History warns us that the media have been too late in the past to react to an autocratic movement or a despotic leadership. The press was censored with little to no resistance under Hitler, Stalin and Mussolini's movements and in astonishingly quick fashion. The press has crumbled under autocracy, overtaken by propaganda and become mouthpieces for leaders. It has failed in the past, absurdly, to do its job and serve its purpose - and we're painfully aware of the consequences of a biased, politically driven press.
President Trump's first week was not going to plan before it even started. The rumblings of potential headcounts for the women's marches overshadowed his seemingly puny inauguration. Mourning for the loss of Obama from the oval weighed heavy on social media, and that leering, ludicrous Moscow debacle still lingered around the edges of the media. There was no excitement, no international awe at the impending swearing in - just anger, fear, consternation and rebellion.
"When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world" -John Muir pic.twitter.com/AJYOGAVeu8
— JohnMuirNHS (@JohnMuirNPS) January 27, 2017
His reaction was, as predicted, immense. Bold, brash misogyny littered newsfeeds for the entire week - an outpouring of grief from the rest of the world. What have you done?
The marches did little to deter from his agenda; he didn't listen, see, nor did he care about anything emboldened on the hundreds of thousands of signs made to get his attention. And when one of his underling agencies inflamed him with rage on his favourite social platform for verbosity - gag orders were sent down from the oval.
The horrifying word that was rattled around in the wake of his election and his tirade against the media became a reality last week when he imposed a gag order on some of his governmental agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency(EPA) among others, who have been sceptical of the new president since his appointment of Scott Pruit to leader of the agency.
The National Parks Service twitter was deactivated after they retweeted the picture that has gone viral indicating the major difference between Obama's inauguration and Trump's, a difference he vehemently denied in a cringey statement made at the C.I.A.
NPR suggest that these accounts could be a logical way to oppose media blackouts, and indeed they're right. Where history indicates people were too slow to react to a potential autocrat and report on their malice or wayward political approach - these rogue twitter accounts pre-empt what has the potential to become a very angry, insolent and ignorant presidency.
Instead of the media having to plunge itself into what during the wars became known as 'The Underground' press, the internet - social media and other outlets allow for a new type of freedom that cannot be reduced to a meagre newsletter handed out through rebel channels.
If this past week has proven anything it's that the president continues to align himself with those names we dare mention above, that have haunted history since the beginning of the last century, and does not look like stopping. His ascendancy to power bares a striking and unnerving resemblance to that of the Nazi party in the 1930's backed by racism, fear and a discontent with a 'weak' government(and some foreign governmental help). The anti-semitism that pervaded Adolf Hitler's campaign is near replicated in the beginning of his immigration policy implemented this past week. His next step would have been to censor the media and place a trusted adviser to take over and begin impugning the press with propaganda.
Therein lies the major difference between the 1930's and now.
You cannot shut down the New York Times or silence the Washington Post - you cannot close Twitter or Facebook, and you most certainly cannot eradicate internet sites like Buzzfeed or Mashable. They are too large, too prevalent, the presidency only gets you so far.
What you can do — and what is futile — creating an even bigger resistance, is shut down these minor accounts, only to serve the purpose of cutting the head off a monster similar to Fluffy from Harry Potter. Another will always come up in its place.
Nazi Propaganda Chief Goebbels.
Courtesy of New Statesman
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.