Entrepreneur CJ Scarlet hid her shame for many years after two violent sexual assaults and it ultimately left her battling two life-threatening autoimmune diseases that crippled her startups. Author of The Badass Girl's Guide: Uncommon Strategies to Outwit Predators, CJ shares how she’s now healing others and gives practical advice of how women can “lift as we climb” and be “bad victims” to succeed in business.
Melinda Wittstock: Welcome to Wings CJ.
CJ SCARLET: Thank so you so much Melinda, I'm so excited to be here.
Melinda Wittstock: You know, I know that you were a crime survivor yourself, and so many entrepreneurs get inspiration from the difficulties in their lives. You know, those really challenging moments that inspire us to go out and make the world a better place for others. Tell me a little bit about your story, what was the crime that you survived and that a-ha moment when you said, “I've got to go fix this”.
CJ SCARLET: Sure. I was sexually assaulted when I was a Freshman in College. For a decade I grappled with the trauma, it really dominated my life. Then I took my power back, and I became an advocate for other people who had been victimized. Working at rape crisis centers and running a child advocacy center and serving as Director of Victims Issues for the North Carolina Attorney General’s Office. I took that experience working with victims and earned my Master's Degree in Human Violence and I transformed it in to a couple of entrepreneurial ventures, that I can talk about in just a moment. But overall the crime experience was something that I felt I had to transform into something positive or it would dominate my life.
Melinda Wittstock: Right. That's so powerful and I'm sorry that you went through that.
CJ SCARLET: Thank you.
Melinda Wittstock: So happy though of what you're doing for others’, it’s so necessary. When you see, just recently, the number of ‘me too's’ on social media feeds, how does that make you feel and are their strengths in those numbers as women? I have friends of mine, that I never knew were assaulted or suffered sexual harassment, and then suddenly you're reading in the feed that wow, they too. So many, so many of us.
CJ SCARLET: I am so thrilled about the #metoo movement, because I feel like it's a tipping point. I think that these stories have always been out there, but they have been silenced because women and girls just felt like they couldn't speak up. So when people do come forward and say, me too, they're claiming their power and they're letting other people know in mass numbers how dramatic this problem is. How large this problem is. So I think that it is an empowering moment for all of us. The men in my life are looking at this, and they are shocked. They didn't realize the magnitude of this, and they're also stepping up and taking responsibility and saying, “You know what, I was not victimized, I have not victimized women, but I commit to supporting women and believing women and watching my own language”. Really helping to lift women up so that they can tell their stories and they can claim their power.
What I love about the way we think and collaborate with others is that we think in holistic terms. We think inclusively about involving other people and about collaborating, and it’s less about I want to win and I want to be number one. #WingsPodcast #WomeninBusiness @CJScarletClick to tweet
Melinda Wittstock: So you raise an interesting point about the role of men, in calling other men out on this as well. Women, we need to get out of our victim hood and show up in a way where we won't be victimized, but we're one part of that equation. What do you suggest men do when they encounter other men behaving inappropriately, whether suggestive language or actually full on sexual harassment?
CJ SCARLET: They need to speak up. They need to risk that 15 or 30 seconds of discomfort that they might feel and the other person might feel, and say something like “Hey dude, that's not cool”. Or, “Hey, what if that was your sister?” You know, just kind of remind the gentlemen whose making the crude remark that he's being inappropriate, and it's so easy to do but people are afraid of embarrassing themselves or embarrassing the other person. I really recommend you risk that 15 seconds of awkwardness and discomfort and speak up. Women need to do it too.
Melinda Wittstock: Inherent in being a victim, is a sense of powerlessness and it's hard to change anything from a position of powerlessness. So, what do you recommend women do to get out of that reality, but feeling of victim hood?
CJ SCARLET: That is a great question and the way they do that is to speak their truth. We tend to stay silent when we feel uncomfortable, or we're in an awkward situation, because again, we don't want to embarrass ourselves or the other person. But we need too. When our intuition is glaring, when we feel like we're in a situation where we feel powerless, we need to claim that power by stepping up and speaking our truth. Whether that's saying to the person, “I need you to back off. I need you to give me some space”, or “That was an inappropriate remark and I don't appreciate that”, or screaming for help, or doing whatever you have to do. But it is about verbalizing your truth and that is how you claim your power.
Melinda Wittstock: It can be really challenging and difficult though for women to speak up. Say, in the context of raising Angel or VC money for their start-ups, and they encounter this or wanting the promotion in their job. The fear of retaliation, of not getting the money, not getting the promotion. How do women speak up in that context?
CJ SCARLET: Yes, women are doing themselves a great disservice by not speaking up and again, it's about owing your truth. We tend to feel that fear that we are not going to get what we ask for, and we're projecting that energy out there. You know, our stance, our very posture, communicates that fear and it makes people doubt us and that actually leads to the reality that we fear the most. So we're afraid we're not going to get the funding and we don't hold ourselves up as being competent, and people can read that in their body language, and then we don't get the funding. So, it's a self-fulfilling prophecy.
What we need to do is stand in our power and claim it with our voice, claim it with our body language and really put ourselves out there as if it was already a reality. Men are really good at this. They are very confident when they go in to situation like this, that they are going to get what they ask for. Women need to have that kind of mentality as well.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah, it's often CJ I find, that we go in to a situation in fear, or assuming the worst, or just lacking confidence and that confidence, that lack of confidence rather, yeah does transmit. If we don't value ourselves, how is anyone else going to value us, and how are we going to create value for other people?
CJ SCARLET: Exactly. We play the victim in a sense, in that we fear that we aren't going to get what we ask for, so we sort of demure rather than put ourselves out there. Then we feel like a victim when we don't get what we asked for. So, there are many ways that women can promote themselves more effectively. One of the ways is by simply practicing what we're asking for. So we need to practice that pitch and we need to get out there and pitch as frequently as possible in front of investors, or in front of our Advisory Board until we have it down and we feel confident about our message.
Melinda Wittstock: That's so true. It's so funny though, you don't get the sense that men practice. Do you think they're practicing?
CJ SCARLET: Yeah, they just kind of go out there and fly.
Melinda Wittstock: That's funny, cause that's the other thing too. We do tend to work hard, we'll practice, we won't go do things until we know for sure that we've nailed them, that we've got it done. Men don't tend to do that so much. Again, it's all in the realm of generality, but there is a difference there isn't there?
CJ SCARLET: Yes there really is. I think that again men, they say it's a man's world, and I think it's rapidly becoming a woman's world, a people's world. But men have traditionally been in the seat of power and so they feel more confident about going out there and putting themselves out there. Women are still catching up a bit, but I think there's a force going on, I think there's a transformation going on where woman are leading the charge. I'm very excited about the future because I think that with more women in positions of power in the corporate world, and in the political world. I think we're going to see some massive changes in our society and I'm really, really excited about that.
Melinda Wittstock: You know I like to, and I think you're so right, and I like to call it stepping in to our authentic feminine power. For so long, concepts of strength and power have been associated with the masculine archetype, and yet women are so strong.
CJ SCARLET: Women are so strong, and what I love about the way we think and collaborate with others is that we think in holistic terms. So we think inclusively about involving other people and about collaborating, and it's less about I want to win and I want to be number one, then I want all of us to arrive at the top together. That invites tremendous opportunities for collaborating and co-optician and makes it available for everybody to come along for the ride.
Melinda Wittstock: I think that's true. That inclusiveness. Let's go back in to your entrepreneurial career. You were motivated to start a company based on your experience based on your experience as a victim of sexual assault. Tell me a little bit about that first company that you built?
CJ SCARLET: The first company I built was in 1999 and it was called Healing Tree, and I have a couple of disabilities, Lupus and Scleroderma, that impacted my life and left me able to work off and on. I started this entrepreneurial company to sell products to people with disabilities and I was going to sell to the folks with the disabilities and to their caregivers. It was a very exciting opportunity because this is before anybody really had those kinds of products out there. That came from a need I had myself when I was getting to travel to Europe, I asked my Doctor if there was such a thing as a wheeled-walker? She said, “I don't know, here's a prescription, go get it”. I found one, but it was really difficult for me to find that product and I wanted to make it easier for people. Unfortunately I became too ill to run the company and had to shut it down and it was just heartbreaking.
Melinda Wittstock: Oh, I'm sorry. That's the worst because you were on to something that was so helpful and transformational and then not to be able to do it, I mean that must have been very hard. How did you get through that?
CJ SCARLET: It was very hard: I actually went through a period of mourning afterward and the five stages of grief that you go through when you lose a person.
Melinda Wittstock: Right, cause our companies are kind of like our babies in a way.
CJ SCARLET: They are, and it was a real sense of loss that I felt. Of course, when you have a loss like that you feel like you're never going to be happy again, and you're never going to succeed again, and that's simply not true. After a period of mourning I was like, “Okay, what's my next venture”. I formed a company called Roving Coach with two partners, and we had 50 coaches in the US, UK and Canada. They were doing 30 minute coaching for middle Managers and we worked with Lockheed Martin and International companies and we had tremendous fun for a period of four years. It was during the down turn of the economy though, so it was difficult to sustain the company for three business partners, but we had a really good amount of success before we closed that company down.
Then I started a company called 10 for Humanity whose mission was to implement 10 emerging technologies to reduce violence by 10% in 10 years. I can tell you that our first venture with 10 for Humanity if you like.
Melinda Wittstock: Oh yes, beautiful. So, what were the 10?
CJ SCARLET: Well there were going to be coming out over the period of the years. The first one was called the Tiger Eye Security Sensor, which was a voice activated personal security device. Unfortunately, and this is my spectacular failure, Tiger Eye Sensor, we were not able to raise all the funding we were looking for to get the prototype out there. We were trying to raise money from Venture Capitalists from Hardware, which is a really difficult thing to do. It was a company of women asking for funding of money from Silicone Valley. We lived on the east coast, which is always challenging, because they want people who are basically in their backyard.
Melinda Wittstock: Mm-hmm (affirmative)-
CJ SCARLET: But we just couldn't raise the four million that we were looking for. So I had to close that company down and went through another period of mourning.
Melinda Wittstock: Oh.
CJ SCARLET: But I wasn't done yet.
Melinda Wittstock: Before you go on to the next chapter, let's talk about this for a little bit because you've mentioned you had all these different challenges. One, hardware, you're not in the valley, women founded. Then on top of it, you were addressing a need for women and so often female entrepreneurs are addressing a market need for women and the VC's sitting around the room don't get it. Don't get the market.
Tell me a little bit more about what that experience was like going to pitch the VC's and what did you try? Where was it going wrong? What was some of the feedback that you were getting and when you look back at it now, is there another way that you could have gotten that money?
CJ SCARLET: Well we were facing tables of men, for the most part we were looking were funding, and they didn't really get the problem. I mean, women spend a tremendous amount of time being hyper-vigilant about their safety and men don't and so they don't understand that. So they really didn't get it. Although the men loved it, they wanted to see the prototype, and so I was in that Catch 22 position where we needed the money to finish the prototype and we needed the prototype to get the money to finish it.
Melinda Wittstock: Oh.
CJ SCARLET: Which is a no-win scenario.
Melinda Wittstock: So many women, and men, get stuck there too. But that's tough, and this is before there was Kickstarter, or IndieGogo, or any of those, which would have helped you. Or even before Crowdfunding. I guess if you were doing it now, would Crowdfunding be a better approach?
CJ SCARLET: It could be, but the problem with Crowdfunding is that people still want to see something in action and so without a prototype it's very difficult to really grasp what the product could do.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah. It's interesting, when we try and level the playing field, so for people who have a lot of existing cash on hand, where they can fund their own businesses, obviously it's much easier because you can bootstrap.
CJ SCARLET: Mm-hmm (affirmative)-
Melinda Wittstock: Unless you're kind of independently wealthy going in to it, or you've had an exit from another company, or some other source of funds: friends, family, whatever. It can be so difficult. So how does an entrepreneur really start without that kind of cash in their pocket, has always been a big, big problem. I like the motto of my daughter's school, which is “Find a way, or make one”. Right?
CJ SCARLET: I like that.
Melinda Wittstock: It's great. But like, how do you conjure up something kind of out of nothing. So I guess what you needed were friends, family, you needed some Angel money, that kind of stuff to get that prototype done, and back then it was going to cost four million dollars to do the prototype?
CJ SCARLET: No, it was going to cost about $200,000 to do the prototype and the reason it was going to cost that much is that it had to have, be able to do the voice and make the phone call and take the photograph. It was a very complicated piece of hardware. So we got a basic prototype done, but it didn't have the sound chamber that you need to really have it be effective, so when it would make the phone call, the voice was very tiny and small and that wasn't impressing investors.
Melinda Wittstock: Oh, I see. Right. Oh my goodness. I'm asking you all these questions because I think for a lot of women who are considering an entrepreneurial career, I think often, and this is true for men too, I think we wouldn't even start if we knew all the things that were beyond our control. All the things, all the complexities, there's so many things you have to get right. Like the timing, making sure obviously the team, access to the right networks that are going to help you get the thing funded and soar, just getting the right product market fit. I mean there are so many things. I know from my entrepreneurial career, every time I start I think, “Oh, how hard can this be”.
CJ SCARLET: And then you learn.
If you are not inspired and on fire with passion, then you won’t succeed. It’s the rocket fuel that propels you through the challenges, that helps you to overcome any of these obstacles that fall in to your path and keeps you motivated. #WingsPodcast #WomeninBusiness @CJScarlet Click to tweet
Melinda Wittstock: And then you learn. Maybe if you knew how hard it would be we wouldn't start but I think it's important to be aware of this and it comes back to what we talk about a lot on this podcast, is to be an entrepreneur you have to have a really burning desire, like a real mission focus as well, that it's to do with your higher purpose as a person. Like your values, that you're on a mission. That's the thing that, that pilot light I guess, inside you that keeps you going no matter what the kind of twists and turns are as you get on that true path. If you're just doing it for money, or you're doing it because you want to be your own boss, that's not enough. That's not going to get you through the tough times.
CJ SCARLET: No, and you've really hit on something important here, because if you are not inspired and on fire with passion, then you won't succeed. It's the rocket fuel that propels you through the challenges, that helps you to overcome any of these obstacles that fall in to your path and keeps you motivated. It keeps your feet hitting the floor every morning. When you're on fire for an idea and you believe it's going to help the world, really nothing can stop you. That funding can make a shot to try to stop you, but there's always a way around it. There's always a way to pave that passion or do something with it. It may not look like what you anticipated when you started, but you will find a way.
Melinda Wittstock: You see, cause I think of 10 for Humanity, and I think “What a great idea”. Is that an idea that you would consider revisiting at some other time?
CJ SCARLET: Oh, 10 for Humanity is still in play. Definitely.
Melinda Wittstock: Oh, it is? I'm so glad to hear it.
CJ SCARLET: Yeah.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah, okay. Awesome.
CJ SCARLET: 10 for Humanity is still out there. Tiger Eye was our first attempt and I haven't even given up on Tiger Eye yet. The day may come where I find the ability to fund this so we could bring that back to life. My book is another one of the solutions for 10 for Humanity. I'm going to have it translated in to other languages and it's going to be a book that's available to everybody. So, I think that it can have an impact on people and again, the conversation I have in the book with the reader is about how to step in to your power, how to create, trust your intuition and set those boundaries in such a way that you do not project yourself as a victim to perpetrators, to predators. So you, what I call fail, the predator interview by being a bad victim, being a bad choice for them to victimize. So claiming your power in business is fantastic, but you've got to claim power in your personal life and with your body and with your mind, wholeheartedly. So that you can go through the world confidently and safely.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah, so give me a little bit of a preview of the book. I'm excited to read it. What are some examples of things you can do, first of all, with your body? Is it partly like a body language issue?
CJ SCARLET: Part of it is a body language issue. Some researchers took some criminals who were in prison, and showed them videos of people walking down the street and asked them to pick out which one's they would choose as their victims. The same people were chosen every time because they walked hesitantly, or they wouldn't make eye contact, or they looked afraid. So predators can read body language, but in the book I teach you to summon your inner Tasmanian Devil.
The Tasmanian Devil is a real creature, not just a cartoon character, and it has the fiercest eyes of any land-[crosstalk 00:38:48
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah, I always think of Bugs Bunny.
CJ SCARLET: Yeah, yeah.
Melinda Wittstock: I always think of the Bugs Bunny Tasmanian Devil, so there actually is a real Tasmanian devil?
CJ SCARLET: There's a real Tasmanian devil and it is a ferocious creature. So I tell women and girls to summon their inner Tasmanian Devil, their Taz, and become a whirlwind of fists and feet and fangs and just by going off on the predator in using every body part you've got: biting, kicking, scratching, gouging, pinching, doing whatever you've got to do. You just go crazy. You can scare the predator in to running away and leaving you alone.
In the book I talk about the five different reactions people might have. They may freeze in the moment, they may fawn, which fawning is a behavior where you try to make the perpetrator feel more comfortable or less comfortable about victimizing you, you share your name or tell them you have children, or you compliment them on something, to try and get them to see you as a human being and back off. Then there's of course fleeing, and fighting and complying. Complying sometimes is the best choice you can make in a situation depending on what's going on and it's totally up to the person whose being victimized to make a choice about how to respond. The book is mainly about standing in your power and fully defending yourself psychologically and physically.
Melinda Wittstock: On the psychological part, on the mental, emotional. You talked a little bit about the body, but on the inner side, talk to me about how the book advises women to be in that sense?
CJ SCARLET: In the book, when it comes to the psychological self-defense, it's about how you think before anything even happens to you. You have to think that you are a powerful being, a force to be reckoned with. Just knowing that gives you an aura of confidence that makes you unattractive to predators. So, it's about first, how you think about yourself, and second, how you project yourself, and third, how you defend yourself. But it all has to start in the mind first, because if you do not know that you can protect yourself, and not have to wait for a white knight in shining armor to come save you, then chances are you're more likely to be victimized.
Melinda Wittstock: You know, this is so true. I think this also applies to entrepreneurship as well. The more women that I interview for my book on female entrepreneurship, and also for this podcast, the more I see that link between personal growth and business growth. That so much of our outer manifestation of success is driven almost entirely by our inner mindset. Whether it's avoiding being sexually victimized, or whether it's going to close a 20 million dollar funding round. Whatever it is, so much of it comes from within. Do you think that is the case?
CJ SCARLET: I think that is absolutely the case. It all starts in your mind. Your mind drives your feelings, drives your thoughts, drives your actions. So, if you don't have it straight in your own head first, you won't be able to project it out on to the world in the way you want. So you really have to do your work, your inner-work, to get your thinking straight. So, if you're going out there trying to close a 20 million dollar deal, you have to know in your mind that you are worthy, and that's a big one for women, that you are worthy of getting that, that you are worthy of success.
There's a fantastic book that I recommend people read, it's called, “The Big Leap” by Gay Hendricks, and it's about our upper limit problem How people sabotage their own success. Women tend to do that in a lot of different ways, and the book can help you to recognize yourself in the ways that you sabotage yourself, and the book talks about how to overcome those self-sabotaging behaviors.
Melinda Wittstock: Oh, that's fantastic, thank you. I think the tricky one too, with our mind set, are the beliefs that we have, that we don't even know we have. All those kind of unconscious drivers. How do we surface those or get rid of those? You know, like I see so many people, I know this has been true of my journey as well, there could be a fear of failure but there can also be a real fear of success. With woman, some people call it the Tall Poppy Syndrome. That if we succeed, we suddenly fear that our friends won't like us anymore, or I don't know what it is exactly, but it really exists where women kind of fear standing out from the crowd really seizing success. What do you think is driving that?
CJ SCARLET: The book, “The Big Leap”, addresses a lot of this. I think that there is a very real thing about the fear of success, and I've not heard of the Tall Poppy Syndrome, but I can envision what that means. Women do have this fear that they will out-pace their partner, or their friends, or their colleagues and that they'll be blamed or disliked or whatever, and we're very cognizant of how people feel about us and we're very worried they won't like, or love, or employ us anymore.
So, we tend to demure and diminish our accomplishments in order to feel the sense of safety that we're copasetic with everybody. That's doing us a tremendous disservice. I think it was Mary Ann Williamson, had the most amazing quote about “Who do we think we are to diminish, to not shine our light as bright as it is”, and that's a terrible paraphrase, but it's a beautiful quote. Who are we to play small?
Melinda Wittstock: Right.
CJ SCARLET: It's not serving us and it's not serving the world. We have to be out there as big and bold as we are, and as badass as we are.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah.
CJ SCARLET: Really bring that power.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah, because we can help people when we're out there doing that. If we're diminishing ourselves it's not helping us, it's not helping anyone else either. So, to really kind of stand tall and really seize the day is so, so important.
CJ SCARLET: And it gives other women permission to do the same. When we go out there, and we put ourselves out there fully, and we are the Tall Poppy, we show other women that they can come here too. We give them permission to climb with us. My favorite quote is an African proverb and it's “Lift as you Climb”.
Melinda Wittstock: Wow.
CJ SCARLET: So as you go forward in your life, as you go up in your life, you lift others with you and help empower them so that they can find success too.
Melinda Wittstock: That's so nice. I mean that's actually really the mission of this podcast. It's the reason it's called Wings.
CJ SCARLET: I love it, I love it.
Melinda Wittstock: That's exactly the inspiration. We really need to be able to lift each other up and be the change we want to see. It's funny, you remind me of something. A while back in one of my entrepreneurial circles, this was one of the earliest masterminds I went to, and we did this exercise where one at a time the rest of the group had to give each one of us a standing ovation. The person who was accepting of the standing ovation, would be like squirming, almost in agony like it was so hard to accept a compliment let alone a standing ovation. Like really, people couldn't take it. They were kind of like crumbling under the pressure, it was like “No, no, stop”, right. I think it's so funny; it's a great exercise to try with your team because you'll notice that most people can't take it. So what's up with that? Why can't we even accept a compliment?
CJ SCARLET: Well in my company Roving Coach, we used to have freaking love fests. What we would do, at the end of a business retreat, we would have the entire team focus on one person at a time, and we would all tell that person what we loved and admired about them. At first, it was very difficult to stand in the spotlight, and there was some squirming going one, but over time as we did that we began to just love and appreciate these compliments and this love that was being sent our way. So, it kind of taught all of us to appreciate the compliments we received, because we earned them. We earned them, and women earn the right to feel good about themselves and what they do. It's unfortunate that there's squirming going on, I mean women tend to do things, like if you say, “Well that's a beautiful outfit”, they'll say, “Oh, this old thing”. You know, they kind of downplay, when all they should do is smile and say “Thank you so much”.
Melinda Wittstock: Exactly. So, with “The Badass Girls Guide”, I mean it's not just a book; you also have a platform around all of this. Talk to us all a little bit about what that platform is and how women can interact with you on it?
CJ SCARLET: Sure. “The Badass Girls Guide” the book is the main focus because that's where the information is for people to understand how to protect themselves and be safe and confident, but I'm also doing video blogs, where I actually show you the physical moves and I talk about the other aspects of the book. How to use psychological self-defense, how to talk yourself out of a bad situation, how to out-think the predators. I'll be reviewing self-defense products, I'll be inviting experts on to talk about their view of crime and victimization, and I'm going to be doing a lot of speaking and corporate training.
I'm also going to be starting a women's Facebook group, where they can come and share their stories. I'm creating a Tribe is what I'm doing. I want to invite women and girls to come in to this Tribe and feel acceptance, and feel empowerment. If all I did was talk about violence and crime, it wouldn't be attractive to anybody. It would be demoralizing and depressing. What I'm going to talk about it hope. I'm going to talk about power. I'm going to talk about living in the world on your own terms in safety and security, feeling like you are in control of your own life and your own decisions, and that you're fully responsible for your life. I think women are going to respond to that.
Melinda Wittstock: So CJ, thank you for your generosity, because I know that you have a special offer, free offer in fact, for our Shero Listeners on Wings of Inspired Business. Can you tell us a little bit about it?
CJ SCARLET: Yes. Those who sign up for the video blog will also receive my special report on Seven Secrets to Protect your Badass Bod from Predators. It contains information, Seven Secrets to Protect your Badass Bod from Predators.
Melinda Wittstock: Fantastic. How do they find you, what's your website?
CJ SCARLET: My website is, cjscarlet.com
Melinda Wittstock: Okay fantastic, and they just go to your website and they just looks for Seven Secrets to Protect your Badass Bod from Predators.
CJ SCARLET: Yes. On the homepage there's a side bar that will take them right to that place where they can get the report.
Melinda Wittstock: Fantastic. Thank you so much for sharing this gift and also your wisdom and your experience so fulsomely today on Wings of Inspired Business. CJ, thank you.
CJ SCARLET: It was such a pleasure Melinda, thank you so much.