Mandela Schumacher-Hodge, Founder of The Startup Couch

Prioritizing Your Inner Voice

Do you remember the moment when you said, I have to pursue this dream and start my own business?

Yes, I remember it exactly. It was a very deliberate decision on my part. The last company I worked for was acquired this past spring, which forced me to make a decision about what I would do next. I immediately realized I had four options: 1. move over to the new parent organization, 2. move to another company entirely, 3. start my own project, or 4. take some time off. I had been living the fast-paced, work around-the-clock “startup lifestyle” for the past four years, and I decided it’d be best to do something I hadn’t done since I entered the professional world eight years ago: take some time off.

So I saved up some money and spent the next two months, reflecting, researching, traveling, and blogging. I put myself on a rigorous schedule to post three new blogs a week, and I focused my content on the private struggles I personally experienced as a first-time startup founder, as well as what I’ve seen other founders go through. As I shared my stories and advice, increasingly more people began to read them and express interest (I had 20K hits the first month). I then conducted a few surveys to dive deeper into people’s interests around this topic, and based off the small data sample I collected, I decided to make my blogging more official.

Fortunately for me, my sister Marisha, was looking to flex her web development skills, so we locked arms and together launched The Startup Couch on September 10th. It’s only been operating for a little over three weeks, and we’ve already received thousands of visitors, which lets us know we’re starting to create something that people want. But just as our target audience (startup founders) knows all too well, creating a scalable and sustainable operation won’t be easy. We know this and are looking forward to “eating our own dog food” by enacting lean operations, testing small and often, and utilizing our data to help inform our strategy.

What is next for you and your business in 2016?

The Startup Couch is all about “keeping it real.” In the world of startups, there’s a lot of facade, shaming, and tough private struggles many founders go through. It’s difficult for anyone to handle. I know this because I’ve lived it as a previous startup founder, and I’ve seen it as a mentor for hundreds of startup founders I’ve advised over the past three years. I wanted to create a “safe haven” of sorts for founders all over the world to find comfort in. A place where they don’t have to feel like they’re the only ones going through tough times or experiencing difficulties. A place where founders of all backgrounds and abilities can say “Hey, me too!” and hopefully find the advice and community they long for.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

I get my inspiration from a myriad of sources, but if I had to narrow it down, I’d say: personal development books and videos, my interactions with a variety of stakeholders in the startup ecosystem (e.g. founders, accelerators, investors), my life couch, and of course, my family, friends, and partner. I’m very conscientious of who I surround myself with, and always strive to be in positions where I can learn and grow. Thus, seeking out particular relationships where I know I can become better is one of my key strategies for personal development.

How important is a good support system?

To me, it is of the utmost importance. You can have all the money, success, and recognition in the world, but if you don’t have anyone to share it with, what’s the point? My personal relationships are the most important thing to me in the world. At the end of my life, I want to be judged by the relationships I had, the love we shared, and the memories we created; not by how many awards I received or how much money I acquired.

What advice would you give women who want to start a business and/or pursue their dream?

It’s not success, if when the lights go out, the cameras shut off, and the fanfare dies down, that you are not truly content. It’s not success, if society tells you you’re doing a great job, but in reality you despise who you’ve become. To me, it’s only success, when you are truly happy and healthy doing what it is you’re doing in the present moment. With that said, my biggest piece of advice would be to have the courage to follow your own heart when deciding the path you want to carve out for yourself in this world.

But don’t forget to use your head too. Right along with prioritizing your inner voice, you must make the time to sit down by yourself and truly get clear on who it is you want to be in this world and how you want to spend your limited time here. Of course, you can always change your mind, but there is power in making a decision. I truly believe that the more clear you are on what exactly it is you want, the better position you can put yourself in to receive what it is you truly want.

After starting your business, what are some lessons learned?

Startups: Six Things You Should Know (But No One Else Will Tell You)

Know Thyself: The Difference Between a Small Business and a Startup

Before You Lay Your First Brick, Make Sure Your Foundation Is Solid

What are a few of your favorite must-haves?

Cell-phone: I operate a website with active social media accounts, so Monday through Friday, it’s a must that I have it on me. I am, however, trying to practice “logging off” one day a week, but it’s still a work in progress. Plus, I love taking photos. I use my phone for snapping and posting fun pics more than anything.

Journal and pen: I never know when inspiration will strike, (or I’ll pass a tree or flower I’ll want to sketch), so I always want this handy.

Want to hear more from Mandela Schumacher-Hodge? Follow her on Twitter and The Startup Couch