It’s Female Founder Friday, and I am pleased to introduce you to woman entrepreneur Emily Schmidt. I love sharing stories of female founders who see a problem and build a company to solve it. Emily did just that! Emily is a freelance CNN Correspondent and the founder of Speaki2i, a company that believes stories change chapters—connecting a messenger to an audience to communicate for change. They help clients understand how to make the most of their presence, their purpose and their plot to influence and inspire in the workplace. Speaki2i helps subject matter experts tell their stories in industries including: biotech and health care, law enforcement, execMBA programs, trade associations, legal, and non-profits. Speaki2i leads story development, media training, public speaking and crisis communication training for organizations both abroad and in the US, while offering coaching in a personalized one-on-one environment. They offer clients a unique opportunity to receive training from working and experienced journalists who are also consultants specializing in communication trends and evolving needs in corporate settings.
So, if you are interested in upping your company’s story-telling game or interested in starting a company that leverages your expertise in an industry, don’t miss Emily’s candid answers below!
What inspired you to create your company?
Decades of reporting for television stations across the country and around the world gave me the chance to tell stories while floating in air, wading through floodwaters, and covering the race for President of the United States. After covering many stories which made national headlines, I was often asked by people to help them learn to be comfortable communicating and telling their own stories. It’s why I founded Speaki2i with journalist Stacey Cohan, using our experience finding and delivering powerful messages which resonate with audiences to help our clients do the same. In fact, we had our first client before we had a company. We were approached about developing a week-long train-the-trainer crisis communications program for international law enforcement agencies. We then had an opportunity to deliver that program overseas. It was a daunting first project, but an invaluable way to jump in with both feet.
What was your biggest obstacle and failure in going from idea to business?
I wanted to be a journalist from the time I was six (my kindergarten teacher reminded me of that a few years ago!) which served me well when all I was doing was being a journalist. Expanding to being an entrepreneur meant honing skills I had never considered—from learning how to write a proposal to learning business development. It turned out that was the easy part; my biggest obstacle of going from idea to business was myself. I hadn’t worked in a C-Suite or managed a global team, but I was being asked to help people who did. I was intimated by what wasn’t on my resume and underestimated the unique skills I could bring to senior leaders and organizations. It took me a few successes to realize that clients valued me because I offered a perspective which was new to them. Once I learned the value of my experience, I got out of my own way!
You know that saying: “The cobbler’s children have no shoes”—in other words, the pro who spends so much time working, they don’t focus on the skills at home? I’ve been feeling a bit like the cobbler lately—helping others discover the power of strong storytelling, while not doing any for myself outside of the newsroom. So (like nearly every journalist I know) I want to spend more time writing—stretching my creative muscles while also sharing some of the lessons I’m learning along the way with amazing clients. It’s easy to go from one job to the next without recording the lessons learned; I know that making time to reflect and write otherwise-undiscovered connections will help my company and my content.
Please share your best piece of advice for aspiring female founders.
When you talk about your company, get past the “what” to focus on the “why.” Think about the last person you met at a conference, or a networking event, or sitting next to you on an airplane. People begin with the what—their name, their company and what it does. It’s factual, though often so routine it doesn’t inspire much of a follow-up. Try this instead—think about why you do it. In one of the most-popular training exercises I lead, senior executives go from essentially reciting their LinkedIn profiles to being inspirational leaders. They do so by sharing why they believe their company or their job is changing things and making the world better. That leads to conversations and connections, which often lead to business, and if you don’t tell your story, who will?
If you had a theme song what would it be?
People always ask me who I’ve most enjoyed interviewing in my career, and they’re surprised when it’s not a politician or a celebrity. I love meeting otherwise unknown people who do something extraordinary but don’t realize it—those who help others in the face of their own tragedy, or look for hope where others find despair. It always makes me think of Mary Chapin Carpenter’s, “Why Shouldn’t We,” a song about possibility and purpose—and I think it’s no coincidence I love the focus on the “why.”