Episode 141 – Christine Tao, How Will We Emerge Differently?

Be honest, how are you feeling about heading back to the office? Does it feel like it used to, or are you facing yet another season of introspection and change? So many of us are asking these questions and considering how our lives and lifestyles may be emerging differently. To give us some much-needed perspective on navigating the workforce is Christine Tao. Christine is the co-founder & CEO at Sounding Board, a Silicon Valley startup redefining how organizations develop their leaders. In addition, she has written a white paper on how COVID-19 is impacting women in the workforce. Christine and Jessica will look at where we’ve been, where we’re going, and how the workforce is being defined by a new generation of women.


Jessica: Hey, everyone! Welcome back to the Going Scared podcast. This is your host Jessica Honegger, founder of the social impact fashion brand Noonday Collection. Join me here every week for conversations on living lives of purpose by leaving comfort and going scared.

Happy summer! I hope that you are listening to this after a swim, or maybe you have a little bit of sun burn, or perhaps you’ve just been on vacation, or you are still in your PJs and your kids are running all over the house and there’s Cheerios everywhere – but you don’t care.

This is what summer is all about.

I love summer. I always take time to rest, restore, and reflect. And that is why I love this podcast series, because that’s what we’re asking our listeners to do. We’re asking you to look back. You know, we – I love this quote by Emily P. Freeman, she quotes it a lot – it’s something about how we only learn by reflecting. You don’t just learn by going through something. You actually have to stop and reflect on what you went through.

So, that’s what I hope you do. Maybe at the end of today’s podcast, you can just take some and reflect on what is a learning that has gone on over the past 15 months, and how will you take that forward? Because summer – it’s just a few weeks left. And I’m already thinking about the fall, and just, “What do I want my rhythms to be?”

So, that’s why I love this podcast conversation. I love today’s conversation with Christine Tao. She’s the co-founder and CEO at Sounding Board, which is a start-up redefining how organizations develop their leaders. She’s also written a white paper on how COVID 19 and the pandemic and working from home in particular impacted women in the work force.

We haven’t had that conversation yet on Going Scared. I think it’s very important we have it. So, today, we talk about what does life look like as we come back into the office, as we do hybrid, as many of us have just left.

I was at a restaurant this week – my favorite, favorite sushi spot this week – and I said, “Oh my gosh, it took us weeks to get a reservation and that’s never been the case.” And she said, “Well, the sushi bar is still closed because all of the waiters, the servers, the sushi chefs actually went and became coders during COVID.” And so, it’s just interesting how our work force is being impacted now. And I’m sure that you thought about your job, and I’m sure that your lifestyle has been impacted.

So, what do you want to take with you on that? What are you telling your boss at work on how you want to emerge differently from this?
That is what our conversation with Christine is all about today.


Christine Tao: How Will We Emerge Differently?

Jessica: Okay. So, Christine went to business school with my business partner, Travis Wilson. You guys both went to Wharton. Were you in same class?

Christine: We were in the same cohort, which basically, is the same class.

Jessica: Oh.

Christine: Yeah, so we spent the entire year together. He wasn’t in my pod, but Travis and I… The fun fact is we played on a flag football team together, so that’s how we got to know each other. Yeah.

Jessica: Oh my gosh. I love it. Oh, that’s awesome. Okay, you’re gonna have to give me some dirt on Travis at the end of the show. Anything that I can hold over him, you know, will work tor that. Well, my brother actually went to Wharton, and so we’re a Wharton family. He married a Wharton grad. And you had reached out, saying, "Hey, I’d love to…" you’d reached out to him, saying, "Hey, I wanna connect with Jessica," and I was like, "Well, let’s just have her on the show." So, this is one way to connect, you know?

Christine: No, I…

Jessica: Just do it live.

Christine: I love it. And, you know, I’ve been following Noonday and you for a while on social media, and just really appreciated, you know, a lot of the messages and the things that you talk about that resonate with me because I am also a female founder. And it was only after that that I found out that Travis was your partner. So, I actually found you first, before I knew you were working with Travis.

Jessica: Oh, I love that. I love that. Okay, I love a founding story, so tell me the founding story of Sounding Board.

Christine: Yeah, so, I started Sounding Board in 2016. And Sounding Board, our mission is to help create the world’s most impactful leaders. And we do that through a combination of combining best-in-class leadership coaches with a scalable technology platform that allows us to scale executive coaching to everybody else. So, the idea is think of democratizing executive coaching. And I started… The founding story for the company is interesting.

So, I’ve spent a lot of time in tech, so, worked at places like Google and a few different startups here in the Bay Area, where I’m located. And it was at my last startup that the inspiration for Sounding Board really came about. So, I joined that startup, and it’s a very typical Silicon Valley story. It was about 30 people when I joined, and then in less than three years, we ended up raising over $50 million in venture capital, we 10X’ed our employee base, and then we scaled the business to over $100 million in revenue, all in less than three years. And so, if you can imagine just this sort of growth and chaos that ensued as you go through that type of hypergrowth, I ended up getting promoted up into our executive management team. I was one of only two executives that were promoted from within. And the company, at that time, this is over a decade ago, had the foresight to give me an executive coach to work with, because I’d never done that job before, and it really ended up just having a profound impact on me, because while I’d been at Google, where you get access to best-in-class training, because I hadn’t been a director, it didn’t then warrant that level of one-on-one investment.

And so, that experience really stayed with me and really cemented my belief in not only investing in leadership and learning and development but doing it early. You know, not waiting until people were in the C-Suite to give them that type of really personalized development. And so, I ended up starting Sounding Board to bring that model to people earlier in their careers, when I felt they needed it most, and the sort of punchline of the story is that my co-founder, Lori, is actually my executive coach from that startup. So, you know, Lori has been a coach for over 25 years. She’s effectively one of the first of 300 coaches even certified in the profession, and so, a lot of our models, our approach to how we develop coaches at scale and how we really deliver high-quality coaching comes from her experience. And it’s been an incredible experience to be able to do that with someone who started out as my coach, so that’s been really fun as well.

“That experience [of working with an executive coach] really stayed with me and really cemented my belief in not only investing in leadership and learning and development but doing it early.” Christine Tao

Jessica: Oh my gosh, I love it. Well, speaking of executive coaching, Travis and I hired our first executive coach about…I believe it was in 2018. And, I mean, we are transformed. It absolutely transformed us, how we work together, and then he’s gone on to do a deep dive in the framework that she uses, which is called "conversations for action." And, yes, and so, he’s gone on to get certified. And now, he, we have coaching now for our executive team. And then he’s really become the megaphone to our directors. And so, I just love, I love democratization of executive coaching, because it can feel so out of touch. I mean, even what we paid was, like, it was high dollar, I’m telling you.

Christine: That’s right. Worth every penny, but very expensive.

Jessica: It was very expensive. And then, I love the idea of doing it early, because honestly, that’s – yes you need it when you’re in, the fire hose is on you, you know, if you’re getting promoted, but gosh, why not have that leadership journey begin early?


How to Influence and Lead Others

Jessica: So, I would love to hear, first of all, how do you define a leader at your company?

Christine: Yeah, it’s such a great question, because people have such different sort of assumptions, I think, around what leadership is. One of the simplest things that Lori and I talk about a lot is that, you know, a leader is someone that others follow. And so, it’s not necessarily related, and you’ll notice the definition doesn’t say, you know, title, status, years of experience, but really, if you think about leadership, it’s ultimately leading others. And so, we see that that’s happening at earlier and earlier stages of people’s careers, and then, especially as you see that people move jobs more frequently, there’s less of that development that’s happening that used to happen when you were staying at one company for a long time.

So, when we think about leadership, I think, one, that it’s anybody really is a leader as long as you have other people around you that have to follow or want to follow you, or you influence. And then, a lot of that can actually be taught, which is, I think, a different point of view than what most people might think. They think that, "Oh, well, it’s just innate," right? You’re born with these characteristics.

Jessica: Not true

Christine: Not true.

Jessica: Not true.

Christine: Not true at all.

Jessica: Yeah, I love that. It’s all about that learning journey. And I know that… I’m assuming what drew you to Noonday Collection is that’s really what we do, is we bring women into our story here in America, and they become leaders. I mean, we are creating leaders who are creating marketplaces and building small businesses in their communities, and then we’re creating leaders around the globe through our entrepreneurial network. And it’s, I mean, I have to say, that has got to be the most – one of the most satisfying parts of my job is being able to really take people on that leadership journey and see the growth that’s happened over a decade, you know, people that thought, "I…" that didn’t believe in themselves, that didn’t see themselves as leaders, that didn’t think that they had influence, and now they’re leading booming businesses. I mean, it truly is profound.

“One of the most satisfying parts of my job is being able to really take people on that leadership journey and see the growth that’s happened over a decade.” Jessica Honegger

Christine: Yeah, and for you…

Jessica: I’m assuming that… Yeah.

Christine: …changing their lives economically, as well, right? And I think that’s the part that is similarly satisfying for us, because, so, you know, Sounding Board is a B2B solution. We sell into corporate enterprises, like, think Bloomberg or Intel, you know, large enterprises. But what we see is that when you invest in that learning and development, and people grow, is that there’s a real business impact to that. You know, for Noonday, that’s them being able to build a business and employ others. For us, it’s them being able to have impact across the organization in such a bigger way than they were before, that actually impacts bottom line.

“What we see is that when you invest in that learning and development, and people grow, is that there’s a real business impact to that.” Christine Tao

Jessica: So good. It’s so good. And, I mean, if you’re a mom listening to this, if you’re, you know, maybe you are in a stage where you’ve got babies on your lap at home, or a three year… I mean, you’re a leader. I mean, I just think about my… some of my greatest leadership right now is happening as I’m influencing my kids and I’m teaching them about leadership. One of my kids did the dumbest thing the other day, and I’m gonna totally out him right now, but he… We’re a little more strict than a lot of their peers about digital. And so, our boys do not have phones. Yeah, they’re 7th, 8th grade. And one of my kids the other day got so mad because I told him that when they do get phones, they’re gonna get this dumbed-down phone. I forget what it’s called, but it’s, just, basically, it has nothing on it. You can text.

Christine: And then they’re like, "Why do I wanna text you?"

Jessica: And so, he’s like, "Well, I…" Exactly, exactly. Right, exactly. It’s like, "Well then I should get that now." And I’m like, "Well, first of all, you don’t ‘should’ anything on your mother." And, anyway, he ended up kind of, like, leaving and kind of wandering off, playing basketball, didn’t tell me he was leaving, so then I was left searching for him, and I was so ticked. He comes sauntering in, you know, an hour later, and I was mad. I was like, "You left. I didn’t know where you were, blah, blah, blah," and he’s like, "Well, if I would have had a phone, Mom."

Christine: Oh, gosh.

Jessica: So, he did it to prove a point. Yes, this is the little boy I’m raising, but it scares me to death, because he’s like… but I had to talk to him about, "I am a decision maker in your life. Is that the way to win influence with me?" You know? And so, it, I feel like I’m constantly trying to teach my kids about influence, and, like, "You have influence. Here’s how you win influence." Like, influence is, like, it’s a precious, wonderful thing. So, I would love to hear a little bit more about what are some of the 101 leadership/influence. Because I think we all have influence. I think sometimes we use the word "leadership." It does, it can feel aspirational. It can feel like, "Well, I’m not the president." You know, or, "I’m not a manager," maybe. But if all of our listeners right now would just think about their places of influence, what are some of the key lessons or the fundamentals that you practice in your business?

Christine: Yeah. No, and I love that you used the word "influence," because you’re right. That word just immediately makes it feel much more accessible, where everyone can kind of understand this idea that all of us have the ability to influence others. Versus "leadership," often, like you said, can feel like, "Well, I’m not the boss, so I can’t call the shots." And I think that’s one of the fundamental ideas that we help people understand, because, especially for organizations today, so many of them are really flat, and then also, there are so many cross-functional jobs and responsibilities now, where you often have to influence others in order to have impact, and you don’t have a direct, sort of, line over someone, right? The ability to just say, like, "I’m gonna tell you what to do."

Jessica: I’m your boss.

Christine: That’s right.

Jessica: Yeah. Right.


How to Change Perceptions by Changing Behavior

Christine: But think about, you know, just standard jobs today. Product manager is probably one of the most important jobs in a lot of tech companies which we work with. They often don’t manage anybody that they have to work with and get a product out the door.

Jessica: Right. Right.

Christine: And so, a lot of the influence, and how to influence others, is actually one of the fundamentals that we see our coaches focus a lot on with our, we call them "coachees." What’s interesting is – so, we have a set of leadership capabilities that underpin all of the coaching at Sounding Board, because we focus on leader development. There’s actually lots of different types of coaching and you might, know, Jessica, you know, whether it’s life coaching or career coaching, we focus on leader development. So, really, leader development within the organization. And within those leadership capabilities, we tend to find that the top capabilities that people want to work on with, and it’s very obvious once you hear them, is the top one is usually communication, which is one form of influence.

The second often is strategic thinking, and I can share some more about that. And then the third often is sort of leading and sort of high-performing teams, so, leading and motivating others. So, you can kind of see how, within all of those, there’s this aspect of influence, and how do you do that? Whether it’s through how you communicate, the ideas that you’re sharing, or even very practically, how you do that when you have a team to run. And I think that’s the last thing I’ll say, is just that one of the things that we really believe is that in order to really lead, you have to impact other people’s perceptions, and a lot of times, your behaviors are what create perceptions of others around your intent. Right? What you’re thinking.

Jessica: Oh, that’s really good. You gotta just repeat that again, because there is… that’s a gold… That’s gold right there.

Christine: So, what I was saying is that oftentimes, it’s your behaviors and how people perceive those that then translate into what they think are your intent or your mindset. And so, what we help people do is then look at well, what’s the mindset behind those behaviors that you’re taking? And what about those might you think are serving you? Which ones might benefit from a new perspective, or even just new behaviors that you want, if you don’t, you know, feel like there’s a need in the change for a mindset?

“Oftentimes, it’s your behaviors and how people perceive those that then translate into what they think are your intent or your mindset.” Christine Tao

But we really focus at Sounding Board on changing the mindset behind the behaviors, because then those behaviors you start to have will have, one, an opportunity for more likelihood to succeed and stick, because you’ve actually shifted the underlying mindset that drives those behaviors, but also, because then you start to see that you have a choice really around the behaviors that you take, right? So, taking that pause before you react. And oftentimes, you see, you know, your reactions are often the times when you aren’t actually thinking deeply about those actions before you take them.

Jessica: Yes. Awareness creates choice. We say that all the time at Noonday. It’s so funny. We were on a high-stakes conversation this morning – Travis, me, and a couple of other people – and it was a little bit of a confrontation. And both Travis and I were a little riled up, but we’ve done so much work over the last few years around awareness, and it was so funny, because in my head, and I was kind of texting him during the conversation, I was like, "Stay in your prefrontal cortex. Stay in your prefrontal cortex."

Christine: That’s right. And it’s hard, right, when you’re feeling, like, in your body, right? Your temperature rises.

Jessica: Yes. Yes.

Christine: You start to feel like maybe, for me, sometimes I get tingly, or when I know…

Jessica: Oh, yeah.

Christine: …I’m getting upset. And, you know, all of those things are… If you can just slow down long enough to be able to pay attention to that and realize that, you know, something is happening, that very small moment of pause is often what can be a very important moment that can drive a completely different direction in your conversation.

Jessica: Totally.

Christine: How did your conversation turn out? Now you’ve got me.

Jessica: I think it went well. I do. I think it went well. But it was enough for me to even contemplate, like, “Okay, we’re both kind of reacting how we used to react, like, before we did all this leadership development, you know.” And so, I think we were both able to kind of balance each other out, and then, you know… Yeah, because ultimately, at the end of the day I think so much of the influence is about listening and about creating safety for dialogue. And, you know, when you’re not in your prefrontal cortex, then it’s hard to do that. But it’s just, gosh, it takes a lot of practice, you know. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it. And, you know, I find that people who are able… My husband, just naturally is just one of those, just good listeners, you know. And so, I think that those, I find that leaders who listen have an impact with their influence, in such a positive way, so that that’s a skill set worth learning.


How the Pandemic Impacted Women

Jessica: So, I wanted to pivot just a little bit, even though – I mean, gosh, I could camp out on the topic of leadership forever – but I did, I, you know, this podcast series is all about "Decide, Don’t Slide," and how are we gonna re-emerge from this post-pandemic living. And we haven’t had a discussion yet on the Going Scared podcast about how the workforce has really changed, and I had read or heard somewhere that during 2020, there was a massive boom in entrepreneurship because of COVID, and specifically, that women left the traditional workforce in droves this last year. So, I’m just curious, what does this post-COVID new workforce look like, and what is its impact on women?

Christine: Yeah, no, I’m so glad you asked that. So, at Sounding Board, we actually put out a white paper, and we called it "Beyond Burnout," and it’s a guide to support women business leaders, because we saw that there was, you know, we would call it a crisis, really, around the advancement of women in the workforce, where the pandemic literally almost erased a lot of the advancements that we had made for women in terms of, you know, reaching executive positions, diversity, all of that, because of just the overwhelming burden. I mean, I’m a mom myself. I have two young kids. One, luckily, was in preschool, so he could still go full-time, but my daughter was in second grade, and we were hosting a pod where I had four girls at my house every Friday that I had to run, basically, a day school for all day while I was running my company. And just the stress that I was going through, and I know that I’m already in a place of privilege in even having the ability to do that, because I had a job that could be flexible, it was just really challenging.

“We saw that there was a crisis around the advancement of women in the workforce where the pandemic literally almost erased a lot of the advancements that we had made for women.” Christine Tao

And so, we ended up putting together a white paper. There’s been a lot of really interesting, meaty studies done. One was done by Lean In, along with McKinsey. I think, you know, almost all the consulting firms put out research. But I can share a couple of stats from the paper we put together. It said, you know, a third of women said their workloads increased during the pandemic. More than 53% of working moms said they were responsible for home schooling, and then, that about 50% of them felt like they needed to be constantly available, they were feeling overwhelmed, and that their physical well-being had suffered.

And then, from a venture capital perspective, we actually saw that – and I don’t have the stat on me – but that venture funding to female-founded companies also dropped in 2020. Meaning, you know…

Jessica: It was already low. Three percent. I mean, come on.

Christine: That’s right. And like, we were… And 3% was like, "Oh, great. You know, we finally hit 3%." And it basically went back down, and sort of signaled this idea that somehow during a unstable economic environment, that investors felt female-founded companies were more risky, right? That they weren’t putting money into these companies at the same rate that they were before. So, across the board, it absolutely, the pandemic had an incredible – unfortunately, in many cases – a negative impact on women in the workforce.
And the last thing that we talk a lot about is just to remember that, you know, it’s not over, actually. You know, here in the United States, things are opening up, but across the globe, internationally, you have lots of places that are, in some cases, going through the worst of it. And you have companies now also trying to navigate return to work, hybrid workforce, all of that. And so, I think one thing we try to keep in mind is that thing that the pandemic’s not over in that the impact of a lot of these things are going to have an impact on the workforce for a lot of years to come.

Jessica: Mm-hmm. Yeah, we, I do feel like we are in this ambiguous no man’s land. You know, it hasn’t fully ended, but what life will be hasn’t really begun. I mean, our office is still completely on Zoom. I’m in a empty office today, aside from our fulfillment team. And, you know, we did a work-wide survey, and everyone’s saying, "Don’t you dare bring me back into the office full time," you know. But then, and then I think about our Noonday Collection Ambassadors. You know, on one hand, they completely pivoted their businesses to gather women online, and, you know, they were able to earn money while the rest of the world was shut down, and so, 2020 ended up being this really powerful time for us as a company, and to be able to walk in solidarity with the rest of the world.

At the same time, I do feel like our sales force in particular is extremely burned out, because they’ve had to chase sales. Whereas before, you gather women, you get 15 people to show up at a house, and it’s a captive audience, you sell the product, it’s done, you recruit women to join. You can capitalize on that time, whereas there’s so much noise now online that to get those sales. And so, on one hand, you’re in your PJs doing it, so it’s like one part of your brain is like, "This is so much easier. I’m not having to get dressed and load up my car with beautiful items to show people." But on the other hand, you’re having to, like, go after people and contact them six times, you know, as opposed…

So, we are in this really interesting moment of this in-between, kind of like, you know, they say the point of no return, when a plane doesn’t have enough gas to turn back, you know…

Christine: That’s right.

Jessica: …it can only go forward, but we haven’t landed yet on where we’re gonna be.


How to Navigate a New Normal

Jessica: So, I’d love to kind of ask you that: Where are we going? What are some of your predictions? And how can we, as women, you know, continue to not go… how can we make back, win back, some of the losses that we gained?

Christine: Yeah. I think it’s so important, because one, we engage a lot with the, say, the head of HR, or the people function for the companies that we work with. And this is the number one thing that they are thinking about, right? You know, first, the pandemic was getting everyone remote. Now, it’s, what will the "future" look like? And, you know, one thing I think it’s really important, is that it has to also start… there’s, like, a systems approach, and then we think about also the individual. Meaning, the company has to take responsibility for setting up the right systems, and even you and I, we have to think of, as owners, like, how do we accommodate this wide-ranging set of needs, and create policies that give people the flexibility that we know that they want, but also still ensure that we have the ability to meet our business objectives?

Because ultimately, what’s most important in terms of… I’m not saying the business is most important, but the business needs to survive and thrive, right, in order for us to then be able to continue to employ and support all of your employees. But I think the thing to think about is that those things don’t always have to be at odds, and that you have to try and find ways to reimagine policy, not dictate policy. Right? This is a real opportunity where, you know, you called it, the plane running out of air. I call it, you know, the genie’s out of the bottle. You know, people have seen and worked remotely. They’ve seen that they can be productive doing that, and so, why would you want to assume that you just go back to the way it was? You know, there’s benefits on both sides, and so it’s about re-imagining what that could look like, in that seeing that this is a real opportunity to do that at a company and a system level.

The other side that we see a lot, and we certainly have recommended to our clients, is really think about, you know, oftentimes, policy goes to sort of, like, the lowest common denominator, and instead of thinking about, you know, "well, we have to follow XY and Z policy," we’ve seen a lot of companies embrace actually doing the unscalable, and individualizing support, because, there’s such a wide range of needs. Parents that had young children at home, and working parents had to home school, to maybe someone that was young and single, but feeling very alone and isolated in their apartment, with no family close by. We had half our employees leave the Bay Area and leave our very expensive place to live to go for other locations closer to family. And so, what we ended up doing, and what we saw a lot of companies doing, was actually just individualizing the support that they were giving to employees to actually meet their needs at the time, because the needs were just so far and wide-ranging.

“What we ended up doing, and what we saw a lot of companies doing, was actually just individualizing the support that they were giving to employees to actually meet their needs at the time, because the needs were just so far and wide-ranging.” Christine Tao

And it meant, you know, maybe wasn’t as scalable, and you’ll have to think about how that changes at scale, but where they could, that meant so much to that person that was able to really receive that care and attention and support. And I think, ultimately, especially now, we’re actually seeing that the market is sort of booming. They’re now talking about the massive sort of, like, people leaving the workforce and changing jobs, right? You know, because as we come back… And so, companies also need to think about how you’re gonna retain your employees. And a lot of that is going to have to come back to giving flexibility and being able to meet different needs.

Jessica: Yes. We just need to keep using our imaginations. Just keep re-imagining, which, you know, that, to me, creativity is generative. You know, the more you’re able to sort of imagine and create, I think the more ideas that you have. So, we’re definitely in the middle of trying to solve that right now as a company.
How Women Can Take Back the Workforce

Jessica: Okay, I wanted to end by asking you a question that I’ve always wanted to ask someone. We have had several venture-backed, female-founded companies on the show, most recently, Julia Cheek of Everly Well, who received $175 million back in December.

Christine: Oh my god.

Jessica: She’s kind of this Austin unicorn. Her company is now valued at a billion dollars. We most recently had, not a female, but the founder of Netflix on the show. So, we’ve definitely had a lot of venture people, and I wouldn’t say that’s the primary audience of my show, are women seeking venture backing for their companies. Needless to say, that would be a very small audience, since it’s only 3% who gets it anyway.

But why? I’m just…  Is it because not enough women are… they’re not part of the boys’ club? They haven’t… You know, I don’t understand. Like, 3% is quite a low number. I mean, I think the number for women who’ve actually taken their companies public is even in the double digits. So, but I’ve never really asked someone, and said, "Why? Why is that?"

Christine: I know. I still scratch my head. I don’t know if I have the answers either. We actually closed our series A, so we’ve raised about $15 million to date. We closed it during the pandemic. So, you know, in a year where venture funding to female-founded companies dropped, we were sort of an anomaly, you know, to be able to actually go out and land that. And, you know, when I think about my past experiences, I raised our first round of venture capital back in 2017. And I talk a lot about this, and I think it really comes back to this idea of you have to change it at the systemic level, and then you have to also think about individual and unscalable things. Because when I look at, you know, my set of investors, Bloomberg Beta, and then Precursor Ventures, who led our seed.

“I think it really comes back to this idea of you have to change it at the systemic level, and then you have to also think about individual and unscalable things.” Christine Tao

So, the seed is when you’re just an idea and a team, and you have this big dream, and somebody’s gotta have belief in you. You know, both of those VCs were VCs that if you look at their track record of investment, they have gone out and backed what I would call non-traditional founders. Charles Hudson at Precursor is, he’s Black, and he’s got a lot more diversity across his portfolio – not because his portfolio, Precursor, is focused on non-traditional founders – but because, in many ways, he has that lived experience, and he can see opportunities in places that other people might overlook, because so much of venture capital is a pattern recognition game, and, you know, you’re looking at so many companies, you’re kind of recognizing patterns across which ones are successful, and it’s almost this perpetual, self-fulfilling cycle. You know, they see that they invest in certain types of founders, those go on to be successful, and so, someone like me, where, I’m a Chinese-American, so, and I’m a female. My co-founder, Lori, we joke around, where, like, "Lori, you’re the old one, because, you know, she’s over 50, and in Silicon Valley, if you’re over 50, suddenly, you’re old.

And so, we just didn’t look like your traditional founders. And I got a lot of no’s, you know, lots of VCs telling me or asking me if this was a lifestyle business, you know, what was really the market and opportunity around that. And I think that it did take a couple of early investors, all of which I also had relationships with before, so I had worked with them at my prior startups, where they knew that I was someone that could execute, and could scale and build companies, that it took that, I think, for them to take that risk. And you just think about that, you know, how do you start to create more people on the other side of the table that can write those checks, that have those experiences? Our series A was led by a woman, so we have an all-female board at Sounding Board. Maha at Canaan – if you look at her track record as well, she’s also invested in a lot of non-traditional founders. And I just, I think about that a lot, you know, that sometimes that unconscious bias, that people don’t even realize that they are weighting some opportunities more than others, based on biases that they themselves might not even understand or know.

Jessica: Wow. To be one of 3% of sole, female-funded start-ups to receive venture funding and is backed by top-tier investors is just phenomenal. And we want more of that. We want more of that.

And I know for some of y’all, you’re like, “This is beyond Shark Tank. I need some Shark Tank language here.” But truly, I love having venture-backed companies come on the show and really share their experience because I do think that there are a lot of solopreneurs out there and ideas that could soar with the right funding.

If you’re wanting to learn more about that, you can always go back and search Jessica Kim in the Going Scared podcast. And we did a whole podcast on the different ways that your idea can be funded, and venture-backed was one of those ideas we explored. Jess is a venture-backed entrepreneur herself.

Alright, well you can follow Christine Tao, and I’m so glad that you tuned into today’s show. We are about to wrap up this series, “Decide, Don’t Slide,” then we’re going to take a nice little summer break before we come at you with a new series that I’m super pumped about, and I know you will be too.

I seriously can’t wait. I have all these interviews booked at the end of August, and I’m already super excited about them.
Thank you so much for listening! Going Scared – we exist because you listen, because you share. So, if today was of interest to you, especially the leadership conversation piece, being a person of influence, hop on over to Instagram. Screenshot this. Share it. Send it to a friend. People have got a little more listening time right now that it’s summer.

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Our wonderful music for today’s show is by my good friend Ellie Holcomb. Going Scared is produced by Eddie Kaufholz. And I’m Jessica Honegger. Until next time, let’s take each other by the hand and keep going scared.