Lauren Brown ’22: Welcome to Women's Voices Amplified, the podcast from the Brown Women's network, where we talk with Brunonian changemakers about making an impact in their communities and beyond. I'm Lauren Brown. I'm a current senior at Brown, concentrating in Business and Entrepreneurship. And in this episode, I'll be speaking with entrepreneur, Jennifer Gomez, who received her undergraduate degree in 2008 in Political Science.
Jennifer Gomez ’08: “I knew from a young age that I couldn't play small, given a lot of the sacrifices that my mom and my community undertook. I'm a first-generation American from my mom. I came from a single-parent household. And so I didn't know I wanted to be a boss, but I knew that I needed to do something to kind of pay it back, pay it forward.”
Brown: Welcome to the podcast, Jennifer. We're so excited to have you.
Gomez: Thank you, Lauren. Excited to be here too and to unpack and chat with you as well.
Brown: Awesome. Let's go ahead and dive in. I'd love to start with your career journey and how Brown impacted that. So I'd love to know, while at Brown, you studied Political Science and then you went on to work with MLB and Time Incorporated. How did those past educational experiences at Brown and those career experiences in the earlier parts of your career, how did that impact and prepare you for entrepreneurship?
Gomez: Yeah, that's a great question. You know, poli-sci really, as you mentioned, I was a Political Science major. And poli sci really gave me an insight on how the world worked. Cyclical patterns and systems that governments and communities and individuals use to get a particular outcome. And how we, in our most primal versions of ourselves, make decisions out of fear and survival and scarcity, right?
And so I learned that in Political Science, amongst many other things, but those were learnings that were highly beneficial throughout my careers. Especially at Major League Baseball where I worked at the international team and I was securing deals across Latin America. So a lot of those learnings came into effect then.
But actually, MLB wasn't my first official job, I had actually been interning at organizations before that during high school and especially during my Brown summers. So I was at Bloomberg LP, I worked at Time Warner, I was at People Español and then for kind of half of my time at Brown, I was at L'Oreal. And I was actually their first undergraduate intern and helped pave, kind of open the door for college students coming in future summers.
So that was a huge learning, but all of these steps were major kind of learning and building blocks for me. I learned different sides of the marketing umbrella, but also inefficiencies and best practices on how to run a company and how to create effective company culture and manage teams. So, all of these experiences from Brown onward were fundamental in building what I am building today.
Brown: Yeah. That's amazing. And to your point about sort of paving the way for other students, I'm just curious, throughout that journey, did you always know that you wanted to be your own boss? Did you always know that you wanted to be an entrepreneur or how did that even get started?
Gomez: No, absolutely not. I knew from a young age that I couldn't play small, given a lot of the sacrifices that my mom and my community undertook. I'm a first-generation American from my mom. I came from a single-parent household. And so I didn't know I wanted to be a boss, but I knew that I needed to do something to kind of pay it back, pay it forward.
And so my initial aspirations were actually very different. I wanted to try war criminals for the UN. And then when reality set in, obviously that didn't happen. But it didn't really dawn on me about being my own boss until later in my career where I was pretty disillusioned with corporate culture. And then I had my daughters. So they really were the impetus of considering, creating something on my own and being an entrepreneur.
Brown: Yeah, absolutely. And I'm just curious, I talk with a lot of student entrepreneurs all the time who are interested in entrepreneurship, but are trying to figure out how to get involved. And so I'm curious, what advice would you give to someone who's eager to break into entrepreneurship?
Gomez: So many pieces of advice. But I think an essential one is knowing your “why”. The way that your business will manifest can look very differently at different points, right? You're constantly evolving, learning, taking on new insights and that's informing kind of the direction of your business. But knowing fundamentally your why, and then asking it over and yourself over and over again periodically is important. Right?
That's your true north, that's how you stay grounded. And if you don't know then what helps kind of shape it for me sometimes is what's the outcome? What's the outcome of that dream of what you are building? Is it security? Is it generational wealth? Is it... What is it, right? Who are you impacting? And then what blockers are preventing you from that road. From that outcome.
The other piece to this is do the work. Don't wait on anyone to do it for you. There are tons of free resources out there. You don't necessarily have to reinvent the wheel at the beginning. You just need a proof of concept at first. And perfectionism is literally the killer of good ideas. So put it out there and then start doing the work and being resourceful. And don't be afraid to fail or be messy in the beginning. It's supposed to be that way.
One of my favorite quotes is from the founder of LinkedIn. And he says, if you aren't embarrassed by your first product, then you've launched too late. The idea of kind of propagating the narrative that this is a journey, it's a process of optimization. You're not supposed to get it right. In fact, that's the antithesis of what you're supposed to do. You're supposed to want it to fail. Not to fail, but you want all the kinks. You want to work through all those things before you introduce it to the masses. Because that's you optimizing and making your concept and your product and your business better. So embracing those mistakes.
And I think the last piece is really find your community. I'm huge, huge on community. Community for mentorship, for advice, for support. You can start with your immediate circles. Brown has been an endless kind of fountain of resources for me, personally and professionally and in my entrepreneurial journey. And you need your circle, founder friends and people who kind of understand that journey.
It's overwhelming at times. And so you're dealing with so many demons you had no idea existed. Those are things coming out of your subconsciousness when you're building a business. And so having those key figures, those friends, those founders, founder friends, who kind of ground you, is a very, very important part of the journey. So that's it. I mean, commit, be disciplined, and have follow through. That's it.
Brown: I love it. That really resonated with me. And I agree that community is usually a huge part of that building experience. Also because you're under a lot of pressure. You're constantly putting pressure on yourself to do cool things and to make great solutions, but your first try is never going to be perfect. And I am definitely a perfectionist myself. So I take that advice to heart.
Gomez: Don't do it, Lauren. Don't do it.
Brown: But to that end, let's talk a little bit about your company. You have a company, it's called oneKIN and it's a curated online marketplace that's aimed at showcasing small businesses of color. So I'd love to hear a little bit about what your inspiration was for starting oneKIN and what need is it fulfilling?
Gomez: Yeah. So my business partner, Marvin François and I, we're incredibly passionate about building and investing in disenfranchised communities and leveraging technology to help solve for a lot of these wealth and opportunity gaps. So our focus on small businesses is very strategic. And it's really based on this fundamental belief that small businesses are a reflection of the ingenuity of their respective communities. And by providing them with tech solutions to grow, that we're really empowering them to have community level impact, and essentially effect widespread socioeconomic change.
So, we know, it's been demonstrated. Communities flourish when small businesses flourish, and for BIPOC business owners, they act as economic spigots in their neighborhoods. The pandemic delivered a really hard blow to this demographic. And those consequences and their erasure really comes with consequences like loss of jobs, community development, economic opportunities.
So our first product launch, our first kind of consumer facing product was a curated marketplace, online marketplace for BIPOC retailers. And that was really predicated on the lack of visibility that small, that BIPOC businesses had in spaces like Amazon or in retail in general.
And so now there's, after 2020, the racial reckoning and awareness and all these movements, now there's conversation. Widespread conversations that these organizations are doing and you have initiatives like the 15% pledge that are encouraging and pushing organizations to diversify their offerings. But when we launched the marketplace, there weren't too many places where you can find BIPOC businesses, small businesses, and learn their stories. That storytelling was a big piece of ours, because so much of the appeal of these small businesses was their consciousness, their journey, their craftsmanship, all of these things.
And so we wanted that, we were very intentional about integrating their stories and their identities, all these layers into the marketplace. And then during that time, again, we learned so much of the pain points around small businesses. Their selling cycles, their needs as the world changed. So that really informed our latest product, which is oneKIN Live. So it's a livestream app for shopping small and local businesses. And that really was inspired by, again, witnessing what our peers in China were doing with livestream shopping. And, but also seeing, observing how consumers and small businesses all took to live stream during COVID to create that connection and to try to sell their products. We're doubling down on storytelling and the small businesses can connect directly with consumers across the country
Brown: I would love to go back to talking about you as a founder and how your identity coincides with your entrepreneurial journey so far. So as a woman of color in this position of power, there can be a lot of pressure to over-perform, as I'm sure you know, and to be resilient. So I'd love to know how you combat those pressures and what advice you have for women of color on how to show up in professional settings as their most authentic and true selves.
Gomez: Wow. What a loaded question, Lauren.
Brown: I know.
Gomez: I appreciate it. No, my identity has always been a huge and important part of who I am. There are spaces in my younger career, my earlier career and certainly in high school, when I was, I went to boarding school, where I thought I needed to tone down my otherness. And not at all because of shame, but so that I would be taken seriously. Or so that I would be more palatable to others who don't necessarily look like me.
Hair is a crucial example, I think, for every woman of color. Exactly. I don't want you to be distracted by my curly hair. I want you to hear and value what I'm saying. And so that played out in me straightening my hair and blow-drying it and killing my poor curls. But as an entrepreneur, I'm much more intentional about being as present as possible and honoring what authenticity comes up in every moment.
And a lot of that is me leading with my gender and my identity in spaces that I'm in, because so often there aren't people who look like me in these spaces. And so the pressure piece is always there. To get over it, I would say family, friends, prayer and meditation, that's it. But in terms of the latter question of advice I have to younger professionals in showing up authentically in their workspaces, a good friend of mine, Jodi-Ann Burey, did this amazing TED talk it's called, "The myth of bringing your full, authentic self to work."
And it's really, she pushes back on this narrative where companies tell and invite women, and specifically women of color, to bring their actual, their full authentic self to work. And there are actual ramifications in terms of promotions, in terms of equal pay, in terms of you being dubbed difficult to work with. We know that there are so many layers when it comes to being... What does authenticity mean? Authenticity in these spaces in corporate doesn't necessarily mean authenticity for me.
There's a different mold that you're fitting. And so being authentic when it is counter-culture, counter that mold, can be very perilous for the growth of women of color and even women in predominantly male spaces. So my advice is, lead with excellence and follow through. Period. Baseline. That's it. And if you feel safe in your work environments to be that full authentic self, then that's beautiful. That's amazing. Lean into it. Because there's so much value in that.
If you don't, then are there opportunities for you to create that in that workspace? And by that I don't mean take on the burden yourself and solve the problems of corporate— It's more so, take action in creating community in the spaces that you operate in.
Brown: Yeah, absolutely. Well, as a student, that's helpful advice. Especially as we always have these career fairs and companies talking to us and trying to recruit, saying, "We want you to bring your authentic selves. We're a great place. Our culture is so inclusive." But you make an excellent point in that, are we talking about our true, authentic selves, or are we just talking about the authentic self that corporate places have made room for a little bit? Just a little bit of room.
But speaking of younger people and students, I'm curious to hear about your journey to motherhood and how being a mother has impacted the way you see the world, the way you see entrepreneurship, and what sort of lessons have you embraced over the past few years that you hope to teach your children?
Gomez: So I think motherhood prepared me for entrepreneurship. It was actually the best crash course. When it comes to being resourceful and troubleshooting nonstop. Being compassionate and patient and the messiness of it all. And being okay with not, right now, you are giving your 100%, but that 100%, maybe 20% of what you would normally give and being okay with that. And forgiving yourself.
So all those things I learned through motherhood. And resilience. A lot of it. So those are all tenets and things that I want my daughters to learn. And I do this thing with my oldest when I walk her to school. Every day we share three things. And it could be three things we love about ourselves, three things we're excited about, three experiences that day that impacted us either positively or negatively. Or we just, three things that were important in that day.
And I talk about entrepreneurship and partnership. And I'm like, "I had this pitch meeting and I'm telling her..." I'm talking to her as I would an adult. And I thought, and I'm like, "Do you know what entrepreneur is? Like, do you know what a partnership is? What are pitch meetings?"
And she literally, verbatim, kind of told me, Webster dictionary definitions of what a partnership is. And I'm like, "Who are you?" And then, it's just a realization that so much, it's not so much of what I'm teaching her, but it's what she's observing. That's part of that learning journey. But yeah, it's a beautiful journey to be able to do both in tandem. It's very hard, but one informs the other and they both make me better at both roles that I play.
And the pressure that I feel now really is what legacy am I leaving behind for them. And then creating as many opportunities as possible. So that they're the most obnoxiously audacious and fearless women on the planet. That is my goal.
Brown: I love that. I love that. All right. Let's bring it back to your Brown journey, because this all starts somewhere, right? Just curious, as our closing question, how has Brown impacted your entrepreneurial journey so far and specifically, what lessons did you learn at Brown, either socially or academically, that you still carry with you today?
Gomez: Some of my most prized memories were conversations in the classrooms at Brown. And I really learned how to listen to other people with varying opinions. Listening to feedback and to the market. And that informing my business decisions.
But two, in my relationships with people. Community, as I mentioned, is a big part of who I am, but also what I try to propagate and create everywhere I go. And Brown really kind of opened up that idea that community is everywhere, can be created everywhere. And even in the most unlikely of places and people. Gosh, I think about my conversations in my African Literature class with Professor Denniston or Political Theory with Professor Tomasi. Alan Zuckerberg, who was one of my favorite teachers at Brown.
I took a course with him, Palestine and Israeli conflict. I'm talking years ago now. And he passed away, which was a very sad moment for me. But in a class with people who have a stake in either side of the conversation. And then there's this Dominican from Brooklyn who was just happy to be here and wanting to have conversations. You know, I have no stake in the game. So I'm there to learn and to offer my kind of objective opinion, but we lost so much of that now. The country's very fragmented and we forgot how to have conversations amongst ourselves and with people who don't come from the same kind of line of thinking that we do.
And I think it's important as we move forward into the future, that we learn how to listen and listen to each other and converse again. So that's a big piece and Brown is still very much in my everyday life. I'm still best of friends with friends that I had freshman year.
Brown: Well, thank you so much for taking the time, Jennifer. We so appreciate you chatting with us. I loved having this time with you and I'm excited to hear more about what's next for you and oneKIN.
Gomez: Thank you so much and best of luck to you too, Lauren.
Brown: Thank you.
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The views expressed in this interview do not necessarily represent those of Brown University.