Name: Leigh Butler
Business: Akina Technologies
Industry: Technology / Community
Tanya: The first question is an easy one. What was your path to entrepreneurship?
Leigh: Gosh, you think that’s an easy question?
Tanya: I mean, a simple question. Maybe not an easy question ha!
Leigh: Both of my parents were entrepreneurs. My mother is an attorney, and she went into private practice for herself. My dad was a physician. He, his father and uncle opened a clinic a million years ago. I grew up watching my parents have their own businesses and on top of that doing their work in medicine and law. So, I guess at some point I knew that I was going to go down that path.
I married one too! My husband is also a serial entrepreneur. It was going to happen eventually. It was just a matter of when and what. When the idea for Meet Akina fell onto my heart, that was it. That was the path. That was the aha moment to do this thing.
Tanya: Clearly, the universe was conspiring against you to be an entrepreneur at some point in your life. They’re like, “Hey lady, we’re going to surround you with entrepreneurs. So, it’s destined to be.”. That’s awesome.
What would you say so far has been your boldest business move?
Leigh: My boldest business move, honestly, was the whole thing, right? Doing something for Black women, that’s pretty bold in today’s world as a Black woman, and really being intentional about making this space for Black women.
Tanya: Awesome. What has been the biggest financial turning point for your company? Your, “I made it” moment, I like to call it.
Leigh: The biggest financial turning point was when we got our first investor. They were not friends and family, but somebody that we pitched. And they came on. Also, my husband and I made a significant investment ourselves. We were finally able to make a sizable contribution to the company. That was a lot, like, “Okay, I’m really putting everything I have into this.”
Tanya: At any point, did that scare you? Or do you think that comes with the territory of being an entrepreneur?
Leigh: To answer your first question, I’m still terrified. When you’ve put yourself out there and you’ve built this baby. And you hope everybody likes your baby. But yes, I think that’s par for the course with entrepreneurship. As I’ve said to my husband, “If it was easy, everybody would do it, right?”.
So, challenges come with the territory. You’re taking a bet on yourself. As easy as that might sound, it’s terrifying when it’s just you figuring all of this out and relying on other people to guide you and all of that. It is terrifying, but it’s also very rewarding when it works out.
Tanya: You are in the tech space with Meet Akina. Do you feel bringing a women’s lens, or being a women founder in the tech space has helped your business?
Leigh: I don’t know that it’s helped, to be honest. Everybody’s saying there’s a lot of “opportunity” out there for women in tech, particularly Black women in tech. But am I seeing it? Not necessarily. In terms of access to funding, access to opportunities, and accelerator programs, I don’t think that it’s an easy road to be a woman in this industry. There’s a lot of lip service. It’s really, really hard to come across the same opportunities that our male counterparts get. That’s the truth.
Tanya: Absolutely. How have both global health and or racial epidemics affected your business? You can answer either or both if you like.
Leigh: The moment that I got off the fence was in the middle of the pandemic and the racial tensions that were going on. Watching George Floyd on television as a Black mom, particularly a Black mom of three Black boys, was so tough. I still get choked up when I think about him screaming for his mother. But it was at that moment that I realized, okay, we’ve got this great idea. Now it’s time to start planning. We’re in the middle of a pandemic. Everybody’s at home anyway, let’s start having real discussions. And let’s put pen to paper from those discussions and start planning.
Tanya: Who are some women who have helped you in your journey in launching the app, in your journey of being an entrepreneur?
Leigh: The first person I’d have to say is my mom.
Tanya: Ah, mom.
Leigh: Definitely my sister, Cody. One of my very good girlfriends, Stephanie Roberts, just came on as Co-founder. We’ve been talking about this for three years now and she’s been my sounding board all that time. It just made sense.
We’ve had some influencers who really could have snubbed their noses really quickly at this, but they believed in it from the beginning. There’s Meagan Henderson from Black Supermamas, Lydia Harris from Labor with Love, Dr. Mel… gosh there’s so many, I’d be here all day.
Tanya: That’s beautiful. The last question is how do you or do you – not assuming that you do – find a balance between personal and professional?
Leigh: We’ve been having this conversation a lot about balance. I don’t believe in balance. I don’t think that anybody asks that question of a man. Nobody’s expecting a man to balance all these things, but it is expected of women. There’s this expectation that now we’ve got to balance these things because we also are mothers and we’re wives. I don’t balance. I’m just going to be very real. I put my attention where it needs to be at the given time. My husband helps a lot. Especially since we’ve been on this entrepreneurial journey and it’s been me in the entrepreneurial seat.
Tanya: I agree wholeheartedly with their answer to that, there’s no such thing. You put your focus and attention on the things that are needed at the time. I keep it in there as a question because I am starting to see more and more people say, “There’s no such thing. I don’t chase that.”. I think that is great.
Leigh: If I could leave with one final thought, as a woman – black, white, green, or purple, give yourself grace. Give yourself room to grow. Forgive yourself of mistakes, whether past or present. And be kind to yourself.
I think that we forget that a lot. And especially for me, in particular, in this male-dominated industry. There are days where I’m just over it. I’m tired and I don’t want to keep going, but I have to remind myself, that it’s okay. It’s okay and tomorrow’s another day.
And I’ve kind of gotten out of this idea of failures and I look at them now as lessons, so we have never failed, but we have learned.
Tanya: That’s a beautiful way to end it. Thank you.
Bold & Black is a monthly interview series conducted by entrepreneur and Canada’s Top 25 Women of Influence Honouree Tanya Hayles. Tanya is the founder of Black Moms Connection, an online global village of almost 30,000 and a national non-profit providing programs and financial tools through grant programs generously supported by BMO. The statements and opinions expressed by guests & interviewees are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of Bank of Montreal or its affiliates.