I come from a long line of strong, ambitious women. And when I was a kid, my mom, aunt, and grandmother made sure I was always surrounded by brilliant, powerful women — wonderful role models who helped one another succeed and promoted positive change in the world.
In a real sense, it was this community that raised me, made me who I am today; I sometimes joke that my childhood was a little like the opening scene of Wonder Woman. Especially now that I’m raising a social justice family of my own, I’m acutely aware that this didn’t happen by accident. It took effort and intention to create that environment for me, as a young girl. Which is why my partner and I are working hard to be just as deliberate as we raise our two daughters, surrounding them with great role models and teaching them to embrace the real-life superheroes — strong, smart, powerful women — they will someday become. This is our heritage, as well as our worldview.
It’s also what inspired me to start my company, Phenomenal, not long after the 2016 election.
In that pivotal moment, I — like so many others — found myself wondering what I could do to help lift up women, make our voices heard, and move the needle on issues I cared about. So I started small: for the first Women’s March, in 2017, I made a handful of t-shirts emblazoned with the refrain from an iconic Maya Angelou poem, “Phenomenal Woman.” Two months later, on International Women’s Day, we launched a fundraising campaign to sell the tees in support of women’s organizations. That day, we sold 2,500 t-shirts — far surpassing our initial goal — and the rest is history. Each day since, we’ve reinforced our commitment to supporting women. From initiatives and partnerships focused on trans women, to farmworkers, to domestic workers, we have been supporting great organizations and amplifying the voices of women leaders who are working to make the world better and more equitable for all.
Building Phenomenal has been a lot of work, but it’s also been incredibly liberating. Like many first-time founders, I didn’t realize on day one just how many months and years of labor, iteration, and failure it would take to grow my business. Throughout the journey, I’ve learned many lessons that may be helpful to others — which I’ve always been eager to share with other founders and entrepreneurs.
Harness humanity when selecting and developing your team.
When building and growing a business, your work is never complete. Alongside the sweat and tears, it’s important to keep things in perspective, especially in terms of how you select and develop your team.
The businesses that truly inspire positive change are built on humanity. The people who we choose to join us on our missions are our greatest assets. Investing in people means leading and building with empathy and compassion; especially these days, this means understanding that people are dealing with a lot, especially people of color. Continuously check in with yourself and others to ensure that no one is getting lost in the margins.
Be thoughtful about technology.
Inspiring your team and leading your business with humanity demands effective communication and collaboration. Personally, I rely on the Google Suite—Google Drive, Docs, Sheets, and Slides — to collaborate and communicate with my team. I also rely heavily on Asana, which I first started using with my production and fulfillment teams to manage product development and campaign launches. Since then, I’ve used it to keep track of all the moving pieces involved in publishing my first book, Kamala and Maya’s Big Idea, in June, and planning the launch of my newest book Ambitious Girl, which went on pre-sale this month. Today, Asana is integral to our work at Phenomenal, helping us stay organized and ensure that we’re meeting our deadlines, even during turbulent and unpredictable times.
I also rely on technology to stay grounded and avoid burnout. Each day, I look at my Google calendar and remove anything that’s non-urgent or not an immediate priority. Asana also helps me stay grounded by giving my to-do list a 21st-century makeover. Whereas I’ve struggled in the past to wrangle all of my to-do lists — which may live in journals, on loose-leaf paper, in my email drafts, or on my Google calendar — into one place, now Asana is my single source of truth.
It’s also a source of delight. Asana’s task complete features and celebrations give me the closest sense of satisfaction to crossing something off a list with a pen or pencil. For someone who has a million ideas in motion at any given time, there’s no better feeling.
Like just about everybody, I’m working from home in the midst of a global pandemic, with the most important election in the history of our country on the horizon. My days are filled with Zoom calls, product design meetings, planning campaigns, election events, and raising my two young daughters. Balance is especially important at a time like this one, when the boundaries between work and home are perpetually blurred. While I try to unplug as much as possible at night and on weekends, that’s easier said than done. There’s always something more to work on, and it’s all too easy to send just one more email, take just one more phone call. But we’re doing ourselves and the people around us a disservice when we lose sight of the importance of achieving balance in our work, and in our life.
Be gentle with yourself, and others.
Some days, it seems as though our world could hardly be more chaotic and unpredictable. This shouldn’t be our normal. But — as long as it is — I’m trying to be gentler with myself, including accepting when things take a little longer than expected.
I’m also learning to let go more often and be at peace when things are truly outside of my control. Be kind to yourself and others, and take things one day at a time. Step away from the chaos when you need to, recharge, and come back with a focus on what is actually in your control. Hug your family and loved ones if you can, as much as you can.
It’s okay to not be okay, but don’t underestimate your power to inspire positive change, wherever you are.