Naoma Serna-Zahn of Nuevo Studio: “Support”

Support. No one can do this alone. Finding support either in a networking arrangement, mentorship program, mastermind, friends, or family is crucial. The more support you can garner the better. You need people who will offer you advice, know when to encourage you, know when to push you, and know when you need to have a mini break down and give you space.

As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Naoma Serna-Zahn.

Naoma Serna-Zahn is a multi-award winning graphic designer and is the Founder and Creative Director Nuevo Studio, she helps women and multi-cultural organizations attract higher-paying clients through strategic design. She is half Mexican and half American and pulls from her two cultures, travel, and experiences to create memorable brands.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

Curiosity has always been part of my life, I was the toddler that annoyed everyone with the “why” questions and I had the need to understand things. In college I bounced around from majors and actually finished with two degrees and 2 minors due to this curiosity. When I found graphic design I knew I found something that bought to life my love of art. Yet, when I discovered Brand Strategy I discovered I could combine my graphic design skills with my insatiable curiosity. Now, why I started Nuevo Studio, is due to two things. The need of having more than 2 weeks of paid of vacation and the agency I worked at out of school and our industry in general in my city simply didn’t take women entrepreneurs as serious as men. It was blatantly obvious to me that these women needed another woman who understood them, took them serious and made them look kickass.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

I think the most interesting thing that happens when you start your own company is the sheer audacity in yourself. You learn really quickly that its all up to you and you have to be ok with going after big things and facing rejection countless times. There are a lot of habits and mindsets you have to break to run a successful business and it includes a lot of personal development and personal healing to overcome some of the mental obstacles you have.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Well its funny now, but not so much in the moment. We had a horrible client that refused to pay her final invoice. This, unfortunately, is typical in a creative field. I eventually had to get my attorney involved to get her to pay the invoice. My mistake here was to combine my creative self with my business self. Since then I developed a business persona, Barry, and he is in charge of all business, invoice, contracts, etc yet its just me coming from a man’s email and honestly, I’ve never had to deal with this sort of thing ever again.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

There are many people who I attribute to my success. First it has to be my husband, Harrison, he has seen all the mental break downs, the wanting to quit, the joyful moments, and has fully supported me and encouraged me to continue. There is an amazing group of women in my community who are all business owners and we typically all hangout at The Treasury and having those women that support and encourage you rather than pull you down is incredibly needed. Another mentor of mine has been Chris Do, from The Futur, his knowledge of all things design with business is vast and his courses, podcasts, and YouTube series has helped me overcome a lot of those mental hurdles and encouraged me to keep learning.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?

Their own limiting belief or those around them. Starting a company is a big risk. From a young age, girls are taught to be more risk adverse and be cautious. I’ve seen this in adulthood… when men decide to start a business everyone is behind them and no one seems to “worry” about it, however, when I see capable women say they want to start a business the biggest things they tell me are all the doubts their own family and friends cast on to them.. essentially killing the idea before they have had a chance to take the risk to see if the idea can come to fruition.

Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?

As a society we truly need to encourage girls to take risks, to accept rejection, to pick back up as these are key traits to running a business. If you are a woman that has an idea I would also suggest creating more safe spaces where women can talk about business ventures, ideas, advice, etc. to share with other women that their ideas are possible and that limiting beliefs are imposed on you, you are not born with them. We need to take women seriously.

This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?

There are ton of statistics that showcase when a woman becomes wealthy her community benefits from that way more than when a man achieves the same success. But in my mind, to create a more diverse, empathetic, and thriving society we need more women at the helm and more women in places of power to propel the change we need in our society. Women can embody the saying “a rising tide lifts all ships” when they put their mind to it.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?

The glamour. Our society appreciates being busy, being powerful, etc. We see it in movies, tv shows, books, etc. Our society glamorizes the appeal to the point that people strive for that. I would also say, people don’t see the risks you take to make things happen and the constant taking of risks. Another myth is that if you work hard everything will work out when that is not the case. You encounter a lot of rejection in business and have to be ok with getting back up and trying again.

Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?

No. And that is ok. There are also people who are great founders but not great leaders. To be a great founder you have to have grit and resilience. In the beginning there is this constant “OMG What am I doing?” Feeling rollercoaster that hits you. Some people do not thrive in those work environments and that is fine. I believe social media has glamorized entrepreneurship where people think that’s the only way for them or if they are entrepreneurs and want to seek another job people see them as failures because they didn’t persist. The best thing you can do for yourself is to be honest and be in tune with your needs and how you thrive. If you like challenges, risks, or cutting a path for yourself being a Founder may be for you. If you prefer structure and designated roles a “regular job” may be for you. But not job is stable.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, what are the “Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder?” (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Support. No one can do this alone. Finding support either in a networking arrangement, mentorship program, mastermind, friends, or family is crucial. The more support you can garner the better. You need people who will offer you advice, know when to encourage you, know when to push you, and know when you need to have a mini break down and give you space.
  2. Focus. Once you start a business its really easy to keep up some of the momentum but this can lead to burnout quickly. Having focus on what you want to do, who you want to help, what the mission is, how you will accomplish this will be what helps you get through the hard days, hard moments, etc.
  3. Being ok with being wrong. You need to have a growth mindset and constantly being open to learning from books, podcasts, YouTube, other people, talks, etc.
  4. Confidence. This goes along with the mindset shift that really needs to happen. You need to be confident in your pricing, in how you approach a room of investors, or potential clients. This comes with practice and mindset changes.
  5. Listening. One of the most undervalued skills is listening. When you pay more attention to listening and hearing the problem you can extract more information or find the true root of the problem someone is experiencing and then finding a way to solve said problem.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

I think being an advocate for other women and a cheerleader for their successes can start the ripple effect rising the tide for all ships.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Being half Mexican, half American I would encourage people to look beyond the surface and to disrupt their idea of stereotypes. The stereotypes are keeping other people in boxes and limiting your own beliefs of how great the world truly can be.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

Chris Do from The Futur

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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