Updated: Aug 27, 2021
Many of us can agree that the corporate world is a little iffy in multicultural acceptance (and practices) at the workplace. When young Black or Brown women enter corporate America after college, they experience a severe culture shock. For many of them, they're 'the only ones' in the office or department. Therefore learning to navigate workplace politics while also navigating microaggressions, racism, and sexism is something that many of them aren't prepared to do. When Christa Clarke was discussing this with her network, she decided it was time to stop talking about it—she decided to build a community to support women who were feeling just like her.
"I also had ambitious career goals, so trying to find resources and advice that actually spoke to what I was experiencing in the workplace was very challenging," explained Christa. That community is called Cubicles to Cocktails. Christa knew that other women felt the same way. She couldn't find ways to advance her career to achieve her ambitious career goals because of a lack of inclusivity. Only 5.3% of Black women held leadership or professional positions in 2020.
Christa said, "I came up with Cubicles to Cocktails, as I was leaving my cubicle at the workplace to going for cocktails to get advice. That was it—that authentically spoke to what I was experiencing."
What are you most proud of when it comes to Cubicles To Cocktails?
Christa is proud to witness the growth of her community. She's watched women become powerful self-advocates for their personal, educational and financial growth. Members of her community have pursued advanced degrees and even versed themselves in employment law to protect themselves. Even Cubicles to Cocktails newsletters have provided tips on how to approach salary negotiations.
What were some of your biggest fears along your journey?
Like most entrepreneurs, Christa struggled with imposter syndrome. She wondered if anyone would attend any of their soirées (what they call their intimate and lively events). She wondered to herself, "What if this doesn't work out?" She further elaborated, "It's like the amount of time and the sacrifices that you just put in. That is like a fear of mine, just losing that time—just losing that time and having, you know, too, I don't know, just having to walk away from it for, for lack of funding or, any other type of barrier that women of color face when you're in the startup ecosystem. Yeah. I mean, it's a legitimate fear."
Tell us about any significant setbacks that you had in your business and how did you recover?
Christa said the pandemic was a considerable setback that forced her business to pivot. Luckily, she was in the middle of a pivot from solely being an events business to diversifying what Cubicles to Cocktails could offer. The pandemic forced her to restructure her company prematurely. This was when she realized one income stream was too risky because she lost all of her revenue. She couldn't pivot without any resources. The pandemic opened up opportunities for her to participate in three business programs and enter pitch competitions, securing $20k in funding to survive.
Describe what it was like preparing for the pitch competition?
This wasn't Christa's first pitch competition. In previous competitions, she was able to secure a small amount of funding. She said, "That competition was a gift that keeps on giving, and it's the same with Black Girl Ventures. Like, you know, being able to get connected to just the community of dope Black women founders—like it did not feel like a competition."
To prepare for the competition, Christa reviewed her business plan and updated it. Then she connected with her business advisors for feedback. And, of course, lots of practice. She shared, "When you do like the pitch nights, that was really helpful too, to just get feedback, to have Shelly just really be transparent and blunt, like, sometimes you need that type of feedback. Because Shelly, like going through that process with her, I was able to really, to change how I address my problems."
Christa suggests that those looking to secure funding through pitch competitions should apply to multiple pitch competitions. If you're not accepted, she encourages others to build relationships with those ecosystems to increase your chances of winning in the future. Christa believes what helped her to secure further the win was getting her community involved in the process.
Christa was able to build a team of contractors to support her with her pitch competition winnings. This will enable her to get out of the weeds in certain aspects of her business. Some portion of those funds went to marketing and sales. The other amount went towards a rebrand. She then did some upgrades to her website and purchased software to streamline her processes.
How do you measure success?
On a personal level, Christa measures success by her personal growth and whether she's growing as a human being. While on a business level, she enjoys gaining insights into the qualitative data and her KPI's. It gives her insights into her audience so she can personalize services and experiences for her community.
What do you think is an important skill or asset you need to be successful in business?
Christa believes learning how to create systems and optimizing them are crucial skills to learn and get good at. When you begin to hire and onboard new employees, you have a system in place that you can handoff. Systems also help you to analyze your data to see what's working and what's not working.
Support is not always given to Black and Brown women in business; when has this shown and hurt or disappointed you the most?
Christa said, "The lack of financial support has been disappointing because there are so many resources available to women of color founders that provide education. The biggest thing that we're lacking is the lack of capital—Black women are highly educated." Christa used every opportunity she could find because of the pandemic, yet she continued to hit a brick wall in scaling her business. She said, "But when I go out to try to find funding so that I could actually execute upon my vision and execute my business plan to the highest potential. That's just been really disappointing. Cause all you could like, all I've been able to really find easily for a business in my stage has been another educational program. I need resources and the money."
What's the most critical lesson you've learned about business, in general?
The biggest lesson Christa has learned was to build a team sooner than later. Hiring out has helped her to work more strategically because of freed uptime. Next, she said budget in the beginning to get the support you need to scale your business. Christa shared, "So that as you get to the areas where you're ready to scale them, where you're ready to pick up momentum, you're not losing any of that steam because you have to pause to now bring on and recruit and teach new processes to these new team members." For solo entrepreneurs, she recommends having a strong team of contractors to support you.
What's the biggest risk that you've taken so far?
The biggest risk that Christa has taken aside from time is money. She's invested $10k of her own money from savings and hosted a three-city tour in 2019 as a solo founder without a team was risky for her. She shared, "There was one point where I wasn't willing to take that risk because, the vision, it was like, the vision was clear, but the steps to get there weren't. But between the business plan competition and Black Girl Ventures now, I was like, okay, yeah, no, I can do this." Now when she takes risks, she does so with a plan in place to increase her ROI.
What do you think the future holds for Black and Brown women entrepreneurs and small business owners?
Christa said, "I think the future is, oh my gosh. Okay. So, I get so excited when I think about the future for us because I really do feel like, one day, we're gonna be a significant amount of the fortune 500 for the U.S. We're going to be represented in that. And then alongside that, guess who else is going to be there? Women of color career leaders working for these companies. So it really is going to be for everyone in this type of industry. And it's just really exciting to see us just moving and shaking and, you know, and making things work and just being so creative with how we solve solutions like that just excites me. And I just see it being—we're just going to be a force to be reckoned with that people won't be able to continue to ignore."
If you and I were meeting three years from now, looking back, what would it take for you to feel over the moon about your progress?
Christa envisions Cubicles To Cocktails as the go-to career development platform for Black and Latina women. She wants to create a robust digital resource hub that's tech-enabled so members can find what they need quickly. Cubicles to Cocktails will be the largest social and professional network for young women of color to find formal mentorships and peer mentors, as well as job opportunities. She is building her business to be a tech-savvy ecosystem for ambitious women to help them reach their goals. Christa shared, "Right now, one of our goals is to propel 100,000 Black and Brown women of color into leadership positions within corporate environments."
Running a business while balancing a personal life can be demanding and taxing. How do you take care of yourself?
In 2019 Christa burnt out. She was stressed and constantly sick, so she took two months off to recover. Christa wondered if this entrepreneurship was worth this mental deterioration but knew her business would change the trajectory of a Black and Brown woman.
Now, Christa has a regular meditation practice. She enjoys sleeping in on Sundays. Sundays are days where Christa doesn't do anything work-related. She works out by running and doing yoga. She also likes to relax with a glass of wine and making craft cocktails. One of her side hustles was bartending. Lastly, she spends a lot of time with her family.
What is your favorite quote or mantra?
You have not because you ask not.
What is your favorite book and podcast?
Book: Drop The Ball by Tiffany Dufu, Men, Women And Worthiness by Brené Brown, and Get Together by Bailey Richardson
What's your favorite business hack or app that you can't live without?
Asana and Clockify.
Name one food item that you have a hard time saying no to.
Sushi and wine.
What's next for Cubicles to Cocktails?
Cubicles to Cocktails is looking for a technical co-founder and building a team. She hopes to have started her friends and family round or secure pre-seed funding.