How Did It Come to This?
Our nation has all but thrown away its reputation as leader of the free world for up-and-coming banana republic. Warren Buffett once said that “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that you'll do things differently."
That sentiment seems to be completely lost on our current White House occupant and his team of downward-spiraling misfits. Our current theatre of the absurd actors seem to believe that they're reality show contestants. Somehow, albeit barely, we've survived Trump's first year in Washington.
But the damage already rendered to our democratic institutions, at home, and to our alliances abroad will linger long after he leaves office. Global confidence in U.S. leadership has fallen to a new low, according to an opinion survey conducted across 134 countries.
The U.S. rating is down nearly 20 points from the 48 percent approval rating in the last year of President Barrack Obama's administration, Gallup reported. He evidently believes that a seemingly booming economy vindicates all. It doesn't.
Over the past year, the stock market has boomed, GDP growth has improved and unemployment is at an almost 17-year low. However, job gains were lower than any of the past six years and wage growth was less than last year. Trump inherited an economy that was on a good trajectory with solid job growth and low unemployment.
Trump's own mark on the economy will be based on the long-term impact of his new tax laws. The most significant (economic) questions going forward are how much growth will tax reform generate, and what will Trump do with the various trade agreements such as NAFTA?
These may determine what will likely happen to the U. S. economy and the stock markets over the next few years. Listening to Trump boast about the recent surge of the stock market, one might get the impression that the bull run of 2017 was greater during his first year than any other.
In fact, of the few areas where this president produced higher numbers than his predecessor, most were dubious achievements: the 2017 deficit under Trump climbed to $666 billion, up from $585 billion in 2016.
The national debt crossed the $20 trillion threshold and is projected to rise faster in the future. And America's trade deficit, which candidate Trump famously blamed on poor presidential dealmaking, was worse during Trump's first year than in any of Obama's eight. Like most of Trump's boastful pronouncements, his claims clash with reality.
America's standing across the globe has been greatly diminished by isolationism and vitriolic tweets. Trump insulted the prime minister of Australia, despite that country having stood by our country for nearly a century. He also attacked Germany, our most steadfast ally in continental Europe, leading Chancellor Angela Merkel to tell her countrymen that they can no longer depend on the United States.
But Forbes noted that the stock prices grew at a faster pace during the Great Depression. Even Obama's first year in office saw the broad S&P 500 Index exploding by 23.5 percent compared with last year's 19.4 percent clip. Wage growth also declined after Trump became president.
Trump also insulted France's young leader by expressing support for his right-wing opponent and withdrawing-contrary to U. S. interests-from the Paris climate accords. He even blasted both the British prime minister and mayor of London after a terrorist attack.
If that wasn't bad enough, Trump reaffirmed his well-documented poor character with a disgusting slur against people from El Salvador, Haiti and countries in Africa. Trump's ally-bashing was matched by his elevating the status of dictators and racist organizations. His kowtowing to Putin was as unrelenting as it was disgraceful.
Not much has changed since 2015, when he praised the Kremlin autocrat as a “strong leader" who “gets things done." Trump also praised President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines for a bloody drug war marked by extrajudicial killings. He even saw fit to lavish praise on Turkish autocrat, Recep Tayyip Erdogan for human rights abuses, giving him “high marks" and that it was “a great honor" to meet him.
Donald Trump. Photo courtesy of NBC
Our unrepentant Commander-in-Chief is cementing his legacy...
The most damning legacy of Trump's first year is simply that he has ruled as an unapologetic racist and sexist, incapable of empathy and anything that slightly demonstrates leadership.
He provided comfort to white supremacists after Charlottesville, attacked black athletes to garner cheap political points and fought-tooth-and-nail-to close America's doors to anyone who doesn't look, think or act like his most fervent sycophants.
At least 22 women have accused Trump of sexual misconduct...
In a 2005 recording obtained by The Washington Post before the presidential election, Donald J. Trump talked about in vulgar terms to Billy Bush, then the host of “Access Hollywood," how he can get away with assaulting women, because he's famous.
Bush is no longer employed by “Access Hollywood," and Trump is now the 45th President of The United States.
Following the October 2016 release of the now infamous “Access Hollywood" tape, in which Trump was recorded as boasting about grabbing women's genitals in 2005 many women came forward. Some others made their stories public months before the tape's release, and still others came forward more recently.
Trump has dismissed all of the allegations made against him as “fabricated" and politically motivated accounts pushed by the media and his political adversaries, and promised to sue all of his accusers after the election is over. Although Trump has not made good on his promises to sue these women, one-Summer Zervos-has sued him for defamation.
Summer Zervos (R). Photo courtesy of Business Insider
During the second presidential debate, Anderson Cooper asked Trump point blank whether he had either kissed women-without consent-or had groped them. Trump asserted that “nobody has more respect for women," Cooper persisted, “Have you ever done those things?" Trump denied that he had, saying: “No, I have not."
And yet, in Trump's own words, he reveals an entirely different narrative of repulsive behavior. During an April 2005 interview with radio host Howard Stern, he said that he regularly walked into contestants' dressing rooms on the beauty pageants he owned while women were not dressed: "I'll go backstage before a show and everyone's getting dressed and ready and everything else. And you know, no men are anywhere. And I'm allowed to go in because I'm the owner of the pageant," he said. "You know they're standing there with no clothes. And you see these incredible-looking women. And so I sort of get away with things like that." Despite all of Trump's denials, 50 percent of voters-59 percent of women and 41 percent of men-surveyed in a Quinnipiac poll released December 19 think the president should resign as a result of the sexual misconduct allegations against him.
One accuser, Samantha Holvey, who recently spoke out again about her experience with Trump as a Miss USA pageant contestant, said that while his election was painful, she and others see the #MeToo movement as an opportunity to “try round two." At least 22 women have accused President Trump of sexual misconduct between the 1970s and 2013...let that sink in for a moment. He has consistently denied all of the allegations, calling the women “liars." But if there's one common theme, when it comes to Trump, it's that he has a consistent pattern for sexual misconduct and then denying it.
Once again, the question begs asking, how did it come to this?
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.