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Podcast: How to Turn Being Overlooked into Your Biggest Asset

Podcast: How to Turn Being Overlooked into Your Biggest Asset
February 8, 2021 Valentina Primo

In Episode 21 of the Podcast, we speak to American powerwoman Lauren Maillian. An author, entrepreneur, and CEO of digitalundivided, Lauren was the first black woman to start a VC fund in the US. In a candid conversation, she shares the key to building confidence and paving your own path.

By Arin Rahman

If there is one word that dominated the media landscape this past year, it’s diversity. The Black Lives Matter movement brought to light a whopping disparity in startup funding: Black women have received only 0.06% of all Venture Funding since 2009.  

In episode 21 of the SWB podcast, we’re bringing you a fireside chat from the Startups Without Borders Summit between Valentina Primo, the founder of Startups Without Borders and author, entrepreneur, CEO of digitalundivided, and the first black woman to start a VC fund in the US, Lauren Maillian.

Maillian starts by describing how the events of 2020 translated into the business landscape. “The conversation around diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging has been a conversation that we’ve seen sprinkled around, and I think that we have experienced a moment which commanded more attention. Time will tell how much that attention has spread to other areas of business, but for certain, we see large corporations making bold statements.”

Turning being overlooked into an asset

Looking back at her own career, Maillian poinpoints her self-belief as one of the key skills that led her to gather confidence and accept failure.

“I felt overlooked my whole career,” recalls Maillian. “I think that what’s interesting about this moment in time is that a lot of business leaders who are people of color have felt overlooked for a long time, and now there’s this big bright shining light saying ‘Hey, hey, pay more attention to this problem. It’s been a problem, but now we want you to pay a different type of attention to it.’” 

Turning those feelings of being overlooked and unimportant into a self-love mindset and improved self-esteem is an asset vital to becoming a good leader. Maillian has quite an experience with this, as she went from being the only child of color in her school to opening a successful winery at 19, an experience she narrates in her book, The Path Redefined.

“For me, leadership is the ability to continuously help people, help them grow, help them win, help them make money, help them succeed, help them turn around their businesses, help them pivot, help them scale, and so long as I can keep doing that, I will.”

Although there are many different fields in which there is leadership, the fundamentals stay the same, she says. “The principles of identifying, deeply understanding, analyzing a problem, creating the solution, implementing the solution, creating teams, and sustaining where you do find success, where you do find and create efficiencies. That is the global framework. And that global framework can change over time, again depending on the type of business, and it can be nuanced based upon the moment in time.” 

“For me, leadership is the ability to continuously help people, help them grow, help them win, help them make money, help them succeed, help them turn around their businesses, help them pivot, help them scale, and so long as I can keep doing that, I will.”

When and when not to share your story

Context is everything, and when things are done at the right time and place, they turn out to be amazing. “Always share your story,” advises Maillian. “‘Oh, but is it nice or appropriate for me to share and say all of my accolades? Does it sound too much? Does it sound boastful?’ If you put it in the context of your life, and if you have a really compelling life story, if you’ve overcome trials, tribulations, difficulties, unexpected moments, tragedy, these things create character. They create who you are. And they send different types of signals to someone versus your accomplishments, your achievements, press, or recognition alone. So when you can couple that with the substance of who you are and how you show up in the world, your personal brand can do incredible things for your career and your business.”

“If you have a really compelling life story, if you’ve overcome trials, tribulations, difficulties, unexpected moments, tragedy, these things create character. They create who you are.”

However, in particular settings, some things are better left unsaid. “Knowing when too much is too much is really key. No one needs to know your entire life story. Even when someone says it’s an open door conversation, that doesn’t mean that it’s therapy. Know the boundaries, work within them, and make sure that no one needs to remind you of what they are.” She goes on to say, “try to tie in your personal experiences as best as you can but always make sure it’s relevant. If it’s not relevant and it’s not timely, leave it alone.” Maillian gives a more in-depth insight into this topic in her course at straightupandsuccessful.com

“Make sure that no one needs to remind you of what they are.”

Her advice for new entrepreneurs

It may not seem like it, but now is a fantastic time to start your business. With uncertainty all around, everyone is looking for solutions, and someone could think that your idea is one.

“There’s nothing more that any of us could lose, and the biggest and best businesses are created in downturns, in times of uncertainty, in times of limited resources, in times of limited accessibility to people, to products. If you can build something now, if you have an idea, this is also a great time to find talent who’s likely available, or interested, in trying something new, even if they’re not available. So I encourage all entrepreneurs to build now. Build now and invest now, especially in a downturn, if you have the ability to do so.”

Diversity from an economic standpoint

“Diversity is always good for business, and we see that especially around marketing, communications, product development, user experience, user interface. If you have a company that’s got a wonderful product, but the marketing falls faulty, the marketing is not inclusive, not diverse; it creates a problem for brands and that problem impacts their bottom line and their profitability because people choose to shop elsewhere or use different products. We see that happening often, and I think that the biggest call to action right now is that diversity is good for business, that diversity leads to more revenue, greater profit margins, greater visibility, greater customer loyalty.”

“If you have a company that’s got a wonderful product, but the marketing falls faulty, the marketing is not inclusive, not diverse; it creates a problem for brands, and that problem impacts their bottom line.”

Starting 2021 strong

When asked to advise how entrepreneurs should finish 2020 strong, Maillian answered beautifully. And that advice is perfectly applicable to starting 2021 well. “Believe in yourself, take absolutely every single risk you want to take as long as it doesn’t scare you. If there’s something that you believe in, that other people doubt, take the risk, do it. It might be the best business decision that you’ve ever made, might make you tons of money, might take your career in a completely different direction.”

“This is the time for the innovators, the idea creators, to stand up and to push forward. Be confident in the uncertainty that this moment provides, and learning and saying that this uncertainty is what really creates all of the opportunity, because no one has the answer in this moment and when no one has the answer, that means that the answer is up for you too, to be able to grab and own,” she adds.

“This uncertainty is what really creates all of the opportunity, because no one has the answer in this moment and when no one has the answer, that means that the answer is up for you too.”

A good rule of thumb is to stay positive. It is challenging to stay optimistic in chaotic times like this, but Maillian has excellent tips to keep the right mindset. “While the world might be crumbling around us, what we do with our time, how we value our time, where we spend our energy, what we want to create, how we want to partner, how we treat people within our walls, our ecosystem, our networks, our orbits, and that’s what’s most important to me, are the things that I can control,” she says.

“I can’t control a variety of other things that are going on in the world that I don’t even have immediate access to, and I’m not going to try because it’s a waste of my energy. When we realize what’s a waste of our energy versus where our energy is best spent, we can wake up with a more positive attitude every day about the things that we are capable of changing.”

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