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Zee Cohen-Sanchez Of Sole Strategies: Five Things I Learned As A Twenty-Something Founder

Learning how to be a good leader. There isn’t a guide on how to do it right. So you have to listen to your gut and your team to make decisions-and you won’t always be right, so you have to learn and grow as you go.

As a part of our series called “My Life as a TwentySomething Founder”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Zee Cohen-Sanchez.

Zee Cohen-Sanchez is founder and executive director of novel campaigning company, Sole Strategies. Having found her passion for politics at an early age, Zee committed herself to implementing true change in America and supporting the progressive party. She’s worked on a number of different campaigns including for AOC and Bernie Sanders, and now, with Sole Strategies, she’s focused on flipping seats across the country.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! What is your “backstory”?

Thanks for having me! I was born in Los Angeles in 1991 right before the LAPD brutalized Rodney King. It was that string of events and everything that was building up before that moment that prompted my parents to move to Australia. After spending the early years of my life there, I moved to New York for college. While I was in university, Occupy Wall Street was in full force, and it really opened my eyes to how deeply rooted injustice was in our country.

Then, while I was in graduate school, Bernie Sanders announced his run for president. I was so excited to finally see someone who would fight for the working class that I decided to drop out and help. It was Bernie’s race that taught me the importance of field work and I was lucky enough to use that skill set to help other progressives win seats. After going solo for almost 7 years running field operations, I decided to start Sole Strategies, a progressive, women-led organization dedicated to providing the hands on work to flip seats across the country.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your company? What lessons or takeaways did you take out of that story?

As my entire staff knows, I am a huge TikTok fan. I never make TikToks, but I am an avid scroller. I followed this one account for a few months and I loved their content. So, one day I decided to shoot my shot and reach out to the content creator asking if he wanted a job. No one thought he would respond to me given that he had a quarter of a million followers. Anyway, turns out he responded straight away, we set up a call and the rest is history. He ended up becoming one of our top digital employees and has run some of our top Twitter and TikTok accounts for our best candidates. I think it was Wayne Gretzky that said you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. That is the absolute truth.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

I think what makes our organization stand out is our team. Our team looks like the communities that we are working in. We also have very similar life circumstances and experiences to the communities we work in. When you can relate to a person’s story of struggle it means you have skin in the game. That’s exactly what our team has: passion, dedication, and skin in the game.

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?

I am really grateful to my old friend and mentor, Alan Hoffner. Had he not taken a chance on me when I was just twenty years old and hired me as his TA, I wouldn’t have had the backbone to do this work. Fighting for underdog candidates can be exhausting, but his vision for our generation made me understand our responsibility to step up and fight for what we believe in, especially when time isn’t on our side. I truly believe in the African proverb, “In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations.”

Are you working on any exciting projects now?

Right now we’re working for India Walton, the Democratic nominee for the Buffalo Mayor and we have two amazing candidates that are in a runoff election; Erika Estrada who will hopefully be elected to Atlanta City Council and Jharrett Bryant Who is running for Houston Board of Trustees. These are just a few of the exciting projects we are working on right now!

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

We pay our employees a living wage, that is really important to us. We also donate to working class candidates that inspire us and need financial support. Most importantly we are ousting long term incumbents that have been taking up space and not standing up for the people that they’re meant to be serving.

Do you have a favorite book that made a deep impact on your life? Can you share a story?

I don’t think I have just one. So many books I‘ve read have made a huge impact on the way I see the world at different times in my life. Just a few of my favorites along the years were Rules for Radicals, Roots, The Razor’s Edge and Their Eyes Were Watching God.

Can you share 5 of the most difficult and most rewarding parts of being a “Twenty Something founder”. Please share an example or story for each.

Most difficult

  1. Learning to take up space. Being a young woman in this business is not always welcome. Learning to assert yourself is a must.
  2. Learning how to be a good leader. There isn’t a guide on how to do it right. So you have to listen to your gut and your team to make decisions-and you won’t always be right, so you have to learn and grow as you go.
  3. Learning to be patient. It isn’t easy, but it’s necessary. As an Executive Director people will look to you for guidance and structure. If you respond with patience towards your team’s mistakes, they will be able to trust that they can come to you when things go wrong.
  4. Trusting people to help you. You can’t do it alone. Teaching people to do what you do is not just necessary, it’s crucial for growth.
  5. Money in general. My advice is get a bookkeeper straight away, don’t wait! You can’t be an expert at everything. Don’t try to be everyone for your company. Get help from experts.

Most rewarding

  1. Building a dream team. There is nothing better than getting to work and collaborate with the best in the business. Seeing the way our team fights, no matter how hard it gets, for working class candidates inspires me every day.
  2. Seeing our work getting results. There is nothing better than completing an incredible field program for a candidate and then seeing votes roll in from those same neighborhoods we hit. There is also no better feeling than one of our candidates’ tweets going viral. When you know all the work is tied to results, it makes it worth all the time and effort.
  3. Seeing our candidates win and knowing that they are going to take care of their community. It’s why we do what we do.
  4. Having the funds to donate to candidates that we believe in. So many progressive candidates struggle to raise the money that they need to win. It’s rewarding to use the money that we are making to pay our staff a living wage and donate to candidates who need support.
  5. Learning from the communities we work in. The places we work are full of history and have amazing stories. Listening to locals and finding out what issues they care about is really a great part of the work.

What are the main takeaways that you would advise a twenty year old who is looking to found a business?

Honestly, like Nike says, just do it. Listening is incredibly important, but you also need to balance that with taking action. There is never an ideal time to get started. So just start.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)

Who other than US Senator Bernie Sanders!

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

Follow us @SoleStrategies on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Twitter.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

No, thank you!

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