In Conversation with Judith Martinez of InHerShoes

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Describe your business in a few words?

InHerShoes is the modern woman’s community for courage.

What made you take the leap to start your own business?

Sometimes I feel the only way to know what you want is by learning what you don’t. This was my experience when it came to creating InHerShoes. I finally got the “yes” I felt I was chasing my whole life only to realize it wasn’t what I authentically wanted for myself. That yes looked like law school. When I chose to forego law school and instead create a non-profit organization dedicated to women, much of what mobilized me was being tired of seeing how much of my own life decisions were driven by fear. It made me wonder if there were women who perhaps felt the same. Little did I know nearly 6 years later, it would turn into a movement dedicated to catalyzing courage for girls, women, and our allies to live the lives they love one act of courage at a time.

What was your background prior to starting your own business?

My formal background was studying Philosophy and Law while at university. I had no idea about the non-profit space, let alone what it took to start a business.

Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?

Absolutely not. I never even considered myself being capable of being an entrepreneur. I felt a lot of imposter syndrome in the beginning of my entrepreneurial journey. As a first-generation student and female founder of color, I felt there were so many obstacles internally and externally I didn’t realize I would be facing. I was very much a reluctant entrepreneur, but that’s what I love about the spirit of entrepreneurship. It doesn’t care about your background, or age, or race, or what school you went to, etc. It pulls for creativity, innovation, and leaning into the unknown.

Take us back to when you first launched your business, what was your marketing strategy to get the word out and did it go as planned?

InHerShoes actually started as a Kickstarter campaign. So marketing and community has always inherently been part of our story. To be honest, there really was no “strategy” other than trying to get our campaign started, let alone reach our fundraising goal. It was one of the first moments where I learned you don’t need the “perfect plan” to start your own business. Passion will always outperform any “plan.”

We always learn the most from our mistakes, share a time with us that you made a mistake or had a challenging time in business and what you learned from it?

I mean, where do I start? One of the biggest learnings throughout the years for me has been what it takes to build a team. From letting team members go, watching team members leave, bringing team members on, trying to manage volunteers, learning the difference between management and leadership – the list goes on. During our early days I had my first experience of letting a team member go. It was one of the most challenging, confronting, and downright uncomfortable lessons I had to learn earlier on. From that experience alone I learned at the end of the day, we as founders, leaders – are responsible for EVERYTHING. The buck stops with us. Especially for any startup or small business. Everything is interconnected and impacts everything else.

What is the accomplishment you are the most proud of to date?

Honestly, being on the brink of our 6 year anniversary and still going strong. There have been so. many. times. where I wanted to just quit and convince myself InHerShoes was just a silly idea that really had no purpose, let alone could “make a difference.” This year in the midst of COVID, a national awakening for racial and social justice, and a historical election – has been rough. Sticking to building something that is more than just a business, but meant to better the lives of the people we are fortunate enough to interact with is one of the greatest accomplishments I am proud of. No matter how messy, scary, or uncomfortable it can feel in the process.

When hiring for your team, what is your go-to interview question? Please share any hiring tips you can share from your experience?

Being in the business of courage, naturally, we are also in the business of fear. And that can be a big, hairy, scary, messy topic for most folx. This is why I love asking folx to share with me a time when they were afraid and what happened. It takes a lot of courage to open up in that way, let alone in an interview. But to truly deliver our mission of “catalyzing courage”, the people who bring that mission to life also need to be a reflection of that. Another go-to is asking our organization’s own question of “what would you do if you were 1% more courageous?” I love these questions as they are open-ended and am always intrigued by what directions people choose to take things. I also feel it’s one of the most meaningful points of any interview I have. 

When it comes to building our team, I look for people who naturally align with who we are, what we do, and what we stand for. There are a lot of skilled people in the world, but you can’t teach someone passion. I like to ask questions that help me gauge a person’s skill sets just as much as their emotional intelligence and how they best work. I think it’s important to look out for a person’s individual competencies as well as how that single person fits into the greater team. There is SO MUCH that goes into hiring and team building!

How has your business or industry been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?

Aside from the adjustments that come with working from home, we’ve completely needed to pivot our programming to be 100% virtual. One of the biggest challenges we faced was working with our partner schools who were even more so facing the strains and inefficiencies of their own unique school systems trying to incorporate distance learning while also addressing larger issues like accessibility and the technological gap. How could students take part in distance learning if they don’t have the technology for it? And even if they did, their neighborhoods or households aren’t equipped for Wi-Fi. A whole new slew of questions and problems surfaced in a far bigger way that required a whole new kind of courageous conversations.

The non-profit space overall has seen such a fluctuation that ranges from organization to organization. On one end, this year has been one of the best fundraising years for some orgs, and for others, 2020 has caused organizations to have to close their doors completely. We feel so fortunate to have built a foundation of partners, community, and programming that have allowed us to be among the organizations able to continue our work this year. 

What’s next for your business? What can we expect to see over the next few years?

Before COVID-19 hit we were in the midst of gearing up our InHerShoes chapter expansion overseas internationally. As things gain more clarity and hopefully, more stability, we are eager and excited to continue actualizing that vision. There are so many incredible women doing much needed work and we are eager to bring our partnerships to life.

What is the biggest lesson you have learned in 2020?

When nothing is certain, anything is possible.

What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were first starting your business?

It’s going to take a lot of time, so enjoy the ride.

How have you managed to stay grounded this year?

Taking walks, diving into my plant-mama-hood, and picking back up rollerblading has been such a source of peace and refuge these days. Simple things like enjoying a hot cup of tea, journaling, and staying in touch with friends and family has kept me grounded and grateful.

Do you believe in work/life balance? What are some of your best tips?

I don’t think I believe in work life balance anymore – especially after a year like 2020! I also am a firm believer that everything is interconnected. As a recovering perfectionist and ex-pro-compartmentalizer, I’ve learned over the years that one area of life really does impact all the others. And vice versa. How we show up in life is how we show up at work, and how we show up at work definitely impacts how we show up in our everyday lives. My number one tip is definitely to make sure you are tending to your own self-care and wellbeing. After all, what good is a thriving business if you don’t have the health to enjoy it?

What’s something our audience would be surprised to learn about you?

I am a hardcore introvert and can be really shy!

What are your top 3 tips to stay productive each day?

  • Write it down – if it’s not on your calendar, is it even real?
  • No screen time – creating boundaries around my screen time and when and what I choose to consume through social media has been such a major game-changer for me, especially amidst quarantine.
  • Learn to rest – Busy is not “productivity.” Always doing something doesn’t mean you’re necessarily productive, let alone making progress. Rest is productive, too. Learn to rest!

What does being an Entreprenista mean to you?

Being unapologetically you as an entrepreneur with your own special flair.

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