Interview With FemCity CEO Violette de Ayala
De Ayala has made clear that her approach is completely detached from the traditional limiting corporate setting and instead allows women to foster positive connections with each other all the while taking their businesses to the next level and reaching the actualization they are meant for.
Even in the tumultuous time of the pandemic, de Ayala and her team of FemCity members called FEMS have stayed committed to creating accessibility through virtual means so that female entrepreneurs could still connect with the common goal of growth, positivity, and success. Today, de Ayala is moving forward with partnerships and events that continue to expand her community and spread her message of female productivity and comradery across the globe.
Q. Violette, please tell us about your upbringing and how that instilled a strong work ethic in you.
A. I’m first generation Cuban-American. My upbringing was really surrounded by conversations about immigrants and exiles arriving in the United States with nothing, with not a dollar, not knowing the language, and not being able to obtain financial wealth and security through entrepreneurship.
So, as a young girl that’s all I really heard about becoming a successful person and all these amazing inspirational stories about people coming to this country and they were able to obtain very successful avenues of financial security through starting a business. Even to this day especially in Miami, we have people that arrive from Cuba or other countries and the way they can generally get back on their feet is by starting a business.
When I turned 22 I was a young mom and I didn’t want my child to be at daycare the whole day like I was. I wanted things to be a little bit different so starting a business was the solution I found. I started my first business at 22 with a little baby boy with me and from that, I ended up opening up another business.
My first one was a personal training company, and then I had a pilates business. I had a location and then I started opening up satellite locations and I ran that for about 10 years. I just loved it. I really think that I’ve been an entrepreneur since I was a young girl because the stories that I heard steered me to go down that avenue.
Q. Was there a specific event that transpired in the formulation of FemCity?
A. There have been so many. I think the first one that inspired me was when I first started FemCity, I wanted to have in my life a circle of friends and women entrepreneurs and businesswomen that I could go to for help and referrals or just support. That was the first aha moment that I had like “let me just create this for myself”. My second aha moment was when women started asking for FemCity when we started posting our pictures on Facebook.
That kind of had an effect on women wanting to have a FemCity chapter in their community and I didn’t know what that meant at the time. I really didn’t get it until I started researching focus groups, and I started listening to them. We started launching FemCity chapters all along the East coast. I would pause in between launching to make sure it felt really good, it felt like a community, and it didn’t feel clinical or corporate-like.
I wanted it to be a resource and a community for women. Then I think my third aha moment was when Google reached out to us shortly after and asked about hosting events and classes for our members. So they started teaching our members how to use hangouts, how to create a business profile, and just how to use Google for business. We ended up getting a lot more traction from other corporations that wanted to partner up and that really pivoted us into that online space. So we were doing local networking events, socials, and business workshops, and then we started doing more online because of these partnerships.
We’ve been doing online classes for over 10 years. I think another point would be during the pandemic. We were obviously having 100 to 200 events a month in our local chapters and when the pandemic happened we had to close all of that. As an organization that does in-person events, how do you navigate in a place where it’s all virtual and through zoom? We really pivoted strong, almost overnight and we started to create classes and conversations that were about business.
We did a lot of mental health summits, and a lot of conversations about inclusivity, diversity, and equity. We started to create other programs and address the holistic approach of being happy and thriving even during the pandemic times. Now we’re kind of going through the growth pattern again.
We’re getting a lot of new interest with women starting FemCity chapters. We have about 10 new chapters launching soon. We’re kind of now starting to get back to that place of real-life events. We’ve had all these moments within our evolution that have changed us and pivoted us.
Q. You’ve been able to broaden your business immensely and connect with companies like Yelp and Google. How did you secure these partnerships?
A. Actually, they reached out to us. Often they’ll reach out and say hey we’d like to offer this resource or program. We form a lot of partnerships now with local chambers of commerce and were really passionate about supporting our chambers. We’ve also formed a lot of partnerships with other women’s organizations.
A lot of people say “wow, you’re partnering up with people you can beat” but we don’t see it like that. We want to be there for all women. We have a really great partnership with an organization that is like FemCity but they’re located in India so we do a lot of networking, we share a lot of our resources, we give them free memberships for their members and they also give memberships to our global members. We’ve been working with the Aruba Chamber of Commerce for example, for the last couple of years and we recently reconnected in a virtual space. We hosted a virtual networking event so that our global members can connect with women in business members from the Aruba Chamber of Commerce.
I think what’s great about FemCity is that we’re able to be that supplemental program for a lot of organizations and we also help corporations. We help them with their women’s initiatives because a lot of them don’t have the resources or the teams in place so we actually create curriculums and programs so that corporations can fulfill their DI.
Q. Please talk about the importance of women in business. What individual experiences do you have as a woman in business?
A. I mean I’ve been a woman in business for so long. I’m 51 years old and I’ve been doing this for over 30 years. I think the commonality over those decades has been to be very connected to the growth and the evolution of running your business.
One of the things I’ve seen is that if you’re gonna have something over the course of 30 years or FemCity which is now 13 years old, is to forecast where the trends are going to be and what the conversations are going to be so you can position yourself before your clients even arrive.
One thing that has been common in all of my businesses is to just make sure you are constantly growing and not stagnant. I think when you’re stagnant you have a tendency to lose growth and that’s where a lot of businesses and brands just disintegrate and then people move on.
There’s a lack of resources and a lack of support. We still have society telling us we’re not worth the same or valued the same. Women think that they’re not worthy. There are always societal narratives that hinder our growth that we’re still working on.
Q. How did you coin the term FEMS? What does it mean to you?
A. It means women supporting other women. Women who want to elevate. When we call someone a FEM it means someone who’s passionate about the success of all women and someone who’s incredibly connected to their community.
It’s someone who realizes their success is connected to other women’s success and vice-versa. We have a say and almost a duty to help other women. As we elevate higher whether it’s financial or reach, or community impacts, we look around to see who we can take higher also.
You offer a variety of services from consultations to one-on-one coaching sessions. How do these services allow you to broaden your clientele?
We look to see how we can be there for all women. We have a 30-day free trial membership and then of course we have the global, higher-priced membership. We have retreats and we even have a scholarship. If we have someone who comes to us and says I can’t afford your membership, of course, we price it so that everyone can afford it but if someone can’t we have the resources to give them a scholarship. I think part of FemCity is making sure we’re accessible to all women.
We have women that came to us during the pandemic that had lost their jobs and had to take care of children and had to take on online learning. We wanted to make sure we were able to help them to start a business.
So we started creating programs that were like, how to start a business on Etsy or how to start selling on Poshmark or “how to start a freelancing business. That was really important to us to make sure we’re there at every point in a woman’s life to make sure they have the resources that they need and the emotional support as well. Even cheering someone on makes a huge impact.
Q. What are you planning to do this month for the small business season?
We’re teaching classes. We had one yesterday on how to prepare for Holiday sales and we had a professor join us who helped us to start thinking about ways we can leverage this time to increase our sales. So you know, engaging on social media, creating products and experiences now. People aren’t so much into a new lipstick they want a new experience that’s been kind of cooked up a bit.
She taught us what we can do to prepare for Black Friday, so we have those types of classes going on. We want to make sure our members make as much money as possible and finish the year off as strong as possible.
Q. What does it mean to you when your clients express prosperity in their personal and professional lives?
A. It brings me so much joy to see women creating wealth and doing it while they’re happy and balanced and creating the life that they’ve always envisioned for themselves. There’s no greater joy for me to see our members go through that.
Even through social media, they’re able to connect with other members and support each other so it even goes into this like tier 2, tier, tier 3 connectivity. You can see them flourish and partner up together, they write books, they’re each other’s guests on podcasts, and it’s really incredibly magical.
Q. As the holiday season approaches, what do you anticipate is next for FemCity?
We’re really excited about getting into real-life events. We’re doing more retreats and more gatherings. We have one in Portugal, one in Toronto, and one in Miami now. That’s what we love doing is bringing women together in real-life but we will still continue to have virtual programs.
During the pandemic, we released a virtual chapter for the United States and a virtual chapter for Canada and we’re gonna keep that because we have members that travel all over the place or have homes in different parts of the world because of work so we will have those resources for our members. For us, if I could sum up 2023 in one word – it would be events (she laughed).
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