512 Sophia Sunwoo:
Startups are not for the faint-hearted. Even with the best idea in the world … there is still so much we can’t possibly know when we first “start-up” – so many things beyond our control, even things we CAN control can be vexing in fast changing circumstances.
I’m Melinda Wittstock and today on Wings of Inspired Business we meet an inspiring entrepreneur who sold her first company at age 22 and learned fast how to accept there was more she didn’t know at various stages of her company’s growth than she did. It’s true of any early stage pioneer.
Sophia Sunwoo is now the founder and CEO of Ascent Strategy, helping female founders get their companies off the ground. Sophia says it was tough in the early days having access to the knowledge and connections many of her male counterparts had at their fingertips – and set out to change the game. We’re going to hear about her journey as a 3-time founder, and what she’s learned along the way.
Sophia Sunwoo scaled her first company to 250 retailers worldwide and attract celebrity clientele before she sold her company at age 22. Sophia’s second business helped bring clean water to over 76,000 people in India and Cameroon has been recognized by Forbes, African Business Review, and ELLE Magazine. She was honored as a Forbes 30 Under 30 – as well as a Fred Alger Finance Award winner, and was named one of the world’s 100 most inspiring women by Salt Magazine and Diageo, and is now a Forbes 30U30 All-Star Alumni.
Today we talk about scaling, as well as what tends to hold women back from creating scalable business models. We also talk social impact mission and why doing good for the world can also be lucrative and profitable.
Impact mission is a key driver of what makes Podopolo special – because among other things we’re committed to donating 10% of our earnings to charities and mission-driven and minority owned businesses doing great things for the world.
Impact mission is one of Sophia Sunwoo’s key drivers in her entrepreneurial career – and Sophia has been leveraging her background in business, design thinking, and social impact to challenge norms and push boundaries.
After selling her first business at 22, Sophia co-founded a clean water non-profit created to fix and prevent broken water projects in the developing world by building community ecosystems of water maintenance care. The organization has secured clean water for over 76,000 people in West Africa and has been recognized by Forbes, DevEx, African Business Review, and ELLE Magazine.
These days Sophia has a consulting business called Ascent Strategy where she helps women-led startups articulate their vision and get their companies off the ground.
So let’s put on our wings with the inspiring Sophia Sunwoo.
Melinda Wittstock: Sophia, welcome to Wings.
Sophia Sunwoo: Thank you so much for having me. I’m excited to be here.
Melinda Wittstock: You’re a bit of a phenomenon, being honored a number of times for being a 30 Under 30 entrepreneur from various sources. And you’ve built companies, you’ve exited them. Let’s start with your current company right now. I’m curious what led you there.
Sophia Sunwoo: Yeah. So my current business Ascent Strategy, I help future female moguls get their companies off the ground. And this business has really been a culmination of, I have had over a decade of experience now working in startups. This is my third business. And with the first two businesses, I really struggled. I think that for a lot of male entrepreneurs, there’s kind of like a boys club in the startup world. So a lot of them are really able to rely on each other and support each other. But even though I was an entrepreneur in New York, I definitely felt this lack of access to information that my male entrepreneur friends had but I didn’t. And I really wanted to create a space for women that was capable of not only helping them build their business and get it to a place where they can support themselves financially, but accelerating their ability to access information that’s actually useful. I think that there’s a lot of information out there, especially free information that it’s really not helpful. It’s a lot of fluff. It’s not information that’s actually going to help you turn your idea into money. So I really wanted to give that power to women, really give them the ability to access that information faster and to really step into their power.
Melinda Wittstock: Gosh, you’re describing really my own experience as a five-time serial entrepreneur, especially. The earlier businesses. I was the only woman in the room. There were none of those resources, and you did feel quite isolated. I think it’s changing now though, right? I mean, I think there are so many more women helping other women in business.
Sophia Sunwoo: Oh my goodness. Yeah. And it’s so refreshing to see just the ownership of I can step into my power, and I can have that sovereignty of self. And it’s definitely, you’re completely right. It’s definitely changed, and there’s much more support for women now than ever before.
Melinda Wittstock: So what are the biggest problems that your clients have when they’re in startup mode? It’s always difficult for everybody to create a product out of whole cloth or a service that you don’t know yet. You have a hypothesis, that people are going to buy it. And you have a hypothesis about your price. And you have a whole bunch of things like … sorry, I’m just going to start that question all over again. Yeah. Saturday, my brain goes into a more relaxed mode, so hold on a second.
So that early stage for startups is kind of head damage for everybody. Men and women alike, because it’s all a hypothesis until it’s not. What do you find women struggle with the most at that early stage?
Sophia Sunwoo: Yeah. So I think a couple of things. I think the biggest thing for me is the mindset aspect and confidence. I think that when you’re an entrepreneur, you have to kind of go against a lot of what society tells you is proper for women to do or whatnot. A huge mindset kind of shift I see and a lot of female entrepreneurs is they really have to confront their money mindset for example. Just like stepping into their ability to make money and really believing that they do deserve the money that they want to earn through their business. And with any new business, we’re not talking small money here. We’re talking about big money that supports not only the founder financially, but also additional team members. So a lot of women have to step up when it comes to that money mindset. So that’s a huge struggle I see is the money mindset aspect.
I think, and related to that are also other aspects of mindset of just confronting fears. Confronting visibility is a huge one for women. So mindset is the biggest struggle I see that usually needs to be tackled first. Another thing is tackling this concept of when it comes to a new idea. How do I fully, confidently step into that idea and do it and go forward with it even if for example, my parents are really upset that I decided to let go of that full time job? That kind of veneer of I’m a real person because I work at a corporate office. Letting go of that and really stepping into that is a huge one. Just like this how do you kind of reconcile your dream and what you want to go after with what society tells you is correct and right?
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah. The things you should do. Most people live a life of should’s, and it’s tragic because it keeps them separated from really their true mission and the thing that’s going to make them the happiest. So having the courage to step into that.
And I think this ties to the money mindset a little bit too because if we don’t value ourselves deep down, then it becomes really difficult to know our value, charge our value, price our products and services appropriately, and even ask for the sale. I know so many women struggle to even ask for the sale even when they have an amazing product.
Sophia Sunwoo: A thousand percent. Yeah. And it’s a hard one to get over because for every person, they have a different story that they attach to money. So a lot of the times, 90% of the journey is just getting to the bottom of, “Okay, what is actually at the root of the problem here,” because everyone has such a different story. So absolutely.
Melinda Wittstock: It’s true. So Sophia, I want to go back in time a little bit to what led you to launch your first startup. Tell us about it. What was it? And what were some of the things that were the toughest that you had to overcome personally to make it a success?
Sophia Sunwoo: Yeah. So my first business was a clothing business that my college roommate and I started out of our dorm room. The both of us loved going to rock concerts when we were young. But every time we bought band tee shirts, we had to cut it up so that it would look good on us and look feminine. So we created a clothing line that basically empowered women that went to these rock concerts to wear clothing that fit them and looked good on them, and made them feel good about themselves. So we basically created a clothing company out of our own desire for that item. But I think that it just really hit a nerve, and it really answered a huge need that a lot of women needed at the time. Actually it was not women, it was teenagers basically because we were only 19.
So that was the company and it just really took off. We ended up in 250 retailers worldwide. We had Miley Cyrus wearing one of our hoodies and People Magazine and that just even blew up our brand more. Yeah. So that was really just completely over our heads. We’re just freaked out in happiness of whoa, I can’t believe this thing took off the way it did.
So we ended up selling that company. And yeah, I mean it was really, really tough. I think that when you’re young and your brain is still forming, and you have these larger than life situations at the time for me, where half of our revenue came through our hoodies for example. And our hoodies were our hottest seller. And because this was pre Myspace, pre Instagram, pre eCommerce. So we really relied on events and festivals to sell our items. And one year, UPS completely lost our hoodie shipment. So that was [crosstalk 00:08:30] revenue.
So things like that of just being agile and rather than cowering in the stress and sadness of something like that and the complete disappointment, just really starting to develop those tools for myself of, “Okay, there’s nothing I can do to remedy this situation. It’s just done. So how do I move forward as far as still succeeding at the selling event and still moving forward and selling with the items that we do have?” So this first business was really just me developing these tools of being exposed to these extremely difficult situations and how do I move forward and cope from this point on when it happens again in the future.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah, that’s part of the entrepreneurial journey. We can control the things that we can control. But there’s so many things when you’re a business owner, an entrepreneur, that you just can’t control. So your ability to be nimble and keep an eye on different things that are going on. And of course there are going to be challenges that are no fault of your own. I think of all the businesses now obviously in pivot mode because of coronavirus for instance. There’s always opportunity in that though, and an opportunity to grow. So again, it comes back to mindset, like everything. How are you going to cope with something like that? Did that teach you a mindset issue around not getting freaked out when things go wrong? How did you cope with that on an emotional level?
Sophia Sunwoo: 100%. I think that being as young lack of control and emotionally regulating that. So I always tell every entrepreneur being an entrepreneur is as much of a hard game as it is a head game. Where in order to succeed as an entrepreneur, you really need to develop the tools and inner systems to regulate yourself emotionally, to become emotionally mature enough to receive whatever bad news you receive. But really not simmering in it, and just becoming that leader who does step up even when everyone else around you is stepping down.
Melinda Wittstock: Absolutely. This is not really to do with business, but I was reading something the other day about so many churches in the country who are not able to gather or whatnot during coronavirus. Most of them didn’t have websites. Now most of them have websites, right? Now a lot of them are using zoom and they’ve made this big technological leap. And here’s the really interesting thing. They have more people attending now. In many cases, five, 10 times the number of people because they’re now online. Digital, social. So often those, I don’t know, terrible challenges are the very thing we need to grow not only as people but grow our businesses.
Sophia Sunwoo: Absolutely. Yeah. And I’m obviously very, very sad for everything that’s happening to a lot of industries during coronavirus. But if I’m in the mindset of go getter business leader. Entrepreneur who gets through it, no matter what the times are. It’s been really impressive to me to see some businesses, even in the city that I live in now, that are really not taking … for example, the restaurant industry. I’m seeing a lot of businesses that aren’t taking it as a complete devastation that they’re not able to open their doors. And they’re doing things like creating meal kits that they sell to their customers who love their food, but they can’t dine in. I’m seeing a lot of gyms doing incredibly creative stuff as far as streaming classes and keeping their customers engaged that way. So I’m seeing absolutely what you’re seeing, this creativity and innovation that is really being sparked by the hardship right now.
Melinda Wittstock: So Sophia, you’re very mission driven. And this is very close to my heart because I think entrepreneurs, and women entrepreneurs in particular tend to thrive in mission driven businesses. And not only that. While we’re creating good for the rest of the world, we’re actually growing the valuation of our businesses. And there’s a lot of new research on this, it benefits every way. In your second business, you brought clean water to more than 76,000 people in India and Cameroon. What led you there to do that business?
Sophia Sunwoo: Yeah. So when I went to college, I transferred to Parsons and they had this design and business program. I had initially gone to the school in order to kind of continue my fashion career, my clothing company career. But I once attended this lecture by this professor who started talking about how we can use design and business strategies to address the biggest problems around the world, like climate change.
And that lecture, it left such an impact on me that after I walked out, after it was over, I walked out and I was like, “Whoa. This is what I need to do. This is something I’m super passionate about.” That lecture just shook me awake.
So that was kind of the impetus there of just me exploring throughout the rest of my time in college is this concept of how can we use business and design to really propel the resolution of these big social problems around the world.
So this is kind of what led me to my second business. It was something that all of my friends knew I was super passionate about. It was a new career path I really wanted to pursue. And one of my friends introduced me to her friend who he had been working in water projects since he was 15. Traveled all over Kenya, Southeast Asia. And something really compelling in our discussions was that he was saying, “Yes, there’s a lot of water projects and water systems out there. A lot of charities that give people the ability to donate so that they can install all these wells and whatnot in these communities. But the real issue at hand here is that actually 30 to 50% of those wells breakdown after two years. So there’s a lot of water charities selling this image of new, new, new. New water well, these people are getting water for the first time. When actuality two years down the line, those people lose that water because the system didn’t have a maintenance plan behind it.”
So we created this organization to address that issue of how do we actually create a system here where when we promise someone clean water, they have access to it for life. And a huge way to address that is by creating a maintenance program, a water maintenance program. So that was kind of where the inspiration was and kind of what led me to that path.
Melinda Wittstock: it’s interesting because Goldman Sachs not so long ago came up with a study that showed that the actual growth, not only in revenue and earnings, but actual valuation was exponential when there was a social mission. And I think it’s because customers in part really want to identify with a mission or a cause kind of bigger than themselves. They feel like they actually belong, they’re like a member of your company. And then I think it’s also easier to attract A-list talent as well for the same reason. And there are so many just bottom line business reasons to do it over and above just it’s a good thing to do. Do you think women are more drawn or gravitate more to the mission driven sort of business?
Sophia Sunwoo: Absolutely. So one thing that was a huge realization for me when I was doing the second business was after about six or seven years, I decided to move on from it. Because it was incredibly, I think the nonprofit world, I have so much respect for anyone in the nonprofit world because it’s incredibly difficult. It really requires a complex mind in order for you to juggle not only the strategy side of working at a nonprofit. But also the emotional and mental toll of juggling the fact that you are impacting actual human lives. And sometimes you have to make hard decisions, sometimes you make the wrong decisions. And there’s a lot of weight behind that.
So I think that the reason why so many women are driven to mission driven businesses is because not only do they have the ability to really be moved and kind of be a part of that world of being in a mission driven business. But they have the complexity of having the emotional intelligence plus the brain power to juggle all those things at once.
Unfortunately for me, I was definitely not developed enough to be able to manage all of that. So that was kind of like a really honest realization for me. But I think that women just have this incredible capacity to juggle all those things and kind of separate themselves when it feels right of.
There are times where you have to put that brainpower up into five gears. There are other times where that emotional intelligence really needs to kick in. So kind of having this wide variety of tools that women can reach for when it comes to mission driven businesses is really a superpower.
Melinda Wittstock: It is. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be a nonprofit either, but I hear what you’re saying about women’s ability to system think. And I know in the for profit world as well, we’re more likely. I mean in my experience, I’m a lot older than you. But in my experience, I’ve seen so many women put together businesses that apply technology for instance, in unique ways to solve complex problems. Like to disrupt whole industries. And this requires sort of a complexity of thinking. It’s not just A to B, I’m going to create this product and just sell it. And that’s it. But I’m actually going to transform an industry. And I see a lot of women really excelling in that and in mission.
It’s interesting though about the nonprofit side of things. I went to I work with Sara Blakely for a little bit with one of my mastermind groups where we were advising her foundation. She supports a lot of women entrepreneurs, and she’d selected the top 10 best. And we were there at Spanx head office to mentor them. And 100% of the women had picked nonprofits for their mission driven thing. And almost all of us were like, “Why? There’s no reason that you can’t make this profitable and actually build wealth with the social mission.”
Do you think women, is there something about nonprofit that ties back into that money mindset that, “Oh gosh, I’m not going to go out and make money doing my mission,” that draws them into the nonprofit world.
Sophia Sunwoo: Yeah, that’s really interesting. This is actually a very niche conversation I’ve only had with nonprofit friends. So I really commend you for kind of being aware of that. This is something that I’ve actually talked to a lot with my nonprofit friends where we, I completely agree. We actually were realizing that there is definitely a money mindset aspect of why there’s a draw, especially amongst women towards nonprofits. I think really coming from a mindset of having purpose and mission being at the top of your priorities in life is definitely something that draws women to nonprofits I feel like more than men. It’s definitely also kind of a lack of, I guess what’s the best way to say this? Kind of almost being a little too much of a savior. And I say that in the most nicest way possible and respectfully possible. Where you are so committed to the mission, that you forget this aspect of the money that you do need to have to support yourself.
And sometimes, the mission aspect of your personality is so powerful, that you do it in exchange for taking some notches off of self-respect for being paid what you’re worth and things like that. So I definitely think it’s that lure of mission that really pulls women to nonprofits. But in order to have a really kind of thoughtful relationship with that, you really have to as a individual, cultivate that mindset and bring that awareness of am I sacrificing any part of my self worth or what I deserve to be paid and all that stuff in exchange for mission? And when does that hit an unhealthy place?
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah. The interesting thing too about nonprofits, because one of my businesses was a nonprofit. And I really regretted organizing it that way because I got really constrained by all the different grants that prevented me from pivoting fast enough to seize market opportunity. Or actually penalized me. Like when I got, say for instance a quote for insurance that was less than what was budgeted. They took grant money away from me rather than it being a good thing. There were all kinds of strange aspects of that. And then it was very difficult to find operational funding. You could get a lot of programmatic capital, but that would force you to deviate from your mission and all sorts of things. It was an incredibly frustrating experience actually. I don’t know, but you’re right. It’s harder in lots of ways than just going for the for profit.
So I want to go back to your current business, and where you see women struggling the most. One of them is obviously around pricing the true value of products and services. I think we often negotiate against ourselves and price too low. What’s your advice for women in that early stage about getting the pricing right?
Sophia Sunwoo: Yeah, that’s a great question. I think the first and biggest thing is getting yourself to a place where you detach yourself forth from the business. I think that when you’re first building your business, you spend so much time creating it that it feels like a baby. It’s something that you’ve created. You feel very intimate with it. It’s something that if someone says something negative about it, it feels like a punch to the gut.
And I think that that’s kind of a huge thing with pricing what you’re worth and removing yourself from it. Where when something feels so close to you and your product is your baby, you want people to like your baby. So if someone kind of sees a price tag on your product and they say, “Well that’s pretty expensive.” If you don’t have that unwavering confidence in what you’re creating there and your self-worth is detached from it, you’re going to lower that price probably because you just want people to like you. You want people to like your baby. So your self-worth really is at the helm of pricing rather than sound business strategy.
So for me, self-worth is a huge thing that you should first tackle when it comes to pricing. I think that another thing is just, I think it’s really hard, and I say this from experience. With this third business, it’s the first time that I’ve built a business by myself. And I think it’s really difficult to build a business beyond this journey of building a business without any other kind of critical force to support you. I think that especially when you have co-founders, there’s a lot of yes men. But in order to become a strong entrepreneur, you really need to introduce yourself to people, business people in your life that are going to provide that critical eye.
So I think that just having the ability to step outside of your head. And with pricing, this is so important. Just having that external collaborator that can really look at pricing objectively with you. And of course you want to do as much testing as possible with your audience and whatnot. But I really do think that pricing is such a head game. And the best way you can move forward with it is by stepping out of your head as much as possible.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah, it’s really true. There’s so many women that I’ve mentored over the years that forget to ask for the sale. Or don’t even send the invoice. To me, that’s directly tied to that mindset or just not valuing ourselves enough.
And I think the pricing though of products is a really interesting one because you don’t really know the price until you test it in the market. So you’ve got to be willing to co-create with your customers and take that feedback. And yeah, and you’re right. Not take it personally, because it’s just market feedback. That’s all it is. And you need it. I mean, you need it to get that right.
So what is the biggest reason you think that new startups really struggle to generate consistent, recurring revenue for their businesses? Is it something to do with not really having a good plan for that, or the right model for that, or what’s going on there?
Sophia Sunwoo: Yeah. So I think that when someone is first bootstrapping, they get into this mindset of I need to save as much money as possible, so I’m going to do everything myself.
Melinda Wittstock: That’s a killer.
Sophia Sunwoo: Yeah, such a killer. And that DIY mindset is such a killer where when you’re constantly doing everything yourself, you kind of release mediocre product, you run your business in a mediocre away, your marketing and sales are pretty mediocre. So I think that’s a huge struggle for a lot of startups when they’re first starting out is just kind of removing themselves. And realizing early on if I want to build an empire here, it’s not going to happen by me DIYing everything. Sara Blakely did not build Spanx by doing everything for the multiple months that she was building that business. At some point, she got out of bootstrap mode and got really serious and brought people in who had the 10,000 hours in marketing and sales. Who had the 10,000 hours in financials and could really elevate the game when it came to how the business is executed. So I think the DIY mindset is a huge pillar for a lot of startups when they’re first starting out.
I think that also just the lack of confidence. I think that what a lot of startups will do is that they’ll see what their competitors are doing. And every time they do something new, if the founder is not confident in the startup that they’re building and have conviction in the strategy that they’re implementing, they will basically pivot their strategy according to the direction of the wind of whatever their competitor is doing. And they will just constantly change their strategy. So the lack of consistency there is what leads to this lack of consistent revenue, right? Where consistent revenue comes from you executing a sound formula over a long period of time. It does not happen as a result of you trying something new every single month and you succeeding at that. There’s actually very few ideas that are successful in creating reoccurring revenue. It’s usually one or two formulas that a business just executes repeatedly over a period of time. Especially when it comes to a sales plan strategy front of it. So yeah, I think that the lack of commitment is a huge thing from entrepreneurs and kind of shiny object syndrome.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah, so it’s interesting when women hire too late, right? I think sometimes, a lot of people fall into the trap of thinking that hiring as an expense rather than an investment.
Because if you think of your hire and you can tie them back to the actual revenue or the result that you want to see from them, you are going to get faster to that recurring revenue than you possibly could any other way. I think often there are hiring mistakes too. “I’m just going to hire someone to do my social media.” Well, do what? Deliver 10,000 Instagram followers? What’s the result? And if they did deliver that result, what would that mean to converting actual paying customers?
So just thinking that through with each hire. Not only hiring fast enough, but tying those folks to actual revenue and their compensation to revenue. And there’s a whole bunch of things like that, that you can do. And I hear you about making sure that you’re attracting top talent.
This is the big chicken and egg problem that so many early stage companies have is that they need A-list players, and they don’t have the money necessarily to pay those people. So you have to be very artful in your negotiation. You have to have a mission and a reason, or something that makes folks like that excited to want to come join with you. I mean, what was it like at the early stages of some of your companies in terms of hiring or persuading folks to join when you didn’t necessarily have the money to pay them their full market rate?
Sophia Sunwoo: Yeah, that’s a great question. So one strategy I’ve adopted is yes, definitely a chicken and egg problem as far as hiring good talent for your business. And really requiring that top level of talent in order to grow to a point where you can actually hire someone full-time.
So one strategy I’ve adopted is this concept of micro jobs. So kind of related to what you’re saying. Instead of hiring someone to do social media, you have to actually get really, really educated on what is that micro task that I need help with to actually convert my efforts into sales?
And in order to have that knowledge, I actually strongly recommend that entrepreneurs that are first starting out, that they actually get some kind of crash course in what are the different tasks that you need to delegate in different departments of your business, in order for freelancers and people you hire to actually produce results for you?
I see a lot of mistakes among startup founders where they’ll hire for someone to help them with their marketing and bring in more skills. But not actually understanding the tactic or the strategy to do that.
So for example, a really educated entrepreneur who’s taking the time to build their knowledge based off what works and doesn’t work, is going to look at this challenge of, “Okay, I need to really ramp up my marketing efforts here. I really want to boost sales by 50% this quarter. And I know that from the education I’ve received and some of the few things that we’ve tested out, that what’s really working well for us is Instagram. And it really works when we do try-on videos and Instagram stories of our earrings. And that actually increases our sales by 20% within two weeks.” Something like that.
So that’s a really, really specific strategy right there, that only comes from a place of an entrepreneur who has really educated themselves and understands the language that they need to be using in order to hire the right people.
So in that situation, what I would do is I am going to hire for a micro job where a freelancer, their only job is to help me organize my Instagram stories so that I can constantly do those try-on videos for example, to sell my product because that converts into actual sales. So for me, what’s really helped me is just really identifying what those micro jobs are. Really educating myself on it, and only hiring for that until I get to a place where I have enough money to fully hire a full person.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah, absolutely. Well, it’s interesting with the sales side of things as well. Because figuring out all the spaghetti of sales funnels, and the ins and outs of Facebook advertising, or Instagram advertising, or your SEO. Or if you have an app, how to app optimize that in the app store, so it’s going to be found and it’s going to actually convert. I mean, these are really highly specialized fields. And they’re crowded with a lot vendors who know what they’re doing or really profoundly don’t know what they’re doing. Right? So knowing enough to be able to evaluate. Right? But if you try and learn all that stuff, you got to learn enough to be able to judge whether somebody is good at it or not to hire them. But not so much that you’re just basically becoming a funnel person rather than the CEO of your company. It’s kind of a fine line. Right? How do you walk that balance? Okay.
Sophia Sunwoo: Yeah, a hundred percent. I mean, I think for me, what’s been really helpful is suggest look for those coaches, and programs, and courses that provide that specific kind of taster. And I also think that you have to really be aggressive about asking the questions to these educators of, “Hey, I’m actually specifically looking for knowledge when it comes to marketing and sales or operations that has to do specifically with helping me create benchmarks of success.” I think benchmarks of success are huge in helping you understand what actually works. When does someone actually do a good job versus a bad job?
Also timelines. Timelines are huge. Some people will receive the benchmarks of success, but they won’t realize that you’re supposed to see those results by actually six months, not two years. So understanding those timelines as well is really important.
So I always tell people when you’re in that phase of getting educated on the entrepreneurial knowledge you need to make sure that those courses or coaches you work with really have a strong understanding of benchmarks of success and expected timelines.
Melinda Wittstock: Absolutely. So Sophia, what are some of the transformations you’ve seen amongst your clients, that come to you with these kinds of problems and they’re lost in a number of these different places? Whether it’s pricing, or branding, or marketing, or all these different early stage hiring. These early stage challenges. What are some of the transformations that you’ve seen with your clients working with you?
Sophia Sunwoo: Yeah. So I think the biggest thing is for me, I think it’s great when I see, obviously when I see sales numbers move and whatnot. That’s so nourishing for me to witness. But I think what has been the most nourishing for me to see as far as growth from my clients is this aspect of confidence. A lot of female entrepreneurs come with me with a thousand pricing questions. And they are very surprised when after we work together, they realize that all their pricing questions stems from a lack of confidence. And if we actually get to the root of the problem of confidence in self as an entrepreneur, you’ll actually be able to answer every single pricing question you have moving forward.
I think another thing is really stepping into your power as an entrepreneur so that you are able to address all of the ambiguity that comes with entrepreneurship. I think that the hardest part of entrepreneurship is understanding when you’re doing something right versus wrong. If you’re missing something, if you’re hitting your full potential.
So really helping entrepreneurs create that mental framework of asking the right questions to themselves, and getting to a place where they can actually answer their own questions and have the ability to support themselves. So kind of teaching someone how to fish rather than giving them fish. Really empowering them with that mental framework to just be a powerful entrepreneur from that point forward has been really just important for me to witness. Because I feel like if you have that, nothing can really stop you.
Melinda Wittstock: So true. So what’s next for you? What’s the big vision?
Sophia Sunwoo: Yeah, that’s a great question. I think for me, impact is something that’s always top of mind. Just how can I support as many women as possible. Even if someone doesn’t have the ability to work with me, how can I support women throughout their journey?
So just more products and me figuring out ways to really extend the lessons I’m able to provide to female entrepreneurs, but do it in a way that has more eyes on it and things like that. So impact is kind of like my big North Star right now.
Melinda Wittstock: Wonderful. So Sophia, how can people find you and work with you?
Sophia Sunwoo: Yeah, so people can find me at my website. It’s ascent A-S-C-E-N-T-strategy.com. I’m also really active on Instagram. My Instagram handle is ascentwithsophia. I share ton of free resources, blogs, do a bunch of mini classes on there. So if you’re an entrepreneur just starting out, definitely catch me on there.
Melinda Wittstock: Wonderful. Thank you for putting on your wings and flying with us.
Sophia Sunwoo: Oh my goodness. Thank you so much for having me. This was really fun.
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