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Twenty years ago, Teneshia Jackson Warner had a cushy project manager job at IBM. In 2003, Warner left that job to found EGAMI Group, a multicultural marketing and communications firm. With her unmatched tenacity and vision, Warner has since grown the firm into a multi-million-dollar business.
In addition to her award-winning marketing work, Warner is a sought-after inspirational speaker and the founder of an empowerment platform called The Dream Project. Her new book, “The Big Stretch: 90 Days to Expand Your Dreams, Crush Your Goals, and Create Your Own Success,” walks readers through her process.
With 2020 goals fresh in our minds, we caught up with Warner to find out more about her approach.
The following conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.
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StartupNation: What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten on running a business?
Teneshia Jackson Warner: I have a mentor who says regularly to me that “heroes don’t scale.” If you are the hero of the business, and the business can’t function unless you’re in it, then you’re not building a business that’s scalable for the long term. If I ultimately want to build this dream, I can’t do it alone, and I have to have the skill set to build a winning dream team. I’m still learning, by the way.
StartupNation: Based on what you’ve learned so far, what are some of the strategies for building that winning dream team?
Teneshia Jackson Warner: You need to be clear what your core values are as a company. Inside of those core values, you must utilize them as a mechanism to attract talent, and a mechanism to hire talent, and a mechanism to know when to release and fire talent. That’s a strategy that we use to build culture. It’s making sure we’re hiring through the lens of our core values. Hiring based on the person being able to reflect and capture your company’s core values is important.
Another thing around building a dream team is that you’ve got to make sure you’re hiring a highly competent person so they can do the job that you’re hiring them for. It’s making sure that if it’s a fit, you have the right tools to grow that person, and if it’s not a fit, knowing when to release the person.
As a leader, knowing when it’s time to release a person can make or break you. I’ve also found that it’s also not fair to the person if you have an expectation of someone that’s not their natural gift and not what they’re able to do. I’m a very creative person, and I lead with my heart, but assessing a person on results is also important when it comes to building a dream team.
StartupNation: What are some of the most common challenges entrepreneurs face?
Teneshia Jackson Warner: Number one is the person in the mirror. That can either be your greatest strength or your worst enemy. It’s all about feeding yourself a positive mind, body and spirit, so you are your own champion.
Am I being intentional to feed myself positive information? That’s a very important phase of the entrepreneurial journey: to make sure that you mentally, physically and spiritually are preparing to walk the entrepreneur journey. It’s reconciling with the dreamer in the mirror to make sure you’re being your own champion and not your worst enemy.
The second thing is also allowing yourself the time to imagine and dream big ideas. It’s easy to be so busy that you’re not giving yourself time to be creative. I challenge entrepreneurs to be intentional to carve out time to imagine new possibilities for their business. It’s a challenge to make sure that you’re fostering the creativity and the innovation that’s needed as an entrepreneur.
Another challenge, once they have that idea, is getting very crystal clear on plans, but not too attached to the plans. For example, I interviewed Jennifer Hyman, founder of Rent the Runway, and she talked to me about the fact that she’d never actually completed a business plan in ink, per se. She’s never so tied to a big plan that she can’t adjust in an ever-changing marketplace.
I think entrepreneurs are challenged with being able to have a plan, but making sure that plan is written in pencil, and the ability to adapt and change in the midst of executing the plan.
StartupNation: Tell us about the different types of dreamers mentioned in your book.
Teneshia Jackson Warner: First there’s the Make-It-Happen dreamer. Usually a Make-It-Happen dreamer thrives in environments in which they make their own rules and they’re calling the shots. They have a high tolerance in terms of not being able to know where that next paycheck is coming from.
The next type of dreamer is the Careerpreneur. These are individuals who don’t necessarily desire to run their own business venture, but what they do want is to work on a collective purpose and within a team. They thrive working inside an organization with structure. What’s important to them is to be able to match their purpose and their profession.
The third one is a Hobby dreamer. This is someone who has a hobby, whether it’s travel, fitness, photography, etc. They have multiple interests, but they do not desire to put the burden on their interests to take care of their family. Hobby dreamers really have to find a way to nurture this creative side.
Another one is an Activist dreamer. They see a problem in the world, and they’re compelled to do something about it. They’re compelled to create answers. Activist dreamers are usually drawn to work for causes, to work for non-profits, or start their own.
The last dreamer type is a CEO dreamer. This is someone who has acquired a skill set working inside of a more traditional 9 to 5 structure, but they always think, “At some point, I’m going to take these skills and I do it for myself, one day.”
While those are the five dreamer types, you don’t have to be pigeonholed into one type only. Usually when dreamers take the assessment, they kind of identify with one to two of those types, but it’s really good to gain clarity on what path may be right for you.
StartupNation: What’s next for you in 2020?
Teneshia Jackson Warner: I’m looking to raise the firm’s first round of capital. Although we are 12 years old, we have really been a bootstrapped company where we’re reinvesting our profits back in the business. We’ve never raised a round of capital, and we’re at the point where we want to scale the business. I’m also looking to continue to pioneer in purpose-inspired marketing campaigns.
We’ve broken a lot of historic records these past two years and it would be easy to say, “Hey, we’ve reached the top.” But I think we’re just getting started. I want to do more purpose-inspired campaigns that marry marketing and causes, and do great work for the world through creative marketing campaigns.
On my empowerment side, I would like to continue to speak, not only nationally but globally, inspiring other professionals, entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs to live the life that they dream about.
“The Big Stretch: 90 Days to Expand Your Dreams, Crush Your Goals, and Create Your Own Success” is available now wherever books are sold and can be purchased via StartupNation.com.