VENTEUR spoke with Dr. Yasmene Mumby about her entrepreneurial journey. Dr. Mumby is a sustainable leadership advisor and an award-winning systems-level creative leader with over 15 years of experience at the nexus of scholarship, social movement, and art. Purpose-driven teams invite Dr. Mumby and her firm, The Ringgold, to consult and collaborate on their communications, equity, and qualitative research initiatives.
She combines her background in academia and wellness to coach ambitious high-level executives, leaders, and business owners through turbulent and unknown waters so they can lead with compassion, avoid burnout, and find peace in their purpose. A graduate of the McDonogh School, Dr. Mumby earned her Bachelor's in International Studies and Master's in Teaching from The Johns Hopkins University, along with a JD from the University of Maryland School of Law and a Doctorate in Education Leadership from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
The entrepreneurial journey is one of self-discovery. What have you learned about yourself while building your business?
When I started, I had to learn not to take the entrepreneurial experience personally. If I was interacting with a client and they were being tedious about the kind of work they wanted, it was easy to internalize my self-worth.
I'd think to myself: "Am I good enough? Am I even good at what I do?" The reality is yes, I am, and I deliver high-quality services and products. This is why we have repeat customers. This is the one thing I've had to come to terms with and get clear on so it wouldn't get in my business way.
The entrepreneurial journey is often lonely. Have you experienced loneliness as an entrepreneur?
My journey as an entrepreneur hasn't been lonely, and it's because I grew up in a family with entrepreneurs. My grandmother had her hair salon and was a school principal; my grandfather was a pediatrician and ran his medical business. He owned the building his company was in and rented out the space for other doctors. My father was a dentist who led his dental practice and expanded it into a dental consulting firm.
When I decided to start my entrepreneurial journey, I felt embraced and supported because I had seen so many folks around me who had been successful. None of this would've been possible without support from my family, my husband, and my sister, who joined our staff!
She has been on this journey for over a year. It is impossible without a team of people who believe in the vision of what we're creating and in each other.
What role has intuition played in your success as an entrepreneur, and why do you think this is the case?
Before starting my own business, I did a lot of internal work around being centered, grounded, and mindful. I have extensive training in yoga, meditation, and breathwork. These practices have been a part of my daily life for over 13 years. When I went into business, these were fundamental to my way of living, and I was centered on knowing that these parts of my life had to be present. They've allowed me to hear from within and notice when I'm deeply uncomfortable with an opportunity, decisions, or working with a set of people.
I don't allow myself to ignore my sensations and feelings, and it's been this intuition that allowed me to be successful as I've been guided towards working with like-minded folks who care about the mission, for each other, and not just the bottom line.
The Psychological Warfare
Entrepreneurs generally sleep less, work more, and let their health slip. This combination, combined with loneliness, often results in insecurity, self-esteem issues, and low self-worth. Have you experienced any of these issues as an entrepreneur?
There have been moments where I've pursued success with wild abandon and felt like an utter failure. Being an entrepreneur can push you to the edge of "Can I make it? Is this going to be successful? Should I stop doing this?" But then it reconciles within a week when I get a call from a client who wants to work with us!
The bottom line is there are many ups and downs that are not great emotionally. However, we can't fully overcome it. This is the nature of entrepreneurial work, the waves of challenge and success. And this is where your support system comes in—your team, coaches and mentors, family, and therapist. Having a group of people you trust and who will be there for you is necessary.
What are three mistakes you made early on as an entrepreneur, what did you learn from them, and how can others avoid them?
1. Saying Yes to Business That Was Underpriced for the Amount of Work the Client Expected and Desired
I wanted to show that we could deliver, but a few times, the client was expecting more results than I was getting paid to do. It's a double-edged sword because you get the experience and the testimonial, but you stretch yourself thin because you don't have the resources to compensate yourself and your team when you do that. It's just not worth it.
2. Downplaying My Experience and Credentials
Initially, I wanted to know if my business would stick around, which played into how I presented myself and my organization's value. However, I've learned it doesn't help anyone to do that because then the client doesn't understand what you and your team can bring to the table and help them with. You also don't get to practice, share, and get compensated for your strengths.
3. Thinking Early That Running My Own Business Wasn’t a Real Job Because I Wasn’t Working for an Organization (Outside of the One I Am Building)
This was a process of deep unlearning. I only realized I had deemed it more valuable to work for an organization rather than creating and founding my own when I went out and started to build this business. I felt at times that I made the wrong decision to not work within an organization solely and that I was running behind my peers. But I've learned that it's not necessarily true. It's just a different pathway. The only way to avoid it is to look deep within and ask yourself: "Why do I have this assumption, and is it serving me and my vision?"
What are three things you see that are often overlooked by entrepreneurs you encounter, and how can other entrepreneurs be aware of these things from the beginning?
1. A Lot of Times, We Forget To Maintain Our Groundedness
This is one of the most important practices of leadership. Your team is impacted by how grounded you are; if you aren't feeling grounded, chances are they don't either. High-stress leadership needs clear thinking, and when you're starting entrepreneurship, I'd consider what practices you can do to remain grounded.
2. When Uncertain Times Arise, Remain Calm, Caring, and Candid
Working alongside an absent leader can seem counterproductive when you're in a difficult situation. You must be a leader willing to get in the trenches alongside your team. Not a detached, unaffected leader, and giving orders on what to do. Your team is more inclined to respect your leadership if you show up for them in this way. A leader on the outside can't match their candor, understanding, or empathy.
3. Focus on Your Communication With Your Team
I've seen leaders that are closed off from their teams. Their communication is warped in distant, defensive speech. A way to decouple one's attachment to centering oneself during difficult times is to realize you alone cannot make it through this. This is a collective experience amongst you and your team. For it to be successful, you all have to pull through together.
What are three seemingly insurmountable obstacles you've faced as an entrepreneur, and how have you overcome them?
The first three things happened very early in starting my business. I had never approached these obstacles or overcome them before, and I had never been on the other side of them. Now that I'm on the other side, however, I see they weren't obstacles but milestones.
1. Getting My First Client, Which Was Huge!
Think about the first time someone wants to collaborate with you, sign a contract, or submit a payment?! It's a huge milestone. After that, working with my clients took a lot of work to reach a point where my business was compatible and competitive.
2. Hiring My First Contractor
I saw it as an obstacle because I'd worry if I could pay someone to do the work and if I'd ever have the money to pay them. However, when it got to the point where we looked at our finances and realized we could afford to hire additional support and bring on more people, I realized it was a milestone because then the work grew beyond me as the sole provider, and we were building a team.
3. Having Someone Wanting To Work With My Business Again
Nothing like having repeat clients who believe deeply in your service and offer to ask you to support them again and work together. Nothing like it!
How can newer entrepreneurs develop a healthy work-life balance even when it seems impossible?
First, acknowledge that your brain needs downtime. You cannot work in overdrive all the time. If you develop a healthy work-life balance, tasks can seem more manageable because your brain is not correctly processing the information.
Acknowledge the practices you already have in your life that bring you joy. Once you figure out what those are, whether reading, going for a walk, or tending to plants, take the time to learn what decompresses you and make more time for that. You will be able to accomplish more in all areas of your life when you have a healthy work-life balance. It will help you show up as a leader but, even more importantly, a friend, partner, child, sibling, and whatever other roles you play to those who are most important to you.
What three key pieces of advice would have made your entrepreneurial journey more manageable, and why?
1. Some People Underestimate You, Which Is Okay
It is not your responsibility to overproduce and change their minds with hard work and overproducing. If you want to uplevel in those areas, do it yourself, not change someone else's limited perspective of you. Their opinions on you are for them to sort out, and it's none of your responsibility.
2. Surround Yourself With a Team You Can Trust
You should be able to trust your team to do what it says they will and will be honest when they cannot. You're only as strong as the honesty you keep within your team.
3. Take Time Away From Work To Disconnect
Your brain needs downtime, and you can't keep over-processing information. When you try to continue to work when your brain needs rest, you limit the possibility of new ideas and creations coming to you that could be so beneficial to your business. It's also really good for your well-being to take a moment and disconnect. Invest in your rest. It's not wasteful. And please remember that you don't have to do anything to deserve time off.
What is the most significant difference between how an entrepreneur sees their their career path versus how an employee at a company sees their career path, and why?
You can be entrepreneurial within a company. You can seek opportunities, advocate for different innovative strategies, work with your team to build new infrastructures, practices, and initiatives, and lead them.
Whether they're with a company or working for themselves, entrepreneurs see an opportunity and turn it into a reality; they're action-oriented. However, the most significant difference surfaces: when you own your business, you can choose how much of your business you own. As a result, you get rewarded with profit based on your performance and strategy, you get to decide how much your work is worth, and you're not limited by an arbitrary amount set by one person who defines it for you.