Lindsay Coke, 32
Trainer/Motivator/Amateur Boxer/Pilates Instructor
Lindsay Coke is the embodiment of female strength. Known as the “boxing blonde,” Coke is also a certified pilates instructor and Lululemon ambassador with a mission to empower women. Although she initially faced criticism about her career path, she responded by doing what she does best - fighting back. “Self accepting and esteem are the most valuable tools any person could ever possess,” says Coke. “This is your life.”
1. What made you choose this career path? What has been your greatest achievement?
I don’t know that I chose this career path as much as it chose me. I have always been an active human and some may say, kind of bossy. I've played sports and been on teams for a majority of my life. I see now that it was only natural for me to find a career path that incorporated my love for movement, my leadership skills, and a work uniform made mostly of elastic. I come from an extremely small family, and I truly believe that I have made it a mission to create that family energy and tribe mentality through my work. I am blessed to not only get to be a teacher for a living but also a student for life.
2. What’s the biggest criticism/stereotype/judgement you’ve faced in your career?
Girls aren’t tough enough to be in the boxing world. Ha! We have been fighters since birth!!! Every single person in this world is a fighter of some kind, either for something, against something, or for survival. Now that boxing is becoming more and more popular there are people out there trying regulate who’s in or out. That is probably why I am so partial to the sport, because it’s primal. It’s not about making the team or not, it’s about knowing how to tap into your instincts and use yourself accordingly in any situation. To me…if you’re breathing, you’re fighting.
"Every single person in this world is a fighter of some kind, either for something, against something, or for survival."
3. What was the hardest part of overcoming this negativity? Do you have an anecdote you can share?
I have always been the shortest person on the team, the kid in the front row of the school pictures, and the easiest arm rest for those over 5’9. I am big person in a little person’s body. I was told I wasn’t a strong runner because I didn’t have a “runners body”. I was treated as a slow pack mule doing manual labor, only ever getting to admire those that were considered the race horses.
4. How did you #SWAAYthenarrative? What was the reaction by those who told you you “couldn’t” do it?
I let swaaying BE my narrative. Tell me I won’t or I can’t and it's like putting jet fuel in my tank. I thrive off swaying haters and naysayers. "Running just isn’t in your DNA”, I was told. Well not only do I have short little “non runner” legs, but they are pretty deviant. They had no problem carrying me 26.2 miles in 4 hours and 20 minutes for the 2016 LA marathon. I have discovered that the ones that want to see you fall are usually the ones that are at the bottom of the stairs afraid to take the first step.
After I finished the race, I could see that the doubt and judgment that was once pointed in my direction is truly just a personal reflection of the way they feel about themselves. Self accepting and esteem are the most valuable tools any person could ever possess.
5. What’s your number one piece of advice to women discouraged by preconceived notions and society’s limitations?
Be your #1 fan. Don’t hold that space for someone else. We are not defined by how others experience us.
This is your life, live it out loud, unapologetically. I will leave you with one of my all time favorite quotes: “A successful person is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks that others have thrown at him or her."
"I have discovered that the ones that want to see you fall are usually the ones that are at the bottom of the stairs afraid to take the first step."
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.