As part of my series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Violette de Ayala.
Violette de Ayala is a Cuban American serial and social Entrepreneur, Founder of FemCity®, and the International Best-Selling Author of The Self-Guided Guru© Life Lessons for the Everyday Human.
Violette has been quoted in Success, Forbes, Entrepreneur, CNBC, Fast Company, Thrive Global, Medium, Yahoo Finance, Yahoo Small Business, Authority, Business Insider News as a small business expert and in MarieClaire.
Violette has also been seen in featured campaigns in People, InStyle, Real Simple magazines in addition to bareMinerals “Women We Love” Series.
She served as part of The White House: Women Environmental Leaders Program and was a commissioned Keynote speaker for Accenture’s International Women’s Month Event, the SBA Regional Women’s Conference, and Luxury Brand Partners.
FemCity has been seen in Gilt, Vogue, Forbes, AP, Mashable and Fast Company and has over 100 locations in the US, Canada and the Islands.
Violette is a Member of NationSwell Council, Entrepreneur Leadership Network and a Contributor for Entrepreneur.com.
Violette and Stephen and have three kids that span mid 20’s to tween age. Their gracefully aging rescue dog, Cosmo is a frequent pseudo star on her Instagram.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
While networking in Miami upon our move back from Raleigh NC, I grew frustrated over the lack of connectivity many of the networking themed events seemed to provide. After a few years of continually searching for a Networking Group I connected with, I decided to start a small group in Miami. In 2009, I asked a few friends to join me for lunch and I shared with them my vision of creating FemCity, the difference it would make in the lives of the women that attended and how I envisioned it to be a community of diversity, community and ongoing support all in positivity with good vibes. I hosted the first FemCity Lunch and although I didn’t think it was that successful, the following month when I hosted our second lunch, 60+ women registered. We had no website, nor business plan with monetization components, and yet women in Miami were attending our monthly gatherings which led us to sell out each and every time we had a new event. During this time, I was running my own PR and Marketing company focusing on environmental and political campaigns and this was a hobby and a way to fill my cup. At the end of 2009, because of photos shared on Facebook, more friends started to ask me about launching a FemCity chapter in their backyard. After 15 requests, I realized that this could be something bigger and the world was asking for me to look a bit deeper and start to grow in other communities.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
When I first started FemCity in 2009, the only platform we were using was Facebook. We had no website, nor any other social media platform. As I was sharing the photos of our FemCity Networking events on Facebook, women would ask me who they need to chat with in order to start a FemCity chapter. They thought it was some really big entrepreneur who had started FemCity. Little did they know at the time, it was little ole me that I had started FemCity. What makes the story even more funny, is that I didn’t understand at the time why they wanted to start a FemCity chapter. It was after 10–12 requests from women looking to have a FemCity chapter in their backyard that I realized, there was something more to this little side hustle, passion project I had started.
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?
One of the most amazing women that served as a Mentor was Joan Barnes, the Founder of Gymboree. We met years ago at a local Coral Gables Chamber of Commerce event and we just hit it off. We became fast friends, stayed connected and she became the “go-to” person for me and FemCity with seasoned guidance and straight to the point advice. We are still friends after all these years, and I credit her for inspiring me to have bigger vision. I have had so many other amazing women such as Renee Frigo, the Co-Founder of Lucini Oil and a personal friend Amie that helped me along the way. I could go on and on as to the gratitude I have for those that made my success possible.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
When I started FemCity, I envisioned only one location and it being solely a networking group for women. As the years went on, we evolved and maintained a deep purpose and intent on being there for women, but it grew beyond just networking. Our mission expanded to focus on helping women start and grow a business or multiple business. We do all that we can to walk women through each step of launching and provide resources, expert advice, workshops, classes and connectivity so they can grow their business to bigger heights in accordance to their vision.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
The most recent time would be of course the start of the pandemic. We had about 100 local monthly events that had to move from meeting in person into a digital space. We had to move fast because we knew women would need community, support and resources more than ever. The speed of our pivot served the women in our community in such a great and impactful way that many were able to maintain stability in their businesses. Our team of Directors, Leaders, Presidents and many on our in-house team focused on the service component of our brand, and how to be there for those we serve in a bigger way. When times get difficult, it’s best to focus on “how can you help others more”. It keeps your passion and purpose driven business at the forefront and always ends up being the best way to handle uncertainty.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
I felt like giving up in year 1, year 5, year 7… even at the start of the pandemic, I thought, will this be the moment that breaks us. The motivation and the drive to keep on going came back to my purpose and the promise I made to the women in our community. I focused on serving them and being there for them, and that pulled us through. Any time I have ever thought of giving up, I have always received some sort of message from a stranger thanking me for the work that we do… that has always kept me moving forward and pushing to launch more chapters to help more women start and run their own business. I am obsessed now with helping women around the world to do the same. It has not been an easy journey, but the work we do and the positive impact it makes for others makes it worth every stressful moment I endured.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
Focusing on the service for others is really I believe the most critical role. When we focus on serving others, those around us also feel inspired to do the same. As an example, as FemCity pivoted during the start of the pandemic, we had so many women in our community do the same and also focus on the service for others. We had members helping other members and it started to exponentially take on in all of our chapters. It was one of the proudest moments I have ever felt or experienced as to how our community and leaders were there supporting each other.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
People are inspired by action. If a Leader helps others and takes on a pro-active method with passion, purpose and intention to do good work, it naturally will inspire and lift up the spirits of those around. Energy and behavior are contagious. If we see someone being kind, or leading with positivity, it reflects back unto those around and they will start to take on the same out into the world. I hosted a conversation in our community on race and how to heal together as a community, and that series inspired others to also have deep profound conversations on race and how to be better advocates for those not seen equally. Kindness and great leadership creates more kindness and greater leaders.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
The best way is to communicate the truth from a point and energy of love. When we share honesty with as much love, kindness and empathy, that is also felt to the person receiving the news. Always ask yourself, “does this come from love?” “is this showing empathy for the other person?”, “how can I give more love as I am delivering this news?”. These questions will guide you into delivering difficult news in the best way possible.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
We can only do the best we can with what we’ve got. Understand and embrace uncertainty, use your intuition and purpose to guide you and plan as best as you can realizing that it may all be tossed around unexpectedly tomorrow. Give yourself some grace.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
Stay connected to your purpose and intention on how you can help others through your work and the talents and experience you have to share.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
- Focusing on themselves and not the clients. Keep your eye always on your clients and how to be better.
- Focusing on the competitors and what they are doing and not focusing on their own work and greatness. While it’s good to know what others are doing, that’s their avenue and not yours. Stay on your path.
- Trying to be like someone else or copying another person’s brand. Be authentic and true to who you are…. It will come through in all you do.
- There is enough opportunity, abundance, prosperity in the world for all of us. The success of another person doesn’t take away from the success you have or can achieve. Cheer others on. They will do the same in return.
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
Ask yourself, “how can I get my product and services to be used by over 1 million people?”. This simple question will give you the ways to create a scalable business. Ideally you would also want to have a business that has multiple streams of revenue. Create a product that is affordable to over 1 million people and add solid revenue streams and that is a very easy way to sustain growth and revenue during hard times. Be connected to trends and forecasts and be fast to pivot when needed. There is no time to wait. History has shown that a successful business can be started in the most tumultuous of times and can persevere.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Show compassion and empathy // Leaders that show compassion and empathy for others will have a team of support always there to support their vision and work.
- Lead with purpose // Purpose driven businesses not only are successful but they create other leaders that go on and do the same.
- Give gratitude to others and put them on the stage // When we praise others for the work they have done and we do so in front of others, it motivates, inspires and lifts the work ethic of others. We all aspire to be recognized for hard work and it encourages those watching to step it up too if needed.
- Be a person of your word // Do what you say you will do. This will go a very long way and makes leaders stand out. Send the email when you said you would, show up when you said you would, and follow through all the way.
- Think of what more can you do to help your clients. // Go beyond the expectation and the promise you gave even if just a little bit.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Nothing watered down is good, not coffee, wine or chocolate. The same applies to humans. Go for it, give it everything you got and make sure you don’t ever launch a business or go after a dream with a “watered-down” mindset. You’ve got this!
How can our readers further follow your work?
Follow me @violettedeayala or @femcity. If you’re a woman looking to launch a business, have a business or looking for community, sign up for our 30-Day Free Trial Membership.