Inspired by the 2023 theme for International Women’s Day—Embracing Equity—we’re taking a look inward to highlight the lived experiences of our diverse team.
In this live-streamed episode of Brave Conversations with LCW, Host Larry Baker was joined by LCW colleagues Alisa Kolodizner (LCW Co-Owner & Managing Partner) and Tamara Thorpe (LCW Principal Consultant, Real Mentors Network Founder) as they reflected on their entrepreneurial journeys—including motivations for beginning their career path, barriers they faced as women in business, and takeaways for supporting women colleagues.
Show Notes & Highlights
05:12 Tamara shares her experience growing up in an entrepreneurial family
07:50 Alisa tells us how immigrating to the United States shaped her journey
11:22 Alisa and Tamara discuss the importance of having mentors and a support network when starting out
14:25 Tamara on embracing unknowns on your constantly evolving business
17:36 Tamara speaks to the challenges of being a Black woman entrepreneur
21:39 Alisa reflects on her desire not to be a minority in her business
26:29 Alisa shares stories about the importance of resilient women role models
29:49 Tamara advocates for supportive networks for women as a mentor herself
32:58 Tamara debunks myths about starting a business
35:16 Alisa explains the importance in advocating for yourself through different parts of your journey
Larry Baker: Hello everyone, and welcome to Brave Conversations with LCW Live. I am your host, Larry Baker. I use the pronouns of he and him, and I am absolutely thrilled to welcome you to this special edition of our livestream series as we are joining you on International Women’s Day.
To share some reflections, we two women business owners and entrepreneurs that we are so lucky to have as part of our very own LCW team. Now, for those of you that may be unfamiliar with LCW, we are a global DE&I training, consulting, and translation firm that partners with organizations to help them develop global mindset and to help them develop their skills and their systems to succeed in a culturally diverse world.
Today I am extremely fortunate to be joined by Alisa Kolodizner—who is our co-owner and managing partner and the founder of Cordelia Capital—and Tamara Thorpe—who is a principal consultant with LCW and Real Mentors Network founder. I will have them do a more formal introduction in a moment.
But before we do that, we want to take a moment to highlight the chat function that’s available across today’s livestream so that you can give your reactions and questions throughout the entire conversation. Please do us a favor and put your comments in the chat, and we will answer them throughout the conversation.
So with that being said, I’m going to start by having Alisa give us an introduction and then Tamara, you can jump right in afterwards.
Alisa Kolodizner: Thank you, Larry. Hello, everyone. My name is Alisa Kolodizner. I am the managing partner/co-CEO of LCW, and I’m also the founder of Cordelia Capital.
A little bit about myself… I became an entrepreneur fairly early in my life. I was about five years old when I first started selling bracelets; I didn’t realize that that journey was a journey that I can take at that age. I went to work in corporate America right after school and then went back to the entrepreneurial journey a little over three years ago now.
Larry Baker: Awesome. Thank you so much, Alisa. Tamara, you’re up. Please do an introduction and tell us a little bit about yourself.
Tamara Thorpe: Thanks so much, Larry, for the invitation to be here for International Women’s Day. As you have said, my name is Tamara Thorpe, and I am one of the principal consultants at LCW.
But I am also someone who’s been a longtime entrepreneur. My most recent venture is the Real Mentors Network. Mentoring is something that I’m particularly passionate about, and so we’ve built a platform that brings mentors and mentees together. All of this work is really built upon the work that I’ve done in the last 20 years around building thriving teams and healthy organizations. I’m really helping organizations explore concepts of culture to create thriving cultures and productive and effective leaders.
And so I’m happy to be here today to talk about my own entrepreneurial journey.
Larry Baker: Fantastic, Tamara. Thank you and Alisa for being with us today, and I really wanna dig into that last statement that you just made, Tamara. So since you are here and excited to share your entrepreneurial story, I’m gonna ask that you kick us off and maybe tell us some things that might have motivated you to have this mindset. Tell us a little bit about your story and then some of those motivations, if you would.
Tamara Thorpe: Thanks. It was a blessing and a curse; I grew up with parents who were entrepreneurs, and so that exposed me at a very early age to what it’s like to have an idea and realize it into a business and also know that that experience comes with highs and lows.
But I think for me, growing up seeing that exemplified in both my mom and my dad were really modeled for me what I have loved about being an entrepreneur: the creativity and the innovation and the autonomy and independence. For me, it was always a matter of having my own business. It wasn’t will I, it was really just a matter of when.
When I was doing my undergraduate—while I thought about all the possible careers—I had always had a vision for being an entrepreneur. So even in my first career when I was teaching I had also started my own event planning business. And that was really the beginning of always kinda having a side hustle.
Then it was in 2011 that I really made a commitment to having a business that I was focusing all my efforts and energy into, and that’s when I started my work as the Millennials Mentor, where I was providing coaching and training to really support the next generation of leaders.
But it really was that inspiration of having entrepreneurs model that journey. I know for myself, I feel like I have of been very prepared for the highs and lows that come with being an entrepreneur.
Larry Baker: Tamara, thank you so much for that insight. You reiterated the old cliche that “how can they be it if they don’t see it?” So because that was modeled for you by your parents, it was almost like you said, not if but when you were going to become an entrepreneur. Thank you so much for sharing.
Alisa, it’s your turn. I know you touched upon it a little bit earlier how as a very young person you were selling bracelets, but let’s dig into your entrepreneurial story. Tell us what motivated you to become an entrepreneur.
Alisa Kolodizner: Sure, and thank you as well for asking that question and for also holding space for this conversation.
It’s interesting because it took me a little bit to truly pinpoint where did that entrepreneurial influence come from. My family and I immigrated from the former Soviet Union. I came here as a child, and that really was true entrepreneurship. My family came to the United States, each of them with a suitcase, and they started over.
I didn’t, growing up, identify that that was the terminology associated to entrepreneurship until further along, but what was interesting is I always observed it. So my grandmother raised me; I watched her be an entrepreneur in the United States, where she had to start over. She was a pediatrician in the former Soviet Union and came here, didn’t speak the language, and had to make means while my mom went to school and my dad was working full-time so that they could gimme a better life.
I started working pretty early on just because I wanted to be independent. I wanted to be able to provide for myself—didn’t wanna be a burden I guess is the best way to sometimes think of it. And so I had multiple jobs as early as the age of five, and then during school I used to have a couple jobs while I was going to school. At one point in college I had five different jobs, and then when I graduated, I learned about the aspect of having multiple revenue streams.
That’s actually how I started knowingly being an entrepreneur, right out of school. A friend and I started a consulting organization focused on multiple revenue streams, and at the same time I also entered financial services. It was interesting because I started my career in corporate, but at the same time also started my entrepreneurial journey.
Unfortunately had to stop the entrepreneurial one for a bit, just because working in the financial service industry, there’s quite a bit of what you can and cannot do. But what I wanted to do was always how can I maintain the ability to also look at multiple revenue streams and having more control over what my day-to-day looks like.
Larry Baker: Okay, awesome. Thank you so much, Alisa, for sharing that for me.
Now, both of you gave me some really nice stories, and it seems like everything was so smooth and it just ran so effectively. But I’m pretty sure that there were some things that each of you wishes that you would’ve known at the very beginning of your journey.
Before I open that door up to you to respond to that, I’m gonna ask Alisa to kick it off first, and then Tamara, you can follow up. What were some of those things, Alisa, that you really wish that someone would’ve told you when you started out being an entrepreneur?
Alisa Kolodizner: Well, I don’t have to say this, but it’s tough, right? It’s interesting because I did not grow up knowingly with entrepreneurs, so this aspect of being an entrepreneur wasn’t really spoken about within my household. It took me some time to gain the confidence to take together my skillsets and my passion in order to truly be an entrepreneur full-time.
You would say that, “Well, you started so early. You were five, right? But then you walked towards a different direction.” And it was always there—it was always something that I was very passionate about. I just didn’t necessarily know that my skillset and my passion can come together, and I could be an entrepreneur.
What I would’ve loved to have told my younger self was to take that chance and to find folks around you that not only support you but can also be there for you, be mentors for you, provide you examples so that you can fulfill your passion.
So that’s what I ended up finding, but it came when I consciously made the effort. It wasn’t right in front of me. It may have been, but until you speak it into being real, you’re not going to surround yourself or find the folks in your network to support you and to propel you into that journey. That’s what learned a little bit further.
Larry Baker: Awesome. Thank you so much, Alisa.
So Tamara, this is probably right in your wheelhouse because I think that Alisa has set you up really nicely. She said, “Boy, I really wish that I would’ve known about mentoring relationships.” So even though it was innate in your upbringing, what were some of the things that you wished that you would’ve known very early in your journey becoming an entrepreneur?
Tamara Thorpe: Yeah. I appreciate Alisa sharing that cuz I think one of the things I did know was that I didn’t have to go it alone, and I was able to surround myself with small advisory groups, which were friends, colleagues, mentors, people who could help me and support me through that journey.
And that has been so instrumental. Sometimes when we set out to go on an entrepreneurial journey, we have our own ideas and we might be fearful to reach out for help, but—as Alisa mentioned—having that support makes all the difference in the world.
But the things that I didn’t know, there were three. First was that there were really things that I was going to have to learn. There were things that I didn’t know that I was going to have to learn. Basic accounting, that’s not in my wheelhouse. That was something that I had to really go out and learn, and then eventually learn that there’s only so much I need to know and can do. Then eventually, you hire an expert. Knowing how much you need to know and the right time to bring in an expert, that is always a challenge but an important part of the process.
So knowing what I don’t know, that was one of the challenges and a part of the ongoing journey, which is also the second thing. I think the second thing that has been really helpful to me was embracing the constant evolution of your entrepreneurship or your business. As we sometimes think of it very static, you might start with an initial idea, but over time that idea will evolve and grow and shift and change. And being able to embrace that I think is really important.
I think one of the hardest or most painful entrepreneurial journeys I learned was how to talk about money and set my worth, and I think that’s one of the things that women more often than not are not taught to talk about money or evaluate their expertise and their experience numerically. Early in my consulting, I was really undercutting myself, and it wasn’t until a client told me one of the reasons they didn’t consider a proposal was because I was charging too little. And because I was charging so little, they didn’t put value on what I was offering, and that was an extremely expensive and painful loss.
But it taught me that I had to learn to talk about money. I had to learn to identify my own worth and value and be comfortable asking for what I believe I’m worth, even if people push back.
Larry Baker: Yeah. Tamara, thank you so much for sharing that insight, but your comment has led me to wanna ask you to take it to a different level of intersectionality, if you will. Because I want you to talk a little bit more about those challenges and barriers in your journey, but I want you to put on the lens of the additional responsibility as being a Black woman entrepreneur. So can you touch upon that just a little bit more in regards to your challenges?
Tamara Thorpe: Yeah, I think it’s been an interesting aspect of the journey. Initially, as I said, because I had parents who were entrepreneurs, I never really thought about what might be external forces at play that could impact my experience. Once I started integrating myself into the kind of entrepreneurial ecosystem that exists both within my community and across the United States—right into that world of venture capitalists and startup funds—I realized that that space is not an entirely inclusive space, and that as I was pitching business ideas, pitching programs that getting my voice heard and recognized was extremely challenging.
There are a lot more resources out there for white male entrepreneurs and that they are far more likely to get the kind of credibility or benefit of the doubt for investors than women are, and then women of color, right? So when we look at the numbers in the startup space, we know that Black women are the least likely to receive VC, right? I mean, the number of pitch competitions that I submitted applications for and was denied, denied, denied. And I can speak in my own community, I could go to fives startup pitch events and see the same five guys pitching their business and winning money every time and having people say, “Tamara, you’re great. We love your business. We love what you’re doing,” but it never showed up in terms of stage-time, facetime, financial investment.
Today, I think we’re seeing some changes. Google Startups now has an incredible new startup program specifically for Black founders. We’re seeing things like Glamazon and the Glammies that are creating a virtual platform for Black business owners.
I guess saying “unexpected” feels a little naive, right? But certainly it has always felt like there’s tons of money out there that lots of folks are getting, so it was really quite surprising to me that the amount of effort into building those relationships, creating those networks… eventually it paid off for me, certainly. But there were a lot of doors that were closed with no explanation that over time, I realized I need to start really honing in and building relationships that were gonna advance my career cuz there were a lot of doors that just weren’t open.
Larry Baker: Awesome. Thank you so much. I appreciate that, Tamara. So Alisa, I’m gonna ask you to jump in. Same type of question, but here’s one thing that I do want to share with our audience: we understand that there isn’t a universal experience for women in business, right? These are just both of your perspectives when it comes to your journey. So we know that’s the framework of where your answer is coming from.
We appreciate the diverse perspectives with this particular question when we talk about what are some of the challenges or barriers that you faced, Alisa, as you went on your journey.
Alisa Kolodizner: Yeah, thank you. And Tamara, as you were speaking, it was reminding me of some of the experiences that I saw when I was raising capital.
So as the owner of Cordelia Capital, part of what I was doing is looking to gain investors, right? So gain investors that would invest into my acquisition, and what was interesting is… well, the first thing was all of the investors that I talked to were white men, and it was very difficult for me to find women folks of color to be my investors. And that’s actually one of the first times outside of financial services—where I spent the majority of my career prior to starting Cordelia Capital—where I started seeing the problem continue to persist.
And so I found myself in many different rooms where I honestly had to also say “no.” I knew that the terms that I was being given were not fair for me. I came into my entrepreneurial journey with Cordelia specifically at a more confident point in my life where I knew my worth, and so when I was being given terms that did not reflect what I knew my worth was I said “no.”
And there were also instances where I was told that investors weren’t interested in me because I wasn’t comfortable with what they were sharing. I wasn’t comfortable with becoming their employee. When I thought of the word “entrepreneur,” it wasn’t to be a minority owner of my own organization—it was to continue to be a majority owner. And what ended up happening for me with Cordelia Capital is the money that I raised was actually all from investors that were individuals.
So I thought initially that I had to go find it in venture capital, I had to go find it with the hedge fund, and what ended up happening is I realized after quite a few meetings is those weren’t the terms that I was comfortable with.
Larry Baker: Wow.
Alisa Kolodizner: Those weren’t necessarily the audience that had seen me before and what I was capable of. And so I moved on, and I moved on to working with investors that were individuals. And so all of my investors within Cordelia Capital, they aren’t companies. These are folks that either are in financial services or I had had the opportunity of working with or were mentors to me throughout my career. I’m very fortunate that that that’s where my journey has taken me.
But it took some time. It took some time to get to the point where I built up that confidence. Prior to Cordelia Capital, I did work in financial services where I was the majority of the time the only woman in the room. And I coached financial advisors, I coached companies, independent advisory firms that were owned by white men, and I was typically the only woman in the room.
So it gave me this understanding that not only is this a statistic that exists, it’s factual and I’m living it. I came to the point where I wanted to change it, and so I wanted to be part of the solution and how to create spaces for everyone to be able to have the foundation to succeed.
So that’s a little bit about the journey and where it took me.
Larry Baker: Yeah. So, Alisa, I know that you mentioned that your family migrated here. Were there some specific challenges having English being a second language that kinda impacted your entrepreneurial journey? If so, can you kind of elaborate on that for me a little bit?
Alisa Kolodizner: Sure. I appreciate you asking that. It’s interesting because growing up I had quite a few experiences where I noticed how my grandmother was treated and my mom as well because they both have accents and how that impacted them. But also I grew up watching the resilience, and so my grandmother—and I always bring up the story cause it means a lot to me—but I didn’t get into a school that was a lottery system, and it was intended for more affluent folks in that neighborhood. And so my grandmother took me by the hand and took me to the school, brought my report card, went to the principal and said, “This is my granddaughter. I raised her. She’s a straight-A student. You need to let her into your school.”
And that experience really shaped me. And just in general, the way I observed her is just that, and that resilience really is critical in the life of entrepreneur. Being an entrepreneur, a lot of times you are walking down a path that is the first time you’ve walked through it and potentially the first time that anyone within your family or network has either. And so being comfortable with the unknown, is, is really important.
And so for me personally growing up with English being my second language, I didn’t speak English ‘til I was five, and watching that resilience within my own family—with my grandmother, with my mom who started over and became a doctor of pharmacy in the United States—and some of the experiences that both of them had either shared with me or I was with them when those experiences occurred.
They really strengthened my own confidence in my own abilities because I’m fortunate to have two very strong women that really were mentors to me. That definitely shaped my own ability, my confidence in taking the biggest risk, and that risk is the most rewarding on myself.
Larry Baker: Yeah. And Alisa, thank you so much for sharing that personal story. That perfectly embodies the whole concept of: if they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring the table. And you brought the chair too! Your grandma said, “No, no, no, no. I don’t know what you think. my granddaughter belongs here.” I love that type of support and someone to really believe in you.
So Tamara, it’s your turn. I want you to talk to us about… we talk a lot about people talking the talk but not being able to walk the walk. I want to hear from you, and of course Alisa as well, what can we do to support our women colleagues?
Tamara Thorpe: Yeah, as I said, we see a growing number of opportunities and platforms for women in business, yet it’s still quite small, right? If we’re looking in the world of investment and venture capitalists and where funds are going, the most recent stat is that out of all the funds, only 2.7% go to women and less than 1% go to women of color.
Now as bleak as that may seem, I think that there’s a certain amount of bootstrapping that folks can do. We live in a time where people can be scrappy and agile and don’t need a lot of investment. I have built the Real Mentors Network with zero investment. It has come from investing my own funds, identifying my own resources, and being—what’s the word—innovative, and thoughtful, and planning.
Larry Baker: Resourceful.
Tamara Thorpe: Yeah, resourceful and taking the time. And part of the reason that I’m able to do that is because of the incredible network of people that I have around me. I know that both Alisa and I’ve used the word “mentoring,” but I cannot overstate how important it is to have mentors. And when you go to build a business, to take that idea and try to convert it into something, you can monetize a business that you can own and be proud of that having a network of people who are gonna support you in decision making, in ideating, in challenging your thinking and ideas to push you to think beyond what the original scope of your idea may have been that really helps you advance.
That’s really critical, and one of the reasons that I’ve created the Real Mentors Network is because people go, “Having a mentor is great. Where am I gonna get a mentor?” And I always say to folks, “You know, mentors are all around you. They’re people you’re already connected to.” And sometimes it’s a matter of formalizing that relationship and saying, “Hey, I’m about to take on this project, and I’m gonna really need some mentoring. Can I rely on you for the next three months, six months, to give me support and insights. And sometimes it is a matter of reaching out to people you don’t know. Before I built the Real Mentors Network, I’ve relied on platforms like LinkedIn to connect with other professionals who are doing the things I want to be doing and to find out how did they do it. How did they get started?
I think very often people think a couple of things—they have myths that “I can’t possibly create a business cuz it already exists.” That’s a myth. Think of all the places where you can go and get a hamburger. People are going to continue to make good hamburgers and sell hamburgers. You don’t have to have the only hamburger, you just have to have a good hamburger, right? And so you don’t need a completely unique idea—you just need a good product, a good version of it.
Also people believe that if they tell someone that that person’s gonna run away with their idea, and so they’ll hold on to their entrepreneurial idea. And that’s also a myth. Very rarely does that happen, right? More often than not, people support you in your ideas, and it really is inviting people to be a part of that journey.
And for us, when people come to us to be able to say, “Yes, I wanna support, I wanna help. I’m willing to be there and support you,” I think that there’s a real opportunity.
That also being said, there are growing programs to support women and particularly women of color in entrepreneurship, and I think that there’s an opportunity for us as people in our community to support those platforms.
Larry Baker: Yeah, absolutely. Yep.
Tamara Thorpe: To support those platforms either by going to their events, spreading the word about them, letting folks know that they exist. Because that sense of building community—whether you’re doing it locally in your network, whether you’re doing it nationally, globally, or virtually— having a network is really what is going to make a difference.
Larry Baker: Yeah. Absolutely it echoes with me, Tamara, when you talk about some of the challenges within our community is support a Black-owned business. It’s okay to do that, so I appreciate you sharing that insight.
Okay. Alisa, your turn. Tell us or tell the audience what can we do to support our women colleagues? What are your thoughts on that?
Alisa Kolodizner: Some of the things that I wanted to double-click on a little bit more is choosing who is your mentor. What I learned throughout my entrepreneurial journey is those mentors will also change. So as your journey evolves, as you are at different points in what your needs are, your mentors may change and that’s okay.
For me, a little bit to get comfortable with that—because initially I was so grateful that folks would be open to being mentors to me—it came to a point where I realized that sometimes the mentors that I started working with may become different as I go further down the entrepreneurial journey because everyone’s experiences are different. And depending on what my needs are as an entrepreneur, it’s okay to go to different people when you have different needs throughout that journey. So that’s one thing that I’ll state that I thought was very important throughout my journey.
Then the other one is, really being vocal about what you want. Because if you are not an advocate for yourself, if you are not stating, “Here’s what I’m looking to accomplish,” you can’t expect for people around you to know how to support you. And that was something that was really meaningful for me throughout my journey is that realization that unless I am making others aware of what I’m hoping to accomplish, they aren’t necessarily going to know how to support me and provide the resources that I may need—whether it’s introducing me to a mentor, which did happen when I started stating, “Here’s what I’m looking to accomplish.” It became, “Oh, let me introduce you to X, Y, and Z,” and I would take it from there. But if I hadn’t mentioned this was what I was looking to accomplish, it would’ve most likely not become an introduction to someone who did ultimately become a mentor to me.
The other piece I’ll state is it’s really important for folks to pursue what they’re both passionate about as well as finding that connection to their purpose, and people hear it. It’s when you are truly doing what is most meaningful to you. You state it into existence, right? You really talk about it more, and you’ll find yourself in that network. You will speak it into existence, I guess is one of the things that I’ve learned and thought through.
And then the last piece that I’ll state as well is the importance of follow up because I learned this earlier in my career. My skillset was always more so around sales. And so what I learned earlier in my career is the importance of follow up. Because you may have had the best conversation with someone and you may have stated exactly what you’re looking to accomplish, but after that conversation ended, they moved on with their day. And they moved on with what’s important to them in their day-to-day.
So if you are not following up, if you are not sending that email, encouraging that next conversation, asking that question, you can’t necessarily expect for someone to reach back out to you and express that interest. I would love for more folks to reach out to individuals to mentor, but what we also have to know as mentees that it is important to have those follow ups. It is important to always have those next steps because that is what will support you moving forward at the speed that you’d like. Instead of sitting there and waiting, it’s important also to proactively reach out.
Larry Baker: Awesome. Thank you so much, Alisa. Thank you so much, Tamara. This has been such an awesome conversation. I can’t think of a better way to kick off International Women’s Day, and I wanted to touch base with our audience just to let ’em know it doesn’t stop here.
We really hope that you take what you learned and share it with your friends, share it with your coworkers, even share it with family members, And if you want to know more about the Real Mentors Network, you can visit realmentors.net. If you want to partner with us at LCW to continue to have these conversations in your work, please absolutely let us know. You can contact LCW at languageandculture.com.
Thank you so much again for joining us, Alisa and Tamara. I think this has been a wonderful conversation, and I cannot wait to see what happens from this session. This has been Brave Conversations with LCW Live. Thank you so much. Thank you everyone.
Tamara Thorpe: Thank you, everyone.
Alisa Kolodizner: Thank you.