Authority Magazine
Published in

Authority Magazine

Female Founders: Malika Jacobs of Kingmakers On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder

An Interview With Candice Georgiadis

Support networks — This can be your family or friends but they can get a bit tired of the ups and downs. There is a myriad of peer professional networking groups that you can join (based on stage, industry, geography, etc). Entrepreneurship can be very lonely, so finding that support is essential. Right now, the Tory Burch Foundation Fellowship is providing that for me.

As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Malika Jacobs.

Malika began her entrepreneurial journey when she founded Kingmakers in 2014. It served the Columbus and Indianapolis communities with a unique guest experience! As we all know, during the pandemic, companies hired remote workers and it quickly became difficult to bond with coworkers without meeting in person. Kingmakers continues to make it easy to introduce new employees to the team while also creating a stronger company culture.

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?

Like most entrepreneurs, it was a meandering and not entirely intentional plan to get here. I studied international relations in college and trotted off to Washington DC afterwards to “save the world” along with my peers. Two things happened there. One, for my day job, I worked for ambitious founders who were able to galvanize a team around their idea but struggled to lead that same team effectively day to day. Two, for my part-time job on the side, I continued to wait tables as I had done since I was 16, and marveled at the effectiveness of that small business pizza shop: everyone loved working there. I went to business school curious about what makes some companies a place people want to work and fell into entrepreneurship as a way to design that type of place.

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

In some future state, I think I’ll realize that we’re still in the middle of this story, but I don’t know what could top how our business transformed itself during 2020. For the first iteration of Kingmakers, I took a very academic approach: wrote a business plan, hired a manager, and was cautious because I recognized that I didn’t know what I was doing. In March of 2020, there was no time to plan and survival instincts took over. What still amazes me is how our team showed up for the challenge. Everything about who we are and the way we operate was turned on its head — that is a tremendous amount of big picture and day-to-day change. There have been moments of fear, but it’s also been a very creative and energizing year and a half.

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?

So many mistakes, just trying to find the humor in them, haha. Funny in a cringy way is thinking about our quality in the early days. We hired folks who weren’t a great fit, we had vendors that didn’t provide consistent products, and we had a space with an ambiance that felt stark. You can’t get everything right out of the gates and if you wait for things to be perfect, you’ll never start. The only way you’ll learn who you are is by taking one step and seeing if that path feels right, or course-correcting.

None of us are able to 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?

There is a lot of talk today about how female founders lack access to capital. I didn’t have savings, my family has always been supportive but didn’t have additional money to invest, and a loan isn’t available unless you have some assets to back it. Two older women who I love — long-time family friends — both single at the time, coincidentally, so they didn’t have to run their decision by anyone — gave me money. One floated the cost of our liquor license, which allowed us to open immediately and the other gifted me start-up cash and has never once mentioned a return on her investment, aside from getting joy from knowing that I’m happy in my day-to-day work.

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?

One explanation that I’ve thought about since I’ve had daughters is that no one asks kids if they want to grow up and be an entrepreneur. Partly that’s because you can be an entrepreneur through many career paths and industries, but I still think we’re limiting the imagination of our daughters if we don’t introduce the idea early that they could start a company. I didn’t discover entrepreneurship until I was in graduate school.

Another related obstacle that I’ve come to recently is that females stereotypically are caretakers. I don’t necessarily mean as moms but across the board, women spend a lot of time, resources, and emotional energy supporting partners, siblings, parents, neighbors, their community, etc. Because that work is not valued or compensated — even though we all benefit from the labor — it makes taking a risk on a venture that may not provide an income off the bat even more challenging.

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?

If we paid women for caretaking labor this would immediately change the balance of who has money to start companies. But I realize that is an ideal state and we are far from that reality. In the meantime, female founders need to inspire and lift up other female founders, and there are so, so many examples of this. From funding to mentorship, to webinars, to networking, women are freely sharing their time, knowledge, and resources, and all those big and small actions will lead to shifts over time.

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?

This may sound cliche and basic: representation matters. You cannot know something is even an option until you see people like yourself doing it. You can’t benefit from experience and mentorship until people like you go and do the thing, then come back and share their learnings with their community. You can’t change the structures-that-be to make it easier for other people like you unless more people like you start doing the thing; it’s a chicken or egg issue.

If the question is more — should entrepreneurship be enticing to female founders: yes! Business is an effective way to drive innovation, solutions, and progress. We should all be terrified if half our brain force is being excluded from utilizing that tool.

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

One is the myth of “overnight success.” In fact, has that ever been true? Yes, by the time most people hear about a company, it’s taken flight, but there is probably a years-long back story of failures, blood, sweat, and tears. Related: it never ends — ha. At any point along the journey, being a founder is hard. It’s hard when you’re down, but it’s also hard when you’re up! For most founders, success is just as challenging to navigate as a failure because then you have to keep delivering. Female founders may actually be in a better position to ride these waves because, as research has proven, their emotional connectedness is stronger so they’re able to rely on networks to weather the loneliness, the highs, and the lows..

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?

Heck yes, everyone can be a founder. I think we all have it in us to be creative and take a risk on our talents. More so than “traits” I would say timing is one of the biggest factors. If you can put yourself in the right place at the right time for both you (personally) and the problem you’re trying to solve, that’s more than half the battle. From there, knowing your personal strengths (usually what you like to do) and weaknesses (usually what you procrastinate on) and how you define impact and success is key. After assessing where you have gaps, another big factor for success is hiring, managing, and motivating the right team to support your vision. Yes, I think anyone can do it, but you have to be aware of your environment, what you can and can’t change for your idea of success.

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. Support networks — This can be your family or friends but they can get a bit tired of the ups and downs. There is a myriad of peer professional networking groups that you can join (based on stage, industry, geography, etc). Entrepreneurship can be very lonely, so finding that support is essential. Right now, the Tory Burch Foundation Fellowship is providing that for me.
  2. Ask! It’s so easy to talk yourself out of asking for what you need (time off, a discount from a vendor, a colleague to step up) and just grit your teeth and do it yourself. I often turn this around on myself and ask if I would feel — insert uncomfortable feeling here — if someone asked the same of me, and the answer is usually, no, if they ask nicely :)
  3. Find a productive outlet for your self-doubt — You have to find a way to unplug. For me this is yoga and sometimes cooking. Find something you like to do or you’re good at or you get energy from so that you can come back to work believing in yourself and the world around you.
  4. Trust the smart people you hire. — A lot of founders will say: I hire smart people. The challenge is then getting out of their way. I find that especially in a start-up where there are trade-offs on salary, time, benefits, perks, etc — this can be the difference between your smart applicant working for you or taking an established role. People love to feel empowered in their work and that’s a big part of any Founder’s job.
  5. Money — or lack thereof — cannot scare you. Think of every possible relationship you could have with money and get really comfortable with it all. Sometimes you’re flush, sometimes you won’t know how you’re going to make the next payroll. It’s a bit counterintuitive, but having a past where you’ve dealt with financial insecurity can actually be a powerful asset to navigating the inevitable ebb and flow of cash.

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

I like to think I’m just getting started! When I began Kingmakers, I did so with the idea that I would have a positive impact in my sphere of influence and wouldn’t get too caught up in “the world.” For me, this has largely meant my team. A priority has been to create a space where people who work for me can be themselves. Of course, this means that their personal lives are welcome to be shared at work. It has also meant that many people who have worked for us have made huge professional strides and shifts as a result of their time with our company. We’re like a nest — folks are ready to fly after their time with us.

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.

This answer doesn’t necessarily address the vast, complicated, structural, and systemic problems that are making it challenging to pick one movement for good without solving for the web of related issues, but simply: I think we could all benefit from being a bit more empathetic and forgiving of our families, namely our parents. It would save us all from a lot of depression, anxiety, and stress and provide us with more room to live our full potential without blame or shame. Trust me, I know this is harder than it sounds — it’s a lifelong work in progress.

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.

Oh yeah, Padma Lakshmi! She has remained so wildly authentic while continuing to evolve in her career. She shows up with kindness and humor and it’s incredible that this 6 foot tall, stunning, immigrant brown woman is able to make fans of everyone from farmers to celebrities to line cooks. We’re both raising daughters and love food, so you know the conversation and the meal would be fabulous.

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

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis

825 Followers

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