#SGGlobal 2019 Speaker Feature: Q+A with Mandela Schumacher-Hodge Dixon

We’re just days away from the 2019 Startup Grind Global Conference , and we have some phenomenal speakers with amazing stories!

Check out this Q+A with Mandela Schumacher-Hodge Dixon, Founder and CEO of Founder Gym, and don’t miss her at #SGGlobal on February 12.


Where are you from originally and where do you live now?

I was born in Hollywood, CA, raised in Pittsburgh, PA, and currently live in Oakland, CA.

In a sentence, what does Founder Gym do?

Via 6-week online cohorts, Founder Gym trains underrepresented founders on how to raise capital to scale their tech startups.

What is your mission?

Founder Gym is the world’s leading online training center for underrepresented founders seeking to create wealth and fulfillment.

Why did you decide to go from teaching to the tech industry?

I never planned on being in the tech industry. In fact, I have zero background in business, finance, or technology, and didn’t know a soul in Silicon Valley before moving here. You can say, I accidentally “bumped into” entrepreneurship. (Or maybe it bumped into me ;)

It was the summer of 2011, and I was a 6th grade teacher working in Pacoima, CA gearing up to transition into a PhD program at UCLA. My boyfriend at the time found out about an event called Startup Weekend, and my idea ended up winning first place at the 54-hour competition. To be honest, when I “met” entrepreneurship, it was love at first sight! Never before had I been in an environment I felt so empowered by. It was the exact opposite of the academic world I had been groomed in the previous years. Study, observe, theorize…startups were so different! Move fast, break things, test it now with real people, and figure it out as you go. I absolutely loved it!

Fast forward to the fall of that same year, and I ended up dropping out of my PhD program to pursue building my first startup full-time. That was nearly 8 years ago, and I’ve never looked back.

What did you learn from launching your first startup?

That it’s way harder than I could ever imagine! It will take you more time, more money, and more energy than you may realize, so three things to learn from that: 1) make sure you’re working on something you really, truly, deeply love (because trust me when I say, this journey will give you plenty of reasons to want to quit along the way), 2) make sure you have a 12 month financial safety net (i.e. money lined up to pay your bills until your business starts generating money itself), and 3) definitely secure a psychological safety net (i.e. a close knit-network of other founders who can empathize with your journey and offer you inspiration when times get tough).

What moment are you most proud of in your career?

I am most proud of staying true to myself. I’m not from this tech world, but I’ve made a place for myself in it, and I’ve built a successful business that helps other “non-traditional” founders claim their space here too.

What’s one thing you wish you’d done differently?

Trusting my instinct. The times when I’ve been least successful is when I was doing something for the approval of others vs. my personal belief in it. I’ve learned that even if you attain public adoration, there is nothing more gut-wrenching than having to look yourself in the mirror knowing you did it in a way that was inauthentic to who you are. “Success” without self-respect isn’t success at all.

What do you see as the biggest challenge facing startup founders today?

One of the biggest challenges facing startup founders today is overexposure to information. Everywhere you look there is a new article, video, program, conference, guru, etc. touting the next “great piece of advice” to build your startup, dominate your market, and go to the next level. This is putting a lot of would-be founders in a state of analysis paralysis, where they over-analyze every prospective move they can make, causing them to never actually take any significant action to get their solution out of their head and into real people’s hands.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

FOCUS. Do one thing better than anyone else, then leverage that success to do the next thing better than anyone else. And so on and so forth.

Do you have any personal or professional goals for the coming year?

My number one goal this year is taking great care of my personal health and happiness. This looks like creating a schedule of daily habits and rituals that not only empowers me to hit my business targets and lead my team to success, but fosters my personal well-being.

What is one thing you’re excited about right now at Founder Gym?

I am excited to grow over 200% percent this year. We have A LOT of amazing things coming up, so subscribe to our newsletter to get the goods.


The Comcast NBCUniversal LIFT Labs Accelerator, powered by Techstars is looking for game-changing connectivity, media and entertainment startups for its 2019 class. Apply now for a chance to elevate your company with help from our renowned mentor networks. Class starts this July in Philadelphia!