Know your brilliance: As I shared earlier, I believe we all have a unique form of brilliance we came to share with the world. As founders and leaders, we need to be abundantly clear on ours and be ready to unearth it in others as well. When we are clear on what we are here to give, we can double down on it in our efforts and also align ourselves with the people that have the ability to round out our vision.
As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Amina AlTai.
Amina AlTai (pronounced Ah-min-uh) is a holistic leadership and mindset coach, proud immigrant and chronic illness advocate. A leading coach to notable female leaders and impact- driven celebrities — Amina’s mastery is in connecting us to our brilliance and teaching us live and lead from it each day. She’s known for her work around Aligned Leadership and supporting clients in pivoting from Role Models to Whole Models. TM After spending a decade grappling with a fast-paced career in marketing and two autoimmune diseases, Amina hit burnout. In hopes of healing her own life, she sought training in coaching, nutrition, fitness and mindfulness and her goal became to teach others how to balance a thriving career, body and mind.
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 help folks feel really good in their work — whether it’s their own company or in the context of an organization — by addressing the mind and body, as well as the strategic and tactical approach they’re taking towards success.
I got into this work by way of a major crash and burn in my twenties, when I was both working in marketing and launching my own business.
But if I really think about it, the impetus for this work started long before that, when I was just a kid. I grew up in a household that celebrated my doing, not necessarily my being. That way of thinking was intergenerational, and I carried that legacy into every area of my life. By the time I entered into the workforce, I nearly worked myself into the ground.
The moment it all shifted was an interesting one. I was 26, it was a Friday afternoon, and I’d worked nearly 80 hours that week, complete with all-nighters. I was driving out to a client in Connecticut when I got a call from my doctor who informed me that unless I went to the hospital right away, I was days away from multiple organ damage.
That was the moment I realized that my disordered relationship with success and self-sacrifice was actually killing me.
That was the moment I decided to put the baggage down. I went on a journey to heal my mind and body, as well as my relationship with work and stress. I studied coaching, nutrition, meditation, and movement. I became so lit up about my own transformation and what was available to me when I was feeling good, that I vowed to pay it forward and teach others so they wouldn’t have to hit a bottom like I did. Ten years later, I’m here; teaching, sharing and changing the way we view work and success and our sense of self.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I think the most interesting thing about my journey is how non-linear it has been. I started my career in marketing, had a marketing agency for a while, and launched a corporate wellness business all before I arrived at my coaching business. All along the way, I gave myself permission to pivot and kept pivoting until I found the career and business that was the truest expression of me.
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?
The funniest mistake I ever made in my business was quite early on when I had a major calendar snafu. I arrived at a company to give a keynote speech on the wrong day!! I was mortified and embarrassed, but they were so kind about it and turned the experience into a prep meeting for me. Since then, I let my amazing assistant manage my calendar. The experience taught me that I’m not the best at admin work, so I resourced myself with an amazing team. It also taught me that it’s safe to trip up in public and for the most part, people will be kind about it.
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 have had the most incredible coaches, mentors, and influences along the way that include JLove Calderón, Rha Goddess, Erin Foley, PhD, Martha Beck, Jesse Johnson, The Handel Group, The Institute of Integrative Nutrition, Debbie Ford, Marianne Williamson, Dr. Sylva Dvorak, Dr. Deganit Nuur, Dr. Margarita Russolello, Jordan Pagán of Ostara Apothecary, Shamanic Reiki Worldwide, Charlie Knoles, Rachel Rodgers and Ben Turshen.
I believe as coaches, we also need the support of other coaches. We are all human and have blind spots, so I think it’s imperative that we continue to do the work on ourselves as we help others. One of the most profound teachers I’ve had along the way is entrepreneurial soul coach, Rha Goddess. When I had just left my marketing career, I was feeling challenged by building my coaching practice. One day I was watching a talk with Gabby Bernstein and I saw Rha.
The minute she started speaking I knew she was someone who would shift my life. I set up a consultation with her and have never felt so seen in my life. I knew I had to work with her — and so I did. It was one of the best investments I’ve ever made in myself. She really invited me to create a body of work that was unique to me and a reflection of my lived experience.
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?
The McKinsey Women in the Workplace Study highlighted the tremendous impact that the COVID-19 global pandemic has had on women in the workplace. The data suggests that many women felt forced to leave the workforce, which dramatically impacted the number of women in leadership positions and set back our growth by nearly half a decade. As a result of the shifts in corporate America, many women have turned to entrepreneurship.
At the top of the list of reasons as to why women don’t start businesses is resources. Many of the women I work with say that lack of access to capital is a major hurdle for them. According to Crunchbase, in 2019, 2.8% of VC funding went to women-led startups; in 2020, that fell to 2.3%. Women aren’t getting access to capital in the way their male counterparts are and that is a major stumbling block.
In my practice, the second reason I see women holding back from founding companies is the fear of failure. I work with a lot of high-achieving women who are great at what they do, but fear that if they leave the stability of their full-time job and can’t make a go of their start-up, it will impact their future trajectory. This is a challenge that is equal parts mindset and equal parts tactical, that can be worked through in a coaching container.
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?
To support more women in entrepreneurship, we need to solve the funding challenge. I believe a lot of this has to do with unconscious bias and we need to address the institutional thinking and patterns that impede VC firms from seeing the potential in female founders and their ideas.
More diversity amongst decision-makers in venture funds would also be supportive of women’s growth in this area. Investors may have a tendency to invest in founders who remind them of success stories from years gone by. Since the typical model of success usually involves a male founder, it has left little space for women entrepreneurs to receive funding. About 12% of decision makers at VC firms are women and women decision makers are twice as likely to invest in female founders. More diversity at the table would make way for more diverse leaders being 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?
When women are in positions of leadership, become founders, or simply earn more, they do more good with it. When women work, they invest 90 percent of their income back into their families, compared with 35 percent for men.
Women also invest in other women and marginalized groups. When a company is founded by a woman, they hire 2.5 times more women into the company. Additionally, research coming out of the Journal of Entrepreneurship & Organizational Management found that female-founded companies place greater emphasis on causes of social good, as well as building healthy relationships with their employee base.
Women also deliver stronger revenue results. According to Boston Consulting Group, female founders also deliver stronger ROI. Female-founded companies returned almost twice as much per dollar invested. More women in leadership, as founders and entrepreneurs, is just good business.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?
Myth 1: Sleepless nights and 70-hour work weeks are a prerequisite to be a founder
When I started my first business fifteen years ago, as a society, we were very much in the throes of hustle-culture. We wore our sleepless nights as badges of honor, but there is nothing honorable about breaking the body down to a point where you cannot show up fully for the work you set out to do. I don’t believe in balance — I believe in nimbleness. Even if the workload is getting heavier, we can be agile with it, and still take care of ourselves. If we don’t prioritize our own well-being, it’s extremely challenging to show up fully for our work and our people.
Myth 2: There is no time for a life outside of work
While this can be true if we let it, there is also another way to be. A report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that on average we have about five to six hours of “leisure time” per day — this encompasses doing things like reading, exercising, watching television, and using a computer for “fun.” Within that chunk, nearly three hours (on average) is devoted to watching television (don’t even get me started on social media). We fill our time with what we value. So, if we only value our work efforts and we don’t place emphasis on values outside of work, like spending time with friends and family or exercising, we will find our time skewed. If we value time outside of work, it should get a spot on our calendar.
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?
We all have a unique form of brilliance just waiting to burst forth from us. All of us have the ability to get on the court with that brilliance and share it with the world as a founder — but as we talked about before, there can be higher barriers to entry for certain founders. One of the most important pieces of being a founder is surrounding yourself with folx who can fill in the gaps for you. We each have areas that we are inherently great, and we each have areas that we’re not so great — and I say that from a space of compassion, not judgement. Being a strong founder means knowing your strengths and weaknesses and building your team to support you in the areas where you need it most.
I also want to name, that as founders, we may not arrive to our business with the strongest leadership skills. For some of us it may be innate, and for others it may be a challenge. Strong leadership is an imperative for the health of your business and investing in coaching can support your growth in this area.
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. Boundaries: I love and live by the quote from Prentis Hemphill — “Boundaries are the distance at which I can love you and me simultaneously.” As a female founder we need to be really clear on what we are a ‘yes’ to, what we are a ‘no’ to, and how to set and reinforce those boundaries. This will protect your time, energy and inspiration and ensure it’s being used in the highest service of your vision.
2. Clarity around your purpose: Ideally, as a founder, we’re working in the business that is a reflection of our purpose. I believe that the great work of our life lives at the intersection of where our gifts are, what we value, what brings us joy, what we want to impact, and what we need to bring it all to life.
3. Know your brilliance: As I shared earlier, I believe we all have a unique form of brilliance we came to share with the world. As founders and leaders, we need to be abundantly clear on ours and be ready to unearth it in others as well. When we are clear on what we are here to give, we can double down on it in our efforts and also align ourselves with the people that have the ability to round out our vision.
4. A clear vision for your company: Vision doesn’t mean that you are committed to one direction; rather it’s a clear north star. I believe that at each new level, we can reevaluate our direction to ensure its aligned, but we need to know where we are going so we can drive the bus there.
5. Agility: This has served me the most, particularly in the current moment we’re in. As leaders and founders, many of us have had to change direction and change quickly. Business conditions change, markets change, our people change, the world changes and we need to be prepared to respond to that and move with it.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
As a woman of color, I believe my success is so important because it demonstrates that it is possible for all the folx coming behind me. I am committed to uplifting women of color to make sure they have the tools and opportunities to make their own success in the world.
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.
One of my aspirations is to create the SWANA Success Academy. Many parts of the SWANA region have been oppressed for so long and it has impacted so many and their ability to have abundance and success in their lives. I would love to share my teachings with as many as possible to uplift their lives, connect them to their purpose and help them create the life of their dreams. Ultimately, I want to lead us towards a world where peace is possible, and equality becomes our birthright. Got to dream big, right?!
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 Rachel Rodgers. She is such an inspiration — from the community she has built, to her podcast and her book. She has paved the way for so many marginalized communities to achieve their wildest dreams and I have the deepest admiration for her.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.