An education in social media marketing — there’s no getting around it. If you are a Founder, you are leveraging social media to build your business. That doesn’t mean you need to be an influencer or that you need a large audience. You just need to know how social media works and how to make it work for you.
As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rachael Spiewak.
Rachael Spiewak is a nonprofit cofounder and former director (and DJ!) turned Digital Community Architect. She is the owner and founder of Rock Your Tribe, a digital community building consultancy that helps businesses build powerful communities online. Her own community, Rock Your Tribe: Community Building for Entrepreneurs, is a gathering place for socially conscious entrepreneurs from all walks of life.
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?
You’re welcome, and thank YOU for having me. Of course! In the early 00s, I was a Cultural Anthropology major at Emory where I wrote my thesis about a community program called Decatur Yellow Bikes (DYB). DYB was an early bike sharing program that predated corporate programs like CitiBikes.
That experience set off a chain of events that led to me becoming a co-founder and the executive director of a nonprofit pay-what-you-want bicycle repair shop while I was earning a Masters of Social Work degree at Georgia State University.
In December 2008, I survived a violent crime that turned my world upside down. I moved to New York City in 2009, assuming I would find a nonprofit job. It didn’t pan out that way, and I fell back on my side hustle- DJing. I turned that into a full-time job for a couple of years. Then a childhood injury caught up with me, and in 2015 I had total hip replacement surgery. By that time I had gotten married and became a step-mom.
In 2016, I moved my little family back to my hometown in South Florida for a fresh start in an easier place to live. After I had my son in 2017, it was time to get serious about building a new location-independent business. Even though I wasn’t entirely sure what I was going to do, I started a Facebook Group.
Through a lot of trial and error, I developed my own approach to creating engaged and profitable Facebook Groups that grow on autopilot. It turns out, I spent the last 20 years of my life preparing for this. I use my real life community building skills and experience to help my fellow visionaries build communities online.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
It was April 2021, I had just finished another round of my signature event in my Facebook Group, Live Videopalooza, where 95 members went live over the span of three days to introduce themselves to us and to tell us about their businesses. It’s like a live video open mic. It’s high energy, lots of fun, and the group gets tons of engagement.
We had members who pole danced and sang and played guitar, we had one who rapped with this 2 year old, we had another who was communing with spirits in a cemetery. And then.. It happened!
On the last day of the event, I woke up to a notification from Facebook. I received an invitation to apply to join Facebook’s Power Admin Community for North America. A month later, I was accepted.
The Power Admin (or Padmin) Community is run by Facebook, and its purpose is to support impactful Facebook Group Admins.
It was so validating to be recognized by Facebook for the work I’m doing.
I’ve learned so much as a member of the Padmin community. The information, support, and brainstorming I get to access has taken my Facebook Groups methodology to another level.
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?
When I first launched my business, I didn’t know what service I offered. I just knew that I liked to help business owners. The reason why I started a Facebook Group at that time was because that’s what I saw other people doing.
My Group was a flop at first, and I even abandoned it for several months in favor of marketing myself on LinkedIn.
What was I even marketing? I wasn’t offering a tangible outcome.
When the LinkedIn marketing didn’t go anywhere, I went back to my Facebook Group and gave it another try, but this time I stopped marketing. I started conversations instead. I asked questions and I listened. That’s how I figured out my business.
My big mistake, and the mistake I see so many Founders making is- not talking to the people you want to help and finding out what they want.
The other mistake was- not offering a tangible outcome. I just wanted to help, and that’s not clear enough. Help with what? What’s the outcome?
It’s funny now because it’s so simple. The quickest way to build your business is to talk to the people you want to help and find out what specific outcome they want to achieve. One easy way to do that is to gather them up in a Facebook Group and just ask.
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’m grateful for my husband, DJ Rob Flow, who’s always supported my vision since we got together 10 years ago. When I was DJing for a living, I had mobile wedding and retail gigs around the NYC area. Rob and my step-daughter Ruby were my road crew. We used to drive out to country clubs and malls together, wherever the gigs were, and they would help set up the gear. Ruby was responsible for gaff taping cables to the floor so no one would trip over them. The weddings were long gigs, 6 hours or more from set up to load out. Fortunately, they were all in beautiful locations like Tarrytown and Beacon Hill where Rob and Ruby could spend a nice day together while I was working.
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?
This statistic doesn’t tell the whole story. I’m surrounded by women founders who are bootstrapping, and to make a broad observation: we’re founders because of the structural difficulties that many women face when it comes to traditional employment. I don’t think we need to be empowered. We’re already doing it out of necessity.
In other words, there’s no shortage of women founders.
I’d like to widen this out a bit too, it’s not just cisgender women, but also transgender women and men, nonbinary folks and even some cisgender men who also need to earn a living outside of the typical employment structure. Plus, you can’t have a conversation about gender disparity without considering the role racism plays.
What’s holding women and nonbinary folks, people of color, people who identify as neurodiverse, people with disabilities, and other underrepresented groups back is that we are not being provided with funding.
Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?
A lot of us are caregivers, often sandwiched between generations, which puts a strain on our time, finances, and energy. Universal child care, universal health care, and universal basic income would change our lives overnight.
We would also benefit from a better education about funding, and a guarantee that we would remain in control of our businesses and brands if we are funded.
This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?
Women should become founders because economies are healthier when women make money.
Women should become founders to circumvent the wage gap because there’s uncapped earning potential when you run your own business.
Women should become founders because we can free ourselves from workplace discrimination and mistreatment from management, employees, and customers.
Plus, employment as we know it is changing due to AI, climate change, and terrible wages and benefits. Right now, there are more jobs than willing employees. Taking all of this into consideration, the best way for anyone to succeed is to become a founder of your own flexible, location-independent business.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?
There’s a content trend among women entrepreneurs on Facebook that’s contributing to a myth that success happens overnight.
It’s common to see posts on Facebook about large amounts of revenue generated in a short period of time. These posts don’t account for expenses or chargebacks. These posts don’t say anything about what kind of business it is or what was sold, or how long it took for that person to develop and scale that offer.
This has contributed to a myth that you have to be very profitable very quickly, or that it’s easy to be very profitable very quickly. While it’s not completely impossible, the message that’s being sent is damaging, and it’s dishonest.
Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?
No, not everyone is cut out for this. You have to get out of your own way. You have to get over your issues and your ego. You have to believe you deserve to make money. You have to be willing to be your own marketing department in the beginning. If your feelings are easily hurt and you don’t want to sell yourself, being a Founder is not for you.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, what are the “Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder?” (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Community — You need a community that rallies around your brand, and you need a community of peers. I wouldn’t have a business if not for my community that I built around my brand- my Facebook Group Rock Your Tribe: Community Building for Entrepreneurs. Thanks to my community, I’ve worked with hundreds of clients and customers, churned out a wealth of good reviews and testimonials, developed my methodology and talking points, and mobilized my army of marketers. My community members spread the word about my brand while I work on other authority building tasks (like writing for publication, which is what you’re reading right now). You also need to join the communities of your peers. I’m a member of a business community called the Badass Brand Squad, which is run by Desislava Dobreva, The Branding Queen. All of us members are on the same page about branding, social media marketing, and business strategy. This makes it easy for me to find collaborators and consultants who understand me and know how to execute my vision. I’m also a member of the 7 Digital Marketing Trends at 7 am community run by Tamara Mon Louis, CEO of Monivan Digital. Her community started on Clubhouse and now spans Facebook and Youtube. Through Tamara’s community, I’ve sharpened my talking points, expanded my network, and found additional collaborators (which is how I landed this PR opportunity!).
- Innate motivation — I see so many “motivate me” posts on Facebook among women entrepreneurs, and I think you’ve got to be innately motivated if you want to succeed. Do you get to the Olympics without being innately motivated? Do you win a Grammy without being innately motivated? I don’t think so. As much as I wave the Founder flag, I never said it was easy, especially considering the lack of support for women Founders. My immediate thought when I see “motivate me” type posts is: imagine what you could have posted instead that would have moved your business forward, even by a millimeter. At least you wouldn’t be in the same exact place as you are now. If the only thing you have energy for is a one sentence post, try “Ask me anything about <<your area of expertise>>.” Try that and let me know how it goes.
- Downtime — Being busy is not the same as being productive. Even in the beginning of your journey when there’s a million things to do, you have to take breaks and recharge. This is part of the process of figuring things out. Have you ever noticed how you get your best ideas in the shower? It’s because you have to stop stuffing your brain with information and let your ideas marinate. I’ve helped my stepdaughter with her homework through the years, and one pattern that’s emerged is- if she doesn’t 100% understand a tough concept by the time we finish, she’ll suddenly get it when she goes to school the next day and reviews it in class. She’s better off getting a good night’s sleep and returning to it tomorrow than staying up late and barreling through more information. The same goes for us Founders. Even if you’ve got room in your life right now to fill up all of your time with work, there will be times when your attention is needed elsewhere. Life happens. Will you be able to downshift and attend to personal and family needs without your business falling apart? I strongly suggest building a system that leaves space open. And a final thought on downtime- after you get through a big launch, take a break. Don’t run headfirst into the next thing. That’s how you miss the opportunity to learn from your experience, and that’s how you burn out.
- Exercise — Your health is your wealth, truly. When I was 11 years old, I contracted a Staph infection in my right hip that mangled my joint. I survived, but the damage to my hip reduced my mobility and I lived with chronic, debilitating pain for a long time. My DJ career ended because I couldn’t handle the physical demand. In my 30s, as I was settling into my role as stepmom to a little girl, I found it harder and harder to play with her. Just sitting with her and playing with toys was excruciating. When we went to the park, I couldn’t run around with her. It was awful. So I finally pursued total hip replacement surgery in 2015, when I was 34. I’ve already lost a career due to pain and disability, so I don’t take my health for granted. I’ve been lucky enough to have been granted a second chance. If you want to stay productive for the rest of your life, take care of your body.
- An education in social media marketing — there’s no getting around it. If you are a Founder, you are leveraging social media to build your business. That doesn’t mean you need to be an influencer or that you need a large audience. You just need to know how social media works and how to make it work for you. There are people in my life who are still holding onto an outdated form of marketing- put an ad in a local newsletter and the phone will start ringing. This is no longer an effective strategy. In my work, I’ve proved over and over again that you can start pulling in clients quickly from a micro-community. My clients Alex Aldhous and Shauntae Hudson come to mind. Alex sold out consulting sessions in her Facebook Group with 50 members, and Shauntae sold out a group class (and upsold a few students) when she had 30 members in hers. So it’s not about the vanity metrics. You don’t need thousands of followers, likes, or comments. It’s about knowing how these tools work and using them strategically to build your brand and your business.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I started this journey 20 years ago as an activist and an environmentalist. I wanted to help clean up Atlanta’s dirty air by putting more people on bicycles. We wound up serving lots of communities in need like our homeless community, refugee teens through a partnership with the International Rescue Committee, and our neighborhood kids who were looking for something constructive to do. We also contributed to the movement that helped Atlanta build The Beltline, a multiuse trail that connects 45 neighborhoods.
Today I use the same skills I developed then to help socially conscious entrepreneurs build their businesses and brands through the power of community.
In my own Facebook Group, we represent all kinds of identities. One of my favorite things to do is find ways for us to connect and learn from each other. For example, I created a networking thread in the group for our members who identify as neurodiverse.
The world becomes a better place when people connect with each other over similarities and differences through digital and physical networks.
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.
My vision is a digital Wall Street for everybody else. If more under-reprensented people become wealthy by leveraging our skills online, and if we network ourselves as a community, we would have a lot more political power. We would have more influence over policy, which would give us a fighting chance to reverse global climate change and protect our voting rights, for example.
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 would love to have lunch with Ellen Latham, Creator and Co-Founder of Orangetheory Fitness. I joined my local studio in Cooper City, FL in January 2020, just a few months before we went into lockdown. While the studio was closed, our wonderful head coach Lydia Richardson and the rest of the team kept us engaged through social media. Thanks to OTF’s home workouts, I stuck with the program, which helped me maintain my sanity as an entrepreneur mom with two kids suddenly at home 24/7.
I think that’s a testament to the community Ellen and the whole OTF family has built around the brand, locally and globally.
I would love to learn more about her entrepreneur journey, and I would like to get her take on how community plays a role in her business.
By the way, I live 10 minutes from her original gym, Ellen’s Ultimate Fitness, and not terribly far from the corporate office in Boca Raton where a childhood friend works. We could meet at Artichoke and Vine. Just sayin!
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.