Can you be a startup when you’re not in tech and you’re not using 100% masculine energy? Sophia is the living proof that you can! In this episode, she tells us about investments, startup life, self development, and how to use your feminine energy in business.
I'm so pumped about today's conversation, because it is such an eye opening concept. There were so many perspectives that for me, personally, were shifted during this conversation, and I absolutely loved having it. Today's guest is Sophia Sunwoo of Ascent Strategy. She's such a badass, seriously. I am such an admirer of what she does, and how she goes about doing it.
Sophia Sunwoo has been an entrepreneur pretty much her whole life. She started her first company when she was 19, and sold it about three years after. That makes about 14 years of entrepreneurship, it's been quite a journey.
The business Sophia has currently is called Ascent Strategy. She helps women to shortcut the entrepreneur journey, and reach success much faster. Her goal is to provide that person in your corner, and also help women accelerate their startup learning journey so that it doesn't take a tonne of time, and they can get to their goals and their vision faster. Sophia does that by coaching through a startup school programme she created. In that program, her biggest priority is always sales.
Sophia’s biggest passion is empowering women to step into their sovereignty, step into their ability to make money, their ability to take a dream and a vision, and turn that into money that they can use to support themselves and their families.
When I first spoke to Sophia and was reading about her business, I was confused because of the word ‘startup’. I thought a startup is about tech, but Sophia works with creatives and coaches.
When you think of the term ‘startup’, it feels very masculine to me. It feels very reserved for this masculine male tech industry. My idea of investors was that you're looking for these high end, mostly men, billionaires or some sort of controlling financial force to invest in your company. And then that idea can be threatening. It sounds like you're going to lose your vision, and that your business is going to lose its integrity. I asked Sophia how she navigated that and what investing and startup life is actually like.
Sophia uses the word startup, because anyone who is creating a business and it requires some kind of investment, is a startup to her. If you look up the technical definition of ‘startup’, that's what they say it is. Sophia feels that the male culture has really taken ownership over the word startup, especially the tech industry. That made her go on a mission to reclaim the term for female owned businesses.
The reality is that most startups are invested in by crowdfunding and friends and family, and just personal money rather than personal credit and things like that. That's the true reality. It’s 100% not the way it’s shown in movies like Shark Tank, where you see these investors who are ensued, super buttoned up and a bit intimidating. That's not the reality.
Sophia has a lot of people approaching her asking for introductions to investors. She spent 14 years building her reputation. Building a network of strong friendships, amongst people that are in the entrepreneurial world, and can speak for you, and have a trust in you and your ability to deliver, those are the people you want to surround yourself with. Those are the people that will introduce you to the connections and investors that you need.
When it comes to creating your business, how you should be thinking about this finding an investor is like as if you're looking for a romantic partner. You have to be so thoughtful of what you're actually looking for and almost create a vision board of a yes pile and a no pile. I need an investor that's 100% in on my vision, who will actually be someone who adds positivity and helps us celebrate this idea. An investor shouldn’t be like someone I met off of Tinder that is riff raff and is going to give me a bunch of negative advice and energy into what I'm building here.
Sophia says it’s very important for every entrepreneur to work on themselves from a personal development perspective. If you're on the journey of looking for investment, or sponsors or things like that, don't step into that space until you are mentally, emotionally, and personally have done all the work that you need to do in order to recognize the people that aren't aligned with you.
You have to be smart about how you go into these things, making sure that the contract that you initially step into, has thought through every single situation that can come up. But if you ever come to the situation where people keep fighting, it makes sense to let go of the situation, because it isn’t working anymore. The people that allow those situations to get really bad, are holding on to winning. They feel like they have to show the other party that they can't do this to them. There are definitely times and spaces where you can do that, but when you recognize that the person at the other end of the table is not aligned with your tear of thinking, where you have respect and are willing to move forward in a respectful way. There's no point in fighting with that person. You're not speaking the same language.
Just make sure that you are starting from a place of complete awareness, doing as much work as possible so that you're showing up as the strongest person that you can be.
Crowdfunding, a single investor, or multiple single person investor options, what to choose? I asked Sophia what the best approach is for somebody who's new and looking into this.
As far as like which route to choose, it really just depends on what is available to you. Some people might already have access to investor types through their current network. And therefore it makes way more sense for them to go after investors, because that's just the social circle and social capital that they have. Also, if you are building a physical space in your area, it makes sense to go after investors who are really tied into the community. That's an example of where the business itself leans into a specific style of investing.
With crowdfunding, it's a little different. Sophia would recommend this to someone who has an existing audience for their business. With crowdfunding, the groundwork criteria is always an existing audience, whether that's your friends and family or your audience that the business has built. However, you probably don't want to crowdfund for a million dollar project. Crowdfunding is defined by its ability to raise a tonne of money through microdata. So, if the amount is somewhere around 50K or something like that, that's an environment where crowdfunding is really, really possible.
What's really fun about crowdfunding is that you can offer giveaways, prizes, or the product to people who donate. What Sophia likes about crowdfunding is that it's a glue for keeping your community in check, and keeping them involved in what you're building. It serves a dual purpose of not only helping you raise money, but it's also helping your community integrate into your story. That's the building block for like a long term customer, someone who's going to be in your community for a long time.
The thing about crowdfunding though, is that it's a lot of work. Crowdfunding is not something where you can post about on your social media on your Facebook page, that doesn't work. You have to individually email/call/text people, and directly ask them to donate to your campaign.
Sophia recommends building a committee of fundraisers, where you have additional people reaching out to their network of friends and family. You're creating like a spider web of multiple versions of you reaching out to friends and families, so that your ability to reach your financial goal is much accelerated.
The biggest work that women have to do with themselves when it comes to visibility on social media is to just surrender to the tension or being pretty and being good at what they do, and say that they can exist within these two planes. Different versions of that are going to be comfortable for different people. So figure out your comfort space in regards to that tension. Once you get more comfortable with that, that's when women become way more comfortable with visibility.
The connection and the genuine approach that many women have to the business, that's kind of the magic sauce that really catapults a crowdfunding campaign to the upper echelon of success. There's a level of emotional intelligence that women have, that they bring to the table in such a vulnerable way in an open way that men just don't do. EQ is something that is such a superpower for many women!
Money mindset is a huge fear for many women. What they struggle with a lot is just asking for money, asking for the prices that they want to charge. And also not stepping down when someone's trying to negotiate with them. Money is a manifestation of so many other things. It's definitely the representative currency of all these different insecurities we can have about ourselves.
Self worth is another obstacle where people struggle with. If someone's self worth is not at the level that they need it to be in order to be a strong business owner, crazy things happen to the business when it comes to decision making. That makes your ability to move forward and grow pretty hampered. And when you tie your self worth too closely to your business, that's when mental health gets affected.
The last and final question if this interview is: if you are standing on the street corner, and somebody is just about to get into a taxi. They open the taxi door, and they're about to climb inside. They turn around and they say “Sophia, I'm looking for more in my business”. What do you tell them?
Sophia’s answer is that the first thing you need to do is dig into yourself and understand how much you love yourself. Every single problem that all of us face in our lifetime, has to do with our inability to love ourselves fully. When you get to a place where you really attack that question, and be super radically honest with yourself about your ability to love yourself, that's when you start seeing a lot more answers. You start understanding the potential of who you can become as a human being, and you unlock a lot of new paths and a lot of new dreams. You unveil what's next for you in a huge way.