Name: Mandela Schumacher-Hodge
City: Oakland, CA
Job: Founder of The Startup Couch
How she got there: Schumacher-Hodge kicked off her post-college life as a teacher in South Central Los Angeles. While working toward her Ph.D., she was introduced to the world of entrepreneurship via an event called Startup Weekend—and her life was never the same. She dropped out of her Ph.D. program to launch a business, became the Global Director of Startup Weekend Education (SWEDU), then started a blog about the challenges of being a first-time founder. This year, she and her sister launched The Startup Couch, “an online content platform that uses authentic storytelling to help founders stay happy and healthy as they work hard to change the world.”
Being a startup founder can be a confidence roller coaster. Why does this outfit make you feel take-charge?
Mandela Schumacher-Hodge: Giving someone your full, undivided attention is one of the best skills you can develop, so I try to wear clothes that won’t interfere with my ability to do that. This outfit makes me feel powerful because I feel like it’s tailored to my size, shape, and personality. I appreciate small details and accents that add a little flare to my style, such as the peek-a-boo cutouts and waist buckle on this Tahari dress.
It’s pretty “pitch perfect,” in the sense that you’re ready for VC meetings and fundraising.
MSH: My everyday work style is very “startup-y”—a pair of jeans, a t-shirt, and tennis shoes!
Is that also a reflection of being in Silicon Valley?
MSH: I think the importance of style varies in the startup world depending on the stage of your company. When you’re just beginning, your number one priority is to work around the clock to create a product or service that creates significant value for users, so being fashionable isn’t necessarily a priority for most founders.
When should entrepreneurs trade the hoodie for a well-tailored ensemble?
MSH: Pitch meetings with investors, public speaking engagements, and networking events provide great opportunities to dress up. Just make sure your outfit sends the right message. In my opinion, the best thing you can wear as an entrepreneur is confidence. You’ll need it to attract talent, raise money, and be the leader your team needs.
Talk to me about the genesis of The Startup Couch. What inspired it?
MSH: The Startup Couch was the result of me “scratching my own itch.” As a first-time startup founder, I struggled a lot in private with anxiety, stress, and insecurities. As I moved into the startup advisor role, I quickly realized that what I had experienced was far more common than I ever realized, yet no one was openly talking about it, and there wasn’t much out there in terms of support and advice. I created The Startup Couch to be a “safe haven” for startup founders to retreat to whenever they’re feeling down, need someone to relate to, or want some motivation.
Often times we buy expensive shoes or treat ourselves to a shopping spree when we’re feeling down about work. But is self-care about more than just splurging?
MSH: The most important thing to me is my health and well-being. I believe it’s the foundation for true success and happiness, so I try to prioritize it every single day. I write in my journal every morning; the themes center on what I’m grateful for, what I’m struggling with, and what my intention for the day is. I go hiking or do capoeira three to five times a week, and I nurture my relationships. I have date-night with my partner once a week, connect with family and friends, and, of course, cuddle with my dog every day.
Do you wear anything special that grounds you or has sentimental value?
MSH: Most days, I wear a silver chain with a pendant that has two different sayings on either side of it: “Live the life you love,” and “Learn from yesterday, live for today, and hope for tomorrow.” Depending on how I’m feeling that morning and the message I think I need to be reminded of most that day, I will put that side of the pendant face up. The necklace was a gift to me from my partner.
Any advice for aspiring Millennial entrepreneurs?
MSH: Everyone has the same options: A. contribute to something that already exists (i.e. work for someone else’s company), or B. create something new that doesn’t yet exist (i.e. build your own company). If you are considering choosing option B (create your own venture), then I’d highly recommend that you set aside at least 2-3 months to seriously strategize your game-plan before taking the plunge into entrepreneurship. The reality is nine out of every 10 startups fail within two years, so if you want to give yourself the best odds of succeeding, invest the time to do a deep-dive into researching the problem before you go out and build a solution.
Photos: Andrea Posadas for Levo