

 I have since wasted much more money in my own business—an experience that is very, very different. I am bootstrapping my company that makes a fraction of my former employer, a billion-dollar conglomerate. To them, $10,000 is less than pocket change. But thanks to the experience of losing $10,000 in two hours, a complete shock to my system, I am comfortable with that kind of volatility. I am not only comfortable, but I have created financial safety nets to weather them unscathed.

The lesson that I learned is that when you take emotion out of money, you learn to use it as a tool to better yourself as a situation. At least, that was my experience and the guidance that my mentor-base of entrepreneurs offered me. My money-wasting experiences have also taught me how to manage cash flow, for the purpose of growing a business. If you have finance experience (I don’t), you’ll learn that this juggling act is an art. I’m proud to have the skills of someone with finance training, through “hard knocks” experience.

HOW DO YOU DEFINE LEADERSHIP? OR, WHAT DOES BEING A LEADER MEAN TO YOU?

This is a tough question because I struggled with the definition. For five years after entering the workforce, shit you not, I thought that being a leader meant acting like a stereotypical “alpha male.” I once read a study that leaders tend to be bald, tall, and authoritarian in nature. I thought I was doomed because I’m 5’2”, female, have flowy long hair, and have no idea how to live the part of this persona.

 So what is this persona?

 It goes back to what I have learned, through feedback about me from third-parties, as I analyze my successes and failures. I’m a nice person, I care about others’ successes, I make good decisions that serve the best interests of my team first and foremost, I get shit done, and I lead people towards tough-to-grasp targets. These are all the best and worst qualities about me. What stinks about being nice, for instance? People take advantage of that. What stinks about caring for others’ successes? Sometimes, those same people don’t care about me back or fail to see me as a fallible human like he or she is.

Being a leader means knowing my weaknesses and repositioning them into my biggest strengths. Leadership, to me, means elevating others to lead too. And knowing when/how to let go.

WHAT SHOULD WOMEN BE DOING MORE OF TO FOSTER LEADERSHIP SKILLS?

As an American woman with South Asian ancestry, and as someone who self-identifies as an individual with equal parts eastern and western perspectives, I feel as though we are living in a pivotal point in our world’s history. This is a year in which women’s voices are becoming louder, more valued, and more important. But as we become louder, I see so much anger and divisiveness—particularly towards a “patriarchy” that has created glass ceilings for us. We need to see ourselves as empowered rather than victims and to fight alongside individuals we perceive to be in opposition to us. Anger can only take us so far.

It’s amazing how much perception can change when we put ourselves “out there” as individuals and when we allow ourselves to feel uncomfortable and challenged. We can do this diplomatically. I once received feedback from a boss that my leadership skills were not strong enough. I responded, calmly, that perhaps his perspectives would be different if the company’s board and senior management had representation from women. He was quiet. I could tell he was shocked because I knew his personality.

 He gave me feedback with intent to support me, not hurt me or tear me down. Up until this point, he had promoted me numerous times, brought me to meetings with strategic partners, and exposed me to knowledge beyond what I thought I would ever learn.

It may sound weird, but I accepted my boss’s feedback with an open mind and heart. Of course I wasn’t a good leader--he was right. But it wasn’t because of the company or overt sexism. It was because I didn’t believe in myself.

WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOU'RE FEELING "OVERWHELMED"?

Someone gave me this advice a few years ago, when my founder anxiety was new and extremely challenging for me to manage: I stop whatever I’m doing, and I go exercise. As hard as it feels to pull away, it’s important to do. Caught early, the feeling of being overwhelmed is correctable and possible to keep calm. Bubbled up? That can knock you out for days.

 I have become better at noticing physical symptoms of stress. Now, if I notice that my resting heart rate is higher than my average heart rate (thanks for the data, Fitbit), I take things easy until my heart rate is back to below-average. I am learning how to identify and squash stress before it has a chance to manifest into physical symptoms.

ANYTHING ELSE YOU'D LIKE TO INCLUDE: 

Imagine how different things would be if more people, men and women, stopped trying to conform to standards of others. What if instead of saying, “I wish I could become a leader,” we said, “I am a leader.”

Instead of waiting to become a leader, assume that you already are.

Life is short, and we only have one chance to live it—and to make something out of it. I feel happiest and most at peace when I lead. Rather than waiting for others to create those opportunities for me, I take those steps myself.

 I said earlier in my response that it’s an amazing time to be a woman. It is also challenging. I am scared every single day, living in a nation in which political rhetoric has turned so ugly, in a way that spawns continued violence. It is hard to keep a smile on my face some days, listening to what politicians (and everyday people) say about women.

 One thing that has helped has been to embrace these fears/concerns as legitimate and open up to other women. It’s amazing how much we learn from each others’ lessons in therapy, for instance. I learned that what we call imposter syndrome, for instance, stems from the fact that we have always taken a backseat to dudes in professional spheres—of course we are going to be scared because all women paving new paths in leadership are doing so for the first time in history. But that doesn’t mean that dudes don’t experience “imposter syndrome” either. Talk to a few, on an emotional level, and you’ll learn that they can be just as scared and insecure as the rest of us.

No matter what gender we are, we cannot accept glass ceilings as “the way things are” for ourselves. I live life with the assumption, even though this assumption is untrue, that glass ceilings do not exist. I reject them as being real—even though they are real, I pretend that they are not. And I feel free to achieve any goal that I set my sights to achieve. Yes, I weird people out and catch them off guard sometimes.

 ...Why not? 👊

 

This article originally ran in the Stilobox newsletter, Sign up here.

Inspirational Female Leaders Series #9~ Tarlon Khoubyari

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Tarlon Khoubyari is the founder + content creator for a platform called "Is Anyone Really Listening?"

She shares her insights on data, technology, beauty, and so much more. She's a proud plant mom who likes to consider data as a form of storytelling because of it's ability to bring people, backgrounds, and new perspectives to the table.

She founds her mentors by cold emailing people who inspired her and asking them for advice.

WHAT KIND OF PROBLEM IS YOUR COMPANY SOLVING?

My platform "Is Anyone Really Listening?" is aiming to be an authentic platform for women in technology or really anyone to gain insight on technology, social media, beauty, etc. Basically, I want to highlight the multifaceted person in all of us.

WHAT DID THOSE FIRST STEPS LOOK/FEEL LIKE? (FOR EXAMPLE: THE FIRST 6 MONTHS)

I’ve been very lucky to grow quickly. By grow I mean I am engaging with people on social media, other content creators, and been able to expand my platform. I launched in January and since then I think the biggest lesson I have learned is trusting myself and the work that I do. It’s not easy because when you’re your own boss it’s easy to get lost in what everyone else may think or what is considered to be quality. Trust yourself and remember that you can always go back to edit your work.

WHAT HAS BEEN THE BIGGEST CONTRIBUTION TO YOUR CAREER SUCCESS?


My support system. This may sound super cliche but if it weren’t for them to continue to push and inspire me I wouldn’t be where I am.

DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE FAILURE? WHAT LESSONS DID YOU LEARN?

My favorite failure would have to be my mental health setbacks. I think when dealing with mental health, it’s important to take some steps back to focus on your health. The lessons I learned were to put myself first sometimes and give myself the permission to do so. Also it’s okay to seek help when you need it and to also rely on your support system a little bit.

HOW DO YOU DEFINE LEADERSHIP? OR, WHAT DOES BEING A LEADER MEAN TO YOU?

Leadership, to me, more than a role or a title. We give power to these titles when really it’s just a word. Leadership is making sure everyone has a seat at the table and everyone is heard, understood, and empowered to do amazing work. Being a leader is a position that people shouldn’t take for granted because people are trusting you to guide. I think what makes a good leader is someone who is able to empower their team members or the people around them to do amazing work without them fearing failure. When people are empowered to do good, they will be good.

DO YOU HAVE A MENTOR? HOW DID YOU GO ABOUT ACQUIRING ONE?

I have a few for different reasons. Professional mentors have been from previous jobs or roles I’ve been in. Finding a mentor is a relationship building task. I spent the time to send cold emails to people that inspired me and through that organic conversation they guided me.

WHAT SHOULD WOMEN BE DOING MORE OF TO FOSTER LEADERSHIP SKILLS?

Support one another, help each other, and aim to work with other women. Also, seeking/receiving feedback is another big element. Being able to offer constructive criticism or knowledge share would encourage women to do the same.

HAVE YOU EVER FELT IMPOSTER SYNDROME, AND HOW DID YOU COMBAT IT?

YES YES YES. All the time. Whether it be my age, my gender, or based solely on ability. I always ask myself “Did I really deserve this? What if I fail? What if I’m not good enough?”. This added pressure we place on ourselves can be hard to overcome sometimes. I just try to tell myself “there is a reason why you’re here. If you don’t know something, it’s okay just learn and do better”.

WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOU'RE FEELING "OVERWHELMED"?

I take a step back from whatever I am doing if I find myself getting too overwhelmed. I am a big list maker and sometimes when I write things down it makes everything I need to do less intimidating. I take those moments to really go through the feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. I ask myself “why am I feeling this way? What can I do right now in the next 10 minutes that can help me?” and try to stay proactive with whatever it is. Or just taking a break from it all.

WHAT IS ONE QUOTE YOU LIVE YOUR LIFE BY?

“I want to practice taking care of myself in such a way where I am not abusing myself. I can do this by taking ownership of what I do and who I do it with”. My therapist and I came up with this and it’s helped me ever since.

What are you reading right now?

Crushing It by Gary Vee. Everyone, get it. RIGHT NOW.

IF YOU HAD ONE TIP OR LIFE ADVICE, OR MANTRA TO SHARE, WHAT WOULD IT BE? 

Be intentional in everything you do and with everyone you do it with.

ANYTHING ELSE YOU'D LIKE TO INCLUDE: 

Just a thank you for allowing me to be apart of this and if anyone is really listening or you feel like no one is, I am and you’re heard. 

~

Keep in touch by following her on instagram @tkhoub or checkout her platform iamtarlonkhoubyari.com

This article originally ran in the Stilobox newsletter, Sign up here.

Inspirational Female Leaders Series #8~ Meral Arik

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Meral Arik is a Founding Team Member at Hello Chava and Founder of DOER Society.

Besides her full time gig at Hello Chava, (a virtual phone line with built-in automation for things like scheduling-over-text and text message marketing) Meral is the founder of DOER Society, a community of entrepreneurial women dedicated to supporting each other.

She jokes on her instagram that she works ALL THE TIME, but secretly loves it and wouldn't have it any other way.

Her #1 piece of advice for feeling overwhelmed is to “PRIORITIZE” and “remind myself that I don’t need to - and shouldn’t try to - do everything on my neverending to-do list “right now.”

WHAT KIND OF PROBLEM IS HelloChava SOLVING?

All the work I do is all about empowering and creating access for entrepreneurs. My startup, Hello Chava, is using technology to empower the rising cohort of independent professionals and the “business of one.” I’m also the founder of a community of entrepreneurial women called DOER Society. I firmly believe there’s never been a better time to democratize resources and lift each other up through genuine connections.

WHAT DID THOSE FIRST STEPS LOOK/FEEL LIKE? (FOR EXAMPLE: THE FIRST 6 MONTHS)

The early days of starting a startup are a hustle and a grind. The key is to try to get as much insight as you can as quickly as possible. Think: lots of testing/learning, and failing fast and often.

Before my team built the first version of Hello Chava, we came up with hypotheses of how to add the most value to our customers- and we tested those hypotheses by using wireframes and even pretending to be the software we’d eventually build.

My team and I used accumulated learnings from those early experiments to build Hello Chava into the product it is today.

WHAT HAS BEEN THE BIGGEST CONTRIBUTION TO YOUR CAREER SUCCESS?

From working at a Mark Cuban company in college to currently being a Founding Team Member at Hello Chava and Founder of DOER Society, the biggest contribution to my career success has been my ability to build a network. More specifically, it’s been my ability to connect with people on and offline, to use my network to find opportunities, and to emulate the behaviors of people I wanted to be like along the way.

 That said, I know that networking doesn’t come as easily for others, and that’s why I started DOER Society. Even in the short time that DOER Society has been around, DOERs have formed connections and collaborations, received and given timely and priceless advice, and have shared tools, life hacks, and best practices with one another. This growing community is taking on a life of its own- and members are really making a difference in each others’ professional (and personal) lives.

DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE FAILURE? WHAT LESSONS DID YOU LEARN?

 I love Winston Churchill’s quote, “Success is walking from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”

Ever since I was a little girl I’ve been starting small businesses, all of which, in hindsight, have been “failures” in the traditional sense of the word. Of those, my favorite failure was an EDM ticketing company I started during my time at UCLA. I lost lots of time and money on that business, but I gained invaluable perspective and progress in my career. I got a “real-world” head start on learning my strengths/weaknesses, how (and how not to) build a solid team, and how to understand your market and users.

HOW DO YOU DEFINE LEADERSHIP? OR, WHAT DOES BEING A LEADER MEAN TO YOU?

Leaders inspire change. They set direction, guide people, and help people see their own full potential along the way.

DO YOU HAVE A MENTOR? HOW DID YOU GO ABOUT ACQUIRING ONE?

I’ve been lucky to have amazing mentors throughout the course of my life and career, to date. These mentors have come in the forms of bosses, colleagues, friends, and family members.

I’d love to give a shoutout to my current mentor and Hello Chava co-founder, Isaac. Isaac has helped me with everything from structuring my thinking to planning and prioritizing more effectively. He’s also been a huge supporter of DOER Society from day 1- I wouldn’t have been able to launch and run the community without his wisdom, guidance and support!

WHAT SHOULD WOMEN BE DOING MORE OF TO FOSTER LEADERSHIP SKILLS?

Women should continue to be excellent. We are leaders already and we HAVE the leadership skills the market requires today. So, that means we should support and join organizations that are fully committed to paying, promoting, and establishing women in leadership roles. And if a door doesn’t open, we should build houses with as many doors and windows as we’d like.

HAVE YOU EVER FELT IMPOSTER SYNDROME, AND HOW DID YOU COMBAT IT?

To be honest, I feel imposter syndrome every single day. It’s hard not to when I’m surrounded by so many incredible people! That said, I think there are ways to combat its negative effects. I’ll share a recent example:

A few weeks ago, I was approached to mentor founders of tech companies at the Google Launchpad Female Founders Summit. Despite everything I’ve accomplished, to date, my first thoughts were, “They must think I know a lot more than I do. There’s no way I’m qualified.” But thanks to my team’s encouragement, I decided to go for it anyways.

Fast forward to the event, and one by one, brilliant women from all fields and stages of their entrepreneurial careers sat down with me and asked for my opinions and guidance- on topics I realized I actually did know a thing or two about! I was able to provide them with perspectives on product/market fit, user acquisition, digital marketing, and growth- and I was able to point them to resources when I didn’t have the answers. I am proud to say that I walked out with a ton more confidence than I walked in with- and I realized that I WAS qualified to be there in the first place.

 Ditching the imposter syndrome is easier said than done (I’m still working on it!), but I think the formula is as follows: Celebrate your wins, own your expertise, and stop comparing yourself to others. Remember that you didn’t just “get lucky” with each of your successes-- you deserve to be where you are. Remind yourself of these things over and over until you believe them.

WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOU'RE FEELING "OVERWHELMED"?

PRIORITIZE.

As an ambitious entrepreneur with endless dreams, ideas, and ambitions, I often feel like I’m not doing enough, good enough, fast enough, etc. As you can imagine, I spend a lot of time feeling overwhelmed, as a result.

To combat these feelings, I try to regularly step back and remind myself that I don’t need to - and shouldn’t try to - do everything on my neverending to-do list “right now.” Instead, I ask myself the question: “what are the one or two things I *actually* need to get done today?” This exercise reminds me to focus my time on the tasks that will have the greatest impact- and it reminds me that I am in control of my work, my life, and my attitude.

WHAT IS ONE QUOTE YOU LIVE YOUR LIFE BY?

“You can never be overdressed or overeducated.” -Oscar Wilde”

What are you reading right now?

 I wish I had a good answer for this, but lately I’ve been spending most of my days in front of screens so I’ve been consuming wisdom by way of podcast. My favorites these days are The Tim Ferriss Show and Tribe of Mentors!

IF YOU HAD ONE TIP OR LIFE ADVICE, OR MANTRA TO SHARE, WHAT WOULD IT BE? 

Work hard & be nice.

ANYTHING ELSE YOU'D LIKE TO INCLUDE: 

 I’d love to invite you all to check out Hello Chava! Our flagship product is a virtual phone line with built-in automation for things like scheduling-over-text and text message marketing. If you want to modernize your business communications give Hello Chava a try - you’ll love it!

Also, let's keep in touch! Find me on Instagram (@my.startuplife), and check out DOER Society on Instagram, Facebook, and our website.

This article originally ran in the Stilobox newsletter, Sign up here.

Inspirational Female Leaders Series #7~ Aditi Shekar, Founder at Zeta

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Aditi Shekar is the CEO and founder of Zeta, a platform on a mission to help couples master their money.

Their goal is to be an honest, relatable and timely source of advice for young couples everywhere. They offer 1:1 advising to couples - helping them make more informed decisions on how to achieve their long-term goals together.

She lives for imposter syndrome. “I think if you don’t feel like you’re an imposter, you’re not challenging yourself hard enough!”

Her #1 piece of advice is to “Make your own magic. If you want something, make a plan for how you’ll get it.”

WHAT KIND OF PROBLEM IS Zeta SOLVING?

Our generation is struggling with money. We have large debts, stagnating salaries, and an uncertain retirement. We still struggle with the very basics of savings, budgeting and planning. The crazy thing is that the picture gets bleaker for millennial couples. While many apps target individuals, few are designed for couples. As a result, couples cobble together financial plans based on confusing or conflicting advice from friends, family and online bloggers. That means that many of their critical financial decisions, like buying a house or starting a family, are made will little guidance but huge ramifications on their future.

Zeta’s mission to help couples master their money. Our goal is to be an honest, relatable and timely source of advice for young couples everywhere. On Zeta, couples can connect their financial accounts and control how much they share with each other. We then track their money - helping them build a joint budget and see a breakdown of their spending across personal and shared expenses. Lastly, we offer 1:1 advising to our couples - helping them make more informed decisions on how to achieve their long-term goals together.

WHAT DID THOSE FIRST STEPS LOOK/FEEL LIKE? (FOR EXAMPLE: THE FIRST 6 MONTHS)

Because I have a product background, I really focused on making sure I understood the problem I was trying to solve. I spent a decent amount of time doing user research and testing demand for the product in the market. Those first few months were all about user interviews, landing page tests and many, many advising conversations with couples across the US.

WHAT HAS BEEN THE BIGGEST CONTRIBUTION TO YOUR CAREER SUCCESS?

I always try to pick the hardest job possible. I’m a huge believer that the single best thing you can do for your career is to challenge yourself. Do the hard stuff, the stuff no one else wants to do, the things that make your nervous. If I’m not nervous about what I’m doing, it means I’m in the wrong job.

DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE FAILURE? WHAT LESSONS DID YOU LEARN?

I recently heard Arianna Huffington speak at Project Entrepreneur and really resonated with something her mother taught her - “Failure isn’t the opposite of success, it’s a stepping stone to it.” It was such an awesome reminder that our failures are a constructive part of our work.

 One of my failures actually comes from early in my career. I hired someone I wasn’t 100% fully bought into and let others glowing opinions of this person cloud my own. This person later went on to create havoc in our org and ended up leaving with a mess for our team to clean up. That lesson really resonated with me because it taught me a few things: 1) trust my instincts and 2) hire before you’re under huge pressure to hire and 3) the wrong person can do more damage than you think.

HOW DO YOU DEFINE LEADERSHIP? OR, WHAT DOES BEING A LEADER MEAN TO YOU?

I think leadership is about providing vision and inspiration while staying humble and authentic to who you are. My favorite leaders have always been those who could balance being humble with high-levels of competency and authenticity.

DO YOU HAVE A MENTOR? HOW DID YOU GO ABOUT ACQUIRING ONE?

I never formally looked for a mentor but rather I ended up finding them within my workspaces. In my mind, there are many different kinds of mentors - some who help you with your day-to-day, some who help you think long-term and others who just call your bullshit. Having this ecosystem of mentors has helped me get different perspectives while still giving me the room to make my own decisions.

HAVE YOU EVER FELT IMPOSTER SYNDROME, AND HOW DID YOU COMBAT IT?

I live for imposter syndrome. I think if you don’t feel like you’re an imposter, you’re not challenging yourself hard enough!

WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOU'RE FEELING "OVERWHELMED"?

I make a to-do list and hug my dog. Usually, one or the other thing addresses that feeling.

WHAT IS ONE QUOTE YOU LIVE YOUR LIFE BY?

“I hate mediocrity.”

IF YOU HAD ONE TIP OR LIFE ADVICE, OR MANTRA TO SHARE, WHAT WOULD IT BE? 

Make your own magic. If you want something, make a plan for how you’ll get it. Don’t wait for someone else to do it for you. I’m shocked at how few people do this.

This article originally ran in the Stilobox newsletter, Sign up here.

Inspirational Female Leaders Series #6 ~ Laila Alawa

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After feeling different her entire life Laila Alawa realized it was actually her superpower.

Laila is the CEO and founder of The Tempest, the fastest-growing tech and media company changing the global narrative of diverse millennial women. The Tempest connects millions of people daily with thousands of female thought leaders on every issue under the sun, disrupting the global media status quo.

She believes in amplifying and elevating the voices, stories, and realities of multicultural and often underrepresented women around the world through the media.

Though she went on to present a TED Talk, “The Secret Behind World Domination” and grow  The Tempest to over three million monthly users, she still feels imposter syndrome everyday.

Laila is also the host of The Exposé, a podcast tackling contemporary topics with wit and brutal honesty. Named as an Ariane de Rothschild Fellow, and she was a Changemaker for the United State of Women White House Summit. Since founding The Tempest, Laila has been quoted in nationwide outlets like The New York Times, The Guardian, and CNN Money as a disruptive force in media.

WHAT KIND OF PROBLEM IS The Tempest SOLVING?

Diverse millennial women lack representation and curated content in media companies globally. Consumers seek a platform that reflects their lifestyles, interests, and community. Brands cannot reach or build trust with said-consumers.

Think about it - what’s one media outlet that places said-consumers in their strategy, staff, or content? At a time when people can report news in real time, create viral videos, and alter the future, media has defined generations and created social impact. The Tempest highlights content by diverse millennial women for the world, filling a significant market need in the media space.

We develop original multimedia content to fit within current trends, ensuring relevancy and pull for a diverse audience in more than 200 countries.

WHAT DID THOSE FIRST STEPS LOOK/FEEL LIKE? (FOR EXAMPLE: THE FIRST 6 MONTHS)

 A lot of those first steps felt like fumbling around in the dark, developing the vision and mission, and then creating the first iteration of our platform - then, starting to recruit the few brave writers who would share their stories. I knew that it wasn’t enough to simply throw some stories together and cross my fingers, but at the same time, I realized there was so much I didn’t know that I didn’t know. It was definitely a roller coaster, but one that set the stage for our persistence and growth today.

WHAT HAS BEEN THE BIGGEST CONTRIBUTION TO YOUR CAREER SUCCESS?

Reminders from friends, family, and our audience that what we’re doing matters - and to keep going, no matter what. Personally, I have a track record of being doubted - whether by people I looked up to, former friends, possible funders - and I draw on that to fuel my stubborn inability to give in to the naysayers and prove them wrong. Sure, it may sting in the moment, but it’s even more gratifying when I prove people wrong.

DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE FAILURE? WHAT LESSONS DID YOU LEARN?

Weirdly, I enjoy failing. It tells me that I’m trying, we’re trying - and that we have another chance to give it another go. When it comes to The Tempest, my favorite failure would probably be when I first began the company and refused to check our analytics, because I didn’t want to see what our numbers really looked like. When I finally did, it was a mess (as expected). It forced me to do two things: 1) learn how to run our media company like a media company and 2) research and develop a stronger understanding of data. I don’t regret the experience in the least.

HOW DO YOU DEFINE LEADERSHIP? OR, WHAT DOES BEING A LEADER MEAN TO YOU?

Years ago, I read something that stuck with me as I’ve grown The Tempest from a team of one to today, more than thirty staff and fellows. Being a leader is creating systems, developing inter- and intra- team cohesion, and building a strong direction - so much so, that if you step out of the figurative “room,” your team continues to flourish and grow.

DO YOU HAVE A MENTOR? HOW DID YOU GO ABOUT ACQUIRING ONE?

YES. Yes, yes, yes. I do, and it feels so good to say that. It took years for me to find the few mentors that I consider near and dear to my heart - but are people who take the time to listen to me, give me a kick in the butt when I need it, and see me for who I was - but more importantly, where I’m headed. Frankly, I found them in different ways, but the mentor I rely on most was someone that I met through my incubator, and during that first meeting, we clicked and I asked for the ability to meet with him once a month to discuss the business and get his insight. From there, we built up the relationship, and he’s now a strong advocate and mentor.

WHAT SHOULD WOMEN BE DOING MORE OF TO FOSTER LEADERSHIP SKILLS?

Put yourself in uncomfortable situations. We all have fears that crop up, particularly when we’re heading into situations where the unknown is the major factor, but those are the points in time where you can choose to build a bridge across the divide - or stay stagnant on the sidelines.

HAVE YOU EVER FELT IMPOSTER SYNDROME, AND HOW DID YOU COMBAT IT?

Yes, I feel it every single day. It’s probably not something that people want to hear from a CEO, but frankly, knowing that you’re steering a ship of talented individuals and a platform with over three million monthly users can sometimes make me ask the question, “How did I get here? Do I even deserve to be here?”

 In order to combat it, I do something that may seem counterintuitive - I close my eyes and pretend that I woke up that morning as a privileged man who’s never been told he doesn’t belong. It never fails to reset my focus, and it’s a tactic I’ve taught dozens of staffers, fellows, and mentees. Women are taught to doubt themselves - so why not switch sides when you’re in the middle of that?

WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOU'RE FEELING "OVERWHELMED"?

Deep breaths, and while it’s difficult sometimes, I shut my computer and back away from it for some time. I might call one of my sisters to vent, or spend some time petting my cats. I recently got married, so sometimes I’ll take time and watch some funny SNL or CollegeHumor videos with my husband, who’s both a workaholic and lover of funny videos.

WHAT IS ONE QUOTE YOU LIVE YOUR LIFE BY?

“Done is better than perfect.”

WHAT ARE YOU READING RIGHT NOW?

I’m always reading, but these days, I favor articles and podcasts over books (chalk it up to my love of finishing books in one sitting). An article I’d recommend to everyone is, “Three Ways to Start Overcoming Impostor Syndrome Today.” My top three podcasts right now have to be NPR’s Up First, FiveThirtyEight Politics, and Cults by Parcast Network.

IF YOU HAD ONE TIP OR LIFE ADVICE, OR MANTRA TO SHARE, WHAT WOULD IT BE? 

Contrary to what you may be feeling right now, know that you’re the only one with your life experiences, expertise, genetic makeup, and aspirations on this Earth. So giving up now would just be a disservice, not just to yourself, but to the impact you could be having if you just kept pushing forward. In moments where I feel down or less-than-great, I take out my journal and write words of affirmation over and over until it drills into me. It’s never failed

ANY THING ELSE YOU'D LIKE TO INCLUDE?

Thank you, Roya, for creating and cultivating Stilobox. If you’re a reader of her newsletter/site, know that the work she puts in is far more than any of us ever see, and that’s huge. So, thank you.

And if you want to stay in touch, ask a question, or just vent, my email is laila.alawa@thetempest.co, or you can find me on Twitter, Instagram, or Snapchat. You can find out more about The Tempest on our platform, Facebook, Snapchat, or Twitter!

This article originally ran in the Stilobox newsletter, Sign up here.

Inspirational Female Leaders Series #5 ~ Marisa Warren, CEO, Chair & Founder ELEVACAO

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When Marisa Warren CEO & Founder of ELEVACAO met Karen Jacobsen, the Australian voice of Siri in your iPhone & GPS devices, in an elevator they quickly connected through shared  experiences of being sabotaged by other women in the workplace. 

As an entrepreneur, Marisa has built three global businesses from idea stage to revenue producing, and worked in Australia and NewYork for companies such as SAP, Microsoft and Workday.

What started as a passion project to elevate women to higher levels and foster environments where women and men actively help each other - led to starting a global charity. 

Since ELEVACAO’s launch mid 2015, they've helped over 80 women get pitch ready for investment funding across New York, Sydney, Melbourne and San Francisco launching April 2018. 

WHAT KIND OF PROBLEM IS ELEVACAO SOLVING?

Only 3% of tech companies are founded by women, yet when funded, women deliver on average 35% higher ROI than male led firms. You would think with this ROI more funding would go towards women founded tech businesses...but unfortunately no, currently women secure less than 2% of venture funding in the US.

is a global not for profit empowering women tech entrepreneurs to get pitch ready for investment funding across San Francisco, New York, Sydney and Melbourne. We play an important role in helping more women get access to the funding they need to build and grow their businesses.

WHAT DID THOSE FIRST STEPS LOOK/FEEL LIKE? (FOR EXAMPLE: THE FIRST 6 MONTHS)

ELEVACAO started as a pure passion project.  I met the Australian Siri in your iPhone and GPS devices, Karen Jacobsen, yes there is an Aussie Siri, in an elevator in New York City.  We both had similar experiences of being sabotaged by other women in the workplace.  Karen as an entertainer and myself in corporate tech.  Frustrated by this and wanting answers we did a video interview together titled 'Why Women Sabotage Each Other’.

As you can imagine that video received a lot of attention in New York city and we were invited to host an event at the Harvard Club New York.  From there the conversation exploded and the overwhelming response was to take our idea global.  What started as a passion project wanting to elevate women to higher levels and foster environments where women and men actively help each other - led to starting a global charity.  July 2015 ELEVACAO was launched in New York City.

WHAT HAS BEEN THE BIGGEST CONTRIBUTION TO THE SUCCESS OF ELEVACAO?

The determination to succeed and never give up.  Mindset is critical in achieving what you want.  

DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE FAILURE? WHAT LESSONS DID YOU LEARN?

I’ve had many failures…..non are favourites but all learning experiences.  I have this core belief that everything’s happens for a reason and there is ALWAYS a solving lining, that’s what get’s me through the tough times.

Lesson #1 Trust your intuition it will always lead you in the right direction.  I have many examples when I didn’t trust my gut and it resulted in failure.

Like when my first business failed because of a bad partnership. I had to rent out my house, move in with my younger sister and started waitressing at a funeral home. Talk about hitting rock bottom. From there after many tears and soul searching, I managed to rebuild my confidence and go back to corporate life.  I seriously felt like a failure from running my own business, to waitressing, then corporate life.  But 8 months later I moved to New York which completely changed my life, and for the better!  That’s where I founded ELEVACAO.

HOW DO YOU DEFINE LEADERSHIP? OR, WHAT DOES BEING A LEADER MEAN TO YOU?

A leader inspires people to action and helps them realize their full potential.

DO YOU HAVE A MENTOR? HOW DID YOU GO ABOUT ACQUIRING ONE?

Over the years I’ve had many mentors across all areas of my life.  Sometimes I go out seeking mentors, and sometimes they just show up when I need the help.  I’ll typically reach out to my network individually or on social media and ask for help.

WHAT SHOULD WOMEN BE DOING MORE OF TO FOSTER LEADERSHIP SKILLS?

Women make great leaders.  Confidence is a major inhibitor to a women’s leadership success.  A big focus in our programs is on building confidence and encouraging women to think big.

HAVE YOU EVER FELT IMPOSTER SYNDROME, AND HOW DID YOU COMBAT IT?

Absolutely!  Even at 38 with almost 20 years working under my belt, I still suffer imposter syndrome from time to time.  Typically its when I’m doing something new.  I just push through it and come back to my 'why am I doing this’.  That helps motivate me.  Doing something outside of your comfort zone every week also helps to push through the fear.

WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOU'RE FEELING "OVERWHELMED"?

Ah I’ve been feeling this a bit lately with our San Francisco launch!  I remind myself you can only do 1 thing at a time.  

I’m a big list maker and that helps focus my thinking and calm me down.  Also big into daily meditation, early morning exercise and eating well.  They all impact your mindset which is critical to overcoming anxiety. 

WHAT IS ONE QUOTE YOU LIVE YOUR LIFE BY?

I have a few….

"I can achieve anything I set my mind too" - from my grandmother Joy Warren who led the most extraordinary life starting as an actress, to journalist, to teaching Yoga to princesses in Jordan, to running her own highly successful fine art gallery in Canberra and at 88 awarded an Order of Australia Medal for her service to the Arts.  

"Everything happens for a reason and there is always a silver lining" - from my mother who has the most amazing strength and taught me so much.

“There is no such thing as can’t do. Get back up there and do it again” - from my high school gymnastics and platform diving coaches. When learning to do new routines or dives you have many fall on your face moments….and you just need to get back up there and keep trying until you get it right

WHAT ARE YOU READING RIGHT NOW?

The barefoot investor.

IF YOU HAD ONE TIP OR LIFE ADVICE, OR MANTRA TO SHARE, WHAT WOULD IT BE? 

Just do it.  If you are incredibly passionate about something, act on that idea and see what happen’s.  It’s amazing what happens when you follow your passion.

ANY THING ELSE YOU'D LIKE TO INCLUDE?

After 3 years of successfully helping 80+ women build the confidence, skills and connections they need to pitch and secure funding across New York, Sydney and Melbourne, we are super excited to announce ELEVACAO’s launch in San Francisco.

Applications now open for both our San Francisco and New York locations. Only 10 women tech founders accepted. APPLICATIONS CLOSE April 13. Apply here:

San Francisco April 23, May 1 & 7 - http://bit.ly/2p66yAx 

New York City April 26, May 3 & 9 - http://bit.ly/2HvzE3g

This article originally ran in the Stilobox newsletter, Sign up here.

Inspirational Female Leaders Series #4 ~ Nicole Dahlstrom, Founder FemTech Collective

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This week we’re catching up with Nicole Dahlstrom a leader in the female health space.

In running her own female health startup Nicole recognized the problems and roadblocks that female founders in the female health space kept running into. Her passion for women's health inspired her to leverage her network of established feminine health companies, industry professionals, and leaders in the women's health space to develop a network of support for founders of female health focused tech startups called FemTech Collective.

Their vision is to shape the future of healthcare through technology that meets the needs of women.

WHAT KIND OF PROBLEM IS FemTech Collective SOLVING?

FemTech Collective's mission is to support startups creating innovative products and services for female health using technology by connecting them to resources and to a network of support. Our vision is to bridge the gap that exists between the healthcare system and the female consumer. The problem that many FemTech startups face is that they are operating in uncharted territory. Innovation for female health has been relatively stagnant and introducing new products to the healthcare system is no easy task. In addition to these challenges, startups must navigate our current administration and the cultural taboos surrounding female health. FemTech Collective offers a welcoming space where startups can connect to the entire ecosystem and get the focused support they need.

WHAT DID THOSE FIRST STEPS LOOK/FEEL LIKE? (FOR EXAMPLE: THE FIRST 6 MONTHS)

The total journey from idea to launch has been about a 9-month process. It all began when I recognized a set of common problems that kept on recurring for female health focused companies.

The first 3 months felt like a long conversation that I kept having with founder after founder in the female health space. The idea for a FemTech incubator was floating around during those three months. My cofounder at the time had a coworking space, and so we were seriously considering hosting an incubator out of that space. Life happens though, and my cofounder had to step away from the opportunity. It was during this time that I re-evaluated the idea of hosting an incubator and thought seriously about just giving up in general. Fortunately, I reached out to the network of supporters that had assembled over those first 3 months, informing them that the incubator idea was paused due to the loss of the space, but that I was more than happy to meet with anyone interested in FemTech to discuss opportunities. The feedback I received from my community was essential. Many people reached out and urged me to continue this work. I've had meetings every week since and tirelessly explored options for supporting FemTech startups.

WHAT HAS BEEN THE BIGGEST CONTRIBUTION TO THE SUCCESS OF FemTech Collective?

The heart of any success I have achieved in my career has been through the support of a network of people. I haven't achieved anything that wasn't earned through connecting with people, whether online or in person. Being open to opportunities and taking initiative has also been key.  

DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE FAILURE? WHAT LESSONS DID YOU LEARN?

That is a great question because I feel like every failure is an opportunity to learn. One of the best opportunities I had was to start my own female health focused company in December of 2016. I cofounded a company which sold probiotics for feminine health. Myself and my cofounder bootstrapped the company. We were trying to solve a big problem for women suffering from a bacterial imbalance by offering them a probiotic that would rebalance their natural vaginal flora and then educating them on how to maintain that balance. It was an extremely ambitious thing to do. We wanted to talk about Bacterial Vaginosis and discharge, and to say the word vagina. These were still things that you didn't talk about, and they made people very uncomfortable. After a year of failures and successes, we finally called it quits. The primary reason was because we couldn't afford to keep it going. Our margins were terrible. In order to do the business right, we would have had to raise funding. It simply wasn't possible to bootstrap the business any longer, at least not for us. The most important thing I learned from the whole process is how much I love building communities and supporting people.

HOW DO YOU DEFINE LEADERSHIP? OR, WHAT DOES BEING A LEADER MEAN TO YOU?

I used to think leadership was about simply rolling up your sleeves and doing the work, you know, leading by example, but now I think that is not effective. Leadership is about enabling others to do their best work towards a common goal. The best leaders offer structure and support, but they don't manage people on every task. Leaders must also make tough decisions and operate in unknown territory.

DO YOU HAVE A MENTOR? HOW DID YOU GO ABOUT ACQUIRING ONE?

I've had several mentors. My mentors have been bosses, supervisors, friends, and colleagues. I am very fortunate to have had several examples of women in leadership, and so I've always had high standards for myself. I haven't had a formal mentor to this day. I think it would be very beneficial to have someone who has agreed to pass along their wisdom to you and help you navigate the business world, however, I wouldn't trade all of the amazing people in my life who are guiding me for one official mentor. Everyone has something they can help you with, you just have to ask for help.

WHAT SHOULD WOMEN BE DOING MORE OF TO FOSTER LEADERSHIP SKILLS?

Women need to speak up and speak often. I never spoke up during school while growing up. It wasn't until college when I began speaking up in class. I didn't feel confident in what I had to say until then. As soon as I started speaking up, I realized that I had the answers to questions and a perspective to add to the conversation. The more I spoke the more confident I became in this idea. If we don't speak up and speak often, we will never have the confidence it takes to lead. Of course, speaking can only get you so far, you must also listen. The ability to really listen to someone and connect with them is invaluable.

HAVE YOU EVER FELT IMPOSTER SYNDROME, AND HOW DID YOU COMBAT IT?

I've felt imposter syndrome, I feel imposter syndrome, and I'll continue to feel it. Women in particular are prone to imposter syndrome, and even some of the most accomplished women in the world suffer from it. I don't know if there is a cure for that feeling of not being the right woman (or man) for the job. All I can do is remember why I am doing this work. It doesn't matter how many people sing my praises or tell me what I'm doing right, at the end of the day, I must continue to do this work because I feel it's important. Knowing your why is very powerful.

WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOU'RE FEELING "OVERWHELMED"?

I feel overwhelmed every day when I think about all the emails I've left unanswered, the things I promised to have done by a certain day, my general to do list. I used to spend lots of time worrying and stressing over all of these things. Now, when I'm feeling overwhelmed, it doesn't last long. I quickly try to prioritize. I've also been kinder to myself these days. Sometimes we have to remind ourselves that we are only human and that nobody is perfect.

WHAT IS ONE QUOTE YOU LIVE YOUR LIFE BY?

"I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." -Maya Angelou

WHAT ARE YOU READING RIGHT NOW?

The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini

IF YOU HAD ONE TIP OR LIFE ADVICE, OR MANTRA TO SHARE, WHAT WOULD IT BE? 

Try to stop caring so much what everyone thinks of you and instead try to practice feeling gratitude daily.

ANY THING ELSE YOU'D LIKE TO INCLUDE?

Yes, thank you for sharing my story and creating Stilobox! I hope that many more women will pursue leadership opportunities and feel compelled to share their story. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the women who have paved the way before me and given me an example to look up to. 

Facebook: @femtechcollective

Twitter: @femtechcollect

Website: femtechcollective.com

This article originally ran in the Stilobox newsletter, Sign up here.

Inspirational Female Leaders Series #3 ~ Carol Langlois, Founder Empowered Tech

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This week we’re excited to share the story of Carol Langlois, Founder Empowered Tech.

Carol served on the exec leadership team for Hackbright Academy (the leading all women bootcamp in SF.)

She even wrote a book, Girl Talk: Boys, Bullies and Body Image which interviews teenage girls on the topics of self-esteem, which also offers an effective and practical system designed to RAISE (Resilience, Attitude, Independence, Self-Respect and Empowerment) teen self-esteem

She now runs Empowered Tech.- A community space inspiring women for success in tech that is also dedicated to fostering a safe environment for them to share information, obstacles, resources, and jobs.

What kind of problem is Empowered Tech solving?

Social emotional support for women in tech while also offering them some practical career coaching skills for their workplace and/or next career move.

What did those first steps look/feel like? (for example: the first 6 months)

We are only 8 months old. The first step was a meet-up where we simply asked women "what's your biggest struggle as a women in tech?"  From there we refined our events, added a website, slack channel, and a survey for all new members to better understand their needs. We went from 21 members to 450 in 7 months.

What has been the biggest contribution to the success of the Empowered Tech community?

I think the authenticity of the business model.  We simply want to see more women work comfortably in tech and better understand their challenges. We then address those challenges at the next event. I am a trained therapist so it’s important for me to create an open and safe environment where women openly share their questions and challenges.   

Do you have a favorite failure? What lessons did you learn?

We are so new; I fail every week. We hosted an event where we had over 80 RSVP’s and only 7 women attended. I was very disappointed. I almost decided to close the group, but then 2 of the women separately came up to me and said they loved the group and one drove all the way from San Jose she said that there were no other groups out there like ours. So, I kept going.  I feel it’s a marketing/branding issue so I formed a relationship/friendship with General Assembly and now we host quite a few events together. There reach is pretty broad and far so the attendee numbers are so much better.

How do you define leadership? Or, what does being a leader mean to you?

It means listening to the population you wish to support. I ask a lot of questions, seek advise and guidance. I really think the survey helps me better understand the population and their needs.  Also, I have a passion for helping women. (My primary research focus has been females self-esteem development) and so my passion is obvious when I talk about this work.

Do you have a mentor? How did you go about acquiring one?

No- always wanted one and never found one.  I have a great group of friends and we keep each other on track, accountable and motivated. My husband is also great for bouncing ideas off of.

What should women be doing more of to foster leadership skills?

Networking; I go to at least one event a week. (Meet people, shake hands, ask questions.) Speak at events when offered the opportunity. Just say “yes” to everything. (Panels, lightning talks, workshops, fireside chats, etc)

Have you ever felt imposter syndrome, and how did you combat it?

I’ve done a lot of research on imposter syndrome: I’ve had clients with imposter syndrome and I’ve run workshops on combating it.  I have felt nervous or anxious in certain situations, but I do not think I have ever truly experienced IS.

What do you do when you're feeling "overwhelmed"?

I get real organized/ structured. Lots of lists. I break things down to digestible steps and work my way through.  At one time, I was working on my PhD, running a business school and planning a wedding. I was overwhelmed and had to figure out how to manage everything.  Low alcohol and running also helps me. :)

What is one quote you live your life by?

"Failure isn’t falling down, but refusing to get back up." -Teddy Roosevelt

What are you reading right now?

The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up- by Maria Kondo

If you had one tip or life advice, or mantra to share, what would it be?

To be happy you have to pursue something that is bigger than you. I finally got that in my 40’s.   (If it seems too big, that’s ok. Just chip away a little bit every day and you will get there.)

This article originally ran in the Stilobox newsletter, Sign up here.

Inspirational Female Leaders Series # 2~ Kara Perez, Founder Bravely

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After graduating from college in 2011, Kara Perez had $25,302 in student loan debt and no job to speak of. She went on to pay off her student loan with creative side hustles including starting a blog to help her track and attempt to budget and repay her debt.

Since paying off her debt she has gone on to found Bravely Go, they hold financial in person financial literacy events as well as provide online tools to help women take control of their money.

She is deeply passionate about increasing rates of financial literacy among women and works to give women the tools they need to get the pay they deserve, organize their money and control their finances.

Kara's writing on financial topics has been published on sites like Business Insider, Learnvest, and Elite Daily.

Whenever she feels imposter syndrome creeping in she keeps a list of things she has accomplished taped to her wall to remind herself that she’s got this!

“I keep a list of things that I have done that I’m proud of taped to my wall. When I feel like an imposter I look at it and think ‘damn, I’m the one who did those things. I can do this thing.”

What kind of problem is Bravely Go solving?

Bravely educated women about finance so that women can control their money. Money is power in our world, so understanding how to use it as a tool is critical to achieving gender equality.

What did those first steps look/feel like? (for example: the first 6 months)

The first steps are had to take, because you have no idea what you’re doing. For me, I started hosting events around financial topics right away. My biggest concerns were finding spaces to host events at and getting them marketed towards my target audience.

What has been the biggest contribution to the success of bravely?

Definitely being accessible at the events I host and interacting with people on social media and email. Money is very personal, so people want to talk to me one on one, whether in person after I speak or DMing me on Instagram. Really taking the time to listen and respond has shown my audience I really care about them and helped them to trust and follow me.

Do you have a favorite failure? What lessons did you learn?

I don’t think I have a favorite failure! I fail all the time, but you just keep moving. Sometimes I think an Instagram post will do well and it doesn’t. Sometimes I think an event topic will sell well and it doesn’t. You take stock of what happened and you make changes next time.

How do you define leadership? Or, what does being a leader mean to you?

I think being a leader is about being inspirational and about doing hard work. Good leaders are the ones who know the work they’re asking other people to do inside out. It’s the restaurant owner who also washed dishes in the opening days. Being a leader is about saying ‘I see the way forward, and I will help us all get there.

Do you have a mentor? How did you go about acquiring one?

I don’t have a mentor, but I think women SHOULD have one. Find women in the area you want to be in, and network.

What should women be doing more of to foster leadership skills?

To practice leadership is to foster leadership. If you’re reading this in college, try and lead a group project. If you’re at your first job right now, ask for an new project and be the lead. We learn best by doing.

Have you ever felt imposter syndrome, and how did you combat it?

Of course! We all do. I keep a list of things that I have done that I’m proud of taped to my wall. When I feel like an imposter I look at it and think ‘damn, I’m the one who did those things. I can do this thing.

What do you do when you're feeling "overwhelmed"?

I step away from the thing that’s overwhelming me. When I’m anxious or feeling overwhelmed, I lean away. There’s no point in wasting time and energy by wallowing in it. I find something else to do or think about and come back to it later.

What is one quote you live your life by?

"Be the change you wish to see in the world."

What are you reading right now?

‘Profit First’ and "When We are Bold’

If you had one tip or life advice, or mantra to share, what would it be?

Hard work will go a long way, but smart work will go further. You don’t have to break your back for companies that don’t care about you, and you don’t have to reinvent the wheel to contribute to the world.

This article originally ran in the Stilobox newsletter, Sign up here.

Inspirational Female Leaders Series ~ Melinda Gonzalez

Inspirational Female Leaders Series with Melinda Gonzalez, CEO

“I once had a manager and mentor during my time at Salesforce who did a pretty amazing job of helping me succeed in my role and making me look good in the eyes of leaders and influencers. She also had her own career aspirations, and I was able to see for the first time how it’s possible to help others while also striving for personal growth.”

Lunch with ZeroCater ~

We had a wonderful Women in Tech lunch at ZeroCater. It was amazing to see how much ZeroCater is helping to create business for locale restaurants in multiple cities! Thank you for giving us a peek into the world of ZC and for providing such a tasty lunch for us! 😀🍽

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If you'd like to host a lunch or dinner at your company, drop us a line.

#womenintech  #zerocater  #sanfrancisco #tech #supportingwomenintech  #foodtech #yc @zerocater