Allison Krawiec-Thayer of PoppyLead: “You must teach people what you’re about”

You must teach people what you’re about. People love to draw conclusions about what you do. Brains like to understand, so they work to make sense of the information they are taking in. If I meet someone and introduce myself as a coach, their mind likely starts filling in the blanks with preconceived notions and […]

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You must teach people what you’re about. People love to draw conclusions about what you do. Brains like to understand, so they work to make sense of the information they are taking in. If I meet someone and introduce myself as a coach, their mind likely starts filling in the blanks with preconceived notions and assumptions. Sometimes people ask follow up questions to learn more, but often they take that and run with it. This is why it’s up to me to tell them what I want them to know.

As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Allison Krawiec-Thayer.

Allison Krawiec-Thayer is a spiritually-minded human sunbeam turned certified energy leadership coach. She helps empathic leaders find their backbone in business by healing their self-sabotage, reclaiming their wild, and unlocking their innate magic via her company PoppyLead. She is Midwestern-bred, San Francisco-loving, and Denver-based with her spouse and their 2 rescue dogs.

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 have always been a bubbly, sunshiney person with a natural “cheerleader-y” disposition. I was a confident little kid and loved making friends and talking to everyone. I got a bit lost along the way as I grew up and let the world rub off my sparkle. I learned to tone it down and fit in the boxes assigned to me.

After studying psychology and conflict transformation in undergrad, I found myself working in a corporate 9–5 and my heart longed for more. I felt a deep lack of alignment in my life as I wanted to do more than print purchase orders and run tracking reports for promotional giveaways. I saw friends who were entrepreneurs and I wanted that freedom. I wanted that impact.

I remembered who I’d always been as a walking-talking-pep-talk and started finding a career to match. In a bittersweet turn of events in a 4 week span during the summer of 2016, my father passed away at age 56, I found life coaching and my dream program, realized I couldn’t afford the program, received money from my father’s passing, paid for the coaching program in full, and attended my first weekend of in-person coach training.

Since getting certified, I have been on a tremendous journey of figuring out who I am as a leader and what exactly it is I’m leading. There have been various ideas for how I’d serve the world. I also started a Masters of Science in Organizational Development at one point and studied to be a personal trainer for a while. All along, I just needed to look inside at what lit me up.

Eventually I found the thread that connected all my interests and created PoppyLead where I work with empathic entrepreneurs on finding their backbone in business.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

I didn’t anticipate how much personal development and deep-level mindset work I would need to do. When I was starting my business my spouse and I had just moved to San Francisco. I was smack dab in the middle of this tech-focused, hyper-competitive, strategy-driven world. Everyone had the “perfect solution” for how to start a coaching business. I just needed to write an ebook, or set up an email funnel. Cold outreach 100 people per week. Run Facebook Ads. Be a speaker. There were so many “answers.”

Only problem? My mindset was *actively* resisting being successful. I could “do” these things all day, but I didn’t believe in my capability to actually manage clients or money. I was sabotaging myself all over the place. I’d procrastinate or focus on busy work with no potency. I’d network and “forget” to mention my business. I’d undercharge for my services and discount further out of desperation. All those sabotages completely eroded my ability to experience success and eventually led to a mental health crisis of the “checking into in-patient” variety.

In “A Happy Pocket Full of Money”, author David Cameron Gikandi likens not believing in yourself to driving the boat in circles. You’re all set for your beautiful destination, and the doubt creeps in, and you turn the wheel, and then someone questions you, and you turn it some more… eventually you’re so far off course you’ve forgotten where you were headed in the first place. Every time you proclaim you want something and then doubt that you can have it, you are sabotaging yourself.

Only once I looked at my limiting beliefs about sales, and once I restored my worthiness around financial abundance, and after I decided that I am here to be a change-maker in this lifetime… then, did I finally start working with clients and having the impact I was called here to have. Strategy is an important part of having a business, but the mindset inherent to successfully leading it is non-negotiable.

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 look back now and chuckle a bit at all the twists and turns my business has taken and how many times I thought I had it all figured out. It started with general confidence coaching, and then it was competitive athlete mindset coaching, then postpartum body image coaching, then it was self-love coaching, then I moved to San Francisco and everything took a “data-driven” focus. Then I left the confidence/self-love pieces behind and thought I’d become the go-to mindset coach for technical founders like Richard Hendricks from HBO’s Silicon Valley!

The funny thing is that it took me forever to realize why none of those things worked. I saw a meme the other day about the Universe sending you signs and responding by saying “Nah, I’ll wait for some signier signs.” I kept trying to “think” my way into the solution, which not surprisingly never “felt” right. Bandaid after bandaid. Another coach’s freebie or mini-course. Nothing was aligned. Deep down I knew the answer was to look inside and heal my mindset, but that seemed scary, so I kept resisting.

Then it was revealed that I could still bring my signature joy to mindset work. I found support and started looking at my beliefs. Then, sure enough, I started feeling aligned and magnetizing clients and abundance.

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?

When I was starting out in San Francisco it took me a bit to find my footing. I didn’t know anyone and felt entirely in over my head. One of my spouse’s co-workers at the time, Lacey Cope, really held the vision of my potential before I could see it myself. We’d dream over happy hour in the Ferry Building about the multi-million dollar coaching and consulting business we’d run together someday. We even found our way to the prestigious Grace Hopper stage as workshop leaders in 2019. Through Lacey, I learned to navigate the world of networking and befriended Emily Merrell, who founded Six Degrees Society (a female-focused networking group that pairs you with people to meet). My spouse and I then (like many others) high-tailed it out of SF at the start of the pandemic and I found myself craving community in a big way.

During 2020 I attended 70+ Six Degrees Society networking events (in addition to other groups as well) and closed the year with over 500 people in my digital rolodex. I found a whole community of entrepreneurs ready to support me. Some were miles ahead of where I was, others were right alongside me. As I progressed, I saw new folks come in where I began. In that group, I truly found my place in the entrepreneurial world. The connections I’ve made (collaborations, podcasts, guest coaching, clients, lifelong friends) have truly shaped who I am and gave me a place to embody my most powerful self.

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 believe that it would be remiss not to start this conversation by acknowledging the larger society we all exist in. I see improvements being made generation-by-generation, but there is still a male supremacy undertone to a lot of structures in the world today. Men are shown as tough breadwinners and women as nurturing caretakers. There is an unspoken obligation for women to have children (but if you do, good luck with your career). Starting a company requires you to be a bit hard-nosed and selfish at times and the world isn’t exactly set up for women to embody that.

These messages about women (through media, press, talk show humor, etc) ripple out into a lot of internalized beliefs for women (often beliefs that directly contradict starting a company). There is a need to play second fiddle and take care of everyone else. She nurtures relationships, makes sure everyone is happy, and cares for those around her. Plan the parties in the office. Do the emotional labor. People-pleasing and the need for external validation take over her whole personality. Fitting into the socially-accepted, polite, docile box works well in supporting the systems in place.

The thing is… that doesn’t fly with starting a business. You have to be on-fire-in-your-soul about your company. There will be tons of people (some with way more success than you, some with way less) all with opinions about how you should be doing things. Let everyone else call the shots too long and suddenly you’re in charge of something you don’t recognize and kind of hate. Gone are the days of whiteboarding plans and dreaming of how you’d change the world. You have to be the human advocate for your work. You have to stand up for your ideas, your dreams, your legacy.

There is a necessary unlearning that must occur. Women have to learn to stand in their power. Tell the investor, “No, we won’t budge on this.” Tell the chauvinistic sales shark to back off when he starts name-dropping about his connections at the bar. Letting others (including your own inner critic) push you around, and falling into the worn out role of letting everyone else be right, makes it pretty challenging to maintain the backbone necessary to exert the boundaries required of a highly successful founder.

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?

I believe the only way to solve this problem is to start changing the narrative about women holistically across systems. Children should see examples of women in leadership positions. Clever young girls need to be celebrated, not hushed and tamed.

Women must be portrayed as equally competent and deserving. The whispered messages of what she did to get where she is, or the checking and re-checking of her work undercut how society thinks about women, which ripples out. Suddenly there is an unconscious bias to distrust a woman in charge, or to criticize her appearance, tone, or language. This could impact a bank loan officer or VC firm deciding whether to fund a team of powerful female co-founders. This might affect new hires who have a confident and assertive female manager. Maybe it is law students who find their professor “intimidating” and “unapproachable” when she is in fact “direct” and “well-boundaried.”

Until the narrative about powerful, confident women is changed, and the systems of oppressing and toning down change-making women are done away with, I’m afraid the challenge will prevail.

I will say that supportive circles for women entrepreneurs to gather and amp each other up have been a lifeline in my own business and success as a female founder for years. Space to be seen and held, ignited and amplified, and connected to possibility is the greatest gift a female founder can give herself.

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 women are more powerful than we realize. I won’t go too far down the rabbit hole of the Divine Feminine, but suffice it to say, there is a magic within women that they often forget. The world continues to be dictated by patriarchal narratives because women see and accept the boxes presented to them. And I get it, it’s scary to step outside what the world expects of you (especially if you learned to be a people-pleaser and keep everyone happy).

But, when the boxes are rejected, and women listen to and connect their passions and desires, the world is positively impacted. When the change-makers, disruptors, educators, and paradigm-shifters step forward and have the impact they came here to have, then the world can really start to heal.

Women bring all sorts of characteristics that are often absent from male-dominated industries. When I lived in Silicon Valley, I saw the hyper-competitive, sleep-when-you-die, innovate-faster narrative everywhere I looked. There was no “life” side of the “work/life balance” discussion. Career was everything.

I feel like this isn’t as naturally the case for women founders. I believe the underlying tendency to be more relational predisposes women to being more attuned to work/life balance. I also feel more understanding about burnout, mental health, and energy when I reschedule with other female founders, versus rescheduling with a male founder. I can’t help but wonder how that ripples out into employee satisfaction at women-founded companies.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?

This is one of my favorite things to discuss because I noticed something while doing all that virtual networking in 2020 that led me to do a deep dive on this topic.

So many people I met who were just starting out would say things like “I’m thinking about starting a company.” As a coach, I’d frequently follow up by asking what was keeping it from “being started?”

I’d hear all sorts of responses, but the most common one is that they “needed to get more education or experience first.” They would then list various assumed prerequisites. “I need an MBA.” “I need to finish this coding bootcamp.” “I need to get to exec first.” “I need to do work for free to build my portfolio.”

Nothing bums me out more than watching people gate-keep themselves.

22-year-old college grads with million dollar companies who have never had a traditional 9–5 job exist. I know numerous people without MBAs who are crushing six-figure quarters consistently. I’ve also met people who come right out of the gate with five-figure price tags on their offers.

You do not have to follow some order or have any particular education or experience to found a company. Your confidence, your beliefs, and your on-fire-desire will take you much further than you realize. Yes, certain levels of educational knowledge or experience may be necessary at points, but that’s what hiring/consulting are for. You hire a lawyer, you don’t go get a law degree! If your company starts as a solo show with you wearing all the hats, it’s easy to forget that.

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?

I have certainly grown into a better founder over time, so I don’t believe it’s something you have to be born with. I started with wide eyes, next-level dreams, and a short attention span and had to learn how to be my own boss and manage myself. That hasn’t always been easy. As I mentioned, it’s required personal development work at depths I didn’t anticipate.

I believe the most successful founders are those who go there. They bring their whole selves to their work. There aren’t shadowy doubts tucked away or sabotages constantly undercutting them. Honestly, I believe therapy is a necessary part of it, and having friends and community to be real with and ask for help. If keeping all those thoughts and feelings locked inside is your jam, then finding sustainability in your success as a founder will be hard.

I believe that anyone who is willing to hold the vision of their success fiercely, to learn the hard lessons along the way, and to ask for support when needed, has what it takes to make it as a founder.

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?”

  1. Certainty that you are the CEO. I recall standing with my spouse Mitchell in a beam of light coming through the balcony doors in our first SF apartment in the heart of SoMa. I was a few months into starting a business and hadn’t made any money yet. While wrapped in an embrace, I was hit with a realization that caused me to step backward and look at him with my jaw dropped.
    “You’re… my principal investor,” I said to him, realizing that by basically bankrolling my life and my needs, he was technically “investing” in me as a founder. Then it continued and I stepped back further, “That means… I’m the CEO.” Suddenly it felt very real. I wasn’t just writing blogs all day or posting on IG to find clients. This was a legit business. From then on, I decided I was the founder and CEO of my business and started doing the mindset work to believe it with certainty.
  2. The backbone to stand up for what feels right to you. I mentioned previously that everyone will have an opinion about how to start your business. You cannot let yourself get pushed around by what other people think is best. An example I feel in my bones is content batching. I know coaches and social media experts who tell you to batch as much as you can. Schedule out months in advance. Set it and forget it. I felt a lot of pressure to do that too and thought I had to make these super detailed spreadsheets so I’d always know what to do. Except…. That doesn’t work for me. When I do jot down the whole month or more, oftentimes I feel disconnected from the content by the time I’m posting it and my audience is engaging. Don’t get me wrong, I love the strategy of knowing what my messaging needs to be for my goals, but I can really only schedule a week or 2 out at a time while maintaining a soul-level connection to what I’m saying. This is just my experience, but I share this to say, if someone tells you “the definitive way” to do something, and it doesn’t feel right, have your own back and be willing to stand up for what you believe.
  3. A community that inspires, challenges, and connects you. Community is the backbone of my business. At the time of writing, I am currently in 2 separate group coaching containers, 3 masterminds, and 4 networking/co-working groups. My company is me and my assistant, so I have cultivated all sorts of groups of people around me for support. I have people that I Slack with throughout the day, I have an accountability buddy who sends me Voxer messages. I’m on text chains and in Facebook groups about co-working circles. The “collaboration not competition” vibe is strong in my community. When I’m faced with challenges, I have people to brainstorm with. If I need a referral (for a contract lawyer, interior designer, website editor, dogwalker, ads expert, etc) I have people to ask. When I’m down and can’t see the way forward, I know who will pick me back up.
  4. Fiercely protected work/life balance. I’ve said it before, successful founders are “well-boundaried.” When you’re just starting out and trying to fan the flames to get your business to spark and ignite, it is easy to work around the clock and never turn it off. It’s easy for the line between your business success and your self-worth to get a little fuzzy. You gotta work harder and achieve more for it to be worth it. The “founder” part of your life starts to take over the “daughter”, “wife”, ‘’mother”, and “friend” parts of your life. If you don’t play this carefully, you may end up hurting these relationships.
    Only focusing on work is a quick recipe for burnout. You might eek out some success, but chances are that it’s come at your own expense. I used to slip into checking emails in the evening, working on the weekend, and opening my laptop first thing in the morning all the time. Doing this week after week caught up though. Protecting your sovereignty as a human being outside of the company you’re founding is critical for long-term success.
  5. You must teach people what you’re about. People love to draw conclusions about what you do. Brains like to understand, so they work to make sense of the information they are taking in. If I meet someone and introduce myself as a coach, their mind likely starts filling in the blanks with preconceived notions and assumptions. Sometimes people ask follow up questions to learn more, but often they take that and run with it. This is why it’s up to me to tell them what I want them to know.
    Stopping at just introducing myself as “a coach” has led to well-meaning friends sending me referrals who are transitioning careers, first time managers, needing support through a divorce, and students picking a major. While I appreciate the sentiment, these are not my ideal clients and I’m not the coach for these people.
    It is up to me as the founder of my company to introduce myself so people know exactly what I do and who to send my way. I need to be recognizable to clients out there who are looking for my services. If I don’t want them to make assumptions about me, then I’d better stand in my power and beliefs to tell them who I am.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

I believe the world becomes a better place when more people remember who they are and step into their power, so I’ve committed my life to helping that happen. I was given gifts of listening, understanding, and bringing optimistic joy to situations. I make the world a better place by sharing that with people and amplifying their vibrancy.

There is a ripple effect from the people I serve. Some work in companies, many run their own, but all have found the internal confidence they’d long forgotten. This confidence lets them impact the world in their own ways and is a service to their friends and family. Generational wounds are healed when women come into their own power. Their daughters, nieces, cousins, and friends see that there is possibility in the world. Women don’t have to people-please and perform for others. There is safety in being yourself.

By teaching these lessons person-by-person, I believe I am doing what I can to impact future generations and ultimately leave the world a better place than I found it.

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.

I would love to see a world where people pay more attention to mindset and personal sovereignty. A world where you don’t just throw solutions at someone, you help them understand and implement.

Someone I see doing this in a really powerful way is a friend of mine, Leslie Lew of Reclaiming Your Courage. She is teaching modern self-defense by empowering people to think of their mindset and vocalization as tools to keep situations from escalating to needing movement (which she also teaches).

She doesn’t just throw movement at you, there is a real understanding of your mindset in the moment. There is talking about how to verbalize boundaries and find exits to keep the situation from advancing to needing physical self-defense. And all of this is wrapped in helping you live a confident life not in fear. She is located in the Bay Area and has done tremendous work with the AAPI community there after so many horrendous attacks have occurred.

Ive attended her workshops and the work she is doing is deeply potent and has the power to save women’s lives. To see her movement amplified would be incredible.

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.

Since attending the Grace Hopper Celebration in 2019, I have been a massive fan of Arlan Hamilton who founded Backstage Capital. Her story, mission, and impact are all next-level and she is truly one of the powerful female founders I look up to. I would be over the moon to discuss the benefits of self-sabotage-focused mindset coaching for the founders and teams she works with!.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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