Positive Mindset — do you see the world as filled with obstacles or filled with opportunities? Learning to frame your thoughts in a positive way is THE most important work you can do to realize your full potential. When challenges do arise, you’ll breakthrough them more swiftly.
As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Neeley Neal.
Neeley is a former NFL Cheerleader and tech career woman turned wife & mom of 4 (including triplets!) and entrepreneur. She is the Founder of Go Fit Win — a community for former cheerleaders & dancers to reconnect to the joy of dance, squad sisterhood and living life full out. Go Fit Win offers online choreography & classes, membership meetups and in-person Grown-Up Cheer Camp events. She’s also the vibrant host of The Neeley Neal Show podcast, inspiring women to unapologetically live life full out!
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I’m a former NFL cheerleader, collegiate cheerleader & camp instructor and competition judge, but my extra-curriculars didn’t stop with cheerleader. I also served as CEO of the first student-led venture to present at Invest Southwest Capital Conference, and won the Edson Student Venture competition at Arizona State University two years running. After earning my MBA from ASU and retiring from the NFL, I pursued other passions as a married woman, a burgeoning career in tech, and becoming a mother. Despite all these accomplishments, I began to feel buried behind the to-do list, taking care of everyone else’s needs but my own. I was disconnected and unfulfilled and it was starting to show.
I know how it feels to be a responsible adult, caring for everyone else’s needs before my own. I retired from the NFL sidelines over 10 years ago and was told it’s time to let it go. Yet now, as a career woman in the tech industry, a wife, and mother of 4 (including triplets!) I still feel drawn to reconnect with the part of me that I’ve been missing through cheer and dance. The thing I miss most, is being surrounded with like-minded sisters.
I created the Go Fit Win community & Fired Up! Cheer Camp to reconnect with ourselves, our sisters and the joy we feel when we dance together. It’s about more than just shaking your poms. It’s about staying in touch with your passion and being surrounded by women who you lift you up. Most of all, coming together at cheer camp is the chance to re-energize each other, and stay plugged into the joy of living life full out.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I launched Go Fit Win in late 2019, just a few months before the pandemic. Although we had to quickly change plans to from hosting in-person events to virtual classes and meetups — our audience growth skyrocketed nationwide and across continents, with members from Australia, UK and in Mexico joining our community. In August 2020, I hosted a Virtual Pro Dance Camp event, featuring 8 NFL alums from teams across the league. Over 3000 attendees participated live from home, for a day of unity and dance. It was a huge win — a way to give back to our community and something I never imagined doing in my first 9 months of launching the business.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I’ll tell you about the ‘full circle moment’ that left a lasting impact on how I approach life & running a business. Growing up, I really disliked when people would try to give me a nick name to shorten my name to “Neal”. I would always correct them and say, My name is Neeley. Please don’t call me Neal.” When I was 27 years old, I met my future husband. His name? Dan Neal. After our first date, I had a phone call with my family and I told them about this great guy I just met, but I was sure it couldn’t work out…if it did, I would be Neeley Neal! After all these years could I become a Neal? Yes, and I learned an important lesson — not to ever take yourself too seriously! In business and in life, I keep a healthy dose of humor and a constant reminder to have fun with it all.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I had a one-in-a-million mentor in my high school math teacher & cheerleading coach, Jenny Weast. She was remarkable in more ways than I can list, but namely she was an award-winning cheer coach who is also quadrapalegic since the age of 16. “Weaster” as she’s affectionately known –instilled in me at an impressionable young age, that you are more capable and more powerful than you know. You can overcome any challenge. Her favorite quote is from Albert Camus, “in the midst of winter, I found I had within me an invincible summer.” Her example of strength and leadership has had a clear impact on how I approach my life and challenges as a triplet mom and entrepreneur.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
I am a business book junkie, but something shifted in me when I read The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle. It opened up my understanding of our conscious and subconscious thoughts and the powerful affect they can have on your life’s direction. In my business, I began to lean into more feminine energy to guide the decisions and creation of my Go Fit Win community, to balance all the masculine energy tasks and strategy that I had always been proficient in from my corporate career in tech. It’s a book that influenced me personally & professionally to fully realize my potential and stay plugged into a joy-filled journey in building a business and life I love.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
“Go Confidently in the direction of your dreams live the life you have imagined.” The Henry David Thoreau quote is a bit longer, but this is the short-hand version that I go back to time and time again. There is power in your imagination, your dreams, your vision — and you can choose to live it & create it. When I retired from the NFL after 4 seasons with the Arizona Cardinals Cheerleaders, I pursued other life goals — marriage, career, children. However, 10 years later I was increasingly disconnected & unfulfilled, despite all these wonderful milestones. I became so busy filling everyone else’s cup day in and day out, that I felt depleted without a way to replenish my own cup. I sought out dance fitness options that might energize me back up — like being on the sidelines again, dancing full out and performing. I tried cardio dance classes and group workouts at my local gym — but my dance options just fell short. I couldn’t find what I was looking for — so I created it. Go Fit Win offers women the opportunity to reconnect to themselves and their personal source of joy.
Our community is a renewable source of energy for the women in our sisterhood. If I didn’t internalize that life lesson from Thoreau, that you CAN live a life you imagine, then many women — myself included — would be left going through the motions of life without a way to reclaim their spark.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
In dance choreography, there is a visual effect called a contagion. It’s a ripple effect. Through Go Fit Win and our Fired Up! Grown Up Cheer Camp events you not only see the ripple effect of positive interactions, but you also feel a tangible shift of the collective energy in the room. When like-minded women come together, support each other, and collaborate — there is not only a shift in positive energy for our members in the moment, but also a continued positive effect to carry more joy into all areas of our lives. Not only do we collectively shift, each individual sustains a fired up feeling that allows her to show up more authentically, positively & energetically for her loved ones.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?
In my experience, there are opportunities to look inward and outward for improvements in empowering more women-led businesses.
Personally, there are times when perfectionism gets the best of me, I get analysis-paralysis, or a feeling like I have more to learn before I step out and lead on a project, an initiative, in a community or in a venture. For women, sometimes more so than men, the internal dialogue around self-doubt and readiness is an on-going dialogue that never goes away. However, getting into action absolutely builds confidence. It’s taking the next best step, even if you have imperfect information or feel a bit unsteady. Taking action — even a small action — that’s aligned with our personal goals expands our vision of what’s possible with each step.
Externally, there is an opportunity for improvement within the VC and investment community to include more decision-makers that are women, and more on-boarding programs for opening the kimono on what it takes to pitch for funding and find appropriate financing partners. On its surface, it’s an intimidating area of the eco-system when you’re first starting out. I believe there’s an opportunity to continue to innovate on matching and be more transparent in processes and networks that support women-led businesses.
Can you share with our readers what you are doing to help empower women to become founders?
Beyond the uplifting support of women inside the Go Fit Win community, I also host a weekly podcast The Neeley Neal Show which includes tips tools, and guests that inspire and keep you connected to your source of joy. As women, we sometimes get so consumed wearing so many hats outside of work as a spouse, mother, sister, friend, daughter, co-worker, and caregiver to name a few, that it’s important to invest in yourself, too. Through the podcast, we empower women to take inspired action, breakthrough challenges and reclaim their natural superpowers so that they can make the impact they’re meant to make.
This might be intuitive to you but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?
As women, we lead differently. In business, we attract customers differently. I believe that’s because women are naturally gifted relationship builders. We share a charismatic and magnetic superpower that we can tap into at any time. Recognizing and stepping into that power may be a new expression of love and leadership, but more women absolutely should step into the role of founder, to inspire more positive relationships in circles of influence. We need more women founders, especially now in this current climate, where there is a shortage of leaders in the public eye who inspire unity and collaboration over competition.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Can you please share 5 things that can be done or should be done to help empower more women to become founders? If you can, please share an example or story for each.
First, empowerment starts with each individual. In order for more women to become founders, each of us needs to first recognize in ourselves our own tremendous power and potential and shed any remaining doubts that are blocking action. So let me speak directly to the women who need to hear this:
It’s time to stop going through the motions and reclaim your natural supower powers. When you put your natural abilities to work for you on a daily basis, you’ll see your positive influence continue to grow and make the impact you’re meant to make. Whether it’s leading a team as a founder of a venture or making a positive influence daily in the lives of your loved ones, it’s important to take a moment to dust your shoulders off and recognize your power.
Here are the 5 natural superpowers, and how to hone and own them to step into that founder role:
- Positive Mindset — do you see the world as filled with obstacles or filled with opportunities? Learning to frame your thoughts in a positive way is THE most important work you can do to realize your full potential. When challenges do arise, you’ll breakthrough them more swiftly.
- Creating Energy — You have the power to create energy where there is none and shift the energy in a room to elevate any situation. Ironically, for me — the most energetically focused I was in my entire life was not mid-career or building a business. It was during my pregnancy with triplets. As physically draining as it was, I was internally fired up, and creating the type of environment that would ensure my triplets were being fed positive thoughts and sustained high energy as they grew. I’m happy to report, the boys were born at 34 weeks and 6 days, beating the average triplet stats by 2 weeks and several pounds at birth!
- Confidence — Borrowing confidence through visualization at first, then taking the next small step can not only get you from inaction to action — it’s a huge confidence booster! It’s a balance of accelerating your confidence boosting activities daily and putting a stop to the confidence killers. There’s a hidden confidence killer that will widdle away at your self-confidence if you’re not paying attention, and that’s integrity. Being in integrity means keeping your promises to yourself. Do you do what you say you’re going to do? Even at the micro-promise level, being in integrity can be your biggest confidence booster or blocker over time.
- Charisma — Reminder: You are powerful, and powerful people are magnetic. Charisma isn’t about dominating a room or being the life of every party. Being magnetic, attractive and charismatic is a super power that you can harness today, with a little attention to these key things: When you’re with others, be fully present. Reduce distractions and really listen to what they’re saying. Engage with them — don’t just wait for your next chance to speak. Make others feel important by giving them your full attention — that’s attractive. You also have a charismatic mix of power, presence and warmth about you. You have to incorporate all 3 to really elevate your charisma and make great connections.
- Power of Choice — This superpower is about owning your story, choosing yourself over and over again in the face of rejection or opinions that aren’t in alignment with your vision. Give yourself permission to pursue your big dreams. You don’t need validation from outside sources. It’s your choice to continue on your path, take the next step, and not give up when faced with challenges or opposition. You are powerful and resilient beyond measure. I auditioned 7 times for professional dance teams before I was selected as an NFL cheerleader. Despite my years of training throughout high school and college, I had to continue to take that next step, take that next class, keep training and come back stronger until there was no denying it was my time to shine. It wasn’t a matter of yes or no for me, it was when. I apply the same sticktoitiveness to building my business. Each trial is a lesson, and each les builds off of each other. At the end of the day, it’s a powerful choice to keep showing up.
Here’s a free worksheet download to get started reclaiming your natural superpowers today that will accelerate you putting them into action.
The last thing I’ll add here is the secret I’ve found to my own success as a female founder, and that is seeking collaboration over competition in business with other inspirational women. Successful founders aren’t your competition, they are proof that it can be done — so in the spirit of a rising tide that lifts all boats, supporting other women founders along the journey in a collaborative an creative way has been the secret sauce to growth and finding joy in working with other impactful women-led businesses along the way.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Being a spirit leader is about taking inspired action. Inspired by definition means “in spirit”. America needs spirited leaders that bring people together now more than ever. Leadership development has always been a cornerstone of the programs I’ve come through as a part of cheerleading and dance. It’s so much more than shaking your poms. It’s being a well-rounded professional representative of something larger than yourself. It’s being someone that lifts others up, supports them in their goals, and inspires others into action as well. Throughout my career, I’ve been involved in many philanthropic events and organizations, and I can definitely see a future where this platform not only trains the next generation of young female leaders, but also has a philanthropic mission to fund and foster more women-led ventures. Spirit Leaders are dynamic, goal-oriented individuals and it would be a great honor to provide seed funding and resources for the women in our community getting started as founders with big ideas.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
I have 2 seemingly polar opposites: Paula Abdul and Gary Vaynerchuck.
Paula is the epitome of a spirit leader; someone I’ve looked up to since before I got my first set of poms. She is a former Laker Girl who made her own way as a multi-talented entertainer and creative producer for other artists in an extremely tough industry. She is a classic — a hardworking, driven, visionary leader who is an inspiration as a pioneer in the industry.
Gary Vaynerchuck — I’ve been a fan of his for a very long time, since back in his YouTube days with WineLibraryTV. His message has remained consistent from day 1 — relationships matter. He cares deeply. Despite his straight-talk tough love soundbites — I actually think Gary’s magic is in the heart-centered nature of his businesses, which is a feminine energetic quality that I admire in him.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
- Listen to my podcast The Neeley Neal Show on Apple podcasts, Spotify or your favorite podcast platform.
- Connect with me directly on Instagram @neeley.neal
- All the details about our Go Fit Win community membership and Fired Up! Cheer Camp annual event is online at gofitwin.com
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.