Leadership, Startups

Great Leaders #Startup

For every 99 shitty things you have to do as an entrepreneur you get 1 really sexy, glamorous one.  Today I was lucky enough to be in London judging the Unilever Sustainable Young Entrepreneur Awards and in the process I got to be a part of the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan.  The best of the best were there and I was lucky enough to speak to them.  I got a shout out from Paul Polman in his speech, which was pretty great.  I got to speak to the CEO of Safaricom about our business and his too.  All in all, it was incredibly stellar.

But most importantly, I realized something about the leaders that I admire most.  They listen amazingly well.  It doesn’t matter who they are talking to, they are present, ask great questions, and make you feel heard.  They have this uncanny ability to do so.

And that’s added to the list of new things I want to be: A great listener.

happiness, Job, Leadership, Life, Life Goals, Startups

The Hard Thing About Hard Things

I recently finished a great book by Ben Horowitz, The Hard Thing About Hard Things.  The book was about startups, and about what he calls, “The Struggle”.  It’s great how he weaves hip hop into the book, from lyrics he has found powerful over time to describe his trials and tribulations (understatement of the year) in getting to where he is today (which is a really really successful entrepreneur/investor).  But as I was reading it, and talking to my grandfather about life, I think I came to a powerful realization- this “Struggle” that entrepreneurs refer to, it’s not just in business.  These skills are those that transcend time, place, situation, and they just help you deal with life.  The Struggle is really just another word for life.  I think if we live long enough, we come to see “The Struggle”.  I know my grandfather knows “The Struggle”.  He has to learn how to walk in Copenhagen and he’s half blind (worried he’s going to be killed by bicyclists- valid worry, they are pretty crazy over there).  I know my parents know “The Struggle” (insert immigrant parent story here).  I know anyone who has kids knows “The Struggle” (holy crap I just don’t know how they do it, even more power to single mothers).  I know anyone who has any sort of debilitating illness knows “The Struggle” (it’s impressive what the human psyche can accomplish, I have seen it first hand).  Anyone who has faced any sort of harassment knows “The Struggle” (human beings can be cruel, cruel people).

Putting it in context, I suppose the entrepreneurship struggle prepares young nerds with what this thing called life throws their way.  It’s part of the Struggle.  And the funny thing about The Struggle is that it’s like Parkinson’s Law.  In that, the more you have, the more you can take.  And the less you have, it’s impressive how that nothingness seems to expand and take all of your time and space in your head.  Over seemingly pointless things.  I guess what I”m trying to say is that we all NEED “The Struggle”.  And if we don’t have some sort of Struggle in our lives, we create The Struggle.  And the more important The Struggle we think is, the more we learn how to deal with the other things in our lives.  And it gives us confidence.  The more Struggle we have early on, the more we can look back and say, oh wait.  I’ve seen this before- it’s called The Struggle. And guess what, I won last time.  I think I can do it again.

Maybe the point is to gain as much confidence points as early as possible from different types of Struggle, because the later we get in life, the scarier and more life or death The Struggles become.  It’s sort of like simulator training maybe.  Enders Game style.  Except just like in Enders Game, you don’t get to practice.  This is the real deal.

Life is what happens when you’re making other plans, right?

happiness, Leadership, Startups, Uncategorized

The Mental Physical Break

It’s a strange thing, the mind-body connection. But I became aware of it as I was doing yoga a few weeks ago.  I was trying to do this really difficult pose, and I realized when I’m doing yoga (or trying to do something difficult in yoga) I stop thinking about anything and my mind becomes blank.  Or I think about nice things.  Like…puppies.  Or something.  I don’t know.  I don’t actually remember what I think about, but it’s definitely not terrible. But that day, I was feeling really stressed and a bunch of negative thoughts were going through my head.  Turns out, I just gave up halfway in the pose and I couldn’t make myself get up and try again.  I just literally…stopped.  That had never happened to me before- I usually get somewhere at least.  It was really strange.

And that made me think- that ONE negative thought made it so that I couldn’t finish this one physical activity.  That’s sort of nuts when you think about it.  ONE negative thought made it so that for a good 15 minutes, I couldn’t accomplish any difficult physical task.  Actually lets rephrase that- until I stopped thinking about negative things, I couldn’t actually do anything physically challenging.  And that’s when I realized it’s a huge thing, what you think about.  If your mental activity prevents you from conducting physical tasks, imagine all the things your negative mental activity is not allowing you to do? Physical AND mental?

It’s pretty mind blowing when you think about it that way.  I’m reading The Power of Your Subconsciuos Mind, and the more I read about this stuff, the more I seriously think it’s what differentiates really successful people from average people.  There’s nothing wrong with being average, but in order to be really successful, I think it starts with controlling our own thoughts.

Yeah.  That’s a scary prospect.

Feminism, happiness, Leadership, social entrepreneurship, Startups, Technology

Right Brain, Left Brain, Passion, Discipline, Women & Tech

I was talking with my roommate/co founder today, and I think I have come to the point where I finally realize (and more importantly embrace) just how left brained I am.  I guess I wanted to deny it for the longest time, but as I see more of the world, I am learning more and more how…logical and practical I really am.  I think it was really hard for me because I had a value judgement associated with right brained people and left brained people (again, going back to my problems with being judgmental).  But coming from a TamBram family, I didn’t want to admit that yes, I am a stereotypical left brained person.  It was such a let down.  I also associated being left brained with a predominantly male…role.  I associated right brain with feminine, and left brain with masculine.  Which is incredibly unfair, but I think that is how our society portrays it.  (Now am I passing blame off to this larger, more abstract entity that nobody can really pin down making it ridiculously easy to play victim and not assume responsibility here? Yeah pretty much).  But it’s true.

And what does it mean being a left brained woman?  I know we’re trying to pay lip service to women in tech, women in engineering, but really deep down, what are our own perceptions of it?  I guess I’m a flawed human being because no matter how much I try to convince myself of these facts, deep down, that’s my first reaction. I assume responsibility for that, but I realize it’s something that needs to change.  I think what I’m trying to say is that I really haven’t seen many famous women that I, as a left brained woman, relate to and really admire/respect.  I also think that being a woman of color makes a huge difference, which I never believed until I read Maya Angelou (and I was thinking holy crap I thought it was just me that felt this way!)  But that’s for a different post.  The point is, I guess I am coming to terms with the fact that yes, I am a really practical/logical person, and that is OK.  In fact, lets embrace it.

It was also hard because…running a company, especially in the social space, I haven’t seen many people like me in it. Most companies in this space thrive off of Martin Luther King like conviction and passion.  They are trying to inspire you to do something different. To start a movement.  And since I started NextDrop, I always felt insecure because…that’s not who I think I am.  Am I passionate? Sure.  But do I think I can pull off an I Have A Dream Speech?  Not really.  I tried once, and it just felt so wrong.  It wasn’t me. I wasn’t being authentic.  I’m reading this book called Quiet, and it’s really interesting.  It’s focusing not on the Martin Luther King’s of movements, but the Rosa Parks.  Now do I think I’m completely Rosa Parks? No, but I definitely relate to her contribution to that movement more than I think I can relate to anyone else.

But coming back to value, if I were to synthesize the strengths of right brained people and left brained people, I would say that left brained people have an easier time being disciplined.  Right brained people have an easier time tapping into passion.  To be good, you only need one or the other.  But to be great? To be great, you have to learn how to have both.  I think the road to greatness is first figuring out what comes naturally to you, and then actively working on how to build the other part.  I think the motivation and drive for greatness is there for everyone, it’s just a matter of how you go about achieving it.

At least, that’s the way I see it today.  Who knows what will happen tomorrow.

After all, tomorrow is another day

Job, Leadership, Life Goals, Startups

Lunch with Paul Polman, Dinner at Buckingham Palace

It’s times like these where life is pretty nuts.  Paul Polman, the CEO of Unilever, was one of my favorite CEO’s even before I met him.  I have read so much about his sustainability initiatives and such, and how he puts his money where his mouth is.  A lot of times you read about these people, and when you actually meet them- it’s a total let down.  This was not one of those cases.  Paul Polman is a true visionary.  He kept dropping knowledge left and right.  And most importantly, I think he really cares.  I know he cares because his staff informed us that this was only supposed to be an hour meeting, but he bumped some poor guy who probably prepared 6 months to make a 30 minute pitch, which is now reduced to 10 minutes.  And he didn’t dodge the hard questions- I definitely asked him my fair share.  He is legit.  Plain and simple.

But one of the main things I realized, while visiting their facilities in London, was how…tiny I was. How young I was.  I was probably younger than 80% of the people in that building.  I was sitting in their 8 story building in the middle of London and I just felt…humbled.  I think in this day and age, with web 2.0 and the like, we forget about product companies.  It was so cool walking into the Unilever store- and it blew my mind to think wow, they MAKE these things.  These products that I grew up with- that I love! Dove, Pureit water filters (I own 2!), Lipton Tea (made it for my parents every weekend growing up), Ben and Jerry’s- I could go on and on. But yeah. Someone makes that. It was awesome thinking about that.  And this company is huge. Just HUGE.  I felt so small in those offices. But in the best way possible.  Like..this could be NextDrop one day.  This could be us. We have so much to look forward to in life.  And so much to learn.  I am so young! Pretty much a baby.  Having that perspective is helpful.  I also realized that…I don’ t think I could work for someone this large.  I really relish the challenge of growing my own company.  It’s really what I live for, turns out.

Also, I spent so much of last year hating on the fact I’m so young.  I usually like to bump up my age 5 years (wherever I can get away with it).  But as I was sitting there in those offices, I realized- wow.  I’m meeting Paul Polman.  And his entire executive team.  Because I’m a finalist for the Young Entrepreneur Sustainability Award.  Not the Seasoned Entrepreneur Sustainability Award.  And to be honest, I was thinking about most of the conversations he would probably have on a daily basis.  Really dry. Lots of agendas.  Lots of egos.  It must get tiring.  But like I said in the last post, the other finalists are amazing.  The topics we talked about weren’t….how can I get more stuff out of you (although, how they could help definitely came up and I because I am shameless I brought it up multiple times/asked how to follow up with those game changing promises) but we were asking about…interesting stuff.  At least I think it’s interesting stuff.  The future of the world as we know it.  What’s the status quo, why is it like that, what can we do to change it, what he has learned in his time on the planet.  The good stuff.  And I feel like he thought it was cool too, because, like I said, he gave us an extra 30 minutes.  How many times do you get to sit back and ponder about life in the work context? How many times do you get to ponder your true purpose (and not in the PR sort of way?)

I don’t know, I guess being young isn’t too shabby.  Got a lot to learn, but I’m getting there.

Yeah, Buckingham Palace was nuts.  They showed our video there and everything (Yes my face was on the big screen at Buckingham Palace- NUTS I’m telling you.)  I kept asking people if this is a normal thing- like every Britisher gets 3 weeks of Prince+Palace dinner time or something.  Apparently that’s not how it works.  Prince Charles said what’s up.  He asked about NextDrop- that was nice of him.  He asked if we were getting behind at work, and I told him that in England they had this invention called the internet  (so I’ve heard) that was really helpful for that sort of thing. He also said he would do everything he could to help, so I said keeping his eye on his friend over at Unilever would be helpful, because it was like Christmas that lunch was.  So many game changing opportunities.  He said ok.  It was a good 3 minutes of Royal time.  (Did I mention I’m shameless when it comes to work?)

I think my biggest realization was that life is shifting into the next gear.  And if I want to succeed, I’ve got to step up my game.  Lots of opportunities I need to take advantage of, mostly because I’m young and I can get access to a lot of things that a lot of older people have a harder time doing.  Which is good. Stressful, but good.

Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.


Leadership, Life Goals, Startups

So What I Need Is Not Called Therapy, It’s Called Executive Coaching

After I figured out I needed help, I set out to do some good old fashioned research to see who would be the right person to help.  I had heard of this thing called Executive Coaching, and so I decided to set up a consultation.  I asked one of our advisors/mentors for a recommendation, and I set up my first appointment.  I told (my now Executive Coach) Ruth,  that I didn’t know if she could help, but these were all the issues that I was having.  She not only said these were completely normal, but these were definitely in her purview (and I was, in fact, ahead of the curve on most thins).  After one session, I felt on top of the world.  i felt like order was restored back to my Universe and I felt…relieved.  I knew where I wanted to go and I was happy that I had someone who would help me get there.  

I guess she just makes me feel like a normal person, and she makes sure I’m not living in my head.  I’m excited to see how things progress.

And more importantly, how much more awesome my life is going to be


Control, fear, happiness, Job, Leadership, Life Goals, Startups

Step 1: Admitting You Have A Problem

What happens when a 23 going on 24 year old gets (almost) half a million dollars to run a company? (Wow, that looks so strange written out!) What does this person look like 2 years later?  Yes, that would be me.  And after an amazing conversation with an amazing friend from high school, I get to see where I am, and how far I still have to go (it’s so funny how high school friends have the ability to put a mirror up to you and say hey, look at you now).  I think the first step is just saying, wow, proud of myself for…surviving….but there is still a long long LONG way to go to be where you want to be.  To be honest, it’s only now (2 years later) that, since I have an amazing team, (and I can go on vacation without worrying the company will die) I have the luxury of really taking a deep dive and looking at myself critically.

What does that actually mean, practically?  It means that I acknowledge that there are lots of things that are holding me back from being the leader, executive, startup person, I want to be.  And being ok with that.  And knowing that I need to slow down and explore all those things, so that..I can overcome these mental roadblocks.  Because that’s what they are, mental roadblocks.

And I’m also admitting that maybe I can’t do this on my own.  I’m going to talk about a topic that most people don’t like talking about but I’m going to say it.  I think everyone (who can afford it) could use a therapist.  Especially when you have a high stress job.  I count running a startup a high stress job.  I feel like people think therapists are only for absolutely dire situations and for people who are either schizophrenic, bipolar, or suicidal maybe. You get the point.  But I think it’s one of the most misunderstood (and underused) fields that exist.  And it has so much negative stigma associated with it, it’s sort of ridiculous.  I am hoping to do my part to change that, by talking about it.  I want to use a therapist for preventative measures. Nothing is going horribly wrong now (in fact, people may look at my life and say wow you have everything!) but I think if I don’t do something differently, I am impeding my own personal growth, and the growth of our company.  It’s more about realizing that I need help to cross my own mental plateau- sort of like a…mental personal trainer.  I think most of us use our friends as substitute therapists, but really, that’s not their job.  They definitely help and keep you afloat (and I’m sure we all agree that we don’t know where we would be without them), but at the end of the day, if you are dominating conversations with your own problems, most of the time, I don’t think that’s healthy at all, and I think that’s the time the therapist comes in.  I’m not sure if I will actually have enough money to get one (gonna cross my fingers and hope I find someone I like at a reasonable price) but I don’t know anyone who can’t use a non judgmental, impartial/third party observer, who listens to you moan and cry and whine about your problems and asks you questions like, “how does that make you feel” and you go on and on about how that makes you feel ( for an hour a week).   Sounds pretty rad to me.

I have no idea how it will work out, and maybe I’ll find this is the worst idea ever, but right now, I at least feel like I’m doing SOMETHING to move in a positive direction.  Getting myself a mental-personal trainer.

But you know what else is therapeutic?  Writing about it. And hoping that other people who feel the same way will feel less alone, and say hey, yeah, that sounds like me too.