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Getting Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable, with Audrey Bellis
Episode 67: Getting Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable, with Audrey Bellis
Audrey Bellis is a community builder, and her true passion is how she can she support entrepreneurs - those who are trying to make a dollar out of fifteen cents. Through Worthy Women she puts together a series of free events around the country to bring together women entrepreneurs. In this episode, Audrey talks with Maricella about how she started Worthy Women, the importance of being honest about failure, how bad situations can lead you to embrace your power and turn yourself around, and useful tips for those who are thinking of starting their own business.
00:00 Rachel Griesinger: Welcome to the Ellevate Podcast, conversations with women changing the face of business. And now your hosts, Kristy Wallace and Maricella Herrera.
00:12 Kristy Wallace: Hello, and welcome to the Ellevate Podcast. This is your host, Kristy Wallace, and I'm here with Jess. What's going on Jess?
00:19 Jess: Hi. Hi, everyone. Having a great day. The sun is shining.
00:23 KW: Yes, it is. So it's a great time to be in New York. Although many people actually say they don't like being in the city in the summer, because it gets so just hot and sticky, but I love it because it's beautiful, and it's outside, and it's vibrant.
00:37 Jess: I would agree. And I just try to be grateful, because we go through a pretty cold and brutal winter here. And me being Australian, maybe I find it especially hard.
00:49 KW: Australian? I mean I thought that was like a New York accent that I was hearing.
00:53 Jess: I completely forget I have it half the time. So hopefully you can all understand me out there. But no, I'm loving it. Loving the summer, and just trying not to get sunburnt, trying to wear lots of sunscreen. And trying to get some good R&R in there while the weather is good.
01:09 KW: Absolutely. We work hard here at Ellevate, then we also like to enjoy our downtime too, right?
01:15 Jess: Yeah. It's important.
01:16 KW: Our guest today is Audrey Bellis. And Audrey is speaking to Maricella. As you can tell, we miss her so much that we wanted Maricella to still have a role in the podcast whilst she's out traveling. So she's doing some of the great interviews that you've heard last week and this week. But Audrey is just doing some unbelievable things in LA and around the US. She's the founder of StartUP DTLA. She's the founder of #Worthy Women, she's a blogger for the Huffington Post. She's also a founding member of Grid110. So just doing some wonderful things within the startup community, helping women, helping many who are looking to start companies and create an impact and don't know what to do or have the resources for that. Before we get to our interview with her, we do have a poll, and Jess, I'm gonna ask you what you think the answer is. What is the number one thing we should do to achieve gender equality in business?
02:22 Jess: Good question. And that's a pretty... Oh my God, there's so many answers. And there's so many ways to go about it. But I think what's really important is to help each other, to help lift others up as well. I think so much in life, in our society, where you're constantly looking in the mirror, constantly focused on yourself, but I think that it's really important to help each other out. There's space at the table for everyone, so speaking up for other people, having courageous conversations to support others, and hopefully that just becomes a full circle effect.
03:00 KW: So you're talking about being a lion.
03:01 Jess: Yeah. [chuckle]
03:02 KW: I'm sorry, I had to throw that in there. [03:04] ____ at the Ellevate summit, I led a panel, the Anti-Queen Bee, and so I'm coining a new term that we're going to be lions. We are protective of others but we are also ruthless, and we are working hard to move the whole tribe forward. And that's what we're about. When we asked the Ellevate community, "What is number one thing you should do to achieve gender equality in business?" 32% said, "Get more women into positions of leadership." And I think that's a big part of it. The more women we have in positions to influence power and impact policy and change, the better. 19% said, "Have the courageous conversations and call out inequality." So you mentioned that, Jess, and I couldn't agree more. 14% said, "Lead by example and be role models." And we had a podcast recently, I think, where we were talking about role models, and so every chance I get, I say this, that, "Look in the mirror, you are a role model. Each of us individually are inspiring others, and let's own that and be proud of that, and continue down that route."
04:07 KW: 11% said, "We need to create more inclusive or flexible cultures." Absolutely. 10% said, "Give back to the younger generations of women coming up the ranks." So Anti-Queen Bee, be a lion. We had another 7% that said, "Paid family leave, and family-friendly work policies." Absolutely. And then also political advocacy came in at a few percentage points. So, lots to do there. I think it's just so important that we recognize it's not a one size fits all solution for gender equality, there's many things that need to happen, and the more we, as individuals, as business leaders, as community leaders, work towards that future we seek, the better. We're gonna keep fighting the good fight, right Jess?
04:53 Jess: Agreed. Agreed, definitely. Let's keep the momentum, let's keep the positivity, let's get into power and change up the game.
05:00 KW: Enjoy the conversation today with Audrey and Maricella. And if you are just blown away, which I'm sure you will be, tell your friends. Give us some love, share the podcast on your social networks, tell your friends. Also, feel free to write a review and rate us. That really means a lot to a podcast that's looking to grow. We would love for you to do that, and to give us your feedback, always so key. And enjoy the episode.
05:41 Maricella Herrera: Audrey, tell me a little bit about Worthy Women, and how you started this project, 'cause I love that story.
05:46 Audrey Bellis: Thank you. Worthy Women actually originally got started as a spin-off event series from my other company, StartUP DTLA. StartUP DTLA is an initiative with Mayor Garcetti's office here in Los Angeles to help bring tech and creative companies downtown. And I tell this story often, but we had a community member tell us that she goes to events, and that there are more ginger beards in plaid shirts than there are women, much less women of color. And gingers are 2% of the population, and if women are 50% of the population, how are they more represented at tech events than we are? And I thought about that and I said, "You're right, I'm tired of going to events with graph paper shirt guys too." Not that I don't love a good ginger beard, but what do we do to change that? So we started an event series called Worthy Women, I'm actually publishing my first book, called Dirty To Worthy, and at the same time as I was coming up with this event series, looking for ways to support female entrepreneurs, I thought, "Well what is my experience as an entrepreneur? What are the ways that I have played small in my life? And having gone to events like this, or sought out a community?"
07:04 AB: And I really realized that it comes down to the sense of worthiness. How worthy do you feel? 'Cause means you're worthy, you're gonna play big and do more. So we called it Worthy Women, and we did it around... The very first event was Worthy Women in Finance, and I used my signature Audrey line, "You cannot raise your net worth until you raise your self-worth." Which was a big core principle for how I built my business. And it went viral. We had like... Well, viral not the first time. But we had a sold-out event of like 45 women that first night, and nobody knew what it was about, nobody had any concept, and they just showed up and they said, "I love it." We'd hands in the audience, nodding along to things as we were talking about credit, and building your business and negotiating. And women were very uncomfortable with money, and open to saying that they were uncomfortable with money.
08:00 AB: They said, "Alright do your next one." Our next one was Worthy Women and Partners, what to do when your business partner is your life partner, are you doing business with friends, all kinds of partnership. Because we only exist in partnership to other people in the world. And then they started to scale. Basically, to wrap this up, we did seven events in 10 weeks at the end of 2015, by the end of them we had over 150 women. So in 10 weeks to go from 40 to 150 women, we've never done any marketing or advertising outside of putting it on our social media, so it's a 100% word-of-mouth. 2015 we said, "Alright, let's never do seven events in 10 weeks again." We said, "Let's do 'em once a month." And we settled on doing them on Wednesdays, because of the alliteration, and it happens to be my personal day, so I like that I show up for my events having done my own personal work that day. And our events scaled from 175 women a night to 250 women a night, and then we culminated last year in our first three day conference with Amber Rose.
09:07 AB: We honored 100 women of worth at a gala, women that live and lead in integrity and our conference spanned 350 women per day across three days, so total about 1,000 women. And now here we are going across the country. We are doing a free city summit, we are doing seven cities, one per month, free conferences. We don't believe that women need more barriers to preventing them from their own success, I think access to peer mentorship and community are not things that should be held behind a paywall. We've committed to free events, and then we also do work in corporate diversity and inclusion environments. So it's a very long way to say we love and support women. We wanna give you the things to help you thrive.
09:50 MH: The events are amazing, I was very happy to be part of the one in Brooklyn last week, it was so much fun.
09:57 AB: You know what I love about the events? Is people... I personally have modeled my events to be things that women are gonna walk away from with value. And I go to a lot of events that are aesthetically pretty, they're Instagramable, you can go, it looks nice, you can take pictures, but the speakers, what are they actually telling you? And in my experience, a lot of these event speakers go, "I don't know, it was just perfect. I posted this photo and a million people liked it, and now I just have all this money, and I go to the Bahamas all the time. And I'm sponsored, yay!" I don't wanna hear that story of it was so easy, because I don't know anybody that it's easy for. And if they're telling you it's easy, they're fronting, right? Let me sit here with my Nicki Minaj no flex zone, I'm not gonna flex and fake for you. I'm gonna tell you exactly like it is.
10:50 AB: In our panels, we tell that to our panelists, "You are here to tell the truth. We want you to tell us, because our audience needs to see that you are a relatable person. That there is no difference between you and them, other than time, consistency, and a little more experience. Tell us where you failed, tell us how you learned, tell us how you evolved, and quite frankly, we wanna hear your shame stories." You cannot use the word worthy, without... Or tell me why you're worthy without telling me about a time when you weren't worthy first. Which means you're gonna tell me your heroes journeys, and for the audience members for them to be able to connect and to feel like they're not alone in their entrepreneurial or career advancement journey, they need to know that their struggles are universal. And guess what? I've never heard one story from somebody that I hadn't already heard before. They are universal. We just don't talk about 'em because we think it's only applied to us and that we failed in some way.
11:47 MH: It's true and I've been thinking a lot about that, and actually because of that conversation we had before that event, and thinking of what's that low point that takes you high.
11:58 AB: Yes.
12:00 MH: Tell me about your hero story, 'cause I know you went through a lot.
12:04 AB: Yes. I actually had a broken engagement in my mid-20s that really left me depressed. I crawled into bed and stopped functioning for six months, just couldn't function. I walked away from that relationship six figures in debt with a partner who wasn't gonna help me with it. And for a smart girl, I really couldn't figure how I had gotten into that place. And I crawled into bed, and just couldn't function. And I remember the thing that actually got me out of bed, were two things. One, I had heard Brené Brown's first TED Talk about shame. It hadn't gone viral yet, it had just been released. And I went, "This is me. I'm a perfectionist, and I've always associated being perfect with love and belonging. And I did everything perfect, and it still all fell apart. I must not be worthy of love and belonging." And her talk helped me realize that that's not true.
13:04 AB: I remember getting out of bed that day, this is at my parents' house. And I remember coming outside and telling my parents... They were very surprised to see me out of bed. And on a side note, I'm a first-generation child, my mom's Mexican, my mom was an immigrant. And on that side... At the time, nobody ever thought to tell me to go to therapy. They just thought it was a phase I was gonna pull out of, and they didn't know how to really help me. And I remember getting up and telling them, "I'm gonna go to therapy, and I'm getting out of bed today." And they were like, "Oh, thank God!" And then I remember telling my dad, he was like, "Do you want anything right now?" And I was like, "Yeah, I'm like actually really craving some french fries. You feel like taking me to go get some french fries?" And he was like, "Yes, absolutely. Thank God she's out of bed."
13:46 AB: We go to get out of bed, we walk out the door, and a stray dog comes running up to me. And this little dog is flea-infested, and ugly, and starving. And I hate dogs. In fact, I hate little dogs. And this little ugly chihuahua runs into my arms, and I fell in love. That's my dog, Tapatio. And I rescued Tapatio, and I think he might have rescued me. But those two things were the things that were big catalysts. And I came back home, rescued the dog. And I remember creating a spreadsheet and saying, "Here's how much I owe, and here's where it's at." And one by one, I decided I was gonna bridge small right actions and tackle each of those things. I treated my life very similar to a 12-step program. I focused very much on day-to-day activity, I would get up, go to daily mass, and get started on what I was gonna accomplish that day, one thing. And it made a huge difference.
14:37 AB: And slowly, I started building my first company, which was The Bella Bambino. It was a christening gown and first holy communion online boutique. I taught myself to code in the middle of the night to build my website, because I couldn't afford to have somebody do it for me. I convinced a local manufacturer to sell me $80 worth of dresses, and I created a line sheet, which at the time I didn't know that, I called it the Lookbook. I told him he didn't have to ship the clothes to me, I was gonna go pick it up. I mean, I negotiated that deal hard, and he just felt sorry for me and let me do it. But I created a great business for myself. I did trunk shows for churches, and I sat on the board for Catholic charities, which is a great avenue to be able to market those things. I ended up building that business phenomenally. Sears was my biggest client, and I was able to make an exit, which was really exciting after three years.
15:28 AB: And then from there, I said, "Okay, well, what's next?" And I was in downtown, and we didn't really have a tech scene, and I was like, "Okay, I'm kinda self-taught here. How do I become more involved?" I wanted to go work for another tech company, couldn't find a position. Started working with the Mayor's office, and they said, "Well, we don't know how to help you. Why don't you figure it out?" And I said, "Okay." So a group of friends of mine got together, we started a non-profit fashion tech accelerator called Grid110. From there, I still felt we weren't solving enough of LA's tech problems. I went back to the Mayor's office, I said, "I'm gonna do StartUP DTLA and I need your endorsement. We're gonna rebrand the city for tech." And I got very involved in urban planning. I went to the US Conference of Mayors. I got to teach what we're doing here in LA to other Mayors from across the country, and from there, I got to work with other city economic development groups and teach them how to use public-private partnerships to create grassroots tech movements, which is fascinating. And then Worthy Women was the accident that came out of this. We've actually just sold StartUP DTLA. By the time this comes out, this should be public information.
16:38 AB: And we're very excited for what we've done to build the future of Los Angeles tech community, but my larger passion is always, "How do I support entrepreneurs?" I think that's the through line in this, "How do I support people like me who are just trying to make a dollar out of 15 cents?" And that's really where our focus is, and particularly with women, women of color, and where we're at politically in our nation. I think more than ever, this is what has drawn me to be where I am today. And so, yes, it's a hero's journey. But I think what it really is, is a universal experience of finding yourself after you've tried to live life by other people's expectations, and learn to do it for yourself.
17:26 MH: What do you think is that little voice that keeps you going?
17:29 AB: I'll be honest, I remember being very close to suicidal when I was depressed. And I remember really laying in bed and thinking, "Nothing matters anymore. I just don't even want to exist. If I didn't exist tomorrow, it wouldn't make a difference." And that was the scariest thing that went through my head. That was the scariest like, "Oh my God! Where have I gotten to? And how did I get here?" I was always the perfect child, I always got straight As, I never got in trouble. I was a constant overachiever. And I just couldn't figure out how I had gotten here. I think the little voice that drives me now is that I don't ever wanna be back in that place. And it's not from a sense of overachievement. It's I don't ever wanna live my life by somebody else's standards to the point that I hate life. Otherwise what's the point of being here? It should be things that you love and find passion in.
18:31 AB: And I'm so fortunate. I tell people... I tell people two things about Worthy Women and my business. I tell people that my business is an extension of my personality, which is a fortunate thing, I get paid to get up every day and be Audrey Bellis. The second part of that is my business is my spiritual practice. It truly keeps me grounded. And I feel like I'm of service to the world, but I am also of service to myself. And that's where that drive of, "I make a difference in lives. I make a difference in my own life, and by striving to understand with my own struggles, what those patterns are that have gotten me in those places. I'm able to help and support other people in the same way."
19:16 MH: I love that. It's true. You are... I mean just by seeing and from our conversations and how we're discussing stuff. You're very authentic, and that's very refreshing. It's very good to see that your business really is that authentic persona, and that more than just a business, actually trying to make a change for people, which is always, I would say... We talked about it at the event. It's when you can do more. When what you're doing is not just for you but for others. What do you think is the one tip you would give to... The number one tip you would give to someone who's start thinking of becoming an entrepreneur?
19:58 AB: Get comfortable being uncomfortable.
20:01 MH: That's a good one.
20:02 AB: Yep. I'm never comfortable. People always go, "Audrey, you talk about worthiness all the time. You must be so worthy. You must have figured this out." That's a lie. If that was true I wouldn't overeat, I wouldn't overdrink, I wouldn't make poor choices in my romantic relationships. Right? No. Nobody ever figures it out. You just do a little better all the time, or strive to do a little better. And sometimes you regress and do worse, but you learn. Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable, I think people look at me sometimes, and I've heard this from audience feedback, and just in general where people say, "Oh gosh, you're fearless. You just will do anything. You'll reach out to anyone. You'll cold call. You'll just ask." And I said, "You know? That's true. I will just do that, because all they're ever gonna tell me is 'No.' And yes, I'm uncomfortable doing it, but if I keep doing it I will at some point get comfortable."
21:01 AB: The one thing that holds us back is not access to... Okay, here's a bold statement. People say, "Oh, the things that are holding me back are time, money and resources." That's a lie. The only thing that is ever holding you back is you. There is always time for what needs to get done. It's what you choose to prioritize. There may not be money, but you don't need money to participate. And I'm gonna repeat that, you don't need money to participate. There is always someone who has what you need. Who will barter, who will trade, who will sponsor. It's your job to find it, until you can afford to pay for it. You will find those partners if you want them. And finally when it comes back to resources, we have never been in a time where our barrier to access has been lower. If you have an internet connection, you can do anything.
21:52 MH: You are a huge networker, you're a big connector. You are awesome at actually reaching out to people and making those relationships. What's the number one tip you'd give people who want to start that? I get that question a lot, where people, it's like, "How do you meet people?" But more than that, "How do you develop a relationship that becomes more of a win-win?"
22:15 AB: That's a good one. Okay, developing relationships that are win-win, you have to be targeted and understand what it is that people are lacking. Or what is the gap that they're trying to fill, and what do you do that helps bring it to the table? And vice-versa, what do... How can you support them and how can they support you? And how do you make it easy? Here's the other thing. Don't put together a deal or a proposal where you're making it hard on the other person. You're gonna make it easy to say yes. I had a PR contact recently say, they did a profile piece on me and they said... And I responded back and I said, "We'd love to do more PR for the women that are speakers in our audience. I would love to be able to facilitate and make that happen." And she said, "Well I don't have that kind of time." I said, "No problem. How about you tell me what are your preferred interview styles?"
23:03 AB: "You know what? Even better, I looked it up on my own, I figured out your voice, I wrote it up, and here they are. Please give me feedback for editing. If this works for you, what I'll do is submit one person per week to be considered for publishing." She published one of those interviews, and only changed two sentences. I made it very easy for her. And then when she did, I also created a social sharing guide. Well, I didn't, Kendra did on my team, but creates a social sharing guide from us that says, "Here is the article. Here is the link. Here's who you need to tag when you share it. Here are some sample tweets, and here are the hashtags, and here's all the all the places it's being distributed." You make it easy for everyone involved, and I'll tell you what, you're doing it for your own success. Don't make it hard for you to succeed.
23:49 MH: So, last thing. Tell me about Brown Girls Rising?
23:52 AB: Brown Girls Rising is a podcast we added this this year. After the march, the big Women's March in January, looking at the media, I noticed that mainstream media was covering it, obviously, but what all the other publications were, were highlighting the photos of women of color, LGBTQ groups, marginalized women, women with babies, the moms, the men, and I go, "We need to hear more stories about this. I wanna know who the girl is in the photo. I wanna know more about that person." And I wasn't quite sure how we were going to do that, but I knew it needed to happen. Chrismukkah happened to fall on the same day this year, Christmas and Hanukkah. And I'm literally flipping latkes, and my Pandora's on, and I'm hearing Too $hort's Gettin' It, and he's got this line that goes, "I'm one in a million, black man rising, try to keep me down, but I always surprise 'em." And I literally picked up my phone and I texted Yvette and I go, "Brown girls rising. I'm one in a million, brown girls rising. What does that mean to you?" And she goes, "I don't know." And I go, "Seriously. Think of what the name is, brown girls rising." And she responds back with the emoji with a hand raised, and goes, "Me. I'm a brown girl rising."
25:14 AB: And I said, "That's right. We are brown girls rising." We sat on the name for a little bit. We're in a meeting with NYLON Espanol about being featured as a PR opportunity. And out of nowhere, I turn to their editor-in-chief and I go, "Let me tell you what I really wanna do. I wanna launch a podcast called Brown Girls Rising, and I wanna elevate the stories of women of color that the media doesn't tell you about. Will you be my media partner?" I came up with that on the spot. We had never produced a podcast before. Yvette's looking at me like she's gonna cut me for adding one more thing on her plate. And than I go, "We're gonna do 40 episodes. One per week for the rest of the year, and here's what I want out of it." And she goes, "I love it. Yes." And literally from that meeting to the time we launched our first episode was... I don't know, two weeks, two-and-a-half weeks. I got somebody to sponsor the podcast base, I got a media partner. The image for our artwork was done by Erin Rivera, @eatherbrains on Instagram. The photo is called UNIDOS, and I said... I asked Yvette to ask Erin, 'cause they knew each other better, and I said, "Will she licence this to us? Will she let us use this?"
26:28 AB: And she said yes. We did an exclusive run of the prints, and that's how we launched Brown Girls Rising. We're doing 40 episodes this year. We have prerecorded 30 out of the 40 already, which is insane to me. We're excited for where it's gonna go, and for the response that people have had to it. And I gotta tell you, every single time I tell people that it's called Brown Girls Rising, most people literally raise their hand back at me, and go, "That's me. I'm a brown girl rising."
26:57 MH: Well, that's me. I love it. I think it's great. I've told you about this. That's kinda been my mission here at Ellevate this year, it's how do we get more of those voices on the front and center?
27:07 AB: Diversity and inclusion, I read this article in Forbes a while ago, and it was talking about how diversity and inclusion only actually works for white women in large companies.
27:18 MH: It does.
27:20 AB: 'Cause they're women's groups, but they're not exploring the multicultural aspect. And I think that while those are... That's a sad thing to hear, regardless it's important, we need to have it. But, yes, like yourself, each of us need to focus on creating communities that we can relate to, and if we're all creating communities in that way, we're gonna have wider networks of support. It's when we all we say and here and go, "Well, there's nobody like me and I'm not gonna do anything about it," that we get stuck in these situations. We have a moral obligation for ourselves and for others to do a little more.
27:54 MH: Absolutely. That's a great way to end this. I think that's absolutely right, and thanks for having this conversation with me.
28:02 AB: Thank you for having me.
28:06 KW: Thanks so much for listening to Ellevate. If you like what you hear, help a girl out. Subscribe to the Ellevate Podcast on iTunes, give us five stars, and share your review. Also, don't forget to follow us on Twitter, @EllevateNTWK, that's Ellevate Network. And become a member, you can learn all about membership and all the great things that Ellevate Network is doing, at our website, www.ellevatenetwork.com. That's E-L-L-E-V-A-T-E network.com. And special thanks to our producer, Katharine Heller, she rocks, and to our voice-over artist Rachel Griesinger. Thanks so much, and join us next week.