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Female Founders: Aliah Lawrence-Carter On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder

An Interview With Candice Georgiadis

“You have to be “Arrogant” or a “monster” to be an employer.” Yes, you must be assertive, but you can also and should also be kind to vendors and most importantly your employees because they are the ones working to get your company to where you want it to be.

As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Aliah Lawrence-Carter. Aliah is the Founder; Head Teacher and Managing Director at The Language Tree Academy Limited. This company is an online learning platform for students who wish to bolster their educational experience. She graduated with her Bachelor of Arts Degree in Linguistics at the University of the West Indies and is now pursuing her Master of Arts in Speech and Language Pathology. She has a great drive to help others and is extremely excited and passionate about providing services to persons with speech and language disorders.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I have always loved to help others. Being the eldest of three siblings I am naturally nurturing, which is a quality that has been displayed in my teaching methods. Back in 2013, my colleague asked me to assist him with his upcoming French examination. We would practice all the different components of the examination after school such as reading and writing, listening, and speaking. The joy that we both felt after he excelled was priceless. It was then that I realized that I had a gift of teaching and began to pursue my passion for education.

I love knowing that I can contribute to other’s academic success. When I teach, I always try to not just impart academic skills, but also important life lessons because children are impressionable, and educators need to see themselves as role models.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

The name of my company is The Language Tree Academy, with emphasis on ‘Language’ but we offer a lot more than just foreign languages, and we are always looking for ways of improvement. My vision was clearly limited because I went in believing that I was only going to offer services surrounding foreign languages. I soon realized that other like-minded individuals also have a vested interest in the betterment and education of the students. I, therefore, reached out to them to for their services and now in addition to Spanish, French, and English Language, we offer Mathematics and Information Technology.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

What I am about to share was by no means funny at the moment, but it is now! I made the mistake of limiting myself and it cost me a lot of stress! Let me explain. I started this company as a Sole Trader, and I kid you not, within the first couple weeks of launching, persons began requesting services that my business could not offer with that legal status. Therefore, I dissolved the company from The Language Tree Online Tutoring, to what it is now, The Language Tree Academy Limited. My first company only lasted about two weeks! What a rollercoaster.

We now offer a much wider range of services to persons not just in Trinidad and Tobago, but to the entire CARICOM region. Reflecting on the situation, it is funny because many times we limit ourselves and put ourselves in little boxes instead of reaching for the stars.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

First and foremost, The Almighty Father. Without Him, I would not have been able to overcome any of the many obstacles that I faced while trying to build this company. A lot of times I felt like giving up but my trust and faith in Him saw me through.

My second pillar of strength is my wonderful husband. He is hands down my number one supporter. The idea of starting this business was mine, however, he took my ideas and built upon them into something that is beautifully functional. By profession, he is a network engineer in a company that is intimate with the technology that we use which makes him an invaluable asset to our company. He built a wonderful Sharepoint Site where our students can have access to not only recorded classes, but also a wealth of learning material that will continue to grow over time and bolster our students’ educational experience with us. He always encourages me to do better and be a leader and I will always be grateful for his immense support. Dylan is the ICT and Accounts Director for our company.

Last but certainly not least, a good friend of ours, Alec. We approached Alec when this business was not off the ground yet to be our Marketing Director. From day one he has exceeded our expectations, so much that day one of our launch persons wanted to hire him to do graphic work for their businesses! He has provided so much life to our social media platforms through lovely videos, flyers, and ads. He researches our market and target audience so we can relate directly to them and get the responses that we want.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?

I do agree that there is much work to be done. A few things that are holding us, women, back is the archaic thinking from the older generations. Some persons from this demographic still believe that a woman’s role is primarily in the house taking care of children while men are the primary breadwinners. This rolls over into the second point where some women still believe in strict gender roles where their place is in the home and running a company is unfathomable.

There is no doubt that in the corporate world you see some instances of gender bias but I cannot say that it played a role in my life, or hindered me in any way.

In my opinion, there is absolutely nothing that is holding back women from starting a company. I believe that if you want something, there is nothing unachievable that the mind can conceive.

Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?

On a governmental level, we can embrace the younger generation and new ideas. We have powerful women in every aspect of our lives whether it be in politics, corporations, or our communities. For example, Trinidad and Tobago had a female Prime Minister and for the first time historically, we also have a sitting female President.

On a societal level, we need to first move away from this archaic assignment of gender roles. In the old days, men worked and women stayed at home, but that was in a different era. But let us examine the context surrounding that living arrangement. Firstly, the cost of living was low; one salary was enough to comfortably run a household, and women had limited to no rights or education. All of the listed does not apply today.

Let us go back to the days of Rome for example. Men ruled because they fought the wars. They went out to conquer and women had almost no say in politics. (In most nations of Antiquity.)

And even before that when we were in the Stone Age fighting for survival, yes men were there leading the charge because physically they are stronger. However, we are not in the Stone Age. We are not citizens in a Roman city. We are not living under the same circumstances as our ancestors. We live in a world where physical dominance plays less of a role in productivity in most jobs. In many scenarios the ground has been levelled; education has been unlocked; we are seeing female CEOs and Presidents; we are taking up roles as managers, supervisors, and directors and so much more.

Lastly, on an individual level, it is up to every one of us to remove the notion that being a female affects one’s ability to lead. I have had challenges with this more than ever, and not only being a female but being a young woman who has older persons working for me.

We should also correct our peers when they try to put us, women, down and remind them that’s not how things are, and they need to get with the times. Imagine someone once said to me “How are you going to be a wife and pursue a Master’s Degree?” This question upset me because it showed a mindset that I had to choose between furthering my education and investing in my future, or “being a wife”. Rest assured that YOU CAN DO BOTH AND BE A BOSS AT IT!

As individuals, we need to disregard the older generation telling you that your place is at home and realize that being a leader does not mean that you can’t have a family.

This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?

The very simple answer is because we can be. In my experience, the barriers have been broken. I do not see anything holding women back to the extent that they cannot be founders. I predict that in the coming years we will see more and more women founders. Yes, some people in high positions may hold back women on a corporate level, but in the grand scheme of things, we have access to everything we need.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?

1. “You have to be “Arrogant” or a “monster” to be an employer.” Yes, you must be assertive, but you can also and should also be kind to vendors and most importantly your employees because they are the ones working to get your company to where you want it to be.

2. “You have to have an inheritance to start a company.” I did not have a big-time job. My husband is not rich either. But what we had to make this business possible was to prioritize our expenditure. As such, Ramen was a very familiar meal to us. We needed to understand that there are sacrifices to be made.

3. “Founders know every aspect of their business inside out.” It is very important to know when you need help and know how to delegate tasks and responsibilities. Know your limits; know when to seek advice; do not be too proud to ask for help and from the right people. If you ask me right now the details about the technicalities behind our platform, I can confidently say that I don’t know them!

4. “Everyone that gives advice has your best interest at heart.” Always know who to trust and use your intuition when it comes to your business. Always be guarded about the inner workings of your company. Compartmentalize and do not ever overshare. Surround yourself with people you can trust and reliable people. We have been burnt here before. So it’s a lesson that we won’t forget.

5. “You cannot be a leader and a wife/ homemaker.” You can be a leader and a wife. Do not allow people to say what you are supposed to be especially if it’s based on “being a woman.” Surround yourself with people who support you. Appreciate people who provide constructive criticism and do not take it as an attack. You will make mistakes. Friends and family who point it out and offer alternatives, that’s who you want around you.

Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?

The short answer is no. Not everyone is cut out for this type of role. Being a founder and running a company requires A LOT of work. I can only speak from my experience but let me elaborate:

  • You must always be willing to go the extra mile. The work you must put in is a lot. There will be nights that you don’t sleep; there will be limes that you miss; there will be a lot of extra hours put into research and studies. Long, sleepless nights thinking ‘how do I improve this’ or ‘how can I be better at that?’ And the reality is for a while it will be for free.. no bonuses, no overtime, just pure grind.
  • You have to have an iron will, thick skin, and a drive to push through all the roadblocks that come your way. There is no job description, working hours, or anything that you can hide behind to say ‘well this isn’t my problem.’
  • You need to have some level of flexibility or support to make the various trips to the banks; ministries to get legal documents sorted out for your business.
  • Dedication and patience to endure the hardships for prolonged periods. There isn’t much instant gratification.
  • Understanding that a lot of sacrifices must be made. Do not try to please everyone. The needs of the business must be met.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, what are the “Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder?” (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. God. Many times, I feel like throwing in the towel. My secret is consulting Him and I somehow feel a great sense of peace and comfort. My problems seem so big; like they cannot be overcome until I give them to the Almighty Father. Sometimes while praying He sends down solutions.
  2. Reliable and trustworthy support. I am so grateful for my family members who give so much insight and support about running a company. I know that they have my best interest at heart and that I can always go to them for advice.
  3. A great diverse thinking team. Someone on the team who thinks worst-case scenarios that no one else thinks about. Even if it’s unlikely because trust me it’s better to have a parachute and not use it than to fall out of a plane with none. My husband is great at this.
  4. Very good time management. I have been in a lot of sticky situations where tasks began piling up on me. My advice is to get a planner, write down tasks and stick to it.
  5. Knowing that you cannot please everyone and you have to do what’s best for the company. At times in the past, I was a ‘people-pleaser. I soon realized that this personality trait would be detrimental to my company, and I had to make hard decisions. People may not understand or agree why you may make certain business decisions, but you need to always do what is best for the success of your company because after all, you know the hard work and sacrifices that you would have put in. Your company cannot run on the opinions of others.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

The Language Tree Academy is a new company, however, in the future, we would like to move into volunteer work and charity for schools and for people who need educational access and tools.

My husband and I talk about how the cycle of poverty affects children and changes their chances of success. Yes, we have free education in Trinidad and Tobago, but can everyone afford the internet? Can everyone afford laptops and smart devices? Without access to basic tools such as these people are at an extreme disadvantage.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I love this question. I would push for the Deaf/Hard of Hearing and special needs persons in society to have equal rights. In our society, these groups of persons are severely left behind. I have not figured out the ins and outs of exactly what I plan to do, but I know that I would like to be an advocate for these members of society. For example, there should be a Sign Language translator at every government office, every medical institute and every school. I did volunteer work translating between an optometrist and a Deaf patient because there were no translators on site. This is an area that needs more attention.

I hope to use my company to do a lot of good in Trinidad and Tobago, and somehow allow us to be more developed than we currently are.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

I would absolutely love to have breakfast with Ms Iyanla Vanzant. She has been such an inspiration to me through her books because she addresses how important it is to believe in yourself and have a balanced life, which are important aspects of being a well-rounded person. Daily Meditations for Women of Colour was one of her books that inspired me to become the person that I am today.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis is an active mother of three as well as a designer, founder, social media expert, and philanthropist.