On this episode of Dare to Lead
I’m so glad you’re here for this important episode with Janice Omadeke, creator of The Mentor Method, an enterprise software that transforms company culture through mentorship. We talk about her entrepreneurship journey, from building fan sites as a hobby to being named one of Entrepreneur magazine’s 100 Women of Influence in 2022. As The Mentor Method’s founder and CEO, Janice became one of the first 100 Black women in the United States to raise over $1 million in seed funding for a tech start-up, and she is the first Black woman in Austin, Texas, history to have a venture-backed exit. This conversation is inspiring, emotional, smart, vulnerable, grounded, hopeful, and full-hearted. Honestly, there aren’t enough adjectives for this one. It’s the kind of leadership conversation we started this podcast to have, and I consider myself lucky to have met this incredible entrepreneur.
Listen to the episode
Brené Brown: Hi, everyone. I’m Brené Brown, and this is Dare To Lead. Oh my God. Barrett, what are you thinking? She’s coming over here so she can get her…
Barrett Guillen: I’m not allowed to talk without coming to the mic anymore.
BB: Yeah. We are talking to Janice Omadeke. I met her when I taught a summer short course at the University of Texas at Austin. We had our interns there with us, and so the day after the class ended, we decided to take our interns on a tour of the Capital Factory, which is a entrepreneurial start-up accelerator, this amazing program in Austin. We were the guests of my good friend Mellie Price. She gave us a tour and we’re meeting some entrepreneurs that have their start-ups in the Capital Factory, it’s a vibe, but it’s also a building in a specific kind of start-up accelerator. And we were introduced to Janice, and she must have been close to transaction at that point, like selling her business, but she had The Mentor Method, which is this incredible technology used to match mentors in ways that create deep learning and meaning as opposed to let’s just put these two people together. And we talked to her for one minute before I looked at you, and I mouthed to Barrett, “Dare To Lead podcast.” I want the world to know this person, and that’s the person we’re talking to today. I have to tell you; it is the most… What word would you use to describe this conversation? Emotional, inspiring.
BB: Yeah, and just in terms of just…
BB: Yeah, clinical entrepreneurial learning…
BB: Yeah, yeah. Oh, yeah. She’s got all these words. We’re both now just wiping off the mascara at this point. But I’m glad you’re here. This is such an important podcast.
BB: Before we jump in, I’m going to tell you a little bit about Janice. You’re going to learn a lot more about her in the podcast, but she is a proven leader, focused on combining data-driven decision-making and using intuition to guide strategy, team building, innovation, and overall better life. She created The Mentor Method, an enterprise software that transforms company culture through mentorship. For her accomplishments, she has been named one of the Entrepreneur Magazine‘s 100 Women of Influence. As The Mentor Method Founder and CEO, she became one of the first 100 Black women in the United States to raise over a million dollars in seed funding for a tech startup, which is such a huge honor and that needs to change. She’s the first Black woman in Austin, Texas history to have a venture-backed exit. She is recognized as a thought leader, an advocate for mentorship and entrepreneurship by Forbes, the Harvard Business Review and Inc. She is certified in entrepreneurship from MIT and is PMP-certified with over 10 years of corporate leadership experience in Fortune 500 companies. This story, this learning, buckle up, so good, just so good.
BB: Alright, Janice, welcome to Dare To Lead. We’re excited you’re here.
Janice Omadeke: Thank you. Humbled and so excited to be here. Thank you for having me.
BB: Oh my God, I just… As I said earlier, the split second I met you, I’m like, “I’m talking to her on Dare To Lead.” There was no decision to be made. I looked at Barrett. Barrett’s like, “I already have it written down. Thanks.” We knew. I want to start with a question we ask very often. Tell us your story from the very beginning.
JO: Happy to.
BB: Yeah. Like, very beginning.
JO: Very beginning. Okay. So let me set the stage first for just sort of a high-level SparkNotes version of…
BB: Love it.
JO: Where we are. If I had to define my story, I would say, I think it falls into three different pieces. The first being that I am divinely protected, and the moments where I listen to my body and my intuition, are the moments that really changed my life. I’m the first generation of women in my family to have full freedom of choice to be whatever and whoever I want, and that’s not something I take lightly. I’m the 94th Black woman to raise over a million dollars or more in institutional funding in U.S. history. When you look at the stats, Black women only receive 0.03% of all venture funding in the world, so to make that hurdle is a huge, huge accomplishment. I’m the first Black woman in Austin to have a venture-backed tech exit when I sold my company, The Mentor Method, to a phenomenal Black women-led New York-based company called The Cru back in September.
BB: Woo-hoo! I love this.
JO: [chuckle] Thank you. Thank you so much. I built The Mentor Method just out of my own frustrations with corporate culture and systems that intentionally excluded 90% of the workforce. I hate bullies, so it made me upset. And I paired that with my passion for advocating for those who don’t have the agency to advocate for themselves, being a true believer in the proven power of mentorship because it’s magical when it’s done right, and just being raised to be entrepreneurial and a problem solver from the very beginning. The acquisition happened, we announced it September 21st, 2022, so it’s still recent. And honestly, for the two weeks after it happened, I felt like I had just run a marathon immediately after getting hit by a bus, immediately after getting caught on fire.
BB: Oh God.
JO: It was hard.
BB: I can relate to that horrific analogy, yeah.
JO: Yeah, it’s exhausting. I was physically exhausted, emotionally exhausted, and just recovering from five years of stuff; trauma, wins, blows, everything that I just didn’t realize I hadn’t given myself time to process. So out of that now, doing great, but just really thinking about who I am and how we got here. So setting the stage, and I’ll go back to the beginning, and then we’ll get back to present day. So I’m Congolese-American. Proud daughter of immigrants. And my parents were always teaching us how to have a hard work ethic, the importance of problem solving, and for me personally, the importance of tech and my excitement around that.
JO: Yeah, yeah.
BB: Yeah. So where were you born?
JO: I was born in the DC area.
BB: Do you have siblings?
JO: I do. I have an older sister and a younger brother.
BB: Okay. So middle child.
JO: Yes. Middle child in all of its glory.
BB: [laughter] Tell me about your parents.
JO: They were amazing. They were married for, I think, 37 years. And they were friends first, and you could tell in the way that they built their relationship, in the way that they parented us. Growing up, one of my favorite games at the dinner table, because we always ate dinner as a family, was we would all go around and share a problem that we either faced or we saw somebody facing, and what was an idea, product, company that we thought could fix it. And I loved that game. And then…
BB: That was your dinner table game?
JO: [chuckle] One of them, yeah. Yeah.
BB: Oh my God. That’s amazing.
JO: It was a lot of fun. I really enjoyed playing those games. It’s a good way of seeing what other people are going through in their day-to-day as well. But it was fun. And then I was about 11 in middle school, obsessed with the Backstreet Boys, always holding up the phone line, because it was the days of AOL, looking at Backstreet Boys fan pages. And so my dad slid an HTML for Dummies book over to me and showed me that I could actually make my own fan pages. And, yes, he wanted to free up the phone line, but it also showed me how much fun tech could be without me realizing it, because I was learning to code, and 20 years later became a graphic designer in corporate America and had a really successful career in that space. So I’m grateful for that.
BB: Wait, wait. I’ve got to stop you here for a second. This is amazing.
JO: Thank you.
BB: How many years ago was this when your dad slid you the HTML book?
JO: Wow. Well, I was 11. I’m 35 now.
BB: So, 24 years ago.
BB: Was your dad in tech?
JO: He was, yes. So, he would spend weekends building computers, tearing them down and building them back together for fun. And we saw a lot of prosperity in our family’s lineage through entering into the tech space. He was working several part-time jobs and was making ends meet for our entire family. And this random stranger sponsored him to participate in a tech workforce development literacy program. And through that, he then got a security clearance, started working in IT at the Pentagon, had opportunities to travel and expand his career. So, we grew up instead of having Better Homes and Gardens magazine delivered, we had PC World delivered every month. And that was kind of my dad’s jam.
BB: [laughter] So you were just thinking about the Backstreet Boys, and technology was just a means to get to the Backstreet Boys home page. This is the smartest parenting move I’ve seen.
JO: Exactly. Exactly.
BB: It’s so slick.
JO: He was like, “You know what? She’s a bit of a control freak. She’s very particular, and she loves the Backstreet Boys, let’s have her pick up her own colors for the fan page, pick out her favorite pictures and sound bites.” And it was everything to me. I loved it. I spent so much time doing that.
BB: Okay. So then high school.
JO: High school. I mean, your typical high school nerd experience. I played the trombone. Loved it. Did theater, went to Bible study every Wednesday, went to a small school in Southern Virginia for undergrad where I majored in graphic design. No surprise there, after sharing my love for tech and coding and everything. I immediately got a job in defense contracting as a graphic designer for one of the top 10 defense contracting companies in the world. Coming from DC, it’s a rite of passage to work for a defense contracting company. But it was the first time that I really saw wealth, I saw greed, I saw misogyny, intentional bias, exclusion, and just how toxic cultures could be and how it eroded my mental health, but also the mental health of everybody around me. Everyone was suffering, and it was really fascinating to see that and experience that.
BB: Were you able to see it and be in it at the same time and not internalize it? Were you able to say… Sometimes in those situations, they consume us, so we can’t float above and say, “Oh, man, this is not about me. Something’s wrong here.” So many people say, “Something’s wrong with me,” as opposed to, “Wow, this system is not good.” Were you able to identify the systemic issues?
JO: I was. But I also knew that there were things that I needed to do for myself. So, I think it was having the self-awareness to say, “Okay, I do not want to be an entry-level graphic designer. I want to pay off my student loans before I’m 30, all of these pieces. What am I responsible for to help myself move up the corporate ladder and get the opportunities that then give me the salary to do that?” But at the same time, I felt insane some days. I remember crying, driving back home with the two-hour commute, thinking, “I cannot be the only person that thinks that this culture is insane. I cannot be the only person that thinks throwing a paperweight at an employee as a vice president of communications is inappropriate behavior.” But all of…
BB: [laughter] Yeah, yeah. Yeah, yeah. I can’t be the only one.
JO: True story. True story. Exactly.
BB: I have a paperweight story, actually. My first job out of graduate school. I’m quick on my feet, I dodged because I was the target of it. I did a Matrix move, and then quit, because I thought, “This is the height of insanity.” So tell me, in this job, toxic culture, fair to say toxic culture?
JO: Very fair.
BB: What happens next?
JO: I suffered for years, quite honestly. And then 2013, again taking ownership of what I could do to get out of those situations. I studied entrepreneurship from MIT, and the logic behind it, I had no business idea at the time, but my logic was I am a graphic designer, companies need graphic designers, so how do I present myself as a business inside a business? So, I’m the business selling services and corporate America is now my customer, how do I tailor my skillset and present myself in a way that gets a larger company to understand my value and pay me a salary that affords all of the things.
BB: Okay, wait, I’ve got to stop you here because this is like such brilliant strategic thinking.
JO: Thank you.
BB: So, you don’t have a business background, you have a coding and design background.
BB: You have a background in the intersection of art and technology basically. Right?
BB: And so you say to yourself, I mean this is so like I have to think about what you said or ask you to say it again because not enough people think this way. Tell us your thought process about; how do I see myself as a business and reframe the world I want to work in as potential clients, but I am a business. It’s like, tell me about that thinking. That is amazing.
JO: Well, thank you. And it came out of desperation quite honestly. I was in…
BB: Okay. Fair.
JO: Such a low point when I made the decision to take these MIT classes. I was self-medicating. So I would come home at 5:30, take two Advil PM and just try to survive until the next day type of thing.
BB: Yeah, I get it.
JO: And I was like, this is not a way to live. And you know, I was broke. I had five roommates in a tiny house. I was just really unhappy. You know, I saw a path to financial freedom, if you will, by paying off my car title and things. And also, just had such a deep hatred and resentment about the systems that were in place at the companies I worked for. And all of that then propelled me to say, “Okay, well I can’t change the bias of a VP of communications, but I can change not working here. I can make a list of the values I want in a future employer and then make sure that through these MIT classes I’m learning how to position myself in a saturated market because there are thousands of graphic designers to differentiate myself through either skill set, portfolio, what have you, to make myself more desirable and more valuable to these corporations.” So, I served as the business selling myself and my strengths to a company that needed that and they would serve as the customer in the case of my entrepreneurship classes.
BB: So, what happened? So how did it work.
JO: Well, it worked well. [laughter]
BB: I know the answer. I know the answer. It worked well.
JO: Yeah. I mean it did, thankfully. Thankfully. I mean it took; it took a lot of work. I mean it was, it was a grueling year. You know, I hate when people come onto podcasts or interviews and they’re like, “I don’t know, I blinked and now suddenly I’m, you know, making X amount money.” No, I suffered, and it took a lot of work and there were a lot of no’s. But a year after completing that one particular class on customer segmentation, I ended up getting a fantastic job just through getting entrepreneurial about it. So, I worked at one of the top four management consulting companies in the world and it was everything that I wanted on that list. It was remote, this was 2014, so a time where nobody was working from home, but I was tired of commuting.
BB: Right, right. Right.
JO: So, it was remote, you know, I was making six figures. Finally, I had an amazing creative director named Amy that served as my first positive corporate mentor. Where I felt like she actually saw something in me and it wasn’t just checking a box. She felt invested in my development and that changed me in a really deep way and just a better culture. And then through being there, so while I was at PwC, they also then covered my Harvard classes when I was studying strategic management. One of the classes that I took was Disrupting Technologies. And I had just built a mentorship program for my team and was already feeling hooked. I didn’t know what intuition or listening to your voice was fully like, I learned it from my parents. Like yeah, yeah, okay fine, I’ll try it. But I hadn’t fully embraced it the way I did now. And so was tinkering with it. And I texted my older sister who lives in New York, just like, “Hey, I have this idea of better mentorship for the way that people work now, and you won’t just match two people based on race or location. Do you think… Like, am I crazy? Is this insane?” And she texted me back saying, “Let the world tell you no, smiley face.”
BB: So, I have goosebumps from head to toe.
JO: I have a great older sister. Yeah.
BB: Yeah, yeah.
BB: Let the world tell you no.
JO: That’s always been her motto.
BB: Let’s go.
JO: Let’s go, let’s do it. And so I did. That night I wrote my first business plan, which is very humbling to look at now because it’s a mess. [laughter] But you know, I never looked back after that. And that’s really where The Mentor Method started.
BB: Let me just pause here. For all the people who are driving, commuting, on a run, walking your pet, I guess you can say dog because you’re not walking your cat or your horse probably, but like, let me just give a pause right now. So you can take a deep breath and then just like give a round of applause…
BB: To Janice because is this a like amazing story.
JO: Thank you.
BB: And if people think you’re weird because you’re clapping in the street, join the club. I do it all the time. Tell me what was it about existing mentoring programs that felt broken to you? What problem were you trying to solve?
JO: That’s a great question. So, I come from a long line of activists and radicals in the racial justice space. My family, they were marching for everything in the Congo and here in the States. And so for me, seeing that my straight white male counterparts were invited to go golfing and then they would get the mentorship that followed, whereas I would be excluded from that as a woman and as a woman of color, felt uncharacteristic of what I had been sold about pursuing the American dream. And that is what got me started on mentorship. Because I saw that in the mentorship space where I would sign up every year, sign up for a corporate mentorship program, and without a doubt, I was just matched to the only woman executive that signed up for the program. And when I would ask the program administrator is like, “Oh, you know, what skills does the mentor have that you think I should learn? Like any tips? I don’t know this VP, what have you.” They would just say, and look at me like I’m crazy.” Like you’re both women. Like what?”
JO: “Why are you asking me this question? You’re both women or you’re both Black. Let that be enough.” And I was like, “No, actually that’s not enough because I have things to do. You know, I have plans that I want for my life” and to set us up for an important relationship like mentorship that somebody like me relied heavily on as somebody who wasn’t well networked and couldn’t rely on nepotism or other pathways to advance in my career, I needed to build that community and network. I knew that people deserved to be seen as people. I knew that just as a connector in my own personal life that values mattered, that who you want to spend time with is based on, you know, how well you get along and that ethos alignment. And I didn’t understand why mentorship didn’t have that and why it was just saying, “Okay, well age/race demographics, those line up. So off you go, go figure it out.” It needed to be more intentional, especially in a corporate setting where you have the budget and you have the most brilliant people working for you. It doesn’t have to be this duct tape and hope every single time somebody signs up for a corporate mentorship. So that’s really where the fire for it got started.
BB: And it burned. I mean, it just got lit.
JO: It burned.
BB: It burned. So, problem identification. When you identify this problem, like this whole idea of you are matching us on variables that are easy and fast but can be meaningless and have nothing to do with skills attainment and everything that mentoring should be.
BB: Let me stop and ask you this: What should mentoring be?
JO: A fulfilling relationship between somebody with more experience and somebody with less experience with the goal of helping both individuals become elevated versions of themselves so that they can bring their authentic leadership styles into the way that they relate to work. That can be traditional, right? Somebody more senior to somebody more junior. Reverse. So, somebody with less years in that industry, let’s say mentoring somebody with more tenure in the space. It can be a group; it can be peer-to-peer. There are so many forms, but at its core, that’s what mentorship is.
BB: Wow. Okay. So, what’s your idea? What idea do you have about how to solve this problem that you’ve identified?
JO: Well, The Mentor Method was the idea.
BB: But yeah. I’m seeing a version of the Backstreet Boys. So, what’s happening here?
JO: Yeah. I started tinkering on it nights and weekends. It originally started as a B2C model, so selling a mentorship offering for women to meet mentors outside of where they work. And I’m so grateful for the privilege that working at PwC for almost four years at this time when I had the idea afforded me, because I didn’t have to take outside investment. I just bootstrapped along the way until 2021 just through my savings and having worked at PwC for a long time. But I tinkered with it, refined the model, pivoted to selling to companies and found through this data that people wanted to be matched based on personality, values, skills and industry. They wanted it to be easy to implement the companies they work for. Most HR people are non-technical. So, giving them something that requires an HTML for dummy’s book isn’t going to last very long.
JO: Because they have a thousand other priorities on their plate. So, it needed to be something that was easy to implement and at a price point where the CFO wouldn’t bat an eye and instead think that it was a great investment. And so those were really the cornerstone pieces of building up The Mentor Method for large companies. And it worked. You know, we had companies including Amazon, Department of Education and others as customers. We saw people’s lives actually change, which was amazing to take an idea and then see people get connected to real mentors that help them get promoted or help them build a greater awareness with cultural and racial blind spots. And yeah, I’m very, very proud of that.
BB: What does The Mentor Method do? How does it work?
JO: Think of it like eHarmony.
BB: Oh yeah. Okay.
BB: Yeah. Yeah.
JO: Think of it like eHarmony for internal corporate mentorship. So, you take a quiz, then it shows you your matches, mentees, mentors, you communicate with them, pick the best match. The software had monthly guides and checklists that they could use every step of the way. And then of course, data and reporting to show that the program was working, the matches were successful and how companies could use that data for more inclusive business practices.
BB: Did both the mentor and the mentee have the slide right and the slide left ability?
JO: Correct. Yep. They had the option of accepting or declining requested matches.
BB: Wow. And would you sell into a company that either had a mentor program and wanted to make it better or wanted to start a mentor program? Were both of those potential customers?
BB: When did Mentor Method have its first employee other than you?
JO: So, after I raised the 1.6 million. So, April 2021 is when my dear friend and mentor and former Chief Growth Officer, now Joseph Kopser joined the team. And it was me and Joseph and our offshore dev team in the trenches swimming in this little canoe for a while, and then he was really helpful in the strategy for building out the rest of the team. And so we scaled up to about 9-10 people at its largest.
BB: Dang. Before then it was just you?
JO: Yeah, just me bartering. I have incredible mentors and advisors, so it wasn’t just me. I had phenomenal vendors that could help. I looked at my strengths and the things that energized me. I looked at the things that I knew would take me 15 hours, but if I got an expert, it would take them one and started finding people to help me sort of patch the holes in the canoe along the way until I was at a place where raising capital really made sense.
BB: Wow. I want to ask a question, because a lot of entrepreneurs listen to this podcast, and I’m sure they’re taking copious notes. I’m hoping they’re pulled over in the passing lane or something on the side of the road doing that, tell me about… A lot of times entrepreneurs I know say, “Give me a lot of money and then I’ll build it, and I’m going to hire… ” Y’all can’t see her, but she’s making a face. She made a bad cheese face like a, “No.” I want to know what your thinking is and… It’s smart thinking, I want you to share it. Do you understand what I’m saying?
BB: Give me a million dollars, then I’m going to hire a big dev team and then I’m going to rent out a great building, and then I’m going to build something versus you were lean and hungry, you built, you outsourced, you made it work. Tell me about that choice. That’s a choice.
JO: It was. Thank you. I binged so many publications that highlighted women entrepreneurs, especially women tech entrepreneurs. When I had the idea, I was real with myself. I said, “I’ve never done this. I have been a corporate graphic designer my entire career. Entrepreneurship is a completely new field. Yes, I have Harvard and MIT supporting me on this journey, if you will, through the education I got from them, but there’s still a difference between institutional education and then being in the trenches and in the arena. So let me learn everything I can about this landscape as I’m building my concept.” And so I’m a big believer in using data, values, and data-driven decision making, and so a common thread along all of the interviews I’ve read was just learning from people who did it before you, getting that mentorship, getting the informational meetings, getting that network built as you’re building to help you along the way. And so I was like, “Great, that’s what I’m going to do for the first six months. I’m just going to… ”
JO: My entire time, I come from a learning mindset and only seeking to understand, but for that six-month period, I was just asking questions like, “Hi, here’s my baby. How would you keep it alive? I’m thinking about this idea, tell me why it’s a horrible idea and why you would never invest in it. Tell me all the things that keep me bright-eyed and bushy-tailed that I need to know before I get in the arena and get hit in the face.” And that was really educational for me, and then realized that fundraising, especially when you’re a first-time founder with no network, and as a woman and a Black woman, the stats were there. And I remember looking at them and thinking, “Wow, these are really atrocious. So how do I up my chances of getting funding later by proving out the concept, by having customers, by showing that I know what I’m doing to an extent.” Nobody knows everything.
BB: No, right.
JO: But I knew what steps I needed to take to get there, and then I just started following that and continued building the business. I would… Through those informational meetings, the people that I really connected with, like Jennifer Ives, she was one of my first advisors for The Mentor Method, and she was really helpful. She was a VP of Business Development at the time, and so she helped with me thinking about customer acquisition, and the cost of customer acquisition, all of these little pieces along the way, or the former co-founder of Blackboard, the educational tech company.
BB: Oh wow, yeah.
JO: He lives in DC. I met him through a networking event, and he went through my very first financial model, and was like, “This is trash. Here’s what you should do, think about your margins, da-da-da-da,” and that information was extremely helpful. And I would ask them… I always said a Google Doc of asks because sometimes meeting people…
JO: I’d get so starstruck, and I just have to have it ready versus trying to remember it in the moment. And so, I would have questions like, “Okay, I need to meet somebody that can help me with five social media graphics. I need somebody that’s going to help me get Twitter followers. I need someone that will help me build the first prototype of The Mentor Method for proof of concept so that I can start socializing it with the waiting list that I’ve built with my newsletter. Do you know anybody that could do this for cheap and/or free?” And inevitably, they would know someone or know someone who knows someone, and so I was able to barter my graphic design skills in exchange for whatever knowledge or skills they possessed, and it helped me along the way, and then I also used accelerator programs to give me peer community, but also access to resources and education and entrepreneurship to help me along the way.
BB: There’s such a powerful paradox that I see so clearly in you that I… You have to figure it out a little bit more in other people, but you exemplify it. And it’s this combination of intellect and humility. And it’s interesting because when I was writing Atlas of the Heart, I wasn’t sure what to expect when we decided to add humility as one of the emotions that we were going to tackle trying to understand and what are the data and what is humility? And it turns out that humility is not shyness and, “Oh, shucks,” and, “No, really I didn’t… ” Humility is a deep understanding of what we do well, and a deep understanding of where we need to grow and learn and ask for help. And I just don’t think your story is possible without a grounded confidence in humility. Like, I know that I’m smart, I know that I’m focused, I know that I’m these things, and that is the platform for asking for help. Does that make sense to you?
JO: It does, and I’m so touched. Thank you. I think I get it from my mom. She’s really the muse behind The Mentor Method. And she’s sort of that Batman origin story that we haven’t gotten into yet, but I learned all of that from her. She was a shining example of it day in and day out. Middle school and high school were tough. We did not get along because we were so similar. And so I didn’t realize that it’s kind of like that movie, I think, Lady Bird, where at the end…
BB: Oh God. Yes.
JO: She finally thanks for mother because she gets why they were in conflict so much. That. That’s my relationship with my mom in middle school and high school, and then as an adult. And we had this phenomenal adult friendship. I realized that a lot of the training came from her. This resiliency, this head space, the ability to say, “No, I am great. I am a mentorship expert, but I also do not know these 1000 other things that I know I need. So how do I motivate people to join me?” And all of that’s from her, for sure. And The Mentor Method wouldn’t exist to this day without her as sort of that origin story, and her passing being a big part of that.
BB: I’m loving Momma and Daddy Omadeke, I’m going to tell you right now. I’m into the parentage here. [chuckle] Yeah. Tell us her story. Do you want to share her story?
JO: Sure. Yeah. Everybody loved her. Her name is Lorena. And she’s just the most incredible person I’ve ever had the privilege of getting to know. She was the cornerstone of our family. Everybody went to her for guidance. She was just so brilliant and poise and fun, all in this little 5’5″ feisty package. And I’m just 100% her daughter. And it was a big shock to our family when she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer January of 2018. A week or so after that, I got into an accelerator program here in Austin, which is how I got here, and she gave me her blessing, and I went back and forth between Austin and DC for four months.
JO: If you know pancreatic cancer, you know that it’s fast and brutal. And so the time came for at-home hospice, and so we did that for about a week. And it had metastasized to her brain. So her brain was essentially Swiss cheese at this point. And out of the blue, truly… I’ve never seen anything like it. Never seen… To this day. It was one of the two things that haunt me. But she had this moment of clarity where she looked directly at me, she was holding my hand, she told me I was beautiful, she told me what to name my firstborn daughter, where I was like “Uh… a lot of pressure but will remember that for when I’m ready,” that she was proud of me, and that she would be doubling blessings on the people that The Mentor Method touched. That was the last time I heard her speak. That was our last conversation. And the next day, she passed away, I think in a way that made sense for her, because we had a lot of people in and out of the house visiting and everything else. And so it was August 11th, 2018. It was warm, but a little cloudy, so that it wouldn’t be too hot. There was a nice breeze. It was just me, my brother and sister and my dad, no music playing, just the fan.
JO: And I had just gotten back maybe an hour before that from taking my brother to see the cemetery and the plot that I thought Mommy would like the most. And, yeah, that’s it. I think the other thing that haunts me is just the sound of her leaving her physical form. Again, that’s something I’ve never experienced and something that I can’t get out of my head. But I’ve used that loss and used her legacy as a big motivator for me. I went 1000 miles an hour for four years after that just charging and building The Mentor Method. We did a lot, and we won a lot. We got featured in Ebony, Black Enterprise, Forbes, Entrepreneur Magazine. We helped people, like I talked about. We did a lot. And we broke a lot of barriers.
JO: But even when I would win, would have these amazing moments, I immediately, every single time I felt like somebody had stabbed me in between the ribs with grief. Every single time. And I knew exactly what that’s… Just debilitating. Every single major milestone. And so I didn’t like that relationship to it, because I didn’t want to be afraid of feeling her. And that’s what it started feeling like. And so worked with my therapist, Danielle, and my leadership coach, Jeannie, still work with them, appreciate them, to change that narrative. I basically I wanted to pair my drive for abundance with still honoring the grief that I was going through, early grief, and the grief that I still have. And so we changed the narrative from I don’t want to win because it hurts every time because I miss my mom to I’m doing this to honor her, I’m doing this to honor the generations of women that came before me that didn’t have full access to do this. And, yes, I wish they were here physically, but they can’t. That’s out of my control. So here we are, and this has to be okay. You have to be okay, because there is still more work to be done. Your cousins are looking at you. Children that you may have in the future are looking at you. You have to do this for them, as well.
JO: And that was a tough process, really brutal process, just sitting with that grief and in the muck and everything. But 18 months after, I really felt like… You know how it is. There’s saying it, and then there’s when it becomes a part of you in your true alignment.
BB: Yes. It’s embodied, yeah.
JO: Yes, exactly. It’s no longer a talking point, it’s just done.
BB: Right. Yeah.
JO: And so 18 months after that alignment feeling, we sold the company. September 21st of 2022. So this has all been for her, and I think the last piece I’ll say on that is, a week after we announced the acquisition, I was then able to announce that I was one of Entrepreneur Magazine‘s 100 Women of Influence 2022.
JO: Like, in print, in the magazine. I was so excited. And to me, it’s the perfect bookend for that chapter of my life, honestly. It’s like the last piece of recognition as CEO and founder of this company, with, you know, JLo was on the cover and Ava DuVernay and women that I looked up to in this space as well. And, as I mentioned before, I am my mother’s daughter, I look so much like her, so for me to have a half-page feature in print in Entrepreneur Magazine means that they’re not seeing me, they’re seeing my mom. They’re seeing her story. They’re seeing generations of women that were smarter than I am, more tenacious than I am, but just were born in a time where they had to be small to survive. They’re seeing my culture, they’re seeing my upbringing, and it’s just great, and I’m really grateful for all of it.
JO: And it’s a phenomenal way to wrap up that chapter of my life and then start this next one, still honoring her and still an expert in tech and mentorship and everything else, but like it’s done. I did it. I showed everybody Lorena Omadeke in her truest form through my existence, and anything after this is just an additional gift, I’d say.
BB: I don’t have any words, which is unusual for me. It’s… I’m so grateful that you have the courage to be vulnerable and share that story. That people will look at you, young women will look at you. You’re not afraid to say, “My therapist, my coach.” You’re not afraid to say, “I asked a bunch of people for help.” You’re not afraid to say, “When the culture was toxic, it hurt me.” There is such a depth of grace and courage to the way you’ve done this work, I just… Talk about daring to lead. It’s impressive.
JO: Thank you.
BB: Impressive is just a small word.
JO: Coming from you, that means everything. Thank you so much.
BB: Yeah, I have to regroup for a second, that’s… And which is so good, because I’m not moved to regrouping a lot, and I need to be reminded that it’s big. All right, shall we take a deep breath and go to rapid fire, are you ready for this?
JO: Yes, I’m ready.
BB: Do all you people listening understand now why like I was across from her for five seconds at the Capital Factory in Austin, was like, “We got to talk to her. I got to introduce her to a bunch of people, because we have some stuff to learn from her. We have shit to learn from her.” That’s… I mean, that was it. And we’re learning.
JO: And vice versa. Vice versa. I mean I told you when we met… Again, one of the best days of my life, truly, I was floating after meeting you. I had met up with two friends and they were like, “Oh my gosh, did you meet your future husband?” And I was like, “No, better. I met Brené Brown. And she’s one of my heroes.” [laughter] True love in a different sense.
BB: That is awesome. [laughter]
JO: But you changed my relationship with my father, 100%. The loss of my mom, as we talked about, was really impactful and hard, and vulnerability wasn’t something that we learned. It wasn’t something that was a skill, if you will. And so, being able to share your Netflix specials with him… Because I knew having the conversation would land, but only so far because I’m still his child. Right?
JO: So I always saw my mom, if she wanted my dad to work on something, she would just buy a self-help book or something and leave it on the dining room table.
BB: I love this strategy. My mom has the same one.
JO: Yes. He loved to learn, but it had to be on his own time, and I respect that, right? So I recommended your special and it changed our relationship. He got into therapy, and we were able to have real conversations. So just, thank you. It’s been such an honor to be here, and I’m so excited to jump into the rapid-fire questions. I just didn’t want to not say that before we wrap today.
BB: Well, thank you. All right. I’m so curious about where this is… Okay, I want to do a mash-up, because there’s some questions from rapid fire on Unlocking Us that I want to know the answer to, from Janice. So, I’ve been thinking about it for a week.
JO: Oh, okay.
BB: Fill in the blank for me. Vulnerability is…
JO: Vulnerability is the first thing you do in fear. Vulnerability is recognizing that the serenity prayer is more realistic than we give it credit for.
BB: That is so good. I say that prayer 400 times a day, so no one has ever said that to me. That shit’s real. The serenity prayer is real. I mean, it’s real.
JO: Yeah. Yeah.
BB: Okay. You, Janice, are called to be brave, but your fear is real, you can feel it in the back of your throat. What is the very first thing you do?
JO: I determine what part of my internal self needs me the most to help me move forward.
BB: Tell me what that means. Give me example.
JO: So I try to assess where the fear is coming from. Am I hungry? Am I afraid of scarcity? Am I afraid for my health and wellbeing? Am I afraid of losing something? Like, what is this? There’s multiple forms of fear, right?
JO: So what is this fear? And then once I identify that and what part of my inner self or what inner child is reacting to the situation, then I say, “Okay, well, what does this part need to calm down so that I can solve the problem?” Because if I’m triggered and activated, I can’t do anything. I’m just there wasting time and not bettering myself or the situation. So, I start there, and then once I know what that part is and what I need to do, just first, the other steps become easier, but for me personally when I’m… When I feel that level of fear, I just kind of feel stunned for a second, and I have to just take that first step out of that place and then things can keep moving. Unless I see a spider, then forget it. I’m just leaving…
JO: I’m leaving the apartment. I can’t do it.
BB: You’re leaving your body. That’s it, you’re done.
JO: That’s the first step. Yeah. [chuckle]
BB: Okay, what is a piece of leadership advice that’s either so good you need to share it with us or so shitty you need to warn us? Something you’ve been told or a piece of advice you’ve been given that’s so great you need all of us to know or so terrible you need to warn us.
JO: I’ll spare you the garbage advice, as…
JO: A woman in the tech space. You hear a lot of it, so…
BB: Oh my God, yes.
JO: I would say protect your mental health before everything else. Because when you’re in the entrepreneurship space especially, you are the one in the arena. So entrepreneurship has a lot of parallels to high-performing athletes, like Serena Williams or Tom Brady and others. It’s mentally grueling. And you have your nutritionists, you have your doctors, you have your fans if you’re an athlete, and the parallel to that is you have your investors, you have your team, you have your shareholders and customers. And they’re all relying on you to bring a 1000% of yourself to every situation. But, at the same time, you are the one on the court, you are the one on the field, you as the CEO especially, are the one getting bloodied in the arena.
JO: So you have to make sure that your mental health is in a place where you’re doing service to yourself and your wellbeing first, and not coming from a place of people-pleasing. Because that’ll end up putting you through a longer career than necessary, and you’re the one that ends up in the hospital, you’re the one that ends up with mental health issues if you’re not looking out for yourself. And it’s not because these people want to see you not do well, it’s just they’re doing their jobs or what they’re responsible for. And you’re responsible for having your boundaries, you’re responsible for saying no, you’re responsible for advocating for yourself, and you can’t do that if you’re not in therapy and having the mental health resources to actually put that entire portfolio of wellbeing together.
BB: Okay, let’s just like…
BB: We’re everybody… Yeah, we’re all standing ovation. We’re doing the wave in the arena. We’re watching and we’re doing the wave. Okay.
JO: That’s such a good question.
BB: Yeah, I can imagine as a woman in tech the shit advice. Okay. Last TV show you binged and loved.
JO: Ooh, The Watcher, on Netflix.
BB: Oh, I’m so scared. It’s too creepy. Is it creepy?
JO: It’s a lot. I live in a two-bedroom, two-bath apartment, there’s only one door to go in and out of my unit, and I still checked my front door five times before going to bed.
JO: And I knew that nobody was breaking in, but I was horrified, but it’s really well done, based on a true story.
JO: The cast is phenomenal, and it’s… Yeah, I couldn’t stop watching though, I just chose my own fear.
BB: Yeah, no, I read the true story first to understand… No, but I’m too scarific. Okay, favorite movie of all time.
JO: I have two. Slum Dog Millionaire.
BB: Oh God, it’s so good.
JO: And Beauty and the Beast, the cartoon.
BB: Oh, so good. Okay. Who’s your favorite character in Beauty and the Beast, the cartoon?
JO: Belle. Of course.
BB: Belle. Bonjour.
JO: You know. She’s a little different. She likes to read, she loves her father. Five-year-old Janice saw a lot of parallels.
BB: Got it. Yeah, I can see that now, because she is kind of a geek. Which I love.
JO: Yeah. Exactly.
BB: Yeah. Okay, a concert that you’ll never forget.
JO: Matt Maher, Christian artist. That was the last concert I went to with my mom. And then Florence and the Machine, about a month ago. It felt like church; it was just a phenomenal out-of-body connection experience watching her perform. I’ve been a fan for years, over a decade, and to finally see her and to be able to afford good seats to see her…
JO: Was really, really phenomenal.
BB: That’s awesome. Okay, favorite meal.
JO: Ooh, my family’s version of stewed goat meat with pondu which is like a spinach dish, and then ginger cake with Häagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream for dessert.
BB: God, that sounds good. No specificity on the ice cream there, huh, Janice?
JO: Just Häagen.
BB: Häagen, yeah. You got it. The best, the best.
JO: It’s my favorite. It’s my favorite.
BB: That’s your favorite. Okay. What is a snapshot of an ordinary moment in your life that brings you real joy?
JO: I like right now. It’s fall, so here in Austin it’s still warm but it’s dark until like seven. I naturally get up like 5:45, 6:00 and so the stillness feels more still when it’s still dark.
JO: I don’t feel like a rooster. I’m getting up and now I have to be productive because the sun is up, which means I should be doing something. I feel this heightened level of self-compassion, to just ease into the day. And be awake but enjoy that darkness. Maybe make a cup of tea and just journal and sit in it. And just enjoying that slow sunrise is bliss to me. I absolutely love this season.
BB: You got three weeks left until the time changes and then it’s bright at six. Oh, yeah, I’m with you. I always feel like I’ve got to jump on the day when it’s still dark and we can rise together, but when I get up like at 6:30 and it’s already sunny, I’m like, “What have I missed?”
BB: There is something… Yeah, it’s something weird. Tell us one thing you’re deeply grateful for right now.
JO: I’m deeply grateful for my girlfriends, and the community I have around me. Landing the plane, as in selling my company, was a tough process. It sounds glamorous, but it’s really hard, really hard. And it’s something that I hadn’t done before, and so my girlfriends were there with me through… And I didn’t tell them what was happening, they found out the same day the public found out that I sold the company, but they were still in the trenches with me holding my hand when I would have panic attacks, which isn’t common for me, but I had four in a month and a half; that’s how tough this process is. They would listen to me cry, they would be with me, they would check in, be my conversation before reviewing the term sheet with the crew. I was so nervous and so scared, and I was crying and I just… I had never experienced this step before, and my very first friend in Austin, Nicole, was the first person I texted, and I was just like, “Hey, can we talk for a second?” She dropped everything, gave me a phone call. I didn’t speak, I just said, “This is hard,” and just cried. I didn’t give her any context. We talked for 10 minutes and she was like, “Get back out there. Good luck with your meeting.” Hung up, and the meeting was successful. So that’s just an example of the power of women helping women in an intentional way. And I’m so grateful for my relationship to these phenomenal women. Very, very grateful.
BB: Yeah, I just cannot do it without friends. It’s just not possible. Okay, I love that you gave us five songs you can’t live without.
BB: Okay, here’s your playlist. “Missing U,” by Robyn. “Is This Love,” by Bob Marley. “Spring 1,” by Max Richter. “Unstoppable,” by Sia. And “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” by Jordan Smith. In one sentence, what does this playlist say about you?
JO: That I have layers. I’ll stop there. That’s one sentence, that I have layers.
BB: [laughter] So good. Oh man, thank you for sharing your time, your wisdom, your stories. We’re so grateful to be able to hear them. It’s a real honor.
JO: Thank you so much for having me. This is such an honor. I’m thrilled to be here. Thank you.
BB: Told y’all this was going to be a good conversation. I told you. I hate to say I told you so, but I told you so. You can learn more about The Mentor Method at thementormethod.com. You can find Janice on Instagram and LinkedIn. If you go to brenebrown.com and go to Dare to Lead, you’ll see the podcast with her, and you will find all the links to her social media. Whoo! Humility, grace, love, thoughtfulness.
BB: Badassery for the win. Y’all stay awkward, brave, and kind.
BB: The Dare to Lead podcast is a Spotify original from Parcast. It’s hosted by me, Brené Brown, produced by Max Cutler, Kristen Acevedo, Carleigh Madden, and Tristan McNeil. And by Weird Lucy Productions. Sound design by Tristan McNeil and the music is by The Suffers.
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