Making the leap from employee to owner
How one woman overcame her fears of perfection and started her own business during a global pandemic and racial reckoning.
When asked why she started her business and what she hopes to get out of it, Malobi Achike has a quick response: “In a way, I’m doing this for my children.”
Achike owns DEI Directive in Charlotte, North Carolina. The company provides solutions for workplace diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).
“I have a son and a daughter. And, I resent the thought that in a workplace my son would have more opportunities than my daughter. Or that he would do the same work and be paid more than my daughter. That just does not make any sense to me.”
Getting started: The initial push
Achike always planned to have her own business and to focus on workplace equity, but what prompted her to take the leap was a world in turmoil.
When COVID-19 happened she and her husband were both working from home and their son had to be homeschooled. “The stress level and the impact of the moment was immediate,” Achike says. So, she quit her corporate DEI job thinking that she could take time to figure out her next steps. But before her two-week notice was up, she says “George Floyd happened, and it was heartbreaking to watch that.”
Having worked in corporate DEI Achike said she took a hard look at what companies were doing and a lot of them were posting black tiles on their social media channels in solidarity. But she asked herself, how did that actually make a difference in people’s lives?
“And that was the moment I knew I needed to do something about it. That was the day that DEI Directive was born.”
Getting started: The mindset
Achike admits that getting started was hard for her. “It just seemed like this big thing that I couldn’t do. So, being able to take that mental leap, if I could do it, anybody can do it.”
“I know for me, when I look back, there was a lot of time spent trying to learn as much as possible and thinking through things trying to get each step perfect. And it doesn’t have to be. That doesn’t mean being reckless and putting rubbish out there, but you don’t have to wait for it to be perfect.”
As for being “perfect” right out of the gate, Achike realizes now that a key part of entrepreneurship is going through iterations. “You’re constantly evolving and so it’s actually much better to step out, and put it out there, and just naturally evolve.”
Getting started: The business basics
At the beginning funding was a challenge. Being a new entrepreneur without a network in place can be hard. Achike says “If you look at the numbers, the numbers are not really in favor of entrepreneurs like me. Female, ethnic minority entrepreneurs get about 2% of all funds. So, it literally is like trying to move a mountain.”
But she also credits the slow startup process for helping her make smart decisions. For her, it meant getting creative with what she had to offer. Instead of waiting for her technology software to be in place, she launched a consulting arm first, and that has helped her to raise money.
Achike also recognizes the importance of advisors and local business groups who have helped her navigate the business world and supported her along the way. She’s participated in the Innovate Charlotte co.starters program, The Boost Pad and NC Idea which awarded her a micro grant. “I’m the queen of accelerator programs,” she says.
Making it work
But when it comes down to it, the key to making any business venture work is finding passion in what you do. Achike says, “There’s a lot of ups and downs in this journey. A lot of it. You’re constantly going from one extreme emotion to the next. But if you are really working on something you are passionate about it's very easy to persevere.”
For Achike it’s all worth it. She’s created a business that is not just financially stable and personally rewarding, it’s a business that she knows helps people do better and be better. “There’s an appetite and a need for what we provide. We’re happy from a business standpoint that that need exists. But also from a human standpoint, the level of impact and that what we do means something for actual people who work at these places.”
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