female founder

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.