Rhonesha Byng, Founder & CEO of Her Agenda
Michael [POCIT co-founder] introduced me to you and your fantastic site, tell us a bit about Her Agenda?
‘Her Agenda’ is a digital media platform that works to bridge the gap between ambition and achievement for millennial women.
Its focused on women empowerment by showing examples and providing solutions. We know that the number of female CEO’s is disproportionally small. And so, we’re working to change that by highlighting women that are already leading in their industries, and also providing access to the resources to help you to become a leader or accomplish things [despite the obstacles that you might face in your industry].
How did you get the idea to start Her Agenda?
I started my career in media when I was sixteen, and I was going a lot to the conferences, interviewing celebrities and politicians. And along that journey I was sharing my story online. I developed a ‘following’ which started to send me letters and asking questions about how I got to do what I was doing [almost as if I was special or not like them because I was doing those things].
The only reason I was able to do those things was that I put myself out there, by not being afraid to ask, and not taking no for an answer. I also had great mentors and role models around me. So I wanted to create something that would inspire my existing followers and others to get what they want, regardless of them being a woman, them being young, them being a minority, from a particular background. And also, highlight the resources and opportunities that I consistently knew about because of my great circle of mentors and teachers that encouraged and pushed me.
What do you attribute your success too?
I don’t believe I’ve gotten to the point where I could say that I am ‘successful.’ I can say that I’ve made a lot of progress. And that comes with actually taking a hard look at myself [particularly being the founder/CEO of a tech company], I ask people to tell me what I need to do to become better, and what doesn’t make sense, and take raw feedback, and not just ignore it. I take in the comments, interpret it, and use it to become better. So, something I needed to get better at was the business side of what I was doing. I was great at branding, creating content, using social media, but I wasn’t so great at pitching, developing revenue models, explaining revenue models, explaining how we are going to reach our goal in eighteen months, long-term strategy. I was always more inclined towards being action oriented.
This year we had a significant growth because I went through an accelerator that humbled me; to allow other people to take my business apart and learn how to separate my business from myself.
You have mentioned at least three times about having a mentor, so how important it is for someone [especially a woman, or a woman of color] to have a mentor, and how can one find a mentor?
I believe that having a mentor is crucial. You need to have someone that has more experience than you, who is ahead of you, and who can inspire you.
I also believe that you need to have sort of ‘board of directors,’ not just one because that’s a significant burden on just one person. You should have a variety of at least ten that can guide you [with the career and also life decisions]. Also with this generation especially with the invention of digital media, your job is very fluid, and so it might shift relatively quickly. For me, I started out in journalism and then moved into entrepreneurship. While they crossed over primarily at this point, I had mentors for entrepreneurship things, and I had mentors for journalism things.
To find a mentor is a fascinating process. There is no one way to do it. But I would say; first, you need to know what you need help with. Two, you need to be great at what you do [or passionate], so that they want to invest their time with you. They want to see you succeed, and they know that you will succeed, and they just want to be along for that ride. So, you have to make yourself worth investing in.
How was the transition from journalism to tech founder?
With tech, there is always something unnerving because I don’t know how to code, but I do feel very comfortable with the internet. I grew up with the web; I understand the internet from a consumer side. The key was to be able to comprehend my weaknesses when it comes communicating my vision to developers and then also finding someone who can make up for that gap and act as a translator for me. I was lucky; I went to a hackathon last year. I met an amazing web developer, who is a godsend because he understands digital and content, and he has acted as a translator between myself and the coders [that I work with].
I honestly don’t recommend what I did as a strategy for someone starting out. I educated myself as much as I can on the topic so that I don’t have to rely on other people. And if I had to do all again, I would have learned how to code and design. But now, I’m at a point where I need to acknowledge that weakness and attempt to try to work around so that I can achieve what I need to change for the next year.
How did you get into the accelerator program?
Well, it’s been a rough time, because like I said this is the second version of the site. The first release of the website was just a blog primarily. When I re-launched it, I started to think more about making it a business. At the time, all of these accelerators were not receptive at all to media companies.
I always had faith in this industry, but the people that matter [the decision makers], they didn’t believe that. Luckily I didn’t give up, and I kept trying, and I kept applying.
Eventually, I was put on the radar of an accelerator based in Atlanta, Their team reached out to me personally and told me about the accelerator they had, which was specifically catered to companies that were creating solutions for women’s and girls to succeed in today’s economy. And so, I applied, and I went through a series of interviews and got in!