[Podcast] 'Grow For Good™' S02 E5: Paving the Way for Women of Color with digitalundivided's Lauren Maillian
On this episode of the Grow For Good podcast, Jed sits down with digitalundivided's CEO, Lauren Maillian.
If you have any questions or suggestions for future guests, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read the episode transcript below.
Lauren Maillian [Snippet]: Having created—as the CEO of this organization—hundreds of more women of color entrepreneurs and innovative founders, I've done my job.
Intro [Voiceover]: It's an age-old question, can you do well by doing good? Welcome to the Grow For Good™ podcast. Where we speak with leaders who strive to make a positive impact on the world. Here's the host of the Grow For Good™ podcast Jed Morey.
Jed Morey [Intro]: The world of venture capital and start up finance can seem impenetrable for women of color, and for good reason. Because historically seed financing has almost exclusively gone to male founders, particularly white males. In 2012 an organization called digitalundivided was founded to influence this phenomenon and begin changing the entrepreneurial landscape.
The organization’s mission is to use innovation to create systemic change by catalyzing economic growth for Black and Latinx communities through women entrepreneurs. Through various initiatives from technology, mentorship and community building, digitalundivided has been helping women of color recognize their visions and build upon their excellence to launch myriad companies.
This past year, board member Lauren Maillian was tapped as the new CEO of digitalundivided to bring her depth of experience as a brand marketer, public personality and entrepreneur to lead the company through the difficult days of COVID and beyond.
Lauren’s story is anything but typical. She’s a powerful force who sets an extreme example of what’s possible, lighting the path of progress for others to follow. Perhaps the most intriguing part of her story is how it all began as the youngest self-made winery owner in the country. Since then she hasn’t stopped building, iterating and creating for a second and now her mission is to bring her spirit and energy to hundreds of powerful and brilliant women of color to help them realize their dreams.
Buckle up for this conversation with Lauren Maillian. She is power and grace personified.
Hey, it’s Jed, host of Grow For Good™ and executive producer of the Social Justice podcast News Beat. If you've checked out Grow For Good™ before then you're familiar with the format of the show, where we speak with executives who are making the world a better place through the work they do. When I was going through potential guests with the show's producer Sage Levene.I was musing that it would be kind of amazing to find somebody who helped other mission-driven companies grow, or had a focus on VC or private equity and equity and inclusion, something maybe in the VC space.
I didn't give her a lot of detail, but I sort of threw it out there. And a few days later, she sent me a bio of our guest today. And dropped it like boom. Lauren Maillian, as I said to Sage. I was like yeah, good luck getting that booking because you just checked every single box, a Black female entrepreneur who runs an organization that helps black and Latinx female founders recognize their visions. It's kind of like you were the stuff of make-believe. And yet here you are. So Lauren, thank you for being on the show.
LM: Thank you so much for having me, and for such a wonderful welcome. It's awesome to be in conversation with you, Jed. Thank you, Sage, for doing good work, thorough research, and fact-finding. I'm super excited to be chatting with both of you today. And really, just so passionate about the work that I do. And so much of what I've done for quite some time, that's now become a more popular conversation. Using this moment to seize the opportunity to actually create some sustainable impact.
JM: Well before we get into your position as CEO of digitalundivided. I wanted to work through your personal backstory for a bit. Because it's actually pretty incredible. First of all, you started your career by doing the thing that people usually work their entire careers towards. You literally started a vineyard. Then you ran it and sold it. How was that your opening move?
LM: So all the guys in Silicon Valley—my friends, my colleagues, my fellow investors in a lot of deals—they've always joked with me that I've done life backward. And I just accept it like that at this point. I think that you know as an entrepreneur, your job is to make something larger, out of something in your mind. Or something that starts off pretty small. I think that the hustle and the grind is always to see how big you can grow something while relaxed. A product, a customer base, visibility, what have you.
So for me with my very first company was—it's funny, there was a press article on me. It's probably about 14, 15 years old. And I was doing the interview. And they said, “How does it feel?: And the headline ended up being my answer. Which was, “I don't know it’s a hobby gone wild.” And that was really what it was. It was a hobby gone wild. In so many aspects. But I've always had a deep interest in agriculture. And building products that I love to consume and so the wine industry was what I literally fell into. It was a real estate purchase turned into an agricultural farming enterprise. Turned into one of the best grape growers in the Monticello region.
Other folks were buying our grapes to make wine. Vineyards made gold and double gold wine out of the fruit they were buying from us. And I said wow, I want to make my own gold/double gold wine. It doesn't really matter quite honestly that I don't know how to make the wine myself. But find the right people for that. And I did. And went on to have a really incredible run in the industry.
JM: That's exciting. So give us some of the highlights after the vineyard because, I mean, you've worked in brand and marketing as well as angel investing. And I feel like you had the perfect prologue to take over as CEO of digitalundivided, sort of equal parts founder and operator, brand development specialist, and investor. Can you just briefly take us through the journey post-vineyard?
LM: The journey post-vineyard was eye-opening for me as an entrepreneur, as a leader, as an investor, an advisor. And also as a professional woman in business. It decided how I wanted to curve my path and my lane. And what those experiences of building and creating internationally recognized award-winning wine brands, that made me the youngest winery owner in the country. I'm like, “Where do you go from there?” That's why I'm so passionate about helping women find their own economic paths to prosperity and success. Because often we feel as though the experience that we held the longest, at whatever point in our life—It's always relative. In my early 20s, that was the biggest, longest-running professional experience ever.
Imagine how difficult it is to wrap your head around your ability to translate those experiences and skills into something else? So I grappled with that for a minute. But I immediately fell into advising. And because there were so many other women that were starting businesses—before we have this kind of renaissance if you will. Women in business. Women of color. And making that conversation more popular.
I was still figuring out, “Where do I go from here?” Yes, I met wonderful success on paper. All of these great things, but I was also figuring out, “What do I do next?” I found that there were many other women who were grappling with that question as well. That answer led them into entrepreneurship. For some of them, that answer led them to jobs. Some made them happy. Some made them miserable.
It was a natural progression for me to go from selling my first business to investing and advising a lot of female-founded tech startups. This is back in 2011, 2012. So 10 years ago now, we're in 2021. There weren't many women, starting businesses, there was no community for them. There was no organization or membership or club or anything. Just being able to do that opened my eyes. So I was first an advisor, and then more and more comfortable with advising. I became board director at some of those companies. And took an equity interest in those businesses. That's gone on to grow substantially. And then I got comfortable with putting my money behind those decisions, instead of just my intellect and thought leadership and my own time and talent toward those companies.
I eventually put in my actual treasure, my own financial resources behind those businesses. Since I became a super active angel investor—while still launching my second business that I still have today, which is the LMB Group, strategic marketing and brand advisory firm—I work and advise Fortune 50, Fortune 100 CEO and CMOs on their brand innovation strategy, storytelling and communication. I kept angel investing and even became more active in that space.
And ultimately, started business number three. Me and my capital partners, we raised 30 million dollars for early stage technology companies. With the investment thesis, and objectives that as young, successful entrepreneurs, we were hyper-connected to other young entrepreneurs who had a high probability of becoming successful if they invested early on and also attached them into our networks and experiences to help accelerate their chances of growth and success.
From there I went on to write a best-selling business book for women called, “The Path Redefined,” and the subtitle is something I'm super passionate about personally. The subtitle is “Getting to the Top on Your Own Terms.” I believe that I've done it. And I believe that all people, especially all women are absolutely capable of creating what success looks like in their eyes and then seizing that on their own terms.
So I wrote my book, “The Path Redefined,” and ultimately that led to me having a television show On NBC’s Oxygen along with Randi Zuckerberg, Ido Leffler and Sarah Prevette, called, “Quit Your Day Job," which was a startup investing focused television show where I appeared as the award-winning master marketer helping the businesses that we were contemplating investing in. Figuring out their marketing and winning strategy while we decided if we wanted to make an investment into their company. So that's me in a nutshell.
I'm also a mom. I have a son and a daughter who are both children of color. And so this idea of creating a world that is better for them than the one that I grew up in is something I’m committed as well.
JM: I told you Grow For Good™ audience. It's like a fantasy biography that—you don't make any sense. You're amazing. One thing you talked about—
LM: I don't make any sense, I'm amazing. I'm going to take it. I really like it. [Laughing]
JM: Your own path thing, it's just amazing. Very few people, let alone a Black female executive in this world, can create such an interesting path based upon their passions. I mean, and that's what this is what this show is about.
LM: Let alone become entrepreneurs. I think it's even harder for a woman of color entrepreneur than it is for a woman of color to incorporate, to make those shifts and those changes. I think that might be up for debate among some people. But I certainly think that when you don't have that credibility of a corporate job on your resume, it doesn't matter what you were doing there, but simply that you were there.
That association unfortunately also holds, I believe, too great a weight, to be seriously considered and respected for their ability to build a business. And I think that is part and parcel for the problem we have now with women of color who are saying, “I have an idea. I want to build upon.” Because people will look at them and go, “Oh, but are you qualified?”
JM: So one thing that you had mentioned about angel investing in startups and entrepreneurship that I wanted to key in on this: I remember a friend of mine, years ago, sold his company, he went into the venture space. And after, you know, trying to figure out where he was going to land in angel investing, he decided that the mission of his company was to invest in female-owned startups. Not mission- driven, necessarily, but just he wanted to make sure that the founder was a woman. And so we went out to lunch, and I was asking him about it. He said, “You know, for me, it's purely data, the research showed that women owned startups actually outperform their male counterparts.” And I found that absolutely fascinating. Has that been also your experience?
LM: I think that my experience is that who you know, and how you meet people determines everything that happens in your life. And you either figure that out early on, or you figure that out later. I won't say too late because I don't believe that it's ever too late. But I think that you know, women of color, and people of color, we don't lack the ability, aptitude, the intelligence, it's normally one thing called access. And if you can collapse that and create this access point, I think we find greater levels of success in general.
JM: So let's get to the heart of digitalundivided. Though we covered some ground in our introduction before this, how do you describe the organization, its mission? And maybe talk about when you're taking on new projects, new entrepreneurs, how do you define success?
LM: So I will start with the second question first. So how I define success is that it is your ability to maximize—maximize your abilities to generate income, revenue, and wealth, while maintaining a lifestyle that makes you feel whole and happy. And I think that for so many people, we sacrifice our wholeness and our happiness. We sacrifice our sanity, or dollars until something catastrophic happens and we realize that we had our priorities out of whack. Or better yet, what happens more often than anything, is that people don't even know what they're working towards, and realize, “Oh, I'm making all this money, what am I doing with it? What I have to show for it? Or you know, what was I making it for?”
If you don't have a plan, I like to say if you don't have a plan, then you plan to fail, right?. And so I think that a lot of people frustrate themselves and kind of deem themselves a failure simply because they fail to plan. So I think I look at success as being able to create a plan that keeps you whole and happy, while optimizing the inputs that you put into your life to have the maximum value from the outputs that you desire. I think those outputs look different for everyone and those inputs look different for everyone. And I try not to qualify those, right? What makes me happy and makes me feel wealthy is going to be so different from what makes you or anyone else that we might talk to or deal with in a day, happy and whole.
Especially now, right, we're in this COVID time, where we see all the articles about how the pandemic is disproportionately widening the wealth gap. You've seen it first in the mainstream. I read an article about it now amongst people of color. I read another article the other day, about how income disparity, wealth disparity is widening even amongst millennials. And so I say that to say, there are levels to this. There’s someone somewhere super happy with their apartment, and their Honda or their Nissan Murano. There is someone super happy somewhere in Boca Raton with a Tesla. There's someone super happy somewhere in Martha’s Vineyard with a Jeep Wrangler. There’s someone super happy in Dubai with you know, 5 airplanes, right? I think we are getting to a point where people realize that.
Someone said to me years ago, and this really inspired a lot of my thinking around what I want to be, the level of success that I achieve and attain for myself and my family. It was Lauren, “Think about the life you want to live and what's really required to live that life. Income, savings, assets all of that. What are those real true goals for you? And then determine how much more you want to continue working after that. Because at some point. We all can live the same life.” The example that was given to me ts a person with $50 million. Pretty much lives the same life as someone who has $500 million. Now maybe you can eat in all the same restaurants. You can hop on all the same planes. Maybe they have their own plane. And maybe you're going, first class. But you're going to still get there.
And so I think so many of us keep working and we never get to enjoy that. We never get our moments of happiness because we're so bogged down. And going somewhere that we haven't really taken the time to reflect on where we are going. So that's my thought.
JM: I think the only thing about, the only caveat I would offer there is with 500 million, I think you can buy a lot of legislation and your own politicians. And I have to take issue with one thing that you said. And it is the example of people living successfully all over. The only carve out for that has to be Jersey. There's just nothing good going on in New Jersey. And by law, we have to say that because we're based on Long Island. Just have to throw that out there. [Laughing]
LM: [Laughing] By law, as the CEO of a 501c3 non-profit based out of Newark, New Jersey. I have to tell you that New Jersey is amazing and that Newark is a wonderful place for founders and entrepreneurs to build their businesses. And we are putting a lot of effort and energy into Newark, New Jersey. So hopefully you'll come to visit one day, and you will change your opinion.
JM: I do have a question about Newark because we do have one of our key family and employee members here, who is based out of Newark. But we'll get to that in one second—it's just as a Long Islander I have to throw something about Jersey in there before we get to the nice parts about it, or else I just wouldn't be able to sleep at night. So let's get back to digitalundivided. So the core mission of digitalundivided. Tell us about it from your perspective, and what it is that it looks to accomplish.
LM: So digitalundivided is a 501c3 public charity. We call ourselves a social startup. We have the most innovative, incredible talent. We exist to catalyze the genius of Black and Latinx female founders and innovators and we do that by catalyzing their genius through our research, our data, our programs and our advocacy. And most importantly all of that folds into our community. We've designed a variety of programs that are leading in the industry to help women of color do a variety of things related to innovation and entrepreneurship, everything from starting their businesses from ideas to success on paper, to moving from having this idea on paper to actually a greater version of their concept and building that out.
Our big incubator program just launched a fellowship program where we're double-tapping and really taking a deep dive over a year long fellowship program into women of color founded companies that are at or near the inflection point of being able to raise or generate more than a million dollars.
So then digitalundivided puts out the Project Diane research report, which is a biannual demographic and descriptive research report, that this year for 2020—we just released the report in December—really takes a deep dive into the anomalous year of 2020, of COVID, the racial reckoning, of the pandemic and of the impact that its had on the women of color founder landscape. So as an organization, I'm leading the work that we do to continuously push forward. Towards more possibilities with the new innovation push system.
JM: So I have to ask because Project Diane was an amazing endeavor. The name derived from civil rights activists, Diane Nash. I have to ask, do you know her?
LM: No, the founder of the organization chose to name the report after Diane Nash. Research and honoring history is always a large part of what we do. I don't think you can change systematic issues that have been simply rooted into the way, that culture society, and businesses run without acknowledging the paths that were kind of blazed prior. Especially as we continue in that shift. And so you'll find that a lot of our work is always honoring the most innovative, forward-thinking women of color in their time, despite how radical that might have been in some of those moments, or many of those moments. We always want to dig deep into history to honor and kind of maybe have a historical milestone as well. For how far our work is pushing and moving forward.
JM: So I don't have a question, but I would love to just get you to kind of ruminate on this. There's something from Project Diane, and according to the 2018 report, for every $1.3 million of investment raised—on average for a white male—Black women raise just $42,000. Now that's a slightly aged statistic, but probably still pretty relevant. Can you just speak to that for a moment to try to help people unpack the severity of that disparity?
LM: We've actually just come out with our 2020 research report, and we've seen growth. We've seen significant growth. Unfortunately, still not enough growth, in my opinion. But still seeing quite significant growth. And so we've now seen that the median seed round is $2.3 million dollars for the non-minority, and Black women are now raising up to $125,000 as their main seed round just before even a Series A. That pales in comparison to Latinx women who are raising $200,000 at their median seed ground.
And so we have seen growth from those figures, those figures that you're currently citing come from our 2018 report. Again we've seen some growth, not enough. There is a great disparity between what the non-minority in the mainstream is able to raise in capital versus what a woman of color is able to raise in the capital for her business.
JM: And you talk about the runway that it takes to be able to launch something successfully. I mean, you can burn $125,000 in an instant, or a mistake, or not being able to lay the proper foundation, where the runway that you get with a million, $2 million is certainly more appropriate for trying to get something off the ground. But I mean talk about an incredibly highly pressurized environment where the rules of engagement are still the same. You have to do all of the same things to launch an idea and you know as a founder yourself. Like to be undercapitalized is probably one of the number one reasons behind startup failures. So just this built-in systemic disparity to me is kind of mind-blowing.
LM: It's unfortunate and it's mind-blowing, I don't know if my mind was blown when I’ve lived in this my entire life and career. I think it has conditioned me in a way that I wish more women of color were conditioned. I remember as a little girl, my dad would always tell me that I just have to work 3 times as hard just because. So that's something that I never liked hearing but have 35 years of doing. I think it's unfortunate that we have to work harder just to get the results that someone else can achieve with far less effort. But I do hope that that's changing.
JM: So before we go into a quick break, I just wanted to talk a little bit about some of the things that you did cover over this last year, which has been a remarkable year for so many reasons. Unlike so many social disparities. COVID was disproportionately harmful to the Black and Latinx community. What was your biggest takeaway from this period in terms of helping founders and entrepreneurs build resiliency in the business community?
LM: You know, I think in terms of helping founders build resiliency—I think so much of that comes from learning to operate in ambiguity. I think that it is the greatest strength of any wonderful entrepreneur, that you can chart a path when there is no clear way forward, you're able to create a solution and I know that's really hard for somebody to do. It's a super skill. It's a real, true super skill, to even make investments of your time, your energy, your last dollars, whatever it is, into a space that you know has no guarantee. Which is the gamble on entrepreneurship on a daily basis.
But I think that when you embrace that, you also learn new methods to diversify your approach to risk-taking that also diversifies your approach to revenue and wealth. So if one thing doesn't hit, the other does, and you learn what the right mix is for you. Not everyone has that appetite, but I think that if we can flex that muscle a little bit more, it helps women of color grow their appetite for risk and ambiguity, we will absolutely see an increase in our levels of success.
JM: I love this, the concept of operating through ambiguity. This is the most ambiguous year. Maybe in recent history.
We're going to take a quick break to brag about our company. Morey Creative Studios behind Grow For Good™ for a second. And I swear it's only like 20 seconds, so don't hit the forward button, okay? On the other side, we're going to talk more to Lauren about her programs defining success and what makes her tick.
Break [Voiceover]: Is your company looking to scale? Morey Creative Studios is a Diamond HubSpot Partner Agency that helps organizations leverage HubSpot’s platform. To achieve sustainable and predictable growth. From video production and inbound content marketing to sales and customer retention strategies. Morey Creative Studios provides comprehensive digital solutions for your company. So you can Grow For Good™. Visit moreycreative.com to learn more.
JM: We're back with Lauren talking about digitalundivided and so many other things. And Lauren, I just want to ask you quickly when the organization began in 2012, it was originally focused on empowering Black female entrepreneurship, and then it was expanded to include the Latinx community as well. And I'm wondering if there's a discernible distinction here, we talked a little bit about the difference in capital raise, which was interesting and I didn't understand that before. Can you describe maybe the differences you've witnessed even within the journey of a Black female entrepreneur and a Latinx female entrepreneur?
LM: Our mission has always been to help lead global entrepreneurship and innovative initiatives. For both Black and Latinx women. It's always been essential, and key and essential, quite frankly, to our mission. I think that the differences between why Black women continue to raise less than Latinx women is something that we are uncovering in our Q4 2020 Project Diane release, which will be coming out in a few months, where we capture the last quarter of this anomalous year.
I think there are a few things that point to what can contribute towards those differences. One of them being that Black founders tend to be solopreneurs, who are starting their businesses all by themselves, versus Latinx women, most of them have co-founders. So we take a deep dive into some of these areas that I believe—and our head of data and research Daniel Jackson also believe—might contribute to the cause and the correlation between some of the insights and trends that we see.
JM: That's fascinating. I wonder if you can extrapolate that into a larger global trend about having just more people, more eyes on a project like that. That's amazing.
LM: Stay tuned!
JM: Alright, so now I have to come back and begrudgingly pay my compliment to New Jersey because I did read about your opening of the office in Newark. And our engineer, actually of this show, and our other social justice podcast Manny Faces—who will be cutting up this episode—moved to Newark and regularly participates in the Newark startup scene, and so much technology there as well which just seems to be thriving. What was the calculus behind opening there? And so far, what has your experience been opening up on this coast?
LM: Yes, so I mean, digitalundivided started in New York back in 2011 at a conference. We incorporated in New York back in 2012 as a non-profit. A metropolitan urban area has always been a focus of our work. Now post-COVID, I've digitized all of our programs, our services, and we're able to operate on a national level and meet founders of color wherever they are in their geography, and their demography as well. So, wherever they are in their life journey, wherever they are geographically, we can now meet and serve them.
But we started working in that urban area of New York City, which was the tri-state area, of course. And we found over the years and the trends are yes, it's New York, it’s California, it’s Newark, Chicago, Detroit, DC, the hubs, Texas ,where you are seeing business is founded by diverse founders blossom. And so our decision to come to Newark is that we have had a long relationship as well with Prudential Foundation who supports our work, they are headquartered in Newark. We thought that we had done a lot of work required in New York City, specifically, up until that point. And that Newark was the next place within the tri-state area that was really prime for growth.
If you recall, there was also a moment in time about four or five years ago when there was a lot of technology investment coming from big CEOs, both personally and through their businesses into schools and ecosystems and opening offices, increasing supply chains and what have you, all throughout New Jersey, specifically focused on Newark as well. So we again are going to lead the shift towards inclusive innovation and have to look at where innovation is most right and being supported by the technology ecosystem itself. So Newark was one of those places. And Prudential's are also headquartered there, and a wonderful supporter of ours and so we had so many reasons to move headquarters to Newark.
JM: So with so many founders and entrepreneurs served over the past several years. You must have a pretty powerful network at your disposal. Have you been able to foster any sort of collaborative environment among the women that you serve?
LM: Absolutely. Collaboration is key to my success. I think more so than anything, partnership is key to my success and the ways that I can continue to help other women catalyze their genius is through connecting dots. Whether that be dots, in strategy. Whether that be dots in the thought process. Whether that be dots in the ecosystem and actual network and connecting people.
But it is again, going back to what I was saying, previously, it's about access. If you don't have that access, if you don't have that kind of partnership or ability to connect those dots at the right time. A lot of people say, “Oh I connected the dots,” and what do you always hear is that it was too late, right. Like you got that piece of information or advice, 20 minutes too late. “Oh I just had that meeting and they told me no.” But maybe they would have told you yes, if you would have that information at the right time.
So it's not just about access, not just about information. It's not just about collaboration or partnership. It's about having all of these pieces in concert at the same time, at the right time. And the right time to me is before, or during, but it's never after. Too often, women of color feel like they found the answers after, and that's often too late, or late for the effort that they already put forward.
JM: So, before we leave one another and I just want to thank you for your time today and your insight, and just more generally for the work that you do. If people are looking to get involved, if there's a brilliant Black or a Latinx woman with an idea and doesn't know where to begin, how does the process begin? And what do you look for in that type of founder to uncover their genius? And what is the anatomy of a solid relationship? Some, I guess some parting wisdom on how somebody can start.
LM: You start by heading over to digitalundivided.com, learn more about our work. And if you are a woman of color, if you know a woman of color who has an idea and has an ability, who is inventive and resilient and persistent, and believes in ingenuity and science and has strong beliefs, we want to help you create that into a company, into a product, into a service, onto an opportunity that catalyzes your genius. But also to allow you to own your work and therefore own your pursuit of economic success.
Closing the racial wealth gap especially now that it's been so widened because of COVID, it’s very important to me and very important to our work at digitalundivided. This idea of catalyzing the genius of women of color is only so that we can help more women of color make money, earn money, keep money, create wealth and build a legacy.
So if there's any way that I personally or we at digitalundivided can help women of color do that, call on me, call on us. I'm easy to find. I'm at Lauren Maillian on social media, everywhere. Laurenmaillian.com. This work is my, my life's work. Personally for me. If I leave here from this particular role in my life, having created—as the CEO of this organization—hundreds of more women of color entrepreneurs and innovative founders, I've done my job.
JM: Lauren Maillian the CEO of digitalundivided. Thank you for your time. Thank you for your wisdom, your energy, and I wish you nothing but even more great success in your life. Thank you for being with us today.
LM: Thank you so much!
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