Danielle Letayf, founder of Badassery, is obsessed with making the world a more connected and inclusive place through community, cultural experiences, and events. Badassery is the first public speaking marketplace for diverse voices. Previously, she ran community at Shine, a brand that makes it easier to take care of yourself, and was the Head of Programs and Community for BUILT BY GIRLS, a social impact brand that’s creating the new wave of tech leaders—who just happen to be teen girls. Danielle graduated from Boston University with a degree in marketing and business administration, and was voted one of 50 game-changing AOL/Verizon women at the 2016 MAKERS Conference.
What does “entrepreneurship” mean to you?
Danielle Letayf: Entrepreneurship is all about being so obsessed with creating change that you aren’t shaken by the no’s—being hopelessly idealistic and ruthlessly practical at the same time. And having at least 10% crazy in your blood.
How did your company come to be?
DL: I deeply believe that sharing diverse, real experiences has power to transform the way we think, feel and view the world.
As a founding member of BUILT BY GIRLS, I spent the majority of my career developing a mentorship marketplace that connected thousands, creating programs and experiences for underrepresented communities in tech, and even collaborating on a pitch competition with Michelle Obama. In doing this, I noticed that the majority of industry events highlight the same kinds of people and stories, and that homogeneity didn’t feel like it was moving conversations and learnings forward. As an advocate for diversity and inclusion, I would approach event managers and ask them why the stage looked the way it did, and I would always hear the same excuse: “We don’t know where to find them.”
Well, I am “them”—a professional with a non-traditional background who is on-the-ground building, and has a story to share. I don’t like excuses (especially lame ones). There was a clear problem, and the solution didn’t seem too complicated to me. The answer became Badassery, the first public speaking marketplace for diverse voices.
What is your proudest and darkest moment so far?
DL: The proudest moment in my entrepreneurial journey to date would be being up on the Nasdaq Tower in Times Square after completing the Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center’s Milestone Makers program (this is not an ad!). As someone who is always heads down building, it was refreshing to be able to come up for a breath of air and celebrate all of the hard work with my community members, family and friends. It was a “hell yeah, I did that” moment—all of the sacrifice, uncertainty and rejections paid off.
I wouldn’t call a particular moment THE darkest moment, but let me tell you, 2020 was tough. We had to pivot the company to be a fully digital membership community. Diving into the deep end is only fun if you have the scuba training, and you guessed it, I’m only trained in the doggie paddle. It was a challenge to not only navigate the changes and keep my business afloat, but also be a source of stability for my community when I was having such difficulty with all the uncertainty in the world and the direction of the company. Leading a community is draining, and I thought that my job as a community leader was to support my members in any way they asked, and it wasn’t until I majorly burnt out trying to support them that I realized I wasn’t supporting myself. I learned that boundaries are so important in not only taking care of myself, but also my community—like when they tell parents on airplanes to put the oxygen mask on themselves before they put it on their kids in case of emergency.
How is your company changing the landscape?
DL: The events space is a doozy, especially when it comes to the talent booking process. There’s no transparency in speaker fees or pricing, and the talent booking process is so inefficient and archaic—there’s endless back and forth in locking a speaker in and prepping them for an event. Time is our most precious commodity, and there’s no reason it should be wasted. Plus, events typically only highlight the industry “hot shots” like C-level executives or people who have been plastered all over the press. There are countless other stories and perspectives to be shared from diverse, mid-late career professionals who are on the ground building, which is where we come in.
Through Badassery, we’re reinventing the speaker booking process in several ways:
• Find speaking opportunities
• Make money
• Build their personal brand
• Quickly book quality speakers in 3 simple steps: browse, review options and book
• Find diverse speakers
• Engage their audience in a fresh way
What do you wish you knew when you started? Is there anything you would do differently?
DL: Advice to my past self would be to shake off the idea that everything has to be perfect before it goes out into the world. I was not only getting in my own way, but also holding my community back from growing and having an impactful experience. I’m still guilty of it sometimes!
Where do you find inspiration when faced with challenges?
DL: Anywhere but my computer! Typically, I would say traveling, taking dance and krav maga classes and going to live performances, but ya know…pandemic. These days, I turn to nature, painting and browsing magazines. They’ve become my micro-adventures that I used to have so often back when we weren’t in quarantine, and they manage to stretch my brain in a way that pushes me to be more creative.
Also, I have a close crew of founder friends who push me through the rough patches. I can’t even tell you the number of times I’ve texted them saying, “Is it crazy if…”, and I love them because they always say “no” and push me to go for it.
What’s it like to work alone or with your partners? What advice do you have for fellow entrepreneurs about building and leading teams?
DL: I’m a solo founder, and let me tell you, that sh*t is hard, but at the same time, I love it and the freedom and growth it brings. That being said, I have a lot of support from talented contractors and members in my community.
As it relates to leadership, that sh*t is hard, too. What I’ve learned is that delegation is so important to be freed up to work on big ideas, but at the same time, I’ve learned to only give away certain pieces of the business that I feel comfortable with. For example, I’ve owned partnerships from the start because that’s a key growth factor for us, but when it comes to community and design, I love outsourcing those because it brings in a fresh perspective to the business that I could never bring on my own.
Also, I’d recommend using freelancers who are referrals from your networks—I’ve had a few nightmare situations with platforms like Upwork and Fiverr that cost me too much time and money for little output.
Many entrepreneurs continue to perfect their daily routines to support their work and greater vision; would you mind sharing your morning routine or a regular ritual that grounds your work each day? How has it changed in recent months?
DL: I’m such a morning person and am only semi-ashamed to say I eat dinner at 5pm and sleep by 9:30pm. My morning routine is nothing fancy, but grounds me and gives me the space to start my day fresh—make a cup of green tea mixed with a little Early Grey (yes, it is GOOD), read a magazine or a book, meditate & journal for 30 minutes, do my workout, eat breakfast then kick off my work.
My routine has been set for years (don’t ask me how many times I’ve eaten the same breakfast), but a couple of major things have changed: I’m quarantining back home with my family in New Hampshire, which means that I’ve added a family chat to my wakeup, and I’ve had to adjust my workouts based on what’s available at the local gym vs. the dance or krav maga classes I used to do in NYC.
What kind of an entrepreneur do you want to be known as, as in, what do you want your legacy to be?
DL: I want to be a bold, creative, down-to-earth and empathetic leader who isn’t afraid to talk about the hard stuff. I don’t care about being well-known, but I do care about the impact that I make in amplifying diverse voices—and there will be a lot of it.
What is a quote or some words of wisdom that help get you through the tough days?
DL: “The only difference between a flower and a weed is judgement.”
Who are the people who have mentored or influenced you in your life or career? How has their influence changed the trajectory of your entrepreneurial journey?
DL: I’ve learned many of life’s important lessons from teen girls (mhm, you heard that correctly). During my time running programs and community at BUILT BY GIRLS, I was in never-ending awe of the way these girls navigated their careers and personal lives with simultaneous boldness and messiness. Watching them try to sprint to the finish line while being open about their struggles both with me and their friends in this era of social media helped me realize that things don’t have to be perfect to move forward. As a founder, that lesson has been instrumental in my constant building, stumbling, pivoting, celebrating and leading the past few years. Teen girls taught me that everything is figureoutable (and WTF a Finstagram is).
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