Rahama is a former Peace Corps volunteer and created SheaYeleen.com, a social impact company that distributes quality skincare products in Whole Foods & MGM Resorts. She’s secured VC funding, traveled to 36 countries, and served as a Presidential appointee.
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- The entrepreneurial journey requires resilience.
- Things that happen to you are not meant to break you, rather, they are meant to make you stronger.
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Time Stamped Show Notes
(click the time stamp to jump directly to that point in the episode.)
- [01:14] – Rahama is a newly wed and is a travel junkie
- [01:32] – She grew up in Austin, New York, but her mother’s side of the family originated from Ghana in West Africa
- [02:13] – She lives and breathes to create social impact models
- [02:45] – Share something we don’t know about your area of expertise that as Entrepreneurs, we probably should: Every single business model can have social impact from the start
- [03:42] – “Start giving back now”
- 04:15 – EOFire partnered up with Pencils of Promise and has built 3 schools and supported multiple initiatives within these schools from the proceeds of The Freedom Journal and The Mastery Journal
- [05:51] – Worst Entrepreneurial Moment: In the fall of 2012 Rahama was preparing to launch into Whole Foods while also transitioning production to a new formulator and manufacturer in Detroit. She put everything in place with a clear timeline. Things were moving forward and Rahama was so happy. The week before the delivery, Rahama was shocked to receive an email from the manufacturer saying they weren’t going to make the delivery because they were no longer providing the service.
- [07:43] – Rahama tried calling the manufacturer for 2 hours but they didn’t pick up
- [11:37] – Persistence is nothing without resilience
- [11:58] – Whatever you go through that feels terrible is NOT meant to break you
- [12:23] – Entrepreneurial AH-HA Moment: As Rahama started Shea Yeleen she realized there was a huge difference between fair trade and living wages. One of the ideas she had came when her 2 shea butter producers traveled from Ghana to the US for her Whole Foods launch – she got the opportunity to see the marketing side of the supply chain that they belong to
- [14:47] – Make sure your stakeholders have a clear sense of what the mission and vision is for them
- [15:26] – What is the one thing you are most FIRED up about today? “Now I’m actually pulling back to figure out if there is a way for me to highlight not only my experiences as an entrepreneur, but also highlight the experiences of other entrepreneurs… I’m actually toying with the idea of creating a podcast”
- [16:46] – The Lightning Round
- What was holding you back from becoming an entrepreneur? – “Nothing”
- What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received? – “It’s not over until it’s over”
- What’s a personal habit that contributes to your success? – “Always have a backup plan”
- Share an internet resource, like Evernote, with Fire Nation – Calendly
- If you could recommend one book to our listeners, what would it be and why? – David and Goliath – “this book gave me the assurance that anything is possible”
- [19:19] – “Nothing in life is meant to break you, it’s meant to make you better”
- 19:51 – Get 30% OFF on Shea Yeleen when you use promo code: FIRE30
- 20:12 – Connect with Rahama on Instagram and on Twitter
Female Speaker: Absolutely, John.
John: Yes! Ra is a former Peace Corp volunteer and created sheayeleen.com, a social impact company that distributes quality skincare products in Whole Foods and MGM Resorts. She has secured VC funding and traveled to 36 countries and served as a presidential appointee. Ra, take a minute, fill in some gaps from that intro and give us a little glimpse of your personal life.
Rahama Wright: Yeah, thanks for having me on the show, John, I’m really excited to be here.
Rahama Wright: Well, I’m a newlywed, so right now my life is sizzling. [Laughs]
Rahama Wright: I’m a travel junkie so I’m often on the road. But 2018 I’m really going to try to ease in to expanding my life to include more downtime, you know, putting a house together and all that jazz. Um, I grew up in upstate New York, but my mother’s side of the family is from Ghana, West Africa so I swear, she hooked me up to a rice IV the day I was born, creating a rice addiction and that’s why I can’t do the Paleo diet. Yes, I know this is random, but this is my life.
John: Well, what’s not random is that as we chatted in the pre-interview and we were kinda going through a couple things, you so kindly allowed me to refer to you by your nickname which is Ra, throughout this entire interview, which you say, only special people are allowed to. So, I just wanted to publicly say thank you for that, Ra.
Rahama Wright: No problem.
John: So, what else do you we need to know about you before we kick in, anything special?
Rahama Wright: Yeah, I mean I live and breathe creating social impacting business models. That is my sweet-spot. I find ways to ensure that supply chains are ethical and I’m really passionate about figuring out how people can work jobs that create living wages. And, on the side I butter people up with Shea Yeleen’s line of body care products.
John: [Laughs] So, let me ask you this. What do you find that most entrepreneurs don’t know about social impact that you think they probably should because it could be really beneficial for everybody.
Rahama Wright: Yeah, I think the first thing is, when you’re starting your business, embed social impact into the fabric of your business model from jump. Don’t wait to become a millionaire and then say to yourself, “Oh, let me figure out how I can make social impact.” I really believe that it doesn’t matter what business you are creating, whether it’s a service-based or a product-based business, whether you’re an accountant or creating the biggest and latest technology, every single business model can have social impact right from the start. And the best way to do that is to identify a problem you are in a unique position to fix and that’s making a difference in the lives of others and figuring out how to interweave that into your model.
John: So, this is pretty important, fire nation, because the reality is a lot of people do say to themselves, “You know what? When I get rich, when I become a millionaire, or when I do this or when I do that, then I’m gonna give back”. But, that’s not the answer. The answer is start giving back now because every little bit matters. And the fact that you can start giving back now, is going to have such a compounding effect on that individual’s life, on those people’s lives, for the years that you’re just “saving up” and waiting until the right time. It’s never the right time; the right time is now, fire nation.
You know, I know that when I decided to create my first product line, it was a little – physical product line, I should say, physical products, it was scary because I didn’t really know what I was doing. I knew I was going to be making some mistakes, I knew my profit margins weren’t gonna be tiny and nothing like the virtual products that I had, but I said, hey, from day one, with the freedom journal and with the mastery journal, I want to give back. And so, I partnered up with a charity that I love, Pencils of Promise, and to date, fire nation, we are coming up on $100,000.00 gifted directly to Pencils of Promise. And what they do is, they build schools in developing countries and that has built now, coming up on, it’s fourth completed school.
So, we’re talking over three schools have been completed, the fourth is on its way. That’s four schools that wouldn’t exist if I didn’t say, “You know what? Now’s the time.” So, fire nation, now is the time. And by the way, side note, if you have a freedom or mastery journal, then you’re part of that. You’re part of giving back so, just be proud of that and see the power in that, how that made you feel good, why you can do the exact same. So, Ra, do you want to add anything to that?
Rahama Wright: No, I absolutely agree with you. I think that this idea of building impact from jump, is something that new business owners and new entrepreneurs are really thinking about seriously and so it’s not, you know, a thing of like the future, I think it’s the present. People want to support business that are making impact. It just makes sense.
John: Ra, we could talk about rainbows and unicorns all day long, all the feel-good stuff, we can do that but, that’s not what we’re going to do because that’s not the premise of entrepreneurs on fire. Which I know you know because you are an over preparer, you’re an over achiever, you know what’s coming up and that is the worst entrepreneurial moment.
Rahama Wright: Oh, gosh.
John: So, Ra, don’t hold anything back, take us there, tell us that story.
Rahama Wright: Okay, so I feel like there are so many stories I can share over the last eleven years being an entrepreneur but, one that immediately came to mind when I was thinking about this was from the fall of 2012. So, it was supposed to be an amazing fall for me. I was preparing to launch into Whole Foods in the North Atlantic region, but I was also transitioning my production to a new formulator and manufacturer in Detroit. I was really excited about working with this new company because it was run by a woman, it was a small woman-owned business, and I really liked the owner. She was cool, we like – clicked, we vibed. And I really believe in working with people that you have a connection to, I think it just makes the experience so much better.
And we had been working together for a few months, going back and forth with samples and approvals and she just seemed so fantastic. I had a contract in place, so you know, I made sure I dotted the I’s, crossed the T’s, I had submitted a purchase order, I had put down a deposit, we had a very clear timeline for final production and delivery to my warehouse. And things were, you know, moving forward. I was excited. I was so happy. I just felt like the universe had opened up and all my wildest dreams were coming you know, to fruition.
So, the week before she was supposed to deliver, she sent me an email and said, “I’m not going to be able to make this delivery, and I’m no longer providing this service”. And I was like, “Wait, what?” It was so unexpected, out of the blue, so I immediately of course, called her because I also think that sometimes with email, you can’t get everything. You have to pick up the phone and talk to someone. She wouldn’t pick up the phone. I was like, okay, I called her again, in like two hours, I was like, let me give it a little bit of time, I called her again, no pick up. I then started to panic. I had this like, sinking feeling in my stomach. On one hand, I had this great opportunity to launch my product in Whole Foods. I mean, it’s everyone’s dream come true, let’s get our products in Whole Foods. On the other hand, if this deal fell through, I wasn’t gonna have inventory.
I had already paid her, so I was out several thousands of dollars, so I was in freak out panic mode. Now, I’m not a crier. If you ask anyone in my life, something really, really terrible has to happen before I shed a tear. It’s just like, my personality. [Laughs] But I had, you know, I got on the train, I was walking the eight blocks home, and I just started balling. I – this like, overwhelming sense of hopelessness just came over me. I felt so alone, I mean, this was someone I trusted, it was someone that I had vetted, but of course, I had not visited her site because I’m in DC, I was like, this lady sounds great, she came with amazing references. We had been working together for a few months.
And so, this tremendous like, I just felt so hopeless because I had trusted this person. And, it was kind of in the early evening so there wasn’t a lot of people around me. But, there was this teenage boy a few feet in front of me, and when I say I was crying, I was like, sobbing like, snot coming out of my eyes, like –
John: We’re talking the ugly cry. The ugly cry is coming.
Rahama Wright: John, it was the ugly cry. The Oprah, ugly cry. That was me. [Laughing]
Rahama Wright: And so, this teenage boy – and you know, teenagers tend to have a bad rap, right?
John: They do.
Rahama Wright: He was like a few feet in front of me and he could hear me like, losing it. And he turned and looked at me and then he stopped and waited for me. And, you know, turned and said, “Ma’am, are you ok?” And I looked at him through my tears and I said, “Thank you” and in that moment, he probably didn’t realize that simple turning around and like, checking on this stranger – what it meant to me in that moment. I was so grateful and thankful. I felt less alone and I also had this like, hope in humanity. So, I got home, I wiped my tears and I eventually – I got back to work. I was like, you know, I need to figure out a solution to this. Eventually, I was able to get my money back from her, I figured out a backup plan, and ultimately, I made the delivery. But this experience to me, was so much about resilience.
As entrepreneurs, we go through so much. Every bad moment is meant to build our resilience. Because we hear a lot about persistence, people talk a lot about persistence, but you can’t be persistent without being resilient. And so even though that was one of the most terrible moments in my entrepreneurial journey, it was also a moment that just made me stronger and better.
John: Resiliency, fire nation, it is just a word that we don’t talk about enough. We talk about persistence, we talk about tenacity but you need resilience, resilience, resilience. Ra, I want to challenge you here, one short sentence, what do you want to make sure fire nation gets from your worst moment. What’s the take-away?
Rahama Wright: Whatever you go through on your entrepreneurial journey that feels terrible is not meant to break you. It’s meant to make you better.
John: Ra, I want to talk about one of the greatest ideas you’ve had to date. I mean, obviously social impact is a huge and great idea, and you continue to act upon that and execute. But, what’s one of those lightbulb moments that you’ve had? Tell us that story.
Rahama Wright: Everyone talks about creating fair trade models. And creating business models that have impact in supply chains. And, I think that’s so important but as I was developing Shea Yeleen, I started noticing that there’s a huge difference between fair trade and living wages. And so, I wanted to build into my model a process and system that would allow the women who are part of my supply chain, to generate living wages and not only generate living wages, but also have a greater understanding of the supply chain that they’re a part of. And so, one of the ideas that I had that was like, absolutely fantastic, was when we launched in Whole Foods markets in the North Atlantic region, I actually was able to get two of our shea butter producers to travel from Ghana, Northern Ghana, to the US.
And so, these are women who are from villages in Northern Ghana, who never even, you know, traveled anywhere else. And, they’re now on a plane leaving their villages, to come to the US, and actually get an opportunity to see the market side of the supply chain that they belong to, to meet with our buyers, to meet with our customers. And it was absolutely fantastic. It created trust between myself and the women, in terms of them understanding how we create the products on this end, because we do finishing on this end in terms of packaging, but also what goes in to getting a product on shelves. It gave them the opportunity to share their stories to our buyers, and also gave them the opportunity to meet with our customers and have an understanding in terms of everything that we do in the cooperative, to ensure quality. Because if you don’t have a good quality product, you can’t sell that product.
So, it was just one of those ideas of figuring out a way to not only achieve the mission of creating living wages, but also give visibility to women in our supply chain and give them an opportunity to experience the market side in a way that would give them a greater sense of this business model that they’re an integral part of.
John: Ra, one sentence, what’s the take-away here, what can fire nation use from your idea to apply to our life, to our business?
Rahama Wright: When you’re building your business model, make sure that all stakeholders have a clear sense of what the vision, the mission is for them, so that you can have greater buy-in and ensure that everyone understands their role and everyone understands how they benefit from your model.
John: Ra, you want to take things back as far as, not travel so much, maybe be home a little more, spend time with your husband, like, give me you know, one of the things your excited about, but take maybe like, one minute here and break down the one thing, business-wise, that you’re most excited about today.
Rahama Wright: Hit it on the nail. I’m absolutely, personally excited about building a strong marriage with my amazing husband, but that’s for a different conversation. Professionally, I’ve had some good luck getting into retail, getting into the hotel chain, but now I’m actually pulling back a bit to figure out if there is a way for me to highlight, not only my experiences as an entrepreneur, but also highlight other experiences of entrepreneurs, particularly around the experience of having a comeback. Like, going through a moment that could have destroyed your business or going through a moment that you know, could have hampered your growth, but you were able to figure out how to come back. So, I’m actually toying with this idea of creating a podcast, John.
Rahama Wright: So, I’ll be taking one of your courses to make sure I do it right. But, it’s very, kind of outside my normal realm, so it’s something that I’m really excited about to explore, and see if this is something that I can grow.
John: Well, Ra, the course is free. It’s freepodcastcourse.com so you can’t go wrong. Start there and you’ll know how to create, grow and monetize in 15 days. That goes for you too, fire nation. And if you think Ra’s been dropping value bombs so far, she has and more coming up in the lighting round when we get back from thanking our sponsors. Ra, are you ready to rock the lighting round?
Rahama Wright: I am so ready to rock and roll.
John: What was holding you back from becoming an entrepreneur?
Rahama Wright: Nothing. I started Shea Yeleen right after my Peace Corps experience in my early 20’s, with zero business experience, I honestly had not business creating a business, and the idea that I couldn’t do it never entered my mind. I blame it on being youthful and instead of making a ton of excuses; I just decided to make a ton of mistakes.
John: And fire nation, you don’t have to see that whole staircase to take that first step. But just take the first step. And, what’s the best business advice you’ve ever received.
Rahama Wright: So, it wasn’t necessarily business advice, and it was on accident. It’s a quote from Yogi Berra, “It’s not over ‘til it’s over”, and a customer had sent me an email with a question, and the quote was in her signature line. I was having one of those terrible days and the quote really spoke to me. And any time I feel like giving up, I just repeat those words. It’s not over until it’s over. And it just gives me kind of like – it inspires me to keep going.
John: What’s a personal habit that contributes to your success?
Rahama Wright: Always have a backup plan. I’ve learned to problem solve by creating solutions for any possible scenario I can come up with. You know, like a contractor pulling out of a deal last minute.
John: Or something like that, I’ve heard a story about that one time.
Rahama Wright: Yeah.
John: Ra, can you recommend just one internet resource?
Rahama Wright: Calandee for scheduling appointments because I live by my calendar.
John: Recommend one book and share why.
Rahama Wright: David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell was so inspiring to me. Sometimes when you have a big goal, an idea, a vision – it feels too big to accomplish it, and this book gave me the assurance that anything is possible.
John: That book will always have a special place in my heart, because I can – I’ll never forget, my first time ever in San Francisco which was like, four years ago, landed and I was like, “You know what? They best way to get to see the city is to walk the city”. So, I went to Audible, I downloaded what I thought was going to be the best book that was available at the time which was David and Goliath, and I listened to the whole book walking the streets of San Francisco.
Rahama Wright: Oh, wow.
John: It was a super-cool experience, I really loved it.
Rahama Wright: That’s awesome.
John: Let’s end on fire, Ra, with you giving us a parting piece of guidance, the best way that we can connect with you and then we’ll say goodbye.
Rahama Wright: I will say it again which is nothing in life is meant to break you, it’s meant to make you better. And I think it’s so important that, as we’re looking at building resilience that we realize that some of these uncomfortable experiences that we have, whether it’s in our entrepreneurial journey or other places in life, if we are able to really take a step back and reflect on that experience, there’s always a lesson to be learned. And so, nothing is meant to break you, it’s meant to make you better. We are offering a deal to everyone, 30 percent off sheayeleen.com. Just use code FIRE30 and you’ll be able to get that discount. And you can use that code at sheayeleen.com, you can follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram at sheayeleen and you can follow me at rahamawright on Instagram and rahama2wright on Twitter.
John: Fire nation, you’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with and you’ve been hanging out with Ra and JLD today, so keep up the yeet and head over eofire.com. Just type Ra in the search bar, R-A, we’re gonna make it happen. Ra, and her show and this page will pop right up with everything that we were talking about today. These are the best show notes in the biz. Timestamps, links galore. Of course, head directly over to sheayeleen.com, that’s S-H-E-A-Y-E-L-E-E-N dot com, sheayeleen. And use promo code FIRE 30 for 30 percent off. Ra, thank you for sharing your journey with fire nation today, for that we salute you and we’ll catch you on the flip side.
Rahama Wright: Thanks so much, this was so much fun.
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