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Women in Tech Spotlight

Diversity, Women in Tech Spotlight

Women in Tech Spotlight: Creatrix Tiara (@creatrixtiara)

Creatrix-Tiara

Image created by Yasmine Sedky (@yazsedky).

Writer, performer, producer, researcher, presenter, artist, provocateur, deep-thinker – and dare I say badass – Creatrix Tiara is one phenomenal woman in tech. Her projects act like a galaxy of ideas orbiting around the sun of social change.

One planet might be debunking Ello’s privacy manifesto. A star cluster might be the numerous articles she’s written on topics like pop culture pagans, examining the surprisingly cross-cultural phenomenon of storing sewing kits in cookie tins (who knew?), and pointing out that Donald Trump’s call to ban all Muslims from entering the U.S. isn’t far-fetched (it’s already happening).

What does this have to do with tech?

Tiara is one of those rare, wonderful people who take the way we define “tech” and stretch it, re-shape it, and make it better. This isn’t just my opinion. She was invited to the White House LGBTQ in Tech Summit in 2015; she was part of Al-Jazeera’s invitation-only Media in Context Hackathon in 2014; and she’s worked on website content and social media for organizations including Global Fund for Women’s IGNITE project (about women in STEM). Whatever her projects may be, most bridge the very wide gap between art and science, creativity and code, and make the rest of us question why there’s a divide at all.

I asked Creatrix Tiara to talk about tech as a means for social change and got so much more. I’ll let her take it from here in her own words.

Thanks for reaching out. What a pleasant surprise!

So about me: My background is largely in the intersections of arts, media, tech, education, activism, and community cultural development. Unlike most “people in tech” I’m not much of a programmer or even a visual designer, though I have been tinkering around with code since my classes in Pascal when I was 8-9. Rather, I create, educate, and build community online: whether through highly successful blog and social media projects, moderating and managing online communities, helping people figure out best practices for social media, or using social media and blogging as a creative medium as well as a social justice outlet. I grew up on the Internet; it has been integral in so much of my life, from my educational pathways to my careers to even my love life – I can’t imagine what my life would have been like without computers and the Internet, especially as an isolated kid growing up in Malaysia.

I’m really big on the use of technology to create, build, and maintain culture, as well as looking at ways that the tech world can better co-exist with other realms rather than assume it’s solely important on its own. For example, I wrote a piece for Model View Culture’s Quarterly about breaking down the arts/tech divide, after being frustrated at the tech-antagonism of my artist peers as well as techy people thinking I’m only good for marketing. I also co-created the game Here’s Your Fuckin’ Papers, which is kind of a parody of Papers Please but shows the tedium of the immigration process from the POV of the applicant – using minigames that are deliberately difficult and mind-numbing to make a point. We (ironically) won the Diplomacy award at the GXDEV Game Jam.

My other areas of interest are:

Ways that cultures and communities are built on the Internet. One of my biggest avenues into tech was fandom – as a teenage fangirl, I learned how to create/code/design/host websites, design graphics and digital art, build & moderate online communities, and even work with social media long before “social media” as we know it was a thing (e.g. Diaryland or Livejournal). I was doing some research into the ways that fandom becomes a gateway for young people to learn and teach themselves particular skills, including techy skills like coding or design, and heard from a lot of fans young and old about how they too built skills in HTML, media editing, or even games development thanks to fandom.

* On a related tangent, mostly in my mind because Homestuck just ended its 7-year run I am super SUPER fascinated by how Homestuck in particular references and uses geek culture to build a sprawling creation myth based around video game conventions. It’s like a time capsule of 90s-Contemporary Millennial culture: data structures, programming nerdery, Con Air, Neverending Story, Pan, Vine, Instagram, Trillian, AIM, god there’s probably a ton more references and allusions in there that’d make sense to anyone who was a nerd of some fashion in the last 30 years. There’s actually a small group of us with similar interests in the academic side of Homestuck getting together to create AcademicStuck, and we’re hoping to experiment with the whole notion of academic writing & publishing throughout the process – so if this appeals to you come join us!

Tech as a means of social change, centering on the needs of marginalized people. Firstly, omg, I am SO TIRED of “disruption” and can’t stand for-profit companies that try to market themselves with “manifestos” and promises of “revolution” (ahem Ello).

But anyway – while I am frustrated at my social justice peers for being just as antagonistic to tech as their artist peers (often one and the same) I can understand why they’re frustrated – it’s because tech culture is mostly dominated by straight/White/cis/guys who think only the concerns they personally face are important to fix and who are very parochial in their mindset.

Last year I got a lot of press for co-founding Screet, a proposed app for on-demand discreet delivery of sexual health products that was going to be feminist and queer-centric. People LOVED the idea, and I got some momentum from it, but due to visa issues I had to leave the US and drop the project. Hopefully it’ll start up again – the response to it, including by typical white-dude investors, showed that people are more than willing to support apps made by and for marginalized folk.

Emphasizing other aspects of interacting with tech that don’t involve coding or visual design. For instance, writing gets really underappreciated, as does research/fact-checking. It all gets thrown under “social media management,” yet in my experience, when I’ve tried to find paid work for similar roles – using the Internet and social media to research, collect, curate, and educate people on particular topics – the only people who are even the slightest bit interested want social media managers to talk solely about the company.

Even some new-media journalism sites expect reporters to also be dab hands at programming – which means that a wealth of stories, information, and knowledge ends up going unreported because the best people to write about them don’t have enough technical knowhow (or interest) to code up an interactive infographic from scratch. But then you also have YouTube channels like PBS Idea Channel or Crash Course work, or even how Metafilter works when people make really deep multi-link posts: they’re both enabled by tech, they probably couldn’t exist without tech, but they’re not often thought of as “being in tech” because they’re mostly informational. (I highly doubt Mike Rugnetta or the Green brothers do any sort of coding to make a YouTube video, and the only code I have to deal with to make a Mefi post is basic HTML.)

Now there seems to be more recognition of online culture mostly through discussions of comment culture and online harassment, as well as the growing concerns about how online-based creatives should get paid for their work (especially when regular paying work that utilizes the same skills can be hard to find – see earlier rant about “social media manager” jobs) – and I’d love to keep that going. 

But, because we (women, human beings, creatives) aren’t just what we do professionally, I wanted to ask Tiara one more burning question: What brings you joy? Her response, well, I think you’ll love it as much as I do.

What brings me joy – there’s a reason my tagline is “signs up for anything that looks interesting”. I seek out or keep an eye open for opportunities and experiences that seem intriguing, whatever the field or topic, and try them out. Sometimes this leads to whole new career paths – for example, my foray into performance art started after taking some burlesque classes on a whim. Sometimes it’s purely academic: one time I got really into perfume design, read a ton of books about the perfume world, and did consider going into perfumery before I found out that I needed a stronger chemistry background. 

Sometimes it’s a dare – a dare from my dad to apply for Harvard’s MBA (he’s a HUGE fanboy) eventually led to me enrolling in HBX CORe, their new 3-month online business fundamentals course (analytics, accounting, economics). I sat for its final exam last week, and somehow, despite having far less direct business experience than my classmates, I’ve built enough of a reputation as a strong and helpful student that my classmates are asking me for help! Yet I probably wouldn’t have even thought about joining HBX CORe if it weren’t for my dad’s snarky suggestion.

The things I sign up for may seem arbitrary on the surface, but there is some kind of internal logic powering them. My therapist called this “following your developing question”: there’s something I’m interested in knowing, which leads to research and exploring that point of inquiry, and through that exploration I find some other branching point to continue on. 

Self-expression and identity is also important: how does this experience allow me to express and develop myself, and how does this experience allow me to change up who I am at will?

I think Creatrix Tiara says it best in the final paragraph of one of my favorite posts: Let’s Lose the Arts/Tech False Dichotomy Already, published in Model View Culture’s Quarterly issue #1, 2015.

“Let’s stop assuming artsy people and tech people are two separate groups. Tech and art should be holistic, creative, all-round ventureslet’s actually make them that way.”

That’s a message all of us in tech need to hear a lot more often.

Creatrix is always looking for more opportunities.

To follow her through all of her projects, check out her website and follower her on Twitter at @creatrixtiara.

Women in Tech Spotlight

Women in Tech Spotlight: Lauren Van Mullem (@LVanMullem)

womenintech

Image created by Yasmine Sedky (@yazsedky).

[Note: This post contains extremely useful tips from one of SaaS’s top copywriters. She wouldn’t have it any other way.]

If you ask Lauren, she doesn’t qualify to be on this list. “Tech?” she asks. “Pretty sure that involves numbers… or at least code. I don’t do any of those things,” she protests.

But what Lauren does is something the tech industry sorely needs – someone to explain it (and make it likeable) to everybody else. A tech ambassador, if you will. Someone who takes the thing made by engineers and gives people the best possible reasons to buy it and love the brand behind it.

Lauren has been a copywriter, specializing in SaaS and startups, for nearly a decade. If you ask me, she’s one of the best (and I’ve worked with her on more projects than either of us can count). She has a knack for finding the heart of a business, and expressing it with exactly the words that business’s target customers need to hear.

Meet Lauren Van Mullem

You’ve been writing tech marketing content for a long time – what do you like best about it?

I like the trend I’ve seen over the last decade of customers demanding better experiences, and the tech industry, especially SaaS, rising to meet the challenge. The Millennial market in particular fascinates me – I’m a card-carrying member. But they are asking for a degree of transparency and humanity that scares the pants off of many big businesses (and small businesses). We’re entering a new era where consumers demand to be treated like human beings, and I am really excited about that. I’m even more excited when I see a company that’s CRUSHING it.

Got any off the top of your head?

Absolutely. I keep a swipe file of marketing materials, home pages and emails that hit the target for me. One subscription-based online business that I really love is Bright Cellars. They target the millennial wine consumer, and do it brilliantly. The buyer’s journey starts out with a fun quiz (who doesn’t love a quiz?) that matches wine types to your personality and preferred flavor profile. If I say I like dark chocolate, they might suggest a petite Syrah, but if I say I like milk chocolate, they might pair me with a smooth merlot.

Then, they send a follow-up email offering a 30% discount and a “Delight Guarantee.” And this email is written so well that it sounds like a real person is sitting on the other side of your computer waiting to hear back from you. It’s very compelling.

And, they’ve got a robust customer success system. You can rate every wine, and your personal “wine concierge” will select the following shipment based on your feedback. I got great results, even though I’m a little too much of a wine snob to fit neatly into their target demographic (I’m a really terrible wine snob).

Even though they’re not strictly SaaS – their business model has a lot in common with it. It’s subscription-based, and they only survive if they can deliver a great product and great service every time. I love that about subscription-based businesses. I like that kind of sink-or-swim honesty.

You’ve worked with some very cool SaaS companies – who’s nailing it right now?

Content-wise? Customer success-wise? For me, content and customer success are inextricably connected. The best content tends to come from companies that genuinely want their customers to succeed – not just buy, and buy more. Right now, I give mad props to Cubeyou on all counts. They’re constantly coming up with ways to add value to their customers’ experiences and help them be successful through their content. And it makes their content fun, fresh, and interesting. They publish “Pitch Alerts” – to keep their marketing agency clients in the loop about potential opportunities, they post advice on how to win more pitches, and then they publish other posts explaining the quirks of various demographics. My 5 Insights into Millennial Consumers post is one of my favorites.

You talk a lot about customer success – how does that inform your content strategy?

My content strategies start with two things: Your goals, and your customers’ goals. You want them to buy (or click, or like, or follow); they want to spend more time playing with their dogs. How can we bring those two goals together? I firmly believe that when you help your customers get their desired outcomes (to borrow a Lincoln Murphy phrase), they’ll want to be your BFFs (aka. “brand advocates”) for life.

But I also think that customer success isn’t all of the equation. It’s a hugely important part. Maybe the most important. But my favorite companies also bring something else to the table: Likeability.

Oh, watch out! I’m throwing some Cialdini in here. If your readers didn’t know before, good copywriting is the result of lots and lots of reading and research about how people process information, and what motivates them to do what they do. Cialdini had a breakthrough idea – I’m joking, slightly – that “people buy from people they like.” And, “People like people who are like them.”

These two ideas feed into all of my copywriting. Likeability. Familiarity. Using the words and expressions that the target audiences uses, rather than the ones I’d use myself.

I was writing a sales page for one of my clients recently, and the most valuable part of my research was combing through all of his client testimonials and sorting them into major themes. These became my “Biggest Baddest Benefits” list. And I also highlighted the exact words his clients used often to describe these benefits – and those went into the sales page copy. It’s one of the best pieces of writing I’ve ever done, and really, his customers wrote it.

What is the most important thing to remember when coming up with a content strategy for SaaS?

Oh gosh. If I had to pick one, I guess it would be this: Be useful. Genuinely useful. Always offer value, whether it’s in an email, or a 140 character Tweet. And do it generously. Don’t save your best material for after the purchase – you’ll get more purchases if you give away those ideas.

Maybe that’s even more important. Be generous.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve downloaded an ebook that promised me “Everything you need to know to do X,Y and Z” – and inside was just fluff. Because they were too afraid to actually tell me how to do something they’d rather I bought from them. It undermines trust to waste people’s time like that. I never, ever, ever waste anyone’s time. Life’s too short.

Lauren can be found through her website, www.TruerWordsbyLauren.com, where she engages in what she calls “authentic content marketing.” She warns: “If you’re looking for manipulative sales tactics, go elsewhere!”

5 (or 6) Take-Home Copy Tips Lauren Insisted I Include

  1. Automate where you can, but always deliver a personal experience.
  2. Customer success is 90% of a good content strategy. What can you give your customers to help them bridge the gap between what your product does, and what they really want to do (even if that’s playing with their dogs).
  3. Content strategies start with your goals and your customers’ goals. And the key is to get them to tell you what they think your “Biggest Baddest Benefits” are.
  4. Mine your testimonials and user reviews for words and phrases you can use in your copy.
  5. Be generous with your expertise to win trust, win friends, and win business.
  6. (Bonus) Inboxes are SACRED! Don’t abuse your privileges with emails that offer little value. Better to send fewer emails and make them count.
Diversity, Women in Tech Spotlight

Women in Tech Spotlight: Tiffany Mikell (@mikellsolution)

Women-in-Tech-Spotlight-Tiffany-Mikell

Image created by Yasmine Sedky (@yazsedky).

“What programming does is allow you to build something that addresses a problem,” says Tiffany Mikell in a 2014 interview from Dev Bootcamp. It’s a philosophy she’s adopted on a much wider scale, creating and collaborating with companies that tackle difficult social issues by using technology and spreading awareness among the tech community.

As CEO/CTO of BSMdotCo and Technology Director of Trans*H4CK, Tiffany Mikell uses her experience in software development, education design, and tech entrepreneurship to improve access to education for adult learners and promote the work and needs of gender non-conforming communities.

I would argue that the nature of technology is to make possible what seemed impossible before. Tiffany Mikell takes this idea several steps further, for the people who need it most.

Tiffany Mikell’s current projects

With BSMDOT.co (formerly BlackStarMedia), she’s built technology and digital media tools to increase the accessibility of education for adult learners, including tools for virtual conferences, virtual hackathons, Twitter chats and virtual business courses. What sets them apart is the focus on building experiential environments that help students engage in distance learning programs.

AerialSpaces™, their flagship virtual learning SaaS offering, is being piloted by the White House ConnectHome digital literacy training initiative. ConnectHome made headlines in 2015 as a pilot program to give free or low-cost internet access to 275,000 homes in 27 cities, along with digital literacy programs like AerialSpaces™.

Then there’s Trans*H4CK, where Tiffany is the Technology Director. It’s a company devoted to creating open source tech products that:

  • Promote economic advancement and financial sustainability for trans, gender non conforming, agender and non-binary people. Since 2013, they’ve had more than 600 transgender developers, designers and aspiring coders presenting at their hackathons and helping to develop products.
  • Promotes attention to and improves services for trans people without homes, who are sex workers, or who are incarcerated.
  • Increases gender safety.
  • And support the overall well-being of the community.

Considering that non gender conforming people are unemployed at twice the national rate (4x for transgender people of color), are more likely to be harassed, discriminated against or fired from their jobs, and one in five transgender people in the U.S. have been discriminated against when seeking a home (one in five transgender people have also experienced homelessness at some point in their lives) – this is life-changing work.

A winding career path

Tiffany Mikell began her career in tech as many great minds seem to – by dropping out of high school. Of her brief stint at a Chicago public high school, she says “the lack of structure and other necessities, such as books, was hugely disappointing.” An autodidact both by nature and necessity, she didn’t let that stop her. She taught herself programming, enrolled in the i.c.stars program, took a 30-day JAVA boot camp and crossed her fingers that she would be hired by Accenture.

Five years later, not only was she an Accenture software engineer, she also devoted her time to the African American Interest Group – which put her back in Chicago public school classrooms as a presenter on her career in tech. She then helped launch Dev Bootcamp in Chicago, one of the first code schools of its kind that gives a complete software development program in 9 intense weeks. She says they had 150 students in their first class, only five of whom were black.

“It was a wakeup call for me because I believed it was all about access. If we can lower the access barrier to technology careers, make it a shorter experience than a 4-year computer science degree, then we would see an increase in diversity. But it has more to do with the culture of traditional educational spaces, and how people of color feel in those spaces. I started to examine the problem of how to create inclusive learning environments and an educational pedagogy that speaks to people of color, specifically.” (Listen to the rest of this interview here.)

That was when Tiffany and BSMdotCo Co-Founder Kortney Ziegler decided to focus their efforts on the technology of education. Her most recent project is creating a series of virtual collaboration tools to make online learning more engaging for all users.

It’s this winding career path that perfectly paved the way for Tiffany to become an “education disrupter,” finding ways to help people teach themselves skills – no brick-and-mortar classroom required.

I was happy to have a Q&A session with Tiffany to gain more insights into her incredible work.

How do your experiences in education vary and overlap with your experiences in tech?

As a self-directed learner, I’ve always rejected the idea that educational opportunities should be limited to classrooms and traditional institutions.  As a young independent scholar, technology was incredibly important to me as both a research and communication tool.  Later in life, the industry itself provided the creative autonomy and flexibility I’d come to demand in my career.  My curiosities and interests drive the projects I start and to which I contribute; very similar to the how I designed educational programs for myself.  Additionally, the constant learning required to stay relevant as a software engineer was ideal for my “always be learning” attitude toward life.    

What are some things that you’ve learned, and some ways that you’ve grown as a person, as a result of being the CEO/CTO of @BSMdotCo and the Technology Director for Trans*H4CK?

Oh wow.  This is a huge question.  I often say that 1 year of running a startup is the equivalent to about 3-5 years in any other professional setting.  It’s amazing how much I’ve grown as a person since the almost 2 years since the launch of BSMdotCo (Formerly BlackStarMedia).  One lesson I’ve had to learn has been to guard my time/mental energy with as much force and intentionality as I do acquiring customers.  Both are equally as critical to my startups’ success.  In my role, I have to say No a lot more than I want to – I’ve learned to do so often and as the default response.  

What was the inspiration for @BSMdotCo and how does it bridge the B2B and educational tech worlds?

Because my cofounder Kortney and I both have extensive education and technology experiences – we wanted to explore creating accessible and inclusive learning environments for people of color specifically.  We started by creating an online learning model similar to that of General Assembly and/or CreativeLive —  for a specific niche of students.   

Although we built traction for our brand, we struggled to successfully monetize our “courses” – as the MOOC space has been saturated. We decided to structure our curriculum in a “virtual conference” format and had a MUCH easier time selling conference tickets than selling course access.  

We then began to evaluate technology that would allow us to broadcast an entire conference online. None of the products we tested served us well, so we hacked together an alternative in a period of 3 weeks.  

Our conference attendees and speakers alike were blown away.  We sold more tickets in the first hour after we opened the doors to our virtual conference center than we had in the entire month prior.  We received several requests from individuals and organizations interested in hosting their own virtual conference on our platform. It was one of our biggest moments of validation.

After months of experimenting, we’ve been able to not only create radical models for delivering education, but also develop a technology platform that is being used by our customers to shift the delivery of education in ways that matter to them.

What are some of the products that have been created as a result of Trans*H4CK?

Trans*H4CK has become the hub for transgender visibility in tech and entrepreneurship. Our hackathon and speaker series has traveled the country fostering visibility for trans* technologists. As a mini-incubator, we’ve launched dozens of new applications used across the globe; had over three hundred transgender developers, designers, and aspiring coders attend our hackathons; help secure tech employment for 15 attendees and helped to birth several startups and social enterprises: (Some of which are: Trans*Code (UK); TransTech SE (US); RadRemedy (US))

A sample of the apps developed at Trans*H4CK:

  1. YO Restrooms: Send a Yo to YORESTROOMS and find the closest gender safe bathrooms using REFUGE Restrooms data.
  2. Who Did I Miss: Simple to use form site that contacts conference organizers to encourage and recommend diverse speakers.
  3. An app that lets people bypass web filters to access sites about transgender issues and only transgender issues. Check out its feature in WIRED.

We also deliver technology education and product showcase opportunities on the Trans*H4CK {Collaboration} LOFT– a collection of virtual spaces developed internally and designed specifically for collaboration, sharing and building for the trans and gender non conforming community.  Recaps from recent virtual events can be found on our blog.

Who are some of the educational speakers that have been featured at Trans*H4CK and what ideas do they have to share?

Our speaker series has featured the stories of leading transgender executives, innovators, and emerging leaders–stories which were previously absent from the tech landscape.

Here are videos from the online speaker series which profiles transgender developers making important moves in tech and entrepreneurship:

  1. Lynn Cyrin, Founder of Quirrell
  2. Harlan Kellaway, Developer of Refuge Restrooms for iOs
  3. Dr. Vivienne MingScientist

What do you think others can do to help create spaces for transgender tech innovators and entrepreneurs? Are there other communities that we can support in addition to Trans*H4CK?

It’s critical that we support transgender technologists and their work financially.

Trans*H4CK and other communities like it are so important – what are some of the reasons that you think they’re important?

Shortly before deciding to start a company together, I had the opportunity to work with Kortney Ziegler as a Trans*H4CK volunteer when he brought the hackathon series he founded to Chicago. Although I’d spent several years working as a software engineer at the time,   I was blown away by the inclusivity and collaborative (vs competitive) energy felt during the 4 day event. I had never attended a tech focused event that was as warm and welcoming.  Trans*H4CK provides a safe space where individuals from all walk of life can bring their skills and life experiences to the exciting process of building solutions that matter to them through the use of technology.  Trans*H4CK teaches me every day that intentionality and empathy can be the catalyst for shifting the culture of entire communities in incredibly short periods of time.

How do you think the tech community can help amplify the voices of Trans*H4CK community members?

Attend our virtual events.  Engage with us on Twitter.  Support our organization financially.

Here are a few reads that were significant to Tiffany during the last few years while venturing:

  • How To Be Black, Baratunde Thurston. I’m such a huge fan of Baratunde’s career. He too follows his passions and is able to bring such a unique and multi disciplinarian approach to digital innovation, problem solving and storytelling.  
  • The Personal MBA, Josh Kaufman. Hands down one of the most useful business books I’ve ever read (and re-read).
Women in Tech Spotlight

Women in Tech Spotlight: Violeta Nedkova (@VioletaNedkova)

Women-in-Tech-Spotlight-Violeta-Nedkova

Image created by Yasmine Sedky (@yazsedky).

Violeta Nedkova built a reputation as one of those online marketers who were so good at thinking outside the proverbial box, that they used it as a stepping stool – also known as a Growth Hacker. Startups were her specialty.

“Meeting so many entrepreneurs with big dreams who are hustling, you’re inspired. But after a while, you have to find something that’s a better fit for you.”

Today, if you ask Violeta what she loves most, it has nothing to do with Silicon Valley.

“More than anything I love polar bears, time travel, and Gilmore Girls.”

Embracing her multi-passionate side, she now helps “creative rebels” to build businesses that feel true to them and authentic to their audiences.

Meet Violeta Nedkova, one of the most brilliant women I’ve known in Growth Hacking and outside of it. What inspires me most about her is her journey from doing what so many of us do – driving up numbers by living on the cutting edge of marketing and technology – to thoughtfully crafting a business that is purely her own. This is her story.

 

author pic for guide

I am Violeta Nedkova, a multi-passionate writer /marketer / solopreneur, who likes to make friends with and help fellow creative rebels – people who know who they are and how to use that to create a lifestyle and brand, which are as unique as they are.

Meet Violeta

You’ve had an interesting journey from working with startups to working with creative rebels. What are creative rebels, and how did you decide that you want to work with them?

Well, first of all, I work with people who know who they are and who don’t want to do things like everyone else. Followers do not fall under the “creative rebel” description. The creative rebel’s motto is pretty much “Do it your way.”

The people who come to me are similar to me in that they have many passions and ideas, but are finding it hard to come up with a business model that encompasses everything they want to do in life. Or maybe they’re on the cusp of change and in need of clarity.

I offer my experience and marketing expertise to help them, or rather coach them, to a place where they feel comfortable with their business, meaning they feel like it’s a part of them. I also encourage people to develop personal brands, not just business ones. I call it authentic marketing.

That’s the part I missed in the startup world, the human element. I tried to “educate” startup founders about the benefits of authentic marketing, but they were not a good fit. They’re under a lot of pressure, which is not quite the same in the solopreneurship world. They wanted frameworks, methods and blueprints, and “growth hacks” were more important than the people-centered approach I prefer. I got tired of marketing, what it stood for, how people viewed it. And I was angry that I was good at it, even though it wasn’t really me. But I was also viewing marketing as everyone else was – I was following those frameworks, methods and blueprints.

But over time, it became clear to me that someone’s business should be as unique as they are, and their marketing should be as unique as they are too. That’s how I got into marketing coaching and eventually life coaching.

Now I’m in LOVE with my clients; they enrich my life as much as I do theirs. New clients can see what The Authentic Marketing Blueprint looks like and then book a FREE session with me.

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What advice do you have for people interested in authentic marketing?

Go with your gut when everyone tells you you’re crazy.

Make the risks that take you closer to who you are and what you want to do in this life – the kind of contribution you want to have.

Who are two or three of your favorite creative rebels and why?

I have an entire list on my blog, but let me tell you about two groups of creative rebels that I ADORE. The first group is the “celebrities.” Some famous creative rebels I follow and worship are: Gary Vaynerchuk, Elizabeth Gilbert, and Sophia Amoruso. They’re all rebellious and unique in their own ways, and inspire you to be yourself, fight your demons, and get shit done. 

They’re people of strong convictions who don’t make excuses and fight.

The other group is the “peers” group. They’re not famous yet, but give them a couple of years and everyone will know their names. We creative rebels know that money and fame is not all there is to success. My creative rebel peers are: Jen Carrington, Sian Richardson, and Ash Ambirge.

They, each in their own unique way, inspire me with their content, thoughts, ideas, and openness online. They’re brave in what they say, generous in what they share, and make no excuses or justifications about who they are. They’re leaders, not followers.

One of your new ventures is training – tell us about your “From Fans to Friends” course!

It’s my first course! It’s not officially launched yet, but it’s everything I want marketing to be. But not in a vain, kind of naive, rebellious way. I’ve taught myself modern marketing, as a result of which, I have learned everything there is to it. I’ve taken methods from different industries because I’ve worked with writers, artists, startup founders, and all kinds of business owners.

After I learned everything there was to know about modern marketing, I almost had a falling out with it because of all the things I didn’t like about it. But THEN I realized, I didn’t have to do every kind of marketing, just the kind that works AND fits with my personal style.

Now I’m helping people find what that means for them – what THEIR kind of marketing looks like – and this course helps them to develop their own unique marketing formulas, as well as build their happy and engaged tribes of raving friends online. 🙂

You’ve also mentioned a 30-day challenge, what is that about?

I’m jumping the gun a little bit here, but I can tell you that this challenge will be the first of a series of challenges. I like how challenges engage people on a different level and help them create and build habits that will hopefully stick with them for a lifetime.

As you know, I’m both a marketing and a self-development person, and I’ve always worked on habit-formation and self-improvement in a way, but only for myself. Now I’m working on the same things with other people, and I think the challenge will be a great start for that.

Also, people complain too much, and if you ask me, there’s no excuse. We have more tools and opportunities now than ever, so complaining is just pointless.

The challenge is simple: To stop procrastinating. The habit is simple: Get things done instead of putting them off. And part of the challenge format is to have a community of supporters who will help you stay accountable.

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You often tweet about #GirlBoss – tell us about what it is and how it inspires you.

This book is a revelation! Sophia Amoruso – the author – has had the most fascinating life – from dumpster diving and shoplifting to rising to be the CEO and creative director of this rebellious fashion empire called “Nasty Gal”. At first I wasn’t sure I should read a mainstream bestseller, as they don’t always deliver, but this one was SO worth it. I even got a hard copy!

I think Sophia is the perfect example of a creative rebel – she took what she was passionate about and good at (photography, fashion, etc.) and turned it into this successful brand. She didn’t start out to be successful or make tons of money, but she ended up achieving it because she was true to herself and gave free reign to all of her crazy, creative whims and ideas.

You recently tweeted, “Spending the day listening to my favorite songs of all time.” What are some of your favorite songs of all time?

Home by Daughtry and Atlas by Coldplay are emotionally precious songs to me. The first one reminds me I’ll always have a home and the second inspires me to explore.

Recent favorites are The Mad Ones and Let It Go, which are definitely songs for creative rebels.

I also ADORE feel-good songs like The Good Life and My Wish (Rascal Flatts).

All of my playlists are on SoundCloud if you want to check them out.

You’re one of my favorite sources of inspiration – who are some of your sources of inspiration (songs, people, books, etc.)?

Elizabeth Gilbert is everything I want to be – wise, original, and brave. She inspires me to the core.

J.K. Rowling is someone with immense strength and wisdom. I also love the way she writes and speaks, and her entire life is an inspiration, too. Plus if it weren’t for Harry Potter, I might have never started writing fiction or dreaming of becoming a novelist one day.

The kinds of books that inspire me are the ones that are written in a beautiful, human, and insightful way. #GIRLBOSS is one, Big Magic another, and I’ve recently also fallen in love with the writing of Ash Ambirge on The Middle Finger Project blog. Her kind of writing is through storytelling, which is the purest kind of writing, and she hooks me every single time.

Finally, I’m always inspired by good podcasts (like The Unmistakable Creative), TED talks, and Marie Forleo’s interviews on MarieTV.

One of your awesome mottos is, “Are you an entrepreneur or not? Stop asking for permission.” What did you observe that lead you to this conclusion?

People come to me with all kinds of fears, and I see those fears online, too. The fact that bloggers address these fears confirms that we are all controlled by them, and one of the biggest modern fears is: Who am I to start my own business? Who’s going to take me seriously?

This fear (along with the fear of failure) stops a lot of people from starting their own businesses. I believe that if you’re an entrepreneur deep inside, you just know it. I like how Sophia Amoruso said in her book #GIRLBOSS: “I became an entrepreneur because I was unemployable. So you see, she did it out of necessity, and so did I. Every time I would try a traditional job or even a remote one, I would end up unhappy about having a boss and being told what to do.

I had no choice because I’m the kind of person who likes to run the parade. But there are other reasons for becoming one, too. I just don’t want people to let their fears stop them from leading the lives they want to lead and becoming the people they want to be.

Like James Altucher says, “you must choose yourself.”

What are your goals for 2016?

My goals are pretty big, and I’ve had to struggle with that a little because big expectations come with big pressure. In the past, I’ve let pressure stop my projects, but now I believe I’ve built myself a pretty big safety net in terms of everything that could go wrong.

If I get bored, I’ll allow myself to move on. If I fail, I’ll forgive myself. If I don’t reach my goal, I’ll accept it. If I don’t make enough money, I have savings.

Basically, I’ve endured so many personal and professional “failures” that I’ve learned a lot. Mainly that you have to have fallback systems like this, and they are as much financial as they are mental. Your mindset can set you free or hold your prisoner.

You do something for a while, you fail, you feel bad, and you look for “that one thing,” but it only comes as a combination of all of those little things you’ve learned throughout your life.

People don’t realize that “the big picture” is only clear after a lot of small failures.

You introduce yourself as a “multi-passionate” – what does that mean to you?

I’ve gone through just about every creative phase you can think of: photography, psychology, writing (fiction, non-fiction, and poetry), painting, design, marketing, and so on. Throughout all of these passions, I learned that the skills I picked up while going through these phases have stuck with me and are now leading me to the next stage of my creative lifestyle.

Some people can choose one thing, one lifelong passion, one dream to pursue. It’s so prevalent in our culture that the pressure to find “that one thing” makes the rest of us feel left out if we can’t.

That’s the beauty of embracing being a multi-passionate – you don’t need one thing. You just need for things to compound and eventually click into this unique thing that only makes sense for you to be doing. And the mistake most people make is to think about what they want and wish for something to happen, but if you don’t work and try different things, if you don’t DO, you’ll never figure this stuff out.

Follow Violeta Nedkova on Twitter: @VioletaNedkova.

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