Show Intro: Hey there, welcome to the Going Scared Podcast. I’m your host, Noonday Collection founder Jessica Honegger. Join me as I connect you to change-makers all over the world who are ready to take you by the hand and help move you through your fears toward a life of impact. Are you ready to get of the couch and choose courage instead? Then let’s dive in.
Jessica: Hey everyone. It’s Jessica Honegger, founder and co-CEO of Noonday Collection.
Thank you so much for joining me today on my first ever podcast, Going Scared. I’m all about “going scared,” and I’m going scared a little bit today because I’ve never done this before. So, thank you so much for tuning in.
When I was a little kid, I grew up on Oprah, and I always dreamed of getting to be an “Oprah” who gets to interview people and dive deep into their lives. So thanks for letting my Oprah dreams come true. There is little more that I take pleasure in than taking someone by the hand when they’re afraid and walking them through that fear to become more fearless and more courageous.
That is what this podcast is all about. I promise you, every single episode you’re going to leave with a little bit more courage and with a little bit more of a desire to get out of your comfort zone. You are going to want to go make that impact on the world that you were created to make, that you were meant to make.
For our very first episode, our guest is someone who I have seen is an absolute world changer. It is my very first artisan partner. Her name is Jalia Matovu. Jalia began her business in Uganda seven years ago, and it has now exploded. She oversees a thriving workshop. I joke with her that if Inc. Magazine had named the best place to work in Uganda, they would definitely name her business as the best place to work.
We cover so much today, and I’m looking forward to you learning more about her story, my story, and our shared story together. As you listen, I hope that you’ll be inspired to get out of your comfort zone and take a chance on something bigger than yourself. No matter what that dream is that you’re harboring, it’s time to take it off the hypothetical shelf and give it a go. Let’s dive in!
Going Scared = Courage
Jessica: I am so excited for my first guest Jalia Matovu. When I launched this podcast Going Scared, that’s how I really define courage. Courage is just simply “going scared.” And what more courageous person to have on this show than Jalia Matovu. Jalia, you run a thriving artisan business in Uganda, East Africa. Tell us a little bit about your business. How many workers do you have. What’s your role in the company?
Jalia: Yeah, right now I have a big business employing about 119 people in that workshop. I have over 350 bead rollers who roll beads from home. I’m very excited about how fast and how efficient business is getting, and overall, for the commitment that we have in our partnership with Noonday. I’m very excited to see how many lives have been transformed, including my life. So yes, it’s a wonderful opportunity to be able to share with my friends about what God is doing in my life.
Jessica: So, I think a lot of people hear about success, and they think that the path to success is straight: that you have a dream, you just go after it, and then “ta-da,” you have this amazing business. So why don’t you tell us about your journey to success. What was your life like eight years ago?
“I think a lot of people hear about success, and they think that the path to success is straight.”
Jalia: Wow. In 2010, my life was really a very — now that I reflect on it it — it was a very desperate life. We were going through a very hard time. We had just finished college. My husband had no job, and I had no job either. We had no permanent home. We were really moving from one home to another, house-sitting for missionaries. We needed to go back home. We had no source of income. We had two children. It was a very hard time. I remember many times I used to pray and ask God for a breakthrough… a financial breakthrough.
We made a lot of artwork. So during that time, we made some paintings. We made some craft cards. We made a few things, but there was no market. We were very discouraged. Then, one day, I got a phone call from this missionary who had bought artwork from us, and she said, “I have a friend in America who is very interested in your work, mostly jewelry, and she wants to start making orders.” I was so excited. I mean, that’s the only word I know to use in English. It was like God had finally come through for us. It was a miracle.
Jessica: So Jalia is talking about me. My life around eight years ago was in a similar situation. Where we had been — my husband and I — in the real estate industry, and the housing market just totally crashed. Before we knew it, all of the houses we had remodeled and were on the market weren’t selling. We practically had to give them away and then we couldn’t. No one was buying or selling homes, so we literally started to begin to live off of our credit cards.
I was in a really desperate time financially, but Joe and I had also made this decision to adopt internationally, so I knew I needed to start a side hustle. This missionary that you spoke of was a friend of mine, and unbeknownst to her, she didn’t know about our financial situation. She was just really trying to help you guys. She said, “I have these friends. They’re so talented. They’re not only talented, but they could be the future leaders of Uganda. They just need someone who would take a chance on them and invest in them.”
I was like, “You’re crazy. Are you kidding me? Start a business right now?”
You know, I’m doing real estate. I’d started some interior design. I had two kids we were trying to adopt. I like to say that courage cornered me. I don’t know if I wouldn’t have been so cornered that I would have had the courage to stand up and start something. But I felt cornered. So I sold all of these items, and then Dani connected me to you, and I was like “OK, let’s do this.”
Jalia: You ordered four things for maybe 15 necklaces, and some bracelets, but we had no actual company. We didn’t have a bank account, so we started wondering how we are going to… remember that time, how you were going to wire the money… how you’re going to send that money?
Jessica: Right. We didn’t know how to get money to you.
Jalia: We also didn’t know how to make paper beads. That’s the truth. We had studied art.
Jessica: So I’d ordered paper beads thinking, “Oh, this is just what they know how to do!”
Jalia: So we didn’t tell you at that time because we had seen an opportunity to walk out of poverty. That order was a miracle to us, so we found this lady and asked her to train us in how to make paper beads.
“…I like to say ‘courage cornered me’.” – Jalia Matovu
Jessica: How did you find this lady?
Jalia: We were walking by the slum of Namuwongo, one of the biggest slums in Uganda. We found her rolling up her beads, and she was going to visit some friend who was sick in the hospital. I stopped her and asked, “Where do we buy paper beads? How do you make the paper beads?” So at first, she connected us to some lady called Miriam–I wonder if you remember Miriam?”
Jessica: I do, yeah.
Jalia: We bought a few things from Miriam, and we used those beads. We broke the necklaces she had made and recycled the beads and used them to make the things that you wanted. But Miriam told us how to roll the beads and how to varnish and how to do all of that. We learned very quickly.
Jessica: But, of course, me on the other side waiting for my order, I had no idea that this is going on. I didn’t know what I was doing either.
Why I say that we “went scared” is because this was an opportunity for us.
Courage To Start A Company
Jalia: There’s no way we were going to say that we we are not skilled or we are not able. There is no way–we really needed this. So, we had to do everything that it took to learn, to get that bank account, to start a company. I mean, it was challenging for us because we had never worked with Americans before. We had never owned a business before. Everything was going to be new…but… courage.
Jessica: Yes, courage!
Okay, so there came a time for me, I know, when this was a side hustle. Ultimately, it was to help me raise money to get our son Jack home. We adopted from Rwanda. So the real estate market is crumbling. I’m ordering some accessories from this couple in East Africa that I’ve never met.
I set up a Western Union account. I went to a pawn shop and sold some gold jewelry that my mom had given me when I was younger in order to pay for my first website. So I’m over here hustling is what we like to say in America.
Jalia: And we’re over there hustling too.
Jessica: And you’re hustling. Neither of us really knowing what we’re doing or where it would lead. But at some point, you make a commitment. At some point, you realize, “Okay, this isn’t a side hustle anymore.” I’m going to say, “This is going to be a business. I’m going establish this as a business.”
I know what my moment was. Tell me about your moment when you realized: this isn’t just a side hustle.
Sisters In It Together
Jalia: Again, we grew up in poverty, a time when you couldn’t count on anything. Even a good life would come and go. We were used to life where you have lunch, but you don’t have hopes for dinner. So when this started, I was excited and happy about that. But again, I couldn’t count on it. I didn’t know how long it would go on. The day that I really felt that this was going to be something for a long time, is when I met you. It was on the 1st of October. When you came with Winn, we picked you up from the airport. I remember that day because it was our wedding anniversary.
We picked you up, and we were driving back home. You said, “Jalia, we are sisters. We are in this together.” But when you said that, something in me really clicked. I’m like, “Yes, we are sisters.” That is when my moment was. I realized that this could actually be something that we can do together. Then you started telling me about your hopes for this business and how we can work together in a partnership. That was when I developed the commitment to the work that we’re doing together. But mostly, when you said that we are sisters, something in me really…I think it was a good thing.
Jessica: Yeah. I like to think sometimes that when we don’t believe in ourselves, we can borrow belief from someone. I feel like you borrowed my belief in you. And on my side, I had someone who’s now my business partner, Travis Wilson, who I was borrowing belief from because I knew at this point, “Okay, this is going to be more than a side hustle.” It was about three weeks before coming to Uganda to actually meet you for the first time, and I thought, “Is this just a fundraiser, a side hustle, or is this a business?
“…when we don’t believe in ourselves, we can borrow belief from someone.”
I began to reach out to different people asking them for help and questions, and one of those friends was Travis. I began meeting with Travis in the early morning, coffee at 6:00 a.m. He had a business background, finance background, but also had lived in Africa doing microfinance loans for small female owned businesses there. We really shared so many things. After meeting him for a few coffees, he said, “Okay, Jessica. Would you be willing to actually make this a business? I could be your business partner. I’ve been saving up money my whole life, and I could support my family for at least a year off of my savings account to see if this is really going to happen. That was my moment of, “Okay, it’s one thing if I risk my reputation and my gold jewelry. But it’s another thing that someone’s going to take a big risk on me.” But he believed in me enough to do that.
Jessica: What about when you then began to hire artisans? When you began to hire people in your neighborhood? Did that sort of up the risk for you? So you’re like, “Now other people are believing in me and risking on me.”
Jalia: So your orders started growing. I remember the first order was really about 50 pieces, but there was this month when you ordered a hundred of each product, and it was about 500 products in total. We could not do it to our own. Latifa was the very first one we started with, and we also had to go and call other people so we could train them to work with us. So Latifa went and brought Bukenya and Caleb and Nakato and Mama Sham, and at first, there were about 13 people. We started working with them, but the orders were not consistent. So we would work on the order for like a week or two, and then we would find someone. There wasn’t any organized system of shipment at that time, but we would find your friend who was coming back.
Jessica: I had someone ask me sometime, “How did you figure out international shipping?” I was like, “we probably broke some laws at some point.”
Jalia: Then there was a time when we had… so you know that before all of this, we wanted to be missionaries. It was time for us to go to Tanzania with Mission to the World for missions. But now, we had about 13 people we had started working with. They really believed in us, and we are the ones training them. They have jobs, and they really depended on us. So during that time is when we thought, “There is no way we can abandon these people and go off for missions somewhere.” So we said, “Let us remain here and African Style and really get committed to it because of the people who are trusting us with their lives. There was no way we were going to say goodbye to them and just move on.
Working Together for Greater Impact
Jessica: It’s like when people start… when you kind of go from being the “solo-preneur” to being an entrepreneur… when it employs other people…
Jalia: It stops being about you. I mean my commitment to designing and to working increased when I saw how many people that business is impacting and, of course, their families and all of that. I wanted to do more to grow this to make sure that that they’re taken care of because they were really hoping in us. You were hoping in us not to fail you because you’re starting a big business
Jessica: I was completely reliant on you.
Jalia: Travis used to say, “Hey guys, we are starting to grow big. We hope that you’re ready to grow big with us.” We really didn’t know what that would mean, but we were ready to take that challenge.
Jessica: Accept the challenge.
Jalia: Accept the challenge.
Jessica: So, let’s think about your transformation over the last eight years. When I first came to visit you, I remember we had these late-night conversations drinking tea. I was asking you about your dream. You said, ‘My dream is simply to live and not die.” Tell us your journey sort of from insecurity to confidant business leader.
“My dream was simply to live and not die.”
Jalia: It’s been a long journey. But you said there was a time in my life when that question, “What are your dreams?” That was really a hard question for me, because to be honest, I didn’t really have dreams. I was just surviving for that day, and I really just wanted to survive and just to stay alive because I see how orphans are treated.
The poverty is a big problem, but again, with orphans it is worse. So I wanted to just live and keep hustling for my children. At that time, beauty and how I looked wasn’t a priority.
I had never worn makeup. I had never worn lipstick, even to try it on. It felt like I didn’t deserve it. Maybe I would appreciate it for other people, but for me, I felt like I did not deserve looking good.
With time, I’ve come out of that. My dreams have gotten bigger because now I have a sustainable income. I’ve been earning over the last seven years. My dreams have gotten bigger.
Jessica: So tell us about your dreams now.
Jalia: I have dreams to expand and to diversify and grow my company. I have dreams of building this farm that we’ve purchased. I want to see a chicken business growing… a big one. I want to be the biggest egg yolk business in Uganda.
I want to have a marriage retreat center, and have cottages, and see that we bring couples and inspire them to have good families, to have a good marriage. I have bigger dreams than just surviving. And I think since I came out of this insecurity, I’ve seen many people in my workshop coming out…
Jessica: Tell us about that.
Jalia: Nowadays, all the ladies wear red lipstick. Maybe I should try a couple because whatever I wear, they wear it. I remember one time Nehma told me, “It starts from above. I’m looking good because my boss is looking good.” It kind of has rubbed on to all of us. Now we all feel beautiful to wear lipstick and to have nice hairstyles. It’s something that we had lost because of poverty and because of hustling so much.
Jessica: I love that because… I love that Noonday collection is an accessories brand, and we’re all about getting women together and looking beautiful, but I like to say that we already are beautiful. Putting on jewelry is simply recognizing what we already are. The jewelry doesn’t make us beautiful. It’s just acknowledging our beauty and puts a little bit of step of confidence.
Jalia: Yeah, but you see, if you are going through that time of insecurity and beaten up by poverty, you can’t even put on that necklace because you feel like you don’t deserve it. We were making these beautiful things, but we did not feel like we deserved to wear them too.
Jessica: Not anymore. Tell us about that, because you came to the United States for the first time in order to speak at our sales conference that we have here in America every year. You were the most sought-after speaker that entire weekend. Tell us about how that transformed your business and helped you to connect with the American customer.
Jalia: So that trip was very important to me because, first of all, at Shine, I saw how the ambassadors are wearing our necklaces.
I think everybody was. I don’t know if it was everybody, but most of them were wearing Ugandan pieces at that time. So it really made me recognize that people actually really love these pieces, and they look so beautiful on them. There was a time when I would just think, “Maybe they are buying these products because they want to support that business, more like a charity.” But then I saw how they love them and how they look beautiful in them. It helped me to realize that it’s not really just about charity. They actually really love the products. That gave me a lot of, I don’t know, to set me up to want to design more and produce more.
But also being in America, it helped me to see what America is about and that the expectation of quality changed my way of thinking. When I went back home, I tried so much to maintain the quality of our product. As you have seen over the years, we no longer have many damages in the products that come in the warehouse because I know what quality is.
When we used to say quality, my mind would not understand the same quality that you’re talking about, so it’s really helped me to go shopping and seeing all these different shops and knowing what an American person expects in their products and also to realize what looks beautiful on them.
Jessica: Then we’ve been able to bring ambassadors to visit you. You’ve shown us what the beauty and the empowerment is of your country. I know it’s been life changing for so many women who have come to visit.
Jalia: Also for my workers, because I could not bring them over to see the ambassadors. But when you come to see us, and they get to connect with them; they feel like it’s real. It’s a real partnership. We are together in this. I think that’s how my workers feel when ambassadors come to visit. They make friendships with them. They see how they wear our jewelry, and they feel like what they’re doing… they feel their work is beautiful.
Jessica: And it matters.
Jalia: And it matters, right.
Jessica: So, a lot of women here in America are starting businesses these days and artisan crafts is all the rage. What would you say to a young entrepreneur? What advice would you have to give to a young entrepreneur who’s just starting out with her business, no matter what it what it might be?
Jalia: Well, I would say, do not despise a humble beginning. It’s important to start better than not starting. I would say do not wait to have everything you need to start. Start, and then every other thing will come. Also, especially if you’re looking at handmade, you have to look at the impact it’s causing. Let that be your drive to do what you’re doing, because it’s making a difference in people’s lives. It’s not just a business. It’s life changing for many people. So if you look at that, it can give you the courage to keep going forward, knowing that you’re not living for yourself. You are not doing it just for yourself, but so many people are depending on it. I would advise that entrepreneur to go for it.
Jessica: Just go for it, say yes, and figure out the rest as you go. Go scared!
Jessica: Well, thank you so much for your time today.
Jalia: You’re welcome. Thank you, too.
Jessica: We all need someone we can borrow belief from, and I know Jalia’s borrowed belief from me, and I’ve borrowed belief from her. That was such a great conversation.
A Survivor’s Story of Going Scared
Now on every single episode of Going Scared, we’re going to end and wrap it up with one of your stories of “going scared.”
Our first story comes from Jolene Shrock. Jolene lives in Indiana. She’s the mother of four children. She’s a former hairdresser, and she’s also a Noonday ambassador. She shared with me recently a harrowing story about an experience that threatened to rob her of her courage. But at the end, it actually made her more brave. Here’s what Jolene wrote to me.
“On February 17, 2014, I was with my husband, five-year old daughter Claire, and two board members from my non-profit Awake & Alive. We were flying home from a two-week adventure of exploring the country where Claire, the oldest of my four Ethiopian adopted children, was born. We were also spending time showing two board members around the academy we had founded in one of the slum communities of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. An hour into the red-eye flight, I had Claire settled, and my husband had just dozed off to sleep when all of a sudden someone came over the speakers. Filling the airplane was screaming and yelling in a different language. The plane quickly began to descend, and the oxygen masks deployed. Confused and terrified, I quickly put the oxygen mask on myself and then on my daughter. My husband reached for me across the aisle and we held hands with our daughter sitting in the middle of us for what we believed was our last moment in this life. The plane was dark, and people were screaming, but we just looked at each other as our daughter cried between us. There was nothing we could do but sit and wait.
Wait is what we did… for six hours. The pilot of the plane began to walk around the cabin, which was our first clue that someone who was not supposed to be piloting the plane was. The man flying the plane told my fellow passengers and I over the speaker that we were not to try to come into the cockpit or oxygen would be turned off and everyone on the flight would die. So we sat eerily quiet. In those moments, I prayed that God would just put me out of my misery and terror and that the plane would crash so violently that everyone, including my daughter, would die. It’s hard to imagine such a thought now, but in those moments of terror, all I dared hope was that my daughter wouldn’t have to see her mommy or daddy in the aftermath of a plane crash.
Soon the plane began to go down. It was descending, and I knew this was it. It was all about to be over. It was a night flight, so no one could actually see the ground outside. Everyone braced themselves for impact, but then we heard tires hit the ground and realized the airplane had landed. We had landed in Geneva, Switzerland. The hijacker jumped out of the front window of the airplane shortly after it landed. He was caught and still sits in a jail in Geneva to this day. We stayed overnight in Switzerland in a state of shock. Somehow, we were able to get back on another plane to get home to our other children and family who were anxiously awaiting our return.”
Jolene later told me that after she got home, she decided she would never ever fly again, which painfully also meant she would never, ever go back to Ethiopia, a place she feels like is her second home. She sank into a state of depression and loneliness and was full of anxiety. She told me that something changed in her heart and brain after he night of the hijacking. Every waking moment, she was looking over her shoulder, convinced someone or something was out to get her.
For a girl, who before that, lived freely with joy and trust, this was an entirely new way of living. Fear was consuming her and eating away at her joy.
After months of living this way, Jolene realized this was a battle for her soul. The work she was doing in Ethiopia changed lives. The work she does as a Noonday ambassador changes lives. The fear was about to close the door on all of that. She decided she was not going to let that happen.
Eleven months after she was on a hijacked airplane, Jolene made the decision that she was going to fly again. She decided she was going to go down to Austin, Texas, for the Noonday Collection Shine Conference. And guess what? She did just that.
She laughs when she tells me she was medicated, of course, but come on, she did it! She’s also now been to Ethiopia five times since being on that hijacked airplane, and two of those times, she did it flying the exact route the hijacked plane was supposed to be on. Tackling fear head on allowed her to adopt another child from Ethiopia and continue to lead teams bravely to Ethiopia to visit the academy, travel with Noonday Collection to Ecuador on an artisan trip, and boldly lead the third top selling team at Noonday. Tackling fear made her rise to do things she never thought possible. Seeing fear as a battle for her heart and soul has now made her a fighter.
Jolene thank you so much for sharing your story. Today, let’s continue to hold hands with one another and simply “Go Scared.” That is when we will find herself on the other side of our fears and no longer be held captive from being afraid.
Show outro: Thanks so much for joining me on the Going Scared Podcast today. if you liked what you heard with this episode, be sure and subscribe to the podcast on iTunes and leave a review so other people can listen and join the conversation. If you’d like some behind the scenes looks at my life as a CEO, a mom and a courage catalyzer., be sure to follow along on Facebook, and Instagram @JessicaHonegger. Until then, let’s take each other by the hand and keep going scared.