Know Your North Star — Your north star is your purpose, your calling, your guiding principles and ultimate destination. You may not have every element together, but you should have an overarching picture of who you want to serve and why. If you don’t have a compelling reason to keep going when times get hard, it’s easy for things to unravel.
As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Trish Ahjel Roberts.
Trish Ahjel Roberts is a bestselling author, self-actualization coach and inspirational speaker. She is the founder of Mind-Blowing Happiness LLC and Black Vegan Life™. Her company is committed to teaching her 12 Steps to Mind-Blowing Happiness to 12 million people over the course of the next 12 years.
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 grew up in a brownstone house in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, New York in the ’70s and ’80s. We were a tight-knit family with my mom, dad, grandmother and three sisters all living together. Both of my parents were from the Caribbean, my dad from Jamaica and my mom from St. Lucia. Like many immigrant and minority families, we were taught to pursue careers that would be financially lucrative and stable, so I studied business and got my MBA. I was always interested in writing, so I did it as a hobby while working in corporate telecom sales servicing financial firms. Even though I knew about racism in the U.S., I was still surprised at the level of institutional racism that I encountered in my early working years. I sought refuge by purchasing a fitness center franchise when my daughter was about three years old. I always had entrepreneurial dreams, but I was divorced, and it was difficult managing the business while being a single mom. The franchise started off well but quickly began going out of favor, so I made the difficult decision to shut it down and move to Atlanta where the cost of living was lower. When I got to Atlanta, I followed an interest in finance that developed when I served financial firms at my previous employer. I worked as a financial advisor for 12 years encountering much of the same racism and sexism that I had before. I still loved my work, but I realized that although my clients were wealthy, very often they weren’t very happy or fulfilled in their lives.
I’ve turned my aha! moment into a business that helps successful people find more joy and meaning in their lives. Despite many experiences with trauma in my own life, I’ve found a path to deep joy and fulfillment through my study of yoga, Buddhism, life coaching and therapeutic techniques. I’ve been told that I’ve experienced more trauma than most people beginning with early childhood sexual assault, a violent teenage marriage, working in 2 World Trade Center during 9/11 and multiple documented cases of institutional racism and sexism throughout my career. I’ve turned my authentic experiences into invaluable fodder for my books, coaching and speaking engagements. With the right tools, you can overcome anything. And, even more than that, you can thrive.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I launched my business in 2019, right before the pandemic hit. I was so excited about hosting what I thought would be my signature, plant-based wellness retreat at Callaway Gardens Resort in Georgia. I named it “Thinking Outside the Chrysalis” and scheduled it for April 2020. I wanted to create a guide for the retreat participants to share what I’d learned over so many years of study. I woke up in the middle of the night when ten of the lessons popped into my head. I wrote them down and went back to sleep. I could not have imagined that the world would be hit with a global pandemic. The retreat was destined for failure, and my fledgling business was on even more shaky ground, but my little participants’ guide turned into my self-help memoir, Thinking Outside the Chrysalis: A Black Woman’s Guide to Spreading Her Wings. I put my whole heart and soul in that book. I love telling the story because it would have been so easy to just be devastated. Instead, I learned to surrender and look for the lesson. I realized I could reach a lot more people with books than with the retreat. As I started speaking about my book, I realized that the 12 lessons I taught were my path to self-actualization, what I now call Mind-Blowing Happiness™. It also created a space for me to share my authentic story to inspire others along the path.
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 like to do things organically, so I didn’t start my business with a branding strategy. I had been using the name HoneyButterflyz on social media for a long time, so initially I used it as the name for my company. People would interview me, and I would just laugh and tell them it used to be my dating app name! I still think it’s funny, but I might have saved some time and money if I started with more of a strategy. I work with many successful executives and entrepreneurs as a self-actualization, publishing/writing and business coach. Because of my personal experience with my own branding, I always recommend that my clients own the URLs for their name and book title and think strategically about their company’s long-term vision from inception.
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?
I met Tamara Guillou in 1995 when we were both working for a major telecommunications company. It seems like we’ve been through all of life’s ups and downs together. She became a senior executive while I moved on to entrepreneurial ventures. In 2019 when my daughter graduated high school and I launched my company she was able to take a package and retire early. I was so lucky to be able to tap into her wisdom in building my company. She has been my business consultant, market strategist, beta reader, first-draft editor and one of my very first coaching clients. She’s my best friend, and I’m so grateful for her. I don’t think I could have done any of this without her expertise and support. Recently we went on a Deepak Chopra retreat together. I signed up because I really wanted to meet Devi Brown. As soon as Devi finished speaking, I walked over and introduced myself. I didn’t know until after that Tamara was playing defense making sure no one else would interrupt us while we were chatting! That’s a great friend!
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?
We live in a society that teaches people how to become employees, not entrepreneurs. Unless you come from an entrepreneurial family, most of us don’t think of business ownership as our first or most viable option. For women those numbers are even smaller because women didn’t enter the work force in big numbers until the 1970s. We just don’t have the same historical experience and education, plus we have to deal with ongoing sexism. In 2021, women make up only 8% of CEOs at Fortune 500 companies. For Black women, that number drops to an abysmal .4%.
The mission of my company is to help people slay self-doubt and limiting beliefs so they can juice up their life’s journey and find Mind-Blowing Happiness™. Limiting beliefs are often born in our environment and upbringing. If we haven’t seen successful entrepreneurs in our families or peer groups, it’s less likely we will choose it as a viable option. If the only entrepreneurs we know are overworked and underfunded, we may see business ownership as undesirable. So, first we must break past our limiting beliefs around entrepreneurship and gain access to successful business founders. Self-doubt is also a huge issue even among the most talented and educated women. Because we live in a society that oppresses and marginalizes us, successful women are often fraught with self-doubt. The numbers are even higher for women of color.
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?
Yes! Women need access to programs, education, powerful networks and funding. The work that I do coaching individuals and providing workshops and coaching packages to corporations helps people get out of their own way by reducing self-doubt and limiting beliefs, but it doesn’t happen overnight. It takes at least 12 weeks to work through the 12 Steps to Mind-Blowing Happiness, but for most, it’s a 6- to 12- month program.
Our society needs to continue to advocate for progressive legislation around women’s rights. Women need full control over our bodies. It would seem to be an obvious thing, but it’s been an ongoing debate for decades now. Women must have access to birth control and family planning in order to maintain their own agency and pursue their aspirations.
Because I worked many years in the banking industry, I would love to see the government team up with banks to reach out to women entrepreneurs. Many times, federal programs are available, but the average person only interacts with the government when it’s time to pay taxes. They don’t have a very good marketing plan. When entrepreneurship succeeds, the country succeeds. It’s a win-win all around.
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?
For women to have equality, we need representation everywhere. We are 50% of the population so we should own 50% of the businesses and be 50% of the CEOs and 50% of Congress. Women bring a different energy to the table. We give birth and give life. We are lauded for our intuitive nature. When women aren’t present, business is out of balance. That imbalance causes global issues from environmental destruction to social injustice and war. A variety of opinions and perspectives are necessary when decisions are made. Women can bring that to the table when we are present, diverse and in numbers.
When a woman becomes a founder, she is empowered to share her vision with the world. There is nothing more beneficial than that, both for the woman and for the world.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?
I think one of the biggest myths about being a founder is that you don’t report to anyone. While you may have a lot of latitude when you work for yourself, you will always have others to report to whether it’s clients, investors, coaches or consultants. I enjoy working with corporations, which are essentially large clients. No matter how your business is structured, it’s incredibly important to maintain a disciplined approach.
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?
Being a founder isn’t for everyone. Unless you inherit a family enterprise, you will likely need thick skin, a healthy dose of courage, perseverance, creativity, passion and access to resources to be a successful founder. It helps if you have a business education or if you can find a business consultant to guide you. I say this because as a founder you will have a lot coming at you. Your friends and family may think you’re crazy. You will have setbacks. You will need vision and branding. And, of course, it all comes back to the issue of seed money. A full-time business is not for the faint of heart. Anyone can launch a side-hustle or hobby business, but to take a business from start-up to profit requires a level of focus, attention and luck that not everyone can attain.
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.)
- Know Your North Star — Your north star is your purpose, your calling, your guiding principles and ultimate destination. You may not have every element together, but you should have an overarching picture of who you want to serve and why. If you don’t have a compelling reason to keep going when times get hard, it’s easy for things to unravel. For me, I’m obsessed with self-actualization and lost potential. It drives me crazy when I think what an amazing world we could have if people just got 20% closer to their potential and used it to serve others. That’s why I’m committed to teaching the 12 Steps to Mind-Blowing Happiness to 12 million people over the next 12 years. It’s part of my quest to help people reach their potential, not only to benefit the people I serve but for the incredible ripple effect when each person that I touch develops personally and professionally and is able to impact more people.
- Work with Passion — Much like knowing your north star, working with love and passion makes your business worth having and worth sacrificing for. It doesn’t mean your business solves a large problem. It might be a small problem that you’re passionate about. Sara Blakely’s Spanx is a great example of a small fix that turned into big business. Even Oprah Winfrey’s dedication to integrity in daytime television is an example of a seemingly small commitment that made all the difference in the world.
- Learn Self-Care — Being a founder can be grueling. You will likely work long hours and burn the candle at both ends. With mounting deadlines and commitments, and the-buck-stops-here responsibility it’s easy to forget to take care of yourself. I’ve found when I put myself last, the whole model collapses. I make time every day to exercise and spend some time in silence or meditation. Whether you take the dog for a walk, go for a run, hit the gym or head over to the yoga studio, find time to tend to your physical body. Take your sleep seriously. Eat nutritious food. Drink plenty of water. Start a gratitude practice. Journaling is a great way to relieve stress and document your business journey. Find ways to nourish yourself that feel right to you.
- Build a Trusted Team — No matter what business route you choose, you will need support. Whether you are hiring employees, finding investors, working with a volunteer advisory board or a team of vendors and consultants, you must choose your team wisely. I find that referrals from people I trust are one of the best ways to find good people. You’ll also need a powerful network. Join organizations that excite you that allow you to connect in meaningful ways. I love working with The Humane League and the Junior League here in Atlanta. I belong to a wonderful professional club called The Gathering Spot. I’ve met incredible people who have values and goals like mine, and we help each other progress.
- Get Creative and Never Stop Learning — No matter how many impressive degrees you might have, the world is constantly evolving. Even if you have decades of experience in your field, the business landscape is everc hanging and you must keep up. When you look at businesses that have gone under, you can often see rigidity as the common thread. Blockbuster, Tower Records and Ringling Brothers are all examples of businesses that didn’t pivot when the time came. Participate in industry events and stay abreast of new information. Read books, blogs and digital media. Listen to radio and podcasts. Watch relevant television. Be creative and contribute your own ideas to your industry and media. The back-and-forth flow of information that you receive and share can be the lifeblood of your business.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I share 20% of the proceeds from 12 Steps to Mind-Blowing Happiness with Black Lives Matter and The Humane League as part of my commitment to social justice, environmental preservation and animal liberation. I sit on the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee for the Junior League of Atlanta. I’m Consulting Editor of African American Issues for Natural Awakenings — Atlanta. I make monthly donations to Kadampa Meditation Center and the American Civil Liberties Union. I want to grow my business so I can do even more to advance social justice initiatives and environmental preservation.
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’m asking people to take the pledge for a juicier life’s journey on my website, TrishAhjelRoberts.com. When people live in purpose and passion, when they are deeply fulfilled and joyful, they don’t want to hurt other people or destroy the natural beauty of our world. By taking the pledge you can make a commitment to living a purposeful and joyful life and uplift others along the way. Plus, you will get inspirational and informative content from me and join an incredible movement to global joy and fulfillment. Who wouldn’t want that?
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.
I’ve been so blessed already to connect with prominent people. Marci Shimoff wrote the foreword for the 2nd edition of 12 Steps to Mind-Blowing Happiness which was just released. Jack Canfield endorsed my work, and Iyanla Vanzant has also offered her help to spread the word. I would love to have lunch with Oprah Winfrey. She has such an incredible influence in the publishing industry and is a big proponent of spirituality, memoirs and personal development — all in my wheelhouse. I imagine us drinking tea and giggling on SuperSoul Sunday. I would also love to spend some time with Trevor Noah. He’s so smart, funny and culturally astute. I want to be a guest on his show when I release my next book about the 5th step to Mind-Blowing Happiness™, extinguishing anger. I imagine us having a thoughtful and hilarious conversation. I adore India Arie’s work. She’s such an inspiring artist. I’d love to collaborate with her to uplift more people through spoken word and music. I’d love to connect with Lisa Nichols and Devi Brown. They are totally different personalities but are both such an inspiration. I’ll round my list out with Michelle Obama. I’m so impressed with her grace under an incredible amount of pressure when she was first lady. Maybe we could encourage folks together on her podcast. I could go on and on, but let’s just call that the starting lineup of my dream team. I can’t think of a more amazing group of people.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.
Thank you. It was my pleasure.