Self 06 November 2018
Three months on the road changes a person. That's fine. That's expected. What I didn't know when I packed my bike, Voodoo—the world's fastest production bike—and headed off into the unknown for three months, was just how much it would change me.
Only a week into my epic journey, Voodoo and I were getting more and more comfortable with each other. Every bike has their own personality, and I was learning to love hers. She loved to push the limits, to power into corners and accelerate out of them. She loved the challenge of tight, torturous switchbacks and was never happier than when she was traveling at full throttle. Kind of like her owner.
My relationship with Voodoo was settling into a rhythm. However, my relationship with myself was still erratic. I was looking forward to this journey to heal the emptiness I was feeling inside. But the journey wasn't making my healing easy, exactly. It was often a journey of contrasts—one day I felt high on freedom and adrenaline, the next I dived deep into frustration and confusion. My emotions were a continual roller coaster as I tried to make sense of everything I was learning.
Maintaining my hard-won serenity was like trying to hold custard. I could hold it for a moment, but before I knew what was happening, it would slip through my fingers.
On day six, I rolled into Banff National Park and felt a precious sense of serenity. But by the next morning I was restless, disoriented, and more than a little petulant. The start of my day hadn't gone to plan—I'd had a latte spilled on me (vegans hate smelling of milk!), my meditation had been rained out, and my run had been nixed because of the threat of bears. And so, in one of the most awe-inspiringly beautiful places in the world, I was sulky, sullen and surly. How had that change happened so quickly?
Nursing a cup of black hot water which vaguely passed for coffee, I opened the notebook of quotes and affirmations I'd written before I'd left, hoping they'd inspire me on my journey of change. My journal fell open to just what I needed to see— a gem I had heard from my favorite Zen master, WuDe:
A lot of suffering comes from wanting to be what is not, and wanting not to be what is.
Now that was a slap, and it was just what this miserable, grouchy diva needed to hear—although I had to read it a few times to really work it out. To me, it meant that we spend so much of our lives wanting things to be different instead of truly appreciating the joy and beauty we already have.
The message struck me to my core, as did the realization that my frustration had mainly been caused by my inability to control situations. It was shocking to realize I actually couldn't control everything that happened around me. However, I could control how I reacted to it. I could choose to be bad-tempered in the face of first-world adversity, or I could choose to accept the situation and still find joy in the day.
There are lightning-bolt moments in your life where messages are shocked into you, and there are other moments where the knowledge just seeps in. Like an intravenous drip, the lessons were slowly starting to trickle through. About time!
Consciously Finding Gratitude Through Journaling
In this place of incredible beauty, I thought about gratitude; instead of complaining, how about I be thankful? I'd heard that even your worst day changes with gratitude. It was worth a shot. So I started to write.
It was hard at first, but after about ten minutes—once I'd been grateful for the obvious—the faucet opened and everything flowed out. I couldn't stop with just writing. The power and emotion were so strong that I texted my family and friends, thanking them for being in my life and telling them how much they mean to me. I poured my heart out and got beautiful messages back from all of them—including one from my business coach. His reply read, “Thanks. That's great...but who is this?" I'd forgotten I was unidentifiable on my cheap Canadian SIM card. Even better! There's nothing like the power of anonymous gratitude.
In an unusual place of deep peace, I loaded a feisty Voodoo, and together we made the short, lazy 60 km ride to Lake Louise, which was perfectly timed for me to squeeze in a hike up into the glacier before nightfall.
Without a doubt, Lake Louise is another one of the most beautiful places in the world. With its impossibly serene turquoise lake encased by proud, imposing mountains and spectacular glaciers, it literally takes your breath away. And that was just what I needed—to be completely immersed in spectacular nature so my happy heart could continue singing.
That was the plan. Sadly, the old competitive warrior in me had other ideas. Despite hiking amidst incredible forest beauty—crystal blue waterfalls, sparkling streams, tiny, brightly colored wildflowers—I saw virtually none of it.
Old Competitive Habits Die Hard… But They Do Die
I couldn't be content with a peaceful, gentle walk. Instead, I needed to turn my hike into a speed march where the biggest competition was myself. I powered up the side of the glacier—never missing a beat, pushing at breakneck speed, overtaking everyone in my way to get to the top as fast as I could. I saw nothing but my own feet all the way up.
With a lemongrass tea warming my hands, I sat in the sun on the veranda of a tiny wooden tea house perched at the top of the ridge. I'd annihilated everything and everyone in my path. As the cool breeze started to dry the sweat on my back and chill my bones, I sat in bewilderment. What the hell was that all about? What is wrong with me? I couldn't even hike in one of the most beautiful places in the world without it becoming a competition. It's bad enough that I need validation from other people to feel good. But why the continual need to compete with myself? What was I trying to prove?
I had no answers. I decided I wasn't going to leave the tea house until I'd found them. Eventually, the cold and the realization that mentally smacking myself wasn't a good option either forced me back down the glacier.
Still, five cups of tea had shown me something: I might not have the answers, but the first step in finding them was to see myself as I truly was. I didn't necessarily like who I saw at that tea house. But in recognizing that competitive warrior, I knew I could change her. Gradually, with time, patience, and kindness.
I had plenty of time left in my helmet to make those changes, but today, the self-judgment had to stop. Heading down the glacier was a very different story. I slowed to a crawl. I stood mesmerized by the intricate beauty of tiny flowers. I smelt the richness of the damp, moist earth. I felt the cool breeze on my skin. I listened to the small gurgling stream as I walked slowly beside it. And I remembered—as I'd forgotten so many times already on this trip—it's about the journey, not the destination.
It wouldn't be the last reminder I'd need, but at that moment, it was enough. As I tucked Voodoo up for the night, I smiled. I was getting better at holding on to the custard!
13 AugustFresh Voices
Sweaty Palms & Weak Responses
Early spring 2018, I walked into the building of a startup accelerator program I had been accepted into. Armed with only confidence and a genius idea, I was eager to start level one. I had no idea of what to expect, but I knew I needed help. Somehow with life's journey of twists and turns, this former successful event planner was now about to blindly walk into the tech industry and tackle on a problem that too many women entrepreneurs had faced.
I sat directly across from the program founders, smiling ear to ear as I explained the then concept for HerHeadquarters. Underneath the table, I rubbed my sweaty palms on my pants, the anxiousness and excitement was getting the best of me. I rambled on and on about the future collaborating app for women entrepreneurs and all the features it would have. They finally stopped me, asking the one question I had never been asked before, "how do you know your target audience even wants this product?".
Taken back by the question, I responded, "I just know". The question was powerful, but my response was weak. While passionate and eager, I was unprepared and naively ready to commit to building a platform when I had no idea if anyone wanted it. They assigned me with the task of validating the need for the platform first. The months to follow were eye-opening and frustrating, but planted seeds for the knowledge that would later build the foundation for HerHeadquarters. I spent months researching and validating through hundreds of surveys, interviews, and focus groups.
I was dedicated to knowing and understanding the needs and challenges of my audience. I knew early on that having a national collaborating app for women entrepreneurs would mean that I'd need to get feedback from women all across the country. I repeatedly put myself on the line by reaching out to strangers, asking them to speak with me. While many took the time to complete a survey and participate in a phone interview, there were some who ignored me, some asked what was in it for them, and a few suggested that I was wasting my time in general. They didn't need another "just for women" platform just because it was trending.
I hadn't expected pushback, specifically from the women I genuinely wanted to serve. I became irritated. Just because HerHeadquarters didn't resonate with them, doesn't mean that another woman wouldn't find value in the platform and love it. I felt frustrated that the very women I was trying to support were the ones telling me to quit. I struggled with not taking things personally.
I hadn't expected pushback, specifically from the women I genuinely wanted to serve.
The Validation, The Neglect, The Data, and The Irony
The more women I talked to, the more the need for my product was validated. The majority of women entrepreneurs in the industries I was targeting did collaborate. An even higher number of women experienced several obstacles in securing those collaborations and yes, they wanted easier access to high quality brand partnerships.
I didn't just want to launch an app. I wanted to change the image of women who collaborated and adjust the narrative of these women. I was excited to introduce a new technology product that would change the way women secured valuable, rewarding products. I couldn't believe that despite that rising number of women-owned businesses launching, there was no tool catered to them allowing them to grow their business even faster. This demographic had been neglected for too long.
I hadn't just validated the need for the future platform, but I gained valuable data that could be used as leverage. Ironically, armed with confidence, a genius idea, and data to support the need for the platform, I felt stuck. The next steps were to begin designing a prototype, I lacked the skillsets to do it myself and the funding to hire someone else to do it.
I Desperately Need You and Your services, but I'm Broke
I found myself having to put myself out there again, allowing myself to be vulnerable and ask for help. I eventually stumbled across Bianca, a talented UX/UI designer. After coming across her profile online and reaching out, we agreed to meet for a happy hour. The question I had been asked months prior by the founders of my accelerator program came up again, "how do you know your target audience even wants this product?".
It was like déjà vu, the sweaty palms under the table reemerged and the ear to ear smile as I talked about HerHeadquarters, only this time, I had data. I proudly showed Bianca my research: the list of women from across the country I talked to that supported that not only was this platform solving a problem they had, but it's a product that they'd use and pay for.
I remember my confidence dropping as my transparency came into the conversation. How do you tell someone "I desperately need you and your services, but I'm broke?". I told her that I was stuck, that I needed to move forward with design, but that I didn't have the money to make it happen. Bianca respected my honesty, loved the vision of HerHeadquarters, but mostly importantly the data sold her. She believed in me, she believed in the product, and knew that it would attract investors.
From Paper to Digital
We reached a payment agreed where Bianca would be paid in full once HerHeadquarters received its first investment deal. The next few months were an all-time high for me. Seeing an idea that once floated around in my head make its way to paper, then transform into a digital prototype is was one of the highlights of this journey. Shortly after, we began user testing, making further adjustments based off of feedback.
The further along HerHeadquarters became, the more traction we made. Women entrepreneurs across the U.S. were signing up for early access to the app, we were catching investor's attention, and securing brand partnerships all before we had a launched product. The closer we got to launching, the scarier it was. People who only had a surface value introduction to HerHeadquarters put us in the same category of other platforms or brands catering to women, even if we were completely unrelated, they just heard "for women". I felt consistent pressure, most of which was self-applied, but I still felt it.
I became obsessed with all things HerHeadquarters. My biggest fear was launching and disappointing my users. With a national target audience, a nonexistent marketing budget, and many misconceptions regarding collaborating, I didn't know how to introduce this new brand in a way that distinctly made it clear who were targeting and who we were different from.
I second guessed myself all the time.
A 'Submit' button has never in life been more intimidating. In May 2019, HerHeadquarters was submitted to the Apple and Google play stores and released to women entrepreneurs in select U.S. cities. We've consistently grown our user base and seen amazing collaborations take place. I've grow and learned valuable lessons about myself personally and as a leader. This experience has taught me to trust my journey, trust my hard work, and always let honesty and integrity lead me. I had to give myself permission to make mistakes and not beat myself up about it.
I learned that a hundred "no's" is better than one "yes" from an unfit partner. The most valuable thing that I've learned is keeping my users first. Their feedback, their challenges, and suggestions are valuable and set the pace for the future of HerHeadquarters, as a product and a company. I consider it an honor to serve and cater to one of the most neglected markets in the industry.