As a part of our series called ‘Five Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A CEO’ we had the pleasure of interviewing Alexys Feaster.
Alexys Feaster is the Founder and CEO of The Kinship Advisors, which focuses on creating alliances within the sports and entertainment industries with people who are committed to social justice and sustained impact on underserved communities. The Kinship Advisors boasts clients including Philadelphia 76ers All-Star Ben Simmons and NBA champion and Milwaukee Bucks standout Jrue Holiday, among others.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
From a career perspective, my backstory really started when I graduated from college and moved to LA and was in NBC’s Page Program, which was my first taste into the entertainment business. And then I was a PR coordinator, but quickly discovered that that was not my passion. I was able to pivot while in LA and stay in the entertainment and music business by working at Interscope Records, where I really found my passion being able to help artists really become their best selves. So I was 23 years old working in this amazing record label and being able to help see people’s dreams come true and decided, “how can I do more of that? What could that look like?”
After working there for a while, I ended up meeting someone that had a recording studio who asked if I would be open to helping him run his business, which I accepted. But one of the things I realized while being in that studio is that a lot of our entertainers and artists really cared about their community because they came from underserved communities, similar to where I grew up in Southeast DC. Having that connection with these artists that wanted to give back to young kids and to inspire people, while also being celebrities, was the beginning of the career that I now have over a decade later.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Just the level of commitment that my clients have to making a real difference has been the most impactful thing. For me, Jrue and Lauren Holiday are my clients — one of the first few clients that I had at The Kinship — and to see that Jrue was willing to dedicate part of his salary to go towards a social impact fund, and Lauren — as a two-time Olympic Gold medalist — who has found her calling to help Black and Brown communities and businesses was an incredible thing.
I think even deeper, being able to go to these businesses and nonprofits we’re helping and see the real impact — oftentimes you hear stories of people giving and donating, but you don’t physically get to see what that looks like. Even right now, I just came from Indiana where one of the grantees had a mural unveiled in the city about culture. That to me has been the most interesting part: seeing the other side of the lives that are being impacted. I’ve been on the entertainment side so much, and now I’m able to see both sides. I knew the impact was happening, but to be on the ground for it, see people shedding tears of gratitude — has been the most rewarding, amazing thing.
Can you share a story about a mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I think one of the biggest mistakes that I made was probably not having a team already in place. As a founder, as an entrepreneur, I knew in my mind that this was going to be my battle to fight as a Black woman founder. I knew it would be difficult to get capital, very difficult to get funding. All the different tools and resources that you need to succeed as a Black woman entrepreneur, those things aren’t just handed to you — they’re hard to come by, especially in the beginning. I wish that I would have scouted and really identified people that I wanted to join the team early on, because that would have helped in the beginning.
Luckily I had my best friend, I have a great assistant and people that have since joined that hade made this process successful and more seamless. But in hindsight, if I would have gone into this with a strategic partner or just having someone to do it with, I think it’s something that would have been helpful.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I’ve got a good community of just mentors in general over the years. Someone who stands out to me that’s been a big champion is Van Jones — throughout my entire career, even back in my NBA days and beyond, he’s been a really amazing thought partner: someone who, as I’ve gone through the struggles, has given me extremely great perspective and has always given me advice on how to move forward and how to strategically pivot in various scenarios. I think that’s been extremely helpful for me, because to get a friend and someone who has seen a lot and been through a lot, but can also give strategic advice that you trust, has been very special.
For me in particular, it was hard to leave from a situation where I had so much stability in a job for so many years, and then say, “I’m going to just go bet on myself.” I looked to my parents, my siblings and others to tell me, “if anyone could do it, you could do it.” Without that push of confidence, I don’t know if I would have actually started The Kinship.
Another group of people is the NBA players that I’ve worked with — I talked to some of them about my idea of going out on my own, and to hear them say that they had confidence in me was amazing. Some of them even told me they were wondering why I hadn’t done it a long time ago, so to have that confidence and level of reassurance that I’m on the right path has been a game-changer to get to where I am now.
As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
I think that when it comes to businesses, numbers don’t lie. And the reality is that when you have a diverse team, a diverse executive team, a diverse workforce, you actually have better business productivity and better outcomes. Obviously, as a woman of color, that’s not the only reason why you should have a diverse team — really, it’s having the diverse perspectives from people that come from places will help your business model. I think oftentimes we’re not given the opportunity because of systemic racism to, to grow and to have a real seat at the table.
And we always talk about having a seat at the table and then you get to the table, but then your seat doesn’t hold weight. I think even changing the narrative around that, it’s super important. So hiring a diverse team is one thing, but that we are we respecting and adhering and implementing the ideas that are coming from the diverse team, I think is the bigger issue. Post George Floyd, we’ve seen all these new D&I initiatives. And the reality is that I’ve talked to a lot of folks in that industry who feel that some of those positions were made just because it was the trend to do. And I’ll say as a person of color, there’s no worse feeling than getting a position or being in a position and then having what you think to be an opportunity to really help make your company culture better, and then not actually have that opportunity. It’s actually more detrimental to employees of color to do that.
As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.
I think it starts at the top. We always see that the middle workforce tends to be actually more diverse than the executive workforce and the leadership. If you’re a CEO, as a leader, if you don’t actually really feel that having people from different backgrounds — gender, age, diversity, all of those things — if you don’t feel that that would make your company better, then there’s always going to be an issue, because the people underneath you are going to know that as a leader, this is not a priority for you, and they’re not going to implement equal practices.
I think that’s the issue is that oftentimes the trickle-down effect doesn’t trickle down all the way because people know there’s no consequence. I think that that’s first and foremost is you have to start at the top. It has to come from and be authentic and be felt by leadership across the board, that there are consequences if people aren’t treating folks fair and equal.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?
I think the main difference is that the vision and the buck stops with me, as the founder and CEO. So I take the responsibility for all wins and all losses. That’s different from other executives, because when you’re running the ship or running the show, period point blank, the buck stops with me. People have to believe in the vision that the CEO or the founder is describing and implementing and showing and proving, and I take that very, very seriously. I have a grand vision for The Kinship Advisors, but I also know that my team has to believe not just in my vision, but in my ability to execute that vision. And I think that that is also a major difference.
My job is to lead and show the path, but then also show my value, because The Kinship is a very values-based business. Our tagline is connect, elevate, build and transform, and we’re all about uplifting people in their personal development and in their community and social impact. So we have to live and lead in our values, which is the responsibility for a CEO to do that. Again, I take that very, very seriously.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
I think the most striking is just that this is really about your team also, right? So in the beginning as a founder, I was looking for what my services are going to be, and how I get people to see the value and need to take advantage of those services. And the reality is that’s all fine and great, and I’m very blessed to work with some of the most amazing athletes in the world.
But the reality is, a lot of my job is managing people. You assume that that’s going to be a piece of it, but I also have be the visionary. If I’m constantly in meetings and pitching or working on client stuff, and then, a huge piece of it is also managing my team — making sure that they’re clear on the deliverables and they’re clear on the vision — then there’s no space open in my calendar to think. And as we bring in new people and have more clients, I have to work with more people. And so the reality is that I have to manage those dynamics. I did a lot more of that than I had anticipated in the beginning.
I’m building this company to have a legacy for me, for my family, for the people that work with The Kinship, and you have to make sure that people are happy, and doing what they love. It was kind of striking to me, that I spent a lot of time doing that, but in hindsight, that’s what I wanted as an employee.
Fantastic. Here is the primary question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Diversify your network. I spent the past decade working in entertainment, politics for Obama and at the NBA, and in a way all these different worlds were very similar. I was really intertwined into this world where I knew a lot of the same people — it made sense because there’s so much cross-pollination between all of them, but as I became an entrepreneur and as I founded The Kinship Advisors, what I realized was that my network was a little too narrow — I wish I would have known to diversify my network earlier. Now, I’m definitely tapping into other people’s networks and asking for introductions, even down to attorneys and finance people. The same goes with the tech industry and Silicon Valley — as an entrepreneur, you need to know people across all these different space and figure out where those strategic alliances can live, and try to plant those seeds before you take that leap.
- I wish I would have known that my initial business model and structure would evolve more quickly than anticipated. You always hear that things will change and evolve over the course of time, and what I found is that the first idea that I had with The Kinship was really based on the need that athletes and entertainers needed to have a strategic advisor: someone to talk to them about impact and personal development. But because I came from the NBA and did a lot of programming, my initial business idea was around how I can create programming for influencers. But people weren’t really jumping at the idea of programming, so I had to pivot my business model a bit, and do a lot of reflection and soul searching. I knew all along that development, philanthropy and social impact is a personal journey, so I was trying to build community through programming because knowledge is also how we make an impact. But the reality is, we’re not there yet. I wish I had known that my structure and business model was going to change, but I appreciate the evolution, and the fact that I tried something and saw quickly that I had my order backwards. It happens sometimes, and as an entrepreneur, you have to be willing to pivot.
- Start scouting for talent, before you even think about taking the leap. As the founder of Kinship Advisors, I am bootstrapping the company — I don’t have anyone financing my business. I knew I would be on a grind, but the faster you have help, the better. Start identifying potential partners and people to work with before you launch. I’m very blessed that now I’m in a situation where I’ve been able to have amazing people work on the team, but start building your team, start planting the seeds and making those moves as you’re thinking about building your business, because you’re only stronger when you have the proper support and people that are like-minded.
- Block time for intellectual curiosity. I’m someone who loves to learn and know new things and see new industries. As an entrepreneur, you don’t have really have a lot of time — I’m not even a year in, and I have great people that I’m working with, and it’s still time consuming. Block time to have a learning plan for yourself — I think the more that you block time for learning and to be intellectually curious, that opens your mind as you’re running your business: to be focused on the adventure, as opposed to just the money and the success. When you’re having fun and learning, and being innovative and creative, the success and money will come.
- Being a CEO can be lonely. The Kinship Advisors is my brainchild, I’ve been thinking about it for years. I know that my life’s purpose is helping people use their influence for good, and by helping them do that, the trickle down effect to other people across the world is so much greater. But at the end of the day, it’s in my mind: I’m able to articulate it, but I’m the one that has the vision and it can be a lonely place. You have less time for friends and family, even though everyone understands that I’m building something great. But having mentors and a networking community of other founders and CEOs makes it a little less lonely — seeking that out has been helpful because even though we’re all busy, there are pockets of community and networks of support that also understand what it’s like to be a CEO. In a way, it’s uplifting to be able to share info and advice. People say that it’s lonely at the top — I think it’s a glorious place at the top, but being an entrepreneur and a founder and trying to grow and build something can be isolating in a way. It’s important to find ways and pockets of time and networks to make it less isolating.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
It’s more of a motto than a quote, but I’m reading a book called The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, and there’s a chapter about the law of detachment. I think when you’re a Type A personality who is an overachiever, and someone that wants to do things the right way, I’ve been very attached to the outcome for a long time. But as a founder, I found a lot of peace in the law of detachment, which is really about putting all of your best energy out there, and doing all that you can to set something up for success and do things in the right way, before detaching yourself from the outcome, because you can’t control what happens next.
That’s been a lifesaving game changer for me as a new founder, because I can only do what I can do. If I’m putting together the proposals and pitching the clients, and I know that me and my team are the best people for the job, I can’t be so attached to the outcome that it makes or breaks my spirit. It’s very different than how I lived my life previously, but I’m happy that by reading and really understanding the ego and detachment, it’s helped me be a better founder and CEO.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
He’s not living, but there’s something about the way that Tupac just spoke about life and his level of insightfulness. I would say in the same vein, Nipsey Hussle — they remind me of each other a little bit as well, but the way that Nipsey looked at community and looked at creating generational wealth for Black people, and the way that he looked at collaboration and partnership and values and all the different things. The trickle down effect of the way that he looked at building up our neighborhoods and owning our own things was very, very inspiring to me while he was alive. And while he’s no longer here, the people that love him most continue to carry on his legacy. He’s been very inspiring because now I see this kind of thoroughfare through the work that we do, and talking about not just opportunity zones, but also opportunity for our people.
I think of Tupac in the same way, well before his time. Obviously they’re gone too soon, but they planted seeds for Black excellence in a way that has really impacted our culture and our community.