“I am a creative with a love for storytelling and tech.
A global citizen who grew up in Russia, my career is as diverse as my background. A life-long entrepreneur, I've championed women-led ideas. In '99, I co-founded my first tech startup artsymag.com. It was the first art publication and marketplace to promote women artists. It paved the way for the modern Artsy.net. For the last 10 years I've worked in NYC as a Creative Director in Advertising - art side. A member of SAG, I drop in at UCB and study with Bob Krakower. I'm also the Co-Founder/Product Manager of Fund Dreamer: a global crowdfunding platform/marketplace focused on social good, open to all, promoting women and diversity-led projects.
I recently left the startup to create my own venture called Dream Nation. For now, I have a podcast about women, diversity, funding, dreams that you can listen to here. I'm also launching a new social platform in the springtime. Stay tuned by following @DreamNationLove on social."
How did you get to where you are today?
I got to where I am today by not settling. Knowing that I could do something outside the conventional ideas of what work is. I've defined my life and every choice in it consciously. I've been very independent since a very early age. Looking back on life, that craving for freedom is one of my main drivers as an Entrepreneur.
The earliest pivotal moment I can remember occurred at the age of eight. At that time I was living with my grandmother and mother in a suburb of Moscow. My best friend lived a mile down the road, and my grandmother would always walk me to my friend’s house and back for play dates. But when I turned eight, I considered myself an adult and I began to crave independence-- and, eager to feel the taste of autonomy, I asked my grandmother if I could walk to my best friend’s house by myself.
I remember feeling terrified-- but that fear was quickly diminished by the thrill of adventure. This was the first time I learned to turn fear into excitement. If something doesn't bring about either feeling, then whatever you are doing is not grand enough. My grandmother agreed to let me go on a solo journey, and off I went. Walking on that road, I remember running some of the way since I was afraid of being kidnapped. Once my gate picked up speed, the fear turned into sheer exhilaration. I was a big girl, making big girl decisions, running down the street without adult supervision. After a few hours of playing, I ran back home (literally) before sundown. In '87, this was an age before cell phones. In rural Moscow at the time, having a home phone was unheard off. One has to go to the center of town and place a call on the town phone.
So that day, I ran back home knowing that my desires were respected. I was an adult and I was able to make my own decisions. From then on, I rarely walked anywhere by myself. I knew that I could, but the truth was that I really enjoyed my grandmother's company and always asked her to come with on journeys. That walk inspired me to take bigger risks in my life. Knowing that those risks would always be supported by the people that mattered most. All the little steps in your life lead up to the larger leaps.
I intended to be exactly where I am right now. Sometimes the vision comes out different but it's exactly what I wanted. Sometimes dreams are even better than one can imagine.
Looking back on life, the only reason I started my podcast Dream Nation a year ago was because I had a radio show while I attended UMass Amherst. Due to that show, I know how to conduct interviews from my time interviewing punk rock bands. I got to sharpen my writing, journalist, and listening skills. The best journalists listen and pull morsels out of the interview. I got the guts to interviewing punk bands from taking that first walk alone.
What was your toughest obstacle and how did you overcome it?
Learning to speak English. When I was 8 I didn't think that I could do it. It felt really difficult. Now I think and dream in English, although I still count in Russian.
Also, learning to listen. It took me a while to learn this skill. To speak less and listen more.
What’s the key to staying focused & motivated?
It's about creating a schedule for yourself and also training the body. At times I get discouraged, but I never lose motivation. I just switch gears and approach the problem from a different angle or just re-invent the project. Sometimes I just start working on a different project if time permits to just step away and get a new perspective. Sometimes when something isn't working is because it's not great. One has to figure out a way for it to be great and gain traction. At times that requires stepping away from it and looking at it after some time.
I also really love working out. I'm a huge fan of Equinox and I think it's the best money I've ever spent. Working out is essential to feeling good and keeping your brain happy. Equinox is really a place that helps you train your mind and spirit, the body is just the result of having the mind and spirit be in balance. If the body is healthy, it's easier for the mind and spirit to be in harmony, as well.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?
"Don't downplay your abilities and power. Own them." That was the eye-opening advice that an acting teacher once gave me.
Also, I can't emphasize listening enough. That’s another thing that acting taught me.
Know how to process feedback and use it to make your work better. Art classes, acting classes, and years of advertising taught me those lessons.
Listen and be ready to kill your darlings to make room for improved darlings.
What advice do you have for someone who is looking to start a new venture?
Find out if people actually want to use your product before you start. Really research your market size, competition, customers. Build a team of people who will pull their weight so you won't be the only one busting your butt. Test, test, test. Also make sure you are morally aligned with your partners. Morals go a long way. It's all you have at the end of the day.
How do we get more women leaders?
We need more women in the media showing young girls images of what they can achieve. That starts with having more women as writers and directors in Hollywood. Women have to run for more offices and create our own governments and projects. Don't wait for someone to give you power, take it by creating your vision and asking others to join in.
More women have to want to lead. We have to show our kids how to lead and make men comfortable with women as leaders. This comes down to parenting and having both strong female and male role models. One person's success is not another person's loss.
I think we have to reframe how we see success in society and how we view women and men and all of our gender roles. I think that men are afraid of being useless. If women (who are natural gathers) start hunting, it makes men feel obsolete. So we have to make them comfortable with us hunting by convincing them that their life will be easier if we help.
I think we have to look at constructs of femininity and masculinity and see how we can be harmonious together. Women can be vicious to one another and it doesn't help. Women need to help other women. Welcoming everyone and showing love. I think it's not about women leaders, it's about creating strong people who are not intimidated by leadership. The weak people will tear you down, the strong ones will build you up.