How Kathryn Finney Went From Being A Yale-Trained Epidemiologist To A Venture Capitalist Helping BIPOC Entrepreneurs Do Business Their Own Way
Ep. 209
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Kathryn Finney

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On this week’s episode, I talk with Kathryn Finney, a former Yale-trained epidemiologist turned blogger turned investor and philanthropist. Before WordPress even existed and you had to print out photos and then scan and upload them online, Kathryn created her blog, The Budget Fashionista. After running that for many years, she sold the blog and founded digitalundivided, a social enterprise focused on helping Black women own their work. She then went on to found and manage Genius Guild, a $20M venture fund. At the onset of the pandemic, she wanted to do more to support Black-women owned businesses so she founded The Doonie Fund, giving out micro-investments from her own personal investment. Most recently, she published Build The D*mn Thing: How To Start A Successful Business If You’re Not A Rich White Guy, in it she empowers entrepreneurs to take advantage of their unique networks and resources. Kathryn has such an incredible quitter story and I can’t wait for you to hear more from her on the episode.

Find Kathryn here:

Show Transcript
Hey, welcome to Lessons From a Quitter where we believe that it is never too late to start over. No matter how much time or energy you spent getting to where you are, if ultimately you are unfulfilled, then it is time to get out. Join me each week for both inspiration and actionable tips so that we can get you on the road to your dreams.

Hello, my friends. Welcome to another episode of Lessons From A Quitter. I'm so excited to have you here and I'm so excited to have our next guest on this podcast. Badass doesn't even begin to describe it. I mean, there are no words to describe Kathryn Finney and I am just so honored that she agreed to come and chat with me. Kathryn started her career as a Yale-trained epidemiologist and we will talk about how an epidemiologist goes on to become a blogger before blogging was even a thing, before WordPress was even a thing. She was the founder of The Budget Fashionista and she became one of the first black women to have a successful seven figure start-up exit when she sold that blog. She has gone on to become an investor, a visionary entrepreneur, a philanthropist, a startup champion. She was the founder and the former CEO of digitalundivided, which is a groundbreaking breaking social enterprise focused on creating a world where black women own their work. She is now the founder and managing general partner of The Genius Guild and she is the chair of the Doonie Fund. She does everything alright. This woman is a force and is amazing. And she's also now the author of Build The D*mn Thing: How To Start A Successful Business If You're Not A Rich White Guy which discusses how black, indigenous and people of color and female entrepreneurs can disrupt, remake and build their own rules of entrepreneurship and investing. Such an important voice that we so desperately need. And she's here to talk to us about not only her own journey and how someone goes from epidemiology to really taking on the VC world and doing all of these things that are historically excluded or how do I say this ex- historically out of reach for a lot of BIPOC people, especially BIPOC women, how she's managed to not only get in but now really pave the way for the rest of us. Like I said, it's such an honor to have her and I will stop talking so you can hear the wisdom of the incredible Kathryn Finney.

Hi Kathryn. Thank you so much for joining me today.

Thanks for having me. I'm excited to be here.

Oh, I am so excited to have you. I know that people are gonna take so much away from your story. It's gonna help so many people. So let's just jump in. The way we typically start is more, you know, we feature people who have had really big career changes and we start back kind of the first career. And I would love to know like you graduated from Yale as an epidemiologist. [Mm-hmm.] How did you go from that to, I know you started a blog. So where was i- did you work as an epidemiologist or where did we get into the blogging world?

When I left Yale, I knew that my job was gonna be, my career was gonna be focused on saving the world. I just knew it. And I was gonna do these amazing like work in public health. And so I was living abroad. I had a fellowship with USAID and Planned Parenthood international Planned Parenthood. I was in Ghana, west Africa and got the call that no one wants to ever get which is you have a sick family member and you need to come home like now. On whatever plane leaving Ghana west Africa to come back to Minneapolis as you can. That whole experience was just, you know, having to get back home. My father had been diagnosed with stage four colon cancer and it metastasized. It was just this whole big whirlwind. So everything I thought I was gonna do in my life, be an epidemiologist, travel to amazing locations. Um I realized that I I wouldn't be able to do that and still be close to my family. It took a lot to get back from Ghana. This was in the early two thousands. So it was an ordeal just to get back within a 24 hour time period. I just it just disrupted my life when I thought I was gonna do everything. And I ended up going to a program in Philadelphia. It was a way where you could like uh sort of a post-bacc program to go to medical school cause I thought I was gonna go to medical school. And I needed to stay in the states, my father was was ill but he hadn't passed yet. And I went to this program in Philadelphia. While there, I met someone and fell in love which is what happens and found myself 24 25 years old running a organization, also going to school and also in the process of getting married when my father passed away. And it just was like such a moment for me. I think anyone who's ever lost a parent or a significant family member, it really makes you question your own moral mar- mortality and like who you are and like what are you doing with your life? And is this what you should be doing? And I had that at a very early age. And so I was just kind of running through the motions, again, not really thinking, I think when you have that traumatic experience, sometimes you don't take a moment to think. And I was spending a lot of money actually. I was shopping. And now in hindsight, 20 years later, I was shopping because I missed my dad and I was I was grieving and shopping was a way to let that grief out. And my husband at the time said, you know, instead of shopping, why don't you write about it? Like so you're finding all these great deals. You were always like the flyest person in the lab that wore like leather pants in like the epidemiology lab. They're like what is Kathryn wearing? Like people would talk about how great a dresser I was. And he's like why don't you write about it? And there's this new thing called a blog. [Mmmm.] And this was in 2002, 2003. It was so back in the day that WordPress didn't exist, there was like no what you see is what you get. So you actually have to code everything. [Oh wow.] Like so if I wanted to write about the sandals I got for $13 from um the Kate Spade sandals I got for $13 from Nordstrom's Rack, which is a true story. I love those sandals. I don't have them anymore but man, they were great sandals. I had to a) learn how to build SQL databases. Then I had to take the photo, get it printed. Cause it was before photos of your camera. This is so long ago. [Yeah.] Take it to Walgreens or whatever. Get it printed. Take it to my then husband's office to scan it because they had a scanner. Cause scanning was like a big deal in 2002. I mean, now it seems like so crazy to talk about that. [Yeah.] And then I had to code the image in HTML. So I have to learn how to code just to write about fashion because there wasn't these sort of content platforms.

I'm gonna have to stop you there because I think a lot of people might have the idea or even like the suggestion which is like such a beautiful suggestion by your husband but a) you know, immediately the thoughts come from like I went to Yale. I'm an epidemiol- I can't be on here talk, you know, on the internet, right. About fashion, right? What is everyone gonna say? You know, what is everyone gonna think? And beyond that, it's like as soon as there's this obstacle like oh God, I gotta learn to code. I gotta learn this whole internet thing. You know? Especially at the time, it's not like it was so ubiquitous that everybody, I mean, not that we weren't using the internet but it's not as like it is today. So I think so many people would have that and they'd be like oh, forget, this is way too much. So, I mean, did you have a lot of those doubts when you were doing like why am I putting this much effort into putting up my clothes? Or was it just kind of a an outlet that you were like yeah, this is fun. I'm gonna go for it.

Yeah, it was more like it was an outlet cause no one was making money at that point. [Right.] This was after the the first internet bust. So like no one was making any money. It wasn't… People actually thought the internet was a fad at that point. And so there was no monetization so I didn't have any pressure. [Right.] Because it wasn't like anybody was doing it well anyway. And even worried about friends knowing, you know, again, not that many people were necessarily online and reading blogs at that time. Only if you were in tech, if you were sort of focused to that that's when you read blogs. But for the most part, people didn't do that. [Mmmm.] And so it was a freedom. There was a freedom when you're like early and people and rules haven't been set and that's what happened. Rules hadn't been set yet. And so I was able to come in and do these sort of things. And I did not leave my day job actually until two years into the blog. And that was when I got my first book deal from Random House. And it was this sort of outside validation of wait wait this is like a real business. I mean, I was like wow, somebody wants to read what I wrote other than my mom. This is great. Like and that's when I actually left.

How did that even happen? Like how did did you start deciding like I'm gonna try to get a book deal? You know, during the two years that you were blogging like how did it go from it being a hobby maybe until an actual business?

It really came because I had met my first literary agent at a Yale event for like Yale alumni where I was talking about the blog. It was like something about Yalies and internet or something. I don't know. And he was like have you ever thought about writing a book? And I was like no, how does one do? Because I had no clue. I mean, you know, how how do you write a book? Like what's the whole process. And so I wrote a book proposal. I could write it actually quite quickly because I had all this content from the blog that I had been writing so it was not hard to to do that. And it was bought by Random House and I was one of the early, early bloggers to ever have a book deal. Definitely one of the first women bloggers to have a book deal. And it was crazy the whole process and just going through it and like oh my goodness, someone wants to buy my book. Like literally that was in my head. Like somebody wants to buy my book and it was amazing. And then and then in the process of that, I ended up leaving my job. I got a a 15 city book tour sponsored by Marshalls/ TJ Maxx. And I also had these amazing Marshalls/TJ Maxx gift cards. And for someone who's like a budget shopper, it was like heaven if you could imagine. Heaven.

I love that.

I had, they sent me 20 $500 gift cards.


Can you imagine?

No, I can’t.

The amazing things that happened with those gift card. I mean, some of them I gave 'em away as like gifts and stuff. Um and then some of them, I also used on myself too but it was just such an amazing experience because I traveled all around the country talking about shopping. And I remember I was in Tamron Hall’s show in Chicago. She was like a anchor here. And I was and she interviewed me and this was like, you know, 20 or so years ago almost. And so it was really amazing. Got to travel around the country and see a lot of the country. But that's when I kinda knew it was something but it wasn't until I had this outside validation that I was like okay, I can leave my day job. Cause my family was like you went to Yale for what? And like you're not doing this like okay, we're with you but kinda we don't we're not we're with you but not like we're not sure what's going on here but and I'm so glad that they trusted me because it's it's paid off.

I love a couple of things about that. I like that you did do it on the side and it was sort of getting it to a place to validate it. Cause I think for a lot of us, it is really difficult even to silence our own doubts, let alone like our family's doubts and everybody else's. And I think when you have proven the concept a little bit, right? It's like clearly even for your family, if they're having questions like when Random House is like giving you a book deal, it's like okay, well maybe she knows what she's doing. You know, I think that's it sort of helps. And I think that's like just like a wonderful way of doing it. But I imagine it's still, as you were saying, like the book deal and stuff. One of the things I love about doing this work and and talking to people is until you start doing it or going after whatever it is, it's really hard to understand what is possible because all you ever know is your own world. You know? And even like your world might have been have a lot more than maybe other people's, going to Yale, being around Yalies whatever. Maybe, you know, knew there was other things possible but it was still only the things that people had showed you were possible. Versus like when you start doing this stuff where it was really like a new frontier there, people weren't making money off the internet. And then you start seeing like wait, I can go on a book tour and I can be interviewed on TV and I can start building this blog. And that's an actual viable business. I think not only is it really cool but it just shows you like how much possibility there really is out there that maybe we don't think is available to us.

I think for me, you know, I often get asked the question how did I know I could do it? And I said it really was because I saw my parents take a risk and it paid off. They left everything and everyone they knew in Milwaukee, Wisconsin to move my family to Minneapolis to work in, you know, data entry like early tech. Even though Milwaukee and Minneapolis are geographically close to each other, they're about, you know, five hours apart. They're like completely different worlds culturally. One is very blue collar, one is very white collar. It's very, very, very different communities. And so to see them, particularly as a young black woman, take a risk and win and pay off, I knew I could take risk. And I knew that there there could be an upside and that was just so powerful for me. So I have always been a risk taker but calculated risk. But always have been a risk taker and a majority of the time they've paid off but I knew that could happen. I think for a lot of us, we don't have that experience of knowing that you could take a risk and win. We don't have a front row seat to that.

Absolutely. I love that. That's amazing. And you're right. I think that a lot of us don't have never witnessed that and and we're actively sort of programmed with the opposite. Like always play it safe. Don't, you know, get a good job. Don't rock the boat. Make it to retirement. Like don't ever do anything else. And so, so many people I work with, so many people that I see like even the smallest thing that's not really a risk, right? Like you can course correct. Let's say it doesn't work. You go back and get another job. It's so catastrophic in their mind to be able to like take a step out of what was prescribed, out of the path that you're supposed to be, on out of the path that everybody. And so, it's more of just the mental barrier. It's like the risk like you were saying, it's a calculated risk. It's not as though we're just like willingly like throwing it like burning everything to the ground. But it's really I think for people getting over that mental hump of how do I go against what everybody else thinks is the right path or thinks is the way that I should do it? So I love that you had that example. And then now you're that example for so many other people and so many other women and so many other entrepreneurs.

And you know, I talk about in in the book a pandemic and how the pandemic has been sort of reset button for all of us in the sense of everything we were told about work has been turned out to not be true. You know, if you remember before the pandemic, you cannot work from home. Oh my God, we're gonna not be productive and all this other stuff. And we have more productivity we're at home than not like you can't set your hours. You can't have flexi time. You can't do these sort of things. Even now you have to pay minimum wage and and low wages for for workers who provide much needed services for us. And now people are like yeah, don't really wanna do that. What kind of benefits do you have? Like, you know, all those sort of things. And I think the pandemic has offered us the chance to reset. My concern has been that we're gonna try to go back to the old way and you can already see people fighting because there's such comfort in the old way. But I think we all can realize now that most of the structures that were built were like kind of false and aren’t really true. And we don't really have to do it that way. I mean, we really don't have to do it that way. So it's an opportunity for us to reimagine our lives, our work, ourself.

Yes. Oh my God. So good. And I wanna get to that because you're absolutely right. I mean, a lot of what we talk about on this podcast too is like all of this stuff was made up, you know. It's not, I mean, like, you know, we're we created jobs. We created someone decided that there should be a 40-hour work week. We just decided that we should work at offices with fluorescent lighting. Like none of that is like somehow the truth that it has to be that way. And exa- I think, you know, there's the that quote by Grace Hopper um the most dangerous phrase in any language is it's always been done this way. Right? It's like if just because we've done it one way does not mean that that's the way it has to be. And I think the more we push ourselves to realize like if it's all made up, maybe we can reimagine. Maybe this other way wasn't working for a lot of us so like what is a way that we start reimagining? And I agree that I think the pandemic forced us and a lot of companies to take stock when, you know, otherwise it was just kind of business as usual. So you did your blog and you ultimately exited from it, you sold it. Right. Which is incredible. So how many years did you end up doing that blog?

I did the blog for about nine years, almost 10 years. And I knew starting in like 2009, 2010, that the world was changing. And so before it was very service-based like I would write about how you could get great deals. And as soon as Instagram and other forms of media, Facebook, social media came about, it became more about me taking pictures of myself or it it came more about the individual and less about the community. And I was like I don't have any desire to take pictures of myself every day. I just don't. I do have really cool clothes. People always come over to shop my closet cause I have like this incredible closet but I don't wanna take pictures of it. Like that's not who I am. I like fashion because I like fashion not because of any sort of thing. And so I knew that I started to think of what was next. And I entered into an early incubator program in New York where I was met with a level of vitriol that I had never experienced before. I was the only person with any sort of dark tan. I was the o- one of four women. It was 45 people in this incubator. And it was just the only time in my life where people had no expectations for me, not low expectations but none. They just literally didn't think I could do it. And and not even just think, they knew I couldn’t do it. They were like so sure of it. And there's nothing like, you know, a mediocre white guy that just like tell you something with such certainty. They speak with such certainties. I don't know if it's the mediocreness helps them give them confidence or what but it was just so mindboggling for me. And here I am, this person who at the time I was a correspondent for The Today Show and was doing all the stuff being told that basically, I didn't know anything about blogging. I was one of the early women bloggers, one of the early bloggers period. You know, questioning my my connection even with my own community. Um one guy, the idea I had was uh sort of a beauty company for black women that was using technology. It was good like 10 years too early but it was a great idea. And one guy said to me he didn't think I could relate to other black women because I had an accountant. And I was like okay, like. And he said it in this group of people. And again, as with the amazing amount of certainty that a mediocre white guy can, that only mediocre white guys can do this, I often wanna ask like, you know, really successful white dudes how they feel about mediocre white dudes because there is a confidence that mediocre white dudes just have. Right. And he said it in front of this group of like two, 300 people he said that to me and I couldn't respond. I mean, how do I respond to that? I wanted to like yell at him and cuss him out and tell him all sorts of things. But if I did that, then it would be oh well, you know, that's exactly what we expect from them. That's, you know, there those type of people and would've limited the ability for other women and particularly black women to be in that space. And I knew that. And so I had to sit there and take that aggression in front of everyone and not show any sort of reaction on my face. It just really, really stuck with me. Now, the irony of it is, you know, later I went to call his brother, this guy was the brother of the person who ran the the incubator who's still around. And I went to go meet with the brother and he promptly told me that he had never met a black woman who received venture capital. And he didn't think I would be the one to get it. And I was like oh, okay. Like so fast forward like a good like 12, 13 years, they're trying to raise a fund for their their organization and a potential LP. A very big LP, would be one of the biggest LPs in the world, came and asked me cuz they happened to be an LP in my fund about them. And I said you know what? I'm gonna share with you my experience. Let me tell you what happened to me and not just to me but to other people. And they didn't become an LP in their fund. And so it was just really interesting how like this being completely dismissed and then years later. And I think the moral of the story is like you don't know who people are gonna become, even with your own limited mediocre imagination, you don't know who what positions people may find themselves in. And so never to dismiss anyone. I mean, it was such a powerful lesson for me but after that I started digitalundivided um because I didn't want other women to have to go through what I went through. After I had to sell my company, I went to go work for Blogher, which was this amazing woman-led organization. While at Blogher, you know, I was noticing that there weren't very many women of color at these sort of tech conferences. There weren't very many women at these tech conferences like in 2012. In fact, the joke we would have is that we would go to these conferences and there would never be a line for the women's bathroom but it'd be a line like around the bed for the men's bathroom. So we're like, you know, the at least the patriarchy allowed us to pee in peace. So I guess that's the great thing about it. I started it and it was really like a voice told me I had to do it. And I used a lot of my own money. So digitalundivided is a social enterprise that works with black and Latinx women to create a world in which women own their work. Um and it's worked with women entrepreneurs all around the world. It currently has five locations and it's a global organization that I started, was CEO of for eight years before I transitioned to Genius Guild. It's one of my proudest work and what most people most know digitalundivided for, project Diane, which was the first sort of report that documented the lack of funding to women entrepreneurs but particularly black women entrepreneurs. It was like the first report to actually document period anyone who wasn't a white guy and the numbers were so bananas and absurd that it kind of shamed a whole industry that doesn't really believe in shame. Um and to do better. You know, there's not very many venture capitalists who are humble and who are who do shame but but it did that and it fundamentally changed landscape of the entire industry.

How incredible. I mean, that's such a powerful example. I think we, you know, we talk a lot on the podcast about the fact that like there are these systemic issues that are stacked against us and, you know, there is misogyny and racism and homophobia and all these things and we absolutely have to work collectively to dismantle and through voting and all this stuff. But then the question also becomes like what can I do or how do I show up? Or how do I, you know, like it's un- it's unacceptable and completely unfair that you had to go through that experience but it's always so inspiring to see people that take that experience and it's like well, what do I wanna do with this? If I wanna change something, right? The VC world is not gonna change overnight. They're not gonna change willingly. Like it has to be sort of be torn apart and it's not that it's anybody's responsibility but it's like do I want to be a part of this? If I wanna be in this industry, how am I going to like do it so that other people coming after me have an easier time and it's so inspiring and so needed. And I mean, I'm just in awe. I love the fact that you not only created that a career outta that for yourself but created real change in a industry that's set in its ways. And so from there you went on to create also the Genius Guild. So can you tell us a little bit about what that is? And then also the book, we'll get it to the book of it. You've just released. I want everybody to go out and get.

Yeah. You know, while at digitalundivided, in really in many ways digitalundivided was the MVP, the minimal viable product for Genius Guild. And I was there, you know, was in the process of transitioning anyway um and was supposed to leave actually the year before but we had a major, major investment that required me to stay. And I needed to make sure that cause I didn't want the organization to lose that money. Even though I was transitioning, I wanted to make sure that whoever came after me was set up for success because digitalundivided is part of my legacy. It was the thing that I founded like I created and founded this sort of thing. And so I wanna make sure that it continues on and continues to swap thrive. And so the pandemic happened like and it just, I dunno if everyone kind of remembers, but in March 2020, it was like everything was okay.
And then it was not okay. It was just like like the March 14th, it was okay. March 15th, it was not okay. And I think everyone had kind of whiplash and like pan- like what are we what do we do? And for a lot of the founders who were in programs at digitalundivided it was a big gut punch. It was a big, big, big, big shock because we didn't plan for this. We didn't plan for a global pandemic in which everything would just come to a screeching halt like that. And so we authorized money to go to some of our founders just to support them in the process and just the impact of that money was so great in helping them not just pay bills and stuff but also their confidence that I took money from a cruise that I was supposed to go on to Alaska leaving from Seattle. Again, I don't think that cruise has left even to this day. Like we call it the vacation that is never, ever gonna happen ever and started The Doonie Fund. And it was named after my grandmother, Catherine Doonie Hill and it gave small uh micro-investments to black women entrepreneurs during the height of the pandemic. Um we subsequently have continued it on. This year, we gave out um some this year we gave it out to 500 um black women entrepreneurs. But when we did it during the pandemic, we gave out over 1500 micro-investments, over $150,000 to black women entrepreneurs. And it wasn't the money because the money wasn't great. It was a hundred dollars. It was more I see you, I believe in you. Like I want you to win. That that really was the big, big, big thing. And that changed my life. It so- it showed me the power of capital. It showed me that there really are no rules. Like people were like how can you do this? And I was like but there's no reason why I can't do it. Like like it showed me how arbitrary like particularly capital markets were a lot of times and who could have access to things. It was just so arbitrary. And we did it within a six-week time period. Doing that showed me the power of capital. And that also, this was the time in which I could really build the idea that I wanted to build originally with digitalundivided. And so I started Genius Guild, a 20 million dollar venture fund that invests in exceptional black founders. And that we believe that black founders, black entrepreneurs create value for themselves, their community and for their investors and that we all can win. It's a it's very much the sort of stakeholder capitalism that I know we used to have in America. We don't have it anymore. But um this concept of that every person who's involved in the market, whether it be labor, your employees, whether it be your customers, whether it be the people who provide raw goods to you, every person's important and every person is valued and that you make sure that every one of those stakeholders have value and that they understand their value and that you understand their value. We've gone completely away from that.

Yeah, absolutely. And I love that you're bringing us back. I mean, again, that's I I recently did a podcast episode on really just our thoughts about money and and a lot of the money mindset issues we have growing up in America especially. And obviously when we're in this, people call it late-stage capitalism or whatever it's become, so many of us are so unhappy with what it is because it's not working for the vast majority of us. But I think oftentimes we push so far against that like I don't even want money. I don't wanna have anything to do with money. I don't ever wanna ask for money. Right. And it's like we sort of do ourselves a disservice because this is the system we're living in. And so we end up not having the access to the resource that gives us at everything. And I talked about it.

I love that you're just an example of this is that it's also possible to use those resources to show that there's another way, to lead by example of like you can have bus- like be in business and do it in an ethical way. Do it in a way where the bottom line it's not to like, you know, squeeze out every last penny but it's to create places where you do value every person in that production chain, every person that has to work on that and you can still make a profitable business. And it's so important that that is shown so that we can, because, you know, oftentimes the argument is like well, if I we raise it past minimum wage then we're gonna go outta business. It's like no, you're not. No, it's like maybe the CEO is not gonna get a couple more million and like other people can get paid better. So it's just such an important thing that you are doing. And I'm so grateful to you that you're doing it.

Thank you. You know, coming from a diverse community, I'm African American, like our community doesn't work on a zero sum. I have friends who come from immigrant families, who from other ethnicities and we always talk about how our communities don't work on zero sum. It's it's just not like, you know, I get everything and you get nothing. Several good friends who are who are African and they're like look, whatever I got, I gotta like spread to everybody else. And I think it is just a uniquely American sort of thing of like whatever I get only I deserve. And no one else, I don't have to take care of anyone else. I don't have to think about anybody else. That's sort of American individualism is is really a big challenge. And and we don't live in those worlds, particularly if you are a person of color, but even if you are a woman, you know, we rely on other women, these sort of informal female networks have been so helpful for women throughout the years and being able to do what we need to do. So this whole idea of like you know, zero sum, only I can win, it’s all about me me me me me and I I I I is just very foreign to most of us. And someone asked me, you know, why is your book different? And things like that. And I said well, I've never read a business book that talked about how to utilize your family as early employees and not your kids but like your mom, your cousin, your other people. How do you your family wants to help you. Like that's the assumption. They wanna help you. And they wanna see you succeed. How do you get them involved? How do you u- utilize them to help you? Um and many times they'll work for free which is even better. And when you're getting started and you need help, if you don't have any money, you need the people who are gonna be able to do that. So how do you engage them and how do you work with them? And those are just important parts of who we are. But unfortunately, the greater culture in America is me me me, you you you, you did everything. No one helped you. Right.

So the book is called Build The D*mn Thing: How To Start A Successful Business If You're Not A Rich White Guy. Everybody should go get this book because exactly what you're saying like people talk about diversity and inclusion, all this stuff. Like we all benefit from it because when you have a different perspective, right, when you were saying like it's not just the white guy's perspective that maybe grew up in a family where however it was where it's like if you're coming from an immigrant family or a minority group or whatever, you have a different understanding of community. You have a different understanding of how to build a business. You had different resources available to you, right? And so maybe you didn't have the friends that could invest in your business but you had the friends that wanted to work for free to help you because they believe in you. And so…

Or watch your kid, you have to go to the pitch contest of some meeting. [A hundred percent.] And they’re like bring little Johnny or Jamie over. And you're good. Like go off and do what you've gotta do. That is valuable.

It's absolutely valuable. And it's like that's how some of us have to build our businesses. And there's no shame in that. Right? It's like I don't have the money for investment so I have to do everything and I'm gonna utilize whatever resources. What does that look like? And again, we need other people that can show us what theirs look like or what it could look like so we can start thinking like oh yeah, maybe I don't have a ton of money to invest but I do have this. I do have this. I do have a community that's backing me.

I tell a couple of stories in the book. One I tell about my story of how um we had just moved to Atlanta and we're building digitalundivided. And it was just really horrible. I like it gives me like any moms who had to figure out the childcare game or any parent that's had to figure that out, it's like the worst thing. Um and I called my mom and I was like just cry. I mean, I was like basically in tears, I was like a nervous wreck. And she was like do you want me to come? And I was thinking she's gonna come for like a week or so. She's like no, do you want me to move to Atlanta and help you? And she was retired, living her most fabulous retired life in New Mexico but she came to Atlanta and lived with us for four years to help until my basically when my son went to school and helped us with them. And that wasn't like money a check. But my God, if I had to think about how much that would've cost to have that level of care and attention and then he got to spend all this time with grandma who's his favorite person, his best friend. It was invaluable. I don't even know how I could even put money on that. And myself and my husband at the time were like traveling quite significantly. Like every other week either I was gone, he was gone. So we would not have been able to do that at all if it had not been for her being there. So and I don't even know what type of value monetary value put to that. In the book I talk about uh another one of my friends who is a part of our program on digitalundivided, when she was building her company um she would travel to Atlanta and other places a lot. Her she came from immigrant family. Her parents were from South America. Her parents had no clue what she was doing. Um although her mother had mentioned it to one of their clients, her mother was a housekeeper. Her father was a landscaper. She said the way people think what you're doing is good. But she went through all this traveling and didn't have money to write her a big fat check. But every time she came home, her house was clean and she had food like waiting for her in the refrigerator every time she was gone. And like that's not money but man, how much time did that save her? Her parents would take her clothes to the dry cleaners for her like wash her laundry. They would do all this stuff. Like how much time and energy did that save her? So when she got home, all she had to do was sleep and get prepared to go back and pitch the next day. And that's incredibly valuable. And I talk about that a lot in the book of understanding that the resources we have are valuable. And for some reason they've been devalued. But knowing that you have reliable, consistent childcare, knowing that your house is clean and all the little mundane things that you gotta do, your laundry, you got groceries, all of that's like done for you. And you don't have to think about that other than focus on your business. That's massive.

Oh, huge. Oh my God. So huge. I feel the same way. I mean, I have my mother and my mother-in-law very close to me and and I always talk about this. Like everything is 50/50 and has pros and cons and like my husband and I made the decision actively to move back to Orange County where, that wasn't our first choice and we maybe didn't wanna live here, but because we wanted to be close to family because we needed the help because we knew that we weren't gonna raise our children alone. And we knew we were both working and we knew where we needed that support. And it's invaluable for so many reason. It's it's really, even beyond the building of the business, what you were saying like the community aspect of our children being with their grandparents and having that relationship. And let me tell you, it comes with a lot of headaches too. Sometimes it's easier to just hire a nanny to do it exactly the way you want it. But I think about the same thing and like there's no amount of money I could put on the fact that I have like my mom to call up if I need to go to a, you know, a conference and she’ll come to like watch my children. It's…

It's priceless. And if you're late, they're not gonna like leave your kid by the, you know, like and they're gonna be well-fed and they're gonna be like tucked in really well. And like all of the things that you, you know.

They might get a lot of sugar but hey, you're just

They might get some sugar cause they're grandma and grandma always got like a little something in her purse but like but you know that they're loved.

Yes, absolutely.

And you know that they're cared for. And even, you know, my mom would do things like wash out dishes and like so even for me, it was like okay, I came home and I don't have to do that. Like it's one less thing on the list of never-ending list of things that I have to do. And so really understanding your resources is so important. When I wrote Build The D*mn Thing, I wrote it because it was the book that I wish I had. When I was building The Budget Fashionista and digitalundivided, you know, this these are the things I wish I knew like how to utilize the resources that I have. And I think as people of color and as women, sometimes we don't realize what we have. That we have these pots of resources that others don't. That we have to build things a little bit differently. Um and think about things a little bit differently than everyone else. And so I have a whole big chapter like section on failure. And I remember talking to my editor about it and they were like oh, you know, that's a lot of, you're talking a lot about failure. Is that like… I said, if you've ever been a person of color or the person in your family that's successful and people have pinned their hopes on you, you know that you don't get to own your failure. When you fail, it's not your failure. It's everyone's failure. So that makes you almost scared to fail because in many ways, if you fail other people do too. It's not just with you. Right. It's a responsibility. I said so we have to talk about failure and getting comfortable with it. And that it's part of the process. It's a data point in the in this journey. It's not the journey. It's a data point. And how do you learn from it and how you grow grow from it. And everyone who's ever done anything has failed. There's not been a person who has not done there's no person who's done a great thing that has not failed. There's this famous Michael Jordan quote about how many shots he's missed, how many game winning like shots he's missed, how many free throws, how many mistakes he's made but yet he's the greatest basketball player to ever play. Right. And he said and I am the greatest because of those failures.

Absolutely. I mean, how can you learn? Right? It's like people say it's I'm like if you go into something and you already know everything and you're gonna be, you're aiming too low. By definition, if you're trying something new, if you're pushing outside of that comfort zone, if you're going for bigger, you don't know it yet. So like the only way you learn is to fail, fail, fail, fail, and then get, you know, maybe a little bit of a success. And the disservice of the way our culture, our society is set up. And especially with schooling is like been fed really these lies that aren't just it's not the way the real world works. Right? Like try to get as close to a hundred percent, just memorize and and do what everybody tells you and follow this path and you can't like collaborate. You can't use other people. You have to do it yourself. Like that's not how any of the real world works.

It doesn't work that way.

Yeah. And so when you forget that, I would say like if you look at kids, you know, it's like a kid's not like oh, I I fell down once when I tried to walk, I guess walking's not for me. I'm just not good at this. Right. It's like you just keep falling until you learn to balance. And then you walk, right. It's the same thing with anything you're gonna do is like if we stop attaching a meaning to it and you're right, I think that as people in maybe underserved communities, minority groups, immigrants, I think like we're not seen as the majority. And so a lot of, even your whole culture, like you're a representative of your culture. And so when you succeed, that's great because you get like heralded of oh, look, you know, I'm this immigrant woman or black woman that's made it. But when you fail, it's also like you were saying well, this is what we expected of your people or whatnot. And so there's that immense amount of pressure. But if you can not attach a meaning to the failures, if it's not like I've let down my whole culture, if it's okay, I'm learning and the next step and the next step, I'm gonna keep learning. That's the only way. It really is. I wish there was a way that we didn't have to fail but there isn't.

And I think it's part of the process. I think if you embrace it, like you said, that that it's a data point. It's not it's not the end, that this is a chance for learning. Then it makes it so much easier like to like go through the process. And I talk, you know, in the book about like a lot of my failures because I I think people who have a who have reached a perceived level of success don't talk about the times that things were bad enough. We're starting to change that but like the time that you messed up like you really messed up and you didn't think, and then more importantly, how did you over that? What did you do like to to get around that? And I think we don't talk about that enough. And so people don't get comfortable with with being in those spaces. And it's just really, really important that we do. Regardless of what you're trying to build in the world, whether it's a company, whether it's a career, whatever, you have to have that sort of courage to continue to do it and the courage to get past the failure. And that's so much easier said than done I know but that's the only way that you get to success.

I couldn't agree more. I think a lot of people that are listening to me are in careers that they're unhappy in. And I know, it's funny when you were talking about the mediocre white man, I remember I never wanted to be an entrepreneur. I just never thought it was possible for me. It was not something that was in my realm of possibility. My parents never were, it was always like keep the safe job, do the thing that you know. And when I quit the law, I was just going to a bunch of meet-up events just cause I was like I let me see what other people are doing. Like what are the careers are out there? And I went to some start-up like tech start-up events, and they were the funnest ones I had gone to. So like I loved going so I would go every month. And I would watch these pitch competitions and it was the first time that, when you're saying it's like talking about mediocre white men, I mean, I watched these like 22 year old guys that have no knowledge of anything they're talking about. No preparation. Would just get up there and ask for money for some like random idea they had. And it really got me thinking, cuz at the time it's like I was like I went to Berkeley Law School. I have worked as a lawyer. I have so much experience. I mean, I know I'm smart. And I was like why do I doubt myself? I would never, like at the time I was like I couldn't, I can't go up there and ask for money. I have no idea what I'm doing. I've never run a business. And it was seeing these other people that sort of started like breaking a crack in that story I had told myself so long and like and I was like wait, maybe I can like I know more than these people do. And I had my stuff together better but I wonder like what advice you have for people who, I think a lot of people maybe have the desire to be entrepreneurs but they tell themselves like I don't know. I've never learned any of that. I don't know what I'm doing. I don't have an MBA. I never had this background. And I don't know if you have any advice for them of like how you start maybe looking into maybe it is a possibility for me to start my own company and start my own business and do it my own way.

Yeah. You know, it's so funny. I always send this story of a a friend, it's not really a story. It's like a almost like a mantra that she says. We were doing a talk together. This friend had built a really successful company and she had actually sold it to a publicly listed company, one of the first black women to do so. Her name is Cheryl Conti and we were doing this talk together at Google. And someone asked a similar question of like, you know, I feel a little bit imposter syndrome. Like how do I show up? How how do I know I can do this sort of thing? And what she said, which is like the most amazing thing, she's like realize that you were the coolest person they've met that day. They have been around the same people wearing the same sort of Allbird sneakers or whatever and Patagonia vests like all day. You are the coolest thing they have seen like that day. And so show up in that sort of way. In terms of getting started as an entrepreneur, it is similar. Like you are unique, you are different. There's no one else like you in this world. And so show up in that sort of way. And the quickest way to get started is to get started. I mean, that's why the book is called Build The D*mn Thing. Cause I often would get, you know, entrepreneurs coming to me. I mean, it happens to this day of I had this idea and they would talk all about it. I'm gonna build a business plan and stuff like that. And I'm like oh, so you're talking to someone who's an active venture capitalist. Show me your prototype. Right? Like show me cuz I'm in- I might be interested in investing but if I'm not, I might know someone who is. And they're always like oh I haven't built it yet. And I'm like so you just missed an opportunity. You just missed an opportunity because you were so worried about failure. You were so in your own head. You were so worried about what people were gonna think that you missed an opportunity with someone who could actually help you move forward. And so the thing that I just say is just build it and don't spend a lot of money. I talk in the book about spending less than a hundred dollars for your initial um product but build it. Get feedback on it. People may not like it. And that's okay. You would rather learn that they don't like it at a hundred dollars than learning they don't like it and you just cashed out your entire 401k. Just saying so…

Absolutely. I mean, looking at your own journey, this is a theme that comes up on this podcast I think every episode and I'm just gonna keep beating this drum until people understand me and what you were saying about even like the failure and like build it and then if it doesn't work okay, you're onto the next thing. So many people are trying to think their way to like their success quote unquote or where they're gonna be. And I look at people and I try to bring on people to show like there is no way Yale you in epidemiology could have seen yourself writing a book about and being a VC, you know, in venture capital, investing in people. There's just no possible way to because the whole world has changed in that time. Right? Like when you were starting, there was no Instagram. There was no Facebook. There wasn't I mean, there wasn't even Wordpress. And so I really want people to see what's like when you say like build the prototype not because that's gonna be the winning idea but because you're gonna learn a bunch of s*it from it. And then you're gonna figure out maybe in that meeting somebody leads you to another career which leads you to another career which leads you to another idea. And it's like that's the only way to figure this thing out.

You don't have to have the idea right now. I think that's the we've been taught that, particularly those of us who are like late millennials, Gen Xers and above, that you have one career. If you are a law- you are a lawyer forever, don't you go change an and be at something else. You are a lawyer. That is what you do. You can't have a different idea at all. So we've been trained in that way. And as a result, it's come come down to our ideas like this is the only idea I'm ever gonna have. No, it's not the only idea that you're ever gonna have. And in fact, it may not even be the best idea. This might be the idea that gets you to the real idea that you're gonna have but not being afraid and to to fail, not being afraid for feedback. A lot of people are afraid of criticism and feedback. And you can't be if you wanna be a business person. If you're doing any sort of thing where you're asking someone else to give up a resource, whether it's their time or their money, they're going to have feedback for you. Like that's just a fact, right? And you're gonna have to get comfortable with that feedback. And if you are so fragile that you cannot hear feedback from someone then do not be an entrepreneur. I would tell people do not do that because people are going to say all sorts of crazy stuff to you. The stuff that people have said to me, some of it very true and some of it's so completely like out of bounds. But I'm a public person and I'm an entrepreneur and I'm a business owner and I'm going to have to listen to that. It does. And I'm not talking about abuse. I'm just talking about feedback that may not be like accurate. Right? And so you have to get comfortable with that. You have to like almost toughen up a little bit because you're asking people to give you a resource of theirs, you're asking for them to give give you something. And so they're gonna have an opinion about what it is that they're getting and being okay with that and being comfortable with that and knowing that it's not about you, it's not personal. It really isn't personal. One of my favorite sayings in the world, and this is from this person is a friend in my head is Ru Paul. And he says what other people think about you is none of your business. It's such an amazing way to think about. What you think about me is none of my business. I have no idea what context, what lens you're looking at. The same in business like, you know, people are gonna have opinions and you're not gonna be able to stop them. And so as an entrepreneur, just, you know, what is it gird your loins or whatever like, you know, really steel yourself to be able to to have that. The interesting thing is though, you know, entrepreneurship is really about creating a life in which you can control, a creative life in which you control. For those of us who want that, who wanna be able to dictate our lives, you know, entrepreneurship has given us the path to do that but this is the price. It's having to listen to people's feedback that you may not wanna listen to. And if you take each one as a data point like not as an entirely not indictment of your company or verdict in your company but just as a single data point, it helps you to get through that a lot better.

I love that. You are absolutely right. So where can people come and find you, Kathryn? Where can they come get the book and figure out more maybe how to get involved, whether that's to um become a part of what you're doing or apply to become one of your entrepreneurs?

So um the book is sold wherever books are sold, Amazon, Barnes and Noble. Someone asked me is Borders still around and Borders is still around there too, your local bookstores and and really encourage you to support your local, small bookstores as well. I can be found pretty much anywhere online. Like Kathryn Finney, if you just Google, I'm like everywhere. [I love it.] Sometimes I feel like too much but um, but I can be found on the Twitter @KathrynFinney, on Instagram @hiiamkathryn, on Facebook at Kathryn Finney and would love for people who buy the book to use the hashtag #BuildTheDamnThing so I can see it or just at me so I can see how you're using the book or what lessons you've applied. Um I love hearing from people of how they've used it to better their businesses and their lives.

I love that. As you guys heard her, make sure you tag her so she can see it. And I will link all of your social media and everything in the show notes in case people can't write it down or can't find it. Thank you so much for joining me, Kathryn. This was amazing.

Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.

Thank you so much for listening. If you liked this episode, share it with someone else. I promise you know somebody who also hates their job and wants to quit, so why not share the love? And if you want to come follow along for more, come join me on Instagram at LessonsFromAQuitter and make sure you say hi. I'll see you next week for another episode.