Fearlessness:I like to think of fear as the opposite of love. When we’re living in fear we’re unable to step into our greatest power. The ability to be and spread love is true success.
As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Chantel McGee.
Chantel McGee is a thought leader in tech, marketing, and media. Chantel has worked at Google, AOL, Viacom, and NBC among other global companies. She has also been an advisor to prominent nonprofits, startups, and celebrities. McGee is currently the CEO and Founder of a stealth machine learning startup.
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 am the daughter of immigrants. Both of my parents came to this country as young adults with very little. My dad often joked that he barely had two nickels to rub together. Still, they were able to build our family business. I worked in that business and eventually took on a lot of responsibility. I was fortunate to have a strong example of a female entrepreneur in my mother. Having that role model empowered me to start companies of my own at a very young age. I sold candy, custom friendship bracelets. I even had a troll doll business that was my first failure. I bought more inventory than I could sell and decided it was time to liquidate. When I told my dad, he offered to buy all of the dolls. I remember walking into my parents’ room growing up and seeing my dad’s nightstand covered in troll dolls for years. That is until my mom threw them all away in a feng shui frenzy. I learned from that and other experiences with failure that I have one of the most valuable assets any entrepreneur can have, a support system.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
It’s much more difficult for female founders of color to raise capital. There are systemic barriers that are still very much in place. Still, I’ve turned down venture capital. I’ve found that most investors aren’t aligned with my values, and even those “dedicated” to creating systemic change don’t fully understand what that means.
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?
It’s difficult to share much while we’re in stealth.
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?
That would definitely be my brother. He is the smartest person I know and has always been my thought partner and one of my biggest cheerleaders.
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 first thing we have to do is take a hard look at who controls the capital. It’s predominantly white men that are completely unaware and unwilling to take a critical look at how the decisions they make every day contribute to inequity. When these white investors acknowledge their contribution to inequity things will change.
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?
First, we have to acknowledge just how interconnected systems of inequality are. We must create systems for investing in communities of color. And address the existing systems of inequity that shape the lives of Black and Brown children from birth. A good start would be allocating resources to improve the educational system for children of color living in redlined neighborhoods.
Many women and people of color aren’t founders because too many people have told them they don’t have a right to be. The subtle messages that you get over a lifetime, the preconditioning the social cues shape our perception. I can’t count how many people still hold an outdated belief that women shouldn’t be CEOs. That’s the main difference between coming from a privileged group or being part of a disadvantaged minority. Those with privilege have no reason to question their right to do something or to be somewhere. I want to tell every woman and young girl out there thinking about entrepreneurship you have the right to dream beyond the barriers created for you.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?
That anyone can be successful if they work hard. That couldn’t be further from the truth. I’ve already talked quite a bit about privilege. Those with it don’t have to work nearly as hard as those from socially oppressed groups. We need to remove that narrative from our society. It leads people to believe the game isn’t rigged when it very much is.
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 truly believe anyone that wants to be a founder can be a founder. But to be a successful founder you need to be self-motivated and passionate. That’s what keeps you going when it’s easier to give up.
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) Self-efficacy: If you don’t believe in yourself no-one else will.
2) Passion: The problem you’re solving should light you up and keep you up at night.
3) Fearlessness:I like to think of fear as the opposite of love. When we’re living in fear we’re unable to step into our greatest power. The ability to be and spread love is true success.
4) Heart: I’ve found the one thing many men see as a weakness to be one of my greatest strengths as a leader. The ability to be heart-centered in my approach and put people first has allowed me to keep an amazing team of people around me.
5) Humility: Release the ego. The more humble and service-oriented you are the easier it will be to work through those difficult moments that inevitably come up.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I believe every moment is an opportunity to live with purpose, and bringing people together is at the center of everything I do.
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’d start a movement around oneness and connection. It’s my life’s mission to help people remember we are never separate.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.