FTG 0022 - Leveling the Playing Field for Start Ups with Founder & Funder Aniyia Williams '07

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Guest Bio:

Aniyia L. Williams ’07 Arts & Architecture is a serial entrepreneur and inclusion advocate. She is a principle at the Omidyar Network after previously founding and serving as chief executive officer of Tinsel, executive director of Black and Brown Founders, and co-founding Zebras Unite. She previously held roles at Voxer and in the arts administration space. As an African-American woman in Silicon Valley, Williams is breaking down barriers for others now and in the future. She has also been featured in Forbes, Ebony, and many tech and fashion websites and publications; and speaks through the country on diversity in tech, fashion tech, and entrepreneurship/startups. Williams has been the entrepreneur-in-residence for CODE2040, which also focuses on Black and Latinx Entrepreneurs and is powered by Google for Entrepreneurs. She is also a board member for Women’s Audio Mission. Aniyia graduated from Penn State’s College of Arts & Architecture with a bachelors of art in music with honors, as well as minors in business and Italian after beginning her journey at Penn State Berks.

Episode Specifics:

In this episode, Aniyia shares her insights on:

· Building an entrepreneurial spirit at a young age

· Starting at a Commonwealth Campus and perspectives on the Bunton Waller Fellows program

· “DIY-ing” a major from available programs when Penn State doesn’t have a major!

· Getting involved in both student governments and in the performing arts

· “Nerding out” by combining academic and personal interests and study abroad into the honors thesis

· Working in arts fundraising and then moving into for-profit startups and then back into non-profit

· Insights on the ups and downs of the startup ecosystem – and efforts to fix problems for Black & Brown founders in tech

· Making the leap to start a company after finding an unmet need in the market and learning along the way from idea to manufacturing to consumer

· Creating spaces for others, especially women of color, to excel as founders and funders

· Lots of practical advice for start-up founders

· Thoughts on parenthood, especially as a founder

-----

Schreyer Honors College Links:

Website

Facebook

Twitter

Instagram

LinkedIn

Upcoming Events

• Scholars – Need Assistance? Book an Appointment!

• Alumni – Learn Why and How to Volunteer

Make a Gift to Benefit Schreyer Scholars

• Join the Penn State Alumni Association

-----

Credits & Notes:

This content is available in text form here.

This show is hosted, produced, and edited by Sean Goheen ‘11 Lib (Schreyer).

The artwork was created by Tom Harrington, the College’s Web Developer.

The sound effect is “Chinese Gong,” accessed via SoundBible used under Creative Commons License.

The theme music is “Conquest” by Geovane Bruno, accessed via Pixabay and used under Creative Commons License.

Greeting scholars and welcome to following the Gong, a podcast of the Shuire Honors College at Penn State. Following the gone takes you inside conversations with our scholar alumni to hear their story so you can gain career in life advice and it spanned your professional network. You can hear the true bread of how stollar alumni have gone on to shape the world after they rind the gone and graduated with honors, and learn from their experiences so you can use their insights in your own journey. This show is proudly sponsored by the Scholar Alumni Society, a constituent group of the Penn State Alumni Association. I'm your host, Shawan Doheen, class of two thousand and eleven, and college staff member. If this is your first time joining us, welcome. If you're a regular listener, welcome back. Annie Williams, class of two thousand and seven, is a serial entrepreneur and inclusion advocate. She is a principal at the OMADAR network, after previously founding and serving as chief executive officer of Tinsel, executive director of black and Brown founders and Co Founding Zebras Unite. She previously held roles at boxer and in the arts administration space. As an African American woman in Silicon Valley, Williams is breaking down barriers for others now and in the future. She's also been featured in Forbes, Ebony and many tech and fashion websites and publications and speech to the country and diversity in tech, fashion, tech and entrepreneurship and startups. Williams has been the entrepreneur and residence for code two thousand and forty, which also focuses on black and Latin x entrepreneurs and is powered by Google for entrepreneurs. She's also a board member for women's audio mission. And neia graduated from Penn State's College of Arts and architecture with a bachelor of art and music with honors, as well as miners and business and Italian. After beginning her journey at Penn state birds. In this episode, and Hea shares her insights on building an entrepreneurial spirit at a young age, starting at a comm old campus, and perspectives on the Button Ball Er fellows program diying a major from available programs when Penn State doesn't have the major year, looking for getting involved in both student governments and in the performing arts, nerding out by combining academic and personal interests and study abroad into the honors thesis process, working in arts fundraising and then moving into for profit startups and then back into nonprofits. Insights on the ups and downs of the start up ecosystem and efforts to fix problems for black and brown founders in tech. She also discusses making the leap to start a company after finding an unmet need in the market and learning along the way from idea to manufacturing to consumer, creating spaces for others, especially women of Color, to it sells founders and funders. Lots of practical advice for startup founders and thoughts on parenthood, especially as a founder. With that, let's dive into our conversation with a NIA following the Gong Ania. Thank you so much for joining me here on following the gone I'm very excited to talk with one of our alumni achievement award winners here at Penn State. Now, normally I start with a question along the lines of how did you first come to a pen to attend Penn State and the Honors College? But in doing my research I saw your entrepreneurial journey really started well before that. So can you share about your work in your family business from a young age? To Start? Yeah, my family used to own a cosmatology school and a few hair salons in the Philadelphia area and since I was about three years old, being a part of that, being a part of that family business and then putting me to work out about five, I was small enough that I could kind of clean all the hair off of the base board. So I was like how I would earn my keep. And you know, as I got older than it would be like, okay, you're going to answer phones, you're going to receive people when they show up for their appointment. So and then obviously back of house where all the other things are happening. I would say by the time I was sixteen my grandmother had me doing tax reconciliations and try to help with the accounting stuff. So it was just it was constant learning. Learning is like a very big theme and my family big, big cultural part. So yeah, so no surprise you ended up in the Shuire Honors College at Penn State. So what did draw you to come to Penn State? And if I read all of your information correctile use. Harded at one of our Commonwealth campuses. That's true. I started at Penn State burks. And this is going to sound controversial, but of the the I think I applied for four colleges when I was applying for colleges and Pinn state was my last choice. But the reason why was because I had this very specific major that I wanted to do. I was looking at kind of arts administration or music business as a major when I was applying to schools...

...and I applied to Pinn state just because it was the state school and I had, you know, been to an event that Pinn state actually had with high school seniors and it was kind of I mean, I think in retrospect I'm like, I was clearly a recruiting event, but you know, at the time I didn't know that, but I was just like okay, like I'll applied to pin state too, and I got into all the colleges I wanted to, but you know, there was just something, there was something. Actually, I can't say that there was something about Pinn state. What actually happened was my dad told me that I should reach out and find out more about the scholarship program that they told me about at the recruiting of it that I went to and I actually ended up getting a full scholarship to Pinn state. I got I was a bunch of button waller fellow and that was just the game changer where it was just like Oh, okay, like student loans are a thing. I still had to kind of maybe take out a couple loans so I could, you know, pay for books and some of they're kind of housing expenses. But I would say in general, though, it was a pretty transformative experience and I have no regrets. Obviously I'm very proud and an Eline. Now, after I got to the campus and started to meet people and started to make, you know, friends that I would have for a very, very long time, actually work with some of the people that I that I that I was was in in there with at birks that you're actually it's funny. So it's true. So we mentioned arts administration and that is one of the few things that you can't major in at right there's some great programs elsewhere across the country, but unfortunately one of the few things you can't do here. So you ended up majoring in music. What drew you to pick that specifically, as opposed to maybe going to this new college business. What drew you to arts and architecture? Oh my gosh, okay, so, alongside the family business that I was part of, I also have always been just a performer, a creator, kyde person of the arts and some shape or form. And I studied music, I studied voice. I sang as far back as I could remember as well, and when I got to middle school and especially into high school, I started to study classical and operatic voice. I actually ended up going to the creative and performing art high school in Philadelphia and I was a vocal major there. So half of my classes were, you know, voice or arts related and you know, the other half were academic, and I remember going into pinstate because it didn't have like I was so attached to this other major. And so I think we're my head was at was like my dad was like we you know what, there's nothing wrong with getting a business degree, and I'm like yeah, okay, I gotta get a business degree. Does make sense, and I started doing all the prerequisite classes and all the things for that my freshman year and I was just kind of like, you know, I miss having half of my classes be something artistic, and that was when I started to give I got I got creative with my my my major in my studies, and so what I actually ended up doing was then becoming a music major. I auditioned for the School of Music and I ended up minoring in business and minoring and Italian, because Italian was something I also studied alongside opera. And so music major, business minor, Italian minor and and even when I ended up doing my honors thesis for Shreire, I kind of pulled these different threads together and ended up getting my my honors and Mus Ecology and Italian studies. So it was like a really fun ride actually. So I feel like I kind of ended up but it was like a diy arts administration degree. At the end of it. I think I still actually accomplished what I set out to do, but it's is a different path. I think that's something a lot of scholars can probably relate to, regardless of what your major is, kind of weaving those pieces together to make your own journey. Now you've mentioned two different things that I want to dive a little bit deeper into. Obviously I want to talk about your thesis in a minute, but you mentioned being a Bunton Waller Fellow buntewaller scholar. Can you talk about that program and how you balance the demands? I know there's programming parts of that as well, of on top of being a shriior scholar, and how that experience affected you? Yeah, well, I think I've always been a person juggling multiple things. I would say really it was more so juggling that with the student government that I was involved with when I went to Burke's. When I was at Burke's my freshman year I was the CO chair for diversity on the Student Government Association there, and then I went up to you P my sophomore year because as I changed my major to music, I had to be at the main campus and and even when I went up there, I basically became the director's diversity director on CCSG, and so I feel like there was just a lot of involvement with me kind of wanting to be a part of what was happening...

...on campus and diversity was always just something that was very important to me. And then, of course, all of the the wonderful things that were happening with Shryer, and I think that also both of these things offered different kinds of communities for me to get into while I was there, and so I would say that, you know, balancing it wasn't particularly hard, at least I don't remember it feeling particularly hard, but I think that there was just so much that I got out of it in terms of just friendships and connections that I made and the kinds of people that I was able to to learn from. For those of you who are only at you park, you're probably like, what is CCSG? That is the Council of Commonwealth student governments, of which I also was on as a student. So yeah, find a fellow burke's and CCSG alum in this in this conversation. Were you involved in any other outside opportunities when you were here? Yes, the like pin state opera was another one of them, which was kind of part of me being part of the School of music. But we had so much fun with Pin State Opera Theater. I mean we made our own costumes and it was just fun all around. Great people, and then some musical theater too on the side with you know, rich beaver and and his sound on stage. We did dream girls while I was there. I got to be Dina Jones, and this was like before beyonce was Dina Jones. So I was like, you know, I guess the bar was a little bit lower, but but it was so fun. I so I feel like they were just all kinds of really amazing things that I got to get involved with and I think each of them shaped me in a different way. I'll just assume that beyonce was inspired by your performance take on the character. That's absolutely right. And Girls, but I know she looked to you when she was doing her research. So we'll just assume that. I like this this take. Yes, I agree. Yeah, that's what happened. So you mentioned earlier you're you know, you're you're doing student government, you're doing arts and obviously being rehearsals and things. It's a lot of your time. But you mentioned your thesis and in the Sciences and in business there's kind of a more or less a formula the four things, but in the arts the options open up were may not necessarily be a research paper. What was your thesis? Was it a research paper? was that a creative endeavor? Tell us about that. Yeah, I actually ended up doing a research paper and I'm not actually I'm like I'm retrospect I'm not really. I don't know that I remember why I chose to do that. Could, you're right, I could have done like a recital or something, which I did do some recitals while I was there, but not necessarily part of my thesis. But one thing actually that that really was a standout opportunity that came from the thesis work that I was doing was I got a grant to go to Italy and do some of my research and studies there, which I only did for a few weeks, but it was a really, really huge opportunity. That was actually my first time leaving the country and I got to go to Italy. I had been studying Italian for probably about five or six years at that point and had always wanted to go and I think, if I remember correctly, because of definitely aging myself here, but September eleven had happened around the time I had the first opportunity to go to Italy and then it was like know, we're not putting students on any planes, and that kind of there was like a long tale of like schools trying to re establish what travel meant, for traveling abroad, meant for for students, and so there was this window of time where I had always wanted to go and I couldn't go, and then I got this grant and I was so excited. I went to Milan and Parma and I got to go and see and meet folks that worked at these places that could kind of add some color to the studies I was doing. For Giuseppe Verdi, one of the most famous Italian composers, was kind of the part of the focal point of my thesis. I did it on how his operas influence the Italian resurgence and the unification of Italy. And I feel like in any other circumstance and be like, oh my gosh, this is so nerdy, but I'm like, oh no, this is my people. So it was amazing and I definitely got to nerd out and go to, you know, Liscala and do just see all of these places where his operas were performed and go to the place where he lived, and it was just it was so awesome. And so yeah, I did actually just end up writing a paper, but it was a fun paper to write for me. I really liked it. I mean I can tell just by the fact like how much. You're glowing right now and talking about it, reflecting on it, you know, fifteen years later. So that so something about you can still do that in the art.

So I appreciate that. Yeah, I would actually I would even add that, you know, some of the things that came out of, you know, me studying another language. There was a one of my I have like a few classes. I still remember some of my favorite classes. I have even still some textbooks from college, and one of them, it's funny, I was just quoting something from it on twitter this week, which is that this it's like an anthology called theories and translation, and it has these essays about translation and it and I feel I still read it from time to time because I feel like it's actually applicable to the work that I do now and ways of especially just kind of these ideas that I think are really palpable in our current times about working across difference and trying to understand people and cultures that are very different from the one that you know and how do you kind of effectively communicate and create, you know, shared understanding between cultures. And Yeah, that was like that was definitely one of my favorite classes. I think that there's so much that I've learned just from the act of studying another language and being immersed in a culture that's very different than mine. So if you are reading the episode description, you the listener, you'll notice that, you know, you're not a professional singer, so you took a different creptid. So what was your first job out of college? Because it doesn't have a lot to do, but everything to do is what you're doing now. What was it and how did you actually get into that? Yeah, I think that's a good way to put its like it doesn't have to do but it also has a lot to do at the same time. So the thing that I do now I do a few things I feel like. So there's also this theme. I think I'm kind of the Queen of doing too much. I don't necessarily recommend that as a path for people. It's very stressful. Sometimes it's a lot to juggle, but I just always have all my like all these tentacles of interests. But I would say that the the main thing that I do now. I am a principle at Olydi, our network, which is a social change venture. We are helping to create a more equitable, inclusive society through these main kind of themes, and the theme that I work part of is responsible technology, and that is actually building on all of the things that I did since I left Penn State, where, if I was going to just like run through really quickly, I'd day I went from after graduation I started to work at Wolf Trap Foundation and major gifts and fundraising, which was also something that grew out of an experience that I had at Penn State when I was on CCSG. I was trying to help with raise, raising enough money to start and endowment for a scholarship that would kind of reward a student for, you know, doing things that kind of contributed to the diversity of the campus and and that kind of gave me my first understanding of fundraising and realizing that that was a job and also that was a job you can have in the art and that could keep me tied to the arts, and so it was a really great first job for me to have. I worked in major gift fundraising for a few years and then actually what ended up happening was I met the guy who eventually became my husband, and he's a software engineer. He got recruited to work out at the start up in San Francisco and we were going to be young, crazy kids and like just go into the unknown and see what happened. And we moved to San Francisco. We've been here ever since. That was about eleven years ago, and so when I got here, I actually use that as an opportunity to start working in tech, because I was very intrigued by tech and I wanted to see if there was somewhere in there for me, because I had gotten to just see the excitement of it and all the like. Anything can happens of it and it just felt like something I wanted to try my hand at in some way. So I worked out a start up for a few years called boxer. They made a walkie talkie APP for Smar, for smartphones, like when smartphones first were became a thing. And then from there I started my first company called Tinsel, and I had because I had this idea after working at boxer for a few years. I wanted headphones that could also be jewelry. I wanted to be able to wear a piece of jewelry that no one would be able to tell was also electronics, and so I actually made an audio necklace. It was amazing it is amazing. And then from there I ended up starting black and Brown founders, a nonprofit that helps black and Latin x people start tech businesses and tech enabled businesses, which was really an outgrowth of the things I had learned during my journey, not just building my company, but I had also had a chance to connect with other founders of color and saw that there were just some similar challenges that were happening, that folks were, you know, entrepreneurs by necessity, you are going to be building these businesses, regardless of whether they got the support in the resources they...

...needed, and we really wanted to take this lens of how do you get from point a to point B, like idea to launching something, when you're working with modest resources, and I think that that's still information that a lot of black and Latin x entrepreneurs in America need today. So today I'm on the Board of that organization. And then I also started Zeeber's unite, which is an entrepreneur led movement. It's a global organization. We have twenty four chapters around the world and it's about creating a more ethical and sustainable start up ecosystem. And then, even a few years later, after that I started one other thing, which was the black innovation alliance. It's kind of a coalition of entrepreneur support organizations that are helping Black Folks Start Tech Company. So there's just the theme is around how do we kind of help people who have been at the margins of an industry where opportunity is being created more than you could name, and I don't know if really any other industry that exists today, and that it's also a really an engine for wealth. I got to experience that firsthand because that start up that recruited my husband, that made us move out here, ended up getting acquired and that change the financial trajectory of our lives. And even another start up he ended up working at after that also got acquired and that has like really been so I've seen how being a part of these companies, building something useful and important and those things, you know, ultimately becoming successful, changes the trajectory of people's lives every day and I think that that's just an opportunity for folks who have typically been left out and have great ideas and problems that they can uniquely solve. So there's a lot I'd love to go back and back and story, because you're doing great stuff. I want to go back to the point when you left your initial role at boxer and you decided to take a leap of faith and start your own company. Yeah, because you saw a product niche that was not being filled and you decided, as any entrepreneur would, hey, I can do that. I can feel that need. I know there's other people who would like what I like here. Yeah, so I've kind of two questions. One, tell us about your decision making process and how you actually like took that lead to go from a stable job to start up owner. And then I remember reading about how you actually went about the manufacturing process and we're very intentional in your decisions once you had your prototype made and you're ready to take it to market. So if you can talk a little bit more about those two things, I would appreciate hearing that. I'm sure our listeners would too. Yeah, it's it started with me being frustrated with the like tangled wires of headphones I would have to dig out of my purse all the time, and that was where I was just like, I want to be able to wear them on my body, but I also love fashion and how I care about how I look and I wanted to be intentional, and that was like where it came from. I thought that this would be a thing I could just buy somewhere. Someone has to have made this thing, and when I couldn't find it to buy it, then I started my wheel started turning and it was who would it be like if I made this thing, also knowing that I'd like I know nothing about making physical products, let alone electronics. Everyone has been listening to my journey and nowhere in there is like engineering, manufacturing, like any of that. But I think that it was just really again, I feel like growing up in a culture of learning, you start to understand. Also, this is a thing that we say a lot and silicon valley like you don't know what you don't know. I had heard that enough by that point to know that, like, okay, anyone who would like know something even remotely related to what I think I should know, I need to just start talking to people, and that was when I really started to like get some color around that vision. But the big leap of faith actually happened when I went to talk to the CEO of the company that I was working at, who also happened to be. He's just a very well connected person and an angel investor and and he I asked him really just for an intro to if he had a friend or knew anyone who was an industrial designer, because I had like had some conversations and I'm like, okay, I need to find an industrial designer, and where do I find one of those? Let me ask someone who knows people, and he did and he made an introduction to a friend of his who was an industrial designer who then could kind of start to talk me through the outlines of what it would look like to try to make something like this real, and also said that, you know, he thought that my idea was really cool and he would he would be helpful to me, he would be a mentor, he would be a coach, he would be an adviser to my company. And and he did do that. And he also was like, you know, you also are going to need like a lot of money to make this the thing and...

...you should go back and you should ask, you know, to ask the person who made the entry, ask him to invest in this and and over a series of conversations he did, and so I then became okay, this is great I'm going to stop working for you and then I'm going to start this company, like with this money and some of the money that, you know, we got from the the Yammer exit too, and I'm gonna like, we're going to make electronic jewelry for women and so and that was a journey. Manufacturing. Hardware is is hard. Hardware is hard. That's the thing that we say. It's true for so many reasons. There's so many variables, and I think that you know, to me, the big difference between hardware and software that I think puts hardware and just a different category completely is your ability to iterate and fix things, because in software you know something's not working, there's a bug, buy you know, you could go, you'd like fix it, you push it out to production and now everybody's having the experience they were intended to have. When you make physical products, not just electronics, but anything you're like physically holding in your hand, I mean a chap stick, who knows, like you know if the if the wrapper, it doesn't have the right kind of stickiness and it's peeling out, like you can't do anything about that when it's already in someone's hands, right. So you just have to like recall it or make a new one. So it's just a very labor intensive it's a very cost intensive business and the room for error is much smaller and much less forgiving. So everything from like US trying to figure out how we could source hollow metal chains that didn't snag on Women's clothing, which was probably one of the biggest challenges we had to solve, was a whole like body of work. Inside the work it itself, there were they things related to certifications and approvals that we had to get because we wanted to put, you know, that it was apple compatible on the box, and then I found out all the things you had to go through to actually even get the ability to put apples, like, you know, icons on a box and how that actually affects the requirements of how the box is designed and apple has to prove that and like you have to submit all of these things to apple and you have to purchase apple parts to be compatible with their devices too. So there was like a whole moment where we were trying to get the apple chips to put into the headphones and then a new iphone release happened and then there was no inventory because everyone was making new accessories, manufacturing new accessories for the new iphones, and it was just like we're like nobody in this like huge fight for sourcing materials. How are we gone it? So it was just like always a constant crises, but it was also really fun in some ways because it challenged me to think creatively and figure out other ways to I feel like I should use a better analogy of this, but there's always more than one way to skin a cat and like really being able to kind of use those limits as a source of creativity, I think, is something that I drawn every day. So once you've got those parts, hmmm, figured all that part out and you had your you got to prove by apple all these things I read about where you actually were working on like who physically was assembling these sounds like you had some intentional thought into that part of the equation as well, in terms of labor. Yeah, so I would say that just across the board with the company that I every company that I've built, really from Tinsel to black and brown founders to zeebras unite to black innovational line, there's been a very strong presence of women and people of Color and also women of color. I think that, especially in the industry that we operate in, opportunities don't come to us in the same ways and sometimes we have to give each other opportunities if we want to have opportunities. And I think that it has been something that's also born a lot of fruit, particularly because I think that there's just a very specific perspective and Lens that women of Color and women bring to the workforce and to organization, kind of ideas and how people interact together that I think produce greater solutions, and I think a lot of that stems back to what kind of cultures are possible within a company and how people feel like they're they belong or how they're being treated or how they're heard or how they're allowed to express their ideas and try to make things and and I think that's been a very powerful aspect of my experience as well. So we've mentioned all these other ventures that you've taken on, and part of that was planning conferences. Yeah, can you talk...

...about some of these other experiences that you've gone from, you know, being the tech startup founder to helping create a broader ecosystem of support for others? Yeah, yes, and honestly, I still love planning events and putting those together because their instant sparks for community to be created and for people to connect with each other, and I just I love people so much. But I would say that, you know, from the point of starting Tinsel, the startup, there would be something that I would notice just kind of like at the system's level, where, like the challenges that I was having, it kind of felt like, okay, I need to try to tackle this thing that sits above where I am right now and what I'm able to influence in my role as a founder of this company, and that's what I feel like happened with like black and Brown founders and zebras. It was like we want to try to I wanted to try to both solve this access issue for founders of color and then I also wanted to help with expanding the kind of financing and funding options that we had for startups on the Zebra side, and thought that like tackling those things would have made it easier for the person who I was trying to start tinsel. And then doing that there I noticed there was a level even above that, which was around just the kind of fragmentation of activity that had been happening and how it sort of weakened what what was, I think, not fully formed as a like shared goal, but knowing that there were so many other organizations that had a similar goal to what we were doing, and I wanted them to kind of all I wanted all of us to start working together, and that was kind of where the black innovation alliance came in and and I think even there, which actually is doing really well, but I would say even they're realizing that there's another, like side to this, which is what is happening inside of the kind of places that are funding or financing, you know, organizations, nonprofit, social movements, all of these things, where it feels like we aren't quite like matched up in like we're all trying to help make the world a better place, but we're not really. There's a disconnect between how the change happens and like how the funding wants the change to happen, and I kind of wanted to like start tackling that too and and thinking about how could I show up and be the funder that I always wanted to be, like our wanted to have, I should say, when I was on the other side of the table and that's that's what I get to do now and I think you know, even in my role at a video our network, I'm kind of the one who's constantly like pushing the organization and breaking things and everyone has a lot of patients for me. But it's the it's also a sense of discovery, like we're learning and experimenting with new ways that organizations like a medi our network can show up and support the kinds of organizations that I have started in the past and what gets in the way of having really real partnerships between the people who have resources in the people who are kind of on the front lines of work, and I think that this is the playbook that's needed now more than ever, and so I feel like I'm now working at the systems level of like, okay, this is where I feel like I can actually have a huge impact and the further the person who might be me fifteen years ago like they will come into a better environment to try to actualize their ideas and make these beautiful things happen that need to happen. So that's my hope. So a big part of being a source of funds, being an investor and angel investor for for faults. From what I've heard and other podcasts and things, is also offering mentorship and advice and coaching. So what are and based on our conversation, seems like that's probably something that you do, so I'm just going to assume that you provide those. Yes, what are the kinds of advice, the the things that you find yourself saying when, when you know the the you now comes to you and says, Hey, I have this idea, we need money. What are the things that you find yourself saying to them? That would be helpful for our scholars to know if they're interested in starting up their own venture. Hmm, two things that I say a lot. One is to solve a problem for a community that you are from or have meaningful access to. I think that this is a mistake that people across the board make and starting any kind of effort endeavor, particularly in the world of startups, I think it's really easy to see a big, a big hairy problem and if I fix this problem, they'll be so much money that could be made. You should like, give me lots of venture capital and we're going to shoot off like a rocket ship and it's going to be great. That's kind of the energy most people show up with, and I I think you...

...know there's a beauty and fun to that. But it's also sometimes impractical, because what we find is sometimes people want to try to tackle these problems that they don't actually understand or they haven't really experienced well enough to come up with an effective solution. And so I think it's both about how you can have the most like be able to deliver on the promise of solving the problem that you said you set out to do and being equipped to do that. I think it's also about being able to capitalize on something that might inherently be a unique skill set that will give you an advantage to have a successful effort, whatever that might be. And then the third thing is probably the most practical, which is that if you're building a business, you have to make money, which means you have to sell it to someone, and if you don't already have a mind of who your customer is going to be and have a connection to them and an ability to get in front of them to make a sale, then your business is not going to survive. So I think that solving problems for communities you're from mean that you also have early adopters that are baked in and I are going to be interested because they're going to know and be experiencing that problem too. So not your friends, by the way, like people who will pay full price for your products. So and then the other piece of advice I would I would give, which I'm actually thinking of the the words or the framing of a friend of mine, Tara Reid, who asked these says like, until you get to what we call product market fit, kind of this like intersection of I built the thing and this is the thing that people want. But, like she's like, you have your job is to answer these three questions. One is, does anyone want this to is, will they pay me money for it? And three is, what are they paying me money for, like why are they paying for this? What are the features that are important about what it like? What is the benefit that this thing is offering that you can like now double down on and make people continue to buy or find new audiences to sell it to? So yeah, I think that that's really good advice. Know your value prop right ring to the to the market. So that's for the start up side. You also do obviously embedded in all of this is a lot of racial and gender equity work. If scholars are interested in doing things like that in their own line of work, their own industries, what advice do you have for them to try and tackle some of these systems challenges, as you put it? WHOO, that's like a whole other podcast episode in itself, but I'll try to like impart a couple things. One is I hope that the the wonderful folks pin state and beyond listening to this podcast episode will one not think of the kind of gender and and racial and really any kind of like intersection of diversity as something that is compartmentalized into work in any specific way. It shows up in the fabric of everything that we do every day and every decision we make, in our mental models and how we think that the world works. So I feel like my call to action in one way is to just like acknowledge that and know that. You know, if you want to be a person who is striving to live in a world where people feel safe and have dignity and have what they need to get by, then having some presence of that in your mind as you're making decisions is just something that you want to start to try to condition yourself to do right, so it becomes, in a way, part of your identity, because it takes that to be thinking about it and to use that as a nexus for how you're going to decide what to do next. But the other thing I would say is that once, once you've made that commitment, one of the things I would say is, I feel like it's make space for others. This is a thing that I also find myself saying to people a lot. I think, you know, it could actually mean physical space, like someone in is in a room who typically you would not expect to be in this room. How can you make them feel welcome? How can you make sure that they are getting the same kind of treatment as everyone else that is there? But I think also in kind of more of a metaphorical way, to where you know, in the rooms that you're in, the conversations you're having, the events that you're at, the businesses you're building, who's not there that should be there and how do you make space for them? I think that it's often conversations around diversity and equity and inclusion have this very zero, some kind of scarcity like element to it, and I don't think that it has to be that. I think that it is really about, you know, there can be as much space as we want to make. Make the space. You don't have to give something up. You could just create a space for someone else. So I think that that those are just some some basic things I...

...would I would say yeah, and then, you know, minimize harm to others, for sure. I was thinking of kind of the expression of if you don't like the size of the Pie, make a bigger one, make a bigger pie. So I appreciate that. Now, on top of all of these other things that you're doing, you know, you're a founder, your business owner, you are community leader all, you know, you're an angel investor or yourself. Now you are also a parent. Oh yeah, we didn't even get to that part. What did it die into this? Because this is something that is near and nearer to my heart as a fellow parent, and obviously many of our scholars may go on to be parents one day as well. So some future looking advice for them. And I asked this because, in reading through your website, I think you had a whole bunch of self descriptions and one of them is mommy, right on the on the top they're and so I wanted to ask about how do you balance being a parent, which is its own full time job, on top of all of these other things? What advice do you have for scholars who may go on to be a parent themselves one day? Yeah, well, one thing I should name is that I started I I got I got pregnant when about six months after I started tinsel. It was not necessarily part of the plan. So it was kind of like building two startups at once and I would not recommend that. I would say that like that. That shouldn't be the goal. Sometimes it happens. You're rolling with the punches, but it's a lot. It's a lot to carry and you know, it just means that there's like less space for you to do other things that are also important, like, I don't know, have patience and consideration for your partners, like I feel like, especially probably people experiencing having young children during the pandemic, especially kids under five, I'm sure, can relate, where everyone just feels like they're trying to survive and then, on top of that, you like want to be good to each other too, and sometimes it can feel like you just don't have the capacity for that and then that compounds and then you just are like, all of a sudden, you're in a really bad place with a people who you love the most and you have to find your way back to each other. And I'd say that that that has been a challenge that my husband and I have had to come through, but I think we've learned a lot and I think that, you know, parenting has taught me so much about people, just being able to watch a fresh human develop and and just there's just something that's so pure about that and just such a beautiful learning experience. And but I would say that, you know, for me, I'm I'm really fortunate that I've had help, because my husband's mother has been a mainstay and helping us with taking care of no emmy. When I was in the first few months of her being born, I was still breastfeeding and I had to go to China for like two weeks was pumping at a ninety degree factory and my child was three thousand miles away and that was really hard. So, which is why I was kind of like building a business and having kid at the same time. It's really hard. It's not impossible, but it's really hard and you definitely have to make tradeoffs, and I think part of it for me was just accepting that one I'm not going to be the mother of the year, but also it's not like they give trophies out for this and that. Like sometimes prioritizing my sanity that I could show up as a better mom in the long run, like I think we just in America, especially when to all be you know, you got to like lay on the Cross to make sure your child has every possible thing that they want. And I'm like, you know what, a little bit of adversity breeds resilience. I can't always get what they want all the time. Okay, I'm a person too. So Yeah, Oh, yes, the toddler and my house. Sometimes it's like, mm, I don't think he needs that popsicle right now. I think fine without it. So I actually take that. The word that comes to my mind a lot is grace, yes, and to just everybody. Rains indeed. And I have one more fun question here before we kind of go into our reflective third wrap up here. On your on your site, you refer to yourself with many titles, but we've talked about pretty much all of them. Techy, systempreneur, creator. Mommy, just refer to yourself, and maybe I'm showing my my blind spot here as a white guy, but you refer to yourself as a hair magician. Can You allow her? Oh yeah, okay, so I all right. Well, we've already covered that. I grew up in a hair school, hair salon's hair business. One of the things that I picked up as a result of my time being a part of that world was was being pretty good at doing hair and doing my hair, doing, you know, my cousin's hair and anyone who friends that what needed a hook up. But no,...

I say that because my hair changes all the time, like all the time, and it's always been like some level of like commentary at places that I've worked to where it's just like, Oh, what hair style is in you're going to show up with today? So yeah, I it's just hair magician because it rhymes with some of the other things I had in the scheme and also it was fun and I'm just like yeah, it's true. I like it's like magic. The whole look change is overnight. I love it. I love it all right. So last third we're going to go in some reflective questions. Here. How do you feel your experiences in Trier, at Birds at University Park as a music major have helped you, and would you do anything differently? Yeah, I mean no, I wouldn't do anything differently, and I would say that it's just it's help to expand my lens of inquiry, is how I would put it. I think that the time that I spent in Shreyer, I think, has been something that's really encouraged the spirit of curiosity within me and I think that that's actually one of my most powerful, you know, qualities, is showing up in a way of curiosity and not wanting to overprescribe or over predict or or overestimate or underestimate, but just find out what's going on. I want to know more about that before I make a decision or a judgment. So I'd say curiosity city is it's just it's a powerful, powerful tool. What would you say is your biggest success to date? MMM, that's hard because I'm like I got to put the kid at the top of the list, although I'm also I'm still really proud. Like so I had to sunset sinceel I think it was like two thousand and nineteen or two thousand and eighteen, the one I officially sent at it. But I'm still really proud of creating that. I mean we actually so we didn't raise a ton of investment money for that company by the standards of building a hardware business. I think women did it reason close about half a million dollars in capital, and that's like basically for hardware, like you like rated your couch cushions, for some coins that you could like take to to some players to try to make some magical thing happen, like squeezing blood from a stone. And so I think the fact that we actually were able to successfully ship a couple like, you know, batches of like, not a couple, like a couple runs of the different got that into the hands of women was was a really amazing thing and I definitely one of my most proud achievements. Like I have a patent for that. That's really cool. I'm an inventor. To put that on list. That is awesome and I'm also, I would also add for you as editorial here, also the ability to know when to sunset something. I think that's a skill too. Yeah, that's true. Ride something until you know well passed its prime. So knowing that, hey, maybe I should just move on to the next thing. That is a skill into itself. So I'll give you a hat tip there. I agree. I agree. Actually, I do tell people, Entrepreneurs Sometimes when I'm coaching them, that failure is always an option, that it's not the goal, but sometimes it is. The better solution is to just put it down and start something else or try it completely different way of solving it. But yeah, failure is always an option. I hope I didn't steal your answer for my next question, which is what is your biggest transformational learning moment? But I just want to give a quick plug on here. You Talk to our getting a patent. That is no small feet and if you're curious on more about how that process actually works, go back and listen to episode two of this podcast with John Hemmer, who's a patent attorney, and you can get a lot more of insight on how that works, does its own crazy process. But in EA, right here, right now, what would you say is that biggest learning moment that you've had so far? WHOO, honestly, I would say I have so many, but like it does tie back to the failure is always an option. Thing because I learned so much more from the things that I fail at and do horribly then I do from the things I do right. I barely learn anything when something works out, but when it goes wrong I learned so much and that actually makes me better. It makes my mental model better, it makes me more resilient. Like I think that we underestimate the value of failure in the society. Be Honestly, there's a phrase, I don't know who to attribute it to, but from one of my NBA classes, the idea of failing fast so you can learn from it. So definitely good advice. We kind of touched this on on this a little bit, but how do you approach mentorship, both as a mentee and as a mentor? I would say, as a mentee again, curiosity and like the you don't know what you don't know. I always want to like, I think, my my intention with...

...everyone. I would say this actually goes on both ways, as probably like, I have kind of a deep fascination with just human behavior and I think that I'm always trying to excavate an air out with people our mental models and how we think things work and how our experiences have shaped our beliefs around the world and I like to use that as an opportunity to try to expand my own understanding and add to the Lens is in the facets withoo through which I can start to see and understand the world and why people make the choices that they make. And so I just think that that's actually pretty foundational to a relationship where you're trying to help each other grow and some some sense. So yeah, like airing out the mental models, I'm all about it. This must be why you refer to yourself as a system preneur. I love that, termyn't you greeted it. I did not actually, and I can't remember who the original person was that I heard it from, but I wish I could take credit for it, but it wasn't mine. Are there any professors or friends or others from your scholar days that you want to give a quick shout out to? Oh, so many, but I feel like, because this is the shriire podcast, I obviously sandy fine Stein, because she has been like the mainstay of shrire activities at the burt campus for as long as as I think our memories can stretch, and also was just such a she was a mentor and many ways I still have memories of how much read ink she's left on essays and papers that I've written. I think that I can actually credit quite a bit of my writing skills to sandy's editing. So that's one. And then I would also say, I don't know, Dr Lynn, some of my favorite classes. I think he might win the award for like the most classes by the same professor that I took, which I took three classes with him, and then doctor Spivey, who was my my voice instructor at University Park. So many people really all of my Italian studies, like Italian like professors, just so much that I learned from them both about Italian culture, about translation and linguistics, like so many things. But yeah, those are so off the top of my head and I'll give a wholehearted support for Dr Finstein as well at the bird's campus. So definitely a great shout out there. As we're wrapping up our time, what is a final piece of advice that you want to share with current tryer scholars that you were like hoping I would ask something where you could answer that and it just didn't come up yet. I don't know. I think I would definitely just like lean in on the thing I was saying earlier and just stay curious and every way possible forever. Always keep the curiosity and on that same vein. If somebody listening wanted to connect with you and take this conversation further and deep, dive deeper on one of these ventures that you've had, pick your brain further, how can they connect you with? You Twitter? Look me up on the twitters. My DMS are open. I'm Opera Queenie with an IE at the end. I think you're the first person to say that one exclusively. That I there you have it. Get on, get on twitter, if you use it, and connect with the knee of there. Now. Finally, as is tradition, on following the gone, if you are a flavor of Berkie creamery ice cream, which would you be? And, as a scholar Alumna, most importantly, why would you be that flavor? Oh my gosh. Well, I feel like this is going to sound like it's super boring, but I feel like my flavor has always been vanilla and like I'm not a vanilla person by any stretch of the imagination, but I love a simple ice cream base because I like to put toppings on it and I the canvas for all the other things that could go on to the like marshmallows hopping, or like chocolate syrup, caramel whatever you're feeling, some strawberries, Whip Cream for Short Cherries. So I'm like yeah, I'm just going to go with the s vanilla here. I think that must be some reflection of your experience in musical theater and dressing up and all this. That's what I was imagining. You're trying to dressing up the ice cream. So I think that's a great answer. Ania, thank you so much for joining me here on fall following the gone. I really appreciate it. I hope you listening did as well. Lots of great insights. Thank you so much. Thanks Shun. Thank you, scholars, for listening and learning with us today. We hope you will take something with you that will contribute to how you shape the world. The show probably supports the Shrre Honors College Emergency Fund Benefiting Scholars experiencing unexpected financial hardship. You can make a difference at rays dot PSU, dot...

ETU, forward slash shreire. Please be sure to hit the relevant subscribe like or follow button on whichever platform you are engaging with us on today. You can follow the college on Facebook, twitter, instagram and Linkedin to say uptodate on news events and deadlines. If you have questions about the show or a scholar alum who'd like to join us as a guest here on following the gone, please connect with me at scholar alumni at PSU DOT eat. You until next time. Please stay well and we are.

In-Stream Audio Search

NEW

Search across all episodes within this podcast

Episodes (34)