We first met Elena Valentine--Co-Founder of Womxn of Craft & CEO of Skill Scout--in the Civic Accelerator (CivicX) during one of our sessions in Chicago. Elena was a former participant in CivicX and came back as a successful alum to speak to the next cohort. From day one Elena was transparent and willing to help, which is something you don't always find in other women. But, don't take our word for it--find out for yourself why we think she's dope!
You’ve founded a number of ventures — SkillScout and Womxn of Craft. What led you on the path to entrepreneurship, and what are some lessons you’ve learned along the way?
My path to entrepreneurship was accidental. My partner and I founded Skill Scout based on an injustice we felt so strongly about changing. In our case it was seeing how many young people were shut out from the hiring process because they lacked access and exposure to careers. We quickly discovered that there was a power in bringing video and storytelling into the hiring process. So, we started filming jobs. It’s that simple. Certainly our model and understanding of the industry has evolved since then. Standard job descriptions don’t show what a job is like. Companies struggle to differentiate their roles and provide a more realistic picture of the work. Since our founding in 2014, we’ve evolved to become a media agency for companies to help them tell their stories on video to attract, hire, and engage talent.
In the end, what I manifest my legacy to be is one marked by the impact I’ve been able to have on the professional lives of women within my own organization.
A few of the lessons that stand out are:
1| You can’t get by on hustle alone
The first 2 years felt like I was on a non-stop moving train. It didn’t matter how fast or where I was moving, as long as it was forward. At some point the adrenaline wears off and the exhaustion catches up with you. I realized just because I was moving forward didn’t mean that it was in the right direction, or at the right pace. There are actual skills I needed to learn. Skills to hone in on our processes, managing a team, managing budgets etc. I won’t go as far to say I’ve become an expert at being a CEO. But, I’ve developed enough self awareness to know how to better structure my time, my priorities, and my role to drive my companies’ success moving forward.
2| Focus. Focus. Focus.
Ross Baird from Village Capital has this great quote that has stuck with me since the moment I heard it: “It’s better to be specific and wrong than broad and right.” As new entrepreneurs we’re pressured to believe we have to develop our business to be all things to all people. That’s like trying to catch two rabbits at once. Good luck! We’re not for everyone and that’s OK. There’s enough consumers in the world to go around. Find your niche and go deep!
3| Build a business to last not to sell.
We tend to forget that the foundation of our economy is in small bootstrapped businesses. These are businesses who can and have achieved plenty of growth and scale. And, they didn't have to be the Mark Zuckerbergs of the world to do it. When we founded Skill Scout, I thought that the only way to build a business was to seek lots of investment and have some well thought out 5-7 year exit strategy. That couldn’t be further away from the truth. I’m not saying that seeking investment and scaling in this way is bad. In fact, for many companies that’s an absolute necessity. But that path isn’t the only path and that path isn’t for everyone. It took me a while to be OK with the fact that the investment path wasn’t for me. I’m not here to be the biggest business. I’m here to be the greatest business. My growth and our model may look different because of it, but I can proudly call it my own. That’s more than enough.
4| The biggest impact I can make as a leader is on my own workforce.
As a CEO of an HR focused company, I feel that it is my responsibility to drive innovative practices within our own workforce. Given where we came from, it was important to Abby and I that the fabric of Skill Scout be one that walks the walk and talks the talk. We share our own job opportunities on video. We leverage work samples instead of resumes. And, I’ve unapologetically raised my hand to become an employer of choice for women of color. Again, that’s where the focus comes in. Now, I’ll be the first to say that as the leader of a small company this is easy for me to say. And, there is some truth to that. In the end, what I manifest my legacy to be is one marked by the impact I’ve been able to have on the professional lives of women within my own organization. For many, we are often their first opportunities to jumpstart their career in film. I know I may not be their final career resting place. But, I for damn sure want to provide them one of the best career experiences they’ve ever had.
I realized just because I was moving forward didn’t mean that it was in the right direction, or at the right pace.
Womxn of Craft is your newest venture. Could you tell our readers about it, and specifically what the apparel means/represents?
Womxn Of Craft is a premium intersectional feminist T-shirt brand featuring artfully crafted apparel that serves to empower and build community. I founded it with my comrade and designer Theresa Stewart. We were sitting for our monthly coffee and biscuits gathering when we got to talking about how fashion is our armour. With the right shirt, we can make powerful statements about who we are and what we believe. We wanted to create a company that empowered women of color as warriors, ready for battle, and ready to slay their fashion sensibilities.
What’s more, we aim to drive awareness of Womx of Craft through the individual stories of women we think everyone should know.
We have launched 3 limited run t-shirt designs with the intent to change it up every season:
NOYOTO |Our battle cry for “Not Your Token”, NoYoTo is a movement. We do not fit into anyone’s boxes or project stereotypes.
Unapologetic |Unapologetic in our values and paths, this design is a declaration of our strength and perseverance.
Womxn Warriors | This first design is inspired by the armour from the fierce womxn warriors of Wakanda.
With the right shirt, we can make powerful statements about who we are and what we believe. We wanted to create a company that empowered women of color as warriors, ready for battle, and ready to slay their fashion sensibilities.
What are some trends you’ve noticed in HR & hiring through your work at SkillScout?
Media is the literacy of the 21st century. You can learn how to do almost anything on YouTube. Generation Z, the next generation of our workforce, certainly is. From braiding hair, installing a kitchen sink, to touring the White House, video demystifies the process for things that would be difficult to understand- or more importantly feel. Given this, it shouldn’t surprise us that video has the power to change how we communicate our jobs and other workplace communications.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion is here to stay. This is no longer a nice to have or a simple task a company can check of their list. There are too many eyes now paying attention to get away with anything that is not intentional and authentic. Our next generation will demand it. Our work world has to more closely reflect the world we navigate everyday. And, that world is rich with people celebrating multiple identities.
What would surprise people most about your role(s)?
My title means nothing. I am a servant to my organization and to the people I’m blessed to work with. Part of everyday is dedicated to how I might remove barriers for others to do their work productively. So whether that’s supporting an edit, sweeping the floors, or picking up lunch- I do what needs to be done.
From braiding hair, installing a kitchen sink, to touring the White House, video demystifies the process for things that would be difficult to understand- or more importantly feel.
Who or what inspires you?
Besides The Memo? :)
My latest inspirations:
- Currently reading Raising The Bar, the story of founder Gary Erickson and the rise of Clif Bar. The Clif Bar story is one marked by Gary’s determination to remain privately held despite everyone saying he shouldn’t. The company has had so many turn arounds and twists. And, despite it all, they have remained true to their Clif Bar “mojo."
- The Do Good Be Kind movement was started by dear friends and colleagues of mine Chris and Brittany Kurtz. I’m inspired by their warmth and open arms approach to every one they interact with.
- I got to hand it to Cardi B for always being 110% unapologetically and authentically herself. This is in part what has made her so popular. She’s so relatable because she lays it all out there. Yes, we’re queens- imperfections and all.
Click to learn more about Elena Valentine's ventures, Skill Scout and Womxn of Craft. As an exclusive for our Memo readers, Elena is offering 10% off Womxn of Craft products until December 24th | Code: "WEEKLYMEMO."