Celebrate your successes. Pause to notice what you’ve accomplished and how far you’ve come because that will “fill your cup.” This will generate the energy and motivation to keep going. At times, you’ll stumble or hit a roadblock, but if you have that running list of successes, you can look back at them which will keep you moving forward.
As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Meighan ‘Meg’ Newhouse.
Meg is the CEO and Co-Founder of Inspirant Group, home of the #Unconsultants who guide clients from inspiration to transformation.
In an era ushering in more digitization and automation, she still believes that humans are any organization’s greatest asset. After observing many people close to her dread going to work and loathing their jobs, she has focused her career on helping people reach their full potential in life, both in the work they do and beyond.
Inspirant is Meg’s second start up. She ran Colette Allen Consulting, a boutique learning and development firm focused on helping people to learn to love their work.
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 was born in southern Illinois. My brother and I were raised by a single mom and moved a lot while I was growing up. We didn’t have a lot as a kid; I quickly learned to become my own ally and friend. I was always quirky and a bit different. Yet, I always felt satisfied with who I was.
As I got older and went through different life stages, I took the time to go deeper and figure myself out. I believe that this is the key to career success — knowing who you are, what makes you happy, and finding that thing that feels like fun instead of “work” which leads to a career that’s fulfilling.
The “Figuring Yourself Out” process is a lifelong one. In fact, I like to think of every day as an exercise in self-improvement, as I strive to be a better person than I was the day before.
If you’ve figured yourself out, you’ll be a stronger, more confident leader who people want to work for and give their very best.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
The pandemic is definitely the most interesting story that’s happened since my partners and I started Inspirant Group. So much has come out of this time. Everyone — my partners and I together with our leadership team — had decided to push a large amount of our 2019 profits into 2020. Prior to that, we never had to aggressively sell our services. When the pandemic hit, some clients paused their contracts. Just before everything officially shut down, we spent time revising our sales plan and targets. It was a tough decision, but eventually we did have to make our first reduction in workforce.
Throughout this crisis, we’ve worked hard to keep everything else, most especially, our culture, intact. And, we’ve stayed true to our core value, “care about the greater good.” Although it was hard at times, we all grew incredibly through those experiences. It solidified that what we’re doing is what we want to do. I couldn’t be more proud of our company culture and people. Everyone just rose to the occasion.
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?
As a startup (Inspirant Group was founded in 2017), each of us wears many hats. Initially, I served as Chief People Officer, which included the human resources function, a generalist position I’ve never held and don’t really have lengthy experience in. Hence, I poked fun at myself-other team members did, too- by being called “The HR Lady” and using the hashtag, #NewtoHR. There were multiple occasions where I stumbled through all of the HR requirements. It just wasn’t my strong suit and I wasn’t incredibly passionate about it, either. Luckily, on July 1st, 2021, we hired Erin Mohideen, a true human resources professional, to lead HR for us.
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?
Amir Azarbad, one of my partners at Inspirant Group, has been someone for whom I’m grateful. A long time friend, Amir became the business partner I always needed. Prior to Inspirant, I ran Colette Allen Consulting, a learning and development company, for six years. He saw attributes in me that I didn’t necessarily see and he has helped me to grow into a leadership role by uncovering strengths I didn’t know I had. Amir has literally championed me in everything. For example, in the early days of Inspirant, we had a large contract with a client and I was clearly “under water.” I was not only a partner of our startup, but also Chief People Officer overseeing HR, onboarding and such as well as managing this humongous project. One day, Amir called me and casually asked how things were going. He told me that the client of the big project I was managing wanted to curtail our contract. I was devastated, but Amir remained super calm. He never doubted me for one second. Soonafter, we had a call with the client and Amir said, “ if you think you want to end the contract, it’s okay, but let’s try to work things out. In what seemed like a make or break moment, we were able to repair things and kept them on.
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’ve found that women often doubt themselves and don’t always have the confidence or support systems in place to start companies. This is especially true when it comes to raising capital and attracting investors. Perhaps it is a build- up of small microaggressions over the course of their lives, disparate pieces of experience that have resulted in self doubt, coupled with the fact that society business owners, even venture capitalists or banks still don’t always see gender equality, even in 2021.
It may be blind confidence or the fact that I grew up with an older brother, but my experience has been different; I’ve always thought of myself as equal to the men in the room. This has served me well as a female entrepreneur and business partner with two men, Amir Azarbad and Chris VanAvermaete.
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?
In my opinion, the most important thing all business leaders can do for themselves and others, is to “figure yourself out.” The racial injustice that really woke up so many non people of color in 2020 is that more people are finally admitting to and grappling with their white privilege. They are understanding what that means. That’s society, the way our world has run for so many years. There are two quotes, both by eminent women that encapsulate what I think the world needs to do now: Mother Teresa said, “If you want to change the world, start at home.”and Maya Angelou said, “Do the best you can until you know better. When you know better, do better.” Start by first figuring ourselves out” — understanding and then leaving our emotional baggage behind so it doesn’t come out against other people, especially at work. Look deeper at your racial and cultural background and how that has given you a leg up, or not. When we have a strong handle on these things, we have all of the tools to behave better and treat others, regardless of their race or gender with greater respect.
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?
This brings me back to the meme that was circulated during COVID — countries with the lowest infection rates were almost exclusively run by women. It is in great part that women are more emotional that we can be more successful.
Successful leaders, regardless of gender, are able to regulate their emotions but also can express it.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?
I’ve heard that it’s lonely at the top but that simply isn’t the case at Inspirant — because I have the right partners.
The three of us are very different people, but all very supportive and aligned. They challenge me but also support me.
Another myth is that you have to get outside funding to be successful. Getting outside capital is a great way to fund a business, but not the only way. In fact, we’ve been in business for four years without receiving any outside funding and we’ve been enormously successful.
Many people say that companies can’t be profitable in their first few years. But, it’s not helpful to go in thinking that. Better to go in thinking that you will turn a profit the first year and do everything you can to make that happen..
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 think anyone can be anything they want to be if they have figured themselves out. This is fundamental.
People need to know what that is; truly knowing yourself inside and out will lead you on the right path to do things that are uniquely fulfilling for you. In his book, Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business, Gino Wickman describes the different roles within successful organizations. There’s the founder role, and often that person is the visionary, the dreamer, the one who’s great at big picture thinking. That’s me. I’m the one who needs a co-founder or colleague who has their feet on the ground and is versed in operations, processes and procedures. People need to be clear on their individual strengths, what they like to do and what they are passionate about and the roles they can successfully fill.
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.)
- Figure yourself out. Believe me, it’s worthwhile doing the work to get in closer touch with what makes you tick, brings you inner fulfillment and happiness. But also to work through life challenges so you don’t bring anger and resentment into the workplace.
- Get the help you need to succeed. I recently rewatched the Disney movie “The Princess and the Frog’’ with my daughter. In it, there’s a song by Ne-Yo called, “Never Knew What I Needed.” It’s an uplifting song about having that person or people in your life who bring out the best in you. Let’s face it. There are so many external factors that will push you in other directions. But, as a woman, if you think you want to own or run a company, get to know yourself and what you do best. Keep asking yourself, “yhy” until you have that “Aha” moment about why you should pursue business ownership or leadership.That will lead you to your life’s work and destiny.
- Take care of yourself. Whether you‘re single, in a relationship or are a parent, there are people counting on you. Women tend to be nurturers and I’ve noticed time and again that my female friends tend to burn themselves out caring for others, so keep yourself healthy physically and mentally.
- Know your worth and don’t settle for anything less. In our society, women are undervalued and often internalize that. Know what you do well and what you don’t do well. Don’t be too proud or embarrassed to get the help you need.
- Celebrate your successes. Pause to notice what you’ve accomplished and how far you’ve come because that will “fill your cup.” This will generate the energy and motivation to keep going. At times, you’ll stumble or hit a roadblock, but if you have that running list of successes, you can look back at them which will keep you moving forward.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
One of the things that has propelled Inspirant Group forward is we truly care about the greater good, one of our core values. Like an internal compass, it’s literally at the heart of who we are as a company. We created a culture that allows our team to show up as they are and that makes the world a better place. Clients often comment on it and I believe it is one of our most definitive competitive advantages.
In a year that was unpredictable and, at times, chaotic, our team proved just how dedicated they are to doing what we could to better our communities and help others in need. We gave about 500 hours throughout the year to doing pro bono work. It was fun applying our talent and skills to help improve processes at nonprofit organizations that desperately needed our expertise.
This exercise gave us the opportunity to practice what we preach.
Specifically, we were able to provide a fresh perspective and apply our knowledge and experience in strategy and operations, agile transformation, technology and data, talent and organization, and change management
To help nonprofits to address and solve their internal challenges.
Not only were the results great and the nonprofits appreciative, but our team felt incredibly motivated and gratified which, during a tough time, was rewarding for all.
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?
Unequivocally, I’ll say education. You never know what an idea can trigger. Our country is so divided right now and there’s a tremendous lack of understanding.
I would like to see more education around empathy, emotional intelligence, figuring yourself out and listening with the intent to understand each other better.
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.
Without a doubt, the person I’d most like to have a private breakfast or lunch with is Mellody Hobson, the president and CEO of Ariel Investments and the chair of Starbucks Corporation. Like me, she grew up poor in Chicago and from a young age, knew what she wanted to do with her life. I’m incredibly impressed by her focus and ability to constantly acquire new knowledge and find the right mentors.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.