I want to inspire EMPATHY as whole. A movement in which people become more empathetic with other human beings; more empathetic with animals; more empathetic with the environment and first and far most MORE EMPATHETIC WITH THEMSELVES. I truly believe that this is the key to living a happy life and creating a better world for future generations.
I had the pleasure to interview Ivana de Maria. Ivana is an actress, producer, storyteller and entrepreneur . You may recognize her from the cast of Univision’s hit telenovela, “La bella y las bestias” and she is currently a producer on the upcoming Netflix show “Monarca” starring Salma Hayek. In addition, she is executive producing a series (set up at a major cable network, soon to be announced!) based on the life and of famous war journalist Oriana Fallaci. Outside of acting/producing, her newest endeavor is Storyplace, a storytelling platform that aims to give a voice to ORDINARY PEOPLE with EXTRAORDINARY STORIES, launching this Winter.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell me a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Since I was a little girl I was always very attracted to the entertainment industry. My great grandfather founded the first Radio and TV station in Mexico and my two oldest brothers have a production company as well. One of them is a producer and the other one a director. Growing up, I spent a lot of time on set with them, helping them in any way I could. I always knew I wanted to eventually work in the entertainment industry, specifically as an actress. However, I also had many intellectual curiosities, which I wanted to explore before focusing on my long-term career. I studied high school in Switzerland and after graduating I moved to Boston for College.
I attended Boston University where I completed a bachelor’s degree in Business and Law, always knowing that upon graduating I would focus on acting full time. Over the course of those four years, during summers while all my classmates would look for finance internships, I would attend acting school in NY and LA, and then during the school year I would enjoy learning the theoretical aspects of business and law, skills I felt would come in handy no matter what I did.
Upon graduating I immediately moved to LA to pursue acting full time. Very quickly after starting the casting/rejection/waiting process, I got frustrated by the system. I hated the idea that my results would depend on so many factors that were not in my hands. I called my brothers and said: “What do I do?” to which they casually responded, “Make your own short film.” At first I thought this was ridiculous, but my frustration with the industry was bigger than my fear of the unknown. I began writing my own characters, which then turned into my own stories, then my own projects and finally my own productions. I wrote, produced and acted in two short films, which to my surprise had great success in the festival circuit.
I had no idea where exactly I was going with this, but by creating my own content I learned everything about the process of telling a story. From writing, to producing, acting, editing, the business… and I fell in love with it. ALL OF IT. I quickly realized that this generation had an opportunity: the industry was changing and that the barriers of entry had dropped as the power was now in the hands of the creative. There was a new currency going around: STORIES. If you had a good story and knew how to tell it, you had a big opportunity.
Today, I am a true believer that as an artist, it all starts with creating your own content, and therefore you own opportunities.
A couple of years ago I started developing a project based on the life of an Italian journalist, Oriana Fallaci, and this sparked my curiosity for real life stories. I began looking for more projects that were based on real life stories and quickly became enchanted by the idea of taking these stories and bringing them to life, giving them the voice they needed to be heard.
My whole life I have dreamt of finding a way in which my passion and my work is directly correlated to a positive impact in the world. I found my version of social responsibility within film, and decided I would create entertainment content based on true stories, specifically those with messages, stories and voices that needed to be heard today.
As I embarked on this journey to find extraordinary stories, I travelled and spoke to different people from all around the world. As I did so, I found that everyone’s story had a lesson for me in some way.
This led to a thought and an actual dream that that kept me up at night: “How many stories go unheard in the world?” I could not stop thinking of all the lost learning opportunities and decided I would do something about it. I wanted to create a place for these stories.
Taking into account technology and generation trends, I decided to create a platform that would inspire people to connect through story sharing, to realize the importance of sharing and listening to stories. That is why I created StoryPlace, an egoless social platform that promotes empathy by connecting people through sharing and reading real life stories.
What’s one of the most interesting things that happened to you since you began leading your company?
When I started developing StoryPlace I realized that it is much easier to give advice than to take your own. I was very good at talking about the empathy deficit in the world and the lack of connection in humanity, however I was not necessarily doing what I was asking people to do. I was asking people to promote empathy and share their stories, to be open and talk to strangers, yet I was not exactly the most open of people. After a funny conversation with my boyfriend, he pointed out how I was terrible at even asking for something in a restaurant or asking for instructions. I always asked him to do it instead. I suddenly realized I was part of the problem and began challenging myself in multiple situations to approach strangers and share a story. At first it was more difficult that I imagined, I was a bit awkward and wasn’t sure how to approach them in an organic way. However, I started learning about the difficulties of starting this interaction and even the difficulty of starting a story myself. All of these things actually helped me change aspects of design in the app, in a way that made it easy for users to share stories without feeling intimidated.
Today, I am proud to say I make it a point to be open to people, to listen to stories, to share my own and I lead this path to empathy by example.
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?
The funniest mistake in creating an app was thinking that it would be easy!
I learned that the Internet has created new and entirely different industries, and many things don’t apply to these industries, which opens up new opportunities but also makes it difficult to adapt. Having studied business in college I thought that I had a good understanding of how to start a business, however, as I started StoryPlace I realized that everything I learned was in relation to tangible products. When it comes to intellectual properties or more so data platforms, the same rules don’t apply.
So… in a nutshell I learned that I had a lot to learn, but instead of letting that scare me away from my idea, I accepted the challenge and it made it all the more interesting!
What do you think makes your company stand out from other social platforms?
When I started developing StoryPlace, I immediately found a problem: Why is that the term “EGO-LESS SOCIAL PLATFORM” sounds contradicting in itself?
Social media is an incredibly powerful tool. The same way it can be an incredible opportunity it is also incredibly dangerous. Suddenly you are able to have your own personal PR outlet but sometimes people don’t realize that by having a big social following you have an extra loud voice, and this entails a big opportunity but an even bigger responsibility. If you’re voice is heard a little louder than others, or a lot, you need to be careful with every word you put out there. You must be aware of the repercussions it has on people and generations that are following you.
Social media is a tool that was initially created with a great purpose: to connect people, therefore create solidarity, empathy, communication… but instead it has led to things like discrimination, insecurity, bullying, mental health issues like body dysmorphia… Somewhere a long the path of social media development, we, the users, turned them into ego-driven platforms.
THIS is one the main reasons that led me to the creation and specific design behind StoryPlace. I believe in social communication, in social platforms, in story sharing, but I think it has to be Ego-less driven so that the stories are not corrupted or filtered by ego.
There are a lot of social platforms out there, but again, because they have become very much ego driven, the true stories are not out there. I want to mute the noise in all these posts and preserve the story behind each person, what makes everyone HUMAN. We promote anonymity by using pen names, but maintain connection and engagement by allowing you to still have an identity, a profile, but as a storyteller… all of this in efforts of achieving this ego-less story sharing. In StoryPlace, we don’t care about your selfie, we care about your story.
Are you working on any exciting new acting projects now that you can share?
I recently finished acting in a TV show called “Beauty and The Beasts” and now I’m actually producing more than acting.
I am in mid development of two TV Shows. The first one is called MONARCA and its for Netflix, I am producing a part of the show that will be filmed in LA. The second one is a show based on the renowned journalist Oriana Fallaci, specifically her book A MAN. I am producing this show a long with my producing partner Giselle Fernandez and very soon we will have exciting news to share!
I am also developing and producing a dystopian show called DREAMERS, as well as a romantic comedy feature film that I am writing producing and will act in with my boyfriend, Arap Bethke.
I love having projects of my own that get to develop from start to finish and some of which I also act in, but I am also always actively auditioning.
How do you think your work with Storyplace will help people?
In my opinion, the current empathy deficit is what has led to many of the global issues we face today. The core value of StoryPlace is empathy, and my goal is to have StoryPlace be a medium through which people relate, connect and understand one another. I am not asking people to agree with each other, simply to understand and recognize that everyone has a story and therefore an opinion or belief that deserves to be respected.
I am hoping that through StoryPlace people will begin to appreciate storytelling as the oldest and purest form of education. Hopefully, this will be the beginning of a better, stronger and more empathetic generation.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
Regardless of your gender, there are certain factors that come to play when you lead or join a team. Many times when starting a business you will face things that take you by surprise or that are new to you, the important thing is not to be intimidated by the unknown. When being a part of a team it is important to listen to the rest of your team players, no matter the difference in positions, because a good brainstorm will result in better results. There is a reason for needing multiple people in a team and it tends to be that each person has something different to offer. This is easy to forget, and many times as a “boss” you can unintentionally disregard certain opinions or create an environment in which employees don’t feel comfortable enough to voice theirs, but this is counterproductive for a team and will limit its potential.
As a female, you have to learn to listen to your instinct. I work based on instinct a lot… and this can be incredibly scary. From day 1 Men have surrounded me in this process, but it never really bothered me. I think that my whole life, whether it is because I am “too young” or “just an actress” or “a woman”, I have felt the pressure of proving people wrong. When I first had meetings with developers I could tell that they would think I was just an actress wanting to create an app, with no idea of how to do so. And yes, maybe I had no idea, but believe me I never let them see that. Before each meeting I would research everything, make sure I knew what I was talking about, and stood by my vision no matter what. Many times, the men around me would disagree with my vision because it was “too girly” or say things like “it’s how it works here”, and I hated that. I believe in rules and the importance of them being there, but I also believe that once you know and understand the rules, you can create your own path. That is the essence of innovation.
StoryPlace is an all female team and proud to of that! It can be intimidating to be a part of an industry that is mostly led by men, that being said, many times it also leads to indirectly excluding men and men’s opinions. No extreme is healthy for any industry, it is important to take into consideration both sides of the equation and to realize the added value in having a male and female perspective in your team, that is why we have decided to include a couple of men in our board of advisors. We believe that a combination and collaboration of both male and female perspectives will lead to optimum results.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a team?
Leading a startup and a new team requires that you wear a lot of hats. When everyone wears a million hats you end up having a lot of people who are spreading themselves too thin. Productivity and efficiency decrease. Every person in the team should have specific tasks, each measured by milestones and specific goals. As the leader of the team you have to still wear all the hats and understand each team members goals, but don’t forget that you have them in your team for their specific skills. A big mistake is hiring a specialist and then telling them how to do their job. Hire a team that you trust, both individually and all together. Oversee each process, recognize each person’s efforts and skills, create an open communication dynamic where everyone feels comfortable voicing opinions and motivated. Don’t underestimate the power of non-monetary motivation; it tends to be what drives a person to overachieve.
Lastly, even though the team begins to grow in size, make sure that the dynamic remains intimate.
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?
Most definitely my mother, Gina. She is a powerhouse, businesswoman, mother of 5 (who she raised on her own), grandmother of 10 and mentor of a million. She always taught me to follow my dreams, to believe in myself, to be realistic about things and to not be afraid of failing. Thanks to her I had the possibility to pursue my own passions, and most importantly she has always taught me by example.
Furthermore, she is a woman who does a million different things within multiple industries and does not define herself within ONE occupation. She has showed me that I can pursue multiple interests and balance multiple paths that I’m passionate about.
I will be forever grateful to her and my ultimate goal is always to make her proud.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I believe that having a public voice, and therefore a loud one, is a responsibility before an opportunity. I am also a true believer of energy balance and giving back to the world when you can. I take this very seriously and try to implement a social responsibility aspect to everything I do.
I am involved with multiple charities both in Mexico and USA.
- I am a leadership circle member of Visionary Women, a non-profit women’s leadership organization based in Los Angeles.
- A long with my mother I co-founded DALIA EMPOWER, a Women empowerment education center that creates a unique and innovative community, created to inspire the world by leveling the playing field across genders so that people can reach their full potential in inclusive communities. I specifically manage their younger generations/ millennial division.
- About 3 times a week I volunteer as a Spanish-English interpreter for Women and children who flee from South America and arrive in the US seeking political asylum. I do this over the phone and translate their conversations with American legal aid volunteers.
- I am a spokesperson for Children and immigrants who are suffering due to the current immigration crisis.
- I am a board member for Justice for Migrant women, a nonprofit organization created by the amazing activist Monica Ramirez.
- I am the social media ambassador for JumpStart’s read for the record, which promotes reading for children in hopes of helping them achieve greater education.
-In mexico City I work with CASA HOGAR GRACIELA ZUBIRAN, a Girls orphanage. I developed a program for the orphan girls at the Casa Hogar where we bring in people to teach them certain subjects in order for these girls’ to discover their passions and talents. Once they find something they are passionate about we help them continue this education and connect them to companies that can offer a job for them once they turn 18.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share 5 lessons and a brief story or explanation of each.)
1. Believe in your vision. Trust your intuition and create your own content. Don’t wait for people to hand you an opportunity.
2. Don’t be afraid to fail. If you do, which you probably will a million times in your life, it’s ok! You simply learned another way not to do something.
3. Don’t question your “luck”. Many times when something would go the right way or an opportunity would arise I would think to myself “I’m so lucky”. And at times this would make me insecure or question myself… until one day my brother once told me something that I will never forget: “Luck is where preparation and opportunity meet”. You can have a million opportunities but if you are not prepared for it, nothing will come of it, and vice versa. So give yourself the credit for being prepared when that opportunity comes along.
4. You only have 100% of yourself. This is something I learned from my mother. When you commit to giving 100% to multiple things in your life, you are setting yourself up for failure, because 200% or 300% of ONE person does not exist. You are one person and you have 100% of you, so be honest to yourself and others about how you plan to distribute that percentage… also that percentage distribution will change with time, so go back and re-evaluate it whenever necessary. By planning your day, your work and your personal life knowing that you only have 100% of yourself to give to the combination of all things, you will achieve results and be more efficient.
5. Enjoy the ride. It may sound cliché but its true. Sometimes we are so obsessed with results and growth that we forget to enjoy the process. Take a breath every once in a while and stop. Observe your surroundings, recognize your growth, pat yourself on the back, take a day off, and enjoy the benefits of your hard work. There is no point in working hard if you are not enjoying the results from it.
You are a person in a position of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
More than IF I could, I know I can. I think everyone has the capacity and power to inspire, its just a matter of finding the way to do it and the element of inspiration you wish to promote.
Personally, I want to inspire EMPATHY as whole. A movement in which people become more empathetic with other human beings; more empathetic with animals; more empathetic with the environment and first and far most MORE EMPATHETIC WITH THEMSELVES. I truly believe that this is the key to living a happy life and creating a better world for future generations.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it”. — Oscar Wilde
My biggest fear and life lesson is the difficulty and importance of defining success. Success is personal for each person and therefore something impossible to define. Many times we sacrifice things in life that matter, justifying it with the typical “it will be worth it”. What we fail to define is WHEN will it be worth it? Find your own way of defining what success means to you, in the short term and long term… but make sure that your definition of success is not something intangible at the end of the road, because so long as you are alive that road will never end.
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?
Yes, many. But one of them is my great grandfather. I never met him yet I feel a deep connection to him. He has inspired my entire family to be pioneers and innovators. I would love to pick his brain and get his advice. More importantly I would love to listen to his stories… I inherited his birthmark which is a blonde streak in my hair and I always thought it had a special meaning.