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Build The Damn Thing

Nov 2, 2022

Episode 2 - How to Mentally Prepare for Entrepreneurship


On this episode of Build the Damn Thing, hear what Kathryn and other builders have learned about what it takes to find balance while building your business. They share how to balance the constant conflict between your professional and personal lives, preventing burnout, and how to get your mind right to make it through the entrepreneurial journey. They also discuss the particular toll finding balance takes on WoC founders, who are often burdened with unfair expectations and encouraged not to set boundaries while having to take on everyone else’s issues.

Guests (Email addresses not for publication):

Kendra Bracken Ferguson  |  The Brain Trust 

Geri Stengel  |  Venturerneer  

Danielle Robinson Bell  |  Northwestern University 

Mary Pryor  |  Cannaclusive 

Farah Allen  |  The Labz 

Kellee James  |  Mecaris  

Cheryl Contee  |  Impact Seat 


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Kathryn Finney


Twitter: @KathrynFinney

Instagram: @hiiamkathryn

Facebook: Kathryn Finney


Genius Guild

Website: Genius Guild

Twitter: @GeniusGuild

Instagram: @geniusguild



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Produced by Genius Guild Content Studios

Executive Producers:  Kathryn Finney and Darlene Gillard Jones

Post-Production Company: Prosper Digital TV

Post-Production Manager: Joanes Prosper

Post-Production Supervisor: Jason Pierre

Post-Production Sound Editor: Evan Joseph

Co-Music Supervisors: Jason Pierre and Darlene Gillard Jones

Show Music: provided by Prosper Digital TV

Main Show Theme Music: "Self Motivated" Written & Performed by Tamara Bubble


Full Transcript

Kendra Bracken Ferguson (00:00):
At the end of the day, as a founder, it ultimately falls on your shoulders, and you ultimately have to be confident in what you're doing, even when it's scary and even when it's fearful. And as an entrepreneur, it's all about honesty with yourself, right? Honesty about your strengths, your weaknesses, um, and making sure that you're very, very clear, very, very clear. It is the utmost important that we continue to support each other, support ourselves, understands what mental health means for each of us. Um, it's hard. There are so many obstacles we face as women, as women of color, and we can't give up. We have to be the voice, the guiding light for the next generation. You know, that's what keeps me going. And I've learned <laugh> to ask for help. I've learned to raise my hand, um, and I've had to trust people around me to help me carry the vision forward. 

Kathryn Finney (01:00):
Building a business is no walk in the park. There will be sacrifices made and plenty of disappointments, but with all the lows come the highs. And being mentally prepared to handle it all is the first step to becoming a successful entrepreneur. On this episode of Build a Damn Thing here, what I and others have learned about what it takes to find balance while building your business. 

There are times where I will admit, and I, it pains me, and it almost makes me wanna cry when I admit this, that I chose the work over my family. And I have learned that the work will go, but your family's gonna always be there. One of the reasons why I transitioned from digitalundived, it was the work could not take place in my family anymore. And it was, it was always in constant conflict. And the things that you were being asked to do and the things that I assumed, um, you know, black women, we know how to be martyrs. We're taught how to be that at the very early age. It's also why we die before everybody too. So, um, how do we not take on other people's issues? And how do we as leaders create boundaries? And it's really painful, I've noticed, for some people to, um, accept boundaries from, from us as leaders, because again, I don't know if people really see us as leaders. We have been stereotyped into a role where it's, we are in service of everyone else. That is what our role is supposed to be in this world, is black women are in service of everyone else. Um, and we're not supposed to have boundaries, and we're not supposed to, um, set parameters ourselves. 

Geri Stengel (02:50):
So some of the challenges that I see, uh, for women entrepreneurs and most, uh, especially, um, uh, women of color, um, is they're the primary caregivers. And really, uh, the pandemic, uh, has really highlighted, uh, just how much weight and responsibility falls on the shoulders, um, of women. Um, so, um, not only are the, they the ones that are, you know, doing all the chores or most of the chores, um, uh, in the house. Uh, but they're also the primary caregivers of children, um, of, uh, their parents. Um, and certainly during the PA Pandemic, uh, they're the ones that are primarily educating, um, uh, the children. So, uh, responsible for, uh, remote learning. 

I'm Geri Stengel and I'm president of Ventureneer. And I'm best known for writing in Forbes about the success factors of, uh, women entrepreneurs. Women are less likely to be, uh, promoted. Um, and, um, because they go in and out of the workforce because of caregiving responsibilities, um, their networks are going to be smaller. The amount that they've earned is going to be smaller, so they're gonna have less savings. All of that impacts their ability, uh, to be successful. So the bigger your network, the, the easier it's going to be for you to meet the right senior management team, to get referrals to customers, to get referrals to angel investors, or even to a bank lender. 

Kathryn Finney  (04:34):
It's hard when you're building, especially when you're a mother <laugh> or a partner, or you're a sister, or you know, particularly as, as a, a woman, but particularly as a woman of color, we have so many things like pooling on us. I mean, each day, the number of people and decisions and things that I have to make, it can be daunting and it can be overwhelming. And some days I'm just playing exhausted. So how do you get through that? How do you get to the other side? The thing that I do is give myself permission to take a break. 

Danielle Robinson Bell  (05:09):
One of the things that I often struggle with is this balance of, of, you know, putting in the work and the effort and the energy and the idea and the creativity, um, in my professional work. And then also doing the same with my family. Um, I happen to be in a field that I love. I love my work. I love doing coms. I love being a faculty member. I also love being a mom <laugh>. And I love my life with my husband, uh, in Chicago. How do you do it all? I'm tired a lot. My name is Danielle Robinson Bell and I handled all things communications, both internally and externally for digital undivided. When you're an entrepreneur and you are building something <laugh> off of an idea of yours, it's really hard to turn that off. And how do you navigate that and balance that when you've got little ones running around your feet when you've got obligations at home that you're equally excited about? 

Kathryn Finney  (06:37):
I give myself permission to do self care. Self care is self-love. Truly. One way to think about it is this. Think of your company as a wheel, and you as the CEO is the center. If you are broken, the wheel can't turn. So you doing self care, taking a moment to breathe helps keep things turning. Even as a mom, if I'm not mentally good, my son isn't mentally good either. So I have to take time to practice self care because it also helps everyone around me, and it also helps me to be the better person. So don't feel guilty about that. Take a moment. And self care doesn't mean, you know, taking a three week vacation, it could literally mean just taking a bath when my son was young. And someday he'll probably listen to his podcast and be like, That's what you were doing. 

I used to be like, I just need 10 minutes to myself. And I would go in my closet and shut the door and not do anything other than sit on the floor in my closet for 10 minutes and complete silence. And I could hear him, you know, in the background like, What's mommy, mommy, where's you? I was like, Just for 10 minutes. He's going to be okay by himself for 10 minutes. And there were other people around, but it was like, I need just 10 minutes. That's it. Of like, you know, 23 hours and 50 minutes. I'm all yours with these 10 minutes. I just need it and I just need it for myself. I think we're so used to doing so much, you know, particularly as a black woman, I can make a single chicken last for a family of four for at least a good week. 

We'd have chicken soup, chicken salad, chicken that's, we are so talented. Um, I can braid hair and then do surgery too, right? Like, we just know how to do stuff <laugh>, and we get it done and we do whatever it needs to, needs to be done. But that comes at a cost. And that cost is often our sanity. It's our health. It's, it's our feelings about ourselves and our self-esteem. So I wanna encourage you to take your 10 minutes, whatever that may be, and if you can take a lot more than that. But if it's only 10 minutes, give yourself 10 minutes. Give yourself that gift. 

Mary Pryor  (08:56):
Being willing to show up constantly is important. Finding ways to show up that aren't sacrificial is important. So that's the thing. I think you can show up. But one of the things I'm really big, good at doing is I'm not sacrificing myself for anybody. Um, because the things I wanna sacrifice myself for, I wanna save time for that, like a husband and a child and things like that. 

My name is Mary Pryor. I am co-founder of Occlusive and Chief Marketing Officer of Tonic c d and trickle of farms. 

I think that over time, because of this space and what people pull from you, you find yourself, um, outta balance. And I think that being able to know intimately that that's something that somebody wants for themselves is important to see. As someone who often wonders how people are trying to make things work, 

Kathryn Finney (10:03):
There's gonna be people who are gonna be very disappointed with you creating boundaries and protecting your space. And you know what? Let them be disappointed. One of my favorite stories came from my grandmother. Um, we, my grandmother and my mother, and my whole side of my mother's family is from Kansas. And so we were in Kansas and I was a kid and we were at a family's house, a family friend's house, and they were cooking, and this person washed lettuce in the same sink. They washed raw chicken, right? Which was like, Oh my God, like, what the hell's happening? And so, you know, this person prepared to salad and stuff like that, and they put it in front on the table. And you know, I was like, I love a good salad. I was like reaching for it. And my grandmother was like, No, you're not eating that. 

And the person was like, What do you mean she can't eat that baby? Let that baby have salad. And my grandmother was like, No, she's not eating that. And the person was like, Well, I'm gonna be offended. I'm gonna be mad. And my grandmother was like, Well, you just gonna be mad. She ain't eating that <laugh>. And I know this has nothing to do with business, but that was like one of the first times I had ever seen particularly a woman say, No, I have a boundary. I'm not going to eat your like, salmonella infested salad. I don't care how that makes you feel. I'm not gonna have my grandbaby eat that. And you will just have to handle it. And you know what? The person handled it and they got over it. And I think very, from a very early age, I saw that my grandmother set that boundary. 

Um, it's hilarious. Now, <laugh>, it's a family joke. We like laugh about it all the time, still to this day cuz it was just really, really funny. But setting those boundaries, you're going to make people mad. Many people don't have boundaries. Many people are afraid of them, but it helps keep you sane, particularly as you build your company. And it also helps protect your space. You can't build your company if you're scattered and doing everything for everyone. It is impossible to do that. And so you have to stay focused. And one of the ways you stay focused is by creating boundaries and maintaining those boundaries. 

Kendra Bracken Ferguson (12:16):
Whenever you have that experience of starting something, of being passionate and then having the audacity to kind of start your own company as a black woman to push forward, you know, it really pushes you into this, um, different realm in different space. Being an entrepreneur, having multiple startups, it's not for the fame at heart. 

Hi, my name is Kendra Bracken Ferguson. I'm an entrepreneur, founder, advisor, investor, and the founder of Brain Trust. 

It's really about finding, believing and carrying your passion into a profitable business. Um, it is definitely, uh, a different mindset and it's not for everyone. And that's okay because we all have to figure out our place and our start. I was the first director of digital media at Ralph Lauren launching the brand on social and literally meeting with every single department going from, you know, the Olympics, to having to sit with Roger Farra, who was the CFO at the time, and explain the revenue that was being generated by social media and by blogs. So it really has been such an amazing experience to be able to say I've been able to navigate and be successful in both areas, and that I've been able to, um, fly a plane, build a plane, and then realize that I really am, um, an entrepreneur. 

Kathryn Finney ​​(13:52):
So in this phase of my leadership, there's a couple of things that I'm realizing. I think it's the benefit of age and experience. And one realization I had is I'm looking for mentors. And what I realize is there are virtually no black women who are older entrepreneurs who are married and have kids and are leading groundbreaking, you know, startup organizations. And I'm literally part of the first generation of women who are like both moms, um, are in relationships and have startups. There's just not any have like mentors who are white women who are in that position. But being a black woman leader is very different. The expectations, the unfair, unrealistic expectations people have of you is like crazy. They expect you to be their mother, they expect you to be in Shamima or whatever, Like mammy really mammy. And when you're not that, or when you are human or when you don't service them in whatever their need is in that particular moment, um, it gets real. It's almost like reflecting back of what their mom didn't do or their nanny didn't do. 

I have one friend who incredibly thick, successful, and she told me this story about how her boss, who's a big time executive, big, big time executive, and I'm talking about the highest levels of, of this phase, and her boss had just this problem with her and she didn't understand it. And this print is like the nicest person in the world, and she's very detailed, you know, she's smart, but she's really like nice and very sweet. So it was like not connecting. She later saw a picture of her boss's nanny when she was growing up and saw that she resembled the nanny and the boss had sort of unresolved issues around her nanny leaving her and had placed it on my friend, this brilliant woman. And so anytime my friend stood up or said something, or anytime something happened with my friend, my friend took a vacation, my friend did whatever it was, Oh my God, this is against, you're leaving me like <laugh>, I mean, and, and like what other group of people would that happen to in that sort of way? 

And so realizing that you are the first generation, um, it's scary <laugh> because I don't have anybody I can really turn to. I mean, there's people who are, you know, obviously successful black women entrepreneurs in other spaces, but not, not in this space. Like literally the first generation, even the generation after me is facing similar challenges. We have a number of companies in the genius skill portfolio who have expressed and shared with us the challenges they face as they build their companies. They're amazing companies. One of those entrepreneurs, Sarah Allen of the labs shared with me some of the challenges she's faced. 

Farah Allen (17:20):
My experience as a black founder is that I was not taken seriously as someone who can be the face of innovation. You come up with a great business idea that can have global impact, but because your idea may be too good, you are questioned about your ability to lead this idea into financial success. My name is Farra Allen, CEO and founder of the Labs. I remember one investor asking if wide investor could run the company while I played junior vp. Also remember being far ahead of where someone at my stage should be, and a very early stage pre-revenue investor required me to have Coca-Cola as a customer before he felt the deal was valuable. The world is not just male and it's not just white. 

Kathryn Finney  (18:13):
You get a lot of unfair expectations put on you, particularly as a woman, but especially as a black woman, like with some sort of magical being like hashtag black girl magic when we're just as human as everyone else and we have just as many challenges at the same time. We also have a lot of doubts to place <laugh>. It's a, it's a crazy mind game almost. Like you want us to be great and magical, but you don't think we can actually fully do magic at the same time <laugh>. And so one of those women who has built an amazingly successful company in an area where there's frankly very few black people and very few women, Kelly James, founder and CEO of the Agricultural Commodities Exchange, MACRAs share with me how she navigates through those tricky, for lack of better word, mind thoughts 

Kellee James  (19:07):
As a black woman. The challenge for me has normally been, um, just having to be, I don't know, extra good. I mean, this is the twice as good, half as far cliche. Uh, I think Stacy Abrams once said, uh, it really resonated me. The, the quote that she said is that, like many people that are underestimated, I've learned to overperform. My name is Kelly James and I am the founder and CEO of Meccas. And Merc is a market information service as well as an online trading platform for organic and non GMO and other what's known as identity preserved agricultural commodities. So I have always been in that, in that mode of overperforming when it comes to raising capital, you have to just be that much more organized, that much more, you know, uh, you know, precise in how you, you know, how you approach folks. You just, I've always felt like you don't get very many second chances. You know, when you're a black woman, you've gotta be, uh, you've gotta come correct and be, you know, perfect from the start. So I've tried to set myself up for success, um, in that respect, 

Kathryn Finney (20:16):
And it'll be times, well, you'll be the only one in the room and that is okay, my dear friend Cheryll Conte, who leads Impact Seat, which is a, uh, foundation slash investment vehicle, um, she tells me, tells a story, uh, which I love, which is when you go on that room and you're the only person in the room, remember this, you are the coolest person they have met that day and carry yourself as such. You are the best thing they have that day. They have not seen anyone other than you, if you can imagine. They've been looking at the same people day in and day out. And here comes you in your full diverse glory, bringing light and joy to people who have only been looking at Patagonia vests and khaki pans and that's it, and all bird shoes. And here you come being you and showing up in your full glory. 

Cheryl Contee (21:13):
You know, there are some disadvantages to walking into rooms where, you know, 90% of the people, you know, don't look like you and aren't your gender. Um, I mean, and that's happened. I mean, I remember I walked into, uh, at South by Southwest a couple of years ago and the before times, uh, a room that was just about Ethereum and literally there were a hundred white men and two black women, including me. That's it. Okay? Like that is sometimes normal and a thing that you have to just get over. You know, that you're gonna be different and potentially be treated differently and, and underestimated, you know, for, for your abilities. I'm Cheryl Conti, chief Innovation Officer at the Impact seat and chair and You know, just because, you know, there's a Ferrari brain inside, you know, this, you know, caramel colored, you know, Afro-centric, Afro futuristic person, right? But not everyone can get past, you know, the the external, you know, to, to understand, you know, that, that I'm bringing internally as much or more to the table, you know, as anybody else. So that has been a challenge. But there are some advantages to being black and tech or being black, being a, a female tech or both. Uh, one is that because you are rare, people recognize you, <laugh> people, everybody knows who I am. So, you know, it makes networking a lot easier. 

Kathryn Finney (22:55):
It's important to get your mind right. You have family and friends, even me like I'm, I'm your friend <laugh>. I want you to win. You have a team of people who want you to win. You have a community that wants you to win that you are a part of. And so getting your mind right is so important. It is what's going to give you the energy for you to continue through this journey. The entrepreneurial journey is amazing. It's great. You are using entrepreneurship to create a life in which you can control. And that takes a lot of energy and that takes a lot of thought. But know that you have people behind you know that you have people who want you to win. I want you to win. I know that you can do it, and that you have a universe that's conspiring for your greatness.