We’re excited to present you with a very special Q&A session with Leslie Wong, a graduate of 1871’s WiSTEM program and Founder and CEO of Burgundy Fox, and Brady Campbell, VP of Strategy and Development at Galvanize. In this interview, the two share their thoughts and takeaways on community, mentorship, diversity, and entrepreneurship.
Leslie Wong is the Founder and CEO of Burgundy Fox, which curates intimate apparel for women of all sizes.
- Entrepreneurs often talk about the value of community because it’s such an important factor to building a strong business, brand, or product. Can you tell us what you’ve learned about community?
Wong: Fostering a community of quality individuals around you is important both in the short term and the long term. As you weave your career, you just never know when you'll be in a position to help someone or when they will help you. That being said, you shouldn’t keep score -- just focus on helping other people. Be mindful of the community you build. Surround yourself with people who give you energy, rather than take it away. Be a student and ask questions of people with more experience than you and follow-up when good things happen as a result of their advice.
Campbell: One of our core values at Galvanize is to be a pineapple, because pineapples are the international symbol of hospitality. Being a pineapple means that you are going to be opening, welcoming, and gracious in terms of how you welcome people into your home. We truly view the Galvanize campuses as a home that we welcome people into. That being said, there’s also a lot of power in having similar aspirations, skill sets, and challenges, and so we’ve really curated a community that’s focused on technology and building technology platforms.
- That’s absolutely true, especially on a tactical level -- sharing knowledge creates bonds and also helps you grow your business. Speaking of shared knowledge, what are your thoughts on mentorship?
Wong: Finding a mentor isn't fast or easy, because it must be mutually beneficial. The mentor should not only be experienced but also passionate about the problems the mentee is solving. It helps to look for mentors that have past experience in the industry you're working in -- maybe a company that had a successful exit, or someone who was early in a business model similar to yours. The mentor's value will be greater, and they’ll feel energized about working on something new and exciting in their area of expertise. Lastly, it can't be forced. Similar to finding a partner, personalities matter and finding the right mentor relationship can take time. You should never consider your search for a mentor ‘done.’ Be open to meeting with several potential mentors at various points in your life and business.
Campbell: Our mentorship program is one of our most powerful assets. We’ve seen mentors become board members, and we’ve seen mentors acquire companies they’ve had relationships with; so I think that when you build a business community with the right expectations and people, everyone stands to benefit. And then, from personal experience, I would say that mentorship is incredibly valuable. I was an events manager before I joined Galvanize and I had never worked in tech before. There was a really steep learning curve and I’d find myself asking questions such as ‘what does venture capital look like?’ I eventually came across an article about building your own ‘personal board of advisors’ and applied that thinking at Galvanize, where I’ve had a great group of leaders and support, and I think that mindset has helped me learn a lot. As a founder or entrepreneur, you should always be looking for more opportunities to learn, more people to learn from, and build out your own ‘personal board of advisors.’
- As they say, knowledge is power. Let’s shift gears for a second as International Women’s Day is coming up on March 8th. What are your views on diversity and representation, especially in industries where women are underrepresented like the tech community?
Campbell: It is very real, but I appreciate the fact that this conversation is becoming more and more comfortable. Today, I think we have a lot more allies and I think there’s a lot more progress in terms of tackling this issue. I think, from an industry-specific perspective, that women and minorities have more access now to things like VC funds. It’s still strange for me sometimes when I visit a VC’s website and you look at their portfolio and it’s just male founder after male founder. When I see that, I start to think about how we can support more women and what kind of initiatives we can take to foster equal representation. That’s a growing conversation that everyone is having in the industry and because of that, there’s just a huge opportunity right now to help one another.
Wong: While there is an increased emphasis on fostering more diverse environments in business and tech, I know we have a long way to go. We should be thinking about how to create inclusive communities -- not just diverse communities. I'd like to see a shift in business where companies want diverse workforces because they know it's better business and not because it's part of their corporate communication strategy. While claiming more seats at the table is a step in the right direction, I think we can go beyond 'check marks' to create processes within our culture that elevate the voices and ideas of underrepresented groups. Creating community, encouraging open dialogue, and mentoring are all tools we can all use to encourage equal representation in the business world.
- That’s excellent advice -- the three tools you mentioned are all vital for equal representation. That actually leads into our next question; as an entrepreneur, what advice do you have for other entrepreneurs? What are some of the things that make a successful entrepreneur?
Campbell: It sounds so simple, but you basically just have to make a decision and try. You are doing this because you’re solving a problem that no one else has tried to solve before and that usually means that there’s no road map and no right or wrong answer. You’re going to make the wrong decisions from time to time and that’s okay -- if you’re excited enough about the company that you’re building then you should be excited enough about the decisions that you make to move it forward. There are going to be choices that you make that may backfire on you in the future but that’s okay because you’re learning from it and you’re actually laying the path for someone else to learn from your mistakes as well. If you want to be a successful entrepreneur then you have to make decisions, course correct when necessary, and not beat yourself up over your mistakes. Keep in mind that there are plenty of people who have gone before you and have experienced the same things that you have -- you are definitely not alone in your struggles and you only grow stronger with each decision that you make.
Wong: First, I would say don't do it alone. This doesn't necessarily mean you need to go build a team or hire a co-founder, although both can certainly help. One of the most daunting aspects about starting a business is the feeling that you're doing it alone without support. Even if you have supportive family and friends, you should still consider joining a community of other entrepreneurs where you can find tactical and emotional support. Second, Focus on prioritization. Time and energy are your most important resources, so make sure you're using them wisely. One of the most important things you can do as an entrepreneur is to keep your eyes on what’s important rather than getting distracted by busy work. I like to bullet journal, time block, and use Google's goal mapping process called OKRs to help prioritize work. Third, you don't want lose sight of your ‘why.’ It can be easy to forget why you started, when you're focused on things like revenue and churn. Running a business is tough, and you will lose inspiration and energy at times. As a consumer brand, I need inspiration to produce creative content that cuts through the noise. Thinking about your why will not only inspire you again, but it will help you focus on the value you are trying to create for your market. For customers, investors, and yourself, you've got to zero-in on your ‘why. ‘
And then, the three common attributes I find in successful entrepreneurs are self-awareness, which is knowing your weaknesses and strengths; grit, which is the mental toughness to fall down, get up and continue; and last but certainly not least, humility, which is your willingness to get into the trenches and try new things -- despite the fear of imperfection or looking stupid.