Vision — I am a firm believer that a founder’s primary role is to sell the vision to as many people as possible, but oftentimes we get so tangled in the process that we forget to focus on our “Why.” I teach all of the founders in The Great Girlfriends community to share their vision and ask others to share their vision as well.
As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sybil Clark Amuti.
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?
Absolutely! My back story is full of winding roads, twists, turns, and “ah-ha” moments! I was born and raised in Memphis, TN, to two middle-class parents and four siblings. At the age of 5, I saw myself becoming a Soul Train Dancer, realizing later that I was on a quest to see other people find a safe space to enjoy individuality and the human spirit. In my quest to become a Soul Train dancer, I learned that I wasn’t old enough nor could I dance enough to be on Soul Train; however, I could BE a safe space where people could enjoy individuality and the connection through the human spirit. It took me going through bullying, sexual assault, depression, self-rejection, and years of shame to realize that there is no greater sacred space than the one you create in your own heart. I studied urban planning at Dillard University and earned my master’s degree from Columbia University in the City of New York; however, I found myself planted in marketing meetings where teams asked big questions about human behavior that help support retail establishments develop locations in urban areas. As an urban planner, I was excited to help answer the big question of “How do we meet people where they are and offer them what they need?” That question broadened my heart’s desire to be a bridge for human connection and find more ways to offer solutions to women right where they are giving them what they need.
In 2015 I shared my mission with a great girlfriend, and she was equally as excited as I was about creating a podcast where we could provide a safe space to learn, grow, and connect with content, community and culture. We wanted to offer mentorship on the go, and podcasts had been that very solution for both of us. We were entirely virgin for new media and had zero knowledge about what the process would entail. BUT, we had a vision and a beating heart for the mission that I continue to carry today. Now, what started as a podcast has become a community of women worldwide who believe in the power of supercharged relationships first with themself and then with others. And here I am, six years into a brand that I am devoted to and passionate about sharing with the world. I am so honored to see The Great Girlfriends podcast reach over 100 countries, 178 US markets, over 20,000 downloaders each month, an annual conference, virtual events throughout the year, and products that power the human spirit!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I will never forget walking through Charlotte airport on the phone with my sister. After hearing one of her usual jokes, I exploded with my belly laugh (because what is a laugh if it isn’t BIG!) As I glanced to my right, I saw a middle-aged white woman sort of waving to flag me down. I went over to her and took my earphones out to hear her say, “I know that laugh anywhere! I listen to The Great Girlfriends podcast, and you’re one of the hosts!” I stood there in complete awe and shock because I never thought my laugh was worth noting, nor did I think that middle-aged white women would listen to two young black women from Memphis, TN, on a podcast. I also didn’t fully see/know/understand that our “little engine that could” would move well beyond our sphere of influence. Hearing this woman connect with me over my laugh and say how much she enjoys the podcast let me know that I am a part of something bigger than me and that the world (all races of women) deserve to experience that type of connection just through “being.” I spent the next hour of my layover listening to her share her story and how The Great Girlfriends podcast inspired her to pursue her passion a bit more. #forthewin
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?
Oh boy… I feel like I currently make funny mistakes regularly! I would say the starting mistakes were the ones that many podcasters can relate to, which is NOT PRESSING RECORD at the beginning of a recording only to be 15 minutes in and realizing that the dynamic conversations were just that…conversations, not recordings. SMH… I learned to laugh at myself and be human in the process so I don’t latch on to mistakes as failures. Your mistakes don’t make you a failure; they’re simply proof that we are human beings having a human experience called LIFE!
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?
Throughout my life, my mother has showcased “great girlfriendship” and commitment to her community. I’ve had the privilege of watching her connect with the women in her life and bring a boatload of generosity, joy, humanity, courage, and adventure to her friendships. Everyone needs a blueprint, and my mother’s example of friendship was a gateway for me to become the type of friend I desire to have in my own life. From checking in, being present, sending cards, praying and covering her friends, taking trips, and creating new goals and intentions with her friends, my mother is living the fruit of supercharged relationships. She is the ultimate case study for how women can journey through the chapters of life together.
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?
I often connect with women in The Great Girlfriend community who genuinely want to fund a company or pursue their vision but don’t feel there is enough support in their industry to anchor them along the way. Many women get stumped at the “HOW” of their vision and ultimately shelf the idea and plant their time and energy into someone else’s vision or their current career. The barriers to entry are overwhelming without a robust playbook for creating and funding business, and, oftentimes we are left out of the rooms where the money is distributed. Consequently, we fight longer and harder for ideas that are worth the funds but disregarded because we are women.
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?
Leadership at every level should have the mandate to have diverse representation at all tables of influence to ensure that we are seen, heard, and considered in the decision-making process. We, individuals, hold power to influence these rooms and MUST be intentional to ensure that stakeholdership is equitable for everyone if we TRULY want to increase our impact rate in funding and representation. How does that look? Diverse board membership, diverse C suites, diverse HR departments, hiring processes requiring balanced representation at all levels of stakeholdership at companies, and KPIs that help show consumers which companies are moving with intention and worth our dollars and investments.
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?
I believe it’s essential for us to create what we want to see. Because we want to see more women in leadership positions, our opportunity is to introduce new companies where our leadership can be seen and experienced with our brilliance at the head of the table. I also believe that each generation leaves breadcrumbs for the next generation to consume. As prior generations have done for us, we are paving the way for what we will eventually see. Our responsibility is to lead the charge and pass the baton.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?
Foundership is not freedom from other people. You will always have people to whom you are accountable, and foundership does not release you from that responsibility. In fact, foundership increases that accountability!
Foundership is not about knowing everything you need to know. Foundership is about asking big questions and embracing your curiosity enough to be led to the solutions that support your hypothesis.
Foundership is not about you. A great founder focuses on the investment in the people and technologies that support the vision. Founders often learn that we could have never been prepared enough to start, but there is no time like the present to start, and the lessons are waiting along the journey.
Foundership cannot be comparative nor competitive. Your vision, process, and preparation will be different from your peers, and being you is the best way to show the world what you’re capable of!
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?
Everyone can be a founder, but everyone won’t commit to the work that comes with being a founder. Committed founders are in the business of selling their vision to as many people as possible and stepping outside of themselves to show up as needed. Committed founders are afraid yet ambitious, sometimes ill-equipped yet curious, audacious believers who may wake up some mornings feeling like imposters and other mornings feeling like warriors. Committed founders recognize fear and often experience it but move through it, hoping that their vision will eventually come to life.
I can’t say that a person should seek a regular job because I believe that a powerful woman is a woman who can commit to a strategy for her success. That may very well mean spending some time in residency at a corporation or going back to school for a new skill set or even merging their company with another company. For me, a successful strategy is doing the right thing at the right time to experience the right results.
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.)
1. A power circle — my circle of great girlfriends have served as assistants, business mentors, allies, advisors, and bridges to all of the results I’ve needed as a founder. I call them a power circle because they offer the voltage I need when I feel uncertain or need direction. For example, one of my favorite group texts is called “permission granted,” and it’s a space where a small number of my great girlfriends shoot ideas, prayers, affirmations, grant opportunities, and more!
2. A business mentor or coach — Having the wisdom of women who have gone before you is essential. One of my favorite quotes comes from one of my mentors, Jennifer Rudolph Walsh, who taught me to simplify hard conversations. When I was facing a significant business conflict, her words to me were, “It’s just a conversation.” That statement empowered me to be less combative about the potential outcome of the conversation and go for it.
3. Automation of processes — invest in the automated version of every rhythmic process for your business, and use your human resources to manage new and existing relationships. I juggled CRM and brand calls for years until I upgraded to a CRM that simplified my scheduling, automated my responses, and managed all of the campaigns I was handling. #forthewin
4. An empowering question — We’re always asking questions, but some of them are restricting our ability to problem-solve. Asking an empowering question expands your mental capacity to receive solutions. When my daughter was a toddler, she would get stumped trying to do things her older brother would do. Her statements would be “Mommy, I can’t XYZ or ABC,” with a shrug of her shoulders and toddler tears. One day it dawned on me that she could regain control of the scenario by asking, “How can I XYZ or ABC?” That empowering question because a new way for her to approach problems with solutions in sight.
5. Vision — I am a firm believer that a founder’s primary role is to sell the vision to as many people as possible, but oftentimes we get so tangled in the process that we forget to focus on our “Why.” I teach all of the founders in The Great Girlfriends community to share their vision and ask others to share their vision as well.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I’ve spent most of my career working on purpose-driven brands or campaigns that empower people to use brands in the most meaningful ways. Now I carry that same passion into the work I do as the founder of The Great Girlfriends. Our content, culture, and community drive women to live at God’s highest intention for their lives. Our weekly podcast is loaded with solutions to help women thrive personally and professionally. As a brand, we give 10% of our proceeds to charity each year, and we have given out grants and small business support to accelerate other small businesses. We’ve had the privilege of partnering with large legacy brands to create content and contests for business owners. Lastly, the work that I do is done with passion. I hope that my choices make space for the next woman to walk in her unique idea of success.
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 big idea is that friendship is the secret sauce of life. My vision is to see the power of friendship celebrated globally through content and culture where women reward one another for being great girlfriends. I want the world to see how powerful friendship is and should be, and my vision is to get as many women plugged into the right great girlfriend circle as possible!
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 am naming several and placing no limits on the opportunity of this article! Oprah Winfrey, Arianna Huffington, Reese Witherspoon, Serena Williams, Michelle Obama, Prince Harry, and Meghan Markle -I am genuinely inspired by their professional journeys and commitment to uplifting human spirits in the work that they do. I would love a content development partnership with any of them!
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.