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!

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