Founder: Ashley M. Williams, CEO
Date Founded: 2015
Industry: Marketing and Media
It’s Women’s History Month and although the focus is on women, this article is also geared towards men, who play an important role in supporting the women in their lives! I have two questions to ask you:
- If you could be anything, what would you be?
- And if you could do anything, what would you do?
Connecting who it is you aspire to be with what it is you aspire to do is possible. Today, I want to encourage my fellow founders of the power you have within you. You can choose to tap into this ability at any time. You can make the switch and break free of the limiting beliefs that society or even you have placed upon yourself.
It’s truly time for us to shatter the glass ceiling that seems to hinder us from fully breaking into who we were always called to be.
I have always wholeheartedly believed, as Richard Bach once stated that, “You are never given a dream without also being given the power to make it true.” Yet as a young tech entrepreneur, I know that setting out to fulfill our big, audacious dreams is often no easy feat.
You have to deal with some naysayers, some haters, some discouragers, some doubters and just the “reality” of navigating how to do what you aspire to do. On top of all this you may even have to deal with your own inner “critic”; “sabotager”; and “mastermind of limiting beliefs”. It’s easy to simply let any of these discourage you from moving forward. It’s easy to just say “woe is me” and to let every kind of attack, setback, and negative person stop you from moving forward in connecting who it is you aspire to be with what it is you aspire to do.
Today, I want to encourage my fellow founders of the power you have within you. You can choose to tap into this ambitious power of possibility within you at any time. You can make the switch and break free of the limiting beliefs that society or even you have placed upon yourself.
Female founders, it’s especially time for us to shatter the glass ceiling on the limits that society has often placed on us or made us believe. It is time for us to become everything that we have always aspired to be and to do everything that we have always aspired to do. It’s time for us to rise up and believe in ourselves!
So, how can we break free of our own limiting beliefs?
Here are five pieces of advice from my personal learnings in building RIZZARR that parallel five quotes from one of my favorite entrepreneurs, CoCo Chanel.
As you read each of these and even after reading them, it is imperative that you continue to have the ideal version of who you hope to be and what it is that you hope to do during your life at the forefront of your mind. In doing so, you will begin to take steps and actions that will ultimately get you there.
I hope these five pieces of advice will empower you to set the world on fire with your passions, your fortitude, and the great power that lies within you.
1. Bet On Yourself
You have a responsibility to become everything that you could possibly be while you are on this Earth. That means you should embrace everything about you that makes you who you are. Do not feel as though you have to “change” yourself to fit any kind of “mold.”
As you move forward in your uniqueness, you are also going to have to bet on yourself and believe in yourself, even when no one else does at times. And that’s ok because in the end, your inner power alone can move mountains, bringing in the resources, the supporters, and everything that you need to make your vision a reality.
Shedding light on my own personal examples of betting on myself, I left my journalism career to start my company. All I had was an inner-knowing, belief in something greater than myself to help get me through, and a second-place win that my team received in a recent Harvard University competition. That’s it.
Starting RIZZARR felt like I was literally a deer seeing headlights. I was excited for all of the possibilities that could come from this journey, but I had no idea what I was in for. However, what I did have, was a belief in myself. I was willing to leave a comfortable job and bet on myself – I knew I had the gumption, the tenacity, and the will to make it work.
To help ensure my success, or at least, to add a little cushion to the situation, I enrolled in an entrepreneurship bootcamp that was being offered by the government via a local community college in Virginia, which is the state that I resided in at the time of my big leap. From there, I got RIZZARR incorporated, got its FEIN, opened a bank account, and made an action list of all the things that I thought I needed to do based on research that I have done about starting a company. I also sometimes just sat with myself and just asked my Creator what I needed to know and what I needed to do. This also helped to guide me in the right direction.
When I first set out to start RIZZARR, I literally had no idea what I was doing. But again, I believed in myself and I bet on myself. I just kept pushing forward to figure it out. And luckily, any time I was off course, someone along my path let me know or a situation revealed it to me. I am sure the same will happen for you. Now, you just have to get started. I also suggest trying to see if you can find a kind of incubator, small business center, or entrepreneurship bootcamp within your area to help you with moving forward.
2. Step Out Of Your Comfort Zone
Someone once said great things are not born in comfort zones and that is so true! The only way to make things happen is to push your own personal limits and to push outside of the limits of what has been done.
Becoming who you are will feel VERY uncomfortable. But think about it, you are doing something you’ve never done and you are becoming someone who you’ve never been, so in all honesty, it should feel VERY uncomfortable. Don’t let anxiety, fear, or uncertainty stop you. Be brave. I have found that the more I push myself past my fear, the greater things become available and the more I reach goals that I once dreamed about.
Reflecting on my journey in building RIZZARR, there is nothing about starting a company that is comfortable – whether it be from navigating building your tech platform, to working on your financials, to recruiting people and leading your team or to acquiring customers and working with them… nothing is comfortable. You just have to throw yourself all in and learn as you go. That’s how everyone does it. Entrepreneurship is like an experiment. You move forward with one hypothesis and if that doesn’t work, you try another until what you are seeking to do works.
As much as experiments can be fun, I have often found that they can cause you to second-guess yourself in the process.
For me, one of the most uncomfortable parts about building RIZZARR was learning to trust myself. And unfortunately, the research often shows that we as women do this A LOT. I think building a company definitely teaches you a lot about your confidence and trusting your inner-wisdom and intuition.
Earlier in my journey, I would constantly seek advice but then often realized my first thought about what to do had actually been the right one. Consequently, the more I doubted myself or did not act on my intuition, the more regrets I had later.
Ground yourself on why you started your company in the first place and what you know to be true about what you are solving more than anyone else. You should not feel as if you need to get validation from people; instead, just trust yourself and move forward. Eventually, you often will prove people wrong and you will realize just how powerful your intuition really is.
I am so thankful that I have begun this unique journey of having a balance of being humble yet having self-assured and self-trust. To help empower me in building these character traits, I have recently begun working a lot more with business coaches who have helped me to lean into trusting my intuition more, instead of always seeking advice or validating.
Furthermore, I learned that as a leader, you have to listen to your intuition even more because you often have more insights into things than the masses. That’s what truly being a leader is all about – trusting yourself and trusting where you are leading the team.
3. Be Willing To Make The Necessary Sacrifices
You only get this one life, so make it worthwhile. Make sure your life stands for something and mean something. Be willing to make sacrifices to make your dreams become a reality.
Yes, these sacrifices will push you beyond your limits and will scare you at times. They may also make you feel sad or wonder if it will be all worth it in the end. But trust me, the sacrifices are needed to get you to where you aspire to be. Nothing worthwhile in life ever comes for free or is easy; whether you have to give up your time, money, sleep, or more, fulfilling your dreams will be a sacrifice. But it’s all a part of the journey to get you to where you hope to be.
The last few years of my company journey has been a constant flow of making sacrifices, or as I now say “choices.” It’s not like I was given millions of dollars in capital to start my company, so I made the “choice” as I was planning to leave journalism, to get a side job on the weekends. Yes, it was not ideal to do in my twenties, especially being that I was near D.C. and I could have had a ton of fun with my friends on the weekends, but I knew what I wanted. I knew what I was aiming to do.
After I left the journalism industry and my side job, I was able to raise money from family, which helped a lot. But as I continued building RIZZARR, it took much longer than I anticipated to figure out our business model, to get customers and to get investors. I made the “choice” to get another side job to make ends meet.
At any point during this whole thing, I knew and wholeheartedly believed that I could easily walk away from this entire situation and go back to getting a comfortable job in journalism especially with the entrepreneurial experiences that I had acquired up until that point.
But I didn’t.
I made the “choice” to continue on my path, believing that eventually everything would work out. And what happened? One of those jobs ended up turning into RIZZARR’s first large enterprise contract. This contract enabled me to work on RIZZARR full-time!
4. Prepare Yourself – Mentally
Throughout all of the trials and tribulations that you will go through as you kick through the glass ceiling, you have to consistently be your greatest cheerleader.
It’s also important to know that throughout everything you’re going through your character is being shaped and your mindset is being reshaped. With these, you may have to distance yourself from people who no longer add or push you to where you are trying to go. You will also have to distance yourself from those who make you feel incapable. And that’s ok. Not everyone can fit on the plane to where you are traveling and not every belief that you once had can fit on that plane, either. Release and let them go as you prepare yourself for where you are aspiring to be.
When I worked in journalism, I often read about the lack of minorities in tech and the lack of minorities leading companies. I also read about how hard it was for them to raise funding. Reading it is one thing; experiencing it, is quite another.
Being a woman, particularly a woman of color, navigating entrepreneurship has definitely opened my eyes to why the dynamics of the business world are the way that they are for minorities and women – particularly women of color. I can’t tell you the number of subtle suggestions or comments made to me (often from white males) how I can’t do certain things or I am incapable. For example, some remarks I heard at various points in the company included: “I would never be good at sales”; another “I should just settle where I am and not worry about building a big company…I did good so far and should feel proud of just that”; or another even suggesting that “I might make more headway if I got a partner” (I would then be introduced to a white male). Excuse my language but WTF?!
I have also had the other subtle remarks like, “Who’s been your co-founder?,” as if suggesting that to do all that I have done, I must have had a co-founder. I digress.
My point is discrimination and sexism are real – particularly in the business world. This is often adding to why things are the way that they are. We need more individuals to change the dynamics. We need more people to have the courage to encourage minorities and women – particularly women of color and to offer genuine mentorship – providing them with insightful guidance, mentorship, or resources to help them get to the next level of their business. If this happened more and if more people advocated for these groups during investor pitches or to potential customers or in a behind closed doors meeting, things would drastically change. I guarantee it.
These moments that I experienced did hurt, but I am determined to keep pushing forward. At this point, making RIZZARR successful is TRULY not about me (not that it ever was), but it is even more about the lives of women of color who I hope to impact once my company exits, knowing all that they may endure and wanting to help them through that journey – particularly as an investor in their company.
I hope that as the community reads this article, more doors will be open for minorities and women – particularly women of color.
I also hope that we will all be more compassionate and be more aware of what we are saying, knowing that it truly does make an impact on a life.
5. And Finally, Just Go For It And Keep Fighting For It
I know we can have moments in which we question if we are enough, especially when we encounter setbacks, but we must stop this. We must know we are enough and have always been.
Be ambitious and courageous enough to realize your own truth. I have realized that everything that I have encountered throughout my life has equipped me for running and growing this business. I am enough. I am founder/company/market…fit.
Building a company is a marathon, not a sprint. It is full of crazy roller coaster rides, in which some are scarier than what you may imagine. But embrace them knowing that you are capable and enough. You have everything within you needed to push forward.
Never give up the fight within you until you see your vision come to pass. Trust me, you will be so happy that you trusted your intuition, you had the courage to move forward and you proved yourself, to yourself.
I hope this encouraged you and empowered you to never lose sight of your dreams and to truly believe that all things are possible.
You CAN create the life of your dreams. Never let anyone or anything tell you otherwise!
Wishing you all the best as you positively impact our world now and for generations to come!