Deciding to be brave. My daughter has this cute book called, “Surfer Chick” about a young chicken learning to surf with her father. There is a great line, “Chick scoped out the water/to find the best wave./It swelled up behind her . . ./She chose to be brave.” I always think about this line because it reminds you that your attitude is a choice.
In this interview series, we are exploring the subject of resilience among successful business leaders. Resilience is one characteristic that many successful leaders share in common, and in many cases it is the most important trait necessary to survive and thrive in today’s complex market. I had the pleasure of interviewing Francie Jain. Francie Jain is Terawatt’s Founder and CEO. She believes helping people be great and achieve their potential has a ripple effect for every community.
In her professional life, Francie has switched careers three times, and she loves the challenge of change. A two time entrepreneur, Terawatt is Francie’s second for-profit endeavor. Her previous role was the founder of a third party marketing consultancy, West River Partners, that raised capital for Emerging Markets-based equity hedge funds. Prior to business school, Francie worked in the fashion industry.
Francie graduated from Princeton University with an AB degree in Politics and from The University of Chicago Booth School of Business with an MBA. Francie lives in the New York City area with her family.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’?
I grew up in a family of three kids, as the middle child and only girl. Growing up, I felt both special and the same as my brothers. Ultimately, that feeling of rolling with the punches — my specialty as a middle child — is what we now call grit. But within family activities, there were plenty of times I would quit a family soccer match or a game of Monopoly if I felt I was being ganged up on. Now, as an adult with my own family, I recognize the roots of my ability to get messy with a goal as long as I have conviction that I am playing a fair game.
I graduated from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, a wonderful experience where I learned about finance and economics. After graduation, I focused on a career in finance and spent the past ten plus years marketing alternative investment funds to institutions. My last gig in that space was founding a consultancy where I raised institutional capital for emerging markets-based equity hedge funds. I maxed out on finance and fundraising because it felt to me that for an industry based on rationality and numbers, there was still so much irrationality in how people were treated.
So, I started thinking about what it would be like to create my own business — where I would be able to benefit from all of the good things that happened as opposed to trying to quantify my impact as a consultant. I became curious about what it would be like to create a product and get involved in all of the decisions instead of advising on one aspect of selling it. I had always known that when I have complete ownership of a project I am far more invested and do a much better job than when I am responsible for a piece of it.
I spent years coming up with ideas, thinking to myself, “Would this be a good business?” One such idea was a website that listed the hidden non-vegetarian ingredients in foods a person might assume to be free of meat products. An example is Rice Krispie Treats: nearly all products that mass-made marshmallows as an ingredient are not vegetarian because the biggest marshmallow brands use gelatin, a byproduct of pork. It turns out other people had that idea and there are actually hundreds of great websites that list hidden meat products.
I finally hit upon an idea that didn’t seem to exist. The genesis of Terawatt was me trying to find a LinkedIn of job change — a place where the mission was to make change easy and affordable. I was looking into where someone in manufacturing, for instance, would go online for help if their job was being outsourced. I kept searching and searching, assuming that I wasn’t using the right key words. It seemed as obvious to me as a hidden ingredient site. After a few weeks of searching, I started to do real work coming up with data on employment and on the psychology behind change.
Ultimately, Terawatt evolved into a marketplace that makes professional coaching affordable through virtual, group classes with talented career coaches. Eventually, I hope to be able to offer more retail classes where we can help people with career transition.
My career in marketing has served me well as a startup founder. As a result of connecting with so many types of people for my job, I have a huge network and also an ability to connect with people easily. It makes it really easy for me when I am stuck on a problem or need advice about a path — I just reach out to my contacts to see if they have advice. I never thought about how important communication is to a start up, but many times I find that big breakthroughs of ideas or features come from speaking to people.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
Probably the most interesting thing about my career is that I keep switching it. When I first graduated from college I wanted to combine my undergraduate studies in political science and visual arts. I worked in fashion for a number of years before switching to finance to learn more about financial analysis. The biggest lesson is that career switching isn’t that hard if you can walk people through your thought process and what gets you excited about the new career. It may not be the first few people you speak to, but my experience was that eventually you find someone who will give you a break.
Or, you can volunteer somewhere to get experience and that makes the story of your changing interest much more tangible. I find that by giving people your time or energy is a great way to learn about a new community and open up a new professional or personal avenue.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We are a marketplace that genuinely wants everyone to succeed and the marketplace is a three way solution that solves problems for career coaches, professionals and HR teams without disadvantaging any group. My personal belief, that I infuse in Terawatt, is that we are all better off when each one of us is better at our job and at being good people. Communication is better, people aren’t acting in anger or spite, they extend the benefit of the doubt more, they feel comfortable being themselves. To me, all of the above makes it easier to work on a goal.
One of the things I am really proud of and love about Terawatt is that we don’t have separate websites for coaches and students, the two groups we match up for live classes. Many websites separate the pages because they don’t want the other side of the marketplace to understand how the sausage is made — aka what the company is saying about the other side of the marketplace.
At Terawatt, I decided that I was going to be fully open about all sides. There is nothing we are telling coaches that we don’t want students to see, and vice versa. In many marketplaces there is an incentive for users to go around the initial matchmaker site to save money, but Terawatt isn’t set up that way.
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?
Temp Keller, Co-Founder & CEO of Templeton Learning, has been indispensable to me. He is a cousin and also a friend — we attended college together. When I was just feeling frustrated that there wasn’t an affordable website for change, I reached out to him. Immediately he said, “Yes, I want to help you work on this.” He really was the magical person who believed in me before I really had anything. He gave me concepts to think about and books to read to develop the idea.
I often reflect that I am so glad I made a thoughtful choice of reaching out to a positive, can-do person. It is so important to remember that every institution or valuable company was once new. Finding a person who can support your vision can be the difference in it existing.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
- The ability to be an independent thinker. If you don’t derive much importance from what other people think of you, exploring careers and experiences isn’t scary.
- Optimism. Believing that you can do something that will change the outcome. If you keep thinking you will be able to make a difference, it enables you to keep aiming at a problem and learning from the results.
- Confidence in your decision-making. If you know why you are doing something and it is based on your belief that it is the right thing to do, both in gut and mind, it is pretty easy to be resilient. You know that eventually someone will see your perspective.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
Serena Williams. I am a fan of women’s tennis, and I have enjoyed watching her return to a high level of play, post-maternity leave. My understanding is that she had complications during childbirth and had to work really hard to get back into competitive shape post pregnancy. I love watching her now as a mom because I really understand her choices and sacrifices. In addition to her fight, I admire her for the lovely things she has to say about each opponent.
Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?
I wouldn’t say I have been told something is impossible, but I certainly did have people question my seriousness and doubt my abilities when I was founding Terawatt. At the beginning of founding Terawatt, people assumed it was a non-profit or asked how many hours I was spending on it. I would say that it was pretty common for me to hear various reactions of friends assuming that I wasn’t serious about making Terawatt a successful business or generally giving me some negative feedback like, “That doesn’t sound like a business.”
At the time, I just decided that they were wrong and I focused on speaking to positive people about the business. It turns out that there is actually research about entrepreneurship that limiting feedback is key.
Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?
My husband had a cardiac arrest that he survived, but before it was clear that he would make it, I spent a lot of time in the ICU waiting room. All around me were families of people who were very ill or dying, and I couldn’t avoid thinking about life, death and living. At the end of the ordeal, I decided that when I died, I wanted to look back on my life and feel that I had really lived a life and that I was fearless.
I guess that epiphany could lead to a lot of outcomes, but for me being fearless meant starting a business where I was able to make my own calls about developing a product and all of the big and small decisions. I guess up until that point I had been afraid to take the steps to be the creator. I was so comfortable being the facilitator.
I have so much fun with this business because I love how valuable creativity can be. Most days, I call up people and say, “You know what would be really cool?” and try to see if that can be done. Or, I learn about technologies or solutions that could take me closer to the cool thing. I am actually able to be more decisive and thoughtful when I think of creating something cool and helpful as opposed to thinking of myself as a CEO.
Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?
In high school, I was a member of the girls tennis team, playing singles as one of the top ranked team members. But, I went to a pretty small school, and a number of girls dropped off the team for some reason I don’t recall. That meant that the girls team folded because there weren’t enough team members to field a team. Without much consternation, I joined the boys’ team and I played with them that season. Looking back, I remember feeling like that was the best plan B. It is a good metaphor for me life, because I am so drawn to solutions that move the ball forward.
Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Deciding to be brave. My daughter has this cute book called, “Surfer Chick” about a young chicken learning to surf with her father. There is a great line, “Chick scoped out the water/to find the best wave./It swelled up behind her . . ./She chose to be brave.” I always think about this line because it reminds you that your attitude is a choice.
- Most days, I write a to-do list of items I am afraid of and do them. Include a few things on the list that you aren’t excited to do.
- Change your mindset: I used to be scared of putting myself and my company forward for press or awards. But, that changed once I became really clear on the solution and how it could help so many people. Once I believed it, I started to look at anything that had any amount of evaluation as, “You miss every shot you don’t take.”
- Go to a weekly class — yoga, pottery, etc. — where you can track your progress. For me, I have been going to yoga classes for 20 years, and it is fun for me to think back on when I couldn’t do a certain pose or when yoga made me really sore. Now, yoga is like a massage for me — it gets the knots out.
- Have a child. Every day is a new day and children are far from robots. I find that I have to try many different approaches to get the result I want. Sometimes I have days when I don’t see eye to eye with how my daughter wants to live. You have to work through it — there is no option with a child.
You are a person 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? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Attending a weekly potluck dinner with people of different backgrounds and ethnicities. I got this idea from a book I read with my daughter called, “The Sandwich Swap.” It is my belief that learning about food is such a great way to learn about a culture. I would love for each person to bring a dish and present their research on how this dish came to be, how it is made and its cultural significance. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches figure prominently in the book, and the history could be about the Earl of Sandwich, post-war food made to be eaten out of the house and traditional American kids’ food.
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders 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, especially if we tag them :-)
Professional: Stitch Fix founder, Katrina Lake. I recently listened to her on the podcast, “How I Built This”, and I was impressed by her conviction in an idea and a trend and her ability to see past the short term hurdles like fundraising. Lake strikes me as a person who makes good decisions, and would have great advice. Plus, I am always curious to connect with female entrepreneurs.
Off Duty: I love the Tami Roman’s Instagram & YouTube account, @OfficialBonnetChronicles. It is a comedy account of short videos, and she is hysterical and also very wise. The video content ranges between an alter ego in a bonnet giving salacious advice to the same alter ego giving spiritual advice. It is a fascinating follow. I would love to meet her and learn more about her life and business.
How can our readers follow you on social media?