Growing your craft and gaining new knowledge is a habit that enriches your work and life. Developing yourself is a consistent practice, an active posture of being self-aware of your bad habits and consciously working towards replacing them with better ones. In fact, being a great leader or founder isn’t so much the title but rather who we are as people, and that takes a lot of work.
We spoke to Kathryn Finney, writer, author, keynote speaker, and founder of digitalundivided—a social enterprise that takes an innovative approach to economic empowerment by encouraging women of color (WOC) to own their economic security through entrepreneurship.
She shares the importance of making personal growth a habit and how it feeds into your life’s work.
You give on average 50 keynotes a year, run a business, and manage other side projects—oh, and you have a family. At the height of your career, how do you create time to learn? Or is your work a source of developing new ideas, skills, and knowledge?
Kathryn: I do a lot of learning through reading. My schedule can get pretty crazy, but I do make it a point to read a book a week. I’m also a big fan of apps like Pocket. My husband and I email each other links for our respective reading lists from time to time and I save them in the Pocket app to read later. That’s peak #RelationshipGoals right there!
At the same time, I also learn a lot from my work—from being with my team, with my peers in the industry, and from being with the founders in our BIG Incubator program. Learning never stops for me.
You started one of the first fashion blogs on the net in 2003 and this successful platform created many new opportunities to expand your work. How has writing or managing your own platform helped you develop yourself?
Kathryn: It made me embrace even more who I am. My writing gained a following for representing real women with real budgets, a trend that reflected the exact opposite of what was in vogue at that time, which was more aspirational. In a world where conformity is always the safe choice, my blog had become a destination that celebrates what makes us, us, and I’m really happy that this resonated with my readers so much that it inspired them even in real life.
Your work with digitalundivided enables female entrepreneurs of color for success and you support them with mentorship and community. What are some things that you teach as a foundation for becoming an entrepreneur? Is it a personal framework that you operate on?
Kathryn: digitalundivided’s BIG Incubator is a 30-week incubator program for high potential Black and Latina women founders. BIG’s curriculum is actually based on the Lean Startup Methodology model, which is the same model used by top accelerator programs like Y Combinator and TechStars. We modified this model for Black and Latina women entrepreneurs and the specific challenges they face (for instance, Black women receive less than .2% of venture funding).
Founders in the incubator learn how to build a minimally viable product, how to test their ideas in a real marketplace before committing money or time, how to develop a pitch deck, how to scale their products rapidly, and how to gain access to angel and venture funding. Upon completion of the incubator, BIG founders become Confident Founders who can own any room they walk into with their knowledge, self-assurance, and passion for their company and product.
Learning never stops for me.
Do you think there’s a correlation between the content we produce and how we grow into ourselves? Is there an example that you can think of where leveling up your mindset helped you produce work that made a greater impact?
Kathryn: I definitely agree that there’s a connection. After all, writing is the physical manifestation of our own perception of the world. Writing things down makes sense of the chaos of ideas in our heads, clearing up things and compelling us to reflect on things we may have overlooked.
While writing the Project Diane report in 2016, I had come face-to-face with dismal numbers describing the state of Black women in the tech entrepreneurship space. It’s easy to make emotional assumptions, being a Black woman in tech myself, but I kept drilling into these figures to try and find out why such disparity exists in the industry. In the process, I found crucial insights and viable solutions for people and organizations who want to solve this problem, too.
Project Diane went on to amass 1,000+ downloads and 430+ academic and mass media citations, including the New York Times, Forbes, and CNN.
What are some lessons you learned early in your career that are still relevant for you today?
Kathryn: The importance of staying true to oneself. Life is a marathon, not a sprint. And the only way you can sustain yourself is by always being you.
What does the future of content look like to you?
Kathryn: I see content becoming more personalized and predictive for the audience through AI. I’m just blown away by how much we can potentially do with this technology in engaging its targeted audience.
In addition, people have grown savvy when it comes to seeing through fluffy advertorials and search-optimized pieces. I see bigger demand for more authentic, well-researched, and high quality content that can build the readers’ recognition and trust in your publication (super important for this “fake news” era).
After all, writing is the physical manifestation of our own perception of the world. Writing things down makes sense of the chaos of ideas in our heads, clearing up things and compelling us to reflect on things we may have overlooked.
What is your definition of owning your content?
Kathryn: It’s creating content that carries your brand and your “voice” which are recognizable to your audience even when syndicated outside your own blog domain. Think xkcd. It uses generic stick figures that even three-year-olds can make, but combined with its quirky humor and geeky jokes, are pretty unmistakable even when spotted randomly on Facebook or Reddit.
Any final thoughts on this subject that you want to express that I haven’t asked as a question?
Kathryn: I used to get asked how I earned my stripes as a professional blogger/content creator. There’s no magic, instant way to do that. It’s really about putting in the work. I blogged twice a day every day for 2 years before my site started to really take off. So don’t focus on writing that one masterpiece post—write frequently instead and keep at it.
…People have grown savvy when it comes to seeing through fluffy advertorials and search-optimized pieces. I see bigger demand for more authentic, well-researched, and high quality content that can build the readers’ recognition and trust in your publication.
Morning people get 15% off their WordPress.com site at wordpress.com/creativemornings.
Recommended tools by Kathryn:
- Google Apps – It’s the closest thing to a complete productivity + collaboration solution we can get. What more can I say?
- Pocket – Helps me organize articles to read while traveling
- Basecamp – With so many projects and events we do at DID, Basecamp has kept us organized and on track for years.
- Slack – Our team is scattered across at least four different time zones, so effective communication tools like Slack is crucial for us.
- Automation tools like IFTTT and Zapier – They take care of the little tedious things like tracking and syncing our records so our team can focus on bigger tasks.
Good reads by Kathryn:
- 100 Year of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez: It’s one of my favorite books about the thread that bind generations. Has nothing to do with tech (which is why I love it)
- https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2018/01/15/577675950/meet-the-fearless-cook-who-secretly-fed-and-funded-the-civil-rights-movement About the women whose cooking funded the civil rights movement
- Humans of New York. I operate in a space that is often dehumanizing, so this feed- one of the ONLY ones I follow on social media, is a tool a use to help keep me in touch with my own humanity as well as others.