Don’t overthink it. Don’t try to make your business perfect before you actually start it. I wasted years and years working for someone else in a 9–5 because I didn’t have the guts to go for it.
As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Athena Severi.
When it comes to events in e-commerce, few are as groundbreaking as those hosted by Athena Severi. An internationally acclaimed speaker and high-level community builder, Athena has become known for helping fellow Amazon entrepreneurs to achieve lifestyle freedom. Like all great entrepreneurs, Athena’s no stranger to taking risks, none more so than when she left her 6-figure job to start selling on Amazon, all while raising a young family. This tenacity and work ethic has become as renowned as her events are, from starting out with small-scale gatherings for fellow working mothers; to China Magic, a bi-annual 12-day sourcing and networking trip to China; and now as the Co-Founder of Titan Network, a premier invite-only mastermind for Amazon sellers. Athena’s ultimate goal is to guide Amazon entrepreneurs from around the world, so as well as these life-changing in-person events, she can be found sharing her mentorship and insight with her loyal fanbase on Instagram and Clubhouse.
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?
When I became a mother, it was very difficult to balance being a mom with my career. I remember taking my then almost-two-year-old to daycare, and both of us were crying because we knew we’d miss each other. I found myself wishing I had the freedom of location and time so I could live my life the way I wanted to with my son.
I was introduced to Amazon by a friend of mine and I started to build a yoga accessory brand that allowed me to quit my full-time job within a few months. When other mothers that I was in a community group with saw me be able to do that, they were so inspired and really wanted to have that freedom as well. I found myself surrounded by a whole bunch of women who wanted to be entrepreneurs and wanted to be in the eCommerce space, which was pretty rare at the time.
There weren’t a lot of women in the Amazon space when I first arrived, and because I was still a newer seller myself back then, I connected with bigger, brilliant sellers — people who had been doing millions of dollars on Amazon and were authorities in that space. I started to put on events at restaurants and homes, and it just grew from there. This formula of bringing together people with hearts of gold really struck a chord with me, so I ended up putting on a cruise to the Caribbean. In that time, I had people walk up to me and tell me that they had paid for 20,000 dollars –30,000 dollars masterminds in the past, and the way I created those connections and helped provide connections was far more impactful than anything they’d experienced before. I remember standing, looking over the ocean and thinking, “Wow, I think I found my calling, and I’m going to keep creating an impact in the lives of others by helping them find their entrepreneurial wings.”
This led me to opportunities to speak on stages all over the world. I spoke on a stage in Barcelona, where I happened to meet this brilliant guy named Dan Ashburn. We connected and we were talking about the work he was doing, and I invited him to come and speak at a 12-day Amazon sellers trip to China that I had developed, called China Magic. When Dan came as a speaker, I just realized how much he could impact people with his talents. We joined forces and we started putting on that trip together, and it became the top sourcing trip in the world.
In those 12 days, we brought in authorities on everything from branding to sourcing and Amazon selling, and the progress people were making in 12 days was so significant. We knew we had something special and wanted to figure out how to take the magic of China Magic and keep it going all year long. We created Titan Network to bring together some of the most brilliant minds in the industry to help us mentor and support people from the inception of their brand to scaling it and exiting it. We help them create a life with intention and in turn, they end up wanting to help inspire others to do the same.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
We did an event in Cancun when the world was pretty shut down. I remember walking in and seeing people’s faces grey and green and it was difficult to see because a lot of people had been shut down and shut up in their homes for over a year. Seeing the color come back to people’s cheeks and seeing them meet their fellow Titan’s they’d met virtually was so special, and I remember walking onto the stage and thanking everyone for being there because I knew they were being courageous.
By the end of the event, attendees came up to me and told me that I literally brought them back to life and that having this community of entrepreneurs around the world is what got them through, not just with their business, but in general. That’s really when I realized that Titan is so much more than something that impacts people’s business, and it was just a very impactful moment.
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 launched my first two products on Amazon — yoga headbands for women — and they were quite successful. I got so cocky about the whole thing that I decided I was now going to launch a full line of yoga attire, right? Now, what I didn’t realize is that on Amazon, it’s really complicated to sell clothing just because of the number of sizes and styles available. I went and spent an absolute fortune getting all these different products, and it was all going completely over my head. I lost all of it because I didn’t understand the game. I had no idea how to upload and sell and optimize my Amazon listings; it was just completely over my head.
That was one of the moments when I realized how important mentorship is. Because if I would have told someone like, “Hey, so I launched these headbands and that product, and now I’m going to go get 100 different styles of yoga attire,” they would have been like, “You’re insane. How about you launch headband number three? Or how about you do some other accessory or something?” And I would have saved myself a lot of hassle, time and energy.
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?
It’s difficult because my husband, my children, my mother, and all these people around me have been so supportive. I could name so many people. But I’d say professionally, I would name Dan Ashburn. Because he’s able to amplify and sort of organize my magic so that I can create and I can inspire people. I can bring people together and create a movement, but Dan brings a different element where he’s able to channel all that and organize it very strategically. Everything with Titan and with China Magic is a collaboration between us. And I think that he’s been able to really support me in achieving what I’ve achieved so far.
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?
There’s a level of risk that it takes to build a company, and there’s a level of confidence that you have to have in yourself to overcome all the obstacles. And I think historically, we’ve been taught that you know, women should be in the home, and maybe not be as aggressive or as much of a leader, But I do believe that, in more modern times, there’s been a lot more empowerment of females, but that confidence comes within. And I do everything in my power to try to help women to find their confidence in themselves and to overcome whatever obstacles or self-limiting beliefs are causing them to not go for it. And within Titan, we’ve helped create some amazing female founders of brands, and we’re very, very proud of the progress that we’ve made within the industry.
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?
Even though we want to support women, as women, we also want to put an emphasis on people’s skill sets and what they really bring to the table. Instead of putting fire on this “men versus women” thing, I would say that we should put an emphasis on all the successful women out there and get them to teach others what they’re doing that’s allowing them to attain the success that they’ve achieved.
A lot of that comes through mentorship and writing books and just being more vocal about what it’s taken to get to where they are, and I can think of some amazing female founders that have done that. It’s important, yes, to support women as women, but it’s equally important just to treat us all as business people and entrepreneurs.
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 think as women, we’re very intuitive. We can be very creative, very nurturing., and we bring a lot of that to the table in terms of creating the culture within our business. And I think that there’s just a ton of absolutely brilliant, creative, intelligent women that need to just go out there and do it because the world needs their voice and the impact they can create.
It’s like when you jump into a swimming pool that you don’t know if it’s too cold or not. Taking that risk and putting yourself out there is half the battle in itself. I think that more women need to just go out there, believe in themselves and just start.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder. Can you explain what you mean?
I don’t believe that you have to pick either being a founder or being a good mother, woman, daughter, or sister. Some people get the idea that if you’re a founder, you’re ruthless, or you don’t have a life. I believe that you can do all of it. It’s not easy, but it’s possible.
I also believe that there are many different types of female founders. There are some that are going to be working 20 hours a day and some that work a few hours a week. I think that there’s no right way of founding your business, I think it’s important for you to look at your lifestyle, what’s important to you. Do you want to travel? Do you want to build a billion-dollar empire? Or do you want to have enough money just to kind of sustain your life, and so you can really spend a lot of time with your children or your elderly parents. There are many different types of founders and many different types of businesses. I don’t feel like it’s one size fits all.
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?
To be a founder, you have to be very dedicated, ambitious and consistent. You have to have thick skin because you’re going to have a lot of ups and downs, you’re going to have to take risks, and you’re going to have to make choices and sacrifices that might not be fun. You might have to fire people, you might have to go into extreme debt, you might end up in bankruptcy, you might not see your children, you might not be there for your kid’s birthday or their recital. And there will be long nights a lot of times, but there will also be a tremendous amount of reward, and fulfillment, inspiration and potential. And there are so many great things about it as well.
But I feel like if you don’t have the stomach for all of that, you might be better off in a 9–5 type of job because when you go in, you do a good job, and when the clock strikes 5:00, you’re out of there. As a founder, your job is on your mind and in your world 24/7. I think it’s thrilling and amazing, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. But it’s definitely not for everyone.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
First, start. Don’t overthink it. Don’t try to make your business perfect before you actually start it. I wasted years and years working for someone else in a 9–5 because I didn’t have the guts to go for it.
Second, create your life with intention. What is important to you? Do you want to found a $100 million business/ Is it something you want to do part-time/ Do you want to scale to a certain level? A lot of that has to do with your lifestyle. I wish someone would have told me this in the beginning because I was always trying to find this “balance” between being a mother and my business. And the truth is there’s no such thing as balance. Sometimes you’re going to have to put in 18 hours straight into your business, and sometimes you’re going to have all the time in the world. You are the creator of your life when you’re a founder, and that’s something you should think about in the beginning so you can create whatever life you’re looking to create with intention.
Third, if you want to grow your business, invest in proper training and mentorship. There are people out there who are already successful and you have already done what you’re looking to achieve. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel — hire professionals and listen to them. It’s worth the investment and will save you so much trial and error.
Fourth, align your business with your superpowers. If you are passionate about what you do, it will get you through the dark moments. I’m personally very passionate about helping entrepreneurs to find their freedom. When things have been difficult, I’ve had to sacrifice a lot and I’ve had to take on a lot of risks. I’ve definitely had very amazing moments, but also some very difficult ones. And I think that because my business is something that aligns very much with who I am and my passion, it’s helped me to grow and to be able to inspire others. It’s very important to align your business to what you’re passionate about and what you’re good at.
Finally, surround yourself with the very best people. I thank my lucky stars for my amazing business partner, my amazing team, and my members within the network that I’ve created. They’re all just abundant, mindset, positive, incredible human beings. It’s just really important that you surround yourself with, you know, really amazing people that are going to lift you and inspire you that you can do the same. One of the most important things is to surround yourself with people that will help you to see your brilliance even in moments when you don’t see it yourself.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
Being a self-made founder who has built this every step of the way, I have used that to inspire others to know that they can too. I’ve always been a big advocate for helping people — wherever they’re at in their journey — to be able to overcome obstacles, fears, insecurities, and to believe in themselves to not only achieve great things for themselves. One of the things I’m most proud of is that I’ve also helped to inspire people to want to help other people to achieve success and to help others to do the same. We just keep passing it forward.
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.
We have a movement and a community of people that believe that they’re able to achieve freedom. When you remove the day-to-day stresses of life, you see a lot of them creating incredible impact in their communities. I think the biggest thing that I can do is to help people realize who they are, and that they can have great success and great impact on not just their lives, but on the lives of other people. We’re really seeing that within Titan and within the communities that I’ve helped to inspire. I hope that it continues and that we can create an even bigger impact in the lives of others.
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.
For me, it would be Oprah. I’ve been watching her since I was a little girl and she’s always inspired me so much because she came from nothing and she’s created such a huge impact in the lives of others by highlighting other people’s superpowers and impacting them in a very unique and very special way. So, if I was allowed to pick someone to have breakfast with, I definitely would just love to have that chance.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.